China suspends coal imports from North Korea

China's decision came less than a week after North Korea's latest missile test, as tensions escalate over the state's defiance of United Nations resolutions.

Beijing has also come under increasing pressure from other world powers as it is seen as the other country which can rein Pyongyang in.

The left-of-centre South Korean newspaper Hankyoreh Shinmun was right when it said the assassination was "likely to become another serious burden" on China's relations with North Korea, even though China had said the facts "need to be confirmed first".

Chinese customs classifies North Korean coal as anthracite as opposed to coking coal, but in practice North Korean cargoes are mainly used for steel-making or in higher value industries such as ceramics, making them direct competition for coking coal.

The resolution introduced a coal export cap for North Korea, added after previous attempts to limit the commodity's export stalled. But experts told the Washington Post recent events, like the missile test and suspicions that Kim Jong-un had his half brother killed, could be why China is enforcing those sanctions now.

"The basic principle in terms of exporting raw materials is simply we don't promote the export of raw materials including coal", he said.

Despite the ban, a Reuters report said in January that China had boosted imports of coal from North Korea.

As long as USA policy toward North Korea relies on coercive pressure, China will always be working at cross-purposes with it.

The commentator said the sanctions shouldn't be taken as evidence of a harder line on Kim Jong Un coming out of Beijing.

"For one thing, there is still no conclusion about who is responsible for Kim's death".

Among the Chinese government's other fears is the possibility of a sudden regime collapse in North Korea leading to chaos and the potential for hundreds of thousands of North Korean refugees to head across the Chinese border, diplomatic sources have said.

"About 40 percent of North Korea's foreign currency is said to be earned from coal exports to China", the Global Times newspaper, the sister paper of ruling Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece The People's Daily, said in an opinion piece.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, speaking at a high profile security summit in Munich over the weekend, said China has not given up hope for a new round of diplomacy with North Korea, even as he pledged support for United Nations sanctions. China could either seek to deter unwanted US actions (such as closer USA relations with Taipei) by threatening to increase its cooperation with North Korea, or make hollow promises to increase pressure on North Korea to gain concession in negotiations with the United States. Instead, President Trump should focus more on strengthening USA alliances in Northeast Asia, especially in the field of ballistic missile defense.

China also imposed a coal import ban on North Korea last December but it was conditional on the trade action not affecting the "livelihood" of the exporter.

Kim has threatened that if the USA and South Korea "continue resorting to the suicidal sanctions... swimming against the trend of the times, they will meet their final doom with their lands reduced to ashes".

  • Joanne Flowers