China has been loosening trade restrictions with North Korea through coal shipments, construction projects and tourism, former U.S. officials and independent experts told NBC News.
The increased trade gives North Korea a lifeline and deals a major blow to President Donald Trump's "maximum pressure" campaign to sway Kim Jong Un into abandoning its nuclear and missile program.
Beijing was stunned by the White House's plans for a summit with Kim, so it rolled out the red carpet for Kim in March and began softening its enforcement of United Nations sanctions, according to analysts, foreign diplomats and former U.S. officials.
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The Trump administration has mostly stayed away from criticizing China publicly and has defended diplomacy with Pyongyang as successful so far, but declined to comment about the increase in trade on the record.