Earlier this year the North Korean dictator warned the country could face a famine comparable with the 1994-1998 disaster, which killed 3.5 million.Internal restrictions are understood to have been introduced amidst unconfirmed reports of coronavirus cases.
As these crises mount, Kim Jong-un has been turning increasingly to the civilian rather than military leadership.
On Thursday North Korean state media released a photo of Kim at his family’s mausoleum, along with other top dignitaries.
All those pictured alongside the dictator are wearing civilian clothes, with military figures further back.
Ri Pyong Chol, a key figure in North Korea’s ballistic weapons programme, is standing several rows behind Kim Jong-un.
He is also wearing civilian clothes, rather than his usual military uniform.
This has sparked speculation he may have been removed from North Korea’s governing politburo Presidium.
Speaking to the Daily Mail Ken Gause, an expert on North Korea at the CAN think tank in Washington DC, argued this shows the military has been de-prioritised.
He said: “The focus internally is on the economy, not the nuclear programme.”
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Officially North Korea has yet to report a single coronavirus case, but there are growing fears of an outbreak after internal travel restrictions were imposed.
When the pandemic began Pyongyang dramatically increased security along its Chinese border, blocking smugglers.
However, due to the country’s inefficient farming, many North Koreans relied in part on food smuggled over the border.
The crackdown has caused widespread food shortages, with fears growing of a 1990s style famine.
In 2020 Kim Jong-un ordered all pet dogs in Pyongyang to be rounded up, describing them as representing capitalist “decadence”.
Some insiders suspect the real reason for this move was to help address food shortages.
A 2017 UN report found 40 percent of the North Korean population is undernourished.
North Korea was founded in 1948 by Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-un’s grandfather.
It was formed from the part of Korea occupied by Soviet forces at the end of WWII.
Between 1950 and 1953 North Korea fought a devastating war with South Korea and a US-led international coalition.