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China denies knowledge of recovering North Korea trade

Chinese exports to North Korea have risen in 2021, according to China’s General Administration of Customs, but Beijing has denied knowledge of new activity. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI
Chinese exports to North Korea have risen in 2021, according to China’s General Administration of Customs, but Beijing has denied knowledge of new activity. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

May 19 (UPI) -- China said it does not know about any new activity at its border with North Korea.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Tuesday at a regular press briefing that the government does not have updates despite the latest data from China's General Administration of Customs.

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"I am not aware of the situation," Zhao said, adding that he would refer reporters to "competent authorities."

Earlier this month, Chinese state media reported Chinese exports to North Korea climbed in 2021. In April, China's exports to North Korea reached $28.75 million, the highest level since July.

Chinese analysts have said trade is necessary for North Korea because of seeding season and construction projects.

Lu Chao, a Chinese analyst at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told the South China Morning Post in April that North Korea needs to import agricultural supplies, including chemical fertilizer, tractors and machinery parts.

Zhao refrained this week from commenting on China-North Korea trade, but other Chinese diplomats have been more forthcoming about close ties with Pyongyang. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in April that the two nations are "friendly neighbors linked by mountains and rivers."

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"The two sides always maintain communication over exchanges in various sectors and at various levels," Hua said last month.

Analysis of satellite imagery of the border area could be showing trade has yet to recover to pre-pandemic levels, however.

Analysts writing for the Center for Strategic and International Studies' site Beyond Parallel said satellite imagery showed activity remains low in Dandong, China.

Joseph Bermudez, Victor Cha and Jennifer Jun said in early May that China and North Korea "seek to limit the ability of outsiders to monitor the traffic" by "restricting critical activity to hours of low visibility in satellite imagery."

But an image from March 31 "indicates that truck traffic in either direction continues to be dramatically reduced," analysts said.

Trade has fallen by about 80% during the pandemic, according to South Korean estimates.

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