North Korea nuclear crisis

Tillerson urges China to cut off North Korea’s oil supply to halt nuclear weapons programme

An oil cut-off by China was taken off the table to pass a new UN Security Council resolution against Beijing’s neighbour and traditional ally

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 September, 2017, 4:32am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 September, 2017, 10:52am

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged China to cut off North Korea’s oil supply as a next step in efforts to halt Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme, a move that was taken off the table to pass a new UN Security Council resolution against Beijing’s neighbour and traditional ally.

“I am hopeful that China, as a great country, a world power, will decide on their own and will take it upon themselves to use that very powerful tool of oil supply to persuade North Korea to reconsider its current path towards weapons development,” Tillerson said in London, at a press conference with his UK counterpart Boris Johnson.

“That is a very powerful tool that has been used in the past, and we hope China will not reject that or discard that as a very powerful tool that they alone really have the ability to assert,” he said.

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UN Security Council Resolution 2325, which passed unanimously this week, aims to cap North Korea’s imports of petrol, diesel, heavy fuel oil and other refined fuel products at two million barrels annually, which would cut the amount from about 8.5 million barrels now.

US demands for a complete oil embargo and a freeze on the assets of the country’s leader Kim Jong-un were removed to ensure passage, according to media reports ahead of the vote.

Previous UN sanctions on North Korea stopped short of controls on oil and fuel, mostly at the behest of China, owing to concerns that such moves might destabilise the country and leave Beijing with a refugee problem.

China shares a 1,400-kilometre border with North Korea along the Yalu River, parts of which are passable without the use of a boat.

Opinion: Oil embargo on North Korea would only lead to war, as it did with imperial JapanNorth Korea won’t halt its weapons development unless the UN manages to completely cut off its oil and fuel supply and freeze the government’s assets overseas, former US Ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson said in an interview with the South China Morning Post soon ahead of the Security Council vote.

“If North Korea continues their [weapons development] activity and China loses its patience and they go after oil and the assets of the North Korean leadership, that will be very significant,” added Richardson, who visited North Korea eight times between 1992 and 2013 to negotiate with the regime.

Tensions around North Korea reached new heights after the country’s propaganda arm threatened to use nuclear weapons to “sink” Japan and reduce the US to “ashes and darkness” for supporting the latest Security Council resolution.

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Those comments added to hostilities that have been boiling over since Pyongyang tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles in July, launched a missile over Japan on August 28 and a week later conducted its most powerful nuclear test.

China holds the strongest hand in terms of measures that would stymie North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s nuclear ambitions.

The Dandong-Sinuiju pipeline delivers more than half a million tonnes of crude oil to North Korea a year, about 90 per cent of the country’s supply. The pipeline, also called the Friendship Oil Pipeline, runs for more than 30km from storage facilities in the Chinese border city of Dandong to an oil depot in Sinuiju in North Korea.

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In addition to the risk China sees – that shutting the Friendship pipeline might push North Korea’s government to the brink of collapse -, such a move would be damaging and costly from a technical standpoint.

The pipeline’s crude supplies are from the Daqing oilfield in Heilongjiang province and are typically low in sulphur and high in wax. The mix solidifies easily in cold weather or when the flow slows to a certain point, according to a PetroChina Pipeline Research and Development Centre report.