OUR MAN IN Munich, where those who make their living from discussing global security were gathered of late, sends word that foreign minister Wang Yi said there that the cycle of sanctions and missile tests has to stop and North Korea and the United States should return to the negotiating table.
Whether that would be as part of a resumption of the six-party talks or a bilateral meeting was unclear, but Wang said Beijing was ready to play the role of mediator, which leaves either interpretation open.
Yet in the meantime, China is suspending all imports of coal from North Korea until the end of this year. This is as close to compliance with UN sanctions against Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme that one can get. China is North Korea’s primary export market and coal is its biggest single export.
Last week, China was believed to have turned back from Wenzhou a $1 million shipment of North Korean coal the day after North Korea had tested an intermediate-range ballistic missile in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions banning the country from carrying out such actions.
Suspending imports is the latest tightening by China as coal exports are what Pyongyang relies on to generate cash, particularly since China stopped importing some precious metals almost a year ago and banned the sale of fuel in the opposite direction. North Korean coal exports to China rose more than 12% last year, coming in through a loophole in the UN sanctions that allows imports on which North Koreans depend for their livelihood.
The mysterious death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half-brother Kim Jong Nam by apparent poisoning, if proved to be connected to North Korea as suspected, may have also tested Beijing’s patience beyond endurance.