WASHINGTON: The White House on Friday welcomed news of a sharp drop in Chinese trade with North Korea, saying it would help put pressure on the regime of Kim Jong-Un.
China reported earlier that its imports from North Korea plunged 33 percent last year -- and 81.6 percent in December.
President Donald Trump's "administration is pleased that China is sharply reducing its trade with North Korea," the White House said.
"This action supports the United States-led global effort to apply maximum pressure until the North Korean regime ends its illicit programs, changes its behavior, and moves toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula," it said in a statement.
Trump has leaned heavily on China to use its economic clout to rein in North Korea, but Kim has shown no sign of halting Pyongyang's race to become a nuclear power capable of striking the United States.
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.
After months of soaring tensions, North Korea agreed this week to send athletes to the Winter Olympics in South Korea, in what was seen as a potential sign of a cooling-off period.
The United States and South Korea reciprocated by calling off military exercises during the Olympics.
On Wednesday, Trump told South Korean President Moon Jae-In the United States was open to holding talks with North Korea "under the right circumstances," according to the White House.
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."
On Thursday, Trump suggested in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that he could have a good relationship with Kim, though he left vague the extent of his dealings with the North Korean leader.
"I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong-Un," Trump said.
"I have relationships with people. I think you people are surprised."
A senior US official said Thursday the United States plans to lobby allies at a major meeting next week to stop and inspect suspect ships bound for North Korea.