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Kim Warns of 'Tense' Food Situation    06/16 06:09


   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warned about 
possible food shortages and urged the country to brace for extended COVID-19 
restrictions as he opened a major political conference to discuss national 
efforts to salvage a broken economy.

   The North's official Korean Central News Agency also said Wednesday that Kim 
called for discussions on how the North should deal with the "current 
international situation," though it did not mention any specific comments from 
Kim about the United States or South Korea.

   North Korea has so far ignored the allies' calls to resume nuclear 
negotiations that have stalled for two years following the collapse of Kim's 
ambitious summitry with former President Donald Trump, It was derailed by 
disagreements over exchanging relief from crippling U.S.-led sanctions with 
denuclearization steps by the North.

   The North's economy has deteriorated amid pandemic border closures, which 
choked off trade with China, while devastating typhoons and floods last summer 
decimated crops.

   Monitors assessing the situation in North Korea have yet to see signs of 
mass starvation or major instability, but some analysts say conditions could be 
aligning for a perfect storm that undercuts food and exchange markets and 
triggers public panic. The Korea Development Institute, a South Korean 
government think tank, said last month the North could face food shortages of 
around 1 million tons this year.

   During the plenary meeting of the ruling Workers' Party's Central Committee 
that opened Tuesday, Kim urged officials to find ways to boost agricultural 
production, saying the country's food situation "is now getting tense."

   KCNA said Kim also "set forth the tasks for the state to maintain perfect 
anti-epidemic state" -- suggesting North Korea would extend its pandemic 
lockdown despite the stress on its economy.

   While the report was short on specifics, the party meeting does provide more 
clues about how serious food and consumer goods shortages are becoming in North 
Korea, said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha 
University in Seoul.

   "Extended pandemic border restrictions are taking a toll on the economy as 
price and exchange rate indicators appear to be worsening," he said.

   Experts widely doubt North Korea's claim that it has not had a single 
COVID-19 case, given its poor health infrastructure and porous border with 
China, its major ally and economic lifeline.

   Kim had called for the party meeting to review national efforts to rebuild 
the economy in the first half of the year. While addressing "unfavorable" 
conditions and challenges on Tuesday, Kim also expressed appreciation over what 
he described as improvements, claiming that the country's industrial output 
rose 25% from last year, KCNA said.

   The report said the Central Committee meeting will continue but did not 
specify until when.

   North Korea held its first ruling party congress in five years in January, 
when it laid out development plans for the next five years. At that meeting Kim 
urged the country to be resilient in their struggle for economic self-reliance, 
He also called for reasserting greater state control over the economy, boosting 
agricultural production and prioritizing the development of the chemical and 
metal industries.

   Experts say those sectors are crucial to revitalizing industrial production 
that has been undercut by sanctions and the suspension of imports of factory 
materials amid the pandemic.

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