June 07, 2019 12:56
North Korea is refusing to accept international food aid of less than 3 million tons, Radio Free Asia reported citing sources.
The North has put itself into a bind by on the one hand complaining about a food shortage, real or imagined, to the UN, and on the other boasting at home about its self-sufficiency and "bustling" stores.
Following the failed summit with the U.S. in Hanoi, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has vowed to "deliver a serious blow" to countries imposing sanctions, which he accused of trying to bring the regime "to its knees."
But when South Korea offered food aid through international organizations, the North turned up its nose at it. One official in North Hamgyong Province told RFA on Tuesday, "According to the new rules, if an overseas private organization offers food aid, we can only accept 300 tons or more."
The official explained that the paranoid regime set the rule for fear of frequent contact with foreign aid agencies that aim to "infiltrate" the North under cover of providing food aid.
According to the Unification Ministry, North Korea accepted 21 tons of powdered milk and three tons of rice from South Korean NGOs last year. The fact that it is being picky suggests either that the food situation is not as bad as the regime is telling the UN or that Kim would rather starve his people than admit failure.
The North's official Rodong Sinmun was still claiming on Wednesday that a department store that opened in Pyongyang in April has proved a roaring success. It said Kim has already been three times.
Critics accuse the South Korean government of making a fool of itself with eager offers of food aid only to be rebuffed. A senior ruling-party official here said recently that the government wants to provide another 50,000 tons of food aid to North Korea through an international aid agency on top of the US$8 million it has already pledged.
NGOs and provincial governments here are also announcing their plans to send aid to North Korea. Yet the price of rice in North Korea's markets actually fell from 5,000 North Korean won per kilogram early this year to 4,200 won in late April (US$1=W1,179).
One former Unification Ministry official said, "North Korea recently fired a short-range missile, while Kim Jong-un continues to make on-site inspections of arms factories. This is clearly not the time to send massive food aid and weaken sanctions."
The North could perfectly well buy food if it wanted since that is not covered by sanctions, but the regime seems to prefer to spend money on arms and make up for it in savings on food.
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