China obscures trade relationship wth DPRK

China has ceased publishing its balance of trade with North Korea. Since China is the DPRK’s largest trading partner, this story has significant implications for all those who study the DPRK.

According to Reuters:

China has stopped publicly issuing trade data about North Korea, veiling the potentially sensitive numbers about its wary neighbour under another category while the two countries seek improved ties.

Destination and origin statistics on China’s imports and exports for September issued on Monday gave no separate numbers for second straight month for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the formal name of the North, as they have long appeared in the tables.

The trade tables for coal, crude oil, oil products and cereals issued by China’s General Administration of Customs instead used another category, “other Asia not elsewhere specified”, which for those commodities at least appeared to cover exclusively trade flows between China and the North.

Analysts and officials have used Chinese statistics to gauge otherwise opaque ties between the two communist neighbours. But North Korea has stopped appearing in the Chinese data since last month, when statistics for August also avoided mention of it.

The change may help Beijing to obscure shifts in economic flows with the North, which relies on China for most of its trade and aid.

In the build-up to North Korea’s first nuclear test in Oct. 2006, the trade data showed China cut crude oil shipments to the North in September, although it was unclear whether the stoppage was a calculated gesture or due to more prosaic problems.

An official in charge of data services at the Customs Administration told Reuters that the change would last, but would not say why. Reuters and other companies buy the data.

“We’re no longer issuing trade data about North Korea,” said the official, who declined to give her name. “We’re not allowed to issue the data anymore.”

She declined to answer further questions, referring them to another data services official.

That official, Xu Xianghui, said the data could not be released because of a “technical fault”. But Xu said it was unclear if that fault would ever be fixed.

This is a rather blunt statement by the unnamed Chinese official.  There was not even an attempt to offer a justification. The decision to cease publishing the data obviously originated at the top of the Chinese leadership and the employees at the Chinese Customs Administration were probably told to relay (exactly) the simple message delivered above.

I wonder how long the Chinese officials at the top sat around trying to think of an acceptable public justification before just giving up.  I am trying to think of one now but not having much luck.

Lets hope that his policy is eventually reversed.

UPDATE (quasi-related) from the Choson Ilbo:

When Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visited Pyongyang in October, North Korea and China boasted they had opened a new era of cooperation. The two countries described their talks as “constructive” even though no palpable progress was made in the North’s nuclear issue. But according to a senior source in North Korea, one significant step was a secret agreement to restore intelligence cooperation.

No details have been disclosed, but it is presumed that this refers to cooperation between traditional intelligence agencies including North Korea’s External Liaison Department and Operational Department rather than in ferreting out and repatriating North Korean defectors. The source said the two sides put the agreement into writing to strengthen their defense against South Korea, the U.S. and Japan.

North Korea is said to have asked China to provide intelligence about North Korean defectors and anti-North Korean government activities in China, while China reportedly asked the North to cooperate on cracking down on drug trafficking and counterfeiting of dollars or yuan.

Read the full article here:
China hides North Korea trade in statistics
Chris Buckley


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