April 12, 2021 12:44
The North Korean regime seems to have got cold feet over its ban of open-air markets. The crackdown in the middle of an economic crisis apparently met with such resistance that the repressive regime thought better of it.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un told the long-suffering population during a Workers Party meeting last week to prepare for another "arduous march" -- a reference to the deadly famine of the 1990s -- as trade with China has ground to a halt due to the border lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic.
There are an estimated 500 officially sanctioned open-air markets where 1.1 million traders sell farm produce and consumer goods, mostly imported from China by open or clandestine routes.
A high-ranking government official here said, "Just after the party meeting, North Korean authorities tried to shut down open-air markets but due to widespread resistance they decided to allow them again."
The regime tried to stop the influx of products from outside but had to give up because its economic situation has become so desperate. Due to the pandemic, trade between North Korea and China plummeted 80.67 percent last year to just US$539 million.
According to sources, the North is facing a shortage of food and other products. "North Korea needs 5.5 million tons of food annually but only produced 4.3 million tons last year and is about 1.2 million tons short," one source said. "Food stockpiles will run out around July."
There are growing signs of internal unrest, and the North apparently plans to open some border checkpoints with China later this month.
"There are many difficulties and obstacles ahead of us," Kim told the party meeting last Thursday. "I made up my mind to ask the Workers Party organizations at all levels... to wage another more difficult 'arduous march' in order to relieve our people of the difficulty."
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