“It clearly shows how Kim Jong Il wants to show his people his eagerness to overcome economic difficulties,” said Kim Yong Hyun, professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul. “He wants to tell them the leader himself will be at the forefront of improving their livelihoods, which have obviously got worse.”
North Korea, which releases no economic data, is hobbled by UN Security Council sanctions, toughened after it carried out nuclear tests, and by a worsening economic situation aggravated by famine and absurd economic policies.
South Korea’s central bank estimates North Korea’s 2008 GDP at 21.5 trillion won (US.4 billion).
The situation has led North Korea to rely on outside handouts to feed its 24 million people, and this since the mid-1990s when famine caused by floods, drought and economic mismanagement is estimated to have killed about 2 million people.
In addition, the North Korean authorities in December revalued the country’s non-convertible currency, undercutting North Koreans’ meagre savings. In turn, this provoked the country’s first-ever anti-government protest.