China piles pressure on North Korea by banning coal imports

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China is suspending all imports of coal from North Korea as part of efforts to increase pressure on the country over its latest missile test.

China's commerce ministry said the ban would operate until the end of 2017.

It follows reports last week that China had rejected a shipment of North Korean coal worth $1m (£806,000; €942,100).

The ban brings China, North Korea's only ally, closer to fully implementing tough sanctions aimed at stopping Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme.

Coal is North Korea's biggest export, with its shipments to China a mainstay of the country's fragile economy.

The latest development comes just days after the suspicious killing of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's half brother, Kim Jong-nam, at an airport in Malaysia.

Kim, who was largely estranged from his family, had spent much of his time overseas in the Chinese territory of Macau, where he was seen to have had the protection of China.

Will Kim Jong-nam's killing derail North Korea-China ties?

A significant development - by Robin Brant, BBC , Beijing correspondent

The tightening from China has been incremental but this is a key move. It follows North Korea's test of a more sophisticated missile earlier this month. It may also be linked to the assassination of Kim Jong-un's half brother this week.

For North Korea, this targets the trade it relies on most heavily for cash. Almost all its coal exports go next door to China. Up to now the Beijing authorities had permitted some trade in coal, for "the people's" wellbeing'. That should now end.

China stopped importing some precious metals almost a year ago and banned the sale going the other way of fuel and other items associated with the weapons programme.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported last week that the $1m coal shipment had been stopped at Wenzhou port, on China's eastern coast on 13 February.

A day earlier, North Korea had tested an intermediate-range ballistic missile in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions banning the country from carrying out such actions.

Last year, China said it would halt coal imports to North Korea with some exceptions.

Despite this, Chinese data showed that North Korean coal exports to China had risen more than 12% in the past 12 months.


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