China’s imports of North Korean goods dropped to the lowest point in nearly three years last month, potentially highlighting efforts by the Chinese to pressure their neighbor.
China is North Korea’s largest trading partner, with 90 percent of the reclusive regime’s trade tied to their Chinese neighbors. China suspended imports of North Korean coal in February, hindering North Korea’s ability to generate hard currency through bilateral trade. In April, Chinese imports of North Korean goods dropped below $100 million to $99.3 million, the lowest trade figure since June 2014, reported Reuters, citing Chinese customs data released Tuesday.
Iron ore imports, however, were at their highest since August 2014.
President Donald Trump has been encouraging China to do more to rein in North Korea, and he has repeatedly praised Chinese President Xi Jinping for his efforts. “I have great confidence that China will properly deal with North Korea,” Trump tweeted mid-April.
Chinese exports to North Korea are also down. Exports dropped to $288.2 million, down 12 percent from March. China also significantly cut diesel shipments to the North, which gets most of its oil from China.
Chinese customs data shows that China has not purchased any North Korean coal for two months, cutting off an important source of revenue for North Korea.
China hinted Tuesday that efforts to curb trade are not attempts to please any third party.
“China has always fully and strictly implemented the relevant UNSC resolutions in their entirety,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying explained Tuesday. “At the same time, we keep normal economic and trade relations with the DPRK and other parties on the prerequisite of not violating the resolutions.” Despite pressure from the Trump administration, China repeatedly argues that it is not the “key” to resolving the crisis on the Korean Peninsula.
China continues to push back against a military buildup and increased pressure, calling on the U.S. to pull back militarily in exchange for the North’s denuclearization. China has grown frustrated with North Korea, which has launched 11 ballistic missiles this year in violation of international resolutions and norms, but it appears to be pursuing a solution that is decidedly in its own interests.
Some observers are suspicious of Chinese pressure on the regime. “It’s not completely clear that China has quit North Korea cold turkey,” Kent Boydston of the Peterson Institute for International Economics told the Washington Post. “It doesn’t seem like there is any sort of distress in North Korea.”
While Chinese trade with North Korea has decreased in recent months, according to data which has been altered for political purposes in the past, trade was up significantly at the start of the year.
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