• Kyodo

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China’s trade with North Korea plunged to its lowest level for a second straight month in November as Pyongyang has been bolstering measures to curb the entry of the novel coronavirus into the country, foreign affairs experts said Thursday.

With a serious downturn in the broader economy apparently choking the supply of daily essentials, more diplomats in Pyongyang have started to evacuate from North Korea recently, a source familiar with the situation in the nation said.

The total volume of China’s trade with North Korea dropped 23% from a month earlier to $1.27 million in November, while its exports to the neighbor also fell 42% to $148,000, the General Administration of Customs said Wednesday.

The trade volume between China and North Korea renewed its record low since comparable data became available in 1998, the experts said.

North Korea has cut off traffic to and from China and Russia since earlier this year in the wake of the spread of the virus. Pyongyang claims the virus has not made inroads into the country.

Beijing is Pyongyang’s closest and most influential ally in economic terms. North Korea has depended on China for more than 90% of its trade.

Trade with China is seen as a major source for North Korea to obtain foreign currency, but Pyongyang has put more emphasis on strengthening quarantine controls in the run-up to the first congress of the ruling Workers’ Party in five years in January.

As its negotiations with the United States on denuclearization and economic sanctions relief have remained at a standstill, North Korea appears to be facing difficulties in providing adequate necessities for its citizens.

It is believed to be vulnerable to infectious diseases against a backdrop of chronic shortages of food and medical supplies triggered by economic sanctions aimed at thwarting its nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions.

In the past, North Korea barred foreigners from entering the nation during the 2003 epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014.

The novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 disease was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. Since March, many diplomats and international organization officials in Pyongyang have left North Korea.

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