Seoul says there is panic buying in North Korea

SEOUL — Disruptions in the North Korean economy from plunging trade have led to a surge in prices, with Pyongyang residents panic buying daily necessities, South Korea’s spy agency said Wednesday.

Trade between North Korea and China dropped 91% on the year in March, the National Intelligence Service said, in the wake of the North closing its border in late January to prevent the coronavirus from entering the country. Prices for condiments and other imports have soared, prompting the nation to enact measures to stabilize prices, according to the intelligence agency.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has conducted internal duties as normal since late April, the National Intelligence Service told lawmakers in a briefing for South Korea’s National Assembly. No evidence supports the claim that Kim underwent heart surgery recently, according to the agency, though he has made fewer public appearances amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Speculation arose that Kim was in critical condition resulting from a botched surgery after he failed to appear at the April 15 celebration of the birth of Kim Il Sung, who was his grandfather and North Korea’s founder.

But North Korean media on Saturday published a photo of Kim visiting a fertilizer plant. The goal was to reassure the North Korean public that the country could solve its food supply problems without help, South Korean intelligence said.

North Korea recently began adopting the dollar instead of the euro as the base for its foreign currency settlements, the intelligence service said. The country had used the euro since the early 2000s, aiming to boost trade with Europe. But this appears to be changing as the country’s department stores and markets use the dollar.

Regarding the North’s military moves, submarines and rocket launchers have been seen at a shipyard in the port city of Sinpo. The South Korean intelligence agency said it was watching for the launch of a new submarine Pyongyang unveiled in 2019.

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