NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

North Korea's Embarrassing Position

March 3, 1997

Communist North Korea's food shortage may lead to the postponement of the July 8 inauguration of Kim Jong II as head of state and Secretary General of the Workers' Party.

  • By custom, Kim is required to give rice and gifts to his people at inauguration time.
  • But thanks to collectivist farm policies, he's got no food to give.
  • It is reported that a postponement of the festivities could lead to a leadership crisis.

Following the defection of Hwang Jang Yop, Secretary of the Korean Workers' Party, to China and South Korea, other North Korean reformers are reportedly under a cloud and could be purged. Hardliners fear that Chinese-style economic reforms, backed by North Korea's reformers, could undermine their regime's authority.

If the hardliners gain complete control, the North's economic decline will accelerate.

  • The country already lacks half the 5.4 million tons of cereals it needs to get through the year.
  • The government has cut rice rations to about half a bowl a day and edible roots and livestock have become scarce.
  • Even members of the elite are reportedly growing thin, and children and adults will likely soon begin to die in massive numbers.

The U.S. and Japan are pledging a total of over $10 billion in food aid. The World Food Program has a goal of $40 billion in aid to the country, but others estimate it needs ten times as much.

Source: Steven V. Brull and Sheri Prasso, "North Korea's Bitter Choice: Famine or Foreign Aid," Business Week, March 3, 1997.


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