China will suspend all imports of coal from North Korea until the end of the year, the Commerce Ministry announced Saturday, in a surprise move that would cut off a major financial lifeline for Pyongyang and significantly tighten the effectiveness of United Nations sanctions.
It said the ban will be effective till the end of December this year.
China announced in April past year that it would ban North Korean coal imports to comply with sanctions, but it made exceptions for deliveries intended for "the people's wellbeing".
"Coal represents one-third of North Korea's total exports".
China is preparing to deliver a crushing blow to the weak North Korean economy.
"It limits North Korea's coal exports next year to 7.5 million tonnes or just over $400 million, down 62% on 2015..." The commodity is North Korea's single largest export item, while North Korea is China's fourth largest supplier of the fuel.
After the North conducted its fifth nuclear test in September past year, the UNSC passed UNSC Resolution 2321, which put a cap on North Korean coal exports, reducing its annual coal export revenue by an estimated $700 million. China has been accused of exploiting this loophole to continue importing North Korean coal in order to reduce global pressure on Pyongyang. While the resolution does not cut off coal exports completely, the move reduces North Korea's $3 billion GDP by roughly 25 percent.
But it made exceptions for deliveries intended for "the people's well-being" and not connected to the nuclear or missile programmes. North Korea tested a new surface-to-surface medium-range ballistic missile last Sunday in clear violation of global regulations.
According to an AFP report, the UN Security Council passed the resolution on the global sanctions against Pyongyang on November 30 following the country's September nuclear test.
The decision follows a meeting between Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Foreign Minister Wang Yi Friday on the sidelines of the G20 foreign ministers meeting in Bonn, Germany.
But in a sign that Beijing's patience was running out, it rejected a coal shipment from North Korea worth about $1 million Monday, the day after the test of an intermediate-range ballistic missile, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported.