By Timo Schmitz
Economy: Situation on the markets (December 2020)
The year 2020 was an extremely tough one for North Koreans and December was no exception to that. Asiapress noted: “In North Korea, it’s been ten months since Kim Jong-un began extreme quarantine measures such as blocking the border with China and excessive control of residents’ behavior to prevent the spread of coronavirus. As a result, international trade with China has almost come to a halt, and the economy is stuck in a state of paralysis, causing stagnation in the flow and movement of people and goods. […] The authorities emphasized ‘self-reliance’ and ‘self-sufficiency’ and issued a decree to produce domestically instead of relying on Chinese products.” 1 In most parts of the country, due to the trade blockade, no more goods from China could be found on markets. Reports from Ryanggang and North Hamgyong showed that markets only focus on domestic farming trade, while “daily necessities such as toilet paper, sanitary products, (chemical) seasonings, soy sauce, tropical fruits (watermelon, mandarin oranges, bananas, etc.), cooking oil, candies, and confectionaries which are produced in China, disappeared from the market soon after the border blockade” 2. Though the country was facing a tough winter, “Foodstuffs such as rice, corn, flour, and potatoes [were] readily available in markets throughout the country, so there [were] no shortages.” 3 Nonetheless, many people lacked cash and suffered from shortages of their income. Both Daily NK and Asiapress reported that even urban citizens traveled outside of their cities and sneaked on the fields to search for rice and corn 4, which can be seen as a result of poverty. There were traders who sold rice, but many people could not afford it. Some places in North Korea were completely in a lockdown in the end of 2020, such as Chongjin and Hyesan. The latter one had a lockdown since November 2, “residents were banned from going out and the market was closed.” 5 Finally, in late December, 40 Oversea Chinese doing business in Pyongyang returned to China. They were transported with busses of the “Myohyang Mountain Tour Operation Service” (probably the name of a North Korean transportation company arranging trips from Pyongyang to the Myohyang Mountains) through the border in Sinuiju over the Friendship Bridge to Dandong.6 The businessmen said that the economy in the DPRK is severely in trouble and that they live in poverty due to the serious situation, so they preferred to leave the country and go back to China. 7
1) Every year, it is reported that people in North Korea are on the edge of starvation and it was often not really true. What is true, however, is that people are extremely malnourished in the DPRK and there is a lack of food supply. In December 2020, there was enough food in the markets, but as the economy harshly suffered from Corona policies, many people were too poor to buy food.
2) North Korea lacked many essential things for daily life as they are not produced domestically.
3) The few foreign traders in the country were leaving.
Economy (January 2020)
In the first week of the month, it was reported that the food supply system in Komdok (South Hamgyong) failed to provide enough rations due to delayed supply deliveries. Normally, the residents of the Komdok Mining Worker’s district receive a food supply worth 10 days.8 On the Eighth Party Congress Kim Jong-un admitted that the previous goals were not fulfilled and called for resolving urgent problems to stabilize the lives of the people. Before the start of the Eighth Party Congress, a so-called “80 day battle” was announced in which a boost of improvement should take place. On January 15th, it was reported by Daily NK that the Komdok Mine just started a 90-Day-Battle: “Gomdok Mine, which experienced significant damage from typhoons last year, recently began a ‘90-day battle’ to boost production, Daily NK has learned. A source in South Hamgyong Province told Daily NK yesterday that the Gomdok Mine has restarted operations despite the fact that not all of the typhoon damage to the facility has been repaired.” 9 The situation in Komdok, as well as in other worker districts, remained very tense. Commonly, when such kind of “battles” are pronounced, it means that people have to work everyday and cannot rest on holidays but have to fulfill their duty. What was very astonishing as well were recent reports of defections of different border guards, which showed how tense the economical situation was. Many soldiers were allegedly suffering from stress and on-going malnutrition. Sometimes, harassment by higher officials might be assumed as cause as well. Despite that, residents in Musan County (North Hamgyong Province) were asked to give away their best winter clothes to soldiers. 10 It is nothing uncommon that people in North Korea conduct donations in November or December each year which then are given to soldiers. But seemingly, soldiers recently lacked all kind of important necessities, like socks and warm underwear in the heard winter season. Some reports cited sources worrying that the recent situation could become like in the 1990s Arduous March, however, I doubt that the situation was that worse. Indeed, many infrastructural important facilities could not provide their stuff properly and due to import restriction, many household goods were lacking. But there was both: food and work. Unlike in the past, where people had to search for work to survive, many were recently confronted by a heavy workload and increasing overwork. This was actually more worrying. Furthermore, all the analyzed reports were from North Hamgyong, South Hamgyong and Ryanggang Provinces and therefore cannot depict the situation that appeared in January in the whole country, as these three provinces are known as “Rost Belt” as they are particularly underdeveloped compared to the rest of the country. Thus, the situation in other provinces might have shed a completely different light on the situation.
