As China’s suspension of coal imports continues for more than four months, many North Korean residents who once relied on the coal industry are finding themselves destitute.
China has stepped up its participation in UNSC sanctions against North Korea by blocking the import of coal, resulting in hundreds of coal mine workers belonging to trading companies in Sunchon (South Pyongan Province) losing their jobs. In addition, local purchasing power has declined, along with a breakdown in logistics and the circulation of money.
“It has been four months since coal exports to China were blocked, and North Korea is in a war-like crisis. Hundreds of coal mine workers belonging to dozens of trading companies have lost their jobs and been pushed into a life-threatening economic crisis,” a source in South Pyongan Province recently told Daily NK.
“Local residents who were once making a living by running food stalls near the coal mines or carrying coal have all lost their jobs. As a result, regional economic activity has plummeted.”
The local businesses that once relied on the coal export industry, including restaurants, car washes, and fuel vendors, have all met a similar fate and the circulation of money has stagnated in the general markets, causing disarray.
As a flow-on effect, the price of coal purchased for domestic consumption (primarily as a fuel source for home cooking and heating) has also dropped, inflicting further losses on coal exporting companies.
“Coal trading companies that used to allocate 10 percent of their coal export profits toward management have either suspended production or are only producing small quantities of coal. As such, the trading companies, markets, and residents alike have all been driven into a crisis,” a source in North Pyongan Province explained.
Although the local economy is in serious trouble, the North Korean authorities are not taking any tangible steps to address the issue. According to the source, the coal produced at the state-run coal mine in Sunchon City continues to be sent to the Pyongyang thermal power plant, irrespective of the suspension of coal exports.
The sources reported that residents are eagerly hoping that coal exports will resume, but the authorities feel as long as the state-run enterprises remain operational, there are no problems to address. This is causing complaints from the residents who instead see the nation’s resources poured into weapons development.
The coal trade between North Korea and China was once booming in Rizhao Port in Shandong Province, where regulations were relatively loose, but even smuggling of coal has reportedly become difficult in this region due to strengthened customs procedures.