Coal-laden ships in limbo out at sea

North Korea has seen a surge in its coal
production as a result of the “70 day battle” that has pushed workers to
increase their output in preparation for the upcoming Party Congress in May.
However, with China appearing to uphold international sanctions, in effect
cutting off routes for Pyongyang to export its coal, concerns are mounting over
who will be held responsible. 

“Recently, we’ve seen a full ban on our [North Korean] ships at the Port of Yingkou in Liaoning Province, where coal
trade had been most active with China,” a source from Pyongyang told Daily NK
in a telephone conversation on Tuesday. “We’ve also received notice that the
Port of Rizhao in Shandong Province will also gradually restrict entry.”

An additional source in the capital
corroborated this news.

“The news suddenly arrived as a unilateral
announcement from China two days ago, leading to chaos at the commerce
ministry,” the source explained. “Cadres have been unable to decide whether to
turn around all of the other ships at sea, on top of the coal and iron ore
vessels that are still awaiting orders after being refused port entry at

This setback was reported to the Central
Party, but trade officials have instead chosen to admonish others for not
taking action in advance to mitigate the problem rather than consider potential
solutions. There has also been indirect criticism of the nuclear test and
long-range rocket launch, with questions as to why they need to “clean up a
mess made by others,” he reported.

Some cadres are reportedly expressing their
concerns over the financial implications of these events, exclaiming, “If we
can’t export coal any more, we’re done for.” The question of who will be held
responsible for the export blockage also has people on edge, with some reminded
of Jang Song Thaek shouldering the blame for the country’s failed currency
and the stalling of construction for the 100,000 homes project in Pyongyang.

The source added that coal workers are also
troubled by the export block after having been excited about the prospect of
receiving increased rations as a reward for the “70-day battle” production
surge. “Cutting off ration supplies [received from China with payment for coal] will negatively
affect workers and result in diminished output, and by extension impact power
plants, the industrial sector, and other aspects of people’s lives. This may in
turn ignite a good deal of anger within the public,” he speculated.

Meanwhile, Japan’s Asahi Shimbun reported
on Tuesday that Beijing has banned North Korean ships from making port entry at
the Port of Tianjin, as well as Shandong Province’s Ports of Rizhao, Penglai,
Weifang, and Jiangsu Province’s Port of Nantong, in response to Pyongyang
continuing its threats and provocations despite international condemnation and
the adoption of stronger UN sanctions.