The hermit kingdom’s economy is one of the world’s “most centrally directed and least open as it faces “chronic economic problems”, according to the CIA World Factbook. Supreme leader Kim Jong-un relies heavily on aid packages from abroad, as well as a disproportionate amount of trade with China, accounting for 67.2 percent of the country’s exports and 61.6 percent of imports. Much of the country’s external income is thought to be derived from the black market.
This mainly revolves around the sales of weapons to war torn countries.
And while the country’s capital, Pyongyang, has prospered in recent years, much of the North’s remaining population live outside the city – 23 million – live in abject poverty.
In 2018, two North Korean residents spoke to Victoria Derbyshire’s ‘Life Inside: Voices from North Korea’, about the struggles of life in the dictatorship.
One woman, a market trader, said: “People say Kim Jong-un acts the same as us, but he takes away our money.”
Her identity was hidden, as if the North Korea authorities found out that she had spoken out – especially to a Western media outlet – she and her family would have faced imprisonment in one of the country’s notorious labour camps.
The woman added: “People cannot survive in the prison camps.
“Once you go there you are no longer a citizen.
“I think this terror is what keeps society going.”
The North is believed to have a GDP per capita – a person’s yearly income – of just $506 (£380).
And while the UN has banned all sales of arms by North Korea, an intricate network of indirect sales and middlemen keep the country afloat – a 2014 UN report finding that Syria, Myanmar, Eritrea, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Somalia and Iran were all suspected to have bought weapons from North Korea.
The country also amasses millions in digital bank heists.
Despite this, the majority of North Koreans continue to live in sub-par conditions.
According to a 2018 study, 60 percent of the population are living in absolute poverty – a category in which families find it near impossible to secure water, food and shelter.
As a result, many citizens have turned to trading in the country’s internal black market – illegal drugs, foreign currencies and products.
The woman who spoke to the Victoria Derbyshire programme said she started every day by calling a contact who ran the local black market to find out the rates of exchange.
Meanwhile, a Guardian report today claimed the British Government sourced personal protective equipment (PPE) from factories in China where hundreds of North Korean woman have been secretly working in conditions of modern slavery.
The women are said to have worked for up to 18 hours a day with little or not time off, constantly under surveillance.
It is thought that around 70 percent of their wages was seized by the North Korea government.