China may consider cutting oil exports to North Korea to pressure the latter to halt further nuclear and missile tests, as China still hopes to bring Pyongyang back to the negotiating table, experts said.
In anticipation of the new, harsher sanctions, gas prices in Pyongyang have spiked by at least 83 percent in the past three days, following months of otherwise stable petroleum prices in Pyongyang, US news site NK News reported Saturday.
Pyongyang residents lined up at gas stations, while some stations closed or could only provide gasoline to vehicles from foreign organizations or diplomats, the report said.
“North Korea relies heavily on Chinese oil supplies, and a cut in supplies would strike a blow to the country’s political situation as well as the lives of North Korean people,” Jin Qiangyi, director of the Asia Research Center at Yanbian University, told the Global Times on Sunday.
In 2003, China’s oil pipeline to North Korea was shut down for three days after a missile launch by the North, adding pressure on Pyongyang to pull back on nuclear brinkmanship, Reuters reported. Chinese officials said then it was a “mechanical breakdown.”
A US official was quoted by Reuters as saying that an oil embargo is among the tougher sanctions Washington could pursue to counter North Korea’s nuclear and missile program.
“The US has always wanted China to impose tougher sanctions on North Korea to force it to give up nuclear tests. China may consider the possibility of cutting oil supplies but would also think about the risks involved,” Jin said.
In a state media commentary published on Thursday, North Korea lashed out at China without naming the country in unusually pointed rhetoric. The commentary mocked “the country” as “dancing to the tune of the US.”
China faces a dilemma between a possible full oil embargo on North Korea and deteriorating tensions from further provocative activities by North Korea, Jin said.
Data from the Seoul-based Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) shows North Korea imported 525,000 tons of crude oil from China in 2015.
United Nations data shows China also exported 218,087 tons of refined oil products to North Korea in 2015, about six times what Russia sent.
North Korea may turn to Russia or smuggling if China implements a full oil embargo, but the amount would be far from adequate, compared with what China provides through the pipeline, Jin said.
Temporarily cutting off oil supplies is probably the toughest sanction China could impose on North Korea, and the possibility China could take this step is increasing, considering the Chinese government’s more serious attitude, Li Kaisheng, a research fellow at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.
Li said resolving the Korean Peninsula crisis relies not only on increasing sanctions from China but on whether the US is willing to return to the negotiating table with North Korea.
US President Donald Trump ordered the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier-led strike group to proceed toward waters off the Korean Peninsula in response to rising tensions over the North’s nuclear and missile tests and threats to the US and its Asian allies, Reuters reported.
North Korea said on Sunday it was ready to sink a US aircraft carrier to demonstrate its military might, as two Japanese navy ships joined the US carrier group for exercises in the western Pacific.
Experts the Global Times spoke to said there is a strong possibility that North Korea would conduct a sixth nuclear test or launch missiles around April 25, the 85th anniversary of the founding of its military.
Jin said that instead of imposing tougher sanctions on North Korea, which appears to have had little effect on the country, the international community should consider an alternative to solving the problem.
“A compromise may be reached if the five parties – China, US, South Korea, Japan and Russia could promise North Korea a stable political situation as well as economic development,” Jin said.
By Liu Xin