North Korea could use coal if oil ban takes ef­fect

Nation also could or­der cit­i­zens to cut back use

Las Vegas Review-Journal (Sunday) - - WORLD - By David Tweed and Stephen Stapczyn­ski

HONG KONG — As the U.S. and its al­lies look to im­pose even stricter mea­sures against North Korea, leader Kim Jong Un could find in­spi­ra­tion from op­pres­sive regimes of yes­ter­year in Nazi Ger­many and apartheid-era South Africa.

Both man­aged to sur­vive oil block­ades with the help of liq­ue­fy­ing coal, a tech­nol­ogy that dates to the 1920s. North Korea has am­ple re­serves of the fuel, at one point lead­ing the world in an­thracite coal ex­ports.

U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son raised the prospect of cut­ting off North Korea’s oil sup­ply less than two hours after North Korea fired an­other mis­sile over Ja­pan on Fri­day. In a state­ment, he called on author­i­ties in Bei­jing and Moscow to take new mea­sures against Kim’s regime, not­ing that China sup­plies North Korea with most of its oil.

“The trou­ble is that North Korea does not, strictly speak­ing, need oil from China,” Pierre Noel, a se­nior fel­low for eco­nomic and en­ergy se­cu­rity at the In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute for Strate­gic Stud­ies in Lon­don, said by phone. “The idea that an oil em­bargo would be so dras­ti­cally painful that they will say, ‘Sorry, we’re back to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble,’ is just to­tally not cred­i­ble.”

North Korea would need to liq­uefy about 6 mil­lion tons of coal in or­der to cover an amount equal to its 2015 oil im­ports, ac­cord­ing to Noel’s cal­cu­la­tions in an IISS re­port pub­lished this month, which were based on out­put statis­tics from U.S. and Chi­nese coal liq­ue­fac­tion plants. In 2015, North Korea shipped 25 mil­lion tons of coal to China, and is re­stricted to ex­port­ing 7.5 mil­lion tons a year un­der U.N. sanc­tions in 2016 — leav­ing plenty left for fuel con­ver­sion.

China and Rus­sia re­sisted a full oil em­bargo in U.N. sanc­tions an­nounced this week fol­low­ing North Korea’s most pow­er­ful nu­clear test, in­stead only agree­ing to lim­its on fuel sales. Rus­sian leader Vladimir Putin last week re­buffed a re­quest from South Korea’s Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in for an oil ban, say­ing it would prob­a­bly hurt the or­di­nary peo­ple more than the regime’s lead­ers.

China strictly im­ple­ments U.N. res­o­lu­tions, For­eign Min­istry spokes­woman Hua Chun­y­ing told re­porters in Bei­jing on Thurs­day in re­buff­ing Tiller­son’s call for more ac­tion.

“China is not the key to the North Korean prob­lem,” she said. “It’s ir­re­spon­si­ble and un­help­ful to un­justly blame oth­ers and shirk re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in any form.”

North Korea can also or­der its com­pli­ant cit­i­zenry to cut down on en­ergy con­sump­tion, en­ergy an­a­lysts Peter Hayes and David von Hip­pel wrote in a re­port this month for the Berke­ley, Cal­i­for­nia-based Nau­tilus In­sti­tute for Se­cu­rity and Sus­tain­abil­ity. They es­ti­mated that North Korea would be able to re­duce its non-mil­i­tary oil con­sump­tion by about 40 per­cent of its an­nual use via sub­sti­tu­tion or sim­ply us­ing less.

“Th­ese sanc­tions are likely to be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive im­me­di­ately,” Hayes said by email of the lat­est U.N. mea­sures. “And in the long term — tac­ti­cally and strate­gi­cally stupid, which is quite an achieve­ment.”

North Korea had re­serves of about 600 mil­lion met­ric tons of coal in 2014, ac­cord­ing to BP Plc.

The As­so­ci­ated Press

Kim Jong Un ges­tures at sol­diers at Thurs­day’s test launch of an in­ter­me­di­ate-range mis­sile that flew over Ja­pan. The U.S. and its al­lies re­sponded to the launch by rais­ing the prospect of cut­ting off North Korea’s oil sup­ply.

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