Is China compromising international sanctions against North Korea, after President Xi's two friendly meetings with Kim Jong-un? Amid all the publicity about the Kim-Trump summit, this is surely the big question. If the answer's yes, then the whole game has changed. Kim would no longer be negotiating from a position of weakness.
Pyongyang's recent return to a more strident rhetoric suggests that this may indeed be the case.
From South Korea's Chosun Ilbo:
Ever since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held two summits with Chinese President Xi Jinping, China has increased supplies of crude oil to North Korea and female workers are streaming across the border again, Radio Free Asia reported Wednesday.
These are among the latest signs suggesting China may have compromised international sanctions against North Korea, which has suddenly become more abrasive again in its rhetoric against the West after Kim met Xi for the second time in as many months.
One source in the Chinese border city of Dandong told RFA that China is rumored to be sending North Korea 80 tanker trucks a day filled with crude oil. Each oil tanker truck holds 60 tons of crude oil, adding up to 4,800 tons a day. That would clearly violate the 4 million barrel limit -- around 640,000 tons or 1,754 tons a day -- the UN has set....
The dispatch of fresh North Korean workers abroad also violates international sanctions. Hundreds of North Korean women were sent across the border to China in April. At present, there is no legal way for North Koreans to work in China, because the UN Security Council last year banned visa renewals.
Each time concerns are raised about international sanctions being compromised, the Chinese government insisted it would continue to abide by them.
But one fisheries product trader in Dandong said, "Two summits between Kim and Xi and a visit by a large delegation of North Korean officials who even met Xi are being interpreted by Chinese government officials as a sign that things have changed."
"Crackdowns on exports of North Korean fisheries products, which culminated early this year, have eased considerably, leading to a rise in smuggling across sea routes."
There are also signs that North Korea has already started preparations to resume coal exports....