Anyways, it is out of question that the situation in general was more tense than in previous years where the number of kotchebi was reduced to a minimum. Due to the strict countermeasures against the Coronavirus which shut down the whole society, including most possibilities to make an income, they could have made a comeback: “An internal document issued by the Korean Workers’ Party reveals that the number of people who have lost their homes and are wandering around the streets has been increasing in many regions […]” 11 Furthermore, the government wants to continue its policy to avoid growing numbers of homeless and works on offering shelter to them.12 The central government seems to fear that due to homeless people wandering around, the novel Coronavirus might continue to be spread. Many homeless this winter seemed to suffer from a weak health. Local authorities shall “ensure that all wanderers in their own areas are rounded up in their local area and sent to aid stations to build up strength and recover so that they will not cause problems for emergency quarantine projects” 13. People who are caught which come from a different region shall be sent back to their home area. 14
1) About most regions in North Korea, we did not have any serious information recently, as many regions were still locked down in January and neighbourhoods were sealed off and many checkpoints were installed. Therefore, information did scarcely reach the border. Since the information we did know came from the Rost Belt, where things are always more tense than in other areas, one could not automatically conclude that the economy in the other regions was the same worse.
2) North Koreans in the Rost Belt were loaded with overwork and high production rates. Many citizens were extremely malnourished and their health condition was probably rather weak.
3) There was an increase in homeless people, something which first appeared in 2000 and almost completely disappeared until 2015 and which made a comeback since last year. (In December and January, it was reported that some people living on the streets froze to death.)
Economy (February 2020)
In February, the reports on the economic situation were rather weak. We do know three facts reported by Daily NK: (1) The exchange rate between the US-Dollar and the North Korean Won has climbed again as there were rumors that the trade could restart soon 15; (2) the government issued gifts to children on Kim Jong-il’s birthday, e.g. school children in lower grades in the anti-government stronghold Hoeryong were given sweets and school supplies: “According to a photo of the presents obtained through the source, the sweets included a bag of candy, two bags of snacks, a bag of bean candies and two rice crackers. The school supplies included 72 pencils, eight erasers, a set of 12 crayons, a 12-color watercoloring set, two gel ink pens, three ball pens, one pencil sharpener, one pencil case, four rulers and a school supply bin.” 16; (3) the government started to issue a new state-run home and family property insurance, participation in the insurance program is mandatory for all.17
Concerning the second point, the fact that only lower classes received goods might be an indication that there are not enough goods for all students, and especially since it was in an anti-government stronghold, I personally suppose that they received less gifts, because the regime traditionally benefits loyal people. However, this time, it is only an assumption by me, based on how the government normally uses to proceed (argument by analogy). It is no secret that benefits are distributed based on rank and social class, so elitarian circles (party members, government agents, and soldiers) usually benefit more. It would be a surprise if this was not the case this time. What is intriguing, however, is the variety of goods. So school children do have pencils, pens, erasers, and gel ink – something many in the West do not know, as it is often suspected that school children often lack even elementary goods, something which is rather a myth than reality, though indeed they do not have any luxury goods. If the goods are imported from China, they usually have a good quality, but domestic goods in North Korea rather tend to be poor in quality and probably will not last long.
