North Koreans hope summit to bring sanctions relief

Kim Jong Un departs Pyongyang for his second summit with the United States in Hanoi, Vietnam
Kim Jong Un departs Pyongyang for his second summit with the United States in Hanoi, Vietnam. Image: Rodong Sinmun

North Koreans are hopeful that the second US-DPRK summit loosens the economic sanctions on the country so that conditions in the country improve. There are also some who are less optimistic, reflecting on the fact that no major changes were made after the US-DPRK and inter-Korean talks last year.

North Koreans are interested in the economic outcomes that the second US-DPRK can bring.

The Rodong Sinmun reported on February 25 that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s efforts to participate in the US-DPRK talks are aimed at rewarding the production successes of the people. Cabinet Deputy Prime Minister and Agricultural Minister Go In-ho along with Coal Industry Minister Moon Myung-hak and Korea Science Institute Director Jang Chul wrote editorials in the paper that pledged to achieve the goals set in each economic sector.

“The newspapers and broadcasters are spreading news of Kim Jong Un’s travel abroad and it’s only now that most people have found out about it,” said a North Hamgyong Province-based source on February 26.

Even those in Pyongyang only found out about Kim’s visit to Vietnam after his train had departed, which suggests the authorities have kept his whereabouts under wraps, according to sources in the capital. North Koreans thus appear to have been kept completely in the dark about the second US-DPRK summit. It’s only now that people have begun to respond to what’s happening given that the state-run press has reported on the summit.

Residents seem solely interested in the economic benefits the summit can bring. “The situation for foreign currency and trade-related officials has become very difficult given the issues in trade with China,” said a source in Ryanggang Province.

“The central government tells them to ‘break through’ the economic sanctions but it’s not that easy. People are hoping that the summit resolves the sanctions question and that trade becomes easier.”

The North Hamgyong Province-based source also reported that the downturn at Musan Mine has local miners hoping that sanctions on exports are lifted so their lives can improve.

“Market merchants became hopeful that things might improve when they heard about the summit. Business isn’t as good as it was, so they all hope things will get better,” said the source in Ryanggang Province. “It’s not easy for them to change what they sell, so they just hope things improve.”

He also reported that sanctions have enabled Chinese traders to take control of all aspects of trade with North Korea, and this has meant that “Chinese traders have the final say on what gets bought and sold” and “our profits have declined.” The source openly hoped that “sanctions on trade are lifted once and for all.”

Some residents are less optimistic due to the absence of any major improvements following the first US-DPRK summit last year, according to a South Pyongan Province-based source. Trump’s name was on the lips of even young children after the first summit, but now some North Koreans think that the summit was just for show.

“No one benefited from the summit last year. We’ve been lied to so much that even if they told us the truth, we wouldn’t believe it,” he said.

In regards to the denuclearization issue, he said that “Trump is likely already telling Kim Jong Un to get rid of the nuclear weapons, but there’s little chance that will happen easily” and that “North Koreans don’t think that the regime will give up nuclear weapons, even if it dismantles all of the nuclear testing sites.”

“The US continues to be two-faced in its interactions with North Korea, so how can we trust them,” the source continued, echoing the official stance of North Korea in the summit talks.

North Korean sources also report that given the rise in oppressive measures due to political events, the authorities will likely continue implementing heavy controls over the population until the end of the SPA elections in March.

Kang Mi Jin
Kang Mi Jin is a North Korean defector turned journalist who fled North Korea in 2009. She has a degree in economics and writes largely on marketization and economy-related issues for Daily NK. Questions about her articles can be directed to