Assess North Korea trade fairly, says state-run Chinese newspaper after Donald Trump's tweet

Dusk settles over the Friendship Bridge on the Yalu River connecting the North Korean town of Sinuiju and China's border city of Dandong on July 5, 2017.
Dusk settles over the Friendship Bridge on the Yalu River connecting the North Korean town of Sinuiju and China's border city of Dandong on July 5, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (REUTERS) - A jump in first-quarter trade between China and North Korea was "unexpected" and masks a declining longer-term trend, a state-run Chinese newspaper said on Friday (July 7), after US President Donald Trump denounced China's trade with its isolated neighbour.

Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40 per cent in the first quarter, Mr Trump said on social network Twitter on Wednesday, casting doubt on Beijing's claim to be working to counter the nuclear threat from Pyongyang.

"First-quarter data cannot speak for the whole year," the Global Times said in an editorial. "The trade volume for 2017 is unlikely to grow significantly from last year."

Data released in April by Beijing showed China's trade with North Korea grew 37.4 per cent in the first quarter over the corresponding 2016 period, the Global Times said, adding that subsequent data showed declining trade in April and May.

While the first-quarter rise was "somewhat unexpected", the newspaper added that Beijing had been strictly implementing United Nations sanctions against Pyongyang, and that a ban on imports of North Korean coal had taken a toll on two-way trade.

The newspaper said trade between China and North Korea had declined during the previous three years.

China has not imported North Korean coal since Beijing banned imports of the fuel on Feb 18, the General Administration of Customs said in April.

The newspaper, published by the official People's Daily, reiterated that sanctions should not affect normal trade activities with Pyongyang, especially those concerning people's livelihoods.

"America's public opinion mistakenly depicts UN sanctions on Pyongyang's nuclear and missile activities as a total embargo," it said, citing a four-fold increase in China's grain exports to North Korea in the first quarter.

"Beijing will never export materials to Pyongyang that could be used for nuclear and missile activities."

It also urged China and the United States to communicate further on the sanctions on North Korea and "narrow down their divergences".

Neither the Chinese Commerce Ministry nor the Foreign Affairs Ministry responded immediately to a request for comment about the Global Times article.