China Just Took a Big Swing at North Korea’s Economy

February 18, 2017, 5:05 PM UTC
This picture taken on December 14, 2012 from China's northeastern city of Dandong, looking across the border, shows a North Korean military officer (R) and a North Korea man (L) standing behind a pile of coal along the banks of the Yalu River in the northeast of the North Korean border town of Siniuju. China is North Korea's biggest trading partner by far, and most of the business passes through Dandong in northeastern China, where lorries piled high with tyres and sacks are processed at the customs post. AFP PHOTO / WANG ZHAO (Photo credit should read WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images)
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China said Saturday it would ban North Korea coal imports for the rest of 2017 — a move that will likely strain already rocky relations between the two allies.

Coal is North Korea’s financial lifeline, according to The Washington Post, which reported on the announcement. The commodity is North Korea’s single largest export item, while North Korea is China’s fourth largest supplier of the fuel.

Although the world’s second largest economy offered no explanation for the cut-off, China has been under international pressure to help moderate North Korea’s increasingly aggressive actions since Kim Jong-un took over the hermit kingdom in 2011.

China’s ban could help put international sanctions aimed at North Korea’s nuclear weapons efforts into fuller force.

North Korea’s recent ballistic missile test and the apparent assassination of Kim Jong-un’s half-brother, Kim Jong-nam seemed to be a tipping point for China.

Kim Jong-nam died in Malaysia earlier this week, though he had been living in the former Portuguese colony of Macau. The city is now a special administrative region under China, and experts say Kim Jong-nam received protection from the Chinese government as a result.