China’s trade with North Korea plunges as sanctions tighten

BEIJING (AP) – China’s trade with North Korea plunged 50 per cent in December as UN sanctions imposed over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile development tightened, the government reported yesterday.

China accounts for nearly all of the isolated North’s trade and energy supplies. Beijing has imposed limits on oil sales and cut deeply into the North’s foreign revenue by ordering North Korean businesses in China to close, sending home migrant workers and banning purchases of its coal, textiles, seafood and other exports.

Imports from the North shrank 81.6 per cent to US$54 million in December while exports to the isolated, impoverished country contracted 23.4 per cent to $260 million, said a spokesman for the Chinese customs agency, Huang Songping.

The UN Security Council has steadily tightened trade restrictions as leader Kim Jong Un’s government pressed ahead with nuclear and missile development in defiance of foreign pressure.

Beijing was long Pyongyang’s diplomatic protector but has supported the UN sanctions out of frustration with what Chinese leaders see as their neighbour’s increasingly reckless behaviour.

This September 2017 file photo shows a truck heading toward the North Korean side of the Friendship Bridge linking China and North Korea, as seen from Dandong in northeastern China’s Liaoning Province. – AP

Despite the loss of almost all trade, the impoverished North has pressed ahead with weapons development that Kim’s regime sees as necessary for its survival in the face of US pressure.

China has steadily increased economic pressure on Pyongyang while calling for dialogue to defuse the increasingly acrimonious dispute with US President Donald Trump’s government.

Analysts see North Korea’s need for Chinese oil as the most powerful economic leverage against Pyongyang. But Chinese leaders have warned against taking drastic measures that might destabilise Kim’s government or send a wave of refugees fleeing into China.

Chinese leaders have resisted previous US demands for an outright oil embargo but went along with the latest limits.

Under restrictions announced January 5, Chinese companies are allowed to export no more than four million barrels of oil and 500,000 barrels of refined petroleum products to the North per year. They are barred from supplying its military or weapons programmes.

Chinese officials complain their country bears the cost of enforcement, which they say has hurt businesses in its northeast.