China Cannot Be Expected to Punish North Korea

Miranda GreerFeb 20, 2017

In a surprising move, China's commerce ministry has announced that the country would be suspending its coal imports from North Korea.

Resolution 2321 imposed some of the toughest sanctions yet against the North Korean regime, after it disregarded an earlier United Nations ban to test what it said was a nuclear warhead in September 2016. "China's decision is a welcome development", Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda told a TV program Sunday morning.

In 2016, despite a United Nations sanction imposed in April that year, China bought even more North Korean coal, with imports reaching 22.5 million tonnes, up 14.5 per cent from the previous year. In August, China imported 2.47 million tons of coal from the North.

Beijing traditionally ensured that UN Security Council resolutions on sanctions against Pyongyang included humanitarian exemptions, and had continued to purchase huge amounts of North Korean coal - US$101 million (RM450 million) worth in October alone - a crucial source of foreign exchange for Pyongyang.

"Beijing took the assassination as a direct affront to China".

The situation on the Korean Peninsula may become more unpredictable with North Korea's economy expected to be hit hard by a Chinese ban on buying its coal, and as the United States and South Korea prepare for joint military drills. Especially important are the responses from China, which has supported North Korea by such means as provision of crude oil.

Coal is North Korea's largest export item, and also China's greatest point of leverage over the regime.

Wang stressed that UN Security Council resolutions - including sanctions - against Pyongyang should be fully implemented, but added: "We can not give up on seeking a resumption of talks".

The ban also comes after news broke Tuesday that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's older half brother, Kim Jong-nam, was assassinated in Kuala Lumpur the previous day. On Saturday in Germany, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his South Korean counterpart Yun Byung-se held a bilateral foreign ministerial meeting on the sidelines of the security conference, struggling to find common ground over the controversial issue of deploying the USA -led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system in Korea, a decision that China objects. He had lived outside North Korea for many years and had close links to China. The announcement is in line with sanctions imposed on North Korea over its nuclear missile testing programme.

North Korea said this week it had successfully test-fired a new type of medium- to long-range ballistic missile.

Earlier this month, North Korea tested an intermediate-range ballistic missile, after two nuclear tests and 24 missile launches past year, in spite of objections from Beijing, the North's main ally and major trading partner.

"Coal represents one-third of North Korea's total exports". The US is putting a defence system called Thaad in South Korea - a move that also potentially threatens Beijing's military capabilities.

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