North Korea Is Facing Famine. World Wants to Drown It in Vaccines
In place of sanctions relief the world wants to send venerated magical injections
North Korea is facing a food shortage. How bad is it? It is so bad that Kim Jong-Un has spoken about it. That is a huge deal in a state whose official ideology is “self-reliance” and which officially maintains it is the envy of the world. During its 1994-96 famine Pyongyang did not request international assistance until a year into the famine, and expunged any mention of ‘hunger’ and ‘famine’ at home, sanitizing the crisis as “Arduous March”.
Kim has brought up the food crisis repeatedly since April, talking about a “tense” food situation and instructing officials to wage another “Arduous March”. This indicates it is probably the biggest food crisis the country has faced since 1996 prompting the government to release some food from military stocks at below-market prices, but it’s doubtful it has enough:
The discrepancy between demand and North Korea’s total food production this year may be as much as 1.35 million tons, according to the Korea Development Institute, a state-run South Korean think tank. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has estimated that even with imports, North Korea’s uncovered food gap could be as large as 860,000 tons, roughly equivalent to more than two months’ worth of food use. [It needs 5.5 million tons per year.]
North Korea lies on rugged and inhospitable land. Little of it is suitable for intensive agriculture which is dominated by underperforming collective farms. Additionally, the country is under heavy UN sanctions (and has few exports) limiting access to fertilizer, fuel, and pest control. On top of all that, it has suffered bad weather with a bad typhoon damaging irrigation last year, and a prolonged drought (just 21 millimeters of rain for the whole first 6 months of 2021) followed by flooding this year.
Yet Pyongyang doesn’t get a free pass. The government has made things worse by enacting what is probably the most radical zero-COVID regime in the world. It has grabbed onto the fake plague crisis/opportunity with such paranoia and zeal that even cross-border cargo traffic is treated as potentially infectious resulting in the elimination of 80 percent of its international trade.
The restrictions are so unbearable that the Russians have sharply reduced their diplomatic staff in Pyongyang while talking about “unprecedentedly strong, overarching restrictions”:
Dozens of foreign diplomatic staff left North Korea because of tough COVID-19 restrictions, according to the Russian Embassy in Pyongyang.
"Not everyone can endure unprecedentedly strong, overarching restrictions," the embassy said on Thursday.https://t.co/lw0tKLhQOj
— NK NEWS (@nknewsorg) April 5, 2021
The combination of nature, foreign embargos, and its own government seizing upon COVID as the perfect opportunity to justify its existence and vindicate its totalitarian ways now has food slipping out of reach for some of its population:
“In the past, vegetables were cheap, so you could make due with them, but this year, we’re struggling because the prices have climbed so much,” said the source. “A growing number of people say they have no money to buy rice, let alone eat vegetables.”
Another source said that even though television and newspapers report that Pyongyang is receiving fruit, “there is hardly anything in fruit or vegetable shops.” He added that “it’s growing more difficult to find fruit or vegetables in Pyongyang’s markets, too.”
In the northern part of the country, the price of rice suddenly rose from 4,000–5,000 won per kilogram to 7,000 won—a 67 percent jump since the first of the month, according to a group reporting out of Japan that collects market data using cell phone contacts in several provincial markets. Prices of corn, the other food staple, more than doubled to 5,300 won
The price increases come on the heels of many people losing their incomes due to COVID Stalinism:
“There is food in the markets of North Korea nationwide but food prices have risen too much and people’s cash income has disappeared due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so they can’t buy food.”
This is because while every adult North Korean must have a government job either in the bureaucracy, factories, or collective farms many of them — especially women — also hold a second, market job that represents most of their earnings. (Part of the proceeds from the second job are then used to bribe their bosses at their government job to allow them to quietly absent for days and weeks on end). Many of these wheeler-dealer jobs are now probably severely impeded due to full and partial lockdowns.
