The Yalu River is lined with barbed wire. A "buffer zone" has been established in the name of blocking the influx of coronavirus from China, and residents are not allowed to approach the zone. Photograph of Sinuiju City from the Chinese side in July 2021 (ASIAPRESS).

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When people are unable to afford to eat, they turn to illegal activities. In addition to prostitution as I mentioned above, methamphetamine trafficking, theft, and robbery were rampant. The authorities were on the lookout for border crossings, defections, and smuggling into China, and created buffer zones and increased military forces throughout the Yalu and Tumen Rivers. They even issued a proclamation that anyone who approached the area would be punished by military law and shot without warning.

It's not just about crime. The Kim Jong-un regime is well aware that poverty creates disorder in the social order, and it has begun to tighten controls. For example, it has cracked down on "absenteeism" and "vagrancy" among workers at state enterprises.

Most of the state-owned enterprises in North Korea have been without food rations or fair pay for a long time. If people stay in such workplaces, they will lose their livelihoods. Some people have taken time off work to go into business or to gather wild vegetables. The authorities tightened up the inspection of attendance every morning and sent the "absentees" to short-term forced labour camps called labour training units. The police have been mobilized to detect people wandering away from their places of residence.

In North Korea, the primary method of people's governance is to have people live in a designated place and work in a workplace assigned by the government. During the famine of the late 1990s, known as the "North Korean famine," people left their workplaces and moved around the country to work on economic activities to survive. Many people fled to China. There was a breakdown of order where the state power could not control the people. Kim Jong-un's regime must be taking that as a lesson.

100% of rations paid to public officials

In order to maintain order, it is necessary to guarantee the livelihood of the policing personnel. When ASIAPRESS looked into the rationing situation of the police, secret police, party and government officials, and teachers from March to June this year, we found that almost 100% of the rationing, not only for themselves but also for their families, was a mixture of white rice and corn by default. The monthly ration is about 18 kilograms for the individual and 7 to 8 kilograms for the family. However, a person cannot survive on rice alone. Even if they receive the stipulated salary, they can barely afford to buy one kilogram of rice. Salt, soap, firewood for cooking and heating, coal, etc. must be purchased in cash. With a huge slump in business and a decrease in bribes, but their lives are getting harder.

Workers who are malnourished and unable to go to work

What about public state-owned enterprises? Since last year, we have been investigating a large iron mine in Musan County, North Hamkyung Province. Since the beginning of this year, rations have not been provided for a few days a month. A reporting partner who surveyed in June reported as follows:

“There are many workers who are malnourished and cannot go to work. Even when workplace executives and police officers visit their homes to send them to work, they leave when they see there is nothing to eat.”

Rural areas are also suffering. Households that have run out of cash and grain are called " food insecure households," and the number of food-insecure households is increasing in farming villages during the " polikoge" period when people have eaten up their share of last autumn's harvest. In a cooperative farm in North Hamkyung Province, where I visited for a survey, the number of food-insecure households was about 30%.

“It's not that the country is pretending to ignore it, it's that it's ordering the top officials of the Labour Party to feed the 'Food Insecure Households' even if they have to pay for it themselves, and it's that it's forcing the party members to contribute food at businesses and farms. But such methods are only a temporary fix. But these methods are only a temporary fix. I'm having a hard time, but there is a limit to what I can give,” the reporting partner lamented.      Continue 3>>


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