Kim Jong Un likens North Korea's economic troubles to catastrophic 1990s famine

Kim Jong Un appears on a news broadcast.
(Image credit: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP via Getty Images)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Thursday compared his country's economic struggles to the devastating 1990s famine that left hundreds of thousands of people dead.

The Korean Central News Agency reports that while speaking to lower-level Workers' Party of Korea members, Kim said there are "many obstacles and difficulties ahead of us," and it's up to everyone in the WPK to "wage another ... arduous march in order to relieve our people of the difficulty, even a little." Earlier in the week, he told party members the country is facing its "worst-ever situation."

Due to the coronavirus pandemic and sanctions over North Korea's nuclear program, Kim is facing his most difficult test as leader, foreign experts told The Associated Press. China is North Korea's biggest trading partner, but with the border closed because of the pandemic, that partnership has been crippled. In January, Kim told party officials the country needed to rely more on domestic manufacturing and less on imports.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Food is needed in North Korea, but monitoring groups told AP there are no signs of mass starvation taking place. There were several driving forces behind the 1990s famine, including natural disasters, mismanagement, and the loss of aid from the Soviet Union, and experts told AP it's unlikely there would be another famine today, because China would first offer assistance in order to keep North Korean refugees from entering the country.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.

Catherine Garcia

Catherine Garcia is night editor for Her writing and reporting has appeared in Entertainment Weekly and, The New York Times, The Book of Jezebel, and other publications. A Southern California native, Catherine is a graduate of the University of Redlands and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.