It appears President Trump’s remarks about the lack of progress made by China in pressuring North Korea has worked. Reuters reports that CNPC – the main supplier of diesel and gasoline to North Korea – has halted sales,reportedly because the buyers could not pay.
A week after the President said that “while I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried!”
And China responded that:
China has “played an important and constructive role” in seeking peace on the Korean peninsula, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters in Beijing.
China strictly implements United Nations Security Council resolutions and isn’t the crux of the North Korean issue, he said.
Reuters reports that China National Petroleum Corp has suspended sales of fuel to North Korea over concerns the state-owned oil company won’t get paid, as pressure mounts on Pyongyang to rein in its nuclear and missile programmes, three sources told Reuters.
Trump: China is ‘helping us’ with North Korea
China provides most of North Korea’s food and fuel imports. It has backed the Kim dynasty since the Korean War, in part to keep U.S. troops away from its border. While China has taken some steps on North Korea — including halting coal purchases this year after Kim’s estranged half-brother was murdered in Malaysia — its efforts haven’t produced a breakthrough so far.
But perhaps the death of Otto Warmbier was enough to push the Chinese to this decision, but as Reuters notes, while it’s unclear how long the suspension will last, a prolonged cut would threaten critical supplies of fuel and force North Korea to find alternatives to its main supplier of diesel and gasoline, as scrutiny of China’s close commercial ties with its increasingly isolated neighbour intensifies.
A source with direct knowledge of the matter said CNPC decided to put fuel sales on hold “over the last month or two” and described it as a “commercial decision”.
“It’s no longer worth the risks,” said the source. Chinese and international banks are stepping up compliance checks on companies dealing with countries on the U.S. sanctions list, such as North Korea, he said.
The North Korean agents who mostly buy the diesel and gasoline have been unable recently to pay for the supplies — CNPC normally requires upfront payments, the source said.
Reuters was unable to determine if the agents have started facing credit problems with Chinese and international banks worried about sanctions compliance issues.
The United States has pressed China to exert more economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea, but Beijing has said its influence on North Korea is limited and it is doing all it can, and as Reuters concludes, the sources in China saw no sign yet that Beijing is cutting crude oil to Pyongyang.
The big question now is – will this corner an apparently already crazy leader into some action we may all regret, or will the suffering of his people be the line he is not willing to cross as some diplomatic face-saving approach is found.