China won't buy any more North Korean coal this year

Malaysia summoned the North Korean ambassador on Monday for a dressing-down over Pyongyang's attack on its investigation into the assassination of leader Kim Jong-Nam's brother, deepening a diplomatic row.

But Deng says that Beijing not announcing the coal import ban until later suggests that China's leadership may have been signaling its displeasure at the killing of Kim Jong Nam.

Officially, China has said little except that it is closely monitoring the situation.

China's General Administration of Customs notice took effect on Sunday, and runs until the end of 2017, according to a statement on the ministry of commerce website.

The Global Times, a widely-read Chinese state-run tabloid, said on Monday that the coal decision showed China's determination to work with the worldwide community to stop North Korea's nuclear schemes but did not mean China's policy toward its neighbor had or would fundamentally change. "Pyongyang should be conscious of this reality".

Australia and Mongolia are China's top suppliers of coking coal, and both would stand to benefit the most if cargoes from North Korea are indeed halted. "Chinese sanctions only target at its nuclear weapon program, and we are firmly opposed to Seoul's political fantasy against Pyongyang", the paper said, in an apparent reference to South Korea's plans to deploy a USA missile defense system on the Korean peninsula.

North Korea declared itself a nuclear power in 2005. Tombo Enterprise imports Chinese pharmaceuticals for sale in Malaysia.

Beijing has also blocked shipments of various South Korean products, including cosmetics, according to the South Korean news agency Yonhap.

USA -based scholar and political commentator Wu Zuolai said the apparent assassination of Kim was likely behind the coal import ban, however. A woman wearing a white shirt and blue skirt is seen approaching the man from behind - believed to be Kim Jong-nam - and grabbing his face while spraying him with some substance, presumably a fast-acting poison. Trump's administration has said it will deploy the missile defense system this year in South Korea and back Japan "100 percent" in moves to deter North Korea.

The U.S. government will not meet with North Korea, a White House official told Reuters.

"Coal is a major export for North Korea, so if they restrict it, this will have an immediate impact on their economy", the commentator said.

Kim lived in Beijing for several years beginning in the mid-1990s, and Deng argues that he could potentially have headed an alternative North Korean government, that might have been more liberal and China-friendly than his brother's.

"China still wields some of the power because it protects North Korea for ideological reasons". It said its intermediate-range Pukguksong-2 missile used a solid-fuel technology that American experts say will make it harder to detect missile attacks from the North.

"Fuel exports are actually a way for China to continue to prop up the North Korean military machine, but there has been no move on China's part [to shut that down]", he said.

China's import ban follows a UN Security Council resolution adopted in November in response to the North's fifth and most powerful nuclear test, according to which the country should not be allowed to export more than 7.5 million metric tons of coal a year or bring in more than $400 million in coal sales, whichever limit is met first.

  • Carolyn Briggs