State agencies in North Korea recently resumed smuggling of goods from “official” China for the first time in more than a year, suggesting that trade between neighboring Northeast Asian countries could begin. flowing back, water sources told RFA.
Rail and ship transport of goods has not been circulating freely from China since the onset of the coronavirus epidemic in January 2020. Concerned that the virus could spread into North Korea, Beijing and Pyongyang agreed to close the 880-mile Sino-Korean border in a move that would prove catastrophic for an economy already squeezed by United Nations and China trade sanctions. States.
Many in North Korea make a living by selling goods from China, including those who smuggle small goods across the border, have no way to make ends meet. The so-called “official smuggling” on the larger scale of government businesses, which primarily served as a means of bypassing sanctions, also abruptly stopped.
Due to the absence of imports, food prices skyrocketed, but sources told RFA that prices will fall again this year as government-run agencies have recently started importing food ingredients. from china.
“Since last month, cross-border smuggling operations run by state-owned trading companies have restarted at a gradual pace,” said a resident in North Pyongan province in the country’s northeast. with RFA Korean Service on Monday.
“These days, at local markets in Tongrim district, the prices of imported sugar and flour are falling. The same goes for Chinese spices that are deficient due to the coronavirus crisis. The source said.
Imported dried goods and spices began to reappear at local markets just before the April 15 birthday anniversary of the late leader Kim Jong Un, the founder of Kim Nhat Thanh. Since then, prices of flour, sugar and seasoning made from MSG have dropped by about half, while cooking oil has fallen by about a quarter.
Another source, a resident in South Pyongan province, north of the capital Pyongyang, confirmed to RFA that the price of imported food ingredients has been falling for about a month in the province.
In particular, the food factories producing all kinds of confectionery, instant noodles with sugar and flour are concentrated domestically, so now sugar and flour from China are pouring in … through smuggling ships from Donggang, China , and was brought here from Ryongchon port in North Pyongan province, ”said the second source.
“I know that the authorities have allowed some commercial companies to secretly put the agricultural products we desperately need during the farming season, but for those companies, it’s difficult to cover the costs. fuel is only for agricultural goods, so that’s why they also want to import more expensive food ingredients and spices in the market, ”said the second source.
According to the second source, the resumption of smuggling activities by sea seems to indicate that the authorities are ready to formally resume trade with China and reopen the Sino-Korean border.
“The national emergency quarantine regulations have yet to be lifted in the border area, but we have received information that Dandong and Sinuiju customs will reopen soon,” said a second source. The second said, referring to the cities of China and Korea located opposite the Abiyang river border at the point where the river flows into the Yellow Sea.
“It may take a little longer for trade to officially start again. Only international emergency cargo is arriving by international freight trains. “
RFA reported earlier this month that a Chinese cargo train carrying 300 tons of corn in Dandong entered North Korea via Sinuiju on its way to Pyongyang. This is the first international rail shipment to North Korea since January 2020.
The lack of imports in North Korea doesn’t just affect the poor. The elite in Pyongyang also have to do without certain foreign luxuries, according to a Seoul report. News NK.
The report says chocolate, dried fruit, Coca-Cola and Chinese imports have reappeared at grocery stores in Pyongyang after months.
A former uniform ministry official said NK News that the reappearance is “good news” not only for the North Korean people, but also for those who want to send aid to the country.
Life in North Korea without Chinese trade is harsh.
The UN Special Rapporteur on North Korean Human Rights Tomás Ojea Quintana warned in a report last month that closing the border and restricting the movement of its people could lead to a “wage crisis. really serious ”.
“Hunger deaths have been reported, along with an increase in the number of children and the elderly begging because families were unable to support them,” the report said.
RFA reported earlier this month that the North Korean government had warned people to prepare for dire economic hardships such as the 1994-1998 famine that killed millions, or 10% of the population by some estimates. count.
This month, Kim Jong Un was quoted by state media as saying that the country faced severe challenges.
“Improving people’s living standards … even in the worst case scenario where we have to overcome countless unprecedented challenges depending on the role of the party cells and grassroots organizations”, Mr. Kim said in his opening address at the Conference of Party secretaries of the ruling Workers’ Party.
Hyemin Son’s Report to RFA’s Korea Service. Translation by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.