IFES brief on geological surveys in North Korea

October 6th, 2016

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

On 25th September, North Korean leader and chairman of the State Affairs Commission, Kim Jong Un, issued instructions that survey equipment should be modernized and its production domesticated using the most up-to-date science and technology, in order to decisively improve geological survey work.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the North Korean government’s official newswire agency, reported on 26th September that Kim gave these instructions in a letter he sent to the Nationwide Geological Survey Department Workers Conference held at the People’s Palace of Culture on the previous day. He also stated that “Geological surveys are the core front in constructing an economically strong nation.”

In the letter, Kim emphasized the need “to create a scientific developmental strategy for the Geological Survey Department in line with the demands of constructing an economically strong nation, and this should be executed in a step-by-step fashion. Also, under the state’s unified leadership, order and discipline must be established with respect to the development of underground resources.” He went on to say, “the role and responsibility of resource protection institutions must be raised, while the state’s energy must be put into the physical-scientific protection activities of Geological Survey departments. . . . I look forward to related officials and workers bringing about a decisive improvement in geological survey work, and contribute actively to the construction of an economically strong socialist state.”

At the same time, while on a visit to the Taedong River Syringe Factory, Kim Jong Un instructed that the factory be transformed into a modernized facility.

On 23rd September, KCNA reported on Kim Jong Un’s recent on-the-spot guidance saying: “Located in the suburbs of Pyongyang, the Taedong River Syringe Factory is a large base for the production of medical equipment, having the capacity to produce a variety of syringes.”

Reminiscing, Kim also said that the factory, built in December 2000, “rose during the Arduous March, the Kanghaeng-gun Period, under direct instigation of and energetic leadership of the General [Kim Jong Il]. This was a period the enemy viciously sought to isolate us, and natural disasters meant that everyone was forced to tighten their belts.”

While at the factory, Kim Jong Un instructed that: “not only should the factory normalize a high level of production, but also completely guarantee a high level of product quality, and undertake an energetic struggle to diversify the types of syringe produced. . . . If syringe production is to be systematically raised, and different kinds of syringe and syringe needle for a range of uses are to be produced properly, there is a need to modernize the factory in line with the demands of the knowledge economy era.”

Moreover, Kim emphasized the importance of constructing a combined production system, as well as automation, and sterilization, saying: “it is the intention of the party that the Taedong Syringe Factory will become a model and standard for our country’s medical equipment production facilities by modernizing.”

In 2007, when South Korean medical aid was offered to the North in relation to North-South medical projects, the North Korean side expressed the hope that needed supplies would be given as aid, saying: “syringes, needles and cotton balls are most needed.” They even proposed that the South Korean government aid in the construction of a syringe factory, saying “a syringe is only used once.” It is a noteworthy change that North Korea has now begun producing syringes for itself.

Article source:
‘Geological Surveys’ Are Core Front in Constructing Economically Strong Nation
IFES NK Briefs, Institute for Far Eastern Studies


The problem with the Red Cross narrative of North Korea’s floods

October 5th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

I had originally intended to use this post solely to encourage readers to check out this story by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Asia Pacific. But as I was reading through the story, I realized there are several issues with it that need to be pointed out. It offers a comprehensive narrative of this year’s flooding in northern North Korea, which has devastated parts of North Hamgyong province. The photographs add a crucial human dimension to the ghastly figures for the damage. But unfortunately, the IFRC casts blame in all the wrong directions and fails to point out the core of the problem.

First, the key passages of the piece:

On August 29 the rains began. They continued for the next two days, swelling the Tumen river as it coursed along the northeast border of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).  The heavy downpour was a consequence of the tail end of Typhoon Lionrock which had collided with a low pressure weather front as it tracked across China.  In just 24 hours up to 300 mm of rain fell over parts of DPRK’s North Hamgyong Province.

Streams of water flowed down barren mountains. They merged in ravines to become raging torrents of water – flash floods – which carved through rural communities in the valleys below, demolishing everything in their path.  The River Tumen also burst its banks, swallowing entire settlements in the dead of night.

The floods are considered to be the worst in decades yet this has been a silent disaster, largely unnoticed outside DPRK.  Hundreds of lives have been lost and the scale of devastation has been immense.

Now, one month on, the full extent of what happened is still emerging. According to the government some 30,000 homes have been damaged, submerged or completely destroyed and 70,000 people rendered homeless.


For days villages across Musan and Yonson Counties remained cut off as thousands of rescuers were mobilised to the area to repair roads and bridges and remove the earth and rocks deposited by landslides.

In the Sambong Bo area of Musan County,  the water level of the River Tumen had risen by over four metres in a matter of hours. When it broke its banks 500 homes were swept away.  At least 20 other communities further along the river suffered the same fate. It is still not clear how many died.

