Rising food prices sap North Koreans’ holiday cheer ahead of Lunar New Year

The holiday spirit in North Korea is at a low ebb as higher prices for meat, rice and other foods make celebrating the Lunar New Year a costly affair, sources in the country told Radio Free Asia.

The Lunar New Year, along with the autumn harvest Chuseok festival, are the two most important holidays in Korean culture, when extended families gather for jesa, a ceremony and feast that honors ancestors.

“We have to prepare for the Lunar New Year holiday, but prices are rising steeply, so the hearts of ordinary residents are heavy,” a resident of the northeastern province of North Hamgyong told RFA’s Korean Service on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

Over the past month, rice prices jumped 27%, corn rose 17%, and pork, which was already very expensive and unaffordable for most people, climbed 11%. Other items like cooking oil and chili powder also saw significant price hikes.

“Residents who went to the market to buy meat for the holiday are discouraged,” the source said. “They complain that prices always go up when the holidays come around, so they wish there were no holidays.”

Fruit for the elite

But even as most ordinary people struggle, the government is importing tons of Chinese fruit – lychees, pineapples and mangoes – to be given to high-ranking officials in the capital of Pyongyang.

Attractive piles of fruit are a key part of the jesa ceremony, but even more ordinary fruit has become scarce and expensive in North Korea because of an import ban imposed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic three years ago.

Various fruits have been shipped into North Korea in huge amounts on the Dandong-Sinuiju freight train since yesterday,” a North Korea-related source in the Chinese border city of Dandong told RFA’s Korean Service on Tuesday on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

The source said that “southern fruits” are in most of the shipments, meaning that the fruits are cultivated in southern China and are seen as exotic and special. In South Korea, the term is used to refer to fruits like lychee, mangosteen or durian, but in North Korea, bananas and pineapples are rare enough to also fit the bill.

“This is the first time that North Korean trading companies imported southern fruits in such large quantities since the coronavirus crisis began,” the Dandong source said. “The North Koreans have been saying that the southern fruits will be gifted to officials in Pyongyang on Lunar New Year’s Day.”

The source said that one 17-car freight train left Dandong headed toward Sinuiju on the North Korean side of the Yalu River that day, and two of the cars were loaded to the brim with tangerines, bananas and pineapples, likely amounting to about 120 tons of fruit in total.

Police and bribes

Meanwhile, on the streets local officials are trying to enforce price controls to mitigate inflation. But sources say that merchants are able to bribe the police when they are caught raising prices.

During the holiday season, the markets are usually bustling with customers scrambling to get all the food they need for a proper jesa, but not this year, a resident of the northwestern province of North Pyongan province told RFA on condition of anonymity to speak freely. 

“The usual holiday atmosphere … is nowhere to be seen. When residents check the price of items they want to buy, they just seem hesitant,” she said. “Ordinary residents are in such a difficult situation. Their resentment towards the authorities … is increasing day by day.” 

Translated by Claire Shinyoung Oh Lee and Leejin J. Chung. Written in English by Eugene Whong. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

China Handed Over Additional Three Million Doses Of COVID-19 Vaccine To Myanmar

YANGON, China handed over an additional three million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Myanmar, according to a statement from the Chinese Embassy in Myanmar.

Speaking at the handover ceremony in Yangon, the Chinese Ambassador to Myanmar, Chen Hai said, China and Myanmar have a long history of “Paukphaw” (fraternal) friendship. It rapidly delivered the new batch of COVID-19 vaccine to Myanmar upon a request from Myanmar.

China will continue to deepen cooperation with Myanmar in various fields, including health, he added.

Myanmar’s Union Minister for Health, Thet Khaing Win, expressed gratitude to China for the assistance.

The newly-aided vaccines will be used as booster shots for school-aged children, and the elderly with chronic diseases, he added.

Myanmar people were mainly vaccinated with Chinese COVID-19 vaccines, he said, adding that, the friendly cooperation between the two countries will achieve new development, in the new year.

Source: Nam News Network

Why Vietnam Is Celebrating the Year of the Cat, Not the Rabbit

As China gears up to welcome the Year of the Rabbit, Lunar New Year looks slightly different in Vietnam, where the Year of the Cat is about to begin.

Across the country, streets are decked out with statues of felines and shops are stocked full of cat-themed decorations, popular gifts during Vietnamese New Year, known as Tet.

