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* Panetta declines to detail support due to 'sensitivity'
* Military, economic ties with China date back decades
* Says recent provocations followed some recent progress
WASHINGTON, April 19 (Reuters) - China has provided some assistance to North Korea's missile program, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Thursday, a week after the hermit state's failed missile launch triggered broad international condemnation.
"I'm sure there's been some help coming from China. I don't know, you know, the exact extent of that," Panetta told members of the House Armed Services Committee when asked whether China had been supporting North Korea's missile program through "trade and technology exchanges."
North Korea's powerful Asian neighbor is the hermit kingdom's only major ally, with military and economic ties that date back to the communist origins of the two nations.
On Wednesday, Pyongyang said it was ready to retaliate in the face of widespread condemnation of the failed launch, increasing the likelihood the isolated state will go ahead with a third nuclear test.
Republican Rep. Michael Turner pressed Panetta about a transporter launcher system - essentially a large truck on top of which a missile is mounted - that North Korea showcased during a military parade on Sunday, which he said appeared to be made in China.