In light of North Korea’s most recent nuclear test, many experts believe that the only remaining response is cutting off all surviving sources of crude oil exports to the brutal regime. Despite being under a slew of various international trade sanctions, North Korea still receives indispensable oil shipments from China and Russia.
China fulfills the overwhelming majority of North Korea’s oil needs via an aging pipeline that stretches across the Yalu river, from the Chinese border town of Dandong to North Korea’s sole oil refinery, the Ponghwa Chemical Factory. Though oil exports between the two countries are not officially recorded, sources estimate that it’s as much as 520,000 tons of crude oil ($170 million dollars’ worth) per year.
This is an absolutely vital lifeline for North Korea as it uses this influx from everything from farming to military operations. Additionally, Russia supplied $31.4 million worth of oil, coal, and other refined products during the first quarter of 2017 as part of an ongoing trade agreement established in 2014.
Scott Seaman, the director of the Geopolititical Consultancy Eursaia Group says “If China decides to cut off that vital supply of crude oil going to North Korea, there will be an immediate and pretty costly impact on the economy”
In response to North Korea’s increased nuclear activity over the last year China has slowly reduced the amount of crude flowing into the dictatorship, however it hasn’t been enough to seriously impact North Korean operations. This latest nuclear test has brought new concerns for China, whose state media has been discussing the dangers of nuclear radiation and the new strategic implications of such powerful weapons in the hands of a notorious unpredictable and unstable dictatorship.
Whether or not this will indeed impact crude exports to North Korea remains to be seen. But China’s communist-linked newspaper The Global Times ominously warned on Sunday “China’s strategic security and environmental safety is the bottom line for China in showing restraint. If North Korea crosses this line, the current framework for Sino-North Korean ties will break down.”
The United Nations Security Council is meeting this week to discuss an appropriate international response.
Article written by HEI contributor Kevin Abbott.