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Pyongang. Photo: KIM WON-JIN/AFP/Getty Images

Chinese companies have been caught secretly selling oil to North Korea, according to a major South Korean news source and the Financial Times.

  • Why this matters: These reports could mean that China is violating UN sanctions against North Korea. UN Security Council Resolution 2375 — passed in September after yet another nuclear test by Kim Jong-Un — prohibits ship-to-ship transfers of certain goods, including oil, to North Korea.
  • Bill Bishop, author of the Axios China weekly newsletter, emails some quick analysis: "If the Chinese government ignores oil smuggling the sanctions will be less effective. And if the Trump Administration views Beijing as not faithfully implementing what it agreed to then new sanctions against more Chinese individuals and firms, including a major oil company and a large financial institution, are increasingly likely. "

The political backdrop:

  • Trump and other senior U.S. officials have been giving China credit for its "tougher" line against North Korea. Persuading President Xi to crack down on Kim Jong-Un has been the Trump Administration's main strategy for dealing with the nuclear threat from Pyongyang.
  • It was only yesterday that Reuters reported — citing Chinese customs data — that "China exported no oil products to North Korea in November."
  • But North Korea analysts who've watched Beijing's interactions with its economically-dependent neighbor over many years have remained skeptical amid these optimistic reports. (China has historically done the bare minimum to convince the U.S. that it's "getting tough" with North Korea, only to continue propping up the rogue regime.)

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

In photos: The Biden and Harris inauguration

President Biden and first lady Jill Biden watch a fireworks show on the National Mall from the Truman Balcony at the White House on Wednesday night. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Biden signed his first executive orders into law from the Oval Office on Wednesday evening after walking in a brief inaugural parade to the White House with First Lady Jill Biden and members of their family. He was inaugurated with Vice President Kamala Harris at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday morning.

Why it matters: Many of Biden's day one actions immediately reverse key Trump administration policies, including rejoining the Paris Agreement and the World Health Organization, launching a racial equity initiative and reversing the Muslim travel ban.

Republicans pledge to set aside differences and work with Biden

President Biden speaks to Sen. Mitch McConnell after being sworn in at the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. Photo: Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

Several Republicans praised President Biden's calls for unity during his inaugural address on Wednesday and pledged to work together for the benefit of the American people.

Why it matters: The Democrats only have a slim majority in the Senate and Biden will likely need to work with the GOP to pass his legislative agenda.

The Biden protection plan

Joe Biden announces his first run for the presidency in June 1987. Photo: Howard L. Sachs/CNP/Getty Images

The Joe Biden who became the 46th president on Wednesday isn't the same blabbermouth who failed in 1988 and 2008.

Why it matters: Biden now heeds guidance about staying on task with speeches and no longer worries a gaffe or two will cost him an election. His staff also limits the places where he speaks freely and off the cuff. This Biden protective bubble will only tighten in the months ahead, aides tell Axios.