Chinese trade with North Korea dropped 50 percent last month

Bloomberg, Reuters

China’s trade with North Korea shrank by more than half last month, as Beijing implements United Nations sanctions against Kim Jong Un’s nuclear weapons program.

The value of Chinese goods exported to North Korea last month fell 23 percent year on year, according to data released Friday by China’s General Administration of Customs. Imports from the country also plunged 82 percent in December. All told, trade between the two sides fell almost 51 percent during the month.

In 2017 as a whole, China’s overall trade with North Korea declined by more than 10 percent to about $5 billion, as U.S. President Donald Trump secured Beijing’s backing for four escalating rounds of sanctions. The U.S. sees cutting off North Korea’s economic ties with China — the country’s dominant trading partner — as essential to forcing Kim back to the negotiating table.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement Friday that the administration “is pleased that China is sharply reducing its trade with North Korea,” adding that the action “supports the United States-led global effort to apply maximum pressure until the North Korean regime ends its illicit programs.”

China has “closed some sanctions gaps,” Brian Hook, director of policy planning for U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, told reporters in Washington on Thursday. “They are doing a better job of implementing the U.N. Security Council resolutions.”

After North Korea tested its most powerful nuclear device yet and launched missiles capable of reaching the U.S., the U.N. Security Council imposed a series of sanctions restricting oil imports and cutting off about 90 percent of its export revenue. The latest round passed last month.

North Korea’s first talks with South Korea in more than two years turned tense Tuesday, after representatives of President Moon Jae-in proposed discussions with Kim about giving up his nuclear weapons program. While China says they support a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, Beijing has resisted sanctions so harsh that they might cause widespread suffering or topple Kim’s regime.

South Korea on Friday proposed working-level talks with the North on the latter’s participation in the Winter Olympics set for next month, according to the South’s Unification Ministry.

It suggested Tuesday for a meeting with the South’s three-member delegation led by Vice Minister Chun Hae-sung, to discuss the North’s participation, the ministry said in a statement.

Following the first intra-Korean talks, the two sides had agreed to hold talks on Jan. 20, hosted by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

“The South also delivered a document presenting its position regarding the North’s participation in the Pyeongchang Olympics and matters on cultural events,” the ministry added.

Earlier, a senior Seoul official said the South made a proposal to the North for both to form a united women’s ice hockey team to participate in the Winter Olympics.