The international community has been paying close attention to whether China will restrict the supply of crude oil to North Korea in response to its continued nuclear and missile development. Although the Chinese government has yet to state an official position, rumors have been spreading throughout North Korea, creating anxiety amongst residents.
A source in North Hamgyong Province reports that the volume of oil coming in from China has significantly decreased. Although the rumors have yet to come to fruition, some residents are said to be in a state of panic as the price of gasoline has not returned to normal levels since rising from the middle of last month.
In Rason (North Hamgyong Province), the price of gasoline has rapidly risen over the past two months. The price of a kilo of gasoline in the city was 4 RMB on April 1, rose to 10 RMB by April 25, and leaped to 12 RMB over the following two days. The price has since fallen slightly to 10 RMB this month.
As the price shows little sign of dropping, sales volumes are also decreasing. Restrictions on oil purchases have played a role in this phenomena, the source noted, explaining that even traders doing business in China who pass through customs are limited to purchasing 50 RMB worth of diesel per truck.
However, enterprising vendors have stepped in to fulfill the demand, using freight train cabins to smuggle oil into the country. In this way, vendors can import approximately 30 L of oil per trip.
Although there is a high risk of being detected by Chinese customs officers, the smugglers resort to begging and pleading for leniency if caught.
Another source in North Hamgyong Province added, “The sense of crisis around the oil shortage is far more serious than what it appears from the outside.”
China has not yet officially announced any plans to suspend oil into North Korea. In reality, the suspension of oil is not in China’s interests as well, as such measures may lead to a paralysis of North Korea’s power structure including the Party, the military, and the government. But some analysts point out that China may eventually have no choice but to use its last card if North Korea commits provocations that exceed China’s limit of tolerance, such as a sixth nuclear test.