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Institute Reports Sizable Drop in N. Korea-China Trade

FILE - A Chinese-built fence near a concrete marker depicts the North Korean and Chinese national flags with the words "China North Korea Border" at a crossing in the Chinese border town of Tumen in eastern China's Jilin province.

Bilateral trade between North Korea and China fell nearly 15 percent last year in what appeared to be a reflection of a troubled relationship between the two countries, South Korea’s state-run policy research institute said Sunday.

Trade between the two countries from January to November 2015 was worth $4.9 billion, down from $5.76 billion in the same period a year earlier, according to a report by the Korea Development Institute (KDI). The 14.8 percent drop marked the first time the bilateral trade suffered a double-digit decline since 2000.

Lee Jong-kyu, a research fellow at KDI who authored the report, blamed chilling ties between Pyongyang and Beijing for the decline in imports. He reported the main reason for the decline in exports was the sluggish shipments of natural resources.

Analysts say North Korea’s political relations with its longtime ally have been strained by Pyongyang's pursuit of nuclear weapons and its associated tests despite Beijing's objections.

Lee added that North Korean internal policy might have also contributed to the decrease in imports. Recently, Kim Jong Un has criticized a North Korean penchant for foreign goods, advocating the use of domestic goods.

Lee said Pyongyang’s nuclear test last month was likely to hurt bilateral trade between the two sides in 2016. In the past, China took action against North Korea in response to Pyongyang’s nuclear tests, according to Lee.

“Beijing might beef up inspections through its maritime customs, which will affect bilateral trade between the two sides for about several months,” said Lee.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry suggested China could limit trade with North Korea as a potential action against Pyongyang over the latest nuclear test.

Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report.

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