Chinese trade with North Korea dropped 50 percent last month

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Russia and China are set to strengthen cooperation to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula, Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Saturday after a meeting of Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov and Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou.

China is North Korea's only major ally and economic benefactor, accounting for some 90 percent of the regime's external trade.

In response to North Korean ballistic missile and nuclear weapons testing, such as the launches of three intercontinental ballistic missiles and the detonation of a staged thermonuclear bomb created to level cities, the U.N. Security Council has imposed tough sanctions on the rogue regime.

China reported earlier that its imports from North Korea plunged 33 percent past year - and 81.6 percent in December.

In 2017, it conducted tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of hitting the United States as well as its sixth and most powerful nuclear test.

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Other countries slated to send representatives include Britain, Australia, France and India.

While China has rejected calls from past presidents to do more, Beijing is starting to go along with US initiatives to put pressure on North Korea, even accepting USA demands for restrictions on oil exports to the North. Invitations were focused on United Nations Command Sending States that supported South Korea during the Korean War, "of which China was not a part", State Dept. spokeswoman Nicole Thompson said in an email.

But White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the two leaders, who spoke by telephone, also "underscored the importance of continuing the maximum pressure campaign against North Korea". "I think you people are surprised", he added.

North Korea's first talks with South Korea in more than two years turned tense Tuesday, after representatives of President Moon Jae-in proposed discussions with Kim about giving up his nuclear weapons program.

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