China’s General Administration of Customs has limited online access to North Korean trade data, NK News has learned.
Chinese trade figures are usually distributed via official re-sellers, two of which are linked on the agency’s webpage. Both EtoChina and Customs-Info used to offer online access to trade figures updated each month.
The DPRK trade statistics could be accessed by selecting North Korea from a list of countries, or using country code 109. But the entry is now missing from the table, which instead jumps from Cyprus (108) to Hong Kong (110).
The General Administration of Customs did not reply to phone calls or emails for comment on the news, but NK News learned the data is now currently considered sensitive in the wake of stricter sanctions that will likely bring added focus on Chinese trade with North Korea.
The inability to search by country also means that neither monthly data nor historical data is currently available online.
“This is sad and ominous news. China has long been the DPRK’s main trade partner. With South Korea’s closure of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, China now accounts for some 90 percent of all North Korean trade,” Aidan Foster-Carter, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Leeds told NK News.
“It’s also diplomatically inept. At a time when China has pledged to implement the latest UNSC sanctions fully, the only conclusion everyone will draw from this is that Beijing has something to hide – and doesn’t want its NK trade scrutinized.”
While the move could make it difficult for some users to access timely data, the motives and effectiveness of the deletion are unclear. The data is still available in various offline modes, and other re-sellers have told NK News they have had no warning from Beijing about providing the North Korean numbers via offline Microsoft Excel files.
“Most researchers access North Korea-China trade data through KITA (the Korea International Trade Association), KOTRA, UN Comtrade and the IMF. I don’t think there is any big influence on domestic researchers because of online access restrictions,” a researcher from KIEP (Korea Institute for International Economic Policy), told NK News.
The figures also appears to still be available via email to the Chinese customs authorities, which will then be audited. The Yonhap News Agency also published an article in March using data from February, indicating that other routes to the numbers still exist.
Chinese enforcement of DPRK sanctions has been under the microscope since the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2270 on March 2.
The toughened measures prohibit the import of many of the DPRK’s most lucrative exports including coal and minerals if the proceeds fund North Korean weapons programs. The new resolution has subsequently brought added attention to China’s trade interactions with its neighbor.
Additional reporting by Jiwon Song