Sharp fall in China's trade with North Korea as UN sanctions bite

China’s trade with North Korea fell sharply last year, according to data released on Monday, as harsh UN sanctions batter the nuclear-armed country’s economy.

Beijing is a key ally of the isolated state and its main source of trade and aid – but in 2017 it backed United Nations measures to punish Pyongyang over its nuclear and ballistic missile activities.

The sanctions on trade in North Korea’s most valuable commodities sent bilateral trade plunging 52.4 per cent last year compared with 2017.

China’s imports from its neighbour dropped 88 per cent in 2018 year on year to 1.42 billion yuan (US$210 million), while its exports slumped 33.3 per cent to 14.7 billion yuan (US$2.18 billion), according to Chinese customs administration spokesman Li Kuiwen.

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“For trade between China and North Korea, we are strictly implementing the resolutions of the [UN] Security Council,” Li said.

The trade sanctions seek to cut off the North’s access to hard currency by banning its main exports – coal and other mineral resources, fisheries and textile products.

They have pummelled the country’s economy, which contracted 3.5 per cent in 2017 – its worst showing in two decades – South Korea’s central bank said last year.

The North’s mining industry slumped 11 per cent in 2017, the Bank of Korea said, after growing 8.4 per cent in 2016.

Manufacturing output also fell by 6.9 per cent that year – down from 4.8 per cent growth – while agriculture and fisheries slipped 1.3 per cent, after also expanding in 2016.

China and Russia have both said the UN should consider relaxing sanctions on Pyongyang, while Washington is demanding that the North give up its nuclear arsenal before any relief from sanctions is granted.

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