China confirms will limit oil exports to North Korea as part of UN sanctions

A petrol truck delivers fuel to a service station in Shenyang, northeast China, on Nov 10, 2009. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BEIJING (AFP) - China will limit exports of refined petroleum products to North Korea starting on Oct 1, its commerce ministry said, confirming Beijing's participation in new UN sanctions intended to rein in its neighbour.

The United Nations Security Council, including permanent member Beijing, approved tough sanctions against Pyongyang last week in response to its sixth and most powerful nuclear test.

Washington had initially sought a full oil embargo, but softened its stance to secure backing from Russia and China - the North's sole ally and main trading partner, responsible for around 90 per cent of its commerce.

In a statement posted to its website late on Friday night, the ministry reiterated the terms of the latest resolution, writing that UN member states would not export more than 500,000 barrels of refined petroleum products to the North in the final three months of 2017, and 2 million annually starting next year.

"Chinese government authorities will issue a notice based on the export situation when approaching the upper limit, and from that date implement a prohibition on exports of refined oil products to North Korea for the year," it said.

It added that China has issued a "comprehensive ban on imported textiles" from North Korea, reiterating another clause of the new sanctions that prohibits trade in both fabric and clothing.

Experts say this move could cut off a major source of foreign currency for Pyongyang, as textiles are one of country's major exports, estimated by IHS Markit analysts to value US$750 million (S$1 billion) .

China supplies materials to the North, where they are made into clothing in factories using cheap labour, and often re-exported to China.

The announcement follows days of increasingly bellicose rhetoric between US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un's regime, which has raised international alarm.

The US has accused Beijing of not doing enough to pressure Pyongyang into abandoning its nuclear programme.

China halted iron, iron ore and seafood imports after the previous round of sanctions against North Korea in August.

But Beijing fears pressuring Kim's regime into collapse, which will trigger a flood of refugees across its border and eliminate a strategic buffer separating China from the US military in South Korea.

Beijing has condemned the North's missile tests, but hopes to resolve the nuclear crisis through diplomatic means, pleading for a resumption of long-dormant six-nation talks.

It has pushed a tit-for-tat proposal in which North Korea suspends its arms programmes in return for a halt to US military drills in the region - which has been ignored.

The majority of North Korea's oil likely comes from China, but the exact tally of oil exports remains unknown, as Beijing has not published such data since 2014.

According to UN customs data, China sent 6,000 barrels a day of oil products to North Korea in 2016.

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