China is suspending its coal imports from North Korea until the end of the year, complying with the United Nations Security Council decision to tighten sanctions after the Pyongyang regime’s latest nuclear test last November.
“Experts said the move also reflected Beijing’s deep frustration with North Korea over its recent missile test and the assassination of Kim Jong Un’s half-brother in Malaysia,” the Washington Post reports. “Coal is North Korea’s largest export item, and also China’s greatest point of leverage over the regime.”
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China has been under pressure internationally to “rein in North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs,” the Post adds, and “Chinese President Xi Jinping is believed to have become increasingly irritated by Kim Jong Un’s behaviour.”
Until now, North Korea has been China’s fourth-largest source of the fuel, delivering 22.5 million tonnes of non-lignite coal last year, a 14.5% increase over 2015. “But in a sign that Beijing’s patience was running out, it rejected a coal shipment from North Korea worth about $1 million Monday, the day after the test of an intermediate-range ballistic missile,” writes the Post’s China Bureau Chief Simon Denyer, citing South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.
China has been careful not to do anything to upset North Korea’s stability, “but Pyongyang’s unwillingness to consider China’s interests has badly damaged—or even destroyed—trust between the long-standing allies,” Denyer notes.
“China still places a premium on stability, but Xi Jinping is growing more and more frustrated with Kim Jong Un,” said Paul Haenle, director of Beijing’s Carnegie-Tsinghua Center. “China is putting a squeeze on its economic lifeline to send a message to Pyongyang.”