N. Korea ready to engage in enduring battle with U.S. over sanctions

17, Apr. 2019


By Tomoyuki Tachikawa

PYONGYANG, Kyodo - Despite international sanctions steadily eroding its economy, North Korea appears to stand ready to engage in an enduring battle with the United States to move forward with nuclear talks.

The country has recently boosted domestic production as leader Kim Jong Un has pledged to promote “self-reliance” to prop up the sluggish economy, while ensuring ways to obtain foreign currency and goods from abroad.

At this juncture, the international economic sanctions, aimed at thwarting North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions, seem to be having little impact on the everyday lives of ordinary people in Pyongyang.

A group of Kyodo News reporters have been visiting Pyongyang since earlier this month for the first time since Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump fell short of a deal at their second summit in Hanoi in late February over the scope of denuclearization and sanction relief.

In the capital, traffic flow is as usual, with the number of European cars like the Mercedes-Benz and BMW apparently increasing compared with the previous year. There have been no obvious differences in the amount of items sold at shops and gasoline prices.

Currently, North Korea is hardly dependent on imports of foods, cosmetic products, beverages and other goods because a large number of factories have been built across the nation over the past five years or so, according to a local.

“There is nothing that we cannot make,” given that the country has risen from the ashes of the 1950-1953 Korean War, Jong Chol Su, a 32-year-old resident in Pyongyang, told Kyodo News.

Many foreigners, meanwhile, visited the capital to celebrate the 107th anniversary of the birth of North Korea's late founder Kim Il Sung on Monday, known in the nation as the “Day of the Sun.” Most hotels in the city were fully booked.

In the evening, foreign tourists could be seen enjoying the night view of the city on a luxury restaurant ship on the Taedong River that runs through it.

“This is my first time to come here. I'm very excited. I want to come here again sometime,” a traveler from Switzerland said on the vessel with a length of 70 meters and a displacement of 820 tons, named Taedonggang.

At a department store in Pyongyang, washing machines, refrigerators and numerous other home electric appliances of Japanese manufacturers like Panasonic and Sharp are displayed. The item description of many of the products is written in Chinese.

“North Korea still has various ways to acquire foreign currency and goods in spite of international economic sanctions,” a diplomatic source in Beijing told Kyodo News.

Kim Jong Un, who has promised to build a “powerful socialist economy” since last year, has asked the United States to ease economic sanctions, arguing his country has already started to implement concrete measures toward denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.

Trump, however, said after the Hanoi summit that North Korea has committed to “totally” dismantling its main Yongbyon nuclear complex, but the lifting of the sanctions would require it to scrap other nuclear facilities and programs, including undeclared ones.

In his speech at a session of the country's top legislature last week, Kim urged the United States to shift its stance in nuclear talks by the end of this year, saying he is eager to meet again with Trump depending on the attitude Washington adopts.

“The United States has believed that Kim will give in to the sanctions soon, but North Korea may be able to survive for an extended period of time,” said the diplomatic source, adding, “North Korea has prepared for an enduring battle with the United States.”

But in reality, Pyongyang still has a power shortage problem and sometimes experiences blackouts. Although telecommunication technology has been rapidly advancing across the globe, internet connection in the city is slower than in other nations' capitals.

Over the past year through April 2019, Kim has visited Singapore and Vietnam after making his first foreign trip since becoming supreme leader following the death of his father in December 2011.

The economies of these countries have been clearly flourishing at a faster pace than that of North Korea, making Kim keen to accelerate drastic industrial promotion policies, the source said.

“In his heart, Kim wants the United States to ease the economic sanctions as soon as possible. He is expected to continue to seek opportunities to resume talks with Trump without irritating the United States,” he added.

During the celebrations of the Day of the Sun, political slogans in public spaces in Pyongyang made no mention of the nation's ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs as well as no obvious provocation of the United States.

Until several years ago, slogans lambasting “U.S. imperialism” had been prevalent in North Korea.

North Korea and the United States remain technically at war as the Korean War -- in which U.S.-led multinational forces fought alongside the South against the North, backed by China and the Soviet Union -- ended in a cease-fire. (Kyodo)