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Kim Feels the Pinch

More than 95 percent of North Korea’s coal has traditionally been sold to China
By The News · 07 of March 2017 08:50:33
A Chinese national flag flutters against the office buildings at the Shanghai Bund shrouded by pollution and fog in Shanghai, China, Thursday, April 14, 2016, No available, photo: AP/Andy Wong

Maybe it was a way to curry favor with the new U.S. president and make sure he doesn’t sway from his recent promise to respect his government’s longstanding One-China policy.

Or maybe it was a message to North Korean President Kim Jong-un to stop haphazardly launching ballistic missiles at his neighbors and taking potshots at his fraternal relatives.

Or maybe it was a decision based purely on economic factors (not likely).

But whatever the reasons, Beijing announced late last month that it was no longer going to purchase coal from Pyongyang, at least through the end of the year (and, hey, we are barely into March).

That announcement represents a serious economic blow to Kim and his ban of authoritarian cronies.

In fact, coal is North Korea’s biggest export (representing roughly a third of its total $3 billion in annual overseas sales), and China is its biggest buyer of the solid hydrocarbon fuel.

More than 95 percent of North Korea’s coal has traditionally been sold to China.

For decades, China has constituted a vital financial lifeline for the hermitic East Asian nation, which has been stuck in a Cold War deep-freeze cooler since the 1950s.

In the past, Beijing has purchased a whopping 87 percent of all North Korea’s total exports, with India, Pakistan, Nigeria and Brazil making up the bulk of its other buyers.

And Beijing maintains a serious trade surplus with Pyongyang, selling it about $3.5 billion in goods and services each year.

A Chinese cutoff in North Korean imports would logically translate into a downturn in exports to Pyongyang.

The United Nations had already placed economic sanctions on Kim’s regime in March 2016 in response to the Johnnie Walker-quaffing despot’s untethered nuclear ambitions, and Chinese President Xi Jinping then agreed to join the embargo by banning imports of coal, iron ore and other commodities from its reclusive neighbor.

But in August of last year, Beijing slackened its policy based on what is called “the people’s wellbeing” and began buying coal from Pyongyang once again.

It’s anybody’s guess at this point if China will relent and decide to start importing North Korean coal later this year.

But for the meantime, Kim is feeling the pinch, which means he might think twice before offing any more relatives in international airports or indiscriminately launching intermediate-range missiles over the Sea of Japan.

And anything that can help to rein in the terror of North Korea’s power-crazy megalomaniac is definitely a good thing.

Kudos, China!

Thérèse Margolis can be reached at