In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, centre, participates in groundbreaking ceremonies for new housing and farming projects in Pyongyang, North Korea Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023. Image Credit: AP

Seoul: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has broken ground on a large greenhouse project and the development of 10,000 apartments, state media reported on Thursday, highlighting the construction projects amid foreign suspicion of food shortages.

Neighbouring South Korea said on Wednesday that a food crisis appeared to be worsening in the North, and the South’s DongA Ibo newspaper reported that North Korea had cut rations to its soldiers for the first time in more than two decades.

North Korea has not confirmed any food shortages but its ruling party has scheduled a meeting for late February for what state media said was the “very important and urgent task to establish the correct strategy for the development of agriculture”.

The North’s state-run KCNA news agency in its report on the ground-breaking ceremonies in the capital, Pyongyang, cited an official who said the greenhouse construction would be a model for overcoming “present difficulties”.

Kim’s presence at that event, according to KCNA, demonstrated his “ceaseless journey of devoted service for the people to build a highly civilised thriving country, a socialist paradise on this land full of the people’s laugh and happiness”.

The housing development, meanwhile, would be “another luxurious street of socialism full of the people’s happiness”, KCNA said in a separate report.

The isolated country is under strict international sanctions over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes and in recent years its limited border trade was virtually choked off by self-imposed lockdowns aimed at preventing COVID-19.

In recent months North Korea has reopened freight rail services with China and Russia, and on Thursday, Japan’s Nikkei newspaper reported that trucks had also begun crossing between the Chinese city of Hunchun and North Korea’s Rason.

Asked about the reported resumption of transport of goods via truck at the Hunchun-Rason border crossing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said he had nothing to add to China’s position on trade resumption.

“Both sides will resolve via consultation matters related to border port cooperation, in accordance with bilateral port agreements and other pacts pertaining to the border,” he told a regular briefing.