China's customs data has shown no exports of crude oil to North Korea in the first seven months of 2014, according to the data compiled by South Korea's government trade agency Saturday, even though bilateral trade was little changed.
China, North Korea's last-remaining patron, supplies nearly all of the North's energy needs such as crude oil, diesel and jet fuel, but deliveries of crude oil to Pyongyang have been officially absent since January.
According to the Chinese data analyzed by the Beijing unit of the Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency, there were no shipments of crude oil from China to North Korea from January to July.
Despite the seven-month absence of oil shipments, there have been no reports of a serious fuel shortage in North Korea.
Diplomatic sources with knowledge of the matter cautioned against reading too much into the official trade figures because China has been providing crude oil to North Korea in the form of grant aid and such shipments have not been recorded on paper.
In the first seven months of this year, China's exports to North Korea rose 1.8 percent from a year ago to US$1.95 billion, while imports fell 4.3 percent to $1.57 billion, according to the data.
While political ties between North Korea and China have remained strained since the North defiantly conducted its third nuclear test in February 2013, few analysts believe that Beijing will cut off its economic lifeline for Pyongyang.
Last year, China officially supplied about 578,000 metric tons of crude oil to North Korea, up from some 523,000 metric tons in 2012, according to China's General Administration of Customs. (Yonhap)