July 25 (UPI) -- China's trade with North Korea totaled $1.25 billion in the first half of 2019, according to Beijing's ministry of commerce.
The world's second-largest economy increased trade with Pyongyang, currently under heavy sanctions, by 14.3 percent, year on year, the South China Morning Post reported.
Chinese exports to North Korea rose 15.5 percent to $1.14 billion, and Chinese imports of North Korean products rose 3.2 percent to $110 million, according to the report.
The data is being released about a month after the Industrial Bank of Korea's North Korean Economy Research Center in Seoul said Pyongyang is running a trade deficit with China.
In June, the South Korean research showed North Korea's total trade volume with China reached $275.39 million in May, up 19.3 percent from May 2018. North Korea imported more from China than it exported, causing a deficit. Exports reached $17.09 million and imports were valued at $258.29 million, according to IBK.
International sanctions against Pyongyang for nuclear weapons development had significantly lowered bilateral trade, but rising economic activity indicates China has become more willing to engage North Korea following multiple summits between Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
It remains to be seen whether bilateral trade will surpass trade in 2018, which was estimated to be $2.7 billion, according to South Korea's Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency, the Post reported.
As China and North Korea grow trade ties, South Korea is responding to recent North Korean short-range missile tests.
Seoul closely works with Tokyo and Washington in such scenarios, but concern is growing the trade dispute between South Korea and Japan is affecting coordination and cooperation, local paper JoongAng Ilbo reported Thursday.
Jin Chang-soo, director of the center for Japan Studies at Sejong Institute in the South, said a "decoupling effect" is emerging between Korea and Japan following the missile test.
Jin also said North Korea could be trying to decouple Seoul and Tokyo through policy, according to the report.