Original Version Published in APRIL 28th, 2011.The North Korean food crisis is always an international hot issue. Whether the North Koreans actually starve to death, however, is open to doubt.
In particular, this year North Korea had officially requested food aid to the US, UK, and other countries. This was an unprecedented move, not least because these western countries are usually called affectionately by North Korea as “those UN dogs.” Consequently, the international community now reasonably assumes that the North Korean food crisis may be at a boiling point. Adding fuel to the fire, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter attributed the cause of North Korean food shortages to South Korean president Lee Myung-bak’s policy toward North Korea. However, the food crisis may be a pretext for the international community; there are other things on North Korea’s mind.
From North Korea on April 13th, a high-ranking officer in charge of the party’s finances reported that the following issues are at hand concerning the food situation:
“Of course, it is true that our food situation is not good. But it is not so severe that people are starving to death. At the moment, our priority is securing rice for transplantation season. Having enough food until potato season (early June) is a little worrisome, but it’s not a big problem,” said the source.
“People are always talking about food shortages,” he continued. “But the food for transplantation season has already been distributed. As for the food shortage before potato harvest, each region reports that the shortage can be individually resolved. And isn’t the food price also decreasing? Generally, on a national level, the food shortage is not debated as urgently as it is outside North Korea.”
North Korea’s supposedly primary goal in 2011 is to solve the food crisis. According to the source, however, more primary goals may lay elsewhere.
First, “this is a lead-up to Kim Jong-un’s official rise to power in 2012.” North Korea has publicly declared that 2012 will be a ‘Year of Strong and Prosperous Nation (Kangseong Taeguk).’ According to the source, however, ‘Year of Successor Kim Jong-un’s Official Rise’ sounds more like it. In preparation for Kim, talks are crystallizing in North Korea about how to normalize the national ration supply. Unlike before, when the normalization debates had amounted to words, this year North Korea plans to execute its normalization policy – at least during Kim’s first year.
On the other hand, if North Korea is to properly implement this plan, it needs a total of 3,600,000 tons of food. According to the source, the biggest task of the year is to find ways to replenish the depleted food supply. Currently, the majority of the food is supplied to national defense. “Under a new leadership in 2012, North Korea cannot afford to make false promises to the people,” said the source. “So these days, we talk “food, food, food” inside and outside North Korea.”
The source continued, “Another motivation behind the self-proclaimed food crisis may be to minimize damage from China’s two-pronged (hard-line) policy with North Korea (Note 1).
This year, China has granted only a select number of firms a permit to export food to North Korea – at not even 10% the export level in 2010. The source evaluates that approximately 40 Chinese firms had received a permit in 2010, whereas this year the number decreased to one or two along Liaoning and Jilin. The amount of export also decreased significantly.
One firm in Jilin – considerably well-off and currently managing China-NK’s railroad project between Tumen, Namyang, Rajin and Cheongjin – is permitted to export 50,000 tons of corn and 20,000 tons of unglutinous rice. This barely amounts to half the amount of exports last year.
This year’s official export quota amounts to 150,000 tons of corn, and 40,000-50,000 tons of unglutinous rice. For North Korea to properly replenish its food supply, the export from China is insufficient. This may be another motivator behind North Korea’s recent move in requesting foreign aid and expanding foreign exchange earnings.
The following conclusions can be made from putting together the strategic information. North Korea has designated 2012 as the year to complete its weapon formation, including nuclear weapons, missiles, and chemical and biological weapons (Note 2). Furthermore, NK’s ‘resolution to solve the food crisis’ is a strategic choice to preempt the hard-line policy measures by the international community, including South Korea, US and Japan.
In addition, it is quite possible that North Korea will continue its provocation by the 3rdnuclear experiments by the end of this year or even in 2012.
Note 1. North Korean officials refer to China’s ‘two-pronged’ policy positively with careful guard against China. In a negative sense, the policy signals China’s hard-line attitude against North Korea. North Korean officials cannot afford to publicly denounce China because critical interests are at stake. However, China is not perceived as a complete ally.
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