BEIJING (AFP) - China will suspend all imports of coal from North Korea for the rest of the year, Beijing said Saturday (Feb 18), depriving Pyongyang of a crucial source of foreign exchange following its latest missile test.
"(China) will temporarily stop its imports of coal from North Korea for the rest of this year (including coal for which customs applications have been made but not yet processed)," the commerce ministry said in a statement posted on its website.
The suspension, which implements existing UN sanctions, will start on Feb 19 and remain in force until the end of the year, it added.
The decision came less than a week after North Korea's latest missile test, as tensions escalate over the reclusive state's defiance of UN resolutions.
The North's leader Kim Jong-Un has been trying to strengthen his grip on power in the face of growing international pressure over his country's nuclear and missile programmes.
The communique from Beijing came as investigators in Malaysia probe the shock assassination of Kim's half-brother on Monday.
The United Nations Security Council, which includes the North's only major ally China, sharply castigated Pyongyang on Monday for the missile test a day earlier, describing it as a "grave violation" of UN resolutions and threatening "further significant measures".
On Wednesday, Pyongyang defended the missile launch and slammed the UN Security Council condemnation.
The rocket launch was the first since US President Donald Trump came to power and was seen as a challenge to the new American leader, who has vowed a strong response to the provocation.
Trump has repeatedly called out China for doing too little to help stop North Korea's nuclear programme.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday used his first meeting with Chinese counterpart Wang Yi to urge Beijing "to use all available tools to moderate North Korea's destabilising behaviour".
Pyongyang is barred under UN resolutions from carrying out ballistic missile launches or nuclear tests.
North Korea blasted off a series of missiles and conducted two nuclear tests in 2016 in its quest to develop a weapons system capable of hitting the US mainland.
The latest rocket - said by Pyongyang to be able to carry a nuclear warhead - flew east for about 500km before falling into the Sea of Japan (East Sea), South Korea's defence ministry said.
The Security Council has imposed six sets of sanctions since Pyongyang first tested an atomic device in 2006.
Beijing traditionally ensured that UN Security Council resolutions on sanctions against Pyongyang included humanitarian exemptions, and had continued to purchase huge amounts of North Korean coal - US$101 million (S$143 million) worth in October alone - a crucial source of foreign exchange for Pyongyang.
But the latest resolution, passed in December, had no such clause and Beijing suspended purchases of coal from the North - for three weeks to Dec 31.