New satellite imagery of Pyongyang (2014-9-21)

October 31st, 2014

Google has offered some beautiful new satellite imagery of the Pyongyang area dated September 21, 2014. The imagery shows the Pyongyang region remains an area undergoing tremendous transformation that has taken place over the last decade. Below I have highlighted some of the more interesting changes that have appeared in the last few months.

1. The nearly completed Wisong (Satellite) Scientist Street (위성과학자거리) in Unjong District, Pyongyang: 39.231244°, 125.870377°

Wisong-Scientist-Street-competed-2014-9-21

The Satellite Scientist Street is in Unjong District next to the State Academy of Sciences and inside the newly-announced Unjong Cutting-Edge Technological Development Zone. The area is approximately 900m x 360m and consists of 24 residential blocks (each seven stories, appx 13m x 80m) of alternating green and yellow. There are also approximately eight parks (of one kind or another), nursery, kindergarten, primary school, junior secondary school, standard North Korean retail outlets, hospital, polyclinic, health complex, greenhouses and vegetable gardens. Also constructed nearby is the new Natural Energy Institute of the State Academy of Sciences and a new Paesomjon train station.

After being out of public view for over a month this fall, Kim Jong-un made a notable appearance here on October 14. It was completed and opened on the 17th. Officially the compound is for scientists at the State Academy of Sciences.

2. Pyongyang Baby Home and Orphanage (평양육아원,애육원): 39.042442°, 125.794987°

Pyongyang-Baby-Home-Orphanage-2014-9-21

This new orphanage in Pyongyang is by far the country’s largest and nicest. It sits on a plot of land approximately 110m x 250m. Kim Jong-un visited the completed facility on October 27.

During the construction, many visitors to Pyongyang were unaware of the location of this project (I know because I asked). This is because it lies secluded behind exclusive leadership residencies (Undok Housing Complex and and United Front Department Housing) in northern Taedonggang District.

location-of-orpanage-2014-10-31

3. New luxury restaurant boat on Taedong River: 39.014252°, 125.755015°

Leisure-boat-2014-9-21

A large restaurant boat is under construction on the banks of the Taedong River in central Pyongyang. Not much is known about this boat yet, but it is approximately 118 meters long–nearly twice the length of the largest restaurant boat in the DPRK, the Taedonggang Restaurant Boat. The investors in this project must have high expectations. It will be interesting to see if these boats will all be managed by the same organization, and whether the Pyongyang consumer economy can support two such operations.

NK News was the first to report on this boat back on September 11. You can see a photo of the ship here.

4. Progress made on Mansudae Underground Convenience Store (만수대 지하편의상점): 39.026505°, 125.749284°

Mansudae-Underground-Convenience-Store-2014-9-21

 

A Koryo Tours delegation in March of 2013 was the first to report that the Hakdanggol Fountain Park had been torn down to make way for a new facility in the heart of the central district.  The DPRK has yet to announce much information related to the project, but tourist photos indicate it will be an underground shopping center below a park.

Mansudae-underground-convenience-store-vision

5. Progress made on high-rise shopping center near Tongil Market: 38.982815°, 125.733247°

Tongil-shopping-highrise-2014-9-21

Situated just north of Pyongyang’s most popular market (for foreigners), the Tongil Street Market, and just south of the failed investment project KKG Avenue, this large high-rise construction project continues to make progress. The building appears to have an “H” shaped base approximately 110m x 70m. This project is likely being supported by foreign investors, however we do not know who they are or anything substantive about this project.

6.  Progress made on East Pyongyang Shopping Mall (동평양지구 상업거리): 39.030246°, 125.775913°

east-pyongyang-shopping-mall-2014-9-21

The groundbreaking ceremony for this project was held on January 16th, 2014, but little substantive work had been done as late as April. The construction site is approximately 270m x 110m and was unoccupied as far back as 2000. When launched, this shopping center was under the auspices of the State Economic Development Commission (SEDC–the same organization responsible for the nation’s new economic development zones) and a Chinese consortium named “Great China International Group”. Since the launch, the  SEDC, Ministry of Foreign Trade, and the Joint Venture Investment Corporation (JVIC) have been merged into the Ministry of External Economic Affairs (Not to be confused with the External Economic Affairs Commission which was dissolved in the late 1990s).