Reaching the flood-affected area requires a three-day drive from the capital Pyongyang but it only took 24 hours for the DPRK Red Cross to mobilize over 1,000 of its volunteers from the area to respond to the disaster. They supported local authorities in search and rescue efforts and also provided first aid services to the injured. Trained disaster response teams were deployed and within days emergency relief supplies for 28,000 people had been released from the Red Cross regional disaster preparedness stocks which were stored in warehouses in South Hamgyong and Pyongyang.

Items such as tarpaulins, tents and tools to make emergency shelters were distributed to flood-affected families. People also received other essentials such as warm bedding, kitchen sets, water containers and toiletries.


But there are other vulnerabilities. According to the UN, North Hamgyong Province has some of the highest levels of stunting and wasting among under five children. The Public Distribution System, upon which 78 per cent of the population of the province relies, is well below target levels (300 grams compared to the target of 573 grams) and not sufficiently diverse to cover nutritional requirements.

The floods damaged over 27,000 hectares of arable land. The rice and corn were ready to be harvested but now, many families’ food has been washed away along with crops, livestock and food gardens.

To make matters worse, more than 45 health clinics have been damaged by floodwaters and there is a critical shortage of basic equipment and essential medicines. Water supply to 600,000 people across the province has been disrupted and for clean water, some communities are now dependent on a few hand pumps and dug wells, which are most likely contaminated by the floods.

On 21 September, the IFRC launched a 15.2 million Swiss Francs emergency appeal (USD 15.5 million, Euros 13.9 million) to reach more than 330,000 people affected by the floods.

The appeal aims to provide a variety of emergency assistance over the next 12 months. Emergency water supply will be installed and teams will be mobilised to avert communicable diseases by improving sanitation and promoting good hygiene. Medical supplies will be provided for health teams on the ground and technical support provided to help with the reconstruction of permanent homes.

The appeal will also be used to purchase winterization kits that will help thousands of families through the hardship of the coming months. These include supplies of coal for heating and cooking, toiletries, winter clothes and quilts, basic food stocks and water purification tablets.

But according to Chris Staines international help needs to scale up.

“This is a disaster on a scale that that no-one seems to have acknowledged. When you add up all the threats that people are facing today in DPRK there is a very real risk of a secondary disaster unfolding in the months ahead if we don’t get the help that is needed immediately”.

Full article here:
Suffering in Silence
Shorthand Social

Undoubtedly, this is a tragedy on a scale that is difficult to fathom even with the accompanying pictures of some of the devastation. Readers who wish to donate to the IFRC disaster relief efforts can do so here.

But the narrative lacks a crucial component, namely the government’s responsibility in disaster management and prevention, and the connection between the economic system and North Korea’s recurring floods. Now, readers familiar with the North Korean NGO context will be well aware that this is a sensitive political topic that NGOs and aid organizations are often reluctant to discuss, for good reasons. They depend on maintaining good relations with the North Korean government in order to continue operating in the country, and these relations are sensitive at best.

That said, the way in which the IFRC narrative seems to fault only one party — the international community, for not giving the disaster more attention — is strange, to say the least. For it is not the international community that has created the systemic deficiencies that contribute to making floods a yearly recurring phenomenon. Rain clouds do not gather only over North Korea. Anyone who has spent late summer and fall in South Korea will be familiar with the torrential rains that sweep across the country on the same regular basis that they hit North Korea. And yet, we never hear about human suffering and disasters in South Korea on an even comparable level with those that hit North Korea. Some landslides tend to happen, and sometimes the rains even claim lives. But they do not paralyze whole regions of the country and they do not cause humanitarian disasters on the southern side of the border.

The reasons that North Korea is hit with such particularly great damage from the rains, year after year, largely stem from its economic system. To name only a couple of examples: trees have been felled en masse due to a lack of fuel, causing erosion as not enough trees are left to suck up the rainwater, and the population has had to resort to clearing hills from trees to generate more farmland, particularly during the “Arduous March” of the 1990s. Moreover, in command economies, quotas for both wood and food need to be filled no matter what methods have to be employed — I am unable to find a source for the historical evolution of tree felling in North Korea prior to the 1990s, but most likely, such a logic has also contributed to the barren hillsides around the country. To be fair, Kim Jong-un has focused a great deal of attention on reforestation, which is arguably one of the most important but least noted policy focuses during his tenure. But thus far, not much seems to have happened in practice.

Barren and eroded hillsides in Namyang, North Hamgyong Province, as seen from Tumen City in China, June 2016. On the Chinese side, the equivalent hills are covered with trees. Photograph by Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Barren and eroded hillsides in Namyang, North Hamgyong Province, as seen from Tumen City in China, June 2016. On the Chinese side, the equivalent hills are covered with trees. Photograph by Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

So: on the one hand, the IFRC may well be right that coverage of North Korea’s humanitarian disaster should render more media coverage. But on the other hand the late summer floods are such a regular occurrence that they should hardly count as news anymore. NGOs and aid organizations need to air on the side of political caution in their dealings with the North Korean regime, but their failure to call out the government for not rectifying the problems causing the damage in the first place may well be doing more harm than good in the long run.


