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.

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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Second session of 13th Supreme People’s Assembly

September 25th, 2014

UPDATE 2 (2014-9-25): Kim Jong-un did not attend the SPA meeting.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

North Korea’s young leader wasn’t in his customary seat as the country convened its rubber-stamp parliament Thursday, adding to South Korean media speculation that Kim Jong Un may be ill.

Only part of the meeting of the Supreme People’s Assembly was shown on state TV, but Mr. Kim wasn’t present and apparently missed the meeting for the first time since he took power after the death of his father Kim Jong Il in December 2011, according to an official for the South’s Unification Ministry who spoke on condition of anonymity because of office rules.

The usually ubiquitous Mr. Kim, the third member of his family to rule the country, hasn’t been seen in state media since attending a Pyongyang concert on Sept. 3. He was shown limping on television in July and again earlier this month, and South Korean media have speculated that Kim has been ill, although there has been no discussion of the absence in the North’s state-run media.

According to Reuters:

Kim, who is considerably overweight, has not featured in state media broadcasts since appearing at a concert alongside his wife and former state entertainer Ri Sol Ju this month.

In July, he was seen walking with a limp at an event with key officials.

But analysts warned against reading too much into Kim’s absence.

“Kim Jong Il didn’t attend every time, either,” said Chris Green, a North Korea expert at Seoul-based Daily NK website. “Moreover, we know that the SPA primarily performs a demonstrative function, it is not a true decision-making body.”

UPDATE 1 (2104-9-25): KCNA reports on the second session of the 13th SPA. Most of the copy is dedicated to continuing education reforms, however at the end of the article, personnel changes at the National Defense Commission are announced:

It recalled Deputy Choe Ryong Hae from the post of vice-chairman of the National Defence Commission (NDC) of the DPRK due to his transfer to other post and Deputy Jang Jong Nam from the post of member of the NDC of the DPRK due to his transfer to other post.

It elected Deputy Hwang Pyong So to fill the vacancy as vice-chairman of the NDC of the DPRK and Deputies Hyon Yong Chol and Ri Pyong Chol to fill the vacancy as members of the NDC of the DPRK at the proposal of Marshal Kim Jong Un.

This list of NDC members (as of October 2013 )can be found here.

Reuters notes:

At the meeting, state media said, Choe Ryong Hae had been removed from the post of vice chairman of the National Defence Commission, a body chaired by Kim, and was replaced by Hwang Pyong So.

Hwang is a member of a powerful faction created in the 1970s under former leader Kim Jong Il, the father of the current leader, to boost a personality cult around his family.

Choe had been widely seen as a new right-hand man to Kim Jong Un after he purged his uncle last year, but had since fallen back into the shadows.

“Hwang’s appointment as NDC Vice Chairman shows that he has truly risen to become the regime’s de facto number two official,” said Michael Madden, a North Korean leadership expert and contributor to the 38 North website.

Hwang was appointed “according to the wishes of Marshall Kim Jong Un”, the North’s official KCNA news agency said.

Here is the full story:

2nd Session of 13th Supreme People’s Assembly of DPRK Held

Pyongyang, September 25 (KCNA) — The 2nd Session of the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) of the DPRK was held at the Mansudae Assembly Hall Thursday.

Present there were deputies to the SPA.

Officials of the party, armed forces and power organs, public organizations, ministries, national institutions and the fields of science, education, literature and art, public health and media attended it as observers.

All the participants observed a moment’s silence in memory of President Kim Il Sung and leader Kim Jong Il.

SPA Chairman Choe Thae Bok made an opening address.

The session discussed agenda items on summing up the implementation of “On Enforcing Universal 12-Year Compulsory Education”, the Ordinance of the SPA of the DPRK, and an organizational matter.

Deputy Pak Pong Ju, premier of the Cabinet, made a report on the first agenda item.

The reporter said that the 6th Session of the 12th SPA held in September, Juche 101 (2012) promulgated Ordinance on Enforcing Universal 12-Year Compulsory Education in line with the new requirements of the developing revolution.

According to the report, a work for successfully enforcing the schooling has been dynamically pushed forward as the one involving the whole state, all people and the whole society and signal successes have been made in it.

The work for operating the six-year secondary schools by dividing them into three-year junior secondary schools and three-year senior secondary schools has been wound up in a brief span of time. The first phase programs for the universal 12-year compulsory education were worked out in a matter of one and half years and textbooks of new contents and style were compiled.

