North Korea announces “Naenara” brand vehicles

January 15th, 2018

UPDATE 1 (2018-1-15): Martin Weiser notified me that the Korean version of the article includes the company information (Note to readers: When doing research using the North Korean media, look for the original Korean article!).

The company that produces the Naenara vehicles is the Chongpung JVC (AKA 청풍합영회사/Chongphung)–and it looks like they have been around for a while. You can download a video of the 13th Pyongyang Spring Trade Fair (held in 2012) here, and in the video you can see Chongphung JVC participating.

You can download a video on Chongpung as well that shows a variety of vehicles and foodstuffs they produce. Martin Weiser also posted a picture of their vehicles on Twitter:

ORIGINAL POST: The North Korean news portal “Naenara” announced “Naenara” brand vehicles over the weekend.


The news portal does not reveal much information on the vehicles:

Naenara-brand Rolling Stock

Types: Cars, small- and medium-size buses and small trucks

Technical specifications:

− Fuel consumption: 42 – 50g/km (for cars and buses), 58g/km (for trucks)

− Maximum speed: 120 – 180km/h

− Maximum output: 55 – 80kW

The Naenara-brand rolling stock consumes low fuel, and has air-conditioner, servosteering function and motor-windows.

They are equipped with such control systems as motor-driven exterior rear view mirroring, start-stop, and backward alarm systems.

I did a quick check to see if these vehicles may simply be re-branded Pyeonghwa Motors vehicles,  but I could not find any matches.

I have not seen any new vehicle factories appear in the North Korean media, so I assume an existing vehicle factory has launched a new product line. It is possible that a military vehicle factory has launched a new product for the civilian economy.

Very little data as of now, however, so we will have to wait and see. If any tourists or visitors spot these cars, please take a picture of them (the marketing pics are all computer generated).

Fuel availability, especially for the civilian economy, has been a topic of interest by outside observers in the last year as UNSC resolutions have sought to restrict imports from abroad.

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Satellite (Wisong) Scientists Street Part 2 Announced (sort of)

January 12th, 2018

Kim Jong-un made his first guidance trip of 2018 to the State Academy of Science in Unjong District, Pyongyang, on January 12.

While touring the newly renovated history museum, he was photographed in front of a map that advertised the plan for “Phase 2” of the Wisong Scientists Street (위성과학자거리 2단계배치계화안).

I have outlined the approximate area on Google Earth in red below.

Although housing renovation in Pyongyang started before Kim Jong-un took over from his father, he has touted new housing as one of his signature policy accomplishments. Kim Jong-un launched his leadership with the opening of the renovated eastern end of Mansudae Street (and Changjon Street), then moved onto Unha Scientists Street, Wisong Scientists Street, Mirae Scientists Street, and Ryomyong Street.

Construction on new facilities has noticeably slowed over the last year, though implementation of specific types of construction projects is ongoing nationwide. It will be interesting to see if anything comes of this project in the next couple of years given all that is taking place in the domestic economy (sanctions).

And just to add to the confusion, this same area has also been previously designated for the Unjong Cutting-Edge Technological Development Zone, so it will be interesting to see how that develops as well.

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Kangnam Economic Development Park Announced

December 23rd, 2017

I am on Christmas holiday, but took a quick minute to write this blog post about North Korea’s newest Special Economic Zone.

According to KCNA (2017-12-23):

SPA Presidium Decides to Establish Kangnam Economic Development Park

Pyongyang, December 23 (KCNA) — The Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea decided to establish Kangnam Economic Development Park in several parts of Koup-ri, Kangnam County of Pyongyang.

The DPRK is to exercise sovereignty over Kangnam Economic Development Park.

A decree on the decision of the SPA Presidium was promulgated on Thursday.

North Korea announced fourteen new SEZs in 2013, seven new SEZs in 2014, and 3 new SEZs in 2015. None were announced in 2016. This is the first SEZ to be announced in 2017, and it was announced just a day after UNSC voted to tighten sanctions on the country.

Although the article does not give many specifics, I believe this project aspires to be a manufacturing/ processing/ shipping hub built on the Taedong River. But we will learn more later, no doubt.

See Google Earth image of the area below:

Koup-ri has over 4km of waterfront property along the Taedong River and a partially completed port at  38.876443°, 125.572246°.

