In North Korea, a packet of coffee costs $ 100, and that’s a problem for Kim Jong Un


The leader of the secret and hereditary Communist dictatorship opens an important political meeting Tuesday recognizing the grim situation his country is currently facing. North Korea’s food supply is strained and “is getting strained,” Kim said, according to the country’s state news wire, KCNA.
The agricultural sector is still recovering from the damage caused by the storm last year. Replacing domestic food supplies with imports is likely to be difficult as borders remain mostly closed due to Covid-19 restrictions.

In the capital Pyongyang, the prices of some basic necessities are said to be skyrocketing. Experts say the prices of rice and fuel are still relatively stable, but the prices of imported staples such as sugar, soybean oil and flour have increased.

The costs associated with some locally produced staples have also skyrocketed in recent months. Potato prices have tripled at the famous Tongil Market, where locals and foreigners can shop, Pyongyang residents said.

Residents also revealed that non-essential items such as a small packet of black tea can sell for around $ 70, while a packet of coffee can cost over $ 100.

Kim did not disclose the extent of the shortages, but the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recently estimated that North Korea was in short supply of around 860,000 tonnes of food, or l ‘equivalent of just over two months of nationwide supply.

The situation was dire enough in April that Kim urged the North Koreans to undertake another “hard march,” a term used to refer to the devastating famine in North Korea in the 1990s that killed hundreds of thousands of people.

The admission that the state’s planned economy cannot even feed its people may seem out of place for a ruler whose family is portrayed in propaganda as infallible and almost divine.

But, unlike her father and predecessor, Kim wasn’t afraid to admit mistakes or failures – or even cry in front of his people.

Kim has shaped his national image as a man of the people, a leader who constantly meets the public and is dedicated to improving the daily life of one of the poorest countries on the planet. His stated goal since taking power in 2011 has been to improve the lives of most North Koreans.

However, unless it radically changes North Korea’s inefficient planned economy, frees nearly 120,000 political prisoners believed to be held in gulags, or withdraws its nuclear weapons program, experts believe Pyongyang will struggle. to achieve Kim’s goal.

Relations with Washington and negotiations on sanctions relief appear to be a distant concern, at least for now. Kim only mentioned talks with the United States on Thursday, the third day of this week’s important political meeting and agenda item four.

According to state media, Kim has analyzed the North Korean policy of US President Joe Biden and now believes Pyongyang must “prepare for both dialogue and confrontation.”

While not exactly reassuring, Kim’s attitude towards the United States was less hostile than the series of provocative statements released by KCNA. last month, one of which warned of an “uncontrollable crisis”. Kim also called the United States North Korea’s biggest enemy in January.
In fact, the statement could open the door to talks with Washington, which tried unsuccessfully to reach out to Pyongyang earlier this year.
After the two sides failed to reach an agreement at former President Donald Trump’s summit with Kim in Hanoi in 2019, North Korean propaganda repeatedly noted that the country was not interested by other talks unless Washington changes its so-called “hostile policy” towards Pyongyang.

The Biden administration has made it clear that North Korea, its nuclear program, and allegations of large-scale human rights violations in the country are an important part of its foreign policy agenda.

The White House completed a month-long policy review at the end of April, and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and South Korean President Moon Jae-in – US allies with a stake in North Korea’s future – were the first two executives to visit Biden in the United States. . Sung Kim, the new US special representative for North Korean politics, is traveling to Seoul on Saturday for talks with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts.

Although the White House says it plans to pursue a “practical and calibrated approach” that differs from the strategies employed by the Trump and Obama administrations, North Korea remains the same intractable foreign policy problem that plagued recent predecessors of the United States. Biden.

And like Kim, Biden arguably has more pressing issues on his plate right now. The president’s legislative program appears to be stagnating in a deadlocked Congress. He’s also pushing for more Americans to get vaccinated to prevent a resurgence of Covid-19, especially given concerns about the spread of new ones, more transmissible variants.

CNN’s Yoonjung Seo and Gawon Bae contributed reporting.

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