BEIJING (AFP, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - China will halt iron, iron ore and seafood imports from North Korea starting Tuesday (Aug 15), following through on new UN sanctions after US pressure for Beijing to strongarm Pyongyang over its ally's nuclear programme.
Beijing had pledged to fully enforce the latest sanctions against its diplomatic ally after coming under pressure from the United States to do more to compel Pyongyang to drop its nuclear weapons programme.
The Chinese commerce ministry said on its website on Monday that all imports of coal, iron, iron ore and seafood will be "completely prohibited" from Tuesday. Beijing had already announced a suspension of coal imports in February.
day's announcement follows days of increasingly bellicose rhetoric between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's regime, which has raised international alarm.
China has urged calm while backing tighter sanctions against North Korea to ward off US threats of punitive tariffs and military strikes.
On Aug 6, the UN Security Council, including permanent member Beijing, approved tough sanctions against Pyongyang that could cost the hermetic country US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion) a year.
The sanctions were in response to the North's two intercontinental ballistic missile tests last month, after which Mr Kim boasted that he could now strike any part of the US.
The UN sanctions must be implemented 30 days after the resolution was approved in a vote.
The US has accused China, which is North Korea's main economic lifeline, of not doing enough to rein in its neighbour.
North Korea purchased US$935 million worth of exports from China in the three months through June, 17 per cent more than in the same period a year earlier, Chinese official data shows.
But Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi vowed after the UN sanctions were given the green light that his country "will for sure implement that new resolution 100 per cent, fully and strictly".
China urges dialogue
China, which is suspected of failing to enforce past UN measures, accounts for 90 per cent of North Korea's trade. Trump complained in July that trade between the two nations had increased by nearly 40 per cent in the first quarter.
Beijing has defended its economic ties with Pyongyang as normal commerce between neighbours and insisted the trade did not violate UN sanctions. The suspension of coal imports deprives North Korea of massive income as it totalled US$1.2 billion last year.
Among the latest banned products, China imported US$74.4 million worth of iron ore in the first five months of this year, almost equalling the figure for all of 2016. Fish and seafood imports totalled US$46.7 million in June, up from US$13.6 million in May.
The United States angered China in June when it imposed unilateral sanctions on a Chinese bank accused of laundering North Korean cash.
Trump will formally order on Monday a probe into China's intellectual property practices, though US officials said it was not linked to the North Korean matter. "It's not appropriate to use one issue as a tool to keep pressure on the other issue," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing.
Regional tensions have mushroomed in the past week as Trump warned North Korea it would face "fire and fury" if it attacked the United States while the North threatened to test-fire its missiles towards the US Pacific island of Guam. The war of words has sparked global concerns, with world leaders including Chinese President Xi Jinping urging calm on both sides in a phone call with Trump over the weekend.
South Korean President Moon Jae In, a left-leaning leader who has previously advocated dialogue with the North, joined the appeals for restraint on Monday. Moon called for an end to "all provocations and hostile rhetoric immediately, instead of worsening the situation any further".
The governor of Guam, Eddie Calvo, defended Trump's rhetoric against Kim's regime, saying in an interview with AFP that "sometimes a bully can only be stopped with a punch in the nose".
China has pleaded for a resumption of long-dormant six-nation talks to peacefully resolve the crisis. But its proposal for North Korea to suspend its arms programmes in return for the United States to halt military drills in the region has been ignored.
"The relevant parties should exercise restraint, in order to avoid aggravating the words and deeds of the tense situation on the Korean peninsula," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua said. "In order to resolve the Korean peninsula nuclear issue ultimately, (relevant parties) should persist in negotiations and stay committed to the general direction of a political settlement," she said.