China’s Trade With North Korea Has Increased, Despite Import Ban On Coal

Trade between China and North Korea has risen in the first half of 2017, reaching a value of approximately $2.6 billion between January and July. On Thursday, a Chinese government official stated that this number reflects an approximate 10% increase over the figures collected last year during this period. It is speculated that this rise in trade is the result of an increase in China’s exports to North Korea, which rose nearly 30% over the last six months. China, however, remains committed to its decision to suspend all imports of North Korean coal as of February 19th.

China’s import ban, which is in effect until the end of this year, was initiated in reaction to North Korea’s internationally criticized missile program. North Korea previously sold millions of tons of coal to China every year, which acted as that nation’s main source of foreign income. This income, reportedly equaling one billion dollars per year, was said to have funded many of North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs. Beijing agreed to cut off its imports of North Korean coal in compliance with the efforts of the United Nations to limit the expansion of nuclear weapons in the North. Without this significant foreign income, North Korea will be unable to financially sustain its current ballistic missile operations.

Although committed to this year long import ban, China has received criticism from the United States for its increased trade with North Korea. On July 5th, President Trump tweeted, “Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40% in the first quarter. So much for China working with us – but we had to give it a try!” The Trump Administration is not satisfied with China’s handling of the situation in North Korea. President Trump is vocally adamant that China is not doing enough to thwart the nuclear operations in the North.

Despite criticism from the West, China maintains that its trade relations with Pyongyang in North Korea are completely valid. The East Asian nation denies any violation of international sanctions and argues that the increase in trade is primarily due to a rise in textile exports. Huang Songping, a spokesman for China’s customs department, stated, “The sanctions imposed by the [United Nations] are not a comprehensive embargo.” He goes on to state that any foreign trade that impacts the livelihood of North Koreans should not be prohibited by sanctions. Rather, humanitarian principles must also come into account when deciding how to handle the delicate situation in North Korea.

While China justifies its current trade practices with North Korea, it remains in a tense situation with the United States. The nation must find a balance that satisfies its own need to trade, and the collective action of the United Nations against North Korea’s nuclear programs. If China fails to show its commitment to these efforts, it may ultimately result in a negative impact on its own performance. President Trump has already made his frustration with China clear, and any tension between these two great nations must be addressed in order to protect the global economy.