China's trade with North Korea dropped sharply in 2017

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China saw its total import and export trade volume increase by 14.2 percent in 2017, ending two years of negative growth in the process.

"We've been much tougher on China, but not almost as tough as I would be, but they are helping us a lot with North Korea", Mr. Trump said.

Bilateral trade with North Korea took a dramatic turn in 2017, with North Korean imports down 81.6 percent, totaling $54.34 million, according to Chinese data.

China's exports to North Korea in December declined 23.4 percent from a year earlier to $260 million, Huang told reporters.

The U.S. was China's second-largest trade partner after the European Union, according to customs.

Meanwhile China in December exported a record high 6.17 million tonnes of refined fuel, beating the previous peak of 5.79 million tonnes set in November.

President Donald Trump's administration faces a series of decisions in coming weeks on whether to enact penalties on imports of Chinese solar panels and steel and aluminum products.

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Chinese officials have threatened retaliation for any US penalties in closed-door meetings with American officials and companies.

Gao Feng, a spokesman for China's Ministry of Commerce, said on Thursday that both countries should manage their differences through dialogue to prevent them from escalating into conflict.

The "continued strength of China's exports to the U.S.is bound to add to U.S".

"The next stage is an open economy that focuses on a balance of trade", he said. The U.S.is expected to release the findings of the investigation soon. Last month marked the first time since mid-2016 that imports grew slower than exports.

Buying eased in December as refiners and fuel distributors drew on inventories after hefty stockpiling in the previous month, said Seng-Yick Tee, analyst with SIA Energy.

Other data from the Chinese government indicate substantial improvement in growth from 2016.

"We do not think that the import slowdown this year is going to be as sharp as suggested by the December data, given that China's policymakers continue to want to see credit and the economy cool gradually rather than fast", he said.

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