SEOUL – North Korea is supporting it for a possible food crisis in the coming months.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has issued a rare warning about a ‘tense’ food situation caused by extensive flooding, the coronavirus pandemic and international sanctions, state news media reported on Wednesday.
Mr. Kim on Tuesday convened the Central Committee of his ruling Labor Party to assess the state of affairs in his isolated country, and according to the official Korean Central News Agency, resolving the food shortage is a top priority.
“In particular, the food situation of the people is now strained because the agricultural sector could not complete its grain production” after flood damage, said Mr. Kim was quoted in the meeting. “It is essential that the whole party and the state concentrate on farming.”
While it is no secret that North Korea’s economy is in trouble, it is very unusual for Mr. Kim acknowledged a national food shortage just as openly and clearly as this week.
In sy latest review of food security in the country, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization warned that if households in the country are not covered by imports or foreign aid, ‘households could experience a difficult period between August and October.’
The warning of mr. Kim came two months after ordering his party to carry out a ‘difficult march’ to alleviate the economic pain of his people. The remarks in April drew the attention of some outside analysts as the term ‘difficult march’ is commonly used by the North to refer to a crisis that needs to be overcome, such as the famine in the 1990s that left millions dead. .
So far, no sign from North Korea has emerged that the country is in danger of another devastating famine, but South Korean reporters monitoring market prices in North Korea have said that the price of rice in recent weeks rose sharply.
Many essential goods, including medicine, are also becoming scarcer as the pandemic forces North Korea to close its border with China, its only major trading partner, said Jiro Ishimaru, editor-in-chief of Asia Press International, a website in Japan that monitors North Korea using clandestine correspondents in the country.
Some families have started selling furniture to raise cash for food, Mr. Ishimaru said. The number of homeless children searching for food is also increasing in some parts of the country, although it is difficult to assess the situation reliably, given the isolation of North Korea.
Mr. Kim’s recognition of the food shortage in North Korea was another sign that its economic policies were not working.
When he took power a decade ago, one of his first promises was to ensure that his long-suffering people ‘no longer have to tighten their belts’. But economic plans suffered a setback as the country’s growing arsenal led to the imposition of international sanctions. Mr. Kim’s efforts to lift the sanctions came to naught when his diplomacy with former President Donald J. Trump collapsed in 2019.
When the pandemic and floods hit the country last year, Mr. Kim orders his country to reject any international aid for fear that outside aid would lead to a possible outbreak of Covid-19. (North Korea claims to have no case of Covid-19, but outside health experts remain skeptical, given the country’s poor public health system.)
Last October, when he addressed a large crowd during a military parade to celebrate his party’s anniversary, Kim apparently held back tears when he apologized for not improving the lives of his people. In January, he once again acknowledged its economic failures, announced a new five-year plan and promised to increase the country’s nuclear and missile capabilities.
He has since promised to lead his country through the sanctions by building an ‘independent economy’ that produces more goods at home and is less dependent on trade with the outside world. North Korea claimed on Wednesday that its industrial production had grown by 25 percent this year.
North Korea’s wheat production fell from an estimated 4.64 million tonnes in 2019 to 4.4 million last year, the South Korean Development Institute said in a report released this month. This creates an overall grain shortage of 1.35 million tonnes this year. North Korea has always experienced annual grain shortages, although the country has tried to fill the gap with trade and international aid, especially from China.
“This year, the food shortage in the North is on a scale he cannot handle alone,” said Kwon Tae-jin, author of the Korea Development Institute report. North Korea must relax its control over market activities and ask for large-scale food aid from Beijing to alleviate the food shortage, he said. Kwon said.
The North also indicated on Wednesday that the Party meeting would include a discussion on how to respond to the Biden government’s recent policy statements on North Korea, saying the agenda includes’ analyzing the current international situation and the corresponding direction of our Party. ‘
At a summit in Washington last month, President Biden and his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-in, agreed to seek ‘diplomacy and dialogue’ with the North and build on the 2018 agreement in Singapore, which Mr. . Trump with Mr. Kim. Washington also said it would take a ‘calibrated’ and ‘practical’ approach to the country and appointed a new special envoy over North Korea.
Mr. Kim’s government has not yet responded to the revelations.