7. Closure of east Pyongyang tram depot and removal of tracks

FORMER-East-PY-tram-2014-9-21

According to new satellite imagery, one of Pyongyang’s tram lines has been removed. The tracks, which were inlaid into the road, seem to have been completely pulled up and the roads repaved. The tram depot remains in eastern Pyongyang, but it can be easily be re-purposed to serve as storage or manufacturing needs in the future.

East-PY-Tram-depot-2014-1-27 East-PY-Tram-depot-2014-9-21

It will be interesting to see if this has any effect on the Sadong Market which lies directly next to the former tram depot. It would have been relatively easy for customer to travel to the market with such convenient public transport, but will people make the effort when the commute becomes more complicated?

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North Korean “Superman” robs Fort Knox

October 29th, 2014

I received a strange email from an anonymous source (so of course I opened it) containing the following information:

This is a piece of exciting news that has been leaked from an anonymous source in North Korea and it might be of your interest: some images from the storyboard of the latest film production by the Korean Feature Film Studio, based in the capital of the country, Pyongyang.

The images that we have received show a scene of what appears to be the North Korean version of a Marvel superhero story. He is less muscled than his American counterparts; his clothes are not so tight or shiny but recall the military apparel. He carries a hammer, a sickle and a brush, representing the Korean workers and uses a torch as a weapon. And he is not alone: he has a winged horse as his sidekick.

Apparently, the objective of this superhero is to destroy the capitalist system. In the images we can see him attacking Fort Knox, which holds the largest US official gold reserves, and then flying away with the money and throwing it into the ocean.

I have no idea if this is “real” or where it came from, but it is certainly interesting and entertaining. The people who sent this to me do not seem to know much about North Korea, or they would have easily recognized the Chollima Horse –if not the more obscure “Ranam Torch.” So given how little they appear to know about the DPRK, how would they have access to this information? It is also worth noting that the drawing of the bullion depository at Fort Knox is a very accurate representation of the actual building, but so far no Fort Knox set can be seen at Pyongyang Film Studio.

NK-Goldfinger-1

NK-Goldfinger-2

NK-Goldfinger-3

NK-Goldfinger-4

The story line is not too original–it is the plot of Goldfinger (or Die Hard 3), except of course “Goldfinger” has been replaced by a North Korean Superman, and he is the protagonist. For what it is worth, Kim Jong-il was also rumored to be a big fan of James Bond films.

Of course the US (and everyone else) went off what was left of the international gold standard (Bretton Woods) on August 15, 1971, so the economic implications of the plot are negligible nowadays (Fort Knox gold is an insignificant part of the US economy–it’s actually a drain on the US Treasury until the gold is sold off). Additionally, Fort Knox did not play a role in international gold clearing. That was done by the Federal Reserve. I doubt that these crucial bits of information will make it past the North Korean producers (if there are any).

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Friday fun: You had one job

October 24th, 2014

What better way to commemorate the birthday of leader Kim Jong-il:

FridayFun

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American released from North Korea

October 21st, 2014

The AP reports that Jeffrey Fowle has been released from the DPRK.

Here is coverage in Reuters, Daily NKThe Guardian.

Secretary of State Kerry says no quid-pro-quo.

Previous stories on the case here.

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Pyongyang residential high-rise collapse (UPDATED)

October 20th, 2014

UPDATE 10 (2014-10-30): Satellite imagery on Google Earth confirms that the new building was nearly completed by September 21. So the basic frame of the new building was completed in just a few months! How safe do you think it is!

New-residential-building-2014-9-21

UPDATE 9 (2014-10-20): Satellite imagery confirms the North Koreans are rebuilding on the site of last summer’s building collapse:

Building-collapse-2014-7-3

This image was taken on 2014-7-3, so it could be completed by now.

