In a potentially promising sign for future progress against the North Korean regime, the Chinese government and Chinese firms are taking firmer steps against doing business with North Korea. China’s largest banks have banned North Koreans from opening new bank accounts with them, with three of the largest banks beginning the process of closing down existing bank accounts held by North Koreans.
The Chinese government has also taken steps to implement UN sanctions against North Korea by limiting exports of refined oil to the country, as well as prohibiting imports of North Korean textiles. China is by far North Korea’s largest trading partner, accounting for over 80% of North Korea’s trade. Total trade between North Korea and China totaled $3.61 billion this year through the end of August.
North Korea relies on the paltry amount of trade it undertakes to help the regime continue to keep tabs on international developments, and more importantly helps bring in much-needed money to continue funding the regime’s military aspirations. Despite the sharpening of sanctions, trade with North Korea won’t come to a halt. Even without North Korean bank accounts, much trade between China and North Korea can still occur through Chinese intermediaries operating in North Korea.
China’s actions should please President Trump, who has been complaining for months that the Chinese have not taken a strong enough stance against North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong Un. The Chinese government, for its part, is likely hoping that enforcing sanctions will bring North Korea back to the negotiating table and defuse a situation that looked likely to spiral out of control. The prospect of a potential nuclear conflict and significant amounts of US forces right in its backyard is not something the Chinese government was looking forward to seeing.