The North Korean Economy in April 2019: Sanctions Are Pinching—But Where and How Much?

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Wonsan-Kalma and the North Korean Economy

What does one single resort construction project on North Korea’s east coast say about the state of the country’s economy?[1] Quite a bit, perhaps: it’s not just North Korea’s low exports that are causing problems. A bigger issue is importing goods for industrial production and construction. Kim Jong Un claimed as recently as last week that he isn’t “desperate” for sanctions relief. That may be true. After all, the North Korean regime’s threshold for economic pain is quite high. But looking at the data, there is no denying that sanctions are hurting North Korea. The only question is how much.

In early April, Kim Jong Un visited the Wonsan-Kalma Coastal Tourist Area construction site. According to an April 6 report in North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Kim decided to extend the construction deadline by over a year to April 15, 2020, the day of Kim Il Sung’s birthday. Rather than “push forward the construction of the Wonsan-Kalma coastal tourist area in a hurried way to finish till the Party founding anniversary this year,” Kim said that postponing would be better, so that workers could “perfectly finish it.”

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