China harbours ship transporting North Korean munitions to Russia, satellite images show

Satellite images show cargo ship Angara docked at Zhoushan Xinya Shipyard in China
Satellite images show cargo ship Angara docked at Zhoushan Xinya Shipyard in China - Planet Labs PBC/via REUTERS

China is providing moorage for a US-sanctioned Russian cargo ship implicated in North Korean arms transfers to Russia, according to satellite images.

Britain’s Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think tank said the Russian vessel Angara, which since August 2023 has moved thousands of containers believed to contain North Korean munitions to Russian ports, has been anchored at a Chinese shipyard in eastern Zhejiang province since February.

The ship’s presence at the Chinese port underscores the challenges facing the United States and its allies as they try to choke off military and economic support for Russia.

With Ukraine under a renewed Russian assault and running short of ammunition, US officials have issued increasingly stark warnings about what they say is China’s help rebuilding Russia’s military after its early setbacks in the Ukraine war.

That support is expected to top the agenda this week as Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, visits Beijing.

Washington will not ‘sit by’

Kurt Campbell, the state department’s second ranked diplomat, said this month that Washington would not “sit by” if Beijing increased its backing for Moscow.

A spokesman for the US state department said it was aware of “credible, open-source reports” that the Angara is currently moored in a Chinese port and had raised the issue with Chinese authorities.

“We call on all member states to fulfil their obligations under UNSCR 2397,” the official said, referring to a United Nations resolution restricting trade with North Korea and requiring UN states to de-register any vessels involved in illicit activities.

“When secretary Blinken meets with his PRC counterparts this week, he will address a range of concerns, including Russia’s war against Ukraine and Russia-DPRK ties,” the spokesman said, referring to China and North Korea by the initials of their official names.

Satellite images RUSI obtained in recent months from companies including San Francisco-based Earth imaging firm Planet Labs PBC showed the Angara docked at Zhoushan Xinya Shipyard in Zhejiang, which on its website says it is China’s largest private ship repair company.

The ship was identified by its unique automatic identification system (AIS) transponder that had been briefly turned on, likely for safety reasons, while navigating a busy stretch of the Korea Strait en route to China.

RUSI said that before arriving in China on Feb 9, seemingly for repairs or maintenance, the Angara had been docked in January at North Korean and Russian ports with its transponder turned off. It again stopped transmitting shortly after arriving in China.