Will coal – North Korea’s wealth, strength and sustenance – prove to weaken its leader? Today, (Feb 19) China’s suspension of coal imports from North Korea comes into effect. The suspension will last until the end of the year and the regime Pyongyang is likely to feel the pain of poverty.
For coal is the hermit kingdom’s largest export item. Even someone as ruthless (and Trump-like in his terrifying unpredictability) as North Korea’s Kim Jong Un will probably care when the money pipeline runs dry.
If it does.
Consider what happened when China last said it would penalise North Korea by banning coal imports. The volume of coal imports actually rose 12 per cent! That was because the April ban made exceptions for deliveries intended for the “people’s well-being”, which meant that traders continued to do their business and huge quantities of coal continued to be bought and sold.
But now China seems newly resolute about implementing November’s United Nations Security Council resolution that tightened sanctions against Kim Jong Un’s regime.
That said, effective implementation of a coal import-ban will affect China too.
It is an energy-hungry country. North Korea is its fourth-biggest supplier of coal. How will it cover the shortfall?
Is the apparent hardness Beijing’s stated resolve towards Pyongyang real? International Relations professor Wang Weimin of Shanghai’s Fudan University is quoted by The Washington Post to say that sympathy for North Korea’s national security concerns had disappeared in Beijing, and “blood ties” between the countries had been broken. “If we choose an ally that can’t be tamed, we might become the biggest loser,” he said. “That’s why we are more and more strict with North Korea. Now self-interest is central. We won’t pay attention to North Korea’s interests anymore.”