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AS ECONOMY GROWS, NORTH KOREA'S GRIP ON SOCIETY IS TESTED

Aruba, May 2, 2017 - Despite decades of sanctions and international isolation, the economy in North Korea is showing surprising signs of life.

Scores of marketplaces have opened in cities across the country since the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, took power five years ago. A growing class of merchants and entrepreneurs is thriving under the protection of ruling party officials. Pyongyang, the capital, has seen a construction boom, and there are now enough cars on its once-empty streets for some residents to make a living washing them.
 
Reliable economic data is scarce. But recent defectors, regular visitors and economists who study the country say nascent market forces are beginning to reshape North Korea — a development that complicates efforts to curb Mr. Kim’s nuclear ambitions.
 
Even as President Trump bets on tougher sanctions, especially by China, to stop the North from developing nuclear-tipped missiles capable of striking the United States, the country’s improving economic health has made it easier for it to withstand such pressure and to acquire funds for its nuclear program.
 
While North Korea remains deeply impoverished, estimates of annual growth under Mr. Kim’s rule range from 1 percent to 5 percent, comparable to some fast-growing economies unencumbered by sanctions.
 
But a limited embrace of market forces in what is supposed to be a classless society also is a gamble for Mr. Kim, who in 2013 made economic growth a top policy goal on par with the development of a nuclear arsenal.
 
 

By orbitalnets.com