More at Radio Free Asia (in Korean)

UPDATE 8 (2014-7-7): NK News reports that the DPRK requested assistance in relationship to the collapsed building.

“The Korea Rescue Association got a request from the ‘General Bureau of Red Star Construction’ for assistance related to the Pyongyang apartment collapse, [and] on July 6th they submitted a request to visit North Korea,” a Daily NK translation of the statement said.

The statement added that the Korea Rescue Association requested entry into North Korea on June 26 to further investigate the situation, but were still awaiting a decision.

Unusually, the request for South Korean assistance appears to have come nearly four weeks after the May 13 accident occurred, on June 9.

UPDATE 7 (2014-7-3): NK News provides independent corroboration to North Korean claims that a Pyongyang apartment block collapsed on May 13, confirming the subsequent search, rescue and clean-up operation was completed in under just four days.

UPDATE 6 (2014-6-12): The Daily NK reports that  rumors are circulating in Pyongyang that the building collapse was the fault of Jang Song-thaek.

UPDATE 5 (2014-6-3): NK News has an exclusive report done with All Source Analysis on the building collapse. Includes great information and the first satellite images of the site after the collapse.

UPDATE 4 (2014-5-24): The Daily NK offers information purported to come from Pyongyang.

UPDATE 3 (2014-5-22): Everyone seems to agree that the decision to go public was made only after there was “nothing more to see here”. The motivation for going public with this story is unknown–even today accidents resulting in loss of life are rarely reported in the DPRK media. There are two (at least) theories. One theory is that foreign reporters were tipped off and began calling North Korean embassies asking questions. A second theory is that North Koreans were spreading news of the collapse via cell phone so the government needed to take public action. These theories are not mutually exclusive. We still do not know when exactly the building collapsed or how many were injured or killed. None of the injured victims have appeared in the DPRK media.

The speed with which the rubble was removed from the site is also remarkable. Where was it taken? Maybe one day a satellite image will appear that reveals the answer. However, judging from the official photos, it appears to me that some rubble was not removed, it was simply covered over with dirt.

UPDATE 2 (2014-5-21): Kim Jong-un followed up the building collapse with a visit to the Taesongsan General Hospital where he met with injured soldiers (construction workers?) and orphans. If there were any survivors from the collapsed building at the hospital, the media reports did not mention them. Next he visited new apartment housing for instructors at Kim Chaek University of Technology. Let’s hope these apartment buildings don’t collapse.

UPDATE 1 (2014-5-19): This was picked up by the following media: The Diplomat, 노컷뉴스, Radio Free Asia, 국제신문, Reuters. The Choson Ilbo used the information from this report but did not cite the source.

ORIGINAL POST (2014-5-18):

KCNA-collapse-building

Phyongchon-building-collapse-2

KCNA has announced the tragic collapse of a high-rise apartment building in Phyongchon District:

Pyongyang, May 18, 2014 00:00 KST (KCNA) — It is the consistent stand of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the state to prioritize the interests and conveniences of the people and hold them absolute and protect their lives and properties.

But there occurred a serious accident in the construction site in Phyongchon District, Pyongyang on May 13 as the construction of an apartment house was not done properly and officials supervised and controlled it in an irresponsible manner. The accident claimed casualties.

Right after the accident the state emergency mechanism was put into action to conduct an intensive campaign to rescue survivors, treat the wounded and arrange the scene of the accident.

The rescue operation came to an end on May 17.

Minister of People’s Security Choe Pu Il, General Officer of the Korean People’s Internal Security Forces Sonu Hyong Chol, Chairman of the Pyongyang City People’s Committee Cha Hui Rim, Chief Secretary of Phyongchon District Committee of the WPK Ri Yong Sik and other officials concerned met the bereaved families, citizens in the district and other Pyongyangites to express deep consolation and apology.

Choe Pu Il said the responsibility for the accident rests with him as he failed to uphold well the WPK’s policy of love for the people. He repented of himself, saying that he failed to find out factors that can put at risk the lives and properties of the people and to take thorough-going measures, thereby causing an unimaginable accident.

