China has reportedly stopped crude oil shipments to North Korea in the first three months of this year. The North depends on China for most of the 520,000-570,000 tons of crude oil it needs annually.
The Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency on Thursday cited Chinese customs statistics as showing that China recorded zero crude oil exports to the North in the first quarter this year.
China has previously halted oil shipments to North Korea for a month or two because of maintenance checks on pipelines, but this is the first time since 2009 that Beijing completely suspended sending oil shipments for a third month.
In the wake of the North's second nuclear test in May that year, China halted oil exports from August to November.
A source in Beijing said there could be a connection between a series of recent North Korean provocations and China's suspension of oil exports.
Pundits say the halt puts a lot of pressure on the North, which lacks oil storage facilities.
As a result, the volume of trade between the North and China in the first quarter fell 2.83 percent on-year to US$1.27 billion.
Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang on Thursday warned North Korea against conducting another nuclear test. "We will by no means allow war or chaos to occur on our doorstep," he said. "Peace and stability is in the immediate interests of China."