By Laurent Thomet
CHINA will halt iron, iron ore and seafood imports from North Korea starting Tuesday, following through on new UN sanctions after US pressure for Beijing to strongarm Pyongyang over its ally’s nuclear program.
The decision was announced on Monday after days of increasingly bellicose rhetoric between US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un’s regime, which has raised international alarm about where the crisis is headed.
Beijing had pledged to fully enforce the latest sanctions after the United States accused China of not doing enough to rein in its neighbor, which relies heavily on the Asian giant for its economic survival.
The Chinese commerce ministry said on its website that all imports of coal, iron, iron ore and seafood will be “completely prohibited” from Tuesday. Beijing had already announced a suspension of coal imports in February.
The United Nations Security Council, including permanent member Beijing, approved tough sanctions against Pyongyang on August 6 that could cost the hermetic country $1 billion a year.
The sanctions were in response to the North’s two intercontinental ballistic missile tests last month, after which Kim boasted that he could now strike any part of the United States.
In Hagatna, Guam’s leader said Monday that “sometimes a bully can only be stopped with a punch in the nose,” in a spirited defense of Trump’s rhetoric against North Korea which has the island in its crosshairs.
While Trump’s critics accuse him of inflaming tensions with Pyongyang, Guam governor Eddie Calvo said he was grateful the US leader was taking a strong stance against North Korean threats against his Pacific homeland.
“Everyone who grew up in the schoolyard in elementary school, we understand a bully,” Calvo told AFP.
“[North Korean leader] Kim Jong-Un is a bully with some very strong weapons… a bully has to be countered very strongly.”
Calvo, a Republican, said Trump was being unfairly criticized over his handling of the North Korea crisis, which escalated when Pyongyang announced plans to launch missiles toward Guam in a “crucial warning”.
He said North Korea had threatened Guam—a US territory which hosts two large military bases and is home to more than 6,000 military personnel—at least three times since 2013.
He said previous presidents had also used strong words to warn off Pyongyang, pointing out Barack Obama said last year that “we could, obviously, destroy NorthKorea with our arsenals.”
“One president [Obama] said it one way, cool and calmly with a period… the other said fire and fury with an exclamation point, but it still leads to the same message,” Calvo said.
He rejected suggestions that Trump and the North Korean dictator were as bad as each other when it came to the saber-rattling playing out in the western Pacific.
“Well, there’s only one guy that has vaporized into a red mist his uncle or a general because he fell asleep in a meeting with an anti-aircraft gun, that’s Kim Jong-Un,” he said.
“There’s only one guy that’s killed his brother with one of the most toxic nerve agents ever created, that’s Kim Jong-Un.”
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi vowed after the UN sanctions were given the green light that his country “will for sure implement that new resolution 100 percent, fully and strictly.”
China, suspected of failing to enforce past UN measures, accounts for 90 percent of North Korea’s trade.
Trump complained in July that trade between the two nations had increased by nearly 40 percent in the first quarter.
Beijing has defended its economic ties with Pyongyang as normal commerce between neighbors and insisted the trade did not violate UN sanctions.
The suspension of coal imports deprives North Korea of massive income as it totalled $1.2 billion last year.
Among the latest banned products, China imported $74.4 million worth of iron ore in the first five months of this year, almost equalling the figure for all of 2016.
Fish and seafood imports totalled $46.7 million in June, up from $13.6 million in May.
The United States angered China in June when it imposed unilateral sanctions on a Chinese bank accused of laundering North Korean cash.
Trump will formally order on Monday (Tuesday in Manila) a probe into China’s intellectual property practices, though US officials said it was not linked to the North Korean matter.
“It’s not appropriate to use one issue as a tool to keep pressure on the other issue,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chungying told a regular news briefing.
Regional tensions have mushroomed in the past week as Trump warned North Korea it would face “fire and fury” if it attacked the United States while the North threatened to test-fire its missiles towards Guam.
The war of words has sparked global concerns, with world leaders including Chinese President Xi Jinping urging calm on both sides in a phone call with Trump during the weekend.
South Korean President Moon Jae-In, a left-leaning leader who has previously advocated dialogue with the North, joined the appeals for restraint on Monday.
Moon called for an end to “all provocations and hostile rhetoric immediately, instead of worsening the situation any further.”
China has meanwhile pleaded for a resumption of long-dormant six-nation talks to peacefully resolve the crisis.
But its proposal for North Korea to suspend its arms programs in return for the United States to halt military drills in the region has been ignored.
“The relevant parties should exercise restraint, to avoid aggravating the words and deeds of the tense situation on the Korean peninsula,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua said.
“To resolve the Korean peninsula nuclear issue ultimately, [relevant parties] should persist in negotiations and stay committed to the general direction of a political settlement,” she said.