EXPERTS have warned placing the “ultimate sanction” against North Korea could backfire by creating huge instability and put civilian lives at risk.
Cutting off oil supplies are seen as the next step by Japanese and South Korean leaders determined to stop the rogue state as military tension reaches its highest level in decades.
However experts claim such a move would have little impact on North Korea’s military and could leave ordinary people starving, forced to walk places and backfire diplomatically.
Director of the University of Exeter’s Strategy and Security Institute, Professor Patrick Porter said while he suspects China won’t cooperate with calls to block oil, the real danger is that they do – and it works.
“The much more dangerous possibility is that it actually does work in that it brings about the collapse of the North Korean regime,” he told news.com.au.
“Then you’re talking about a country imploding with loose nuclear weapons in it. It could become a terrible vortex for instability and it would be terribly alarming for China – a US occupied Korean Peninsula right at China’s throat.”
Nautilus Institute researchers Peter Hayes and David von Hippel said while China has made it “crystal clear” it would not support such a move, even if it was introduced North Korea could simply divert existing supplies and use stockpiled sources.
“To make such cuts now is premature, and would reduce whatever influence the Chinese have left in Pyongyang. Implementing energy strangulation with massive cuts now would simply terminate their residual influence completely,” they wrote in a report on the issue.
The security experts claim North Korea could very quickly cut non-military oil use by 40 per cent and switch to coal, hydro and biomass fuels.
“There will be little or no immediate impact on the Korean Peoples’ Army’s (KPA’s) nuclear or missile programs,” they said.
“The immediate primary impacts of responses to oil and oil products cut-offs will be on welfare; people will be forced to walk or not move at all, and to push buses instead of riding in them. There will be less light in households due to less kerosene, and less on-site power generation. There will be more deforestation to produce biomass and charcoal used in gasifiers to run trucks, leading to more erosion, floods, less food crops, and more famine.
The comments come as South Korean leader Moon Jae-In asked Russian leader Vladimir Putin to support such a move. However Putin recently poured cold water on the idea, saying North Koreans would “eat grass” before they gave up nuclear weapons.
“No matter which option we choose to influence North Korea, its leaders will not change their policy, whereas the suffering of millions could increase many times over,” he said following a key conference in China this week.
China has so far refused to cut off oil supplies to Pyongyang, despite providing around 90 per cent of North Korean supplies.
President Trump said the US is considering “stopping all trade” with countries doing business with North Korea, which includes China and Russia, however it’s unclear such a move could be enforced.
Concrete figures for North Korean oil imports are hard to ascertain after Chinese Customs stopped reporting figures in 2014. However the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) claims Pyongyang imports about 10,000 barrels of crude oil a day, almost all of it from China and going to its sole functioning refinery, the Ponghwa Chemical Factory.
At a world market price of $62 a barrel, that would be worth around $225 million a year, AFP reports. In addition, according to figures from the International Trade Centre, the North imported $144 million-worth of refined oil products — which could include petrol and aircraft fuel — from China last year. Another $2.1 million-worth came from Russia.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has previously raised the prospect of oil imports being cut off by China, saying it would be a “lever that China could pull.”
On Wednesday NATO called for the “denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula” and hinted that it too wanted further sanctions to be implemented.
“It is now imperative that all nations implement more thoroughly and transparently existing UN sanctions and make further efforts to apply decisive pressure to convince the DPRK regime to abandon its current threatening and destabilising path,” it said.
— With wires