China suspends coal import from North Korea after missile test

A North Korean military officer and a North Korea man stand behind a pile of coal along the banks of the Yalu River in the northeast of the North Korean border town of Siniuju. China is by far North Korea's biggest trading partner. Photograph:( AFP )

AFP Pyongyang, North Korea Feb 18, 2017, 02.40 PM (IST)

China has responded strongly to North Korea's brazen missile test by halting coal imports from the country for the remainder of the year.

China, which is by far North Korea's trading partner, has long been accused of doing little to dissuade Pyongyang from continuing its defence programs.

But the commerce ministry statement on its website, stating the suspension for the "rest of the year" is likely to hit the reclusive country particualrly hard.

North Korea is prohibited from carrying out ballistic missile launches or nuclear tests by the United Nations, but last week's rocket launch coerced China to take strict action.

The United Nations Security Council, of which China is a permanent memner, had sharply slammed the tests byb calling it a "grave violation" of UN resolutions.

It was Pyongyang's first rocket launch since US President Donald Trump came to power and was seen as a challenge to the new American leader, who has vowed a strong response to the provocation.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday used his first meeting with Chinese counterpart Wang Yi to urge Beijing "to use all available tools to moderate North Korea's destabilising behaviour".

North Korea blasted off a series of missiles and conducted two nuclear tests in 2016 in its quest to develop a weapons system capable of hitting the US mainland.

The latest rocket -- said by Pyongyang to be able to carry a nuclear warhead -- flew east for about 500 kilometres (310 miles) before falling into the Sea of Japan (East Sea), South Korea's defense ministry said.

Beijing traditionally ensured that UN Security Council resolutions on sanctions against Pyongyang included humanitarian exemptions, and had continued to purchase huge amounts of North Korean coal -- $101 million worth in October alone -- a crucial source of foreign exchange for Pyongyang.

But the latest resolution, passed in December, had no such clause and Beijing suspended purchases of coal from the North -- for three weeks to December 31.

(Wion with inputs from AFP)