Kim Jong-un

What do North Korean rice prices say about the supreme leader's power?

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 August, 2013, 1:34pm
UPDATED : Monday, 26 August, 2013, 4:10pm

The cost of rice stabilised in North Korea over the past three months, suggesting that supreme leader Kim Jong-un was strengthening his grip on the military, said an expert at a South Korean state-funded think tank.

The all important price of rice, which hit highs of 7,000 won (US$7.8) per kilogram between January and April, was stable at 5,500 North Korean won (US$6.1) per kilogram May through July, according to data from the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU).

The stabilisation is a result of the North Korea’s military releasing its rice war supplies on the orders of Kim, senior researcher Park Hyung-jung of KINU told the South China Morning Post.

“Nothing happens in North Korea without the orders of Kim Jong-un, so the release of military reserves shows that he is in control of the military,” said Park.

North Korea’s top leader Kim Jong-un has been trying to consolidate his control over the military since he took power in late 2011. To this end, last July, he reportedly removed military chief Ri Yong-ho from his post, allowing Kim to take more control over the military, which was seen as the backbone of his father Kim Jong-il and grandfather Kim Il-sung’s power.

The food situation is a major issue for the reclusive, communist country that commonly encounters famine and food shortages.

Around two-thirds of North Korea’s 24 million people are believed to suffer from inadequate food, according to United Nations data.

The UN World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organisation plan to send a joint group to North Korea at the end of September.

The group, which will visit farms and markets through out the country, will check on the country’s crops and investigate its food supplies.

The findings will be used to determine the severity of the country’s shortages and the level of international humanitarian aid needed.

Pyongyang is likely to further highlight its food insecurity while UN monitors are in the country to qualify for more aid, say some South Korean experts.