With nothing can he atone for the crime he committed against the people and he can never be pardoned, he said, repeatedly expressing deep apology to the bereaved families and other Pyongyang citizens.

He made a firm pledge to make sure that the Ministry of People’s Security becomes a genuine security organ which always protects the interests, lives and properties of the people, true to the party’s noble intention of putting the popular masses above all.

Sonu Hyong Chol said that he was chiefly to blame for the accident as he was in charge of the construction. He expressed heart-felt consolation and sympathy to the victims and the bereaved families and said he was making an apology, his head bent, to other Pyongyang citizens who were greatly shocked by the recent accident.

The party has always stressed the importance of raising the quality of structure, but he did the construction in a slipshod manner as he did not have the proper stand of serving the people, thus causing such a serious accident, he said, making a solemn determination to do utmost to eradicate the aftermath of the accident and bring the living of the bereaved families to normal as early as possible.

Cha Hui Rim said that the party has always called on the officials to become genuine and faithful servants of the people but he failed to have the proper control over the construction of the apartment houses as a man responsible for the living of the citizens of the capital city, thereby causing such a serious accident. He has no face to stand before the bereaved families and other Pyongyang citizens and feels deep compunction for them, he said, pledging to make sure that the officials of the Pyongyang City People’s Committee do their utmost to alleviate even a little the pain of the victims and the bereaved families and bring their living to normal at the earliest possible date and to prevent the recurrence of similar accident.

Ri Yong Sik said that seeing for himself the victims in the scene of the accident, he felt as if his heart were falling apart and was too shocked to cry. He added that he could not raise his head for his guilty conscience as he failed to protect the precious lives of the people so much valued and loved by the party.

He made an apology to the bereaved families and to the citizens in the district again, vowing to come to senses, though belatedly, and motivate the officials in the district to bring the living of the bereaved families to normal, take good care of them, find out every possible cause of accidents and take preventive measures and thus fully guarantee the lives and security of the people.

Kim Su Gil, chief secretary of the Pyongyang City Committee of the WPK, said that the recent unexpected accident caused damage but there is loving care of our mother party which takes care of all people of the country and relieves their pain, adding that Marshal Kim Jong Un sat up all night, feeling painful after being told about the accident, instructed leading officials of the party, state and the army to rush to the scene, putting aside all other affairs, and command the rescue operation to recover from the damage as early as possible.

All Pyongyang citizens are sharing sorrow with the bereaved families and victims, he said, adding that the party and the state are taking effective emergency steps to bring the living of the families of victims to normal and provide them with new houses. He called on all to overcome sorrow with courage.

Based on information in KCNA, I can offer a satellite image of the collapsed building (pre-collapse):

Collapsed building-Google-earth

The building was approximately 23 stories tall and approximately 15m x 23m per floor. Construction on the building began between May and September 2011 (image below)

Collapsed-building-September-2011

It is rather remarkable that the entire site could be cleared of debris in just four days. Additionally, I cannot see any serious damage to the surrounding buildings, though coverage is scarce. The neighborhood in which the collapsed building is located contains no less than 17  high-rises that are either under construction or recently completed. If I was living in one of these buildings I would not be feeling very confident right now.

Phyongchon-collapsed-building

These buildings were part of the DPRK’s speed housing construction campaign to celebrate Kim Il-sung’s 100th birthday. Here is coverage in the New York Times. Here is coverage in Yonhap. Here is coverage in NK News. Here is coverage in the Wall Street Journal. Here is coverage by Choson Exchange. Here is coverage in the Washington Post. Here is coverage in the Daily NK.

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Recent CRS reports on the DPRK

October 7th, 2014

The Congressional Research Service “recently” published two reports which relate to the DPRK:

The U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA): Provisions and Implementation
September 16, 2014: 2014-9-16-KORUS-Kaesong
June 2, 2011: Imports-from-North-Korea-2011

(Although this report focuses mostly on US-ROK issues, there is detailed discussion of the complex negotiations around the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC).)

