In this June 18, 2021 file photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks at a Workers’ Party meeting in Pyongyang, North Korea.
Credit: Korea Central News Agency / Korean News Service via AP, File
Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, the North Korean government has taken aggressive steps to prevent a massive number of infections in the country, aware of its lack of medical facilities. One of his aggressive measures was to lock down the border with China, the North’s largest trading partner. Since then, the economy of the North has slowed down as the pandemic continues – along with border closures.
This is not the first time that the North has found itself in a difficult economic situation. The country’s worst economic crisis of the 1990s, known as the “Hard March”, left millions of people dead from hunger.
This story loomed in the background when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un issued a warning about a “tense” food situation this month at the Central Committee meeting of his ruling Workers’ Party. The country’s food supply fell short of demand due to devastating flood damage last year.
In recent meetings of the ruling Workers’ Party, Kim admitted the country’s poor economic situation and urged party members to work hard to recover the sluggish economy and take care of the livelihoods of his people. Kim called a meeting of the Workers’ Party political bureau on Tuesday and said his country’s anti-pandemic campaign had caused a “great crisis”. He berated party officials for their irresponsibility and failure to live up to his efforts to build a self-sustaining economy, according to North Korean state media.
Additionally, Kim appears to have lost weight recently, compared to her previous appearances. South Korean observers and critics say it could be a strategic move to avoid blame for the food shortage crisis in the North – a visible sign that the North Korean leader himself is eating less these days. Local South Korean media reported that Kim’s slim appearance is a type of “regime” governance. But other experts believe the weight loss is more of an attempt to improve Kim’s health, as both her father and grandfather died of heart problems.
“The state media does not actively claim that he leads an austere life, and [the weight loss] is probably linked to his health, ”Seoul Kookmin University researcher Fyodor Tertitskiy told diplomat.
Some experts and journalists who get information from underground sources in the North say the food shortage is a symptom, rather than a cause, of the wider economic crisis in the country.
“What’s happening in North Korea is not just a food supply issue,” said Jiro Ishimaru, editor of Asia Press International, a website in Japan that monitors North Korea with sources. inside the North. “There is food in North Korean markets all over the country, but food prices have risen too much and people’s cash incomes have disappeared due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they don’t therefore can not buy food. “
Food prices have risen steadily and remain volatile, according to a report released last week by the Korea National Unification Institute. Specifically, the price of rice recently climbed from $ 0.5 to $ 0.6 per kilogram to $ 0.9 to $ 1.4 per kilogram, according to the report.
According to the report’s analysis, food prices appear to have increased due to a lack of supply, but one cannot exclude that the intervention of the North Korean authorities – by imposing limits on prices or public distribution – played a role.
Along with the price hike, North Koreans ‘mistrust of Kim’s leadership and anger over the authorities’ inability to deal with the coronavirus pandemic has grown. With fear of starving and dying from the current devastating economic crisis, North Korea is likely to ask China and Russia for food aid like it did last year, according to Ishimaru.
“The international community should provide goods or food aid, but North Korea will only want food aid from China and Russia,” he said. According to Ishimaru, “North Korea received 500,000 tonnes of food, such as rice and flour, from China last year and also aid from Russia.”
The unrest in North Korea worsens as anxiety grows among people that they will starve to death. Already, people from vulnerable groups are starving, according to Ishimaru. The food shortage is ultimately artificial: the main reason for the crisis is Kim’s excessive and aggressive measures, which have blocked the border and tightened movement controls within the country. This caused a lot of confusion and damage to the northern economic system, causing people to lose their purchasing power and run out of money.
Meanwhile, inter-Korean relations and dialogue have stalled since the United States and North Korea failed to come to an agreement at the Hanoi summit in 2019. Seoul said the ball is now in the game. camp of the North and that it will always be there to support the North if and when it asks for it. However, Pyongyang showed animosity towards Seoul and Washington and rejected proposals from both, or even offers of aid from the South.