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Inconvenient Truths
Chinese Trade with North Korea Is Increasing

China recently made a big show of rejecting North Korean coal cargoes, raising hope that Beijing is finally using its economic clout to get tough on Pyongyang. New trade numbers released yesterday, however, tell a different story. New York Times:  

The data released on Thursday showed that China’s trade with North Korea grew 37.4 percent in the first quarter of this year from the period in 2016. Chinese exports surged 54.5 percent, and imports increased 18.4 percent, the General Administration of Customs said at a news conference in Beijing. […]

China reported that its imports of North Korean iron were up 270 percent in January and February compared with the period in 2016.

These numbers confirm what we suspected about China’s dramatic coal gesture: the move was a symbolic rebuke to Pyongyang and a savvy goodwill gesture to Trump, but it hardly put a dent in the bilateral trade relationship. Trump has made it clear that he wants the Chinese to tighten the economic screws on North Korea, but so far they have not pulled many of the economic levers at their disposal—and in fact, many Chinese firms are actively enabling the North Koreans’ nuclear program by illegally exporting technology and hardware, while Chinese authorities look the other way.

To be fair, there have been some recent signs that Beijing might take more serious action. According to a recent editorial in the state-run Global Times, Beijing could be willing to restrict oil exports to North Korea if Pyongyang launches another nuclear provocation this month. That would indicate a real willingness to play economic hardball, and a long-term oil embargo would have devastating consequences for the North Korean economy.

Until that happens, though, any claims from Beijing that it is putting the economic squeeze on Pyongyang should be treated with extreme skepticism.

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  • KremlinKryptonite

    The Chinese Communist Party has always skirted sanctions, or abided by them and simply increased “aid.”

    • Suzy Dixon

      Thats why I always say, it’s not a mistake or some accident that the Russian-installed, CCP-backed Kim regime has existed for as long as the CCP has had autocratic control over China.

    • The DPRK’s nuclear technology came from China in the first place.

  • D4x

    All news currently being “treated with extreme skepticism”. Still, impetuous to read so much into trade stats. 2Q started April 1. Two million tons of rejected North Korean coal on April 7 might be bigger than a ‘dent’. Such a big jump in iron imports signals China stockpiling for steel production ahead of an unknown new POTUS. The ban on coal was meant to appease the climate change faction in the US. Other interpretations will have to wait for 2Q report.

    • Kevin

      We’ll see. Too early to tell one way or the other, especially as these trade stats predate the latest US-PRC meetings. Ratcheting up pressure in NE Asia seems be prudent to let the PRC know we’ve got other, less pleasant, options if a tightening embargo doesn’t do the job. I suspect the best option might be to persuade the PRC to instal someone else in Pyongyang.

      • D4x

        Doubt PRC needs extreme persuasion to install a more stable tributary in North Korea. My understanding is China sees NorK as a mining colony and border buffer. PRC does not need a tributary threatening a nuclear strike on US troops in East Asia. Bad for business, and, those nukes can threaten China just as easily as Japan.

        • Isaiah601

          Do you think the carrot of removal US troops from Korean Peninsula is in play? After all, if somebody sane is in charge of North Korea, then Korean War can finally end and the reason for troops becomes moot. I think that is a fair deal for all involved.

          • D4x

            Even a sane leader would still be China’s tributary. From memory, there have been reductions in US troop numbers, and at one point, South Korea wanted to defend themselves – do not remember the politics involved, but it was before NorK got so aggressive in their nuclear program, and the US still said no – and that was South Korea’s request.

            The political situation currently favors the left in SoKo’s next election (Polls!), but, regardless, this was a UN-blessed war, after the US had deployed in 1950, but still the UN.

            I am NOT so interested as to read the armistice agreement:

            Also, NorK nuclear specialists work for/in Iran. I doubt anyone in the current administration is going to allow NorK to keep their nuclear program without evidence everything has been dismantled or blown to bits. So, no, no removal of US troops this year.
            I could be wrong. Would not be the first time.

          • D4x

            What is ‘in play’ deserved a more informed reply. Just read Bloomberg news, really re-setting the standard for reporting. No one is returning to the peace treaty table this weekend. You should read the entire article.

  • Fat_Man

    I analogize North Korea to a Pit Bull kept by a neighbor who is a member of a notorious gang of bikers. I am glad that Trump is dealing with the dog’s owner. One message must be that if North Korea attacks US or any of our allies, we will retaliate against China.

    • They might openly criticize them and still secretly aid them anyway. Don’t forget, even after Nixon, the Chinese were still supporting the Communists in Vietnam against the U.S. and its allies.

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