February 20, 2017 11:49
China abruptly halted coal imports from North Korea on Sunday after the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's half-brother Jong-nam and a missile launch earlier this month.
This is a harsh blow to the regime since coal accounts for 40 percent of all the North's paltry exports and China buys almost all of it.
In a press release Saturday, the Chinese Commerce Ministry and Customs Office of China said they will "temporarily suspend coal imports from the North from Sunday until Dec. 31 based on UN Security Council Resolution 2321 and the Foreign Trade Law of China."
Last year, the North earned US$1.14 billion from coal exports to China. "It's hard to smuggle coal because the stuff is bulky," a source in the North Korea-China border region said. "The North will suffer a serious blow to its economy if China is serious."
China took the step amid mounting tensions between the allies after the North launched a new ballistic missile on Feb. 12 and very publicly assassinated Kim Jong-nam, who was under Chinese protection, in Malaysia on Feb. 13.
But perhaps it was also a message that China is abiding by its international obligations amid a stream of denunciations from the erratic Trump administration in the U.S.
China has long propped up the North Korean regime as a buffer against U.S. allies in the region by supplying it with free crude oil and buying most of its coal. Last December, after the UNSC adopted a resolution curbing coal exports from the North, China still imported a huge amount.
Some sources say the latest halt could only be a temporary shot before the bow.
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