China bought tonnes of North Korean coal

A coal shipment underway in China. Photo by Rob Loftis, Wikimedia Commons.

North Korea’s biggest trading partner imported 1.64 million tonnes of coal in August, despite a supposed embargo imposed by Beijing to comply with the UN sanctions aimed at stopping Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.

According to CNN, even though China announced in February that it would halt all coal shipments from its smaller neighbour through the end of this year, official customs data shows the country stuck to that pledge until last month, when imports of the black mineral added up to $138.1 million.

The increase is noticeable, given that in January China imported about $122.5 million worth of coal, while the number dropped to $98.1 million in February and to zero in March.

Experts consulted by the TV station said that the reason that explains Beijing’s behaviour is that the February ban was imposed so abruptly that several shipments were already sitting at Chinese ports and they had to be cleared before the September 5 sanctions deadline. Following that deadline, the Asian giant said it would not process coal imports from Pyongyang, even if the goods had already arrived.

In a strict sense, China did not violate the Security Council’s resolutions. However, analysts such as Anthony Ruggiero, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told CNN that actions by Xi Jinping’s government show that it is not a reliable partner.

Ruggiero hopes that China learns from this situation, particularly once its officials see that more Chinese firms and banks are being sanctioned as the US Treasury Department executes its new powers to crack down even harder on anyone who does business with the Kim Jong-un administration.