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International relations

Border lockdown strains North Korean economy to breaking point

Shortages amid plunging trade could force Pyongyang to seek help from China

North Korean President Kim Jong Un at the Workers' Party Congress in Pyongyang: the isolated regime faces a major economic setback from closing its border with China over the coronavirus.   © KCNA via Reuters

SEOUL -- The shutdown of the border between China and North Korea is testing the limits of Pyongyang's commitment to "self-reliance" as shortages of food, electricity and vital goods contribute to an increasingly severe economic crisis.

North Korea is producing around a million tons less in food grains than the annual demand of 5.5 million tons, according to South Korea's National Intelligence Service. The North is truncating soldiers' terms of service by one or two years to send more labor to short-handed production sites, the NIS says.

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