North Korea’s totalitarian government has told its people to tighten their belts — literally — for at least another three-plus years before Pyongyang plans on reopening the country’s land border with China, Radio Free Asia reported this week.
“Two weeks ago, they told the neighborhood watch unit meeting that our food emergency would continue until 2025,” a resident of the city of Sinuiju, near the China border, was quoted as telling the outlet. “Authorities emphasized that the possibility of reopening customs between North Korea and China before 2025 was very slim.”
North Korean authorities closed the border with China, its largest trading partner, in January of last year in a bid to stop the spread of COVID-19. The move exacerbated inflation and food shortages caused in recent years by ongoing US-led sanctions as well as typhoon-induced flooding.
“Some of the residents are saying that the situation right now is so serious they don’t know if they can even survive the coming winter,” the Sinuiju resident went on. “They say that telling us to endure hardship until 2025 is the same as telling us to starve to death.”
North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un acknowledged the crisis earlier this year, urging officials to find ways to boost agricultural production and noting that “the people’s food situation is now getting tense.”
Meanwhile, the once-rotund leader has sported a slimmer frame at recent public events, leading South Korean intelligence officials to estimate that he has lost up to 44 pounds — and providing North Korea watchers with fodder for speculation about both Kim’s health and the view of the people toward the regime.
“Criticism is coming out that the government’s emphasis on saving food might be because the Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un is not aware of how serious the food situation is,” Radio Free Asia quoted a resident of another border city, Hoeyrong, as saying.
“Residents are already struggling to get by and have already tightened their belts as much as possible,” the person added. “They resent the unrealistic demands of the authorities, asking how much tighter they could possibly tighten their belts.”
In May, the same outlet reported that construction workers sent to Pyongyang to alleviate a severe housing shortage had taken to attacking and robbing city residents in order to get money for food.
A May 2019 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimated that about 10 million North Koreans (about 40 percent of the country’s population) were suffering from food shortages after what the organization called “the worst harvest in 10 years.” The ongoing economic catastrophe means that number has almost certainly increased over the ensuing two years.