China, North Korea trade rises amid tensions over missile tests
China’s trade with North Korea rose 10.5 per cent in the first six months of the year according to customs figures, as the United States is urging Beijing to put more pressure on Pyongyang to rein in its nuclear weapons programme.
Customs administration spokesman Huang Songping said exports to the hermit nation rose 29.1 per cent in the same period, while imports were down 13.2 per cent.
Huang said, however, that imports from North Korea have sharply decreased every month since March and insisted that Beijing was upholding United Nations sanctions against Pyongyang over its nuclear programme.
“Simple accumulated data cannot be used as evidence to question China’s severe attitude in carrying out UN Security Council resolutions,” Huang told a regular press briefing. “UN Security Council sanctions are not a total ban on shipments. Trade related to DPRK people’s livelihood, especially those that reflect humanitarianism should not be influenced by the sanctions.”
Regional tensions have escalated after North Korea successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile last week.
US President Donald Trump later complained that trade had risen between China and North Korea after he had called on Beijing to use its diplomatic and economic clout over its neighbour to convince Pyongyang to drop its nuclear programme.
“Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40 per cent in the first quarter. So much for China working with us – but we had to give it a try!” Trump tweeted on July 5.
The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said on Sunday that Washington would crank up pressure on China to ensure it enforces sanctions against North Korea.
She has also told the UN Security Council the US planned a new resolution that would also ensure existing sanctions are properly implemented.
“We’re going to push hard against China because 90 per cent of the trade that happens with North Korea is from China and so while they have been helpful, they need to do more,” she told CBS television.
China suspended all coal imports from North Korea in February as part of its efforts to implement sanctions.
But Beijing excludes goods and services intended for “the people’s well-being” and exports unconnected to the nuclear or missile programmes so as not to push North Korea’s economy to the brink of collapse.
Hwang Jae-ho, an expert on Northeast Asian regional security at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul, said the increase in trade was likely to attract more criticism from the US.
“The US has always been pushing China to impose stricter sanction on North Korea to end Pyongyang’s nuclear ambition, but the increase in trade data in the first half of this year will invite more US suspicion on how seriously Beijing will punish its ally,” said Hwang.
“But six months is a long period. We should examine and compare the data before and after Beijing imposed sanction to conclude whether the sanctions are successful or not,” he added.
Sun Xingjie, a North Korean expert at Jilin University in northeast China, said the existing sanctions would do little to rein in North Korea.
“The statistics themselves are really confusing, but the increase might be a result of the emerging black market in North Korea that welcomes Chinese products, since there are still many items that can be traded from China to North Korea,” said Sun.
Some places in North Korea had also loosened their planned economy policies and encouraged some degree of free market trading, Sun added.