Not since a deadly famine was ravaging North Korea in 1997 has the country seen its economy contract at such a large rate as it did last year. After a couple of years of growth, the country’s estimated gross domestic product went reeling in the other direction in 2017, shrinking 3.5 percent, according to South Korea’s central bank.
In the absence of reliable public information from Pyongyang, the Seoul-based bank is widely considered the region’s most knowledgeable source on the economic status of its northern neighbor — and bank leaders say the North’s nuclear ambitions and the international penalties that have resulted have done a number on that economic well-being.
U.N. sanctions have targeted sectors of the North Korean economy in recent years, which have also taken a toll on the country’s international trade. Additionally, the U.N. estimates roughly 40 percent of the population is undernourished.
Despite occasional violations, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said Thursday he believes “those sanctions are basically being held.”
All told, these woes are unlike anything seen in North Korea since the mid-1990s, at least on paper. The last time (1997) the country felt an economic contraction sharper than last year’s, North Koreans were clawing their way out of a years-long famine that’s believed to have killed at least 2 million people.