China on Saturday announced it was suspending coal imports from North Korea in an effort to implement United Nations sanctions against the country.
The decision comes days after North Korea tested a ballistic missile, violating a UN ban on its nuclear programme, and will deprive the cash-starved Communist country of crucial foreign exchange.
Coal is the country’s main export and is used in China’s steel industry.
The timing of the ban is also close to the mysterious killing of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, at a Malaysian airport.
China’s ministry of commerce made the announcement in a short statement on its website. It said the ban will be effective till the end of December this year.
“For enforcing the no.2321 resolution of the United Nations Security Council, and according to the foreign trade law of the People’s Republic of China and the no.81 notice in 2016 of ministry of commerce and general administration of customs, import of the coal from North Korea will be suspended (including the coal of which customs has already accepted the declaration but has not gone through the formality of customs). This notice will be executed on Feb.19th, 2017, and valid by Dec.31st, 2017,” the government notice said.
Saturday’s announcement follows reports from earlier this month that China had stopped a North Korean coal shipment worth around $1 million.
In December, China had stopped coal imports from North Korea for three weeks, which were also in line with UN sanctions.
According to an AFP report, the UN Security Council passed the resolution on the international sanctions against Pyongyang on November 30 following the country’s September nuclear test.
“It limits North Korea’s coal exports next year to 7.5 million tonnes or just over $400 million, down 62% on 2015…China imported 1.8 million tonnes of coal worth $101 million from North Korea in October alone,” the report said, quoting figures from the Chinese Customs website.
Despite the ban, a Reuters report said in January that China had boosted imports of coal from North Korea.
“Imports jumped to 2 million tonnes, up 13% from the same month a year earlier, and up from 1.9 million tonnes in November,” the report said quoting Customs data.
“For the whole year, China imported 22.5 million tonnes of North Korean coal, up 14.5% from 2015,” it said.
On the killing of Kim Jong-nam, China has remained quiet even though reports have claimed that he had lived the under the protection of Beijing.
“We are aware of relevant reports and will continue to keep an eye on any developments,” foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said at a daily press briefing on Friday.