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The Numbers Suggest China’s Not Very Serious About Reining In North Korea

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Chinese trade with North Korea rose in the first half of 2017, despite U.S. calls for Beijing to use its economic leverage to pressure Pyongyang.

Chinese customs spokesman Huang Songping revealed Thursday that Chinese trade with North Korea had expanded by 10.5 percent to $2.55 billion in the first six months of this year. Imports from North Korea dropped 13.2 percent to $880 million, while exports to North Korea increased 29.1 percent to $1.67 billion, Reuters reported.

President Donald Trump criticized Chinese trade with North Korea in the wake of a shocking North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile test earlier this month, tweeting that “trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40% in the first quarter.”

“So much for China working with us, but we had to give it a try,” the president added.

Trump appeared to be referencing Chinese government data from April showing that bilateral trade between China and North Korea grew 37.4 percent in the first three months of this year, an increase that occurred despite China’s announced suspension of North Korean coal imports in February and agreement to step up its efforts to rein in North Korea at a meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Trump in Mar-a-Lago two months later.

“As neighbors, China and North Korea maintain normal business and trade exchanges,” Huang explained Thursday, arguing that increased trade does not signal a failure to uphold United Nations Security Council resolutions. “Simple accumulated data cannot be used as evidence to question China’s severe attitude in carrying out UN Security Council resolutions.”

“For China to maintain normal economic relations with North Korea does not violate U.N. resolutions,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang said at a press conference Thursday, explaining that trade for civilian purposes is not prohibited. In a country like North Korea, there is no such thing as a business that the regime does not have the ability to use to pursue its own interests, which would likely involve attempts to escape the economic noose of international sanctions.

China said earlier this week that Beijing will not take responsibility for North Korea.

“Recently, certain people, talking about the Korean peninsula nuclear issue, have been exaggerating and giving prominence to the so-called ‘China responsibility theory,’” Shuang said at a press briefing Tuesday. “I think this either shows lack of a full, correct knowledge of the issue, or there are ulterior motives for it, trying to shift responsibility.”

“Asking others to do work, but doing nothing themselves is not OK,” he added.

Since North Korea’s ICBM test, U.S. officials have stepped up their criticisms of China, suggesting that it has not done enough to stop its neighbor.

“We’re going to push hard against China because 90 percent of the trade that happens with North Korea is from China, and so while they have been helpful, they need to do more,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told CBS in an interview. She has even gone so far as to threaten trade with China if it continues to engage North Korea, which is advancing its weapons development programs at an accelerated rate.

China prefers stability in North Korea to the chaos of collapse caused by international pressure, making China hesitant to press down hard on the North Korean regime. Beijing asserts that it did not cause the North Korea crisis and, therefore, is not required to act. This elevates any efforts, limited as they may be, to resolve the issue.

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