Washington (CNN)US President Donald Trump says China has turned a fleet of coal-carrying cargo ships back to North Korea this week, describing it as a “big step” towards cracking down on the rogue state.
Almost all coal shipments to the Chinese city of Dandong, on the North Korean border, since February have been turned back, a source with knowledge of North Korean government operations in Dandong told CNN.
The ban followed strict, new sanctions imposed in November by the United Nations on North Korean coal exports, which China helped to draft and pass.
Trump’s statement comes days after he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. The two then spoke on what the White House called a “very productive” phone call Tuesday night.
Trump praised reports of China turning away North Korean coal during a joint news conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
“We have a very big problem in North Korea. And, as I said, I really think that China is going to try very hard, and has already started,” Trump said.
“A lot of the coal boats have already been turned back — you saw that yesterday and today — they’ve been turned back,” he said. “The vast amount of coal that comes out of North Korea going to China, they’ve turned back the boats. That’s a big step, and they have many other steps that I know about.”
CNN has not independently confirmed reports of China refusing North Korean coal ships.
Trump also signaled a willingness for the US to play a more confrontational role with North Korea, adding: “So we’ll see what happens. It may be effective, it may not be effective. If it’s not effective, we will be effective, I can promise you that.”
Toughest sanctions yet cost North Korea $800 million
No US coal was shipped to China between late 2014 and 2016, but 400,000 tons had been shipped there from the United States by late February, Reuters reported.
At Wednesday’s news conference, Trump said Xi “wants to do the right thing.”
“We had a very good bonding. I think we had a very good chemistry together. I think he wants to help us with North Korea,” Trump said.
He also said the United States is willing to strike a trade deal with friendlier conditions for China if the country plays a role in deterring North Korea’s nuclear program.
“I said, ‘The way you’re going to make a good trade deal is to help us with North Korea. Otherwise we’re just going to go it alone,'” Trump said. “That’ll be all right too — but going it alone means going with lots of other nations.”