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China imports North’s coal again

It bought $138 million worth in August, new customs data show
Sept 28,2017
China resumed imports of North Korean coal in August despite suspending trade in February, according to Chinese customs data Tuesday.

China accepted about 1.64 million tons of North Korean coal that month, worth about $138.1 million, according to China’s General Administration of Customs, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

The import appears to come ahead of a total ban mandated by United Nations Security Council sanctions, as the international community moves to choke off financing of the North’s nuclear and missile program.

China’s Ministry of Commerce and its General Administration of Customs announced on Feb. 18 it had suspended all imports of North Korean coal for the rest of the year, following a cap set by the Security Council in November last year.

The UN Security Council passed Resolution 2270 on March 2, 2016, and Resolution 2321 on Nov. 30 that year, following Pyongyang’s fourth and fifth nuclear tests, capping North Korea’s coal exports, considered the regime’s largest source of revenue.

The 15-member council unanimously adopted UNSC Resolution 2371 on Aug. 5, imposing a total ban on coal trade with North Korea, in response to Pyongyang’s two intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launches in July. It also banned exports of iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore and seafood.

At that time, the U.S. Mission to the United Nation estimated that this coal trade ban would lead to a loss of over $401 million in revenues per year for North Korea.

On Sept. 17, the council adopted Resolution 2375, further capping transfer of crude oil and refined petroleum products into the North and also banning its textile exports.

A coal trader who deals with North Korea told the South China Morning Post Tuesday 5,000 tons of his cargo was allowed through customs last month after being stuck at a Chinese port for six months.

North Korea’s coal exports appear to have cleared Chinese customs in a similar manner, ahead of the implementation of the latest sanctions, which China began enforcing on Aug. 15, though it was set to take place in September.

China’s total trade with North Korea surged last month, reaching $604.27 million in August, compared to $456.16 million in July, according to data from China’s General Administration of Customs Saturday.

Likewise, China’s total trade with North Korea came to $3.61 billion in the first eight months of this year, up 7.5 percent from the same period in 2016.

The figures led to questions of whether Beijing was properly implementing sanctions on the North.

But Lu Kang, spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said in a briefing Wednesday, “Rest assured; China, as a permanent member of the Security Council, will strictly implement resolutions passed by the council on North Korea.”

But he went on to refer the issue to the related agency, customs authorities, for further details.

China’s Ministry of Commerce said Saturday it will limit exports of refined petroleum products to North Korea from Oct. 1 and immediately ban exports of condensates and liquefied natural gas, as well as imports of textiles, in compliance with the UN sanctions.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]