Concerning the third point, citizens are extremely skeptical about the efficency of the new insurance. The materials which were read aloud in neighborhood meetings were written by the Korean People’s Insurance General Company, and claim to work for the benefit of the people and not for profit, the contract lasts for 250 years, and promise an extraordinary compensation for a low fee.18 In addition, compost production became a top priority at the 8th party Congress, and thus, Asiapress reported unsurprisingly that a “Compost Battle” has begun.19 Note that usually, human feces are collected and composted outside of the villages to use them later. Asiapress writes: “Compost is made in North Korea by mixing ash, soil, human feces, and straw. A ‘compost battle’ is always held at the beginning of each year to reach production targets but, this year, mobilization for production is much more strict. This is because Kim Jong-un gave such an order at the Korean Workers’ Party Congress, the Party’s most important event of the year.”20 As there is a quota which has to be met, people who cannot meet the quota start looking for excrements at public toilets.21 Furthermore, North Korea struggles to mobilize its telecommunication. It was reported by Daily NK: “major developments like next-generation internet are still a long way off, and the country will likely settle for improvements to existing facilities. According to a source, those improvements could be as basic as automating operator-connected phones.”22 Many places in the country still use manual switchboards from over 50 years ago, so the government planned to replace them now, but it is more than questionable whether they had the means to boost up the whole country. By the way, it is well-known that if a foreigner wants to dial a North Korean through an official North Korean phone number, one has to dial a central number and ask for being dialed, unless a very few numbers that are reachable immediately. One reason was assumed to be that the authorities can decide themselves whether they allow the call or not and are able to protocol who has foreign contacts. However, it seems that a major reason is the inability of direct calls, at least, in the countryside, so that one has to be manually connected. Nonetheless, the fact that the state can easier protocol foreign calls this way might be a reason why it will be unlikely that this procedure will be changed in the near future, even if automatic connection becomes possible.
1) There were economic relaxations and stabilizations, though only on a very small scale. High quota set by the government remained a big deal.
2) Traditionally, the government gives away a lot of gifts on Kim Jong-il’s birthday. This year, only school children of lower grades received gifts. Nonetheless, there was a brought variety of gifts.
3) The telecommunication network is still bad and though it was announced to make a boost, it seemed rather unlikely that major changes appeared.
North Korea has one of the worst medical structures in the world. Though North Korea indeed has a partially free medical health care system, it is extremely inefficient and medicine is lacking in many places. 23 (In the countryside, surgeries and heat has to be paid by the patient, and it is common to invite the staff to a dinner or meal, because they are extremely bad-paid.24) The situation worsened throughout the whole country due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there are clear differences in the quality of hospitals. Some highly professionalized hospitals, especially in urban areas do have a good structure, but most other hospitals simply lack even basic things.
Summary on the first wave (2020): Schmitz pointed out “that until July 2020, the Coronavirus spread in North Pyongan, Rason, Nampo, North Hamgyong, South Pyongan and South Hwanghae. Reports from Chagang and Ryanggang were scarce. However, there were rumors that a few cases appeared in counties in Ryanggang bordering North Hamgyong.” 25 Officially, North Korea claimed zero cases, however, in a document entitled “경애하는 최고령도자 김정은동지께서 주체 109 (2020)년 7월 25일 당중앙위원히 정치국 비상확대 회의에서 한신 말씀” and which is marked top-secret, Kim Jong-un admits the outbreak of COVID-19 in his country. 26
Summary on the second wave (2020): In late July or August, a second wave slowly started, but hit the country. First reports came from North Hwanghae in July, followed by suspected cases in Ryanggang in August.27 In the end of July, the city of Kaesong was shut down after a returnee managed to cross through the DMZ into North Korea. On 20 August, the area around Samjiyon was put under a strict lockdown after two returnees crossed into the country via China into the DPRK, one of the women allegedly carried a positive COVID-19 test with her.28 In the end of August, a mass-outbreak appeared after the Youth Day Celebrations in Hamhung, and in November the Wonsan University of Fisheries was shut down after an alleged outbreak of COVID-19 cases in the students’ dormitory.29 Furthermore, Hyesan and Chongjin were put into a lockdown in November. The government continues its harsh ‘Keeping distance guidelines’.