Expenditure has been increased in educational field at the state budget, the State Planning Commission, the Ministry of Finance, provincial people’s committees and relevant institutions have ensured funds needed for educational work as planned, thus strengthening the material and technological foundation of schools.

Over the past two years since the promulgation of the ordinance new classrooms have been built or constructed on an expansion basis at schools across the country and many school things produced.

The reporter referred to the tasks facing the field of education.

He underlined the need to build well the ranks of teachers and decisively raise their qualifications and roles.

The general senior secondary schools should teach students with main emphasis on general secondary knowledge and senior secondary technical schools should make preparations in a responsible manner for giving education in basic technology to suit the economic and geographical peculiarities of the relevant areas while giving general education in conformity with the operation of senior secondary technical schools, new type schooling, on a trial basis, he noted.

He also underlined the need to positively push ahead with the work for putting the nation’s universal general secondary education including genius education on a new high stage, reinforce the research forces at educational and scientific research institutions and increase their responsibilities and roles.

He called for improving the conditions and environment for education to be fit for the appearance of a highly civilized socialist country.

Speakers at the session renewed their resolution to decisively improve the quality of education to meet the realistic requirements of the developing education in the age of knowledge-based economy and suit the trend of the world and thus train the younger generation as more dependable revolutionary talents of Juche type equipped with perfect general secondary knowledge, modern basic technological knowledge and creative ability.

The session adopted “On Comprehensively Enforcing Universal 12-Year Compulsory Education and Decisively Improving Its Quality”, the Decision of the SPA of the DPRK.

It discussed the second agenda item.

It recalled Deputy Choe Ryong Hae from the post of vice-chairman of the National Defence Commission (NDC) of the DPRK due to his transfer to other post and Deputy Jang Jong Nam from the post of member of the NDC of the DPRK due to his transfer to other post.

It elected Deputy Hwang Pyong So to fill the vacancy as vice-chairman of the NDC of the DPRK and Deputies Hyon Yong Chol and Ri Pyong Chol to fill the vacancy as members of the NDC of the DPRK at the proposal of Marshal Kim Jong Un.

ORIGINAL POST (2014-9-4): According to KCNA:

DPRK Supreme People’s Assembly to Be Convened

Pyongyang, September 5 (KCNA) — The Second Session of the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will be held in Pyongyang on September 25, Juche 103 (2014).

A relevant decision of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly was promulgated on Sept. 4.

Information on the first session of the 13th SPA can be found here.

Information on the election of the 13th SPA can be found here.

Here is what the Daily NK has to say:

It is the norm for the SPA to convene each spring to carry out the core responsibilities of ratifying personnel changes and hearing budgetary reports. Two of the more noteworthy results of the meeting in April this year were then-Director of the KPA General Political Department Choe Ryong Hae being made a deputy in the National Defense Commission, and Ri Su Yong being handed the foreign affairs portfolio. Ri, a seasoned diplomat, is scheduled to speak to the UN General Assembly later this month.

Conversely, second sessions do not occur every year as a matter of course; rather, they are convened when necessary for the accomplishment of Workers’ Party objectives. One such session convened on September 25th, 2012, for instance, resulted in wide-ranging changes to the state education system, most notably the addition of a 12th year of mandatory schooling.

As a result, attention is set to focus on personnel shifts and the possibility of major policy announcements.

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Energy supply in the DPRK’s SEZs

September 11th, 2014

The Nautilus Institute has published an interesting paper on energy infrastructure in the DPRK’s initial four special economic zones: Rason, Hwanggumphyong, Kaesong, Kaesong, and Kumgang.

Here is the publication information and  a link:

“Supplying Energy Needs for the DPRK’s Special Economic Zones and Special Administrative Regions: Electricity Infrastructure Requirements”
Nautilus Institute
Roger Cavazos & David von Hippel
2014-8-19

Here is the introduction:

The Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (DPRK) uses special economic zones as a mechanism for engaging in commercial activity with other nations without substantially converting its economy to a market model; earning hard currency while reducing some of the social and political risks associated with a broader opening of the DPRK economy. The DPRK recently announced its intent to increase the number of Special Designated Zones, including Special Economic Zones (SEZ) and Special Administrative Regions (SAR) in the country by fourteen.[1] In most cases, these Special Designated Zones (we will use “Special Zone”, or “SZ”,as the generic term in this Working Paper to apply to Special Designated Zones) will require energy supply (and demand) infrastructure that is now missing, or insufficient, at all existing and proposed Special Zone sites. Even though past is not prologue—and the mechanisms for supplying energy needs to new SZs may be different than those used in the past, this paper seeks to briefly describe already existing Special Zones in terms of their present energy requirements. Present requirements provide rough estimates of the energy requirements of the newly proposed zones. Specifically we examine: the Rason Special Economic Zone and Special Administrative Region, the Hwanggumphyong Special Economic Zone, the Wihwado Special Economic Zone, the Kumgang Mountain Tourist Area, and finally, the Kaesong Industrial Zone. These specially designated zones ideally contribute to economic development in North Korea as well as provide economic benefits to the Chinese and Russian provinces bordering North Korea. Chinese plans to resuscitate and/or invigorate the economies of their three Northeast provinces bordering North Korea would certainly be moved forward by trade with a richer North Korea and access to strategic North Korean ports just across the border. Although this paper does not cover Russian plans, the motivations for Russian investments in North Korean SZs are likely similar—the desire to boost the economies of the areas of the Russian Far East that adjoin the DPRK, and to improve access to markets in Asia.

There is a limited but growing amount of information available to understand how these Special Zones are defined by North Korean policy, how they are currently faring in terms of economic performance, and what future zones will likely require in terms of energy usage. There is also a growing body of rules and regulations by which North Korea and China plan to govern these zones. Except for the Kaesong industrial complex, it appears that all these zones are significantly short on the energy infrastructure necessary to supply their modest current demands, let alone any future projected demands. North Korea’s decision to declare several such zones in North Korea’s interior may possibly indicate a desire to stitch together North Korea’s electrical transmission and distribution networks which are currently more a patchwork of regional grids rather than a unified national grid. Previous Special Zones have always been on or near North Korea’s periphery. Because previous zones were located on the DPRK’s frontiers, they were largely able to “plug in” to already developed electricity transmission and distribution systems on the other side of the border (in China, Russia or South Korea). While we present no specific calculations here, the cost to renew the DPRK’s entire transmission and distribution (T&D) system will certainly cost billions to tens of billions of dollars which could consume on the order of 10 percent or more of North Korea’s GDP for 5 to 10 years, assuming, as estimated by Republic of Korea (ROK) sources, that North Korea’s GDP is in the neighborhood of 40 billion dollars. The costs of T&D renewal are thus well beyond anything North Korea is likely to be able to afford to do in the short-term on anything but a piecemeal basis.

Despite gaps in our knowledge of how Special Zones in the DPRK have formed and operate or will operate, there is a substantial amount of information available from English, Chinese and Korean-language sources describing the basic plans for investment and the businesses that North Korean, Chinese, and in some cases Russian partners hope to develop in some Special Economic Zones. What is missing from the plans for which information is available, however, are detailedplans for building the energy infrastructure required to support the amount of economic activity (in factories, ports, hotels, workers quarters, and other elements of the SZs) envisioned. The electricity infrastructure required to support the economic plans is modest by most industrial standards. The existing infrastructure in most of the SZs, however, is grossly inadequate, and thus will require significant international investment to allow the SZs to operate as planned.

Investing in SZ infrastructure is likely to be more complex than a typical industrial investment. Sources of investment funds for SZ infrastructure could include businesses from a number of nations, and/or government or multilateral funds. Each potential lender/investor will have its own criteria for deciding on whether a given investment is reasonable or too risky. In theory, involving a number of different actors from different nations in DPRK SZ infrastructure investments would help to diversify the risk borne by any given company or nation, and to create a broader constituency for working with North Koreans using business practices that comply with international law and standards. In part, a broader constituency of coordinated investors could also help to discourage the “rent-seeking” by officials that is often a part of projects in the DPRK (and in many other countries). Because the amount of infrastructure-building required is high, there is significant potential for illegal rent-seeking, that is, for example, for DPRK authorities to inflate the price of “surveys” or permits, or the cost of securing import rights for equipment needed for the SZs, in order to gain personally from the transaction.

Working conditions in SZs will be another area of concern for investors and for foreign firms seeking to operate facilities in new or existing SZs. Anecdotal reports suggest that industrial facilities in general in the DPRK tend to operate with limited evident concern for worker safety. In the absence of pressure from investing companies, it is also likely that working conditions will remain poor and dangerous, as there does not appear to be a significant set of DPRK regulations related to industrial safety. Nor, for that matter, does there appear to be a well-established and well-funded government body dedicated to establishing, monitoring and enforcing industrial safety regulations.