North Korean GDP per capita over $1,000 for the first time ever last year, says Hyundai

October 4th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Someone once said that if anyone ever gives you a number on anything related to the North Korean economy and they include a decimal, you can be sure that they are wrong. This almost certainly holds true for the GDP estimates for North Korea that come out every year.

Earlier this year, South Korea’s Bank of Korea estimated that North Korean GDP had contracted by 1.1%, for the first time since 2010. Now, Hyundai Research Institute claims that nominal GDP per capita in fact went above $1,000, putting North Korea roughly on the same level as South Korea in the mid-1970s. Unless North Korea’s population declined very suddenly and drastically during the last year (which it didn’t, of course), both claims cannot hold true at the same time. I am personally more inclined to believe the directionality (though not necessarily the exact figure) of Hyundai’s estimate:

North Korea’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita surpassed US$1,000 for the first time last year despite heavy sanctions imposed following a series of nuclear and missile tests, a Seoul-based think tank said Thursday.
Hyundai Research Institute estimated North Korea’s nominal GDP per capita at $1,013 in 2015, up from $930 from the previous year, based on its own income analysis model.

The reclusive state’s nominal GDP reached $986 in 1987, but has since declined to around $650 in the early 2000s.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the North produced 4.78 million tons of crops in 2015, a 10.7-percent fall from a year earlier, due to severe drought. The price of rice per 1 kilogram surged 5.6 percent on-year to 5,200 won (US$4.73).

Trade with China was valued at $5.71 billion won last year, down 16.8 percent from 2014, mainly due to a drop in the North’s exports of natural resources to its largest trading partner.

In contrast, inter-Korean trade rose 15.6 percent on-year to $2.71 billion in 2015, the institute said.

The international community’s aid to Pyongyang was tallied at $31.87 million last year, up 12.4 percent from a year ago, but less than 2011’s $97.11 million, it noted.

The research institute evaluated the communist state’s economic power is equivalent to that of South Korea in the mid-1970s.

North Korea’s per-capita GDP lags far behind of other Asian nations, including China ($7,990), Vietnam ($2,088) and Laos ($1,799). It is even below other underdeveloped countries, such as Bangladesh ($1,287) and Myanmar ($1,292), according to the institute.

“North Korea’s current economy is not capable of standing alone,” said Kim Cheon-koo, a researcher at Hyundai Research Institute. “The wide income gap between South and North Koreas is expected to create massive costs for reunification.”

Full article here:
N. Korea’s per-capita GDP tops US$1,000 in 2015: report
Yonhap News


Has Camp 18 been re-opened or merged with Camp 14?

September 30th, 2016

The consensus among North Korea watchers (myself included) was that Camp 18 had been closed sometime in the late 2000s (between 2006 and 2011). The coal mine located inside the camp, the Pongchang District Coal Mine (봉창지구탄광), was even featured on North Korean television on 2011-1-3,  2012-2-27, and 2012-10-20.

Recent satellite imagery of the camp featured on Google Earth (2016-3-30), however, indicates that a new prison camp has been opened on the site of the former prison sometime between 2013 and 2015. If a new prison camp has been been opened, it’s name and administrative classification remain a mystery, though I post some evidence and speculation below for your consideration….

New Security Perimeter
A new security perimeter has been built around the former Camp 18, and it is not built along the same path as the old Camp 18 security perimeter.


Pictured Above (Google Earth): The outlines of the new prison camp security perimeter (in yellow) and various historical security perimeters associated with Camp 18 (in black)

The difference between the security perimeter of the old Camp 18 and the new prison camp can be most clearly seen along the eastern and norther edges of the camp. Camp 18 had a security perimeter along the norther border, and remnants of it still remain, but the new prison camp does not yet appear to have a northern border (other than the Taedong River).

The new security perimeter appears to be composed of two barbed-wire fences held up by concrete posts.


The new security perimeter has five new guard posts along the mountain ridge and two new security checkpoints, one at each of the two transit points. The eastern security checkpoint appears to be the main entrance. The southern mountainous checkpoint appears to be for delivery of coal to the “famous” 2.8 Jikdong Youth Coal Mine Mine (2.8직동 청년 탄광) located outside the security perimeter.


Pictured Above (Google Earth: 2016-3-30): Security perimeter of prison camp (yellow line), five guard posts (yellow points), two transit checkpoints (red points), roads in/out of the camp (blue lines)

Here is a closeup of the new guard post at  39.546986°, 126.018297°. It was built between 2013-10-1 and 2015-4-4. You can also see the barbed wire perimeter running next to it.


There is also a guard post on the bridge that links the area with Camp 14, but this checkpoint appears to be a remnant of the former Camp 18.


