WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - China's Ambassador to the United States has said that reports of trade growth between his country and North Korea, in spite of international efforts to press Pyongyang to give up its nuclear and missile programmes, give "a distorted picture".
Last week, US President Donald Trump denounced China's trade with North Korea, saying it had grown almost 40 per cent in the first quarter, and cast doubt on whether Beijing was helping to counter the threat from North Korea.
Data released in April showed China's trade with North Korea grew 37.4 per cent year on year in the first quarter, in spite of a ban on coal imports China announced in February.
"This is a distorted picture," China's ambassador, Mr Cui Tiankai, said in a speech to a Washington think-tank on Monday (July 10).
Mr Cui said bilateral trade declined in 2015 and 2016, and by 41 per cent in April and 32 per cent in May as a result of the coal import ban.
At the same time, Mr Cui stressed that UN Security Council sanctions on North Korea did not constitute an embargo. "Normal trade... is not banned by these sanctions," he said.
The Chinese Embassy released a copy of Mr Cui's speech, originally delivered in an off-the-record setting, on Tuesday (July 11).
Mr Cui said China backed further United Nations action against North Korea for violations of UN resolutions such as nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
He did not, though, make clear whether China believed North Korea's latest missile test last week, which the US described as a first ICBM test, was of that type of missile.
Diplomats say the US is aiming for a vote within weeks to strengthen UN sanctions on North Korea over the test, but Russia has objected to a Security Council condemnation of the launch as a US-drafted statement labelled it an ICBM.
Mr Cui said sanctions were necessary, but could not by themselves solve the North Korean problem. He repeated a call for Washington to back a Chinese "suspension for suspension" proposal under which North Korea would freeze weapons testing in return for suspension of US-South Korean military exercises.
Washington says the exercises are needed to maintain defences against North Korea, and American officials say Beijing could face US economic and trade pressure unless it does more to rein in Pyongyang.
Washington is expected to press the issue when senior US and Chinese officials meet on July 19 to discuss bilateral economic issues.