KCTV updates news introduction

August 18th, 2014

Click above to watch the news introduction (Youtube)

On August 14 North Korea’s KCTV launched a new video introduction for its evening news broadcast.

The introduction begins with a global map that zooms in on the Korean peninsula followed by scrolling news clips and ending with “보도” (News).

The appearance of the evening news was last changed in 2012.

Thanks to Martyn Williams for technical help with this post!

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Food imports from China fall in 2014

July 30th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

North Korea’s grain imports from China tumbled more than 50 percent on-year in the first half of this year, data showed Wednesday, amid speculation that relations between the communist allies are not like before.

North Korea imported 58,387 tons of cereal crops from China in the January-June period, down 53 percent from 124,228 tons recorded a year earlier, according to the data by the Korea International Trade Association (KITA).

By type, flour topped the list with 40,142 tons, or 68.8 percent, followed by rice and corn with 13,831 tons and 3,420 tons, respectively, added the Seoul-based agency.

Analysts say the remarkable decrease may be attributable to reportedly strained ties between the two sides in recent months.

“Of late, North Korea has appeared to move to reduce its economic dependence on China and diversify its foreign economic partners,” said Lim Eul-chul, professor at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University.

Kwon Tae-jin, researcher at private think tank GS&J, said it might have been more affected by Pyongyang’s increased crop yield.

“North Korea’s stockpile of crops seems to have grown due to a good harvest last year.

Meanwhile, China’s fertilizer exports to North Korea also plunged 21.3 percent to 109,531 tons during the January-June period this year from a year earlier, said KITA.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s grain imports from China halve in H1
Yonhap
2014-7-30

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Chinese Koreans and cross border trade

July 29th, 2014

According to the Daily NK:

The Hwagyo, North Korea’s community of overseas Chinese, are seeing their value rise in response to demand for assistance transporting cross-border freight for local traders hamstrung by their proscribed freedom of movement, according to a source inside North Korea. The local traders refer to the process as “renting a passport”.

The source in North Pyongan Province reported to Daily NK on July 28th, “Pyongyang Hwagyo are catering to the tastes of middle-class consumers in the city’s markets by taking orders from individuals or by bringing in goods on the behalf of traders.

“The measles outbreak prevented Pyongyang hwagyo in Pyongyang from taking the cross-border train, but recently that ban was lifted so they can come and go from Dandong again.” The measles travel ban was put in place during June in Yongcheon and Sinuiju, but was withdrawn on July 15th.

Hwagyo are treated as citizens in North Korea, carrying the same identification cards as all other residents; however, they are also able to hold Chinese passports, which allows for greater mobility and autonomy than other North Koreans. That is the reason for the high demand; North Korean traders and wholesalers employ them to ensure that their supplies arrive from China.

“Although there are a lot of hwagyo from Sinuiju and elsewhere in Dandong, Pyongyang hwagyo are the ones who get hired the most because the train ends in Pyongyang; This makes it easier to get the goods into circulation, and the procedures there are not as stringent,” the source reported. “This has caused their value to rise.”

“The hwagyo either use their own money to get products to sell in Pyongyang markets directly, or they use money from traders and take 5% of the total upon delivery,” she said. “They take commission for transferring goods from the cross-border trains to merchants in Pyongyang markets.”

“Merchants used to collaborate with train operators coming in from Dandong to bring goods into Sinuiju. However, more are seeking out the hwagyo instead, because it’s cheaper,” the source said.

There is a stipulated limit of 300kg of cargo per person on the train between Dandong and Pyongyang. Excess luggage is possible, but only up to 50kg, and this is charged at 1.50 RMB per kg, according to the source. The ticket for the 5hr 30min ride is 300 RMB, and this must also be factored into the overall freight transit cost.

The train departs at 10:00 daily. Once it arrives in Pyongyang at around 15:30, passengers and freight are subjected to customs procedures, followed by immigration inspections. “Not a single person can leave the train until everyone goes through immigration and officers check their passports and travel visas,” the source recalled.

“Because the staff in Sinuiji Customs House are tough about inspections and are sure to take at least one thing, it’s safer and cheaper to transport goods via the cross-border train,” the source said, concluding, “How funny it is that this place prevents North Korean citizens from moving around freely and ends up making hwagyo richer.”

Read the full story here:
Hwagyo Step in to Dominate Border Trade
Daily NK
Seol Song Ah
2014-07-29

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Eugene Bell offers TB assistance to the DPRK

July 28th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

The Eugene Bell Foundation, which provides medical assistance to the impoverished North, will send 770 million won (US$750,000) worth of TB medication to the communist country, ministry officials said.

