China Eases Economic Pressure on North Korea, Deals Blow to U.S.

China has eased restrictions on trade with North Korea in recent months, undercutting U.S. President Donald Trump’s effort to exert economic pressure on Kim Jong-un’s regime, NBC News reports.

From coal shipments to revived construction projects to planes ferrying Chinese tourists to North Korea, China has reopened the door to both legal and illegal trade with Pyongyang, throwing the North Korean government a vital lifeline while derailing U.S. diplomacy.

The increase in trade can be traced back to earlier this year, when Washington stunned Beijing by announcing plans for Trump to hold an unprecedented meeting with the North Korean dictator – and fearing a loss of influence, Bejing then invited Kim to three successive summits in China, in March, May and June.

Beijing’s enforcement of U.N. sanctions began to soften and its limits on legal commerce also eased, according to regional analysts who track cross-border trade, foreign diplomats and former U.S. officials. As a result, Washington’s bid to impose “maximum pressure” on North Korea, in hopes of pushing the regime to abandon its nuclear and missile program, has been dealt a severe blow.

Apart from China’s reluctance, South Korea’s progressive Prime Minister Moon Jae-in is openly promoting economic engagement with the North and does not share Washington’s preference for strangling the regime’s trade prospects, NBC News adds.

However, on Tuesday, the White House said Trump had spoken with his South counterpart on “including ongoing efforts to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea as agreed to by Chairman Kim Jong-un.” Moon told Trump he was sending a Special Envoy to Pyongyang on Wednesday to meet Kim and the two men agreed to meet later this month in New York during the U.N. General Assembly, USA Today added.

In order for this to happen though, the U.S. will have to join South Korea in declaring that the Korean War, which never formally ceased, is over. And North Korea will at a minimum have to provide an inventory of its nuclear and missile programs and agree to open them to inspections, Bloomberg points out.

Trump will have to convince Kim that North Korea cannot avoid coming to terms with the U.S., which means, in turn, closer U.S. coordination with China and especially South Korea. A similar logic holds true for Jae-in, whose efforts have been indispensable in reducing tensions on the Korean Peninsula, Bloomberg notes.

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