China on Tuesday banned most imports of North Korean coal and iron ore, the country’s main exports, in a significant increase in pressure on the North under U.N. sanctions against its nuclear and missile tests. China buys an estimated two-thirds of impoverished North Korea’s exports, making Beijing’s cooperation essential for trade penalties approved by the U.N. Security Council last month to succeed.
In a sign of growing frustration with its ally, China signed onto Security Council sanctions last month that include mandatory inspections of cargo bound to and from North Korea. The council called on all countries to “redouble their efforts” to enforce the sanctions.
The latest Chinese restrictions ban most imports of North Korean coal, iron ore, gold, titanium, vanadium and rare earths — a key revenue source for the mineral-rich North. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency estimated North Korea’s 2013 exports at $4.4 billion, with 65 percent of that going to China and the bulk of it made up of mineral sales.
The announcement also banned sales of jet fuel to North Korea but said aircraft would be allowed to refuel during flights to China.
Chinese leaders are reluctant to lean too hard on North Korea for fear the collapse of Kim’s government could set off a flood of refugees and possibly lead to U.S. and South Korean troops being stationed in the North near China’s border.