This paper describes several of the Special Zones now operating in or in the advanced planning process in the DPRK, together with what is known about plans for their development. For each, it provides a description of the likely energy requirements, based on what can be determined regarding planned activities at each site, and examines adjoining energy infrastructure to identify probable degrees of energy shortfalls that foreign investors, working with DPRK counterparts, will need to overcome. Some of issues and policies that policymakers inside and outside of the DPRK will need to consider in order to arrange for the financing and construction of the requisite infrastructure to operate the SZs.

You can download the PDF here.

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DPRK fun: Guess how many members of the women’s team are civilians

September 11th, 2014

DPRK-national-team-2014

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US federal court rules against DPRK

September 11th, 2014

In July 2014 a US federal court found the DPRK guilty of proliferating weapons and providing training to Hezbollah.

Here is the ruling (PDF).

 

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Competition rises among factories and department stores in North Korea: Delivery services now available

September 5th, 2014

Institute for Far Easter Studies (IFES)
2014-9-4

It appears that some factories and department stores in North Korea have begun to implement a delivery service in response to customer demand. This new customer-oriented service seems to have arisen out of the Kim Jong Un regime’s goal of increasing autonomy and competition among businesses.

According to the newest issue of “Choguk” [Joguk] (“Motherland”, September 2014), a media outlet associated with the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, North Korea’s representative state-run department store Pyongyang Department Store No. 1 has been making efforts to diversify the services offered to its customers. The article specifically revealed a personal delivery service, saying, “Salespersons have responded to the public’s requests and have begun to deliver ordered products to sell directly to customers at their doorsteps.”

Salespersons from Pyongyang Department Store No. 1 have also been travelling to power plants, mining sites, textile mills, farms and other worksites to sell products directly to workers and farmers. Other businesses, such as the Potong River Shoe Factory, have also been diversifying customer services. For example, employees now visit customers’ homes to measure shoe size and satisfy other requests they may have when placing an order for shoes.

The Daedong River Passenger Transport Company in Pyongyang is currently offering a taxi dispatching service to customers who call in and request a pickup. Similar to the workings of South Korea’s taxi service, North Koreans may simply dial “186” to be connected to the closest dispatch office, which then sends out a taxi to pick up the customer.

On the other hand, North Korea has recognized the problem of the low-quality products and poor construction work and has emphasized that efforts must be made to remedy these areas. In the most recent issue of the quarterly academic journal, Kyongje Yongu [Economic Research] (2014, Issue 3), one article points out problems in the poor quality of North Korean-made products and construction, saying, “Neglect in quality growth is an outdated attitude.”

Specifically, the article mentions the problem of promising completion of construction according to deadlines: “Technical regulations and construction methods are disregarded when projects are rushed to be finished by their completion date, which is often decided in advance to coincide with a holiday or anniversary.

Currently, North Korea has undertaken large-scale construction operations to finish the Kim Chaek University of Technology’s faculty apartments, the Pyongyang Orphanage and Nursery, the North Pyongan Chongchon River Power Plant and other projects spanning various fields. The goal is to complete these projects concurrently with the anniversary of the foundation of the Worker’s Party of Korea (October 10).

At construction sites around North Korea, it appears that all available resources are being mobilized to engage in a so-called “speed battle” with these construction deadlines. The side effect of this huge emphasis on speed has resulted in many instances of poor construction, like the collapse of the 23-floor apartment building in Pyongyang’s Ansan-1-dong back in May.

The article also points out, “Despite attempting to work toward self-sustainability, there are events where lower quality, alternative products are being used below the material requirements that are leading to lowered quality work.” Furthermore, the article emphasizes, “Production and circulation of faulty products or products which cause harm to the health or lifestyle of the people must be stopped.”

It has also been reported that corruption is taking place at factories and construction sites, with party officials or intermediary managers amassing riches by siphoning off materials and pocketing the money. This leads to further problems in product quality and defectiveness.

Due to the issues of poor construction and product quality, the article points out, “There are many areas in our material economic life that fall behind the global trend,” but “if the quality of products and buildings are improved, the need to consider products from other countries will wane.”

In order to solve these problems, the article suggests implementing product standardization and specialization and encourages research in industrial design.

