(Reference Photo) A woman selling food on a street in Daeseong District, Pyongyang. Taken by Koo Gwang-ho, June 2011 (ASIAPRESS)



◆ “He repeated the same things as before...my attention drifted”

Usually delivering his New Year's address from behind a podium, this year, Kim addressed the nation while sitting in an office of the Workers’ Party headquarters. The speech, aired by Korean Central Broadcasting, lasted around 30 minutes, with Kim making numerous references to the nation’s economy and insisting that his desire to denuclearize has not changed. Following the 2019 address, ASIAPRESS interviewed a businesswoman living in the northern region of North Korea to see what she thought of the speech. (Kang Ji-won)

- This year's address was a bit different from those in the past. What did you think?
Some people I know said that it was impressive for Kim to deliver the speech without reading from a script, and others think that he sat in a chair because of the pain in his legs. Because the political atmosphere is different (from last year), I paid close attention to the speech at first. But, after I realized he was repeating the same things as before, my attention drifted.
※ In 2014, Kim Jong-un was seen on television to be limping numerous times.

- Kim stressed that the country’s economic “self-reliance” will be maintained, despite financial difficulties due to sanctions.
※ ‘Self-reliance’ is a slogan that promotes economic development with North Korea’s own means and without relying on foreign countries.

There are many domestic products available in the markets. The prices are low but the quality is poor. Honestly, we can’t produce anything by ourselves. We import machinery and raw materials from China, and a lot of them (food products) go bad because they aren’t stored properly.

They say the central government is making plans and sending personnel to regional factories in order to achieve modernization. But how can this be done without money? The state now has to operate with funds procured by other organizations. Processing plants need to produce one hundred thousand products per year, but it is hard to even reach half of that. I hope they don’t use the term "self-reliance" anymore. People are dying because of “self-reliance”.

- Kim Jong-un mentioned denuclearization.
I don’t think he will give (nuclear weapons) up. He boasts less frequently now, but he still says that we are a "nuclear power" and that “No country in the world can harm us”.

-  There may be a second meeting with US President Trump at the beginning of the year.
I believed that after the summits (with South Korea and the United States) in April and May and the meeting with Trump last year, that our living conditions would improve and everything would get better. But nothing changed and reality stayed the same. So I have no expectations. Talks will bring no immediate benefits to us. To be honest, no one is looking forward to them. Do you expect us to believe in the regime’s promises and starve to death while waiting for rations? We just need to figure things out for ourselves and survive…

※ ASIAPRESS contacts its reporting partners through Chinese mobile phones smuggled into North Korea.

A rural woman transports harvested beans in a cart. Photographed in a rural area outside Pyongyang in October, 2008 by Jang Jung-gil (ASIAPRESS)

Editor’s notes on North Korean reporters

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