To say the very least, I remain deeply skeptical that China’s effort will be sustained, complete, or in good faith, but here are two stories that suggest to some degree, China is restricting trade with North Korea. The first (as the reader who sent the link notes) comes directly from the ChiCom state media, so take it with a tablespoon of salt.
Shan, who has run the corporation for 16 years, said he has forged close relations with officials in Pyongyang, the capital of the DPRK, with turnover hitting a peak of $6 million in 2000.
“Political events like the first nuclear test back in 2006 had limited impact on our company,” he said. “But our business has hit rock bottom since the May test. We agreed 17 deals worth 3 million yuan with Pyongyang in April, but so far only one of them has materialized.
“We are under a great deal of pressure, but at least we have one deal going. Many other firms have no deals, no income and are desperate.”
Xu Ziyun, who works for Hantong International Forwarding Agent, one of the largest trading companies in Dandong, agreed that the amount of cargo crossing the border was shrinking fast.
“Before the nuclear test in May, more than 100 trucks were checked by Chinese customs officers every day. At the peak, our company alone sent 129 vehicles to the DPRK daily. But now only about 30 trucks from each side are crossing,” he said. [China Daily]
The second report (hat tip to another reader) seems to base its conclusions, in part, not on fresh information, but on recycled reports from the last several weeks:
Beijing has recently begun monitoring and regulating exports to the North, especially along the border. One businessman involved in trade between China and North Korea said, “Chinese authorities have banned shipments of all metals and chemicals to North Korea that could be diverted for military use including missiles and nuclear weapons production, and issued a stern warning saying they will severely punish Chinese companies that violate those restrictions.” He added he had “never seen” China pressure North Korea to this degree.
At the end of last month, Chinese customs foiled an attempt to smuggle the rare metal vanadium, which can be used in missile casings, into North Korea through the border town of Dandong. China accounts for 70 percent of North Korea’s overseas trade.
The most painful of China’s moves is the regulation of food shipments, sources say. Citing shortages at home, China apparently began shutting off food exports to North Korea last month and allows only shipments of food for personal use which cannot exceed 25 kg.
Chinese villages in the Yianji region along the border with North Korea have been informed by the provincial government that they should help North Koreans escaping food shortages and that the Chinese government will cover the expenses, according to accounts by ethnic Koreans in China. They say a crackdown on North Korean refugees, which reached fever pitch with the Beijing Olympics last year, has almost stopped, and police are not arresting North Koreans unless they are involved in major crimes. [Chosun Ilbo]
This doesn’t mean that China’s cooperation can’t be secured, of course, if Treasury is willing to sanction Chinese entities that do business with North Korea. We’ve done it for years in pin-prick fashion, and the very hint of a money laundering investigation so horrified the Bank of China that it refused to touch North Korean money thereafter, even after the Chinese government asked it to do so to facilitate the now-dead Agreed Framework II. If Chinese businesses are cutting their ties with North Korea, I’d be more inclined to attribute that to the fear of action by our government than any policy decision by China’s government.
That Chosun Ilbo story also reports:
One recent North Korean defector who worked as a civil servant in Pyongyang said, “Food rations in Pyongyang have been halted for months, raising fears among residents that they may face the same fate as their starving countrymen in the countryside.”
If true, this would more than negate the effectiveness of the regime’s “Barrel of a Gun” propaganda boost from those Clinton photos (B.R. Myers’s review of “Barrel of a Gun,” see previous link, should be required reading for every one of the naive and uninformed flacks who’ve claimed recently that Kim Jong Il really has a great affinity and respect for Bill Clinton).
Somewhat Related: The Daily NK has an interesting roundup of the state of North Korean kremlinology today, most of which makes sense to me.