North Korea appears to have received supplies of oil from China

A source claims North Korea has smuggled oil from China “countless times” since the middle of last month By Jang Seul Gi,

PYONGYANG, Feb. 6, 2021: Oil prices in North Korea plummeted late last month after climbing at the start of the year. North Korea has reportedly been receiving supplies of oil from China as the two nations show signs of growing closer. The price of diesel was KPW 3,500 in Pyongyang, KPW 6,000 in Sinuiju and KPW 6,300 in Hyesan as of Jan. 25. This was respectively 56%, 24% and 23% less than it was on Jan. 11, as determined by Daily NK. The price of oil, on which North Korea completely depends on imports, fluctuates relatively wildly depending on supply. Even so, this was a 23-56% fall in just two weeks.

Particularly in the case of Pyongyang, the price of diesel fell to KPW 3,500, the first time it has done so since 2011, a decade ago. Gasoline prices fell relatively less than diesel. Gasoline was KPW 10,000 a kilogram in Pyongyang, KPW 11,000 in Sinuiju and KPW 12,000 in Hyesan as of Jan. 11. As of Jan. 25, it was KPW 6,700 in Pyongyang, KPW 11,000 in Sinuiju and KPW 11,100 in Hyesan. As in the case with diesel, the price drop for gasoline was most pronounced in Pyongyang, where prices fell 33% from Jan. 11. In Hyesan, however, gasoline prices fell just 7.5% from two weeks earlier, and in Sinuiju they did not change at all.

Diesel prices fell more than gasoline prices because the new supplies from China reportedly focused on diesel. According to a source, diesel accounted for a large share of the imports smuggled into North Korea by way of illegal transhipment in international waters from ships leaving the Chinese port of Dalian in Liaoning Province. The source claims North Korea has smuggled oil from China “countless times” since the middle of last month. Prices fell most precipitously in Pyongyang seemingly because the capital received not only the first supplies but also the most. 

Gasoline imports reportedly began from the middle of last month as well, together with diesel. But after gasoline was supplied to Pyongyang, distribution was temporarily suspended to other areas of the country. The source said gasoline distribution was stopped due to “Chinese intervention.” The Chinese side signed the deal to provide gasoline and diesel on the condition that North Korea distribute only to the private sector rather than to the military, but North Korean authorities failed to abide by this. 

Gasoline supplies were temporarily suspended when a Chinese official learned that oil imported from China went into military oil storage facilities. Because of this, gasoline prices in Sinuiju and Hyesan began recovering at the start of last month after falling slightly. With oil prices dropping suddenly, North Korean authorities have begun controlling distribution to nip signs of hoarding in the bud. With growing numbers of people storing gasoline and diesel due to the falling prices, authorities have reportedly sent “Ministry of Social Security military task forces” to markets to keep an eye on what oil merchants are doing.

In particular, the task forces are threatening to confiscate all the oil from merchants who are caught selling it in bulk. Meanwhile, there is also talk that North Korea sold some fishing rights in return for Chinese oil provisions. However, this rumor remains unconfirmed by Daily NK. Relations between North Korea and China appear to be growing warmer. China’s foreign ministry said on Monday that Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi exchanged New Year’s messages with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Son Gwon. In his message, Wang said he hopes China and North Korea closely communicate in the New Year and “bring greater fortunes to the people of both countries” by steadily developing bilateral ties.

Prior to this, China’s Defense Ministry emphasized that Beijing’s unchanging policy is the maintenance and development of the traditional friendship between North Korea and China. In a briefing on Jan. 28, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Wu Qian said military ties between Beijing and Pyongyang were important and had brought “positive contributions” to the strengthening and development of bilateral ties, and that friendly exchanges at all levels would continue between the two militaries going forward as well.

Large-scale North Korean troop rehearsals suggest military parade soon

In this undated photo provided on Sunday, May 24, 2020, by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during a meeting of the Seventh Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party of Korea in North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

SEOUL, Jan 8, 2021: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stressed the need to drastically improve his nation's ties with the outside world as he addressed a major political conference for the third day. State media said Kim also reviewed relations with rival South Korea but didn't explain what steps he said he wanted to take. Observers have expected Kim to use the first congress of the ruling Workers' Party in five years to send conciliatory gestures toward Seoul and Washington as he faces deepening economic troubles at home.

In his speech on the third day of the meeting Thursday, Kim "declared the general orientation and the policy stand of our party for comprehensively expanding and developing the external relations," the Korean Central News Agency said Friday. Kim also examined relations with South Korea "as required by the prevailing situation and the changed times," KCNA said. The congress is the party's top decision-making body that reviews past projects, lays out new priorities and reshuffles top officials. It was convened as Kim struggles to overcome what he calls "multiple crises" caused by an economy battered by pandemic-related border closings, a series of natural disasters and U.S.-led economic sanctions.

In his opening-day speech, Kim admitted his previous economic plans had failed and vowed to adopt a new five-year development plan. On the second day of the meeting, he said he would bolster his country's military capability. Kim, who inherited power upon his father Kim Jong Il's death in late 2011, turned 37 on Friday. His birthday hasn't yet been designated a national holiday like his father's and grandfather's. KCNA said the congress would continue, suggesting it was having a fourth-day session on Kim's birthday.