Vietnam and neighboring China share 10 of the zodiac calendar’s 12 signs — the rat, tiger, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.

But the Vietnamese honor the cat instead of the rabbit, and the buffalo instead of the ox.

There are a host of theories to explain why the Vietnamese opted for the cat.

Nguyen Hieu Tin, an expert on traditional Vietnamese culture, said the answer may lie in the rice fields prized by farmers.

“Rice is a huge part of Vietnam’s agriculture, but with the threat of many rats in the fields, the cats [that hunt them] are a popular animal for the Vietnamese,” he told AFP.

“Another explanation is that the Vietnamese don’t want to observe two years with a similar animal. They see the mouse and the rabbit as being closely linked,” Tin said.

There is also a theory the Vietnamese made their own interpretation of the Chinese word for rabbit, “mao.” In Vietnamese, this sounds like “meo,” which means cat.

The Year of the Cat is believed to bring good luck and smooth sailing in Vietnam.

Hoang Thi Huong Giang, an office worker in Hanoi, a city filled with traditional orange kumquat trees and pink blossoms ahead of Tet, said she had never paid attention to the reasons that Vietnamese honored a different zodiac animal to the rest of the world.

But she believes that those who were born in the Year of the Cat, like her, have things easier than most.

“It seems to be true that those who are born in the Year of the Cat are often more active, hard-working and easy to get on with,” Giang said proudly.

Source: Voice of America

China reopening, improved domestic economic sentiment set to lift Malaysian ringgit next week

KUALA LUMPUR, China’s continuing reopening narrative and the improved domestic economic sentiment, due to the decision to maintain the overnight policy rate (OPR) at 2.75 per cent, will keep the Malaysian ringgit supported next week, a dealer said.

SPI Asset Management managing director Stephen Innes said China is the largest export market for most regional economies and positive news from the mainland should significantly improve the trade outlook.

“I expect the US dollar-ringgit exchange rate to be between 4.2650 and 4.2950 next week and I upgrade my year-end call for the currency’s rate to the 4.10-level from the current expectation of 4.20.

“I might revise it higher to the 4.00-level depending on China’s consumption post-pandemic and the property market progress after the Chinese New Year,” he told Bernama.

He emphasised that Malaysia would be a big beneficiary since a big percentage of Malaysia’s exports end up in China, and this would definitely support the local currency.

On the domestic front, Innes reckons that the political risk premium built into the currency since 2018 is now evaporating, and with Malaysian exporters reducing greenback holdings, the ringgit is set to go higher.

“So for next week, exporters may cut down on the US dollar following Philadelphia Federal Reserve president Patrick Harker’s statement for the US central bank to move to a slower pace of interest rate rise,” he said.

The ringgit ended the week mostly higher as market sentiment improved due to domestic and global factors.

On a week-on-week basis, the ringgit was stronger against the US dollar at 4.2830/2875 on Friday from 4.3325/3375 a week earlier.

The local note also strengthened against a basket of major currencies versus a week earlier.

It was higher against the British pound at 5.2861/2916 from 5.2973/3035, the euro at 4.6393/6442 from 4.6986/7040, the Japanese yen at 3.3073/3111 from 3.3703/3744 and the Singapore dollar at 3.2386/2425 from 3.2782/2825.

Source: Nam News Network

Singapore, Malaysia to sign MOC in digital, green economy

DAVOS (Switzerland), Malaysia and Singapore are set to sign a memorandum of cooperation (MOC) in digital and green economy, the first for Putrajaya amid the growth potential in both sectors, Minister of International Trade and Industry Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz said.

Digital trade is among the fastest-growing trades and will surpass physical trade by 2025, he acknowledged.

“In fact, we are hoping to conclude our first MOC in digital and green economy with our neighbour Singapore and will be witnessed by both countries’ prime ministers soon,” he told Bernama at the end of the World Economic Forum (WEF) 2023 here.

Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim is scheduled to make his official first visit to the city-state at the end of January.

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had invited Anwar to visit Singapore after the latter was sworn in as Malaysia’s 10th Prime Minister.

Tengku Zafrul said the discussion with Singapore on the MOC in digital trade and green economy started last year and has been presented to the Cabinet, which has given its approval for it to be concluded soon.

“In short, this is the beginning as we are also in talks with other countries,” he said.

