China’s trade with North Korea slumps as nuclear sanctions bite
Customs spokesperson makes unexpected announcement that exports fell 6.7 per cent, while imports dropped 37.9 per cent
China’s trade with North Korea slumped in September, amid United Nations sanctions aimed at deterring Kim Jong-un from pursuing his missile and nuclear weapons programmes.
Exports to the restive state in the month fell 6.7 per cent from a year ago, while imports fell 37.9 per cent, customs administration spokesman Huang Songping said at a briefing in Beijing.
North Korea’s deficit with China in the first nine months more than tripled from the same period of 2016, to US$1.07 billion, he said, without elaborating.
With China’s support, the UN has agreed on two rounds of sanctions since the beginning of August, including bans on North Korean exports of iron, coal, lead, seafood, textiles, and oil import restrictions. The UN stepped up sanctions after Pyongyang fired missiles over Japan and tested its sixth and most powerful nuclear bomb last month.
The breakdown of trade with North Korea was given in response to a reporter’s question at a briefing following publication of China’s overall trade figures for September. The customs agency does not usually release North Korean trade data until later in the month.
There are no records of seafood imports from North Korea, while shipments of coal, iron ore and clothing all declined, Huang said.
About 90 per cent of North Korea’s documented trade was with China in 2016. Beijing has been under pressure from the United States and others to show it is complying with UN sanctions designed to put an economic squeeze on Kim’s weapons programmes. However, Beijing is reluctant to trigger an economic collapse and chaos over its shared 1,350km border.
US President Donald Trump, who has given a mixed response to the effectiveness of China’s efforts to curb North Korea, will visit Beijing in November. Earlier this month he admonished US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for “wasting his time” in seeking negotiations, a goal that the sanctions are designed to help achieve.
Although North Korea’s exports declined via official channels there is evidence that the country is smuggling shipments to and from China. North Koreans use boats, cars, trucks and several rail lines to carry everything from seafood to diesel fuel and mobile phones back and forth across the border, according to a report by Bloomberg News.
China’s overall trade with North Korea for the first nine months of the year rose 3.7 per cent year on year to US$4.03 billion, slowing from 7.5 per cent for the January through August period.
China’s exports to North Korea from January to September rose 20.9 per cent to US$2.55 billion while imports fell 16.7 per cent to US$1.48 billion.
The customs agency said it would publish details of its trade in specific products with North Korea on October 23.