March 22, 2019 11:23
North Korean state media on Thursday complained that it is suffering the "most severe hardship in its inglorious history" amid international sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs.
"We have gone through post-war ashes and the 'arduous march,' but the challenges that we have been facing in recent 10 years of the century are in effect the most severe hardship in our republic's history," the official Rodong Sinmun daily said.
It also called for "a strong spirit" as well as "courage and bold creativity of making something out of nothing" so that life can go on "as long as there is water and air."
The lachrymose call came after North Korean officials were reportedly taken aback when U.S. President Donald Trump walked out of a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi last month.
The regime has since been reviving references to the old "juche" or self-reliance doctrine of founder Kim Il-sung that has made North Korea one of the poorest countries in the world.
It is rare for the state media to admit how bad things are, which is perhaps a measure of how disgruntled even the elite and nascent mercantile class have become as sanctions continue.
Nam Sung-wook at Korea University said, "North Korea's leadership didn't bat an eyelid when millions starved to death during the 'arduous march'" of the 1990s. "But it seems to have realized that the latest crisis is make-or-break for the regime."
North Korea's economy began to deteriorate rapidly after tough sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council began to take effect in late 2017. That is when North Korea started a flurry of diplomatic activities, starting by joining the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang early last year.
Trade data alone demonstrate the severity of North Korea's foreign currency shortage. Its official exports to China last year plummeted 87 percent compared to a year earlier, and this January bilateral trade fell 8.4 percent compared to the previous month.
North Korea is struggling to bypass the sanctions with illegal transshipments of oil and attempts to steal money by hacking, but tougher monitoring by the U.S. has made even that more difficult to pull off. And countries in many parts of the world are refusing to issue visas to North Korean laborers and repatriating them.
The daily insisted on the need for the country's nuclear weapons. "We have achieved the biggest and most powerful feat even during such a difficult time," it said, claiming that the North "confidently holds a strong grip on the sword of self-sufficiency," which is common code for nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile Kim Jong-un's head of protocol, Kim Chang-son, is in Russia, apparently to arrange a trip for his leader to see if sanctions can be softened that way as support from China wanes.
Nam Joo-hong at Kyonggi University said, "China needs to be wary of Washington due to ongoing bilateral trade talks, while China's own economy is not in a good state and cannot aid North Korea."
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