So what has been the world’s response to this partly man-made food crisis? Are world governments offering Pyongyang emergency suspension of sanctions? Are they offering to ramp up food aid? Are they advising Pyongyang to please lay off the insane zero-Covid terrorism and allow its people to make a living?
No, not exactly.
For the most part, the world’s response has been to…offer North Korea tons of vaccines.
Russia has offered North Korea Covid vaccines once again, amid reports that a harsh lockdown is leading to extreme hunger.
Pyongyang has refused vaccines and aid from a number of countries.
It has instead sealed borders to try and keep the virus out but that has affected trade with China.
North Korea has asked that almost three million Covid-19 jabs offered to it be redirected elsewhere, the UN says.
A spokesperson said the country had asked that the shots be relocated to harder hit nations in view of global vaccine shortages.
Chinese-made Sinovac shots were offered under the Covax programme which aims to help poorer nations obtain vaccines.
North Korea has rejected planned shipments of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine that were being organized under the global COVAX distribution scheme due to concerns over side effects, a South Korean think-tank said on Friday.
Pyongyang has so far rejected repeated offers of Sputnik, AstraZeneca (2 million) and Sinovac (3 million). (It could not take possession of Pfizer and Moderna anyway due to their refrigeration requirements.) It is rejecting vaccines because:
A) it doesn’t want the foreign aid workers that would come with them, including because that would go against its zero-COVID protocols,
B) because it isn’t being offered enough vaccines for everyone anyway,
C) because it sees that vaccines do not actually curb infections,
D) because it doesn’t like that they come with no safety guarantees — the “self-reliance” regime would already be losing face by administering foreign vaccines, but having to also sign a liability waiver would make it that much more humiliating.
Another problem is North Korea’s severe lockdown, which has prevented virtually any foreigners from entering the country.
According to the source who spoke with VOA, North Korea is refusing to allow international aid workers into the country to help facilitate the shipment, ostensibly because of fears about outsiders bringing COVID-19 into the country.
However, Gavi procedures require that international staff must be present, the source said. Gavi “won’t just ship it,” the source said.
United Nations agencies’ employees, who might have been able to help with the vaccine shipment, have left North Korea amid worsening lockdown conditions.
Whatever the merit or non-merit of North Korea’s decision on vaccines it is somewhat beside the point. The main crisis facing its 25 million people is not COVID, it is the partly man-made food crisis. Already undernourished on a good year, they’re facing having to survive in a country with 15 percent less food than is required for everyone’s normal survival.
That won’t mean that everyone’s food will decline by 15 percent. The government will protect the military and the capital city. The decrease will be concentrated among the least privileged in the rural areas and the distrusted north who are going to see far sharper drops than just 15 percent.
What North Koreans most urgently need right now aren’t vaccines (albeit they could be helpful for the very elderly) but trade, food aid, and the end of anti-plague repression.
The world invented a new ideology that places insane levels of totalitarianism and unfreedom on a pedestal as the height of virtue, and the North Korean regime embraced it with vigor, correctly seeing it as vindication of what Pyongyang had already been doing for fifty years.
If the rest of the world overnight adopted North Korean methods at home why wouldn’t North Korea feel vindicated, and advertise that it is able to take them even farther and maintain them for longer? Why wouldn’t its government want to show the world ‘how you really fight COVID’?
Except of course that an all-out crackdown on the demos to restrain a virus is more a matter of religion than any identifiable real-world mechanism.
It would be tragic if this totalitarianism-vindicating ideology/religion resulted in mass death in North Korea. What might stop that in the short term aren’t vaccines, but food and trade. (Or prayers that the coming fall harvest succeeds beyond all expectations.)
And what can stop such crises in the medium and long term is only the defeat of the punishing, callous, and human-sacrificing Covidian religion itself.
It does not seem that North Korea will retreat from its hunkered-down position anytime soon. Kim has repeatedly warned of a “prolonged” lockdown, saying his country must maintain “perfect” anti-epidemic measures.