Asked if Malaysia will also take a multilateral approach in digital and green economy trade deals, the minister said: “Of course. Whatever needs to be done quickly, we do it first. It has to be done concurrently.

“We are also a member of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, many other Asean free trade agreements and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. But the first one will be bilateral.”

According to a WEF article, the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement between Chile, New Zealand and Singapore is the first digital-only trade agreement open to all World Trade Organisation (WTO) members, and the first to be signed electronically in June 2020.

It was designed to complement the WTO negotiations on e-commerce and digital economy work underway within other international forums such as the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation and Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The most recent digital economy agreement is the United Kingdom-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement, which entered into force in June 2022 after only six months of negotiations.

Without revealing more details, Tengku Zafrul said he will also be part of the delegation during the Prime Minister’s visit to Singapore.

“Singapore is very important to Malaysia and vice versa. It is good to continue this level of engagement. I won’t want to pre-empt the details. Suffice it to say, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (Miti) is looking forward, together with my counterpart in Singapore, to signing the MOC,” he said.

Singapore’s Minister for Trade and Industry is Gan Kim Yong.

According to data by Miti released recently, Singapore accounted for Malaysia’s largest value of exports among ASEAN nations at RM232.57 billion (US$54.3 billion) in 2022, followed by Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia were the top three export destinations in 2022, accounting for 78.3 per cent of Malaysia’s total exports to ASEAN.

Exports to almost all ASEAN countries registered a new record high.

Source: Nam News Network

Bursa Malaysia likely to be muted next week

KUALA LUMPUR, Bursa Malaysia, the stock exchange of Malaysia, is expected to be muted in the upcoming holiday-shortened trading week despite the FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI (FBM KLCI) finally breaking the stubborn 1,500 resistance on Friday, dealers said.

Rakuten Trade Sdn Bhd vice-president of equity research Thong Pak Leng said the benchmark index was projected to hover in the 1,490-1,505 region next week.

For this week, he said, the FBM KLCI ended marginally higher on Friday in tandem with the strong regional market performance.

“Regionally, key indices showed some resilience despite a selloff on Wall Street overnight. China and Hong Kong stocks have picked up strength as the People’s Bank of China kept its monetary policy unchanged.

“We foresee the reopening of China’s economy and borders to have a positive economic impact on regional economies and attract US dollar investments into the region, as global investors are concerned about the value of the US equities and US dollar,” he told Bernama.

Another dealer said for next week, the FBM KLCI would also gain some support from several positive catalysts this week, including Bank Negara Malaysia’s decision to maintain the Overnight Policy Rate (OPR) on Thursday.

“As expected, the central bank maintained the OPR at 2.75 per cent, hence signaling more funds may start to look at the stock market,” he said.

On a week-to-week basis, the key index rose 5.3 points to 1,500.33 on Friday against 1,495.03 a week earlier.

On the index board, the FBM Emas Index climbed 56.68 points to 10.842.48, the FBM Emas Shariah Index gained 116.90 points to 11,093.62, and the FBMT 100 Index added 51.21 points to 10,533.78.

Meanwhile, the FBM ACE Index increased 100.60 points to 5,556.08 and the FBM 70 Index rose 125.98 points to 13,506.65.

Sector-wise, the Industrial Products and Services Index inched up 3.07 points to 188.36 and the Plantation Index trimmed 41.49 points to 6,881.42. The Financial Services Index dropped 86.02 points to 16,535.13 while the Energy Index bagged 22.87 points to 845.81.

Weekly turnover fell to 14.28 billion units worth RM9.63 billion (US$1=RM4.29) against 16.92 billion units worth RM10.77 billion last week.

The Main Market volume shrank to 8.87 billion shares valued at RM7.42 billion from 10.35 billion shares valued at RM8.25 billion a week ago.

Warrants volume slipped to 1.52 billion units worth RM294.96 million from 1.56 billion units worth RM354.78 million previously.

The ACE Market volume declined to 3.88 billion shares worth RM1.91 billion from 5.03 billion shares worth RM2.16 billion last week.

Bursa Malaysia has announced that the stock exchange operator and all its subsidiaries would be closed on Monday and Tuesday next week in conjunction with the Chinese New Year holiday, and business would resume on Wednesday, Jan 25.

Source: Nam News Network