It also has a new fish farm constructed sometime after September 2015:

North Korea and SEZs:

My impression is that to date North Korea had scaled back expectations on their many SEZs to focus on Rason Economic and Trade Zone and Wonsan-Mt. Kumgang International Tourist Park (neither of which are expected to see much growth owing to international sanctions measures, North Korea’s corrupt business environment, poor infrastructure, and poor human human rights record). A few other SEZs have seen some construction progress or are occasionally mentioned in the official media, but have seen little progress (nothing to make up for losses at the Kaesong Industrial Zone). These include the Hwanggumphyong and Wihwado Economic Zone (Management Commitee Building constructed), the Sinuiju International Economic Park (Chinese Tourist Zone constructed), the Kangryong International Model Green Park (advertised in official media), the Unjong Hi-Tech Development Park (advertised in official media), and the Mubong Special Park for International Tourism (new border crossing and limited construction).

Seeing this announcement was a surprise to me.

More later. Happy holidays.

 

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The December 2017 sanctions on North Korea: business as usual?

December 23rd, 2017

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Many of the steps in the additional sanctions added by the UN Security Council resolution 2379 on December 22nd, 2017, were expected. Targeting oil and petroleum, export incomes, as well as revenues from foreign workers, are all natural steps if the international community wants to pressure North Korea. It’s still rather unclear what the end-goal is, but if sanctions are intended to make things more difficult for the North Korean economy, they can certainly have an impact to that end. These are the main points:

  • Exports of refined petroleum products will be capped at 500,000 barrels per year.
  • Crude oil transfers will be limited to 4 million barrels/year.
  • Within two years, UN member states are to have expelled all North Korean workers and managers.

When analyzing how this will impact North Korea, there are two sides to the story. On the one hand, as with all sanctions against North Korea, China (and to some extent, Russia) would likely not have agreed to them if they had believed that they created a real risk of severe social instability in North Korea that would risk spilling over its own borders. At the same time, it seems like the US intention is to create economic difficulties so severe that the North Korean regime will crack and agree to negotiate the existence of its nuclear deterrent, at least according to the official, outward line. These two objectives appear to be mutually exclusive in the long run.

Moreover, China and Russia appear to have extracted some significant concessions in negotiating the resolution. North Korean workers are to be expelled no later than within two years, which is not an insignificant time frame. Perhaps by then, things will have changed enough for sanctions to be renegotiated. The cap of 4 million barrels is close to what China is commonly estimated to be transferring in terms of crude oil per year to North Korea (3.64 million). So North Korea will hardly be fully starved of oil. Fuel has never been in abundant supply in the country.

Last but not least, smuggling routes are already well-established. Recall Ri Jong-ho’s claims that North Korea buys 300,000 tonnes of fuel products from Russia each year through brokers abroad, largely under the radar. Such transfers are not impossible, but very difficult, to track and stop. Both Russia and China can claim with some truth that they cannot control all sanctions breaches by entities within its borders, particularly enterprises who aren’t all too law-abiding in normal times. Particularly given the poor state of relations between the US and Russia, and the US and China, it is unlikely that either of the two countries will dedicated significant resources to fully track and prevent sanctions breaches, beyond normal procedure. Also, North Korea has been under various forms of sanctions since at least 2006, and even before that, was never an integrated part of established and open world trade. They’ve existed under harsh conditions long enough to learn and adapt their strategies.

On the other hand, North Korea is not immune to sanctions pressure. No country is. Even if smuggling and other ways of getting around sanctions can compensate for some of the losses, transaction costs likely increase. In other words, those who still choose to sell items like fuel to North Korea now have space to demand a higher mark-up for the additional risk. There are also presumably added transaction costs liquefying coal to generate oil.

The government has the resources and the know-how to largely get what they need, but North Korean businesses at the mid- or lower levels will find it much more difficult to keep up with the added costs and effort needed. This is has been true for each sanctions round through this year and last.

Ordinary North Koreans have been impacted by sanctions for long — this did not start with the sanctions that target goods such as oil and fuel. The opportunity cost of what could have been without them was still present. Of course, one can reasonably argue that the fault lies with the regime, for continuing its development of nuclear weapons and missiles, and not with the international community. But that sanctions would somehow not effect North Korean society while hitting against the regime seems implausible.

Lastly, we can note that both exchange rates and rice prices on North Korean markets have decreased over the past few weeks. There may be additional stress present among some spheres of society, but it seems like no major sense of crisis is at hand.

 

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US asks China to cease all oil shipments to North Korea

November 29th, 2017

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

In response to yesterday’s missile test, Trump has asked Xi Jinping to cease all oil shipments to North Korea from China. “All” presumably includes the crude oil that China ships, in unknown but presumably large amounts, via the pipeline that runs from Northeast China through Dandong and to the Ponghwa refinery in Sinuiju in North Korea’s northeast.