New Guard Barracks?

There also appears to be five new facilities that could serve as guard barracks scattered around the camp.


The guard facilities/barracks are located here: 1.  39.536004°, 126.051207° 2.  39.521812°, 126.079342° 3.  39.579655°, 126.080485° 4.  39.593158°, 126.115249° 5.  39.576379°, 126.131835°

The five facilities are very similar in construction. Here is a closeup of the facility that lies at the main entrance to the new prison camp:


Housing Razed

A substantial amount of housing was razed in the camp between 2013 and 2016, which would support the idea that “innocent” people were moved out of the camp perimeter (possibly to eastern neighboring Myonghak Coal Mine (명학탄광) or Tukjang Youth Coal Mine (득장청년탄관) which have both seen substantial housing growth starting in 2011). It is possible that once the “innocents” were moved to the neighboring coal mines,  the Pongchang Coal Mine in the former Camp 18 could return to the exclusive use of prison labor.


In image above areas where houses were destroyed are outlined in red.

Below are images from neighboring Myonghak Coal Mine (명학탄광) which saw a housing boom starting in 2011. Were these people being removed from former Camp 18?


By 2014, this new housing construction appeared to be complete.


The Myonghak Coal Mine also received a new market in the period after camp 18 was closed ( 39.576284°, 126.171663°):

 myonghak-market-2011-5-23 myonghak-market-2013-10-1 myonghak-market-2016-3-30

Pictures dated (L-R): 2011-5-23, 2013-10-1, 2016-3-30

The Pongchang Coal Mine received a market when Camp 18 was closed, but it does not appear to have been torn down yet despite the arrival of the new prison. However, it is unlikely that the market is operating. You can see the market at these coordinates: 39.564626°, 126.075621°. All I can say for certain about it is that it was built between 2007-1-7 and 2011-8-19.

Immortality Tower Removed

The “immortality tower” that is present in the vast majority of villages, factory complexes, and mining complexes has been removed.




The monument was torn down sometime after 2013-10-1. By contrast, the immortality towers were added when Camp 22 was closed in Hoeryong.

It is possible that the nearby Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il monuments are also being torn down, but I need more imagery to confirm.

Did Camp 18 merge with Camp 14?

Pictured below is the ferry that goes between Camp 14 and former Camp 18.  It was built sometime between 2007 and 2011 (sorry, not much imagery here). Coordinates:   39.589340°, 126.077555°.


The fact that a ferry appears to be operational between the two prison camps, coupled with the observation that the new camp has no northern perimeter (and that they have always been connected by railway and temporary road), supports the hypothesis that the Camp 18 area may have been taken over by Camp 14. The history of the relationship between Camp 14 and Camp 18 is complicated, but there is also some historical precedent.

Wrapping up

If this is a new prison camp, and I believe the evidence shows this is plausible, it will be the second in the Kim Jong-un era. I spotted the first new prison facility of the Kim Jong-un era in January 2013 on the north west side of Camp 14. Its official name and administrative classification remain a mystery.

Let the debate begin…

ADDENDUM: The Ponchang Area Coal Mine (봉창지구탄광), the name of the coal mine in Camp 18 has only been featured in KCNA twice. I post the articles below (via KCNA watch):

Lives Devoted to Prosperity of Motherland

Pyongyang, December 10 [2009] (KCNA) — In the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea there are many people devoting their clear conscience and even lives to the prosperity of the country.

Ri Yong, a heading workteam leader of the Pongchang Area Coal Mine, devoted his life to the coal production.

Working at the mine for nearly three decades as a heading worker and a heading workteam leader, he, together with his men, had procured thousands of tools and accessories needed to overfulfil the workteam’s heading plan every year.

He had dedicated his all to coal output, encouraging his men to do their part as coal miners to increase the production. That is why he, though dead, is still remembered by people.

Among such patriotic coal miners as Ri Yong are Jo Nam Sik and Kang Kye Jin of the Kangso Coal Mine.

Jo rescued fellow colliers when a pit was collapsing in last June, while Kang was an official of the mine with a 30-odd years long career of pitman.

Ri Jin Guk, a worker of the Sunchon Plastic Daily Necessities Factory, kept his machine going until the last moment of his life, giving a pattern of life devoted to the country.

Sonu Pong Nam, a hewer of the Ryongnam Coal Mine, Sin Kum Nam, a farmer of the Ryongok Co-op Farm in Yomju County, Kim Ho Sok, a worker of the Kosan Essential Foodstuff Factory and Ri Jang Gun, a member of the Revolutionary Battle Site Management Office at the secret camp of Mt. Paektu are also known as patriots who lived for the prosperity of the socialist motherland.

