China's farm exports to N. Korea surge amid more sanctions: report


While the international community steps up pressure on North Korea in trying to curb its nuclear and missile programs, China sharply increased agricultural exports to the North in recent months, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

Chinese corn exports to North Korea jumped about 100 times in July and August to a total of 34,964 tons from year-earlier levels, the paper said, citing figures from Beijing's General Administration of Customs.

Similarly, rice exports surged 79 percent in the same period to 17,875 tons and wheat flour exports climbed 11-fold to 8,383 tons, it said.

In response to North Korea's ballistic missile launches and its sixth nuclear test, U.N. sanctions have expanded significantly and now include banning Pyongyang from exporting key items such as coal, iron, lead, seafood and textiles. But there are no restrictions on food imports by North Korea.

China says it is fully enforcing U.N. sanctions on North Korea so as to compel it to change its provocative behavior. But Beijing's decision to increase food exports to Pyongyang, even as other sanctions come into play, underscores the "resilience in ties" between the two neighbors, the U.S. newspaper quoted analysts as saying.

The jump in corn exports to North Korea comes as China has been trying to sell down its overflowing corn stockpiles, according to the paper.

The report came as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson departed for Beijing for talks with senior Chinese officials on North Korea and other issues.

Speaking at a congressional hearing Thursday, senior U.S. officials said China holds the key to the campaign of international pressure aimed at bringing North Korea back to credible negotiations toward its denuclearization.

"We recognize that the success of this pressure strategy will depend on heavy cooperation from our international partners, especially Beijing," Susan Thornton, acting assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

"Our task now is to hold China and others to these internationally binding obligations and to convince China's leaders to more fully exert their decisive leverage over North Korea," Thornton said.

Referring to a new U.S. executive order that imposes sanctions on foreign banks and other entities that finance and facilitate trade with North Korea, Sigal Mandelker, Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes, said she thinks China is taking the measure "seriously."

"We continue to share information with them on actions that we think that they need to take," Mandelker said in reference to the Chinese government. "The urgency with which China takes it is going to be key to any successful economic pressure campaign."


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