China is continuing to undermine international sanctions on North Korea by increasing trade with their close communist ally, NBC News revealed in a report Wednesday.
The report, referencing several former U.S. officials and independent experts, claims China has boosted trade with North Korea significantly in recent months through an increase in coal shipments, the revival of construction projects, and allowing growing numbers of Chinese tourists to visit the secretive state.
Such activity reportedly began back in March after President Donald Trump announced a meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, a move that allegedly stunned Beijing, which feared a loss of influence over a regime that is almost fully dependent on their relationship.
China responded by loosening many of the sanctions agreed by the United Nations Security Council and has since allowed North Korean products and workers to flow into China at an accelerated rate, NBC reports. Last month, China held a trade fair on the North Korean border, attracting thousands of people with the aim of promoting economic ties with the Kim regime.
According to China’s General Administration of Customs, official trade between China and North Korea in the first seven months of this year was $1.3 billion, a 56.2 percent drop compared from the same period of 2017. Reports citing local activity found a large uptick in illegal trade offsetting this, however, including trade in large amounts of meat, seafood, and minerals smuggled through maritime routes.
As noted by South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, the “most rampant kind [of illegal trade] is small-scale smuggling of daily necessities across land from China, but in maritime smuggling, government and military officials are often involved.”
China is also taking significant steps to help Kim Jong-un achieve his ambition of turning North Korea into a tourist destination by lifting sanctions prohibiting Chinese tourists from visiting the country. In July, China opened a North Korean travel agency in the Taiwanese capital of Taipei.
Part of Beijing’s response has also been to launch a charm offensive towards Pyongyang that has seen Kim Jong-un visit China three times this year and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping pledging his “unwavering friendship” to the country and its regime. In preparation for the visits, China’s online censors blocked internet searches for all words and articles deemed critical of the Kim regime.
Growing trade between China and North Korea is likely to damage negotiations by the United States and South Korea to reach a comprehensive peace agreement with the rogue communist regime. It will also help China push for a “guarantor” role in all negotiations.
China’s refusal to curb trade with North Korea has long been a source of frustration to President Donald Trump, who recently complained that Beijing is not doing enough to help peace negotiations by exerting pressure on the North Korean regime.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has previously claimed that the U.S. will not relieve any sanctions until the regime has completely rid itself of nuclear weapons. “When sanctions are not enforced, the prospects for successful denuclearization are diminished,” he said in July.