In February, the foundation shipped 720 million won worth of TB drugs to the North in an attempt to tackle the growing issue of multidrug-resistant TB in the country.

So far this year, the South has approved 11 shipments of civilian aid worth a combined 2.82 billion won to North Korea.

The latest approval comes after Seoul announced on July 15 that it will provide Pyongyang with humanitarian aid worth 3 billion won through civilian organizations.

It marks Seoul’s first state-funded aid to North Korea since the North torpedoed the South Korean warship Cheonan in the Yellow Sea in 2010, killing 46 sailors. Following the incident, Seoul imposed a blanket ban on cross-border economic and other exchanges.

Read the full story here:
Gov’t OKs civilian medical aid to N. Korea
Yonhap
2014-7-28

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DPRK increases exports of rare earths to China

July 27th, 2014

According to the Korea Times:

North Korea has increased its rare earth exports to China amid worries within the international community that its mineral exports could weaken the effect of sanctions imposed on the reclusive state.

The cash-strapped communist country exported goods to the value of $550,000 and $1.33 million in May and June, respectively, according to the Korea International Trade Association (KITA).

Last January, the North exported elements worth nearly $25,000 to China for the first time and continued them this year. The country has an estimated 20 million tons of rare earth elements.

The North’s resources exploitation have stirred speculation that the impoverished state may further diversify mineral exports to China, where it has previously mostly exported anthracitic and iron ore.

The KITA report identified the changing trend in North Korea’s earnings from mineral exports.

In the first half of this year, earnings from anthracitic and iron ore exports decreased 23 percent and 5 percent, respectively.

These earning deficits were compensated for by exports of rare earth elements. There has been a sharp increase in global demand over the last recent decade because several high-tech devices, including smartphones, and other high technology devices use them in core components. Rare earth elements are a group of 17 elements on the periodic table referred to by the US Department of Energy as “technology metals” because of their use and application.

The communist country relies heavily on mineral exports as a major source of hard currency after international sanctions were imposed on the Pyongyang regime for its continuing missile launches and testing of nuclear weapons.

Natural resources account for 73 percent of North Korea’s bilateral trade with China in 2012. The North exports 11 million tons of anthracitic to China annually.

Yonhap coverage:

North Korea exported rare-earth elements worth $1.87 million to China from May to June, resuming outbound shipments of the crucial industrial minerals to its key ally and economic benefactor in 15 months, data showed Sunday.

North Korea shipped rare-earth minerals worth $550,000 and $1.32 million to China in May and June, respectively, which amounted to a total of 62,662 kilograms, according to the Korea International Trade Association based in Seoul.

The communist regime first exported rare-earth metals worth $24,700 to China in January 2013 and had stopped selling them until recently.

Separately, Pyongyang has sold carbonate-containing rare-earth compounds to China since 2011, but the size of outbound shipments is small, with the total amount is estimated at about $170,000 over a period of three and a half years.

The impoverished nation is known to have large reserves of rare-earth minerals, which are crucial ingredients used in many tech products as well as the military and medical sectors.

The latest move comes as the North has stepped up developing rare-earth deposits to support its moribund economy.

Last year, the North’s state-owned Korea Natural Resources Trading Corporation signed a 25-year deal with British Islands-based private equity firm SRE Minerals Limited to mine deposits in Jongju, northwest of the capital, Pyongyang.

Experts said the recent surge in North Korea’s rare-earth shipments may be part of its attempts to diversify sources of mineral exports, which account about half of its total exports.

The North’s export of anthracite coal fell 23 percent in the first half of this year to $571.2 million from a year ago, while ironstone declined 5 percent to $120 million in the cited period, according to trade data.

“The rare-earth minerals sold to China were valued at $30 per kilogram, and they were considered to be processed iron concentrates or oxidized substances,” said Choi Kyung-soo, chief of the Seoul-based North Korea Resource Institute. “It could be seen as an attempt to diversify items of mineral resource exports, but it remains to be seen whether the North will start exporting large volumes of rare-earth minerals.”

Read the full stories here:
Rare earth elements boost NK income
Korea Times
Kang Hyun-kyung
2014-7-27

N. Korea exports US$1.8 mln worth of rare earth to China in May-June
Yonhap
2014-7-27

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Rice prices starting to increase…

July 25th, 2014

According to the Daily NK:

Market rice prices in North Korea held steady throughout the “farming hardship period” in April and May; however, prices have recently started to rise. In towns near the border, including those in the provinces of Yangkang and North Hamkyung, rice has reached 6,000 KPW per kilo, inside sources report.

“From the end of last week, the cost of rice began to rise, reaching 6,000 KPW,” a source in North Hamkyung Province reported to Daily NK on the 25th. “All five of the markets in Hyesan, including Yunbong, Masan and Hyesan, have seen the same sudden leap.”