Their true life and working manner recorded in the history of the building of a great, prosperous and powerful nation inspire the Korean people to work miracles in the efforts to bring about a new revolutionary upsurge.
Coal Miners Do Not Stop Working in Collapsed Pit for 19 Hours

Pyongyang, August 27 [2013] (KCNA) — Some days ago, the 3rd-shift group under the 6th pit of the Pongchang Area Coal Mine in the DPRK was doing preparatory works for next shift after fulfilling its daily quota at 102 percent.

At that time, hundreds of meters of pit ceiling fell down, affected by earth pressure, leaving the pit entrance closed.

The miners could come out of the pit through an air tunnel. But they did not stop mining coal.

They turned out scores of tonnes of coal for 19 hours until the entrance reopened.

Their devoted efforts were prompted by a strong sense of patriotism to contribute to the country’s prosperity even a bit.


Camp 14 updates (2016-3-30)

September 29th, 2016


Pictured Above (Google Earth): Kwanliso 14  (Camp 14) outlined in the center and in the upper left a smaller prison camp area I was the first to discover in January 2013.

Google Earth has uploaded new imagery of Camp 14 and an auxiliary prison camp on its northwest border (first noticed in January 2013) whose formal name remains a mystery. The new imagery is dated 2016-3-30 and it shows a number of facility upgrades in the prison camp. These upgrades suggest the camp continues to serve a necessary role for the North Korean government and will probably not be closed for the foreseeable future.

Below I list some of the changes Camp 14. Some of them I have already reported in Radio Free Asia.

New Firing Ranges Constructed/Renovated


Pictured above is a new firing range constructed between 2013-10-1 and 2016-3-30. It is approximately 240m from the firing position to the bulls-eye in the painted hill-side target in the upper left. This firing range has been built near the camp headquarters (coordinates:  39.574979°, 126.047860°). Two other smaller firing ranges have been built/renovated along the western perimeter. One is near the camp entrance at  39.559300°, 126.013005°. The third firing range is not new, but is being renovated at  39.629702°, 126.035436°.

Fish Farms Renovated/Modernized



Pictured above is a small fish farm in Camp 14 (Coordinates:  39.606592°, 126.098545°). In the top photo, dated 2013-10-1, we can see the fish farm before renovation. In the lower photo, dated 2016-3-30, we can see it after renovation. Fish farms at  39.600450°, 126.072176° and  39.601567°, 126.051970° have been similarly renovated.

I suspect that fish produced at these farms could be intended as a food source inside the camp for guards and administrators (maybe prisoners?), but they are more likely used as a source of funding to support the camp operations. In this case they would be sold domestically to the official wholesale distribution system and/or to other quasi-private vendors, or sold internationally through a trade company controlled by the Ministry of State Security.

Camp Facilities Upgrades

The headquarters area of the Camp (administered by the Ministry of State Security) has been renovated.



New Housing Completed and New Facility Under Construction



In the area next to Camp 14, near Tongrim-ri in Kaechon City, we can see a few interesting developments.


Pictured above (Google Earth): Tongrim-ri Prison Area (Official name unknown)

New Mining Activity



In the south east corner of the camp area, a road has been built from the Mujindae Youth Coal Mine (무진대청년탄광) inside the camp security perimeter (yellow line) to promote coal mining. The road allows coal mined inside the camp perimeter to be loaded onto the railway network for domestic or international shipment. 

New Graves



In the satellite imagery we can see the emergence of some new graves over time. This is unusual. In most North Korean prison camps, identifying graves is not this easy, and rarely are there any traditional Korean graves like these on the hillsides (there are none in Camp 14 as far as I am aware).

What this means about the prison area is an interesting topic of discussion.

Finally, recent satellite imagery of Camp 18, which is believed to have been closed by 2011, indicates that the prison camp may have been relaunched! You can read about it in Radio Free Asia now, and I will post more on that tomorrow (Friday).


North Korean food prices after the floods

September 28th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

A recent report by Radio Free Asia/Asia Press (and recapped below by Yonhap) claimed that food prices had doubled in northern North Korea as a result of the floods last month:

Food prices in North Korea’s northeastern region, which has been hit by devastating floods, have doubled due to the slow pace of recovery and poor distribution networks, U.S.-based media Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported Thursday.

Citing a report by Japanese media outlet Asia Press, the RFA said the country’s northern cities of Hoeryong and Namyang are experiencing a spike in rice and corn prices which soared to 8,000 won (US$7.24) and 2,000 won per kilogram, respectively, from 4,300 won and 1,000 won before the worst-ever floods in decades. The flooding caused severe property damage with many people being reported dead or missing.

The Japanese media said there is a likelihood that other commodity prices will likely soar following rice.

Jiro Ishimaru, who heads the Osaka office of Japan’s Asia Press, told the RFA that rice prices rose rapidly as the transportation situation in the flood-damaged area is very serious, with the railroads and overland routes being almost blocked. The official said the lack of transportation means is leading to poor distribution of food and commodities.

