BEIJING: China on Thursday ordered North Korean-owned businesses to close, cutting foreign revenue for the isolated North under UN sanctions imposed over its nuclear and missile programmes.

China is North Korea’s main trading partner, making Beijing’s cooperation essential to the success of sanctions aimed at stopping the North’s pursuit of weapons technology. China, long North Korea’s diplomatic protector, has gone along with the latest penalties out of growing frustration with leader Kim Jong-un’s government.

North Korean businesses and ventures with Chinese partners must close within 120 days of the UN Security Council’s September 11 approval of the latest sanctions, according to the Ministry of Commerce. That would be early January.

North Korean companies operate restaurants and other ventures in China, helping to provide the North with foreign currency. North Korean labourers work in Chinese factories and other businesses.

Also on Thursday, China’s foreign ministry appealed for dialogue to defuse the increasingly acrimonious dispute between US President Donald Trump’s government and North Korea.

“The Korean Peninsula nuclear issue is related to regional peace and stability,” ministry spokesman Lu Kang said. “Breaking the deadlock requires all relevant parties to show their sincerity.”

China, one of five permanent Security Council members with veto power, supports the latest sanctions but doesn’t want to push North Korea too hard for fear Kim’s government might collapse.

Chinese leaders argue against doing anything that might hurt ordinary North Koreans. They agreed to the latest sanctions after the United States toned down a proposal for a total ban on oil exports to the North.

Chinese officials complain their country bears the cost of enforcing sanctions, which have hurt businesses in its northeast that trade with the North.

The latest round of UN sanctions bans member countries from operating joint ventures with North Korea, most of which are in China.

They also ban sales of natural gas to North Korea and purchases of the North’s textile exports, another key revenue source. They order other nations to limit fuel supplies to the North.

China, which provides the bulk of North Korea’s energy supplies, announced Saturday it would cut off gas and limit shipments of refined petroleum products, effective January 1. It made no mention of crude oil, which makes up the bulk of Chinese energy supplies to North Korea and is not covered by the UN sanctions.

China also has banned imports of North Korean coal, iron and lead ore, and seafood since early September.

On Thursday, the Ministry of Commerce defended its recent imports of North Korean coal, saying they were permitted by UN sanctions.

A ministry spokesman, Gao Feng, said imports that were reported in August trade data were allowed by a “grace period” for goods that arrived before the UN ban took effect.

The imports are “in line with the UN resolution,” Gao said.

Travel ban by Malaysia

Malaysia on Thursday banned citizens from travelling to North Korea, scotching yet again its soccer team’s participation in an Asian Cup qualifying match, as tension rises on the Korean peninsula over missile and nuclear development by Pyongyang.

Malaysia is one of the handful of countries that still has friendly diplomatic ties with North Korea, but relations have been strained since the murder of Kim Jong-un’s half brother at the airport in the Malaysian capital this year.

The travel ban will be reviewed once the situation has returned to normal, the Malaysian foreign ministry said in a statement.

The ban also covers the Malaysian soccer team’s trip to Pyongyang for an October 5 match, Deputy Foreign Minister Rizal Merican Naina Merican said.

“The travel ban covers all Malaysians, and as Malaysians, the Malaysian national football team is included too,” Reezal told Reuters.

The news led to the match being postponed for a third time, with the Asian Football Confederation saying in a brief statement the situation would be “referred to the appropriate committees to decide on the future status of this match”.

The regional body said it decided to postpone the match after the Football Association of Malaysia told it of the travel ban.

The match had been postponed to June 8 from its original date of March 28, but both dates were scrapped because of Malaysia’s fears for its players’ safety.

Last week, North Korea granted the president of the regional body, Malaysian royal Tunku Ismail Sultan Ebrahim, access to its airspace “anytime” he wants, as Pyongyang prepared to host the Asian Cup tie.