Rather than accepting their cargo of essential coking coal, China sent away a flotilla of 12 North Korean freighters to their home ports, according to an exclusive Reuters report. China has relatively few natural resources for such a large population and landmass, and relies on coal for its power plants and steel-making facilities. In the meantime, China placed a huge order for American coal from American producers. 
Reuters cited as its source for the news to be at the Dandong Chengtai Trade Co., which is the biggest buyer of North Korea's coal. According to Dandong Chengtai, there were 600,000 tons of North Korean coal waiting at several ports, while there are now 2 million tons of coal stranded at Chinese ports that must be returned to North Korea.
On February 26, China publicly committed itself to punishing North Korea for furthering its ambitions of producing nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Nearly half of North Korea’s source of foreign trade comes from coal sold to China. Targeting by China of coal will produce a dramatic economic impact. In February, China declared that it was banning North Korean imports for the rest of this year.
China is North Korea's largest source of trade and aid and targeting coal imports are meant to produce a dramatic economic result.
China will increase the amount of coal it buys from U.S. producers, marking a significant change. Between late 2014 and 2016, no coking coal from the U.S. was exported to China. But in February, coal shipments from the U.S. to China amounted to more than 400,000 tons. 
“I explained to the President of China that a trade deal with the U.S. will be far better for them if they solve the North Korean problem!” Trump tweeted, adding, “North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them!”
By purchasing U.S. coal to fill in the shortfall caused by bans on North Korean coal, the move is seen as playing into President Trump’s revival of the American coal industry. China may thus be indicating that it is losing patience with North Korea, which has continued to launch missiles and tested new rocket engines in its quest to produce intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of hitting the U.S. and Japan.



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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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