A series of talks between Beijing and Pyongyang have failed to jumpstart a plan that would see China supply desperately needed electricity to North Korea due to a disagreement over funding, according to sources in the impoverished pariah nation.
Pyongyang requires nearly six times the amount of its annual electricity production capacity to meet the nation’s basic power needs and is urgently seeking assistance from its ally China, a North Korean electrical engineer told RFA’s Korean Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The engineer, from North Hamgyong province, said that North Korean authorities had held negotiations for electricity supply with China “four times since May” in a bid to secure the power it needs to buoy its failing economy, but had “not achieved meaningful success.”
Local governments in northern North Korea have also been approaching their counterparts across the border for solutions to the energy shortage, he said.
The source said that talks for the deal between Pyongyang and Beijing have stalled because there is a “difference of opinion about the payment method.”
He said North Korea is adamant that it should not have to pay for the electricity for a period of five years, but China is demanding that Pyongyang pay for the power in advance.
North Korea suffers from widespread electricity shortages and is moving towards hydroelectric power as a supplement for its dwindling coal resources.
But even Pyongyang, where residents normally enjoy one of the most reliable power supplies in any city across the nation, often suffers severe power shortages due in part to the inability of its supplying dam to operate at full capacity during the annual dry season, sources have said.
According to the electrical engineer, North Korea is more than 16 million kilowatts short of the annual electricity production it needs to adequately supply the country—unable to meet about 80 percent of its needs.
“North Korea generates only 3.6 million kilowatts per year on average and it needs 20 million kilowatts to solve the electricity shortage,” he said.
Some 13 million kilowatts are needed to operate the country’s factories, institutes, and hospitals, he said, while around 7 million kilowatts are needed to supply the country’s educational and cultural facilities, as well as the population’s personal needs.
He said that at the current capacity it is “impossible” to improve the country’s economy.
A resident of North Hamgyong province said that Beijing had recently deployed technical experts to North Korea to ensure that there would be no technical problems if China agrees to supply its neighbor with power, but that no deal had yet been signed.
“Around the middle of August, nine Chinese electricity technical experts inspected electrical facilities in North Hamgyong province, as well as facilities in other parts of the country.”
He said that the technicians had found no problems with the North Korean infrastructure, but that the supply deal remains unsigned because the two countries do not see eye to eye on financial arrangements.
Reported by Sung Hui Moon for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Doeun Han. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.