The growing number of North Korean soldiers sent to the Chinese border to increase security have become a threat to civilians living nearby. The government has not been able to maintain food supplies for these troops, and many of them are now receiving half their normal food supplies. What food the troops do get is of lower quality. Even the secret police, whose job includes monitoring the performance of soldiers and police and punishing misbehavior, complain of the lower quality food they are receiving. But at least they aren’t getting visibly thinner like the border security troops. This is visible from the Chinese side of the border and often recorded on cell phone photos that eventually reach South Korea.
This breakdown in security and discipline throughout North Korea has been going on for over a decade. That trend accelerated in the last two years because of escalating food shortages. It has reached levels of hunger and privation not seen since the 1990s famine that killed about ten percent of the population. The government declared surviving that “arduous march” period a great victory and something that would never happen again,
Before the covid19 lockdown there were already annual increases in crime rates, especially for serious offences like robbery, burglary, rape, murder, assault, and corruption within the security forces (police, military, and secret police).
In rural areas the inability of local police to handle crime led to the appearance of vigilantes. These were for protection of people and property, especially where police and soldiers are the criminals and devoted to taking care of themselves at the expense of local civilians. The farmers, despite years of poor harvests, have more incentive to guard their crops, and harvested food, from the growing number of thieves and the decline in police efforts to deal with the problem. This resistance now applies to marauding soldiers along the Chinese border. For over a decade, civilians living near military bases suffered growing theft by soldiers from nearby bases. In some areas the “foraging” became so bad that civilians abandoned their farms and businesses for somewhere experiencing less of this theft. In 2020 the government moved more soldiers to the Chinese border, establishing temporary camps to house them. The government was unable to supply these border guards with enough fuel, food, and housing. With months of cold weather underway, troop morale and respect for law and order have declined. Even though some of these troops were from elite infantry units, they began stealing from the locals. In the last few months this theft has increased in intensity and organization. This indicates that some officers are involved, especially when unit commanders deny that their troops are involved when guilty soldiers were identified by name by locals who had come to know some of the troops.
November 29, 2021: One little-reported development in 2021 was the futility of negotiating with North Korea to eliminate the nuclear weapons and missile development programs. Earlier in the year North Korea quietly introduced a new national holiday celebrating, just inside North Korea, their ballistic missile program, especially the growing number of missiles that will have nuclear missiles. While not putting the holiday on the official colander distributed to foreigners, these things eventually become known globally. The U.S. confirmed this new North Korean policy because intel efforts recently showed that North Korea had been mining far more uranium ore than previously thought. North Korea still does not have reliable nuclear weapons or warhead-ready weapons that can reliably function despite the very high G forces ballistic missile components must handle. North Korea has developed cruise missiles and long-range GPS guided rockets that can carry their current bomb design without all the stress encountered using a ballistic missile.
The North Korean nukes are probably not very reliable either. That is not a problem if you can carry out a mass attack because only a few must detonate to inflict maximum psychological damage. The bombs that fail will become less destructive “dirty bombs” that spread radioactive material over an area that becomes very radioactive and expensive to clean up. South Korea and the United States quietly responded by modifying their joint war plan to deal with this new threat and concentrate on locating and quickly destroying the nuclear-armed missiles early. To that end the U.S. has changed the composition of its small force to include an attack helicopter brigade and more artillery units.
North Korean leaders know that their use of nukes might trigger a nuclear response by the United States. North Korea believes the shock of a North Korean nuclear attack would preclude that because North Korean leaders see the Americans as weak and indecisive. This was the logic behind the 1950-53 Korean War and the Japanese strategy that led them to attack the United States in 1941. Most wars, especially in the 20th Century, started like this.
November 24, 2021: In the North Korea capital, most foreign embassies have closed because of the covid19 lockdown. There are at least none embassies still operating, most with a much-reduced staff. Russia and China still have a lot of embassy personnel but now Russia has evacuated most of the embassy staff, leaving only two diplomats and some support staff. Shortages of basic supplies is part of the problem but the other issue is that there is not much for the Russians to do. China is the largest investor and trade partner with North Korea and its diplomats have much more to do.
November 15, 2021: In the north a growing number of those arrested and punished for smuggling and other illegal transactions are government officials, including security personnel who are supposed to monitor the performance of other officials. Rather than execution, these officials are sentenced to years of imprisonment in labor camps. Death rates from overwork and other forms of mistreatment were always higher in these camps than outside the camps. With the current food shortages, the quantity and quality of food supplied for camp inmates has declined, in part because the guards are also receiving less food for themselves and their families and are augmenting their diets with food stolen from what is sent to feed the inmates. Inmates with family or friends able to bribe the guards do better. Those lacking such outside help starve and more frequently die. Bribing your way out is, so far, not possible. The only way out is to survive your sentence to die before that.
