N.Korean Economy 'on Brink of Collapse'

      August 04, 2009 08:49

      A composite picture of North Korean heir apparent Kim Jong-un at age 26 (right) made by the U.S. National Intelligence Open Source Center based on a photo showing him as a 10-year old (left) /Yonhap

      North Korea has press-ganged people into a "150-day struggle" of farm or factory work since April to produce results for leader Kim Jong-il's heir apparent Jong-un, but the project has backfired and brought North Korea's fragile economy to the brink of collapse, experts said Monday.

      The official Rodong Sinmun daily wrote that on the occasion of the struggle's 100th day on July 29, "phenomenal events are occurring and miraculous results are being produced to signify the building of a powerful nation" across North Korea. But the actual conditions of the 150-day struggle are reportedly quite the reverse.

      A North Korea expert in China said that day police guards round up anyone the moment they see them on streets and send them to the countryside, "but there they loaf about or lie on the bare ground."

      Since the early 2000s, North Korea has effectively turned into a barter society where people can survive if they have anything to peddle or till a vegetable garden on their own. The forced collective farm or factory work is spreading a sense of crisis among North Koreans that they could starve to death.

      Kim Jong-il waged a "70-day struggle" after he was chosen as the heir apparent in 1974. In 1980 when he became the official successor, he supervised a "100-day struggle." Then, too, the North claimed the economy was making a leap forward. But Prof. Cho Young-ki of Korea University said, "This paved the way for the North Korean economy to collapse completely by distorting the distribution of resources."

      There are fears that the effects of the current 150-day struggle will be more disastrous than in the 1970s and 80s. Since 1990, when the Soviet communism collapsed, North Korea has relied more on the nascent market and South Korean aid and trade with China than on the planned economy, but now South Korea has suspended aid, and China has been wary of the North since its second nuclear test.

      Trade volume between the North and China between January and May this year stood at US$833.3 million, down 5.7 percent on-year. "If the North attacks the market with a retrogressive 150-day struggle, the North Korean economy will plunge into a deeper abyss," said Prof. Nam Joo-hong of Kyonggi University.

      Besides, international economic sanctions enforced after the nuclear test are tightening.

      A senior South Korean government official said, "In a sense, one of the reasons why North Korea has recently wanted to engage in dialogue with the U.S. is that the North Korean consumer economy is collapsing."

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