Chairing a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party’s central committee on Tuesday, the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un admitted that the country needed to tackle a “tense” food situation caused by the pandemic and last year’s typhoons.
He also called for the North Korean public to brace for a longer period of Covid-19 restrictions, though Pyongyang still claims North Korea to be one of the only countries in the world without a single case so far.
The local KCNA agency reported that Mr Kim reviewed progress on some major policies and the party’s central committee set goals as part of the latest five-year economic plan outlined in February.
Mr Kim claimed the economy had improved overall in the first half of the year, citing an increase in total industrial output of 25 per cent, but said there had been “a series of deviations” in the party’s efforts to implement economic growth. He pointed out the tight food supplies across the country as one of several obstacles.
Mr Kim said: “The people’s food situation is now getting tense, as the agricultural sector failed to fulfil its grain production plan due to the damage by typhoons last year.”
KCNA reported that the party vowed to direct all efforts to the farm sector this year and discussed ways to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic. Mr Kim called for steps to minimise the impacts of natural disasters as a lesson from last year and key to attaining this year’s goals.
North Korea has claimed that it doesn’t have a single Covid-19 case — a claim that experts doubt due to its porous border with China and the country’s poor health infrastructure. North Korea has, at the same time, imposed strict anti-virus measures, including border closures and domestic travel restrictions.
Covax, which secures vaccines for poor countries, had said it will provide nearly two million doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine to North Korea. But the shipment has been delayed. A Covax official had said that “countries that want Covax support are required to hold various consultations and submit some documents including an inoculation plan”.
“But in North Korea’s case, such consultations have been prolonged and it appears that the shipment will be made later than initially planned.”
KCNA also reported that Mr Kim called for discussions on how the North should deal with the “current international situation”, though it did not mention any specific comments from Mr Kim about the US or South Korea.
Meanwhile, experts watching North Korea have yet to see signs of mass starvation or major instability, the Associated Press reported, but some say conditions could be aligning for a “perfect storm” of crises in food and other markets that could trigger public panic. The Korea Development Institute, a South Korean government think tank, said last month the North could face food shortages of around a million tonnes this year.
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha University in Seoul, said: “While the report was short on specifics, the party meeting does provide more clues about how serious food and consumer goods shortages are becoming in North Korea. Extended pandemic border restrictions are taking a toll on the economy as price and exchange rate indicators appear to be worsening.”
Additional reporting by agencies
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