“People are used to small fluctuations in rice prices, but they don’t often see a quick 1,000 KPW increase,” she went on.

A source in Yangkang Province confirmed the increase. “Just a few days ago, rice was 5,000 KPW, so imagine my surprise when I went to buy it yesterday,” she said. “It seems that even the sellers don’t know why it happened.”

“They don’t need to be sure why prices have risen; simply, if one raises the price of her rice, the rest will follow suit,” she added.

The source went on to say that she examined conditions across the city on Daily NK’s behalf, checking markets in areas that could have been in a different condition. “Because miners are receiving their rations, I thought maybe prices around mines would be stabler,” she reported, “but in Masan, one of those areas, it was also 6,000 KPW.”

Last month, rice cost 4,300 KPW in Pyongyang, 4,500 KPW in Sinuiji and 5,050 KPW in Hyesan. Moreover, prices actually went down last week, to 4,250 KPW, 4,380 KPW and 4,800 KPW respectively. But now they have increased by 1,000 KPW within a week.

Daily NK sources speculate that the reason for the sharp increase is due to reduced distribution of rice and below-average yield of early new potatoes. Of course, April and May are called the “farming hardship period” for a reason; in other words, supply-side limitations could simply be filtering down to the retail market.

According to the source, local people are concerned that prices could rise to 7,000 KPW, the high point reached during the mourning period for Kim Jong Il at the start of 2012. However, others are less worried, saying, “Since fall is right in front of us, prices won’t rise any more.”

Although rice prices usually vary in accordance with fluctuations in currency exchange rates, recent ups and downs have not followed this pattern. Despite the fact that the North Korean Won is currently 30 KPW stronger per Chinese Yuan higher than it was last month, rice prices have sharply increased.

“In fifteen days, people will harvest barley and have corn that was planted earlier. So rice prices won’t go up any more,” the source in Yangkang Province said. However, the source in North Hamkyung Province voiced the concern that “flooding from the monsoon may influence yields of barley, corn and other grains.”

Analyzing the situation, Kwon Tae Jin of GS&J Institute said, “Rice is never abundant in Hyesan; it must have been affected by drought in eastern parts of China. Travel restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of diseases may have contributed to the increase as well.”

“Once the corn is harvested in August, prices will stabilize for a while. But a poor yield overall could cause them to start rising later,” he predicted.

Read the full story here:
Markets See Quick Spike in Rice Prices
Daily NK
Kang Mi Jin
2014-7-25

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AmeriCares sends aid to the DPRK

July 25th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

A U.S. humanitarian group has sent US$800,000 worth of medical aid to North Korea as part of its continued effort to help the impoverished communist nation, a news report said Friday.

AmeriCares, a nonprofit organization based in Connecticut, shipped a package of medicine, sanitary goods and other medical aid in June, the Voice of America (VOA) reported.

The shipment will arrive at the end of this month, the aid group’s communication director, Donna Porstner, told the VOA.

The supplies will be distributed to six hospitals and clinics in Pyongyang, Pyongan Province, and North Hwanghae Province, it added.

AmeriCares said it delivered $1.8 million in medical assistance to North Korea earlier this year.

“Despite the challenging political context, AmeriCares — in its mission to help people in need irrespective of their race, creed or political persuasion — is committed to helping the people of North Korea, who have suffered from acute food shortages, natural disasters and isolation,” it said on its website, www.americares.org.

“A limited number of economic, political and social ties often means that the country faces shortages of key medical supplies,” it added.

Read the full story here:
U.S. NGO ships US$800,000 worth of medical aid to N. Korea
Yonhap
2014-7-25

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DPRK announces more economic development zones

July 23rd, 2014

According to KCNA:

Economic Development Zones to Be Set up in Provinces of DPRK

Pyongyang, July 23, 2014 17:50 KST (KCNA) — It was decided in the DPRK to establish economic development zones in some areas of Pyongyang, South Hwanghae Province, Nampho City, South and North Phyongan provinces.

Unjong cutting-edge technological development zone will be set up in some areas of Wisong-dong, Kwahak 1-dong and Kwahak 2-dong, Paesan-dong and Ulmil-dong in Unjong District, Pyongyang.

Kangryong international green model zone will be set up in some areas of Kangryong township in Kangryong County, South Hwanghae Province.

Jindo export processing zone will appear in some areas of Jindo-dong and Hwado-ri, Waudo District, Nampho City.

