Increased traffic on the streets of Pyongyang could be an indicator that China has not ceased crude oil delivery shipments to North Korea, a Ministry of Unification (MOU) official said yesterday.
Beijing made headlines at the start of 2014, when crude oil shipments apparently disappeared from their trade data. With no domestic oil and gas industry, North Korea has historically been reliant on its neighbor for 500,000 tonnes of crude oil per year.
Trade statistics from Chinese customs for July were no exception, with the absence of crude oil deliveries apparently extending into their 18th month.
“Changes in the volume of transportation could be (an indicator that supplies have not ceased). A small proof could be an increasing number of taxi companies in Pyongyang,” the MOU official said.
Recent media reports and anecdotal evidence suggest the number of cars on Pyongyang’s roads is increasing.
“Pyongyang traffic has certainly been increasing throughout the recent months. Traffic intersections that would usually cause a minute or so hold up in the afternoons during peak hour have now been dragged out. Usually I have to announce to my group that we might be delayed a little to our next item on the itinerary due to traffic,” Rowan Beard from Young Pioneer Tours told NK News.
The crude oil is thought to make its way into North Korea via a pipeline running from a facility in the Chinese border city of Dandong, to the DPRK’s Pongwha refinery in the country’s north-west.
Aside from the now absent trade data, little is publicly known about the pipeline, its capacity or the facility that feeds it. Last year however a May report by Daily NK claimed that the facility was “continuously supplying oil (to North Korea)”.
Experts have puzzled over the absence of crude oil deliveries, though many agree it is unlikely the DPRK could continue to meet its fuel demand without the Chinese shipments.
“The data was an assumption that first came from the Korea Trade-investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA). It seems like the MoU has found this theory is the most reasonable explanation to describe the current situation in North Korea … that is the most reasonable guess,” Lee Seok-gi at the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade told NK News.
Last year a two-month NK News investigation found that, despite the trade numbers, a North Korean crude oil tanker called the Nam San 8 was still operating between China’s oil terminal in Dalian and North Korea’s Nampho port.
According to the NK News vessel tracker, the small tanker was last seen leaving Chinese waters and headed for Nampho last week. Conservatively estimating two trips a month, the Nam San 8 is capable of delivering over 100,000 tonnes of crude oil a year to North Korea.
The NK News investigation also found the capacity provided by North Korea’s other tankers in the region, closely tallied with Chinese export data.
Additional reporting by JH Ahn
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Featured Image: The oilman by pedrosimoes7 on 2006-02-28 15:30:28