Iran-North Korea-Syria Ballistic Missile and Nuclear Cooperation 
April 16, 2014: 2014-4-16-Iran-Syria-Missile

You can download most former CRS reports dealing with the DPRK here.

 

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Senior DPRK officials to visit Seoul for close of Asian Games

October 3rd, 2014

According to Reuters:

Three senior North Korean officials will make a rare visit to South Korea on Saturday to attend the Asian Games closing ceremony in what could potentially bring a breakthrough in tense ties between the rival Koreas.

Heading the delegation will be Hwang Pyong So and Choe Ryong Hae, who are senior aides to North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong Un, South Korea’s Unification Ministry spokesman told a news briefing.

The announcement of the visit comes as a surprise because Pyongyang has been issuing invectives toward the South and President Park Geun-hye, criticising her calls for Pyongyang to end its arms programme and improve human rights conditions.

Hwang is the head of the North Korean army’s General Political Department, a powerful apparatus loyal to the secretive country’s leader and a key post overseeing the 1.2-million-member military.

Here is coverage in the Associated Press.

Here is coverage in Yonhap.

Here is coverage in the New York Times.

Here is coverage in the Korea Times.

Here is coverage in the Washington Post.

Here is Aidan Foster Carter in NK News.

Interesting analysis on the story in the Daily NK which provides a rational for the visit based on domestic politics.

Additional Information

1. NK Leadership Watch has bios of the men: Hwang Pyong So, Choe Ryong HaeKim Yang Gon

2. Here are bios on Wikipedia: Hwang Pyong So, Choe Ryong hae, Kim Yang Gon

3. Here is the South Korean MOU leadership organization chart where you can see these individual’s positions within the system.

4. Andray Abrahamian writing in 38 North last year on sports.

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Hillside farming

October 1st, 2014

The US State Department’s Humanitarian Information Unit put out the following map of hillside farming in the DPRK.

US-DOS-HIU-DPRK-Food-shortage-2014-9-24

Click image for larger (PDF) version.

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DPRK Foreign Minister Ri visits UN

September 27th, 2014

UPDATE 1 (2014-9-27): Martyn Williams has posted video (translated into English) of Minister Ri’s full speech.

For those who do not wish to listen to the whole speech, here is a transcript (English, PDF).

ORIGINAL POST (2014-8-30): According to KBS:

North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong is scheduled to visit the United States in mid-September for a United Nations general assembly in New York. This marks the first time a North Korean foreign minister will visit the U.S. in 15 years.

Sources have said Ri has personally requested to make a keynote address at the session as a state representative.

The last time a North Korean foreign minister was present for a United Nations general assembly was in 1999 when Paek Nam Sun held the position. In 1992, Kim Yong Nam had visited the U. S. to attend the session.

As these were the only occasions a high-ranking North Korean foreign ministry official had taken part in the UN general assembly since the North became a member state in 1991, speculations have risen over Ri’s pending visit.

One South Korean diplomatic source said Ri was not attending the assembly “just to make a keynote speech,” but rather to engage in negotiations with Washington for a change in chilled relations.

Read the full sotry here:
N. Korea Foreign Minister to Visit U.S. For First Time in 15 Yrs
KBS
2014-8-30

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North Korea’s donor fatigue

September 25th, 2014

The Wall Street Journal reports on the difficulties the UN World Food Program faces trying to find supporters for its operations in North Korea:

The United Nations aid program for malnourished North Koreans may close after raising only a fraction of the money it needs to operate in the country, a senior U.N. official said in a call for donations.

“We may need to scale down or think about closing altogether,” Dierk Stegen, the Pyongyang-based North Korea head for the U.N. World Food Program, said in an interview.

The agency, which has operated in North Korea since 1995, could shut early next year if there is no indication it will be able to raise needed funds by the end of October, he said. One complication is that North Korea’s humanitarian crisis has been overshadowed by the conflict in Syria and Ebola outbreak, he said.

