US Might Have Finally Gotten China To Bend On North Korea

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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China may actually be reducing its mineral imports from North Korea in accordance with the sanctions it agreed to earlier this year.

The United Nations Security Council issued Resolution 2270, which prohibits the export of North Korean coal, iron, and iron ore in March. North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test in January. Now, months later, China appears to finally be complying with those sanctions. Chinese coal imports from North Korea dropped 27 percent in September, reports the South China Morning Post.

China said in April that it would ban coal imports, but between May and August, China’s coal imports from North Korea steadily increased to 2.47 million tons, the highest figure since the start of 2016. China typically justifies its imports with the livelihood exemption in the sanctions, where it asserts that total isolation of North Korea will cause internal collapse, and spill over the Chinese border.

China’s August coal imports were 61 percent higher than they were in April.

The U.S. and its allies want to remove the livelihood exemption in a new batch of stronger sanctions, but China is not indicating agreement. “We cannot really affect the well-being and the humanitarian needs of the people,” Chinese United Nations (U.N.) Ambassador Liu Jieyi recently told Reuters reporters. Jieyi’s statement signals opposition to American, South Korean, and Japanese plans to completely cut off mineral exports to North Korea. Cross-border movement between China and a North Korean iron mine further confirms China’s reluctance to fully sever North Korea’s mineral exports.

Yet, China, to a certain extent, seems to be giving into international pressure and calls to do more to reign in is nuclear neighbor. China only imported 1.8 million tons of coal from North Korea last month, the General Administration of Customs reported, which is still a significant amount of coal, but imports are decreasing.

Around 90 percent of North Korea’s revenue come from trade with China, and roughly 40 percent of that comes from coal. If China is actually reducing its coal imports, it will leave North Korea strapped for cash, giving the international community more leverage against the North.

There is, however, the possibility that this is a temporary drop, as was the case in April. Between March and April, China’s coal imports from North Korea dropped from 2.345 million tons to 1.527 million tons, but imports shot up in the months that followed. China may be responding to international pressure now, but is unclear whether they will continue to do so.

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