New Satellite Control Center

May 4th, 2015

On May 4, 2015, Rodong Sinmun reported that Kim Jong-un visited the “Newly-built General Satellite Control Centre”.

Imagery release on KCTV helped me identify the facility on commercial satellite imagery:

new-satellite-control-center

Side-view

GE-Satellite-Control-Center

This is one of several large construction projects in Pyongyang that I have had my eye on for some time (I thought it was a new theater or stadium).

The new satellite control center is located in the Pothonggang District of Pyongyang. The size of the mission control room is approximately 570 square meters. Other facilities in the building, according to the DPRK media, include a revolutionary history room, auxiliary display and control room, and optical observation room, E-library, lounge, conference room, offices, dining room and bedrooms.

Based on commercial satellite imagery, construction began sometime between 2014-4-13 and 2014-7-3, meaning that if completed, construction took nearly one year.

Pothonggang-control-center-before

 Pothonggang-control-center-after

This new control center may also be the administrative home of the National Aerospace Development Administration. Construction of the new satellite control center began shortly after NADA was publicly announced last year.

If completed, this new facility raises a question about the status of the older satellite control center in Ryongsong District at the Second Academy of Natural Sciences.

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Construction of new Wonsan Airport continued through winter

May 1st, 2015

New Google Earth imagery shows continued development of the new civilian airport in Wonsan. The airport is presumably intended to support the Wonsan-Mt. Kumgang International Tourist Zone.

2015-3-26 (Google Earth)

Wonsan-Airport-2015-3-26

2015-2-10 (Google Earth)

Wonsan-Airport-2015-2-10

2014-12-25 (Google Earth)

Wonsan-Airport-2014-12-25

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‘High-temperature air-combustion technology’ developed

April 23rd, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

At the Third Session of the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) held on April 9, Premier Pak Pong Ju of the DPRK Cabinet delivered a progress report on the Cabinet’s performance for the previous year and goals for this year. He said, “High-temperature air-combustion technology and other technologies that do not require the use of heavy oil should be introduced into various fields of the national economy.” As North Korea is a non-oil producing country, such technology would be beneficial. But whether this technology is possible requires careful consideration.

According to various state media reports, “high-temperature air-combustion technology” maintains the internal temperature of the furnace by combusting gas or liquid raw material into the air by heating it to high temperature, wherein high temperature needed at the time is acquired through the gasification of anthracite. Respectively, this technology is also called the high-temperature, air-combustion technology by the gasification of anthracite.

This technique is known as energy-saving advanced technology that manages the thermal efficiency which greatly lowers the heat loss that occurs from the used gas discharge. This technology is characterized by its wide range of application that includes heating of the metal factory that uses heavy oil as fuel, as well as glass melting furnace, furnace refractories (or kilns), pottery baking furnace, and heat treatment furnace.

For the production or heating of rolled steels, application of this technology allows for effective production without the use of heavy fuel oil.

Accordingly, the Ministry of Metal Industry has begun to implement projects with major metal industry enterprises such as Kim Chaek Iron and Steel Complex, Hwanghae Iron and Steel Complex, and Chollima Steel Complex. This technology is being introduced into various enterprises including all steel production process and refractories that use heavy oil.

In 2011, North Korea emphasized “vanguard technological breakthroughs” and constructed heating furnace equipped with high-temperature air combustion technology at the Kim Chaek Iron and Steel Complex for the commemoration of Kim Il Sung’s 100th birthday. It was widely publicized that introduction of this technology has put an end to the steel billets production system that uses heavy fuel oil.

In this regard, Rodong Sinmun reported on January 11 that Kaesong Insulator Factory in North Hamgyong Province succeeded in the complete domestic production of high-speed transfer switch and thermal mass which is the core of the high-temperature air-combustion technology. It also drew particular attention as the news touted that this was the first successful introduction of “large-scale continuous furnace.”

The newspaper boasted that, “the introduction of the high-temperature air combustion technology was introduced with a small investment into the heating furnace and kilns in each sector of the people’s economy,” and evaluated this as a result of “our capabilities and technology that proceeded in accordance with the principles of ‘our-style’ modernization.”

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North Korea to concentrate state budget towards economic construction

April 20th, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

North Korea has drafted a budget that emphasizes improving the lives of its citizens and the establishment of an economic power this year.

The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that on April 9, 2015, North Korea held the 3rd Session of the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA), where authorities balanced accounts from last year’s spending and decided the budget for this year.

