Pyongyang Under Pressure?
North Korea Hoarding Gas

A curious thing has been happening in North Korea, with the state apparently restricting gas sales soon after China threatened to restrict fuel exports. AP:

Car users in Pyongyang are scrambling to fill up their tanks as gas stations begin limiting services or even closing amid concerns of a spreading shortage.

A sign outside one station in the North Korean capital said Friday that sales were being restricted to diplomats or vehicles used by international organizations, while others were closed or turning away local residents. Lines at other stations were much longer than usual and prices appeared to be rising significantly.

The cause of the restrictions or how long they might last were not immediately known.

North Korea relies heavily on China for its fuel supply and Beijing has reportedly been tightening its enforcement of international sanctions aimed at getting Pyongyang to abandon its development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

Beijing is officially staying mum about whether it has anything to do with the fuel rationing. But the North Korean move comes after a highly-discussed editorial in China’s Global Times said that Beijing could cut off oil exports if Pyongyang launches another nuclear test. That message got the attention of many—including President Trump—as a sign that China might try to tighten the screws on Pyongyang. As noted China watcher Bill Bishop notes, the current chaos at North Korea’s gas stations could either be the result of Chinese pressure, or pre-emptive hoarding in anticipation of a coming embargo.

So far, we have been skeptical that Beijing is serious about exerting meaningful economic pressure on Pyongyang, but the fuel rationing in North Korea is a story that bears watching. Perhaps Pyongyang finds Beijing’s threats credible after all.

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