China's trade with North Korea plunges as sanctions tighten

A B-1B Lancer strategic bomber two F-35A and two F-35B stealth jets of the U.S. and two F-16K and two F-15K fighters of South Korea fly in formation over the Korean Peninsula in this year's annual joint South Korea-U.S. air force drill Vigilant Ace

China is North Korea's only major ally and economic benefactor, accounting for some 90 percent of the regime's external trade.

"Trump Administration is pleased that China is sharply reducing its trade with North Korea", the White House said in a statement.

Compared with a month earlier, exports fell 9.7 percent. The U.S. sees cutting off North Korea's economic ties with China - the country's dominant trading partner - as essential to forcing Kim back to the negotiating table. In the final month of 2017, imports dropped 81.6 percent, while exports fell 23.4 percent.

China's trade with North Korea plunged 50 percent in December as United Nations sanctions imposed over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile development tightened, the government reported Friday.

China has "closed some sanctions gaps", Brian Hook, director of policy planning for U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, told reporters in Washington on Thursday.

"We call on all UN Member States to enforce all elements of applicable UN Security Council Resolutions", the statement said, vowing to "Redouble efforts to implement in full the measures in relevant UN Security Council Resolutions with respect to inspecting, detecting, and seizing items the transfer of which is prohibited by those resolutions".

Tensions sharply escalated previous year as Pyongyang tested its sixth nuclear weapon and three intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking the mainland U.S. The latest round passed last month.

North Korea has repeatedly asserted that sanctions are killing its people while claiming that global diplomatic and economic pressure will never derail its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons development programs, essentially telling the world that the regime will starve its people before abandoning its weapons of mass destruction. While China says they support a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, Beijing has resisted sanctions so harsh that they might cause widespread suffering or topple Kim's regime.

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