“This year the state budget was designed to further strengthen the self-defense capabilities of national defense while putting technology firmly at the front and bringing about a transformation in the building of an economic powerhouse,” North Korea’s head of the Finance Ministry, Ki Kwang Ho, explained at the session.

First, North Korea decided to raise the entire budget expenditures over last year by 5.5 percent to celebrate the 70th anniversary this October of the establishment of the Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK).

This year the national defense expenditures represent 15.9 percent of the budget, the same as last year. Meanwhile, authorities decided to increase investment in the technology sector over last year by 5 percent.

The following areas were also increased over last year: forestry (9.6 percent), basic construction (8.7 percent), physical education (6.9 percent), education (6.3 percent), culture (6.2 percent), general industry and light industry (5.1 percent), fisheries (6.8 percent), agriculture (4.2 percent) and health (4.1 percent).

Every aspect of the budget is designed to improve the citizens’ lives and further economic development. Finance Ministry Director Ki Kwang Ho explained, “[the budget] enables the state to raise the entire People’s economy and drastically improve the lives of the people while fully engaging in the forest restoration battle and the construction of monumental building projects.”

North Korea, however, did not disclose the full amount of the budget. Based on the budget, it is predicted that North Korea will concentrate state management this year on improving the people’s quality of life.

In his New Year’s address, First Chairman Kim Jong Un intimated his intentions to better the lives of the people through economic reform this year.

“We need to solve the people’s food issue through the three axes of agriculture, livestock and fisheries and bring the food situation to the next level […] We need to encourage businesses to be proactive and creative to take the lead in business activities,” he proclaimed in his address.

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‘Okryu’ North Korean online shopping website gaining popularity

April 10th, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern studies (IFES)

According to the Japanese newspaper Choson Sinbo, a new online shopping mall in North Korea is enjoying popularity. “In Choson [North Korea] an e-commerce service system is being operated that handles food and all kinds of light industry goods,” the newspaper’s Pyongyang correspondent reported on April 2, 2015.

The newspaper explained that at the end of 2014, North Korea did a test-run of the system, and since the beginning of this year it has been in full operation. Since February of this year, they also started an e-commerce service that uses smart phones with communication functions.

Users access a computer network, and after joining the ‘Okryu’ e-commerce system, they can browse and purchase products.

In the Okryu e-commerce system, there are products of various name-brand commercial stores, restaurants and shops, including Changjon Haemaji Restaurant, Haedanghwa Restaurant, and Kumsong Foodstuff Factory.

On the homepage users are able to search for the products and when they decide to purchase a product they pay for it with an electronic card.

Currently, a variety of North Korean products are sold through Okryu, including various culinary dishes and food items, cosmetics and medical supplies, and footwear and bags. The Choson Sinbo said that “through Okryu [North Koreans] can even order naengmyon (cold buckwheat noodles) from the famous Okryukwan Restaurant.”

The newspaper went on to say, “This system has been a sensation among working-housewives, who can conveniently buy the products they need without going to the store […] There are also many users who choose products from Okryu’s homepage to send to friends or family during holidays and on birthdays.”

According to officials from the General People’s Service Bureau, “If the same types of products produced at several stores or factories are posted on the computer network, people will choose to purchase goods that are higher quality and cheaper in price. As a result, production units will begin competing in the areas of cost-saving and quality improvement.”

The newspaper added, “In the future the ‘Okryu’ homepage will not just contain the pictures of products, but it will also contain audio and video and become a fully multimedia website.” The e-commerce system is “also exploring a service that would make it possible for travelers to make reservations and search for information about accommodations at their respective destinations.”

Here is what KCNA had to say (2015-4-2):

Online Commercial Service Begins in DPRK
Pyongyang, April 2 (KCNA) — Online commercial service system, called “Okryu”, is run by the General Bureau of Public Service in the DPRK.

Citizens can make a search for their necessities like consumer goods and medicines even with mobile phone after joining in the system and ask for delivery.

Jong Sol Hwa, an official of the general bureau, told that the system helps consumers easily purchase their necessities at a lower cost.

Here is a translation of a longer April 2 article in the Choson Sinbo about the Okryu service:

E-commerce Service Okryu (옥류): Delivery also Possible
Search for Goods Online and Pay with Card.

North Korea has launched an e-commerce site mostly for food items or various light industry goods.

Order Okryu-gwan’s Noodle via Mobile Phones

People’s Service General Bureau(인민봉사총국) operates an e-commerce site called 《Okryu》. It started test operation at the end of 2014 and has run the service since the beginning of this year. 《Okryu》 is based on nationwide intranet and electronic payments systems and its operating principles are 《Put People’s Convenience First》 and 《Serve the Best Domestic Goods》.

