China said Monday it will begin enforcing tough new U.N. economic sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs, announcing its will start blocking imports of coal, iron ore and other goods early next month.
China is by far Pyongyang’s biggest trading partner, but analysts are divided on how much the new sanctions will harm North Korea’s already isolated economy. Beijing has in the past also been hesitant to push too hard against the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for fear it could collapse and produce even greater regional instability.
Beijing’s trade ban also comes after a week of extremely hostile rhetoric between the United States and North Korea after President Trump declared the U.S. military was “locked and loaded” while Pyongyang threatened to fire missiles into waters near the U.S. Western Pacific territory of Guam.
The latest U.N. sanctions — which were approved early this month by the Security Council with Chinese support — are intended to block North Korean exports of coal and other key goods worth $1 billion, a significant share of total exports valued at $3 billion last year.
In February, in compliance with an earlier U.N. resolution, China announced a ban on North Korean coal imports for the rest of 2017. However, total trade appears to have risen and prompted the Trump administration to recently accuse Beijing of failing to use its economic leverage to stop Mr. Kim’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Beijing has long been Pyongyang’s only diplomatic defender and Chinese leaders oppose blocking all trade with the impoverished North, which they argue might cause widespread hunger. On Monday, the Chinese customs agency said it would add iron, lead ores and fish to the coal ban as of midnight on Sept. 5.
“After that, entry of these goods will be prohibited,” The Associated Press quoted an agency statement.
The latest sanctions are open-ended and will remain in place until North Korea ceases to pursue its nuclear and missile programs.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.