In early or middle of January, a wedding took secretly place in Onsong County (North Hamgyong), though we could doubt that it was that “secret” as many guests were invited. After being denounced, all participants were told to be facing punishment now. 30 Nonetheless, most countries are enforcing distancing rules and it is a quite reasonable measure, so we shall not criticize that the government took action, but we have to observe that the punishments are in accordance with human rights standards. Suspected cases of the Coronavirus also appeared in Pyongyang after the New Year’s Parade was held. This means, the Coronavirus also arrived in the capital, the last spot which was assumingly free of COVID-19 in the country. At least 30 people were suspected cases and two people probably died. 31 One of the dead was a “55-year-old secretary of the party’s local branch in [K]yonghung-dong, Junggu District, Pyongyang”.32
After smuggling incidents, Hyesan and Samjiyon had to return to lockdowns in the end of January 33 (probably since January 29). Daily NK wrote: “According to the source, the lockdown sprang from a Jan. 27 incident in which two residents of Hyesan smuggled seasonings, sugar and soybean oil from China through the environs of Samjiyon. However, the illicit transaction became apparent the next day, and provincial Ministry of State Security agents put the two individuals under emergency arrest after a border guard who abetted the smuggling turned himself in.” 34 As a result of the new lockdown extreme problems were reported. Normally, the citizens were given food rations in previous lockdowns, because no one was allowed to leave the house under any condition. Food can only be preserved for a few days and rations supposedly did not arrive in time. According to Asiapress: “The electricity supply is available for an average of only 1 hour a day. It is so cold that people on the same floor are avoiding the surveillance and are gathering in houses with heaters.” 35 Asiapress published an interview in another article where he states: “There is almost no electricity these days, so even if I wanted to contact you in a hurry, I can’t charge my phone and it won’t connect. The authorities say, ‘If there is an emergency, stick a piece of paper on your door and a police officer will report it and take appropriate measures.”36 So different reporting partners agreed on the unbearable situation and the residents became more and more desperate. Even though the lockdown was said to last for 30 days, the anti-regime cries and anger became so loud that the lockdown was lifted on February 15. Reports of a rising death toll due to the lack of medicine and food appeared the days before.37 Note that Hyesan is a bordercity with quite a number of citizens, and the river to China can be crossed easily, despite the fact that the North Korean government has built fences (which fell down very easily) and resettled homes immediately at the border. Therefore, many people in Ryanggang seem to rumor that the real cause of the lockdown was to avoid defections. Even a reporting partner of Asiapress made that assumption openly: “According to a reporting partner living in Hyesan City, there have been many attempts by residents to flee to China since the beginning of January, and it is believed that this is because Kim Jong-un has criticized Hyesan City for its illegal activities and directly ordered the lockdown.” 38 Following incidents of smuggling, some towns in Chagang were put under quarantine in February 3. The lockdown in Chasong and Manpo was announced to last until 7 March, but was lifted already after two weeks.39 A reporting partner said, the lockdown was lifted early “about 100 people each starved to death in Chasong and Manpo during the lockdown period”.40 Food rations were distributed with the lifting.41
- The novel Coronavirus spread to every province. Even the capital Pyongyang which was isolated and needed special entry permissions became affected in January.
- Hyesan was suffering under its lockdown and many were extremely desperate. The anger against the regime went so far that the government lifted the lockdown earlier. Hyesan is situated on a major smuggling route, but also defections from Hyesan were said to appear more commonly. Also in Chagang, a lot of deaths occurred in lockdowns, so that the lockdown was lifted earlier. In the lockdowned arears in Chagang, food provisions were finally delivered after the lift.
- Health-care in North Korea remains a tense issue.
