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China’s trade with North Korea plunged about 90 percent in 2021 from 2019 before the novel coronavirus pandemic began, government data showed on Tuesday, as Pyongyang tightened strict anti-epidemic measures, including closing its borders.

Last year, the total value of China’s trade with North Korea fell to $318 million, the lowest level since leader Kim Jong Un became the nation’s supreme leader following the death of his father and predecessor. Kim Jong Il, in December 2011.

North Korea claims that no cases of COVID-19 infection have been found in the country, but had cut off land traffic to and from China until recently, with growing concerns that the virus, first detected in the Chinese city central Wuhan in late 2019, could enter the nation.

The photo taken on Dec. 20, 2021 shows the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge connecting the Chinese city of Dandong with the North Korean city of Sinuiju. (kyodo)

China is North Korea’s closest and most influential ally in economic terms, accounting for more than 90 percent of its trade. Since the beginning of 2021, North Korea has apparently imported products from China only by ship.

Restrictions on land traffic weighed on North Korea’s trade with China, severely affecting the broader economy. Pyongyang has acknowledged that it is facing a serious food crisis due to the global spread of the virus.

In addition to a drop in trade with China, agricultural devastation from powerful typhoons and flooding has also stoked concerns that North Korean citizens are not receiving adequate food and other daily necessities.

However, earlier this month, rail freight transport between China and North Korea restarted for the first time in about two years, raising expectations that bilateral trade would pick up in the future.

North Korea is seen as vulnerable to infectious diseases amid chronic shortages of food and medical equipment brought on by international economic sanctions designed to thwart its nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions.

Previously, it barred foreigners from crossing its borders during the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, and the Ebola epidemic in West Africa in 2014.

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North Korean freight train arrives in China’s Dandong after long hiatus

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North Korea touts Kim on 10th anniversary of becoming supreme commander

Trade between China and North Korea in 2021 fell 90% from 2019 before the pandemic

Trade between China and North Korea in 2021 fell 90% from 2019 before the pandemic

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