China imported 1.6 million tonnes of coal from North Korea in August, the largest monthly volume since February when Beijing issued a blanket ban on the trade, Chinese customs data showed on Tuesday.
The figures also showed that China’s petrol and diesel exports to North Korea and iron ore imports from the isolated nation fell in August following the United Nations’ latest sanctions.
The data came after figures on Saturday showed China’s trade with North Korea actually rose in August, mainly driven by a rise in imports.
China announced in February that it had suspended all coal imports from North Korea following UN sanctions, so it was not immediately clear why the data showed shipments had resumed. A customs official said she would investigate the matter.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a daily news briefing on Tuesday that it would refer the matter to customs.
Traders and industry experts said it was likely that the coal shipments had been stranded at port since Beijing introduced the ban in mid-February, but then allowed into the country ahead of the latest round of penalties against North Korea.
A trader who handles coal from North Korea said his 5,000 tonnes of cargo were allowed through customs last month after being stuck at a Chinese port for six months.
He said he believed many or all of last month’s unexpected imports were cleared under similar circumstances.
“My cargo sat at port for six months until customs sent a notice telling us they will let all North Korean cargos that have been unloaded at port clear customs,” he said.
Last month, the UN Security Council unanimously imposed new sanctions on North Korea targeting its exports of coal, iron ore, lead, lead ore and seafood. The sanctions took effect this month, but China enforced the new measures on August 15.
China’s diesel exports to North Korea in August totalled 170 tonnes, compared with zero in August 2016, while petrol shipments fell by more than 96 per cent from the same month of last year to 180 tonnes.
The Ministry of Commerce said on Saturday it would impose an immediate ban on textile imports from North Korea and limit oil exports to its neighbour from next year under UN sanctions over its nuclear and missile development.
Sales of liquefied natural gas and condensate oil would be banned outright, it said.
Exports of refined petroleum to North Korea would be limited to two million barrels per year effective from January 1, the ministry said.
Fuel prices in the restive state have surged in recent months, according to people familiar with the matter.
China’s imports of iron ore from North Korea in August fell 27 per cent from last year and 18.5 per cent from July to 143,343 tonnes, their lowest level since December, according to the customs data.