N. Korea increases virus budget after partial border opening

Feb 7, 2022, 8:47 PM | Updated: 8:56 pm

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea plans to increase its government spending on pandemic measures by one-third this year to carry out leader Kim Jong Un’s calls for a more “advanced and people-oriented” virus response, state media said Tuesday.

The budget plans were passed during a session of Pyongyang’s rubber-stamp parliament on Sunday and Monday, which came weeks after the North tentatively restarted its railroad freight traffic with China following two years of extreme border closures and economic decay.

Kim had hinted at broader changes to the country’s pandemic response during a political conference in December, when he called for a transition toward advanced anti-virus measures based on a “scientific foundation.”

The Korean Central News Agency said North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly passed plans to increase spending on anti-virus measures by 33.3% compared to last year. The report didn’t describe those spending plans in monetary terms.

Kim Tok Hun, premier of North Korea’s Cabinet, a key institution handling economic policies, described the North’s pandemic response as the top priority in state affairs, but also that the measures will be “put on a scientific basis to guarantee the security of the country and the people,” KCNA said.

It appeared Kim Jong Un did not attend the parliamentary session and state media didn’t mention any comments by senior officials toward Washington or Seoul amid a deepening diplomatic freeze.

Kim in recent political speeches has vowed to further bolster his nuclear arsenal. KCNA said 15.9% of the North’s total government spending last year was invested in the nuclear weapons program and the same percentage of its budget this year would go to expanding military capabilities.

Cheong Seong-Chang, an analyst at South Korea’s private Sejong Institute, said North Korea’s description of its budget clearly reflected its plans to gradually expand trade and other exchanges with China, its main ally and economic lifeline, while reshaping its virus response. He said the North could possibly adopt China’s approach of sealing certain regions to stem transmissions, instead of locking down its entire country.

North Korea still claims to have a perfect record in keeping out COVID-19 from its territory — a claim widely doubted. But the closure of its border to nearly all trade and visitors for two years further shocked an economy already damaged by decades of mismanagement and crippling U.S.-led sanctions over Kim’s nuclear weapons and missile program.

The North’s resumption of railroad freight traffic with China last month came between a flurry of missile tests clearly aimed at pressuring the Biden administration over stalled nuclear diplomacy, which some experts say possibly shows the urgent need for outside relief.

The border reopening possibly shows the North is exploring more sustainable ways to deal with the coronavirus threat that may go on for years. It could also provide glimpse into the North’s plans for vaccines against COVID-19.

North Korea so far has shunned vaccines offered by the U.N.-backed COVAX distribution program, possibly because those have international monitoring requirements. But some experts say the North may still seek the help of China and Russia to provide regular testing and vaccinations of workers and troops in border areas, where access from other regions will be tightly restricted.

North Korea’s resumed trade with China will almost certainly be driven by imports as much of the country’s major export activities are banned under international sanctions tightened since 2016, when Kim began accelerating weapons development. The country needs fertilizers to boost food production, construction materials to support Kim’s ambitious development projects and factory goods to spur industrial production decimated by the two years of halted trade.

Still, North Korea’s trade with China is expected to be significantly smaller compared to pre-pandemic levels.

North Korea likely doesn’t have enough foreign currency reserves to swiftly purchase a huge amount of goods, considering the toll of sanctions and pandemic-related difficulties. It would also be a major policy mistake to expand imports too quickly when an explosion in pent-up demand could further destabilize a fragile economy, experts say.

“It seems North Korea’s employing a ‘taste and test’ approach – it will continue to reopen its border in phases if the COVID-19 situation stabilizes but seal itself again if the virus situation worsens,” said Kim Byung-yeon, a professor of economics at Seoul National University. “It’s also likely that the state will try to enforce greater control over trade compared to the past and clampdown on activities like smuggling, so the trade activity likely won’t be as dynamic as it once was.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

Liz Weston: 3 lessons I wish I’d learned sooner about travel

Almost every trip teaches me something about myself, the world and what not to do next time. Here are three hard-won travel lessons that may help you learn from my mistakes. COBBLING TOGETHER FLIGHTS ISN’T WORTH THE SAVINGS Whenever possible, I book nonstop flights. Nonstops may cost a bit more, but they avoid the inconvenience […]
4 hours ago
FILE - Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., listens as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley...
Associated Press

Vermont U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy breaks hip, to have surgery

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont has broken a hip in a fall at his home and was to undergo surgery to repair it, his office said Thursday. The 82-year-old Democrat fell Wednesday night in McLean, Virginia, the statement said. Doctors determined the best course of action would be to have […]
4 hours ago
Pediatrician Emy Jean-Marie, center, holds her nine-month-old son Adedeji Adebayo, Emiola Adebayo, ...
Associated Press

WHO: COVID-19 cases rising nearly everywhere in the world

GENEVA (AP) — The number of new coronavirus cases rose by 18% in the last week, with more than 4.1 million cases reported globally, according to the World Health Organization. The U.N. health agency said in its latest weekly report on the pandemic that the worldwide number of deaths remained relatively similar to the week […]
4 hours ago
Associated Press

Belgium chocolate factory shut after salmonella infection

BRUSSELS (AP) — A huge Belgian chocolate factory has halted production after detecting salmonella in a batch of chocolates. The Barry Callebaut company said Thursday that its plant in Wieze – which it says is the world’s largest chocolate factory – shut down all production lines as a precaution while the contamination is investigated. Barry […]
4 hours ago
Associated Press

Sweden’s central bank raises interest rate to hit inflation

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Sweden’s central bank raised a key interest rate by half a percentage point Thursday to combat rapidly rising inflation and price increases that are spreading through the economy. Riksbanken said that it decided to raise the policy rate to 0.75% to try to prevent high inflation from becoming entrenched. “The imbalances […]
4 hours ago
Follow @ktar923...
Sponsored Content by Arizona Department of Health Services

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.

Sponsored Articles

...
Dr. Richard Carmona

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.
...
Arizona Division of Problem Gambling

Arizona Division of Problem Gambling provides exclusion solution for young sports bettors

Sports betting in Arizona opened a new world to young adults, one where putting down money on games was as easy as sending a text message.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

ADHS mobile program brings COVID-19 vaccines and boosters to Arizonans

The Arizona Department of Health Services and partner agencies are providing even more widespread availability by making COVID-19 vaccines available in neighborhoods through trusted community partners.
N. Korea increases virus budget after partial border opening