What remains rather uncertain is why Kim Yo-jong was degraded, as she actually had to leave the Politburo in January 2021. Does the double rule already end before it begun? Of course, speculations that she fell in disgrace became widespread very fast, but I do not see any sign of it. Indeed, her strategy to gain prestige in the country by hatespeeching others worked within the country, as many showed loyalty to her, but it ruined her prestige outside of the country. However, she is the closest ally to her brother and they are not only close in politics, but also as brother-sisters extremely close, as both were sent to Switzerland in their childhood to receive education. They share a common fate, so it is unlikely that Kim Jong-un lets her sister fall. Furthermore, there is no indication that he was dissatisfied with her politics. As we remember, Kim Jong-un had serious health issues last year, and thus, her sister was seen as a possible heir. The fact that she received a lower rank now might be an indication that he fully recovered and is able to continue his government affairs. Nonetheless, I think she will remain one of the most powerful people in the country. One possibility, of course, might be a structural change within the government, though this is uncertain. She will probably soon appear in another high-profile position. 42
As a follow-up of the Eighth Party Congress, “authorities [were] conducting public lectures on ‘squashing anti-socialist and non-socialist acts’”, as of Daily NK. 43 This is actually very interesting, because the government left the Socialist path long ago, and every citizen knows that it turned into a Confucius-styled monarchy. Confucian credos and tenors are widespread and still the government promotes itself as a sound Socialist system. Why don’t they break with Socialism in their propaganda? Most Koreans see their Koreanity and the nationalist values implemented by the DPRK more important anyways, then the Socialist lectures which everybody on the spot easily identifies as meaningless words, as the teachings and the reality are too far apart. How does the government want to regain trust among its citizens if their propaganda drives away even further from reality? According to Daily NK “the lecturer first called on audiences to remember that ‘non-socialist acts are frightening crimes that render cracks in our single-minded unity firmly bound to the party and disintegrate the socialist system,’ encouraging them to ‘keep up the fight’ to ‘squash these phenomena.’” 44 It seems that isolation goes on and crackdowns will most likely continue. Meanwhile, defections also continued. After soldiers who were sent to secure the border allegedly disappeared, a new case of a possible defection became prominent in South Hwanghae. It was said that a security guard and a discharged soldier, together with two other people volunteered to clean a beach from garbage in Ryongyon County and borrowed boats from a government organization with permission. The four people, however, disappeared, most likely with one boat, shortly after their mission ought to begin. 45 Authorities tell locals that the four died in a fishing accident, not to motivate further people to defect. According to Daily NK: “Several defection attempts and smuggling operations occurred near the Sino-North Korean border in North Pyongan Province during the Eighth Party Congress […]”. 46 At least three people were killed by patrol guards, while two survived. 47
On 25 January 2021, Radio Free Asia reported that already in 2019, a North Korean diplomat defected to the South. Seemingly, it did not became public before and the South Korean authorities did not want to confirm the case. However, it would be the third case of such a high-ranking defection, after a diplomat sent to the United Kingdom and another one in Italy defected in the last years. The diplomat in question was stationed in Kuwait which is strategically important for the Kim regime: “Ko, formerly the first secretary at the North Korean embassy in Congo, told RFA that the embassy in Kuwait earned a considerable amount of foreign currency by selling weapons during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War.” 48 People sent abroad often are struggling with a heavy workload and are demanded to give away almost everything they earn to the state. Many abroad cannot fulfill the high quota of how much they shall give to the state or are unable to fulfill difficult tasks due to their limited resources.49 For this reason, even high-ranking people, such as diplomats, migrant workers and soldiers – in other words: people considered loyal to the state – started defecting.
- There were structural changes within the government going on. We do not know much about them yet.
- Defections became more widespread as people as many were in a desperate situation. Even those who are considered loyal take defections into consideration.