Ishimaru, in addition, warned that water shortage and sanitary problems will also follow due to a shortage of personnel equipment needed to speed up recovery.

Full article here:
Food prices in N. Korea’s flood damaged area doubles: report
Yonhap News

According to DailyNK, the government has therefore started implementing price controls to keep the market prices for food from skyrocketing:

북한 당국이 ‘60년 만의 대재앙’ 수해 피해를 입은 함경북도 지역의 물가 안정을 위해 총력을 기울이고 있는 것으로 전해졌다. 인민보안성(경찰) 인력을 동원해 쌀 사재기와 가격 인상을 통제하면서 내부 안정화를 꾀하고 있다고 소식통이 알려왔다.

함경북도 소식통은 27일 데일리NK와의 통화에서 “현재 쌀 가격 등이 큰물 피해 이전과 거의 차이가 없다”면서 “보안원과 순찰대가 출동해서 쌀 사재기 및 가격을 올리는 행위 등을 강력하게 막았다”고 전했다.

소식통은 이어 “(수해가 일어나고 얼마 되지 않아) 어떤 장사꾼은 1킬로(kg)에 5000원, 5300원하던 쌀을 8000원에 팔려고 하기도 했다”면서 “하지만 보안원들의 통제 때문에 눈치만 보다가 그렇게 하지 못했다”고 설명했다.

그러면서 소식통은 “회령시의 경우 한때는 쌀 가격이 6000원까지 폭등하기는 했으나 지금은 5000원 대로 하락했다”면서 “돼지고기 가격도 1kg에 13000원 등 원래 가격과 같다. 물가가 전반적으로 차분하다(안정돼 있다)”고 덧붙였다.

Full article:
North Korea making efforts for price stability in flood damaged areas…”Don’t raise rice prices”
Kang Mi-jin
Daily NK

Yonhap offers a summary of the article in English:

North Korea is going all out in blocking the cornering and the skyrocketing of rice prices in its flood-devastated northeastern areas, a Seoul-based news outlet specializing in the North reported Wednesday.

This summer, six areas in North Hamkyong Province in the North were devastated by heavy rains accompanied by Typhoon Lionrock, with the United Nations having estimated that 138 North Koreans were killed and 400 others are missing by the floods, with about 20,000 houses destroyed.

“Security agents and patrolmen are strongly cracking down on activities of cornering rice and raising rice prices (in flooded areas),” the Daily NK quoted a source from the North’s North Hamkyong Province as saying.

Therefore, there’s no big difference in rice price before and after the worst-ever flood hit the region, the source said.

“A merchant was trying to sell 1 kilogram of rice at 8,000 won shortly after heavy rains flooded the area, but was unable to do so due to strict control by security agents,” the source said.

Rice price once soared to 6,000 won from 5,000 won per kilogram before the floods, and now remains at the 5,000 won level, according to the source, adding that pork prices also showed no noticeable change, selling at 13,000 won per kilogram as before.

“Prices in the deluged areas are stable, in general,” the source said.

Full article:
N.K. strongly controls prices in flood-stricken areas
Yonhap News

Several things are worth noting here. First, historically, it is common for food prices to rise as a result of seasonal flooding in North Korea. After the severe floods in 2012, rice prices shot up from 4866 won/kg in July to 6533 won/kg in late September. Second, the rise in prices reported by RFA/Asia Press might have been a temporary shock. The DailyNK price graph, last updated in early September, shows very moderate increases in prices after the floods hit in late August. Perhaps prices stabilized quickly as supply did (i.e., deliveries coming in from other areas; this is only speculative though). Third, price controls are difficult to maintain under pressure. Had there been a massive pressure for prices to go up due to drastically decreased supply, it is hard to see that the government would have been able to effectively keep market prices at a certain level across the board. I will try to keep this post continuously updated as market price information gets updated.


Increase in DPRK companies involved in Pyongyang Autumn International Trade Fair

September 23rd, 2016

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (FES)

Despite the tough sanctions of the international community, Pyongyang’s Autumn International Trade Fair has opened. A standout in this year’s proceedings is that, unlike previous years, there are now more North Korean companies participating than foreign companies.

According to reports in Chosun Sinbo, a pro-North Korean newspaper published in Japan, the trade fair was held from September 5th to 8th in Pyongyang’s Three Revolutions Exhibition Hall. A total of 15 national and 280 regional companies in fields as diverse as electronics, machinery, metals, construction materials, transport, medicine, agriculture, light industry and foodstuffs participated.

The newspaper’s reporting highlighted “the release of many processed products for export using domestically produced materials as a result of cutting-edge science and technology introduced into our country’s [North Korea] factories and workplaces, upholding the value of autonomy and self-strengthening, which is a feature of this, the 12th Pyongyang Autumn Trade Fair.”

