North Korea’s latest drive to revive its ailing economy — a 150-day productivity campaign spearheaded by leader Kim Jong-il — is doomed to failure, analysts and observers say.
The campaign is part of a drive to become a “great, powerful and prosperous nation” by 2012 but is being hampered by decrepit factories, power shortages, a lack of raw materials and international sanctions.
Public discontent is growing as officials crack down on private business to push people to take part in the campaign, analysts say.
The drive to raise productivity especially in the metal, power, coal, machinery, agriculture and construction sectors, is similar to numerous mass mobilizations of the past.
“However, economic development based on mobilization of domestic labor is no longer reflective of the daily lives of North Koreans, creating conflict between residents and authorities,” the Seoul-based Institute for Far Eastern Studies said in a recent report.
The 150-day effort, due to end in October, could not succeed without essential changes to the state-directed economy, said Ko Yuh-hwan, a professor at Seoul’s Dongguk University.
He said a prolonged nuclear standoff, which led to intensified international pressure and sanctions, was an added complication.
“Despite all-out efforts to raise production, the campaign has failed to present tangible results due to lack of materials and resources,” Koh said.
It has created more difficulties for ordinary people and led to tightened controls over free markets, Koh said.
The institute said the campaign was only making citizens angrier, after officials cracked down on the sale of banned goods in markets and by street vendors.
“That has had a devastating impact on the poverty-stricken urban vendors that live hand-to-mouth,” it said.
Travel restrictions and home inspections had also been stepped up, leading to growing complaints by residents, the institute said.
“These days, as rumors spread of a 100-day Battle to continue where the 150-day Battle leaves off, citizen complaints about North Korean authorities continue to grow.”
Park Sun-song, an expert in the North’s economy from Dongguk University, said the campaign failed to lay the foundations for an economic turnaround.
The North suffered famine in the 1990s that killed hundreds of thousands and still needs foreign aid to help feed its 24 million people.
South Korea’s central bank says the North’s economy expanded 3.7 percent last year after two years of contraction.
But this resulted from temporary factors such as a good harvest and foreign energy aid under a deal reached at six-nation nuclear talks, it said.
“It is difficult to say that North Korea’s economic growth momentum has improved internally,” the central bank said in a report.
Park said industry still struggles with decrepit plants, shortages of power and a lack of raw materials.
The Daily NK, a Seoul-based online newspaper run by activists, said results of the campaign were “unimpressive” even at plants visited by leader Kim as part of his trademark “field guidance” tours.
“As time has gone by, productivity has fallen, so even cadres have grown discouraged,” it quoted a source in the northeastern province of North Hamkyung as saying.
The source, giving one example, said the Hoiryeing Shoe Factory had operated fully for just two full days so far — at the opening ceremony in 2007 and when Kim visited.
An unreliable electricity supply meant the firm had won no orders from China which supplied its machinery, the source was quoted as saying.
“Other factories cannot work due to a lack of raw materials and resources, let alone electricity,” the source said.
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