The North Korean government appears to be resuming state-sanctioned exports of mineral resources to China as fears of COVID-19 have started to wane, Daily NK has learned. 

“Ships with minerals have been spotted departing from Nampo, Songrim, and Haeju ports and heading to China since last week,” a China-based source told Daily NK on Wednesday. 

From the second week of May, North Korean authorities have allowed trading companies affiliated with the Korean People’s Army (KPA) to resume imports and exports, the source said, adding that the companies have focused on exporting the country’s mineral resources.

Resolution 2270, which was passed by the United Nations Security Council in 2016, bans North Korea from exporting mineral resources. 

Yet North Korea has continued to export these resources by conducting illegal transshipment (containers are transferred from one vessel to another in an intermediate location) or by dismantling the automatic identification system (AIS) on its cargo vessels.

Daily NK reported in Oct. 2019 that shipments of North Korean coal were spotted being unloaded at Huludao Port in China’s Liaoning Province.

Last year, most of North Korea’s exports consisted of coal despite the UN ban on such activities. 

Daily NK understands that other exports have included iron ore, magnesia clinker and other colored minerals – all at the request of Chinese traders. 

“After the minerals are unloaded in China, the Chinese pay North Korean trading companies with goods needed in the country, not cash,” the China-based source said. 

“This time I understand North Korea received some things it really needed including 300 tons of nitrogenous fertilizer and 800 tons of ammonia fertilizer, along with crude oil and Chinese corn. These were imported into North Korea over the course of several shipments,” he added. 

North Korea has suffered from a shortage of basic consumer goods after the closure of the Sino-North Korean border in late January and the restart of this state-sanctioned trade is providing some relief, the source added. 

The restart of mineral exports by North Korea into China may be linked with China’s recent move to provide North Koreans with special privileges to enter the country. 

Daily NK reported in early April that North Koreans approved by both the North Korean and Chinese governments were granted temporary entry visas to enter China. 

In exchange for such privileges, North Korea has reportedly entered into an exclusive agreement with China to provide the country with anthracite coal, gold, silver, copper, zinc and other colored minerals at a discount of 40% or more.

Gold is one of the minerals North Korea has been exporting to China, Daily NK’s source in China further reported. 

“About 20 tons of gold were [recently] smuggled to Dalian in Liaoning Province, China,” the source noted, adding, “It’s not clear what North Korea received from China in exchange for the gold but it’s very likely that the gold was traded for luxury goods.”

*Translated by Violet Kim

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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to