CHINA’S push to use its trading clout to hurt North Korea is starting to be felt as new figures show a sharp drop in imports.
New figures show that Chinese imports from North Korea fell 35 per cent month-on-month in March, after Beijing suspended coal purchases to punish its nuclear-armed neighbour for missile tests.
Total imports from the North by China — Pyongyang’s sole major diplomatic ally and chief trading partner — stood at US$114.56 million (AU$151 million) last month, down from US$176.7 million (AU$233 million) in February, according to Chinese customs data.
Beijing on February 18 imposed a total halt on coal imports from the North until the end of 2017, hardening its stance after a new missile test by Pyongyang, in line with new sanctions adopted by the UN Security Council.
The halt in coal exports aims to cut off a crucial supply of hard currency for Kim Jong-un’s regime.
In 2016 China imported coal worth some US$1.19 billion (AU$1.57 billion) from the North.
But Beijing has maintained exports to the Stalinist regime.
North Korea last month bought from its powerful neighbour some US$29.1 million (AU$38.5 million) of electrical appliances and components, US$21.5 million (AU$28.4 million) of plastics and manufactured components, and US$23.9 million (AU$31.6 million) of synthetic fibres — most of which go back across the border in the form of finished clothes.
US President Donald Trump has been pushing Chinese President Xi Jinping to use his economic clout over Pyongyang to bring the rogue regime to heel.
However, Beijing is concerned that a regime collapse could trigger a flood of refugees across the border and leave the US military on its doorstep.
“The last thing China wants is to see war break out in the region … given the geopolitical circumstances, (North Korea) must learn to be as flexible as they are determined,” the state-run Global Times newspaper said overnight.
Meanwhile, Mr Trump told members of the United Nations Security Council at the White House that the “status quo” on North Korea is “unacceptable”.
“The council must be prepared to impose additional and stronger sanctions,” Mr Trump said.
He reportedly told journalists that “I’m not so sure he’s so strong like he says he is.”
It came as North Korea held major live-fire drills to mark the 85th founding anniversary of its military.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency cited a government source as saying the exercise was the North’s ‘largest ever’.
“Signs are detected that North Korea’s military is conducting a large-scale drill around the eastern port city of Wonsan on the anniversary,” a source told Yonhap News.
North Korea will cross the point of no return if it carries out another nuclear test, the official Chinese newspaper Global Times, controlled by the ruling Communist Party, warns.