North Korean students are mining for nuclear knowledge abroad, mostly in China
Metallurgy is one area being studied that could assist Pyongyang's nuclear programme. Source: Shutterstock

Exchange students from North Korea are reportedly learning important skills towards developing the rogue state’s controversial nuclear weapons programme.

According to an explosive investigation by the Wall Street Journal, the rapid development of North Korea’s missile programme has been aided by its citizens travelling abroad to study in areas beneficial to nuclear and weapons research – in breach of 2016 United Nations sanctions.

Many of these students have reportedly gone to China, which even granted them government-funded scholarships that covered all tuition, free housing and stipends of around CNY3,000 per month (US$450).

North Koreans have largely studied engineering, physics, mathematics, metallurgy, material and space-related sciences – all of which could assist Pyongyang’s nuclear programme. Kim Jong Un’s regime, however, has insisted its research is home-grown.

“They were easy to recognise from their clothes and their looks,” one Chinese postgraduate from the Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT) said of North Korean students to the WSJ.

HIT is one of China’s leading engineering schools focused upon “classified” defence and space-related research and is located in the northern Heilongjiang Province, located geographically close to North Korea.

Over the weekend, Pyongyang launched a test of an H-bomb 10 times stronger than those previously tested by the regime and much more powerful than the bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva this week warned of more “gift packages” for the US.

China is North Korea’s largest trading partner and is seen by many observers as having the most influence over the hermit state. Goods produced in North Korea are being labelled “made in China” and exported overseas, a Reuters investigation revealed last month.

“We should be very concerned about North Korean researchers abroad, particularly in China,” said Katsuhisa Furukawa, a member from 2011-2016 of the UN panel of experts monitoring sanctions enforcement on North Korea, as quoted by the WSJ.

Moreover, North Korean students are reportedly suspected of downloading 57,000 papers from subscription-based databases from HIT and another Chinese university – in violation of library regulations.

Last year, Kim Jong Un urged students and staff at the Kim Il-sung University in Pyongyang to advance the institution into becoming “world-class” via hosting more international academic seminars and joint research projects with overseas universities.

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