April 19 (UPI) -- North Korea ramped up purchases of Chinese imports, including essential goods and chemical fertilizers, according to a South Korean press report.
Data from the General Administration of Chinese Customs showed North Korea imported more than $12.9 million of goods from China in March, a huge jump from $3,000 in February. The March data indicates North Korean imports of goods from China surpassed $10 million for the first time in six months, Yonhap reported Monday.
A Yonhap source told the South Korean news service that it is likely Pyongyang allowed in shipments of fertilizer after shutting its border for more than a year. Last year the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service said the majority of North Koreans are struggling with food insecurity.
The report of the spike in imports comes after a Chinese analyst said North Korea could be preparing for spring seeding season.
Lu Chao, a Chinese analyst at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told the South China Morning Post last week that China and North Korea are likely to engage in relatively low levels of trade with imports limited to fertilizer, tractors and agricultural machinery parts.
The coronavirus pandemic has had an adverse impact on North Korea's ability to trade with China, its most important economic partner. According to Yonhap, North Korea imported from China about $186.85 million worth of goods in January 2020, before the border closure. In February the country imported $10.35 million.
North Korean exports have yet to recover, however. The regime's exports to China stood at about $1.3 million in March, down from $1.75 million in February.
Kim Jong Un could be seeking to keep the North Korean population isolated through a "politics of fear" as the leader responds to changes in North Korean society.
Park Young-ja, a research fellow at Seoul's Korea Institute for National Unification, said in a report on the recent Workers' Party cell conference that Kim could be anxious about an "inherent systemic crisis" in North Korea. More North Koreans could be learning the "taste of money and freedom" in changing times, News 1 reported Monday.