Rumors rife as gas restrictions in N. Korean capital drag on
An acute shortage of gasoline in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang that has sparked price hikes and hoarding is raising fears of potentially crippling pain at the pumps if things don’t get better soon — and driving rumors that China is to blame.
The shortage, which is extremely unusual if not unprecedented, began last week when signs went up at gas stations around the city informing customers that restrictions on sales would be put in place until further notice. With no indication as of Wednesday night of when the restrictions might be lifted — or why they have been imposed — drivers continue to scramble to fill up their tanks and whatever other containers they can find.
Prices, meanwhile, have shot up. They had been fairly stable, typically at about 70-80 cents a kilogram, but on Wednesday at least one station was charging $1.40. Gasoline is sold by the kilogram in North Korean filling stations. One kilogram is roughly equivalent to one liter, so a gallon at the station costs about $5.30.
China supplies most of energy-poor North Korea’s fuel, and in lieu of official explanations, rumors are rife that Beijing is behind the shortage. The concerns are adding to a tense and uncertain mood on the Korean Peninsula since U.S. President Donald Trump assumed office with repeated calls for Beijing — Pyongyang’s economic lifeline — to get tough on North Korea, which has responded with counterclaims Washington is pushing for a nuclear war.
Though trade between North Korea and China appears to be solid, and possibly even growing, there are indications Beijing has been quietly tightening enforcement of some international sanctions aimed at getting Pyongyang to abandon its development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.