May 23, 2019 13:51
North Korea has attracted a record 450 foreign companies, about a half of them Chinese, to an international trade fair that opened in Pyongyang on Monday despite international sanctions. But the regime still seems nervous of unrest at home amid its economic difficulties and is cracking down on any nascent discontent.
According to state media, 450 companies from China, Russia, Pakistan, Poland and other countries are participating in the 22nd Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair until Friday. That is an increase of a massive 70 percent from last year. In 2014, some 300 foreign firms attended, but their number fell after UN sanctions were put in place.
Prof. William Brown of Georgetown University told Radio Free Asia that there are expectations that the sanctions will be eased sooner or later after a series of summits with South Korea and the U.S., and the regime also seems to be optimistic.
About half of the foreign exhibitors are Chinese. A researcher at a government-funded think tank here speculated, "North Korea's exports to China are declining due to UN Security Council sanctions, but North Korea-China trade will probably gain steam in areas that aren't affected by them."
On Tuesday, the official Rodong Sinmun boasted that department stores are "overflowing with goods" and denied economic difficulties even as the regime has begged the international community for food aid.
But signs of a crackdown on any nascent discontent are everywhere apparent. Senior prosecutors have been required to wear uniforms since June last year. Previously they were free in what they wear.
"Their uniform seems to symbolize the regime's determination to tighten controls on the people as well as on senior party, government and military officials amid economic difficulties," a source said.
The regime has been conducting a crackdown corruption throughout the country since late last year. The difficulties in some parts of the country appear to be severe. Scores of forcibly mobilized workers fled construction sites in Samjiyon, Ryanggang Province recently because of hunger and the tightening of controls.
"Some have crossed the Apnok River into China and others just went home," the source said. "The regime is now mobilizing even orphans to make up for the labor shortage."
Meanwhile, South Korean intelligence authorities are checking reports that Ri Son-kwon, the chairman of the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland and point man in dialogue with South Korea since last year, has been replaced by Rim Yong-chol, a vice chairman of the National Reconciliation Council.
Kim Yong-chol, the director of the United Front Department and point man in denuclearization talks, has already been purged over the collapse of the second U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi in February.
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