While North Korea is getting better at feeding its people, hundreds of thousands of young infants and their mothers remain chronically malnourished, he said.

Contributions from private organizations and the South Korean government in recent weeks have helped, but the program is far from its goal of $50 million, already a significant reduction from the original target of $200 million it set last year.

The North Korea food-assistance program has drawn flak from critics who say the regime takes advantage of the agency’s largess, devoting its resources to developing its nuclear weapons program and constructing amusement parks while its people suffer. Critics also say the agency can’t be sure its assistance is reaching the intended recipients.

Nicholas Eberstadt, a political economist at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington who has studied North Korea’s food situation, said that the WFP’s work in the country was “a disappointment—perhaps a terrible disappointment,” arguing that the agency has put up little resistance even as Pyongyang restricts oversight from foreign aid groups.

“Outside humanitarian assistance will not work in North Korea unless it is ‘intrusive’—and the WFP has no stomach for such work,” Mr. Eberstadt said.

Mr. Stegen acknowledged past shortcomings in its ability to monitor the distribution of its aid, but blamed a lack of funding and cited recent improvements in its access inside the country. He said that the WFP can now get permission within 24 hours to visit any school or household that is receiving its aid. In the past, two weeks’ notice was required.

Mr. Stegen said that criticism of a government’s priorities isn’t unique to North Korea, and urged donors to prioritize vulnerable infants over politics.

“Intervention and assistance on a humanitarian basis should be separated from political things,” he said.

Earlier this month, South Korea’s government approved $7 million in new funding to the WFP, its first such contribution since 2007. While South Korea’s conservative government has talked tough on North Korea, it has also pursued a policy of “humanity” toward the North, particularly infants and young mothers.

The U.S., by far the largest donor to the WFP’s North Korea work, hasn’t contributed since 2009, when Pyongyang tightened its rules on monitoring food aid by restricting the number of Korean-speaking monitors allowed into the country, according to a U.S. Congressional Research Service report published in April.

The WFP’s fundraising efforts have also been hampered by rising awareness of North Korea’s human-rights violations. Earlier this year, a special U.N. commission published a landmark 400-page report which said the regime selectively starves its population based on factors like political loyalty, and recommended the U.N. Security Council refer Kim Jong Un and other senior officials to the International Criminal Court.

Ahead of the U.N. General Assembly, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday called North Korea’s system of prison camps “unfathomable” and a sign of what he described as “barbarity, inhumanity—I think you can call it evil.”

Mr. Stegen said North Korea had markedly improved its capacity to produce food for its people since a devastating famine in the 1990s. He said that fewer people in the country remain hungry today, even as the population has increased.

But he cautioned that the country’s agricultural efforts have focused too much on producing rice and other grains, at the expense of protein. That has led to malnourishment of infants and children under the age of four, he said, putting them in danger of stunting, even as Kim Jong Un has made a public show of encouraging fisheries as a potential source of protein.

“For many of the children of North Korea, it’s already too late,” said John Aylieff, the WFP’s deputy regional director for Asia. “They’ve been dealt a life sentence of impaired mental functioning and impaired physical development.”

A drought earlier this year has also meant a throttling back of government rations to ordinary citizens, which fell to about 250 grams a day, Mr. Aylieff said. That is less than half the targeted rations, and the lowest in several years.

As a result, the aid agency is expecting a surge in acute malnutrition this year. “We hope potential donors will see the humanitarian imperative,” Mr. Aylieff said.

Marcus Noland, an economist and North Korea expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, said that given the WFP’s funding problems, its ability to monitor its work would be limited.

“Trying to maintain an underfunded program in that environment is practically inviting an aid diversion scandal,” he said. But the WFP’s absence from North Korea would also likely exacerbate any food crisis.

“The advantage of having the WFP in-country in even a limited capacity is that they are pre-positioned to monitor conditions and respond if there is an emergency,” Mr. Noland said.

Read the full story here:
U.N. North Korea Food Program in Danger
Wall Street Journal
Jonathan Cheng
2014-9-25

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