Beijing appears to be on board with President Donald Trump’s maximum pressure strategy, or at least it was in the first two months of this year as bilateral trade between China and North Korea dropped significantly.
China reduced its imports from North Korea by 78.5 percent and 86.1 percent respectively in January and February, according to The Associated Press, citing the latest Chinese trade data. Furthermore, North Korea reduced its imports from China by 33 percent and 34 percent. The data are consistent with trading trends that began in the latter half of 2017, although it should be noted that neither China nor North Korea is known for economic transparency.
China has traditionally been North Korea’s economic lifeline, but over the past year, Beijing appears to have increased the pressure on Pyongyang by severing trade ties, halting financial and business services for North Korean companies, expelling workers, and upholding international sanctions.
It remains unclear whether such trends will continue going forward given improving bilateral relations between China and North Korea and rising tensions between Beijing and Washington over trade.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made his first official state visit to a foreign country in late March, visiting Beijing to meet and hold talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping. There are rumors that Kim requested that Xi help North Korea reduce the pressure on Pyongyang caused by tough international sanctions, the cornerstone of Trump’s maximum pressure strategy.
There are reports that the gifts Xi presented to Kim during his visit were worth several hundred thousand dollars and violations of international prohibitions on the export of luxury goods to North Korea. Observers in Chinese towns on the border with North Korea have also noted the return of hundreds of North Korean workers since the Xi-Kim summit in March.
Amid rumors of possible sanctions violations by China, Washington and Beijing are presently waging a trade war, with each side threatening the other with tens of billions of dollars in trade tariffs in an escalating fight.
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