North Koreans feel economic pain, even if Kim boasts success

North Korea has been under strong international sanctions due to leader Kim Jong Un’s continued pursuit of missile and nuclear weapons programs in contravention of United Nations resolutions. For its part, the North Korean regime has continued to claim that the “people’s economy” remains unimpaired. But Daily NK is receiving numerous firsthand reports of evidence to the contrary. One North Korean merchant in China’s Jilin Province recently spoke of experiencing, “the taste of death.” 
As the number of sanctioned items continues to grow, merchants trading in North Korea’s markets are complaining that they “have no future.” At the same time, Kim Jong Un and the authorities are demanding loyalty funds so that they can weather the storm. The following interview was conducted recently with a merchant in North Korea.
Daily NK (DNK): United Nations Security Council Resolution 2397 was recently adopted. How are the merchants reacting? 
North Korean Merchant (NKM): To be frank, we have the taste of death in our mouths. Since last year, the number of sanctioned products has increased and Chinese customs inspections have strengthened, resulting in a significant reduction in the number of products entering North Korea. There have been more and more sanctions introduced, which means that merchants like me don’t really have a future.
DNK: What’s the atmosphere like inside North Korea? 
NKM: To borrow the words of a close friend in North Korea, “Kim Jong Un is a liar. The ordinary people are starving, but everywhere he goes, he says that we’re having a prosperous year. Who would trust that?” People are so frustrated that they’re willing to insult the leader in front of their friends. 
DNK: In order to deal with the sanctions, what kinds of orders are the authorities handing down? 
NKM: In Dandong City, a lot of the North Korean laborers have left. The same is true here in Jilin Province. Now the problem is that the remaining laborers don’t have enough money to provide kickbacks to the authorities. There aren’t as many workers as before, so naturally they can’t afford to pay the same amount. But the central authorities are saying that they must do whatever is necessary to get those funds. For this reason, factory and restaurant managers are extremely busy.  

DNK: Have there been any other orders?
NKM: At the end of last year, the top [central] authorities demanded a kickback of 4,000 RMB (about 62 USD) to be used for Ryomyong Street (a state-run property development project in Pyongyang). It’s not a small amount of money, and it was especially hard to get that amount together in the current conditions. We were told that construction on Ryomyong Street was complete, so we got the sense that something wasn’t done right. Upon hearing the demand, it made me think about defecting.
DNK: Can you tell us about the state of agricultural production? 
NKM: A message was sent out to China from North Hamgyong Province, Kyongwon County. The military administrator in the county asked for investments and promised to personally greet any visitors, indicating an emergency situation. One ethnic-Korean Chinese national came and donated some farming equipment. A photo was taken to show others.

DNK: It seems to be a pretty tough situation. 
NKM: When Kim Jong Un appears on TV, he walks around factories that are packed with clothes, food, and shoes. It’s all a lie. If that was really happening, then why is it so hard to find shoes and clothes in North Korea? Everyone in the North knows that Kim Jong Un is lying.
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