April 20 (UPI) -- China has offered to strengthen cooperation with North Korea as the two countries could be resuming trade of essential goods.
Beijing's foreign ministry said Tuesday at a regular press briefing China gives Pyongyang high marks for its approach to the novel coronavirus.
"China and [North Korea] are friendly, close neighbors that have a demand for normal economic and trade exchanges," Wang Wenbin said.
"China respects [North Korea's] anti-epidemic measures and is ready to enhance exchanges and cooperation across the board with the country on the basis of ensuring safety in the context of COVID-19."
Wang did not deny reports trade has reopened between the two countries.
Chinese customs data for March showed North Korea imported more than $12.9 million of goods from China, up from $3,000 in February.
North Korea closed its border with China and suspended tourism in January 2020 in response to the first coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.
Defectors in the South have said North Korea's health care is inadequate to cope with a pandemic. The country also has banned international agencies like the World Health Organization from gaining access to its population.
Chinese customs data from 2020 also shows North Korean imports have fluctuated during the pandemic. The country imported more than $18 million in September and $253,000 in October, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap.
The data is raising questions about its accuracy and Chinese methods of accounting.
Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, a nonresident fellow at the Stimson Center in Washington, said in an analysis that the February and March data could be evidence of a change in accounting routines.
The reported figure of $3,000 for February imports "simply isn't realistic," the analyst said.
"Perhaps a portion of that month's trade was recorded instead for March for reasons related to payments or contracts.
"China, moreover, ships much more goods to North Korea than what's officially recorded as 'trade,'" Silberstein said.