Rather than focus on allegations that the North Korean regime was involved in the murder of Kim Jong Nam, it appears to be instead choosing to focus on controlling market prices as the price of rice continues to increase.
"Although news of the death of the Marshal’s (Kim Jong Un) [half] brother is spreading, the authorities are mostly quiet, with no special lectures or related orders as of yet,” a source in North Pyongan Province told Daily NK on February 20.
"Currently, the main topic of conversation for the North Korean people is the rice prices. The price of rice suddenly began to rise in February and has exceeded 5,000 KPW. People are becoming uneasy, and so the authorities have set price limits - with agents from the Ministry of People’s Security (MPS) patrolling the markets to prevent the price rising," the source added.
The North Korean authorities managed to stabilize the price of rice last year by importing grain from China. In September last year, the regime imported 16,000 tons of grain, equivalent to eight months' worth of imports, which led to the price falling. However, rice imports have now decreased and the prevalence of imported rice has dropped markedly as a result.
"The rice price was around 3,500 KPW at Yongchon Market in North Pyongan Province (a major agricultural center) until last December. But the price began to rise since early February and now exceeds 5,000 KPW," the source said.
A source in North Hamgyong Province added that the price of rice recently began rising rapidly in Hoeryong, reaching 5,000 KPW per kilo, and a source in Ryanggang Province reported that rice is currently fetching 5,200 KWP at Hyesan Market.
To address the problem, the North Korean authorities have set price limits (1500 KPW for 1kg of corn, 4200 KPW for 1 kg of rice), and are warning merchants that their stock will be confiscated if they surpass these limits. The sources, however, predict that the strength of market forces will prevail over the state’s attempts to intervene.
A source in North Pyongan Province noted, "Wholesalers in Sinuiju see the price controls as an opportunity to earn money and are stockpiling large amounts of rice. This freeze on distribution is another factor contributing to the soaring prices and subsequent grievances among consumers.”
The developments are adding to an overall uneasiness among North Korean consumers, for whom rice is a staple necessity. However, merchants are seeing it as an opportunity, and notwithstanding surveillance by MPS market patrol officers, astute vendors are discretely hawking rice at a premium.