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New data show that China appears to be substantively squeezing the economic lifeline to North Korea that it has maintained for decades. China’s exports of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and petroleum products (gasoline and diesel), both of which are vital to the North Korean economy, have declined by 19 percent and 76 percent, respectively, since January 2017. At the same time, China appears to be reigning in its purchases of North Korean iron ore and putting its shoulder into the outright ban on the importation of North Korean coal that it proclaimed on February 26.
It is too early to tell if China has conclusively decided that the cost of propping up the North Korean regime outweighs the benefits, but recent trade data clearly show it is indeed taking action.