Gasoline prices in North Korea’s capital Pyongyang jumped by as much as 83 percent within three days on the back of reports that China is mulling over an oil embargo for its unruly neighbor.
North Korea imports almost all the oil it uses from China, so an embargo will effectively paralyze the country, even if Pyongyang turns to Russia for alternative supplies or resorts to smuggling—neither of which would provide North Korea with adequate supplies of the fuel, one analyst from the Asia Research Center at the Yanbian University said.
Beijing has in recent months taken a tougher stance against Pyongyang, regional analysts note, but not because the U.S. is pushing it to do so, but because an increasingly belligerent North Korea is a direct and potentially serious threat to China’s own national security.
The change in stance is in fact a change in priorities, according to the analysts. While China has historically supported—above all—the stability of the Pyongyang regime as a means of avoiding a refugee crisis should the political system there collapse, now it is putting equal weight on regime stability and the denuclearization of that same regime.
Pyongyang meanwhile derided China—although without naming it directly—in a statement released by a government news agency last week. The statement said that “the country” was “dancing to the tune of the U.S.” and also included threats that there will be “catastrophic consequences” if Beijing takes the side of the U.S. in the crisis. Related: Expert Commentary: How Much Further Can Oil Prices Fall?
For China, however, it seems to be a case of taking its own side and defending it. Beijing still hopes it could bring both the U.S. and North Korea to the negotiating table, averting an open clash with uncertain consequences. Uneasy as it might be about increased U.S. military presence near its borders, China will likely work with both sides to come to a peaceful resolution—a notion that was recently supported by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence at a recent visit to Australia.
“The United States of America is determined to work with our allies, and especially with China, to achieve the objective of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula,” he said. “We believe that can occur peaceably, largely owing to the new engagement of China.”
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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