It seems unlikely that China would fully cease shipments of oil to North Korea, especially over a longer term period. Should oil shortages get serious to the degree that vital industries, agriculture and other sectors cannot function properly, China would eventually grow concerned over social instability in North Korea that would risk spilling over its own borders.

Should China cut off crude oil shipments, it would mean that North Korea’s ability to acquire oil and fuel products is severely limited. Sanctions cap the amount that UN member states can ship to the country, and gasoline prices have risen to very high levels during the year. Oil imports through channels that go unnoticed in international trade records are probably much bigger than often estimated. Recall Ri Jong-ho’s famed estimate that North Korea purchases 300,000 tons of oil products each year from Russia. Overall, it is not entirely unfeasible that Russia could grow as a source of North Korean oil imports in the future. North Korea also has some capacity to transform domestically sourced coal products into synthetic liquid fuel.

The drastically increased fuel prices in North Korea during the year also suggest that the state may have been grabbing much of what fuel has been available for its own needs, likely to store for military and other uses, suggesting that North Korean strategists have long seen an oil embargo on the horizon. After all, the markets only exist at the mercy of the state, and will always come secondary. Therefore, we don’t know whether military and state storage might currently be larger than estimated in normal times.

At the end of the day, however, should crude oil flows from China be cut off entirely, there’s no denying it would be problematic for North Korea. Though China is unlikely to entirely cut off all crude oil shipments for a prolonged, long-term period, much pain can be caused in the meantime.

For more on this, I wrote about North Korea’s connections to, and reliance on, China in matters such as infrastructure, energy, and telecommunications earlier this year in IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review.

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On the December Dandong-Sinuiju bridge closing

November 24th, 2017

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Yesterday, Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun reported that the Dandong-Sinuiju bridge will be closed during the coming weeks. The bridge is to be closed for ten days. Ostensibly for repairs, they said China was also closing the bridge for political reasons.

Should the bridge be closed for any longer period of time, that would be very problematic for North Korea (and for traders on the Chinese side, too). Around 70 percent of trade between the two countries is estimated to go through this connection point. Given North Korea’s poor infrastructure, re-routing goods transports through other parts of the country would likely be difficult.

But the closing most likely is not a measure taken to punish North Korea or the like, despite the current context. First, as many travellers going across the bridge attest to, repairs are in dire need. Second, the end of the year typically sees a lull in goods flows across the border anyway. Transport volumes are cyclical and no one point in the year is fully representative for the rest. Third, simply closing up the bridge would seem like an odd blanket-type measure, and should China want to punish North Korea, there are certainly much more efficient ways of doing so.

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On the Nov 21st US Treasury Sanctions against North Korea

November 21st, 2017

By: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Today, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) announced new sanctions against a number of Chinese and North Korean entities. The sanctions “target third-country persons with long-standing commercial ties to North Korea, as well as the transportation networks that facilitate North Korea’s revenue generation and operations,” said a press statement.

Overall, these additional measures seem designed to clamp down on avenues for North Korea to circumvent current UN sanctions. Among those sanctioned are three Chinese companies that have traded with North Korea in goods that are covered by UN sanctions from this and last year:

OFAC designated Dandong Kehua Economy & Trade Co., Ltd., Dandong Xianghe Trading Co., Ltd., and Dandong Hongda Trade Co. Ltd. pursuant to E.O. 13810.  Between January 1, 2013 and August 31, 2017, these three companies cumulatively exported approximately $650 million worth of goods to North Korea and cumulatively imported more than $100 million worth of goods from North Korea.  These goods have included notebook computers, anthracite coal, iron, iron ore, lead ore, zinc ore, silver ore, lead, and ferrous products.

Also targeted are companies that have traded in goods that are either covered by sanctions, or (it seems) fall under the dual-use category of goods that can be used in nuclear weapons/missile development:

OFAC designated Sun Sidong and his company, Dandong Dongyuan Industrial Co., Ltd. (Dongyuan), pursuant to E.O. 13810.  Sun and Dongyuan were responsible for exporting over $28 million worth of goods to North Korea over several years, including motor vehicles, electrical machinery, radio navigational items, aluminum, iron, pipes, and items associated with nuclear reactors.  Dongyuan has also been associated with front companies for weapons of mass destruction-related North Korean organizations.

The sanctions also target vessels that are suspected of having transferred oil to North Korea via other ships (ship-to-ship transfer) in violation of sanctions (this part contains some pretty impressive pictures):

All in all, these new sanctions appear to try to fill the gaps left by current sanctions. Surely, they will cause added trouble for North Korea. But the problem, to begin with, is that North Korea has historically been good at adapting to new sanction’s frameworks and finding new methods to circumvent them. Only time will tell whether these skills of North Korea still hold up in the current sanctions environment.

