November 25, 2016 / 11:06 AM / a year ago

China's October coal imports from North Korea up on month after falling in September

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s coal imports from North Korea rose in October after falling more than a quarter in September from the previous month amid a push from the United States to punish North Korea for its recent nuclear test.

Coal imports from North Korea climbed 1.22 percent in October to 1.82 million tonnes compared with September, data from China’s General Administration of Customs showed on Friday.

North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test on Sept. 9, and said it had mastered the ability to mount a warhead on a ballistic missile.

China expressed anger with North Korea for the test, its largest to date. China’s coal imports from North Korea fell to 1.798 million tonnes that month from 2.465 million tonnes in August.

Earlier in the year, China said it would comply with U.N. sanctions and ban coal imports from North Korea following Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test in January, although Beijing has made exemptions based on “livelihood purposes”.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing after the figures were released that it was not the statistics people should be paying attention to, but whether the coal trade was legal.

“China has consistently fully and conscientiously carried out the U.N. Security Council’s resolutions on sanctions on North Korea,” Geng said.

Products like coal with a civilian purpose that do not benefit the nuclear and missile programs do not fall under the sanctions mandate and Chinese imports accord with those rules, he added.

“We uphold that the U.N. sanctions on North Korea should not have a negative impact upon livelihoods in North Korea or humanitarian needs,” Geng said.

Beijing is also concerned that strengthening sanctions could lead to an economic collapse in North Korea, sending a flood of refugees across the border into China.

Coal is one of North Korea’s only sources of hard currency, giving it particular importance to the country’s economy. Its exports of coal to China are seen by the United States as a key area where Beijing has leverage over North Korea.

China’s market has strong appetite for anthracite, a high-grade hard coal, from North Korea, to meet the demand in steel and ceramic manufacturing industries.

On Wednesday, a senior Security Council diplomat said China and the United States had agreed on new U.N. sanctions on North Korea.

Reporting by Muyu Xu and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Ryan Woo and David Evans

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