SEOUL, South Korea — As he launched a major political meeting to examine national measures to repair a shattered economy, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un warned of probable food shortages and urged his people to prepare for lengthy Covid-19 restrictions.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency also stated Wednesday that Kim asked for discussions on how the North should cope with the “current international situation,” though it did not cite any particular statements from Kim concerning the United States or South Korea.
North Korea has so far ignored calls from allies to resume nuclear talks that have been stalled for two years since Kim’s ambitious summitry with former President Donald Trump collapsed over disagreements over exchanging relief from crippling US-led sanctions in exchange for North Korean denuclearization steps.
Meanwhile, the North’s economy has deteriorated further as a result of periodic border restrictions that have stifled commerce with China, while severe typhoons and floods destroyed harvests last summer.
While observers in North Korea have yet to witness evidence of mass hunger or serious upheaval, some analysts believe the conditions are ripe for a perfect storm that would destabilize food and currency markets and cause widespread panic. The Korea Development Institute, a South Korean government think tank, predicted last month the North might suffer food shortages of roughly a million tonnes this year.
Kim encouraged authorities to find methods to improve agricultural production during the opening plenary meeting of the governing Workers’ Party’s Central Committee on Tuesday, saying the country’s food situation “is now growing tight.”
According to KCNA, Kim also “set out the duties for the state to preserve ideal anti-epidemic status,” implying that North Korea will continue its pandemic lockdown despite economic pressures.
Given North Korea’s weak health infrastructure and open border with China, its main ally and economic lifeline, experts dispute the country’s assertion that it has never had a single case of Covid-19.
Kim convened the party gathering to assess the country’s economic recovery efforts in the first half of the year. On Tuesday, when addressing the “unfavorable” conditions and obstacles, Kim expressed gratitude for what he called “improvements,” saying that the country’s industrial production had grown by 25% since last year, according to KCNA.
In January, North Korea convened its first governing party conference in five years, laying out its five-year growth objectives. At the conference, Kim exhorted his people to persevere in their fight for economic independence, calling for stronger state control of the economy, more agricultural production, and a focus on the development of chemicals and metal industries.