July 29, 2021 12:48
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has told war veterans that the impoverished state is experiencing a "crisis similar to a war" due to the coronavirus pandemic, the official Rodong Sinmun daily said Wednesday.
"We are faced with difficulties and hardship caused by the unprecedented global health crisis and prolonged lockdown no less challenging than how it was during the war," he said.
The remarks came on the day of a surprise announcement that Kim agreed with President Moon Jae-in to restore overland communication lines between the two Koreas.
The North Korean economy is at its worst since the deadly famine of the 1990s because it sealed its borders with China, which supplies most of its necessities, amid the pandemic.
Domestic food production has plunged after heavy flooding last year and food prices have reportedly doubled in some parts of North Korea. International sanctions and a devaluation of the U.S. dollar and Chinese yuan are making matters worse.
Kim Byung-yeon at Seoul National University said, "If foreign currencies fall, prices of goods should also drop, but the exact opposite is happening in North Korea. The purchasing power of people has weakened."
North Korean authorities have put stores under curfew and cracked on open-air markets that used to provide a lifeline for ordinary people. "Gangs of people wearing armbands are marauding around markets, streets and even the countryside," a source said.
It was probably the urgent need for foreign aid that prompted the North finally to respond to Moon's relentless overtures. Nam Sung-wook at Korea University said, "We don't know what the two leaders said in their letters, but there was probably some sort of commitment to accept North Korea's demands for food aid on humanitarian grounds."
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