In the last decade, the human rights situation improved increasingly, and until 2014, the most notorious prison camps were closed. However, in 2019, citizens were sent to forced labor for minor law violations, something which did not happen before for a long time.50 Following the Eighth Party Congress in January this year, it was announced that prisons shall be enlarged and crackdowns increased. A reporting partner told Daily NK in February that authorities were cataloging prisoners after ideological tendencies, their crime record and past behavior as well as their current condition to choose which kind of labor, they ought to do in the future.51 According to Daily NK: “There are currently four known political prison camps run by the Ministry of State Security, while one camp is known to be run by the Ministry of Social Security. It is unusual for North Korea to push for expanding its facilities.”52 In addition, torture remains a large problem. Here again, an example was given by Daily NK. On 28 January 2021, a man named Kim and a women named Han tried to defect from Hyesan, but were caught by “undercover counterintelligence agents from the provincial security department.”53 They were interrogated and tortured and should confess that they wanted to head to South Korea, which they denied.54 After the denial they were hanged upside down with their head and also hit with clubs.55 As both were classified as spies, they will most likely face severe punishment. As a result of the torture, Han, who is in her twenties, was said to show symptoms, such as sudden laughter and sobbing.56
Additionally, North Korea also searches for defectors in foreign countries, as new allegations from Russian sources to Radio Free Asia shall show. In Russia’s Far East, there are quite a few North Korean construction workers, but there were also quite a few defections assumed. For instance until last year, 10 North Koreans ran away from a single construction site in Khabarovsk.57 Defections in Vladivostok were also rumored.58 Whether these claims were true at all is not certain, because for many North Koreans, it is an honour to work abroad. They can make a living for themselves and their villages, and therefore, raise in social status.59 Therefore, indeed, defections are rather unlikely, though not impossible. Nonetheless, a source mentioned to Radio Free Asia that it was told “among the ethnic Korean communities in Nakhodka, Khabarovsk and Ussuriysk that you can receive a bounty if you report a North Korean worker that has escaped from a local construction site.”60 A major question, of course, is also how North Korea wants to finance the large bounties, since they hardly have any means. Anyways, it is well documented that North Korean authorities also monitor their workers abroad, and in Siberia, for instance, they sometimes live in model villages which look like North Korean villages, including propaganda posters, so that they feel home. In these villages, they are supervised as well. The villages are sometimes wrongly labeled “labor camps” in Western media, something which they are actually not. Nonetheless, the human right conditions in North Korea are extremely worrying.
- The government plans to increase its prisons and labor camps. It was also announced that crackdowns against “anti-socialist behavior” will be increased as well.
- Torture and inhuman treatment is a severely worrying fact!
- North Korea also monitors their workers abroad and search for defectors.
 Kang Ji-won, ISHIMARU Jiro: ＜Inside N. Korea＞ “No Soap but Many Broken-Down Cars”: The Reality of Life Under the Paralyzed COVID-19 Economy. ASIAPRESS/ Rimjin-gang, 22 December 2020. http://www.asiapress.org/rimjin-gang/2020/12/society-economy/covid19/, retrieved on 1 January 2021.
 Jong So-yong: N. Hamgyong Province intensifies efforts to prevent rice from being taken out of rural towns. Daily NK, 30 December 2020. https://www.dailynk.com/english/north-hamgyong-province-intensifies-efforts-prevent-rice-taken-out-rural-towns/, retrieved on 1 January 2021; Ishimaru Jiro: Residents of N. Korea’s Embattled Cities Face Starvation Amid Continuing Coronavirus Blockade. ASIAPRESS/ Rimjin-gang, 16 December 2020. http://www.asiapress.org/rimjin-gang/2020/12/society-economy/starvation/, retrieved on 1 January 2021.
 Kang Ji-won, ISHIMARU Jiro: ＜Inside N. Korea＞ Residents Face Starvation as Border City is Blocked Off to Contain Potential COVID-19 Outbreak. Asiapress/ Rimjin-gang, 1 December 2020. http://www.asiapress.org/rimjin-gang/2020/12/society-economy/korona-2/, retrieved on 1 January 2021.
 文东熙: 在丹东发现居住平壤的40名华侨……“因为经济危机回到中国”. Daily NK, 28 December 2020. http://china.dailynk.com/chinese/read.php?num=17281&cataId=nk00600, retrieved on 4 January 2021.
 정서영: 양력설 맞아 검덕지구 물자 공급…거리두기에 배급은 ‘아직’. Daily NK, 4 January 2021. https://www.dailynk.com/양력설-맞아-검덕지구-물자-공급거리두기에-배급/, retrieved on 4 January 2021.
 Jong So Young: Gomdok Mine is in the midst of a “90-day battle”. Daily NK, 15 January 2021. https://www.dailynk.com/english/gomdok-mine-midst-90-day-battle/, retrieved on 18 January 2021.
 Lee Chae Un: Musan County residents asked to provide their best winter clothes to soldiers. Daily NK, 14 January 2021. https://www.dailynk.com/english/musan-county-residents-asked-provide-their-best-winter-clothes-soldiers/, retrieved on 18 January 2021.
