June 21 (UPI) -- Kim Jong Un ordered thousands of North Korean "housewives" to labor in the rice paddies of Yonbaek County, according to a former South Korean unification minister.
Jeong Se-hyun, the executive vice chair of the National Unification Advisory Council, said in an interview with South Korean broadcaster TBS that Kim ordered the mobilization of 14,000 homemakers to North Hwanghae Province.
Jeong said the instructions were in a special ordinance from the North Korean leader, according to News 1.
Jeong did not reveal his source, but said that in some cases, women were allowed to bring their children. Kim had ordered the creation of a "childcare policy" during planting season, the South Korean politician said.
Kim told subordinates to create "classrooms of care for children" while their mothers went out to the fields to pull weeds or carry water, Jeong said.
The South Korean politician said the ordinance, which has not been disclosed in North Korean state media, is a sign the food situation is dire in North Korea.
The Korea Development Institute has stated the North could be short 1.35 million tons of food because of natural disasters last year. Concerns are growing seasonal typhoons could disrupt the upcoming harvest.
Jeong, a staunch advocate of engagement, said that North Korea's food crisis should be a point of discussion in potential negotiations. The politician told TBS if the United States or South Korea do not act, China could fill the void.
China has played a crucial role in trade with North Korea during its months of isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the North also has kept its border mostly closed in 2021.
China's top diplomat to Pyongyang played up bilateral ties Monday.
In an article in North Korea's Rodong Sinmun, Chinese Ambassador Li Jinjun called on his North Korean readers to "build together a beautiful future."
Li also said bilateral ties with Pyongyang "stands at a new starting point" and that China "looks forward to strengthening strategic communication, expanding practical cooperation."
Li was expected to be replaced this year by Wang Yajun, a senior official of Chinese Communist Party. Wang's appointment has not been confirmed since initial reports in February.