11/15/2021, 17.03
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With its economy tittering on the brink, North Korea asks China for emergency supplies

North-eastern China is hit by another COVID-19 outbreak; as a result, the border is shut down again, halting trade. North Korea is almost entirely dependent on trade with Beijing and remittances from its workers employed in Chinese factories. However, the UN Security Council wants their repatriation to sanction the country’s nuclear programme.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – The rising number of COVID-19 cases in north-eastern China has not only affected local economic activities, but also those of neighbouring North Korea.

On 9 November, Chinese authorities closed the border again. The day before, an official delegation from Pyongyang had crossed it on its way to Dandong (Liaoning) to seek emergency supplies for their country, where basic goods are in short supply.

North Korea is suffering from a severe food shortage; its population has been warned to prepare for a harsh period, comparable to the great crisis of 1994-1998.

According to Radio Free Asia, North Korea has asked China to send cooking oil, seasonings, construction materials and various types of fabrics.

North Korea's economy is almost entirely dependent on trade with its Chinese neighbour.

At the start of the pandemic in January 2020, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un completely shut off the country from the rest of the world, including China, but this has seriously damaged an already battered economy.

On 1 November, the two countries resumed rail links, only to suspend them again after eight days because of the surge in infections in Liaoning.

Last year, to protect the country from the coronavirus, Kim launched a national food self-sufficiency campaign.

Analysts note that the arrival of North Korean officials in Dandong, amid a new pandemic wave, could mean that North Korea is close to the brink.

Following the imposition of international sanctions against North Korea because of its nuclear and missile programmes, China has become North Korea’s only real partner.

Last year, bilateral trade with China accounted for 95.4 per cent of North Korea’s foreign trade.

Without the revenue from exports to China, the Kim regime must rely on the remittances of its workers sent to Chinese factories as its only source of foreign currency.

As part of the sanction regime, the UN Security Council Resolution called for the repatriation of all North Korean nationals earning income abroad

Despite this, some 50,000 North Koreans are still employed in Chinese factories. Many of them make clothing for the South Korean market, reports Seoul-based Daily NK, which is linked to South Korea’s Unification Ministry,

A North Korean worker in China earns on average between 2,800 and 3,200 yuan (US$ 440-500) per month compared to a Chinese worker employed in the same sector, who can take home 8,000 to 12,000 yuan (US$ 1,250-1,880) per month.

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