Tuesday, 21 Sep 2021

North Korea exports beer made with rice to China after declaring food crisis

North Korea is in the grip of a major famine. Prices of staple crops such as corn and rice have risen sharply in response to shortages caused by severe weather and the Covid crisis.

In a rare admission of weakness, Kim Jong-un himself said in June: "The people's food situation is now getting tense".

But nevertheless, Pyongyang is prioritising exports, with shipments of rice beer worth some $40,000 being exported to China in July alone.

According to figures from China’s customs sources, North Korea exported 163,852 litres of beer to China last month, with orders worth a total of $39,604 [just under £29,000]. That’s equivalent to three months’ worth of exports in 2020.

Simon Cockerell, a manager with Koryo Tours who is familiar with the the Taedonggang brewery where the beer is made, told NK News that while the “optics are bad,” there is not an “inherent contradiction in exporting food products during a food crisis.”

“It depends what is done with the exchange medium itself,” he said, saying that in the longer run the sales might represent “a net gain” for the Kim regime.

Peter Ward, a contributing analyst to NK Pro, said that while there might be a “moral argument” against buying North Korean beer, “especially right now with a food crisis, but,” he added, “there’s also an argument that they can use the money that they earn to help people if they wanted to”.

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“At the end of the day,” Ward explained, “actual impact on the food supply will be minimal – we’re not talking about an amount that would seriously improve or damage the food situation for most North Koreans.”

He also pointed out that the comparatively small sacrifice might serve as a valuable symbol of the closeness between Beijing and Pyongyang.

“They’re exporting this premium (by North Korean standards) product to China — it’s not just raw materials but it’s consumer goods as well — so it does have some symbolic value to the regime to export something like beer to China,” he said.

“In these times, during the global pandemic, they’re still able to connect with Chinese consumers directly.”

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