President Donald Trump’s strategy of trying to persuade China to bring North Korea into line over its weapons program doesn’t seem to be paying off — recent data shows bilateral trade between Beijing and Pyongyang is on the rise.
The increase in trade, analysts say, is the latest indication that U.S. efforts to rein in North Korea by encouraging economic pressure from China, which is overwhelmingly the Hermit Kingdom’s most significant trading partner, will ultimately bear little fruit. China, which insists on maintaining trade links with Pyongyang in areas not subject to international sanctions, will continue to tread a delicate line with its volatile neighbor, stopping short of any measures that could genuinely hurt the regime — a tactic based on China’s belief that nothing will persuade Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program.
“In my view, they have given up trying to influence North Korea,” said Ramon Pacheco Pardo, a senior lecturer in international relations at King’s College London. “In China there is concern, absolutely, there’s debate on what to do about North Korea — but China has realized that, whatever it does, North Korea will carry on developing these programs.”
Kerry Brown, associate fellow at Chatham House’s Asia program, agreed. “The nuclear program for the North Koreans is a sort of existential issue,” he said. “It’s like asking the Catholics to stop believing in Jesus Christ. The will is so great that unless the regime goes away, this facet of their activity won’t change.”
igures released by Chinese customs officials Thursday show that bilateral trade between China and North Korea hit $2.55 billion in the first six months of the year, up 10.5 percent from the same period last year.
China says it is abiding by all international sanctions on North Korea — they include materials that could be used in its nuclear and missiles programs, coal, minerals, metals, and luxury goods — and says there is nothing wrong with maintaining trade relations in areas not covered by the sanctions. “As neighbors, China and North Korea maintain normal business and trade exchanges,” Chinese customs spokesperson Huang Songping told reporters Thursday.
Such trade hasn’t sat well with Trump. Responding last Wednesday to earlier figures showing a first-quarter boost in trade between China and North Korea, he tweeted: “So much for China working with us — but we had to give it a try!”