- The Washington Times - Friday, March 22, 2013

China in February did not export any crude oil to North Korea, the first time exports have fallen to zero for a year, possibly as punishment for Pyongyang’s nuclear test last month, Reuters news agency reported, citing customs data.

If a response to the Feb 12 nuclear test, the move would be another of several significant Chinese steps cooling its traditionally strong relationship with North Korea. Beijing is the country’s single major trading partner and only ally.

China normally sends the isolated Communist dictatorship on its north eastern border an average of roughly 300,000 barrels of oil a month, with a value of about $380 million, Reuters reported.

The agency quoted one anonymous Chinese official as saying supplies might have been subject to “some kind of curb,” as a response to North Korea’s illegal nuclear test Feb 12.

China has generally opposed sanctions against North Korea, fearing the refugee inflows and other destabilizing consequences of regime collapse there. But last month, it relented and backed harsh U.N. sanctions in response to Pyongyang’s underground nuclear test.

Veteran defense intelligence analyst and Asia watcher John McCreary noted that North Korea has no other reliable sources of crude oil.

SEE ALSO: North Korea, South raise tensions with threats, drills

“The lack of Chinese crude supplies in February implies that North Korea has had to draw on fuel stocks to sustain the nationwide [military and civil defense] training [drills]” the country is staging, he wrote in his daily e-newsletter NightWatch.

“This is a chronic, strategic and systemic vulnerability of North Korea,” he added.

NightWatch is distributed by K-force Government Solutions Inc.

Mr. McCreary also noted that China’s new President Xi Jinping had been noticeably cool in his response to North Korea’s message of congratulations on his elevation to the presidency.

Instead of using the traditional description of the closeness of China and North Korea “closer than teeth and gums,” Mr. Xi referred to the two nations as “friendly neighbors.”

This “signifies a public downgrading of the relationship” with Pyongyang, Mr. McCreary wrote.

• Shaun Waterman can be reached at swaterman@washingtontimes.com.

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