North Korea has once again imported refined oil from China, Daily NK has learned. Amongst themselves, officials in North Korea are saying that imports of oil from China may continue through the end of the year.

According to a Daily NK source in North Korea on Thursday, North Korea imported a large amount of oil through the port of Nampo on Sept. 1 and 2.

Just how much oil was imported remains unconfirmed, but it was reportedly a lot given that it took four medium-sized cargo ships to transport it.

Most of the oil will reportedly go to the military and munitions factories, though some of it will likely go to the transportation sector as well. In particular, some of the oil provided to the military appears to have been used during the military parade to mark the country’s foundation day on Sept. 9.

Diesel accounted for most of the oil imported through the port this time around, according to the source. 

When oil is imported, some of it gets distributed in markets regardless of which government agency it gets supplied to, either through oil distribution centers or illegal means. Because of this, market prices reflect the imports within two or three days, the source said.

An investigation by Daily NK found that diesel prices suddenly fell across North Korea from early September. 

As of Sept. 6, a kilogram of diesel cost KPW 3,600 in Pyongyang, KPW 3,800 in Sinuiju and KPW 3,800 in Hyesan. This was 27-29% less than prices recorded on Aug. 22.

38 North Korea reported on Sept. 4, 2021, that North Korea restarted construction of a new wharf in Nampo Port. / Image: 38 North

The price of gasoline, however, was KPW 7,000 in Pyongyang, KPW 7,300 in Sinuiju and KPW 7,500 in Hyesan as of Sept. 6. This differed little from prices recorded on Aug. 22, when it cost KPW 7,000 in Pyongyang, KPW 7,300 in Sinuiju and KPW 7,600 in Hyesan. 

North Korean officials reportedly are saying that imports may continue at least through the end of the year because the oil shipments “must be the result of some sort of secret agreement” between Pyongyang and Beijing.

This is to say, North Korea agreed to provide mineral resources to China in return for essential and raw materials North Korea requires, such as oil. 

With close ties between North Korea and China growing more important amid continuing tensions between the United States, China and North Korea, quiet Chinese assistance to North Korea seems set to continue for the foreseeable future.

Political conditions in North Korea and China may also bring the two countries together at a faster pace.

This year is politically significant in both countries. In North Korea, the year marks the 110th year of Juche (based on the year of Kim Il Sung’s birth in 1912) and the 10th year of Kim Jong Un’s rise to power. In China, the year marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.

Accordingly, the strengthening of bilateral ties may have an important impact on the internal politics of the two countries. 

North Korean authorities also appear to be storing some of the oil imported from China this year.

“The thinking appears to be that we have to save the oil ahead of time when imports are relatively smooth,” said the source. “Because you don’t know how the international situation will change next year, the authorities look set to store a significant amount of the oil this year.”

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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to