China Helps Ease North Korea Power Shortage Despite UN Sanctions

Defying sanctions, China has made gifts to Pyongyang of generators and exclusive hydropower rights on the Yalu River, sources say.

Buildings in North Korea's capital Pyongyang are shown at night in a file photo.

Shortages of electric power in the North Korean capital have been eased in recent weeks following China’s delivery to Pyongyang of two power generators in defiance of international sanctions punishing the country for its illicit nuclear weapons program, sources in the country say.

The generators, each producing 100,000 kilowatts of energy, were transported to North Korea by ship in late June, a source in Pyongyang told RFA’s Korean Service, citing information obtained from workers involved in the transfer.

“Trade organization workers helping transport the Chinese generators said that they didn’t come through customs in order to stay off the sanctions radar,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Instead, they were transported by sea,” he said.

Now installed in the Pyongyang Thermal Power Plant, the Chinese generators make up 200,000 kilowatts of Pyongyang residents’ estimated 500,000-kilowatt daily power use, with the balance provided by aging North Korean generators already in place, he said.

“So now there are no more problems with power shortages in Pyongyang,” he said.

As shortages began to ease, residents attributed the increase in power to national leader Kim Jong Un’s pledge following summit talks to divert energy from weapons programs to civilian use, the source said.

“But it is impossible that this is being done,” he said.

“According to trade workers, the main reason for the easing of power shortages is China’s gift to North Korea of the two power generators,” he said.

Exclusive hydropower rights


Meanwhile, hydropower plants set up along the Yalu River by China and North Korea to provide energy to both countries now serve only North Korea, a source in Sinuiju city in North Korea’s North Pyongan province, bordering China, told RFA.

“This was a gift that was given to North Korea by [Chinese president] Xi Jinping at the second North Korea-China summit meeting, held in Dalian on May 7th,” the source said, also speaking on condition he not be named.

The North Korea-China Water Plant Council was established in the border area more than 60 years ago, with plants jointly constructed and managed in Unbong, Taepyong, Supung, and Weewon, where they draw power from the the Yalu River, the source said.

“Electricity generated from the plants was supposed to be shared by both countries, but since Xi Jinping handed over full management rights to North Korea, we can now use all the power generated by the plants,” he said.

China’s gifts this year of generators and exclusive rights to hydropower along the Yalu River have done much to relieve North Korea’s chronic shortages of electric power, historically an obstacle to economic growth in the cash-strapped country, sources say.

The report of the transfer of Chinese generators comes as the United States has warned ally South Korea, eager to reopen economic ties with the North, that U.N. and U.S. sanctions remain in effect until there is evidence of movement on North Korean denuclearization.

The news also follows a report by the Washington Post that satellite photos taken in recent weeks and other evidence indicate that North Korea is working on at least one and possibly two liquid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States.

The newspaper quoted U.S. intelligence officials describing ongoing activity inside North Korea's nuclear and missile facilities only weeks after President Donald Trump declared in a Twitter posting that Pyongyang was "no longer a Nuclear Threat."

Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Richard Finney.