Ban on Markets Lifted at Last

Shenyang, China — In an attempt to avert a food crisis and stem popular discontent, the North Korean authorities have reportedly bowed to pressure and started lifting market regulations across the country.

The decision, which apparently came into force at the start of February, may seem to be an abrupt one, yet it is largely inevitable. A food crisis has seemed to be on the cards for a while, while acts of violence against security officials have been occurring with increasing frequency and discontent among the people has been rising rapidly since the currency redenomination at the end of November.

An inside source reported the news to The Daily NK on Tuesday, saying, “Since February 1st, in Yangkang and Hamkyung Provinces, jangmadang regulations have been completely lifted. The price of rice, which had been more than 400 won, has now stabilized at between 250 and 300 won.”

The source added, “It is a good thing that the jangmadang is open. We were worried about a coming crisis as the rice price has been soaring and we have not been given any wages. That said, the people are watching the authorities’ next move, so they are still reticent to trade.”

Some foresee that, since the authorities have still not released state-designated price for rice in the jangmadang, they may be planning to allow it to just float with the market.

It is still unclear if the February 1st decree completely opened the market as it used to be or is just a temporary solution to avert a possible food crisis. Inside sources say they plan to wait and see.

Regardless, now that the jangmadang is open, exchange rates seem to be stabilizing as well. The dollar exchange rate, which was around 400 won, has fallen back to nearer 300 won in just two days.

In the tradition of dictatorial regimes worldwide, scapegoats have apparently also been chosen. South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo today claimed that Park Nam Ki, Director of the Planning and Financial Department of the Central Committee, has taken responsibility for the failed redenomination, which initiated a period of hyper-inflation, and been dismissed.

According to the report, Park was appointed to the top economic position in the North Korean government in July, 2005, where he began to pull up the green shoots of spontaneous market economy.

If the news is confirmed, Park will be following in the undesirable footsteps of Ministry of Agriculture head Seo Gwan Hee and Premier Park Bong Ju.

Seo was executed for his role in the 1990s famine. According to defector testimony, Kim Jong Il shifted responsibility for the famine onto him and had him publicly executed in 1997.

Meanwhile, Park Bong Ju became the Premier of the North Korean Cabinet in 2003, the year after the adoption of the July 1st Economic Management Reform Measure, and was responsible for introducing revised market economic elements according to the July 1st Measure. However, results were not sufficient and he was sent to manage the Suncheon Vinylon Complex in South Pyongan Province.