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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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  • D4x

    A bigger surprise is that enough NorKs have cars that use gasoline.

  • KremlinKryptonite

    China provides 90% of DPRKs fuel needs, and the concern is for the military. The KPA does two things: 1. Regularly trains in a chemical environment because chemical weapons will almost certainly be used (very early on) in a conflict. 2. Maintains enough fuel stores and MREs to support about 90 days of full-blown combat operations.

    • Suzy Dixon

      I’m surprised they would have that much stored up. But I guess it doesn’t take much fuel to nuke Seoul in the absolute worst case.

      • KremlinKryptonite

        Actually, Seoul is not likely to be attacked with WMDs, and certainly not nuclear weapons. The much more obvious, and likely, target is Busan. It’s an extremely vital port city that would need to be utterly devastated at the onset of conflict to ensure massive resupply and reinforcements could not easily arrive.

        Seoul may very well be hit with conventional weapons, but the goal will be to capture it. The longer the war lasts, the more remote the possibilities become for North Korean victory of any kind.
        If they can capture Seoul, then they have the choice to try and roll up the rest of the peninsula, or, more likely, to hold the ground and hope that the Chinese Communist Party intercedes at least politically on their behalf under some auspice of returning stability and minimizing further destruction. (not likely to work by the way, and that’s if the CCP comes through for them and tries).

        About the fuel, 90 days (at best) isn’t much indeed. But remember, they only need to operate on a small peninsula which is about 500 miles from the NK-Chinese border to Busan. Pyongyang is about 100 miles from the DMZ, and about 125 miles from Seoul…Seoul is much closer as you can see.

        • Suzy Dixon

          I see. So basically bomb busan and capture Seoul. Still could kill a lot of civilians in a city of 20 million

          • KremlinKryptonite

            Correct. But again, capturing Seoul doesn’t necessarily mean a victory either (The KPA held Seoul during the Korean War, too, so…). Also, it’s not 1950, so not only is South Korea the more profitable and modern state, but many of China’s spoiled rich kids whose fathers are provincial or even national party leaders are in Korea.
            One of the tasks of Japanese, American, and especially South Korean intelligence services is to monitor the movement of these gallivanting rich kids – all of whom love these three countries.

            If South Korean intelligence identifies a large number of Chinese rich kids with daddies working in Officialdom leaving the country, well let’s say that is a harbinger of Chinese-North Korea pre-planning an attack.
            If the Kim regime truly goes rogue and blows up a bunch of Chinese Communist Party kids in South Korea then that is tragically a good sign, and likely to result in precisely zero help from the CCP.

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