On 29 August 2017, North Korea fired a missile over Japan, signalling ‘the first step’ of military operations in the Pacific and plans for more launches.

Any further tension or launches could potentially impact its neighbours, who are the world's largest energy importers – China, Japan and South Korea – which in total account for 34 per cent (13.6 million barrels a day [b/d]) of seaborne oil trade flows, 55 per cent (143 million tonnes [MT]) of LNG trade, and 46 per cent (551MT) of seaborne coal trade globally in 2016.

(map) North East Asia energy infrastructure

In the event of any conflict, China could more readily tap into its domestic coal and gas resources, but Japan and South Korea could be left wanting given their large dependence on imports, and their usual practice of not maintaining large stockpiles. The threat of conflict could help drive restarts in Japan's flailing nuclear industry.

Oil markets would also be severely affected. Around 65 per cent of Asia's refining capacity is located in Japan, South Korea and China.

Oil demand in Japan and South Korea could still be met for at least 90 days by the emergency stockpiles mandated for OECD countries. China could dip into its Strategic Petroleum Reserves for the first time since it started building these three to four years ago, in a worst case scenario.

Like with coal and gas, China has domestic oil production options, although up to 58 per cent of this could be at risk of shut-in in the event of escalating tensions. Around 1.5 million b/d of China's 3.95 million b/d crude production comes from the North China basin, with the nearest field just 200km from the North Korean border. Another 0.8 million b/d is produced from the Songliao basin, approximately 400km from the border.

Escalating security risks on the Korean Peninsular will drive increased price volatility across the commodities. A demand-side risk of this scale could put downward pressure on price globally, but regional stockpiling and increased logistics costs could equally lead to a short-term price premium.