Tuesday, August 17, 2004


Every once in a while, a story or number will cross my desk that will get me to thinking. In this case, I read a story about DPRK imports of oil from the PRC. A snippet:
United Press International ("N. KOREA BUYS MORE CHINESE CRUDE OIL", 2004-08-17) reported that the DPRK bought 301,000 tons of crude oil from the PRC in the first half of this year, ROK officials said Tuesday. The impoverished nation paid $70 million for PRC crude for the six months, up 7 percent over a year ago, the ROK's Unification Ministry said in a report.
The PRC's oil delivery to the DPRK has averaged around $10 million monthly, officials said.
So how much oil are we talking about? If the DPRK paid today's price of about $46 @ barrel then we can surmise that North Korea imported about 217,391 barrels a month. Chances are, the PRC gave the DPRK a discount. So, let's assume a neighborly price of $30 @ barrel: this translates into 333,333 barrels a month or somewhere between two and a half and four million barrels a year (if I am reading this chart of unknown provenance correctly, that is less oil than Japan imports every day). The state of California imported at least 60 times that amount in 2003.

I'm not sure what to make of these comparisons. The DPRK has no domestic sources of oil but China has not been its only source of foreign oil; Russia and Iran have sold oil to North Korea in the past. According to this somewhat dated report, oil accounts for only 6 percent of North Korea's energy consumption. Hydroelectric and coal provide the lion's share of North Korean energy. Still, one gets the impression that for all the vaunted opening and reforms of the last couple of years, seen from a broadly comparative global scale, not much seems to be going in the DPRK.

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