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Singapore cuts trade ties with North Korea

November 16th, 2017

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Reports Reuters (here in Asahi Shimbun):

Singapore has suspended trade relations with North Korea, the latest of Pyongyang’s major trade partners to cut commercial ties under toughening U.N. sanctions over its weapons program, a customs notice obtained on Thursday showed.

The move comes about two months after the United States imposed North Korea-related sanctions on a number of firms and individuals, including two entities based in Singapore.

“Singapore will prohibit all commercially traded goods from, or to, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK),” the city-state’s customs said in the notice sent to traders and declaring agents last Tuesday, referring to the country by its official name.

The suspension would take effect from Nov. 8, Fauziah A. Sani, head of trade strategy and security for the director-general of customs, said in the notice.

Repeated breach of the new prohibitions is punishable by a fine of up to S$200,000 ($147,341 or 16 million yen) or four times the value of the goods traded, imprisonment of up to three years, or both, it added.

Singapore is North Korea’s seventh largest trading partner. The Philippines, Pyongyang’s fifth biggest trading partner, suspended trade with North Korea in September to comply with a U.N. resolution.

Tension on the Korean Peninsula has escalated as North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, has stepped up the development of weapons in defiance of U.N. sanctions.

North Korea has tested a series of missiles this year, including one that flew over Japan, and conducted its sixth and biggest nuclear test in September.

Pyongyang maintains a diplomatic presence in Singapore, with an embassy in its financial district.

In September, Singapore issued a travel advisory urging citizens to avoid all non-essential travel to North Korea, where it does not have diplomatic representation.

In an interview with National Public Radio in May, Singapore’s minister of foreign affairs, Vivian Balakrishnan, had said the country was not ready to cut all diplomatic ties with North Korea.

In January last year, Singapore-based Chinpo Shipping Company (Private) Ltd. was fined S$180,000 for facilitating a shipment of arms to North Korea in violation of U.N. sanctions.

Article source:
Singapore suspends trade relations with North Korea
Reuters
2017-11-16

Say what you will about the Trump administration’s foreign policy, but they have scored some non-negligible victories lately in isolating North Korea.

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Latest in North Korea Tourism: Pyongyang Central Court

November 2nd, 2017

By: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Have you ever wondered what it’s really like to sentenced to years and years of hard labor for actions that wouldn’t be called “crimes” in most of the world? Ever wanted to visit a site where show trials have taken place, where defendants were later sentenced to death for trumped-up charges of spying for the American imperialists? Now’s your chance, with Swedish North Korea tour operator Korea Konsult. From their October newsletter:

You wish is our command! Visit the central court of Pyongyang and meet Korean judges to receive a legal consultation or ask questions about the legal system.  What are you waiting for? Start here. Book today

Presumably this is an offer and not a threat…

One may wonder how these legal consultations go down. “What is my best course of action if I have taken part in an anti-state demonstration, violating article 59, chapter 3, of North Korea’s criminal law?”.

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DPRK resolves debt with Poland

October 25th, 2017

According to Yonhap:

North Korea cleared off its debt to Poland in 2012 after the European country signed a deal with the North to write off 61 percent of the debt the previous year, Voice of America reported Thursday.

The Polish Treasury Department told VOA’s Korean Service that Poland held talks with North Korea on a debt write-off in 2011 and the North implemented what it was required to do under the agreement the same year.

According to the contract obtained by VOA, the agreement, signed in Pyongyang on June 1, 2011, stipulates that the North’s debt amounted to roughly US$4.31 million as of the reported year, including the production and delivery costs of Mi-2 military helicopters for which the Polish communist regime struck a deal with the North in 1986.

The report also said Poland’s debt relief was linked to the North’s provision of US$1.5 million in cash to purchase a ship to a North Korea-Poland joint venture shipping firm established in 1967.

Under the debt write-off deal, the North was also required to foot the bill of $200,000 to repair the Polish Embassy in Pyongyang. The repair project was based on an agreement between representatives from the two countries’ foreign ministries and the North was obligated to transfer the money to the embassy’s account.

In case the obligations are fulfilled, the agreement says, Poland will write off 61 percent of the North’s debt that corresponds to around $2.61 million.

North Korea currently owes debts to Sweden, Switzerland and Finland. The countries earlier said they had no intention of writing off the North’s debts.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea settles bill with Poland in 2012 after 61 pct of its debt written off: report
Yonhap
2017-10-25

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