North Korea’s dire food crisis has sent the prices of basic items skyrocketing, with a single packet of coffee fetching more than $130.
Fresh reports out of North Korea have revealed Kim Jong-un’s latest struggle as the leader of the closed-off nation.
The elusive dictator on Tuesday addressed a growing crisis in his country’s agricultural sector, which has seen an astronomical rise in everyday items for the citizens of the secluded communist regime.
North Korean state press revealed Kim admitted the situation was “getting tense” with staple foods skyrocketing as a result of intense storm damage to the state’s produce industry.
There are growing fears of a repeat of the devastating 1990s famine, which according to some estimates killed more than three million North Koreans.
Closed borders during Covid-19 hampered trade, creating a dire shortage in imported goods including sugar, flour and oil.
Citizens in the state’s capital Pyongyang have seen the price of potatoes triple, with those searching for a caffeine hit forced to pay up to $US100 for a packet of coffee and $US70 for some teabags,.
The price of essentials such as rice and fuel have reportedly held firm, however Kim’s admission that the state-run economy cannot feed its citizens points to a nation sitting on a knife’s edge.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) recently reported North Korea has just two months left of supplies, suffering a whopping 860,000 tonnes of supply shortages nationwide.
Kim refused to detail the extent of the food shortage crisis, but has recently warned citizens to be prepared for another “Arduous March”, the name given to the 1990s food crisis.
“I made up my mind to ask the WPK (Workers’ Party of Korea) organisations at all levels, including its Central Committee and the cell secretaries of the entire party, to wage another more difficult ‘arduous march’ in order to relieve our people of the difficulty, even a little,” Kim said in April.
Growing calls for de-escalation
International trade sanctions have long plagued the pariah state, but the devastating impact of both Covid-19 compounded with restrictions on importing goods has brought the grim situation to a head, according to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman.
“The situation on the Korean peninsula is facing new tensions,” he said, urging Pyongyang to “grasp the opportunity and work for the gradual de-escalation of the situation”.
The North Korean leader said he has left the door open for talks with US President Joe Biden, but admitted he is prepared for “both dialogue and confrontation” over the topic of nuclear arms. Kim has long remained adamant against resuming arms talks with the US, which could offer relief from sanctions choking the North Korean economy.
“Kim’s courteous reminder will probably be received differently in Washington and Seoul,” Rand Corp policy analyst and former CIA official Soo Kim.
“(The US is) dangling carrots before Kim to entice the North Koreans to return to the dialogue table. Kim will only grant dialogue to the US and South Korea when his conditions are met.”
North Korea tested the waters with Mr Biden in March, launching two short-range ballistic missiles, the first such weapons test since the Democrat took office.
Despite the bleak economic situation, Kim has continued escalating his nuclear arsenal, which North Korea says is to prevent an invasion from America.
Former President Donald Trump’s envoy to North Korea Stephen Biegunearlier this month that Mr Biden was working on “an agreement on a path toward denuclearisation with a certain endpoint that is complete denuclearisation but that we can structure along the way with some flexibility”.
Kim cracks down on K-pop
As the food crisis deepens, North Korea has stepped up repression of its own citizens, launching a renewed crackdown on the importation of foreign cultural influences.
Kim has described South Korean imports such as K-pop as a “vicious cancer”of North Korea.
Echoing sentimentsin 1970s America, the dictator believes the genre of music is corrupting the minds of the next generation, influencing their “attire, hairstyles, speeches and behaviours”.
North Korean media has long decried the influencebleeding into its shut-off society, but new laws introduced in December last year hand out tough penalties for anyone watching or possessing foreign media.
The new legislation could see offenders, including high school students, serve anywhere between five and 15 years of hard labour if they are caught watching prohibited content such as South Korean dramas.
Global internet is banned by default in North Korea, with official government broadcasts the only media made available on local TV and radio. The authoritarian nation also employs disciplinary officers to roam the streets and correct men with long hair and women with revealing or tight clothing.
Kim has publicly feared for the “ideological and mental state” of the next generation, warning that the unchecked distribution of foreign culture could see the socialist country “crumble like a damp wall”.
“Young North Koreans think they owe nothing to Kim Jong-un,” North Korean defector Jung Gwang-il told The New York Times.
“He must reassert his ideological control on the young if he doesn’t want to lose the foundation for the future of his family’s dynastic rule.”