 Kang Ji-won, ISHIMARU Jiro: ＜Inside N. Korea＞ Authorities Ordered to House More Homeless, Internal Documents State, as Economic Paralysis of Coronavirus Worsens. Asiapress/ Rimjin-gang, 13 January 2021. http://www.asiapress.org/rimjin-gang/2021/01/society-economy/coronas-economic/, retrieved on 18 January 2021.
 On previous tries to fight homelessness, see Timo Schmitz: An analysis on North Korea – December 2020. 31 December 2020. https://schmitztimo.wordpress.com/2020/12/31/an-analysis-on-north-korea-december-2020/, retrieved on 18 January 2021.
 Kang & Ishimaru, 13 January 2021.
 cp. Jang Seul Gi: USD-KPW exchange rate begins climbing amid hopes for restart in trade. Daily NK, 1 February 2021. https://www.dailynk.com/english/usd-kpw-exchange-rate-begins-climbing-amid-hopes-restart-trade/, retrieved on 21 February 2021.
 Lee Chae-Un: North Korea provides gifts to children for Kim Jong Il’s birthday. Daily NK, 18 February 2021. https://www.dailynk.com/english/north-korea-provides-gifts-to-children-for-kim-jong-ils-birthday/, retrieved on 21 February 2021.
 Lee Chae Un: North Korea tries to sell state-run insurance scheme to people in some regions. Daily NK, 2 February 2021. https://www.dailynk.com/english/north-korea-tries-sell-state-run-insurance-scheme-people-some-regions/, retrieved on 21 February 2021.
 Rimjingang: ＜Inside N. Korea＞ Nationwide “Compost Battle” Begins: Kim Jong-un’s Huge Demand for Home-Made Fertilizer Spurs Human Feces Thievery. Asiapress/ Rimjin-gang, 1 February 2021. https://www.asiapress.org/rimjin-gang/2021/02/society-economy/compost-battle/, retrieved on 21 February 2021.
 cp. ibid.
 Mun Dong Hui: North Korea’s efforts to improve telecommunications environment face many hurdles. Daily NK, 19 February 2021. https://www.dailynk.com/english/north-korea-efforts-improve-telecommunications-environment-face-many-hurdles/, retrieved on 21 February 2021.
 장슬기: “돈 있어도 약 못 구해”…코로나 사태로 北 ‘무상의료제도’ 더 악화. Daily NK, 4 January 2021. https://www.dailynk.com/돈-있어도-약-못-구해-코로나-사태로-北-무상의, retrieved on 4 January 2021.
 cp. also Tae-Il Shim: Ask a North Korean: what is the healthcare system in the DPRK really like?. NK News, 21 February 2020. https://www.nknews.org/2020/02/ask-a-north-korean-what-is-the-healthcare-system-in-the-dprk-really-like/, retrieved on 21 February 2021.
 Timo Schmitz: An analysis on North Korea – December 2020. 31 December 2020. https://schmitztimo.wordpress.com/2020/12/31/an-analysis-on-north-korea-december-2020/, retrieved on 1 January 2021.
 Kang Ji-won: North Korea Under Strict Coronavirus Watch Again, Military Soldiers Ordered to Stay on Base. ASIAPRESS/ Rimjin-gang, 26 November 2020. http://www.asiapress.org/rimjin-gang/2020/11/military/korona/, retrieved on 2 January 2021.
 Schmitz, 31 December 2020.
 김유진: ‘거리두기’ 규정에도 결혼식 주최·참석한 주민들 처벌 위기. Daily NK, 18 January 2021. https://www.dailynk.com/거리두기-규정에도-결혼식-주최·참석한-주민들-처, retrieved on 18 January 2021.
 Ha Yoon-Ah: At least 30 suspected COVID-19 cases emerge after New Year’s performance. Daily NK, 14 January 2021. https://www.dailynk.com/english/at-least-30-suspected-covid-19-cases-emerge-after-new-year-performance/, retrieved on 22 February 2021.
 Lee Chae Un: Hyesan, Samjiyon under lockdown following smuggling incidents. Daily NK, 4 February 2021. https://www.dailynk.com/english/hyesan-samjiyon-under-lockdown-following-smuggling-incidents/, retrieved on 8 February 2021.