In addition, the newspaper added that “in the recent few years, the fair has seen a rising number of domestic (North Korean) companies participate, and this time around too, there were more domestic than foreign companies involved. . . . As with previous years, domestic companies have bravely displayed many light industrial products, with the number of products from the electrical sector rising every year being particularly noteworthy.”

The newspaper especially pointed out “in recent years, research and development, and production of a variety of electrical and electronic products with our branding has been actively proceeding in [North] Korean factories. . . . There are now more than 30 brands of electrical products being produced including ‘Blue Sky’ and ‘Morning’, with 10 such brands being on display at this year’s autumn trade fair.”

These companies exhibited up-to-date consumer electronics including tablet computers, desktops, laptops and LCTVs.

Ri Gyong Sim (36), an employee of the Rakwon General Trade Company (participating for the second time in the trade fair) stated that “of late, demand has been rising amongst the people for electrical goods with our brand name. . . . this is because, first of all, our credibility is guaranteed by production units, and direct sales points also do repairs, so the consumer’s demands for convenience are satisfied.”

Ri also said that coming to the fair allowed him to check what was good about competitors’ products and this would help his company improve their offering. He also said that “there is a multiplier effect in quality terms with the products on display at the trade fair as domestic companies compete with the same products.”

What’s more, there were many participants from the Fareast including China and Mongolia, and Southeast Asia, including Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam. Russian, German, and Italian participants were also present.

The newspaper pointed especially to the fact that “since last year, Singaporean companies, food companies in particular, have shown an active interest in trading with [North] Korea.”

This includes a Singaporean trade company called Gold Kili, a manufacturer and seller of drinks including coffee and a variety of teas. It is a famous food company in Singapore, which exports its products to 30 countries.

The company’s head, Chu Wai (44) said that of the products on display at the Trade Fair, the Korean people purchased much coffee in particular, and that he was satisfied with having a number of discussions about commercial transactions.


A hole in the sanctions, big enough to drive missile equipment through?

September 22nd, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Says Daily NK (with my emphasis):

Chinese authorities are said to be questioning the head of a local trade company in Liaoning Province for allegedly smuggling materials used for nuclear and missile development into North Korea. The owner and founder of Hongxiang Industrial Development based in the border city of Dandong, Ma Xiaohong, was arrested and has been under investigation for a number of weeks,  Daily NK has learned.
“Ma was arrested by Shenyang law enforcement earlier this month and is currently being questioned on suspicions of disguising military goods and equipment banned under global sanctions and smuggling them into North Korea,” a source close to North Korean affairs in China told Daily NK. “Despite the more stringent screening procedures at the customs office that were introduced from March, Ma’s company continued to smuggle banned metal and tank battery components, hiding them in shipments of apple boxes [wherein some boxes contained apples and others contraband].”
The source reported that Ma’s company also sold weapons manufacturing tools, selling dozens at a price of 10 million RMB (1.5 million USD) per piece to North Korean military contacts. By aggressively exploiting the UN sanctions for its own benefit, the firm was able to rake in huge sums of money, the source asserted.
“The profits that Ma accumulated from trading with North Korean defense companies were actually smuggling payments,” the source said. “By providing sanctioned items, Ma made so much money that she even gave Toyotas and imported cars as gifts to some North Korean cadres and Chinese traders.”
The investigation comes at a time when Beijing has come under greater scrutiny for its cross-border interactions with the North after Pyongyang defied strong UN sanctions passed in March and conducted a fifth nuclear test on September 9. Due to the recent nuclear test, some believe that the Chinese government is now moving quickly to conclude the investigation and make the results public, holding Ma’s company accountable for UN sanctions violations.
“Dozens of cadres working for Dandong’s government agencies have been instigated during Ma’s testimony, so it doesn’t look like this will have a simple conclusion,” said an additional source in China with knowledge of the incident. “Seven 5,000-ton ships operated by this company have been impounded and are moored at Donggang Port, while all of the companies that were doing business with Hongxiang are also under investigation.”
In addition, the customs office in Dandong is expected to undergo an extensive reshuffle after failing to stop banned goods on the sanctions list flowing into the North. Some 30 individuals are under investigation in relation to the case, with the central government keeping close tabs on how the events are unfolding, reported the source.
On Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. and Chinese officials are targeting Hongxiang Industrial Development for its suspected involvement in criminal activities while aiding the North. It reported that prosecutors from the U.S. Department of Justice visited Beijing last month to inform Chinese authorities of the case, citing evidence that Ma and her company had helped Pyongyang in its nuclear development and in circumventing global sanctions.
One might wonder why the Dandong customs office would only undergo such a reshuffling now. Reports of lax sanctions enforcement have been forthcoming fairly continuously since sanctions were adopted after the 4th nuclear test — perhaps the 5th changed matters, at least for the time being.
Full article:
Hongxiang Industrial Development circumvented sanctions using apple boxes
Seol Song Ah
Daily NK

