China Cuts Off Major Financial Lifeline to North Korea

North Korea is expected to sustain a major economic setback after China’s Saturday announcement that it will no longer import the country’s coal, at least until the end of the year.

The move will cut North Korea’s exports by about half as coal is the country’s largest export item, the The Washington Post reported.

According to the Chinese Commerce Ministry, the ban is part of Beijing’s efforts to implement international sanctions that the UN Security Council has pushed to impose on Pyongyang back in November after it conducted multiple nuclear tests in 2016.

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The announcement came as a surprise as China had previously been reluctant to impose such sanctions on North Korea. However, after North Korea’s recent testing, which involved an intermediate-range ballistic missile, Beijing immediately rejected its latest coal shipment worth around $1 million.

Newly appointed U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly urged Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Friday to “use all available tools to moderate North Korea’s destabilizing behavior,” according to acting U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner.

North Korean economic experts downplayed the ban’s effects, reported CNN.

“We have been exporting some good quantities of coal, but we didn’t export very much. (Therefore) we don’t feel very much affected by the so-called restrictions,” Institute of Economics at the Academy of Social Sciences researcher Ri Gi Song was quoted as saying.

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Meanwhile, Carnegie-Tsinghua Center director Paul Haenle told The Washington Post how North Korea’s actions, including the assassination of Kim Jong Un’s half brother in Malaysia, has fueled the urgency for Beijing to take stronger action.

“China still places a premium on stability, but Xi Jinping is growing more and more frustrated with Kim Jong Un,” Haenle said. “Beijing took the assassination as a direct affront to China. Xi is less willing to tolerate these provocations. China is putting a squeeze on its economic lifeline to send a message to Pyongyang.”

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