Any improvement in living standards in North Korea looks to be almost entirely focused on the capital, Pyongyang, home to the elite which keeps the Kim family in power.
Kim Jong Un, who took power in North Korea following the death of his father last December, appears to have reinforced policies to bolster the fortunes of the capital, which is home to more than 3 million people, or about 12% of the population.
“Pyongyang is a different planet,” said a 35 year-old Chinese trader who had lived in a small town in North Korea for more than 25 years and regularly visits there, most recently several months ago.
Pyongyang has been dubbed the “Republic of Pyongyang” by outsiders thanks to the lavish perks given to its residents in the form of theme parks, new apartments and renovations, in stark contrast to the rest of the country, where UN data shows a third of children are malnourished.
“In the past, people couldn’t feel the gap between the rich and the poor because of state control. But since that control is loosening up, the gap between those who have and don’t have is widening,” said a Chinese trader who sometimes sells clothes to North Koreans.