Chongnam industrial development zone will be set up in some areas of Ryongbuk-ri, Chongnam District, South Phyongan Province. Sukchon agricultural development zone will appear in some areas of Unjong-ri, Sukchon County and Chongsu tourist development zone in some areas of Chongsong Workers’ District and Pangsan-ri, Sakju County, North Phyongan Province.

The sovereignty of the DPRK would be exercised in the economic development zones in provinces.

The relevant decree of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly was promulgated on Wednesday.

By my count, this brings the total number of special economic zones and economic development zones to 25. Little visible progress has been made on the zones announced in 2013, though things seem to be happening in Pyongyang. Also, South Phyongan Province now has Economic Development Zones. It had been omitted from previous lists.

Yonhap also reports:

Jin Qiangyi, a professor of Korean studies at Yanbian University, told the state-run China Daily that the move by North Korea is apparently aimed at breathing new life into its moribund economy.

“Many Chinese companies still feel daunted by doing business in the country because there is no clear policy to guarantee investors’ interests,” the newspaper quoted Jin as saying.

However, another Chinese expert, Li Tianguo, a researcher at the National Institute of International Strategy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, was less pessimistic.

Li told the newspaper that the new zones will “have great attraction to Chinese enterprise and bring good opportunities, in particular for businesses with border trade and processing production.”

China’s direct investment into North Korea jumped to US$109.46 million in 2012 from $5.86 million in 2009, the newspaper reported, citing what it called a “2012 Statistical Bulletin of China’s Outward Foreign Direct Investment.”

I have all of the economic Development Zones mapped out on Google Earth.

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Sinuiju SEZ renamed

July 23rd, 2014

Sinuiju-SEZ-2014-2

Pictured Above (Google Earth): The approximate borders of the Sinuiju Special Economic Zone.

According to KCNA:

Special Economic Zone in Sinuiju City to Turn into Sinuiju Int’l Economic Zone

Pyongyang, July 23, 2014 17:40 KST (KCNA) — The DPRK decided to rename the Special Economic Zone in some parts of Sinuiju City, North Phyongan Province, Sinuiju International Economic Zone.

The sovereignty of the DPRK will be exercised in the Sinuiju International Economic Zone.

The relevant decree of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly was promulgated on Wednesday.

Previous posts on the Sinuiju SEZ here and here.

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On the availability of Chinese and North Korean rice

July 22nd, 2014

According to the Daily NK:

As volumes of rice bought and sold in North Korea continue to rise, stores operated by foreign-currency earning entities and market vendors are entering into greater competition for customers, inside sources in North Korea report.

“Goods including rice, beans and flour are flowing in steadily from China,” a source from North Pyongan Province explained. “In the olden days the arrival of July would have meant the worst conditions for rice, but this year there have been no big shifts and prices have stayed stable.”

A second source in North Hamkyung Province corroborated the state of affairs, saying,  “Every day a number of freight trucks loaded with rice come in through the customs house at Hyesan, and there’s the smuggled stuff, too.”

“It used to be the norm for rice to retail in the jangmadang [market]Stores only traded it wholesale,” the North Pyongan Province source went on. “But now stores are retailing it, too. Any time rice comes in through customs, buyers are there lining up to take it.”

“Stores” run under the auspices of foreign-currency earning entities began to spring up Pyongyang and other major cities toward the end of 2006. They were given formal permission to sell rice and corn alongside manufactured goods, thus in effect ending the state’s official dominance of domestic grain circulation.

The rice sold in markets comes from two sources: China, and domestic farms.  Stores mostly sell rice originating in China, whereas market vendors tend to purvey rice from a variety of sources, sources say. The ratio of Chinese to North Korean rice sold in public markets is roughly 6:4.

Lower socio-economic groups and restaurants catering to the general public tend toward Chinese rice, which is plentiful and cheap but considered insufficiently glutinous. On the other hand, affluent groups are the main purchasers of rice grown in North Korea. The stickiness of the product is higher, but so is the price: roughly 500 KPW more per kilo than Chinese varieties.

“First to attract customers, and then to turn them into regular visitors, both shops and markets are competing on price and service,” one source explained. “The stores sell their rice for 100 or 200 KPW less than the jangmadang, but customers there cannot negotiate, and the seller never throws anything in for free.”

However, this appears to be changing. According to the source, stores have now begun to grant greater price autonomy to shop officials, allowing for haggling over price and other forms of value-added.

“Customers can negotiate prices and get home or business delivery if they purchase more than 100kg,” one source reported. “It’s just like in the market now. Shops have started providing extra services, and delivery men, eager as they are to earn money, have started crowding outside storefronts waiting for customers where once they would have waited on the road.”

Read the full story here:
Price War as Stores Take on Nimble Vendors
Daily NK
Seol Song Ah
2014-7-22

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