China has sent coal-filled North Korean ships back from whence they came, reports Reuters:
A fleet of North Korean cargo ships is heading home to the port of Nampo, the majority of it fully laden, after China ordered its trading companies to return coal from the isolated country, shipping data shows.
Following repeated missile tests that drew international criticism, China banned all imports of North Korean coal on Feb. 26, cutting off the country’s most important export product.
To curb coal traffic between the two countries, China’s customs department issued an official order on April 7 telling trading companies to return their North Korean coal cargoes, said three trading sources with direct knowledge of the order.
We already knew that China was suspending its coal imports from North Korea, but timing is everything: the April 7 order to turn back the ships came just as Xi Jinping and Donald Trump were meeting at Mar-a-Lago. This certainly looks like a goodwill gesture to Trump, who had repeatedly demanded that the Chinese use their considerable economic clout to get tougher on Pyongyang. As an added bonus, China had already increased coal imports from the U.S. to make up for the decrease in North Korean imports.
But even this move remains firmly in the realm of the symbolic. As with trade, Beijing may be calculating that it can get away with a few low-cost, high-visibility moves to defuse tensions with the United States. With the Trump Administration starting to execute more forcefully on its promised agenda in international relations, something tells us they won’t get away with half-measures.