Book review recommendation: Philip Park’s Rebuilding North Korea’s Economy

September 20th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

It is unfortunate that books published in South Korea are often difficult for reader’s in the United States and Europe to get a hold of without waiting out the very long waiting times for online purchases or library orders. Readers of this blog may well be familiar with Kyungnam University professor Philip H. Park’s work on the institutional side of the North Korean economy. One of professor Park’s books on the North Korean economy was recently translated into English and published under the name of Rebuilding North Korea’s Economy. Sadly I have not yet personally been able to read the book for reasons stated at the beginning of this post, but a review in Daily NK summarizes some of the core arguments:

“Rebuilding North Korea’s Economy” is a detailed history of the evolution of North Korea’s economic institutions. It is a newly published English translation of the original Korean work. The author is a professor of political science and diplomacy at Kyungnam University. The book details how a series of crises stimulated a procession of changes in North Korea’s economic strategy. Each new strategy reacted to and attempted to amend the problems created by its predecessor. However, each policy also sowed the seeds for future crisis by creating new inefficiencies.

The Argument
Phillip Park’s central contribution is to correct a common misconception about marketization and the decentralization of North Korea’s economy. Park argues that North Korea did not begin its process of marketization with the July 1st Measures in 2002 – as is commonly believed. Instead, he presents evidence that North Korea actually started spinning the gears of this process much earlier, most significantly with the adoption of the Ryonhapkiopso System (Complex Industrial System) in 1986. In theory, this economic approach allowed limited market mechanisms and practical planning to replace more ideological economic initiatives. The system’s implementation was largely a response to stagnated growth and the impending collapse of one of North Korea’s key sponsor states, the Soviet Union. Aside from inefficiency, North Korea’s principal economic problem has always been striking a balance between sectors while also pursuing self-sufficiency. The Complex Industrial System aimed to address that problem.
The author uses North Korean economic journals as his primary sources. He admits that separating the useful information from the propaganda was a laborious task. So, while the information does need to be taken with a grain of salt, we can still learn a lot about the state of North Korea’s economy by observing how academic discussions and policy recommendations have evolved over time. The book does a good job contrasting policy dialogues with the results of subsequent implementations (or lack thereof). The book’s sources help dispel the myth that North Korea’s political economy is purely monolithic. Indeed, through the book, we witness key players – academics and officials alike – arguing over milestone policies.
One note of caution: Park dives headfirst into the North Korean understanding of economics. Yes, this means a heavy dose of Marxist concepts and five-syllable jargon. But those with a rudimentary understanding of socialist politics know that seemingly obscure theoretical points are sometimes used to justify sweeping changes. In particular, changes to North Korea’s economic institutions are often motivated by theoretical assumptions about how to best transition to a fully communist state. This is actually one of the book’s major charms. After we digest the dense vocabulary, we are presented with a reasonable framework for understanding the decision making of one of the world’s most opaque and incomprehensible dynasties. That in itself is a laudable achievement.
Let’s address a few downsides. Considering that the original Korean work was published a few years ago, it would have been nice to get an expanded forward with some new observations on Kim Jong Un’s performance as an economic manager. Also, abbreviations and technical jargon are used thoroughly in the book. A glossary of terms would have been a handy reference.
Although Park’s main argument may seem technical at first glance, the repercussions of this work are vast. The most immediate and profound impact is that it forces us to reconsider the history, nature, and trajectory of North Korea’s economic transformation. Marketization is typically described as a bottom-up process of slowly expanding black market activity. But Park gives us a reason to think that the picture is slightly more nuanced. It gives us a view into the thinking of North Korean economic planners. Readers are prompted to think more deeply about how institutions shape incentives in North Korea, and how these institutions have changed over time.
Full article here:
Light and shadow: A review of ‘Rebuilding North Korea’s Economy’
Daily NK

DPRK railway repairs following N. Hamgyong flooding

September 15th, 2016

I have been busy with a number of projects, so I have not kept up with the flooding as I would have liked to. But here is a quick data visualization project I was able to quickly put together this morning.

KCNA reported the following:

Railroad Restoration Pushed forward

Pyongyang, September 13 (KCNA) — The restoration of railroads progresses apace in the flood-hit northern areas of North Hamgyong Province, the DPRK.

As of Sept. 10, over 35 400 cubic meters of mud was removed from 30-odd sections with railroad beds restored in 20 sections.

Railway tracks were reconnected between Komusan and Musan and between Komusan and Haksong, and railway service reopened between Paekam and Kulsong, Komusan and Sophungsan, Komusan and Hakpho and Haksong and Namyang.

Here is a quick map of the affected areas:


The areas that the DPRK claims to have cleared are in yellow. The original railway line is in blue. The stations are labeled so you can see where the DPRK claims to have resumed service.

You can see KCTV footage of the repairs here:

There is still no high-resolution satellite imagery for sale of the affected area.

Here is a map of the affected areas.