Analysts have commented on North Korea’s ability to withstand the effects of sanctions over the last year, which has seen intensified efforts by both the US and China. The following interview was conducted with a Pyongyang resident, who recently visited Jilin Province (China), where he sat down with Daily NK. His comments shed light on the effects of the international sanctions and how ordinary citizens have adapted to the changes.
Daily NK (DNK): Many in the international community are saying that the recent round of sanctions are more intense than previous iterations. Can you tell us whether things have really changed within North Korea recently?
Pyongyang Resident: Prices for commodities like corn and rice have gone up, but ordinary people are not feeling overly unsettled. China’s new sanctions efforts have caused the prices for products coming from across the border to rise, but there haven’t been any signs of skyrocketing prices.
DNK: What are people saying about the sanctions?
Pyongyang Resident: People are saying, ‘China seems to be blocking trade, but the reality is that trade is flowing.’ Each day, dozens of trucks are entering from China carrying materials needed for manufacturing, and the factories receiving these supplies are running for 14 hours a day. People think the hard times will soon pass thanks to Russia and China.
DNK: You are saying that Russia and China are scale trading (value investing) in response to the sanctions?
Pyongyang Resident: I only heard this on my way here, but I was told that the price of gasoline has gone down slightly in the Rason area. State-run gas stations are selling 1 liter for 17 yuan, but it’s going for around 14-15 yuan on the black market. I was also told that ‘most people prefer to purchase fuel on the black market because Russian and Chinese fuel is cheaper there than at the state-run gas stations.
DNK: So are regular merchants experiencing trouble these days?
Pyongyang Resident: Things are normal in Pyongyang it seems, due to the steady supply of materials. Merchants in other provinces are struggling, however. I heard that many of them worry about earning enough to eat because they’re having trouble acquiring supplies. Workers in factories specializing in products for export are apparently also facing difficulties. But ordinary people seem to be struggling the most.
DNK: How is the availability of electricity in Pyongyang?
Pyongyang Resident: It has stabilized somewhat. The Party has been touting its ’12 hours of electricity guarantee’ these days. It seems that coal, which in the past was mostly sent abroad, is now being used to generate electricity at home. Farming regions are also receiving an average of 6 hours per day because they’re currently in the harvest season.
DNK: How about the supply of electricity in other areas?
Pyongyang Resident: Outside the capital, the government may be guaranteeing electricity to farms, but they’re limiting the supply to residential areas. People don’t call it the ‘Pyongyang Republic’ for nothing. But this has caused problems now that more people have refrigerators. People have begun secretly connecting their homes to working electrical wires with the help of local officials who have started to control this illicit trade, demanding bribes for the service.