 Kang Ji-won & ISHIMARU Jiro: ＜Emergency Interview on North Korea＞ A woman living in Hyesan City under lockdown, speaks in a painful voice: “If this continues, I will starve to death.” Asiapress/ Rimin-gang, 8 February 2021. https://www.asiapress.org/rimjin-gang/2021/02/society-economy/locked-down/, retrieved on 22 February 2021.
 Kang Ji-won: ＜Inside N. Korea＞ Crime and Suicide on the Rise as Border City Residents Face Starvation in Second 30-Day Lockdown. Asiapress/ Rimjin-gang, 9 February 2021. https://www.asiapress.org/rimjin-gang/2021/02/society-economy/lockdown-2/, retrieved on 22 February 2021.
 Kang Ji-won: ＜Inside N. Korea＞ Hyesan Lockdown Lifted Early Due to Local Reports of Starvation. Asiapress/ Rimjin-gang, 18 February 2021. https://www.asiapress.org/rimjin-gang/2021/02/society-economy/hyesan-lockdown-lifted/, retrieved on 22 February 2021.
 Kang & Ishimaru, 8 February 2021.
 Ha Yoon Ah: North Korea lifts lockdowns in Chagang Province’s Chasong and Manpo. Daily NK, 23 February 2021. https://www.dailynk.com/english/north-korea-lifts-lockdowns-chasong-manpo-chagang-province/, retrieved on 23 February 2021.
 The issue was also reported by Radio Free Asia, their report can be read here: Eugene Whong: North Korean Leader’s Sister Retains Power Despite Formal ‘Demotion’. Radio Free Asia, 15 January 2021. https://www.rfa.org/english/news/korea/kimyojong-01152021102656.html, retrieved on 8 February 2021.
 Lee Chae Un: North Korea conducts lectures on “squashing anti-socialist” acts. Daily NK, 8 February 2021. https://www.dailynk.com/english/north-korea-conducts-lectures-squashing-anti-socialist-acts/, retrieved on 8 February 2021.
 Jong So Yong: Four people in a wooden boat disappear from waters off Ryongyon County. Daily NK, 8 February 2021. https://www.dailynk.com/english/four-people-wooden-boat-disappear-waters-off-ryongyon-county/, retrieved on 8 February 2021.
 Ha Yoon Ah: Several defection attempts and smuggling operations occurred during the party congress period. Daily NK, 26 January 2021. https://www.dailynk.com/english/several-defection-attempts-smuggling-operations-occurred-during-party-congress-period/, retrieved on 8 February 2021.
 Yong Jae Mok: Third High-Profile North Korean Diplomat Defected to South Korea in 2019. Radio Free Asia, 25 January 2021. https://www.rfa.org/english/news/korea/ryu-01252021222750.html, retrieved on 8 February 2021.
 also compare ibid.
 see also my 2020 report which mentions the shift from 2019 to 2020: Timo Schmitz: Analysis on the recent situation in North Korea – 2020. 12 April 2020. https://schmitztimo.wordpress.com/2020/04/12/analysis-on-north-korea-2020/, retrieved on 23 February 2021.
 Mun Dong Hui: North Korea orders expansion of political prison camp system. Daily NK, 19 February 2021. https://www.dailynk.com/english/north-korea-orders-expansion-political-prison-camp-system/, retrieved on 23 February 2021.
 Lee Chae Un: Two North Koreans attempting to flee across border arrested in Yanggang Province. Translated by Audrey Gregg. Daily NK, 19 February 2021. https://www.dailynk.com/english/two-north-koreans-attempting-flee-across-border-arrested-yanggang-province/, retrieved on 23 February 2021.
 Kim Jieun: North Korea Puts $10,000 Bounty on Escaped Construction Workers in Russia. Translated by Leejin Jun. Radio Free Asia, 16 February 2021. https://www.rfa.org/english/news/korea/russia-02162021174627.html, retrieved on 23 February 2021.
 see also Andrei Lankov: The Real Story of North Korean Labor Camps in Russia. Carnegie Moscow Center, no date. https://carnegie.ru/commentary/71473, retrieved on 29 April 2020.
 Kim, 16 February 2021.
Published on 23 February 2021.