After a provocative run of weapons tests in 2016-17 to acquire the ability to strike the U.S. mainland with nuclear weapons, Kim abruptly launched high-stakes nuclear diplomacy with President Donald Trump, which awarded him long-desired legitimacy on the world stage. He also met Chinese, Russian, South Korean and other world leaders. But as his diplomacy with Trump stalled and the coronavirus forced him to close his country's borders, Kim has been focusing domestically to mitigate the economic shocks from the pandemic.

During Thursday's session, Kim also called for "thoroughly eliminating non-socialist elements" in North Korean society and proposed ways to promote the "might of the social system of our state," KCNA said. Kim criticized working people's organizations including the youth league for allegedly failing to fulfil their duties and said the league must prioritize "ideological education" above other tasks, it said. Kim's government has been cracking down on what it calls "alien, unsound non-socialist practices." Last month, state media said North Korea's parliament legislated "a law on rejecting reactionary ideology and culture." Analysts say North Korea is guarding against a possible spread of capitalism and looser internal unity amid the economic difficulties.

South Korea's spy agency said Kim is worrying about U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, who is to take office on Jan. 20. Biden has called Kim a "thug" and is unlikely to hold any direct meetings with him unless North Korea takes serious steps toward denuclearization. The Kim-Trump diplomacy broke down during a summit in Vietnam in early 2019 after Trump rejected Kim's offer to dismantle his main nuclear complex, a limited disarmament step, in return for broad sanctions relief.

Ties between the Koreas once flourished after Kim entered talks with Trump. But North Korea has halted exchanges with the South and resumed harsh rhetoric against it since the breakdown of the Kim-Trump summit in Vietnam. Some observers say North Korea is frustrated because the South has failed to break away from Washington and revive stalled joint economic projects held back by the U.S.-led sanctions. They also speculate that North Korea initially thought South Korea would help it win sanctions relief but got upset after Kim returned home empty-handed from the 2019 summit with Trump.

The observers say North Korea may reach out to South Korea first to promote a mood of reconciliation before pushing for talks with the Biden administration. The nuclear diplomacy between Kim and Trump began after South Korean officials met Kim in early 2018 and conveyed to Washington his reported willingness to deal away his nuclear program in exchange for economic and political benefits.

N. Korean Authorities Slap Ban on Travel Between Regions Til February, 2021

PYONGYANG, Dec 17, 2020:: North Korea has reportedly banned people from traveling between regions from early December through the end of next February as a “super-class” quarantine measure against COVID-19. According to a source, however, the ban is not a total one as movement is allowed for some supplies and individuals with permits. In a phone conversation with Daily NK on Tuesday, a source inside North Korea said authorities decided to place a “50-day nationwide ban on movement from Dec. 1 to Feb 20.” He said an enlarged meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party “decided [on the measure] internally, and an order was issued the very next day.”

“The leadership stressed that it is a measure to get a final grip on quarantine efforts around the time of the Eighth Party Congress,” he said, adding, “The decision to make the measure last until Feb. 20 was to stress how we should end quarantine activities by that time since [the authorities] believe the virus could spread further during the winter season. It was also aimed at allowing everyone to start with a ‘fresh mindset’ in the agricultural, construction, education and economic sectors from spring.” It appears the “enlarged meeting” mentioned by the source refers to the enlarged meeting of the 21st Politburo of the Seventh Central Committee, which was chaired by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Nov. 29.

North Korea’s official Korean Central New Agency made no mention of the travel ban in its reporting on the meeting. Korea Central Broadcasting said on Dec. 2, however, that the country’s disease control authorities were “taking strong measures to ensure [people] strictly adhere to the emergency quarantine system and regulations in line with the comeback of super class emergency quarantine measures” and that the “movement of people between regions has been restricted as much as possible and the activities of some work units have been provisionally suspended.”

North Korea’s Emergency Anti-epidemic Law sets out a three-tier warning system according to the speed of transmission and danger level: first class, special class and super-class. At super-class, travel by land, sea and air is prohibited and gatherings and school activities are suspended. In this undated photo, North Korean women are seen on bikes near Sakju County, North Pyongan Province. The source said the travel ban did not completely shut off movement because “state-approved individuals and supplies continue to flow across internal borders.”

“Special trains [gucheondae trains] are transporting major national supplies and personnel,” said the source. “The trains are serving personnel who have received state approval or people on business transporting supplies for munitions factories, coal, minerals, timber and other goods required for the 80-day battle.” “Recently, in fact, there have sometimes been people who have travelled to other regions after getting a permit to do so,” he added. Another source in North Pyongan Province said that cadres “reportedly traveled back and forth by train from Sinuiju to Hyesan, Yanggang Province, on Dec. 14” and that “you can travel anywhere as long as you have a permit.”

Daily NK sources suggested that it is impossible for the authorities to completely stop railroad traffic given the country’s reliance on railways. In Article 1 of the country’s Railway Law, railways are defined as “the arteries of the nation and the vanguard of the people’s economy.” North Korea has accordingly built a railroad-centered transportation network, with roads and maritime routes playing supporting roles. All this means that North Korea is unlikely to completely suspend rail traffic. Meanwhile, the source said that North Korea “is not stopping or blocking traffic in [other] public transportation sectors, [either].”

“Downtown public transportation and other means of transportation have not been stopped or suspended,” he said. “There are less for-profit buses going to other regions [than before], but if you have a travel permit, you can use them.” He added, however, that the number of “checkpoints are increasing between provinces.” This suggests that while there are no limits on movement within cities using public transportation, inspections and crackdowns have been strengthened on people going beyond the borders of different “administrative areas.”