November 12, 2021: North Korea has been trying, for over a year, to develop a practical plan for building a nuclear power plant small enough to power a large submarine carrying ballistic missiles. The team of scientists, engineers, and technicians assigned to make this happen apparently failed so spectacularly and quickly that fourteen of them were punished. The team was given an impossible job and were not able to fail in a politically correct manner.
A similar scandal is developing in parts of Russia and China where thousands of North Korean workers have been stranded for nearly two years by the North Korean lockdown. Lacking direct contact with security officials from North Korea. These overseas workers have gone independent, finding better paying jobs while telling officials back in North Korea that they lost their jobs due to covid19 restrictions. These restrictions were never as strict in Russia and China. North Korean officials find it easier to believe the myth instead of the reality. There are still labor shortages in Russia and China and now the North Koreans, with their reputation for hard work and resourcefulness, are using that to improve their lives in exile. The North Korean security officials who accompany and control these North Korea workers have apparently also developed entrepreneurial skills. When the North Korea lockdown ends these entrepreneurs can either run for it and abandon their families back in North Korea or pay a large bribe to get back into North Korea and avoid prosecution.
In South Korea, Russia, and China the covid19 lockdowns have largely disappeared. This is the kind of news North Korea wants to keep out of the country lest it cause an epidemic outbreak of anger against all the lies the government has deployed to deal with the disease the government insists it has kept out of the country.
November 11, 2021: The latest Transparency International Corruption Perception Index survey of corruption in all nations has found North Korea has maintained its status as the most corrupt nation in the world for the second year in a row. Meanwhile South Korea is still among the thirty least corrupt nations.
November 10, 2021: In Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, all the security personnel were replaced at one of the checkpoints controlling access to the city. There had been an unusually high number of illegal entries via this checkpoint and the secret police were trying to find out who was responsible and punish him. Pyongyang is the best place to live in North Korea, so access and permanent residency is restricted. Pyongyang contains twelve percent of the national population but a much higher proportion of GDP and national income. The city became the capital because it was a major industrial center during the Japanese occupation (1910-45) and has remained an economic powerhouse. The city also contains the headquarters and many subsidiary components of all national organizations. This includes the secret police (Ministry of State Security or MSS).
Residence in the capital requires official permission and that is difficult to get. Restricted access to the capital is also a security measure for the senior leadership as well as another obstacle foreign spies must deal with. Police are constantly tracking down and arresting those entering or living in the capital without permission. Legal residence in the capital is not freely granted, mainly because it is a much nicer place to live. There is more of everything, including more hours of electrical power and more economic opportunities for illegal residents. Although the food distributions are only for legal residents, many of those legal residents were helping to support illegal family and friends living in the capital. Since the end of regular food distributions there have been more illegal food markets in the capital and fewer new illegals trying to settle down. There are poor families in the capital and the government is providing some of them with additional food once it is verified that these households are not harboring illegals. This prevents visible signs of starvation but not hunger, which long-time residents have not experienced since the Great Famine of the 1990s. The government is trying to avoid that by getting more food to the capital markets. This will keep prices from rising as fast as in the rest of the country. Those nationwide food prices have fallen recently, reflecting the increased food imports from China.
November 7, 2021: A senior North Korean official recently revealed that 104,000 people were currently in government quarantine facilities because they had symptoms like those infected with covid19. This quarantine policy has been going on since 2020. Mandatory quarantine and e xtremely strict lockdowns are considered necessary because in most of the country there is no treatment for those who catch covid19. This still happens, despite the strict lockdowns and border security. Those suspected of having it, because of flu-like symptoms rather than testing, are quarantined, often under armed guard, for two weeks or more. The only place that any covid19 treatment is available is in Pyongyang and a few provincial capitals.
The solution to all this is seen as a vaccine. Despite efforts to obtain vaccines, North Korea is one of the few nations that has not yet used nationwide vaccination. North Korea sought to buy the same British vaccine that South Korea used but could not afford it. South Korea can produce that vaccine locally (under license) and has offered it to North Korea at no cost. Refusing that, North Korea must import it from India. Vaccine deliveries have still not happened, except for small quantities of vaccines produced and used in Western countries. North Korea will provide the vaccine to senior officials and security forces first. Apparently, hundreds of senior officials and their families have quietly received Western vaccines.
At the end of 2020 North Korea reported that it had carried out 23,000 covid19 tests so far on 11,000 key people and found no cases of covid19. As of this month, North Korea has tested nearly 45,000 people for covid19, many more than once and none tested positive.
Meanwhile the lockdowns are causing starvation and lots of privation and anxiety and there are still cases of covid19, often in quarantine centers where many victims get infected because of poor quarantine measures within the guarded facilities. The government has been sending inspection teams to military bases as well as the military quarantine facilities and issued fines to and demoted commanders of those organizations that were sloppy applying rules meant to prevent the spread of covid19. Some quarantine facilities were shut down completely.