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China says 91,900 barrels of oil, 18% of annual cap, supplied to N. Korea in 2021

Pyongyang has however breached oil import cap since 2018, US intelligence says

North Korean-flagged tanker Chon Ma San (File photo -- Japanese Ministry of Defense)
North Korean-flagged tanker Chon Ma San (File photo -- Japanese Ministry of Defense)
China reported that it had provided around 91,900 barrels of refined petroleum to North Korea last year, tantamount to 18 percent of the UN-mandated oil import cap, while Russia claimed that it had no longer supplied oil in the same period.

The UN Security Council sanctions committee on North Korea has recently updated the total amount of refined petroleum products that were exported and transferred by Beijing and Moscow to Pyongyang last and this year.

Under UNSC Resolution 2397, North Korea is allowed to import up to 500,000 barrels of all refined petroleum products per year from the beginning of 2018. All UN member states are also mandated to notify the 1718 sanctions committee every month of the amount of oil flown into North Korea.

China reported that it had supplied 10,822 and 6,295 barrels of oil, respectively, in January and February this year, according to the website of the UNSC sanctions committee Wednesday.

Beijing also said that it had provided a total of 91,909 barrels of oil in 2021, which is approximately 18.4 percent of oil import limits set by the UNSC. But the country did not inform the committee of the trade volume for last January and February.

China conspicuously transferred 41,973 barrels of refined petroleum only last September, which is the largest monthly trade volume and accounts for 45.7 percent of the aggregate amount of that year.

In contrast, Russia said North Korea had not procured oil at all from the country last year in its report to the sanctions committee.

Russia, which is the third-largest oil producer behind the US and Saudi Arabia, has claimed that it has entirely suspended supplying oil to North Korea since October 2020.

But the record shows that Russia provided a much larger amount of oil to North Korea than China between 2018 and 2020. The reported oil supplies from Moscow were more than double that of Beijing in 2020. 

Supply, sale or transfer of refined petroleum products to North Korea (Korea Herald)
Supply, sale or transfer of refined petroleum products to North Korea (Korea Herald)
Also noteworthy, the reported amount of oil supplied to North Korea has continued to drop drastically since the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data provided by China and Russia.

North Korea’s imports of refined petroleum from China and Russia reduced from 148,780 barrels in 2020 to 91,909 barrels in 2021, a 38.2 percent drop in just one year.

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a 68.1 percent decrease in the total volume of oil supplies to Pyongyang between 2019 and 2020. China and Russia provided 401,054 and 466,783 barrels of oil for North Korea, respectively, in 2018 and 2019.

But in contrast to the report from China and Russia, the international community has accused Pyongyang of exceeding the cap on refined petroleum imports by illegally procuring oil and violating UN sanctions.

The UN Panel of Experts has pointed to the ongoing illicit imports of oil products by Pyongyang mainly through ship-to-ship transfers in its annual midterm and final reports.

The director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, said last week that North Korea has continued to illicitly import refined petroleum and breached the annual oil import cap in his statement submitted to the House Armed Services Committee.

“Since 2018, North Korea has acquired refined petroleum in excess of the amount allowed under United Nations Security Council resolutions through vessels using illicit ship-to-ship transfers and direct deliveries of petroleum using third-country tankers,” Berrier said.

The London-based Royal United Services Institute in December said North Korea was likely to exceed the UN annual cap of 500,000 barrels, based on an analysis of satellite imagery and an estimation of deliveries to the North Korean port of Nampo between May and November last year.

The research institute said North Korea would still breach the UNSC-mandated cap on oil imports even if at least 23 vessels, which were identified as making 36 separate deliveries to the port, were just 75 percent laden.

By Ji Da-gyum (dagyumji@heraldcorp.com)
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