North Korea’s leadership has raised serious issues with how the military carried out the “special order” by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to release military rice stores to local citizens. Specifically, they fault the military for allegedly bringing in rice from outside the country in violation of quarantine protocols. 

According to a Daily NK source in North Korea, after the Third Plenary Meeting of the Eighth Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea issued the special order to release military stores of rice on June 17, the military quietly moved to import rice from abroad.

With food shortages worsening due to the prolonged closure of the Sino-North Korean border, North Korean authorities hoped to stabilize and improve the lives of the people by releasing military rice stores. However, it appears that even military stores of rice were insufficient to meet demand. 

Pressed to come up with results, the military tried to solve this lack of supply on its own by importing rice from overseas through “special trade work units,” a move that ultimately put the country’s COVID-19 quarantine efforts at risk.

“The rice entered the port of Nampo,” said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons. “But the quarantine station at the port thought it was strange for rice to suddenly enter the country when the border was closed and trade suspended due to the coronavirus. So they immediately reported it up the line.” 

Kim Jong Un holding up a signed version of his “special order” as reported by North Korean state media on June 18, 2021. / Image: Rodong Sinmun

According to the source, the ruling party — which is prioritizing the country’s COVID-19 quarantine efforts — deemed the import of supplies from overseas without Kim Jong Un’s personal approval a “grave problem that put the safety of the state and the people at serious risk.” An enlarged meeting of the ruling party’s politburo then “severely reprimanded” those involved.

Based on the source’s account, the logistics departments of military units stationed along the Sino-North Korean border also brought in rice from China. Moreover, in some border areas such as North Hamgyong Province, the imported rice was distributed to people without being first placed in quarantine – something the country’s leadership viewed as even more problematic. 

In fact, speakers during the politburo’s enlarged meeting on Tuesday talked of “grave obstructions to the sustained consolidation of the state emergency epidemic prevention system on which [sic] hinges the security and future of the country and the people at present, and to the economic work of the country and stability of the people’s living.” They condemned the cadres in charge for “approaching the implementation of the state policies decided and issued by the Party plenary meeting in a distorted manner.”

This criticism appears aimed at cadres who failed to properly “interpret and execute” the party’s policy of strictly responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by tightening the border, and whose mistakes adversely affected COVID-19 quarantine efforts – the leadership’s top priority – through the import of supplies from abroad. 

“[The cadres] slacked off, overlooking the risk of the coronavirus infiltrating the country as they were formulating and carrying out practical measures to stabilize the lives of the people in response to protracted national emergency quarantine efforts,” said the source. “In short, they poked a hole in emergency quarantine efforts by misinterpreting the order from the Central Committee.

“There is talk that Ri Pyong-chol lost his party position this time around for personally approving the rice imports from overseas,” the source continued, adding, “Other military cadres may face reprimands and party-based or legal punishments.”

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Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to