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Rodong Sinmun calls for strengthening the cabinet in economic matters

September 5th, 2014

UPDATE 1 (2014-9-11): IFES reports: North Korea emphasizes innovation using “economic management in our style” approach:

North Korea has announced that the nation’s economic management problem will be solved through their “own style,” once again stressing the superiority of the Socialist self-reliant economic model and reiterating the need to construct a strong and prosperous nation.

A September 3, 2014 editorial in the Rodong Sinmun argues the importance of economic management and leadership, saying that it must be improved to meet the demands of the North Korean economy, which has reached a new turning point in its development.

“Economic Management System in Our Style” is North Korea’s new approach to economic principles originally stemming from Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. The editorial emphasizes that it is a project that will bring real results and continuous development.

Furthermore, the editorial argues that economic management and leadership must be carried out according to objective economic law and scientific reason in order to ensure the greatest possible economic practicality.

The article also emphasizes the role of scientific technology, saying that “Research and development must be actively promoted in all areas and all aspects of the people’s economy. New scientific technology must be integrated into production in order to renovate the economy and meet the demands of the new generation.”

The editorial also calls for conservation of national human and material resources as much as possible, as fundamental problems in building a strong economic nation and improving the life of the people, including the lack of adequate power and food, have yet to be solved.

The roles of economic advising agencies and their workers were emphasized as being especially important. The editorial stresses that these economic advisers must become aware of the deep responsibility they hold, and must work to achieve real results in improving the country’s economic management.

Finally, the role of the Cabinet was also emphasized as the commander of the economy. Specifically, the editorial calls for the strengthening of the Cabinet-centered system, in which the Cabinet should oversee all economic institutions and sectors and create policies accordingly. In addition, the Cabinet’s role to guide companies with scientific business and corporate strategies is emphasized so that they may actively engage in creative business activities.

North Korea has been rolling out economic improvement measures since early 2012, starting with the agriculture sector. Since then, an “independent profit system” has also been introduced in various factories and businesses where managers are allowed more autonomy in managing operations, but are ultimately responsible for the business’s productivity.

Beginning this year, the “business know-how” concept was applied to various farms and factories, and increased profits reportedly have begun to see their way back into the hands of the workers. The workers, whose job performance has increased due to the rise in profits, are seen as the driving force of North Korea’s economic development.

ORIGINAL POST (2014-9-5): Thanks to Choson Exchange for spotting this one. According to Rodong Sinmun (2014-9-4):

Giving Full Play to Advantages and Might of Self-surpporting Economy

It is necessary to settle the issue of economic management by Korean style in order to fully demonstrate the advantages and might of the Juche-oriented socialist self-supporting economy and win the final victory in the drive for building a thriving nation.

The establishment of Korean-style economic management method is, in essence, the work to apply, carry forward and develop the principle and methods of economic management indicated by President Kim Il Sung and leader Kim Jong Il as required by the present times.

It is necessary to hold fast to the socialist principle in improving the economic management.

It is essential to ensure the maximum economic profitability by guiding and managing economy according to the objective laws of economy and scientific reason.

In order to improve the economic management it is important to raise the responsibility and role of the economy guidance institutions and officials.

It is possible to successfully achieve economic development only by working out a scientific economy development strategy, enlisting the natural resources and all potentials of the country to the maximum, ensuring a steady growth of production and keeping the overall balance of economy.

The Cabinet is the economy command of the country.

It is necessary to strengthen the Cabinet responsibility system, system centering on the Cabinet, concentrate all the economic fields and overall economic work on the Cabinet and take measures under the supervision of the Cabinet.

The editorial calls for improving the economic management as required by the developing reality and intended by the party and thus giving fuller play to the advantages of Korean-style socialism and bring about a fresh turn in the building of a thriving nation.

Here is a PDF of the web page should the URL go bad.

It is worth noting briefly that this is what we have seen recently in recent consolidation of the JVIC, SEDC, and Ministry of Foreign Trade into the Ministry of External Economic Affairs.

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DPRK restricts international mobile phone use

September 1st, 2014

According to Reuters:

In a move that makes it harder for North Koreans to gain illicit access to the global Internet, North Korea now only allows mobile phone SIM cards used by tourists to be active for the duration of their visit, tourism sources told Reuters.

Unlike North Koreans, foreigners visiting the isolated country can freely browse social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter using the Koryolink domestic network.

Under a change made in July, North Korea deactivates the card when a visitor leaves, ensuring that it can not be left for use by a resident, the sources said. It can be reactivated when a visitor returns to the country.

