China insists coal imports do not breach North Korea nuclear sanctions
Beijing argues UN embargo allows for a ‘cushioning’ period after figures show it imported fuel from its neighbour in August
China has dismissed concerns that it has violated United Nations sanctions against North Korea, after customs data showed that it imported coal from the reclusive state in August.
Ministry of Commerce spokesman Gao Feng said China had comprehensively implemented United Nations sanctions on North Korea.
Gao told reporters in Beijing that UN sanctions gave a “cushioning” or buffer period for the implementation of the ban on coal and seafood imports from North Korea.
The comment was in response to a question about data from China’s customs administration showing it imported 1.6 million tonnes of coal from North Korea in August.
The consignment was the first since February, when Beijing banned fuel purchases from its neighbour.
The commerce ministry said in August it would allow any cargoes that were already at port to clear customs as usual before the UN sanctions – imposed following a series of nuclear and missile tests – came into force on September 5.
Latest customs data showed that China’s petrol and diesel exports to North Korea and iron ore imports from the isolated nation fell in August following the United Nations’ latest sanctions.
Petrol shipments fell by more than 96 per cent in August, compared with the previous month last year, although diesel exports – at 180 tonnes – were up from zero in August 2016.
Traders and industry experts said it was likely that the coal shipments had been stranded in port since Beijing introduced the ban in mid-February, but were then allowed into the country ahead of the latest round of penalties against North Korea.
Zhao Tong, a fellow at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy in Beijing, said he believed China had not violated the UN sanctions.
“China’s full embargo on North Korean coal [in February] was ahead of the UN sanctions, which were passed in August and effective since September … so to let in the coal in August technically did not actually violate any UN resolution,” Zhao said.
In voting for the UN sanctions, Beijing has argued against measures that could hurt ordinary North Koreans.
It has also called for dialogue and suspension of military exercises between South Korea and the United States in an effort to de-escalate tensions on the Korean peninsula.
Additional reporting by Liu Zhen