China announced in February that it was suspending coal imports from North Korea through the end of the year, but China imported significant amounts of coal last month, according to domestic customs data.
Customs can’t explain the sudden spike, but the country is investigating the situation.
Merchants suggest that the coal has been stranded in port for months since Beijing announced its blanket ban on all North Korean coal imports, a source of revenue for the regime, earlier this year. China potentially let the coal into the country before the latest round of U.N. sanctions.
The Trump administration has been pushing China to put increased pressure on North Korea, but Beijing has been hesitant to do so, often pushing back against American initiatives.
China has committed to upholding U.N. sanctions, agreeing to significantly restrict bilateral trade with North Korea, and there have been reports that China has ordered its banks to cut business ties with North Korea. However, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs suggested that these reports might be somewhat inconsistent with the facts on the ground.
Beijing has come under fire in the past for undercutting international efforts to put pressure on the rogue North Korean regime. The administration has expressed hope that China will take steps to prevent North Korean development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and to contribute to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but Beijing has often tried to wash its hands of responsibility for the current situation.
It remains unclear whether China is willing to partner with the U.S. on this issue. The Trump administration has tried to use the carrot rather than the stick when it comes to China, but the president signed an executive order last week that will allow the U.S., if necessary, to impose financial penalties on foreign companies, including those in China, that cooperate with North Korea.
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