Civilian life is grinding to a halt across North Korea as the nation runs out of rubber tyres, according to reports.
While the shortages appear to have primarily affected the lives of ordinary citizens, Radio Free Asia reported on Friday, they may soon start to impact the military and vehicles used by senior members of the regime.
North Korea has seen stockpiles of tyres dwindle after it ordered the closure of the border with China in February 2020 in an attempt to keep the coronavirus pandemic at bay. The border has remained firmly sealed ever since, despite worsening shortages of food, medicines and a range of other everyday goods.
The drastic measure has also blocked imports of raw materials and components required to build vehicles in the North, with the Daily NK news site reporting as early as March last year that production lines at the flagship Sungri Motor Complex had been mothballed because no new tyres were available for its mid-size trucks.
The plant had previously been featured heavily in North Korean propaganda as one of the regime’s few success stories, with Kim Jong-un visiting in 2017 to test a newly completed truck.
“New tyres are very rare and even used tyres are hard to find”, an official of a transport company in North Hamgyong province told RFA.
“Tyre shortages have occurred in the past, but it is extremely difficult to find them these days, just as it was during the Arduous March”, the official said, likening the present situation in the North to the economic collapse in the mid-1990s that led to famine and the starvation of as many as 3.5 million of the nation’s 21 million citizens.
State-owned companies are cannibalising their vehicles for parts and applying patches taken from salvaged tyres to keep trucks operational.
North Korea launched two more guided missiles on Friday, the fourth launches in just over a week. State-run media has not yet released details of the tests, but the North Korean military has in recent years been producing nine-axled transporter-erector-launcher vehicles that are more difficult to track.