“This basically means in practical terms that if someone leaves the country they can’t simply leave their phone with a local friend and have them use the Internet,” said one source, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of discussing such issues when working in North Korea.

Read the full story here:
North Korea tightens grip on phone SIM cards used by tourists
Reuters
James Pearson
2014-9-1

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DPRK still owes Sweden for old Volvos

August 29th, 2014

According to Newsweek:

North Korea’s foremost trade debt to the western world is bizarre even by North Korean standards. Each time the administration misses a payment, as it has done every year for the past 40 years, we are reminded of one of the most unexpected political twists of the last century: Kim Il-sung scamming Sweden out of 1,000 Volvo 144 sedans.

Each fiscal year, the Swedish Export Credits Guarantee Board calculates interest on a single debt that accounts for more than half of all its political claims. It’s been a tradition since 1974, when the government agency was advised to insure Volvo, Atlas Copco, Kockum, and other Swedish companies’ exports to an entirely new buyer: Supreme Leader Kim Il-sung. For nearly half a century, the Board has been in charge of the Sisyphean task of coaxing €300m from a nation that thinks international law is an elaborate gambit designed by capitalist pig-dogs.

“We semi-annually advise when payments fall due,” Stefan Karlsson, the board’s head of risk advisory, tells Newsweek. “However, as is well known, North Korea does not fulfil their part of the agreement.” Sweden being Sweden and North Korea being North Korea, that’s about as hardball as it gets.

Small wonder that a regime so impressed with itself soon developed expensive taste. “Inside the 144 GL you sit on leather,” reads the unambiguous 1970s marketing material that Volvo likely sent its North Korean buyers. Together with contemporary industry giants Atlas Copco and Kockums, Volvo was one of the first European companies to foray into the North Korean market, and promptly received an order for 1,000 vehicles, the first of which were delivered in 1974. But less than a year later, the venture blew up at a Swedish-Korean industrial trade fair in Pyongyang, where it suddenly became clear that the Kim regime wasn’t actually paying for the goods it was importing – not even the machines it ordered for the expo. The bills were simply piling up.

Exporters realised that the venture had gone horribly wrong. But for the past few years, Sweden had had North Korea fever, with countless hours and funds spent on diplomatic and industrial ties. Acquiescing in a massive failure was not easy. “Many had been blinded by North Korea’s impressive economic growth – people had raced to get there first,” Lamm Nordenskiöld says. “Sweden was supposed to be the first country to unlock this new market.”

While many companies pressed on with payment negotiations in an effort to save face, Swedish media was having a blast unraveling one of the most bizarre trade debacles in recent memory. In an indignant spread featuring a photo of the supreme leader with the caption “Kim Il-sung – Broke Communist,” Åge Ramsby of the newspaper Expressen in 1976 went all out listing reports of other debts the Kim regime shirked, including a cool €5m to Swiss Rolex, from whom it had allegedly ordered 2,000 wristwatches with the engraving “donated by Kim Il-sung”.

“North Korea had expected to pay their foreign debts with deliveries of copper and zinc,” the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter wrote in 1976, referring to the reserves the imported mining equipment was supposed to unlock. “But the North Korean economists had been too optimistic in their calculations, and the international market price for these ores had also dropped ­catastrophically.”

Fair enough – but two things suggest that botched calculations and sheer lack of funds only partially explain North Korea’s failure to pay up. First, it is widely accepted among biographers and manufacturers that the Kim regime conducted extensive industrial espionage during the trade fair. Colluding to cop specs from technology you’re paying for would be weird even by Kim’s standards.

More importantly, Erik Cornell, a diplomat and former Swedish ambassador to North Korea, recalls in his book North Korea: Emissary to Paradise a widespread local belief that the Western world had finally “seen the light” in the global struggle against the American imperialist – that Europe had recognised its duty to assist the brave People’s Republic, and that quibbles regarding who owed whom money would soon dissolve in grand efforts to crush capitalism as a whole.

Adjusted for interest and inflation, the debt to the Swedish state now exceeds three billion Swedish kronor, or €300m. It is an astronomical claim, particularly on capital that has depreciated to a fraction of its original value.

If Kim Jong-un and his officers rounded up all 1,000 vehicles and sold each of them at the current book value of about €2,000, they would raise 0.6% of the debt.

Read the full story here:
North Korea Owes Sweden €300m for 1,000 Volvos It Stole 40 Years Ago – And Is Still Using
Newsweek
John Ericson
2014-8-29

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