It has also started since February the e-commerce service via mobile phones.

After customers access the internet and join the site 《Okryu》, they search for the products and order them.

People’s Service General Bureau(인민봉사총국) connects with nationwide commerce service units and make people purchase various goods without inconvenience at low prices.

On the website, popular products from well-known stores, restaurants, and commerce service units of each region including Changjeon Haemaji Restaurant(창전해맞이식당), Haedanghwa Service Complex(해당화관), and Keumsong Food Industry(금성식료공장).

Customers can search for and browse the goods they want on the website and pay when they order with electronic cards.

They can also ask corresponding commerce service units via phone call the features of their products before purchasing.

Diverse domestic goods including food and groceries, cosmetics and medicine, and shoes and bags are sold through 《Okryu》. Even cold-noodles from the Okryu Restaurant can be ordered.

There is also a delivery system ensuring the speed and the accuracy. Many different affiliated transportation companies under the People’s Service General Bureau(인민봉사총국) undertakes the delivery tasks.

The e-commerce service has gained popularity due to its convenience, especially for housewives who go to work as they can purchase without going directly to stores.

There are also consumers purchasing through 《Okryu》 to buy presents for their family and friends around holyday or birthday.

Opportunity for Low Price・Quality Competition

The persons from the People’s Service General Bureau emphasize the purpose of this service; to secure people’s convenience as much as possible through 《our products》, the best quality domestic goods.

According to their explanation, as many but the same types of products from different stores or factories are listed on the site, people find the products with lower price but higher quality. In consequence, there must be the competition for cost saving and quality improvement among production units.

“The e-commerce is only in its beginning stages, we will keep trying to collect people’s opinions actively and to secure their convenience, they said.

《Okryu》 is planning to include multimedia such as audio and video as well as the images of the products. Also, it will launch the service that tourists can search for accommodations of each region and make a reservation for them.

Additional Information:

1. Here is the original report in the Choson Sinbo.

2. Here is coverage in North Korea Tech.

3. Here is coverage in UPI.

4. Here is coverage in NK News.

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Third session of 13th SPA held

April 9th, 2015

According to KCNA (2015-4-9):

The Third Session of the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) of the DPRK took place at the Mansudae Assembly Hall Thursday.

Present there were deputies to the SPA.

Present there as observers were officials of the party, armed forces and power organs, social organizations, ministries and national institutions and those in the fields of science, education, literature and art, public health and media.

The participants observed a moment’s silence in memory of President Kim Il Sung and leader Kim Jong Il, founder and builder and eternal leaders of the DPRK.

Discussed at the session were “1. On the work of the DPRK Cabinet for Juche 103 (2014) and its tasks for Juche 104 (2015)”, “2. On summing up the fulfillment of the state budget of the DPRK for Juche 103 (2014) and its state budget for Juche 104 (2015)” and “3. Organizational matters”.

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

He said that last year the DPRK registered great successes in grain production, provided a guarantee for completing the stock-breeding base in Sepho area as a gift to the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea and built many monumental structures, icons of Juche architecture, through army-people coordinated operations.

It opened up a bright prospect for implementing the behests of Kim Jong Il on turning the Chongchon River into one of treasure and patriotism, made progress in developing economy and improving the people’s living standard by dint of science and technology and made great achievements in the fields of sports, education and public health, he noted.

It is the main tasks for this year to settle the food problem of the people with the farming, stock-breeding and fishery as the three thrusts, boost electricity production and put the metal industry on a Juche basis while taking it as the lifeline and key point to carry out the behests of Kim Jong Il and pushing forward them consistently, he said, referring to the concrete tasks.

Deputy Ki Kwang Ho made a report on the second agenda item.

The plan of state budgetary revenue for last year was over-fulfilled 1.6 percent, 6 percent increase over the previous year, the plan for state budgetary expenditure was carried out at 99.9 percent, and 46.7 percent of the total state budgetary expenditure was spent for the development of the national economy, 37.2 percent for the cultural field and 15.9 percent for national defence, he said.

The state budgetary revenue for this year will grow 3.7 percent over last year.

The state budgetary expenditure for this year will grow 5.5 percent over last year, 15.9 percent of total budgetary expenditure will be spent for national defence and bigger investment will be made to shore up the national economy and to improve the people’s living standard, he said.

Speakers said that the work of the Cabinet and the fulfillment of the state budget for last year have been reviewed correctly, clear-cut tasks for this year for improving the standard of people’s living and building an economic power have been advanced and the state budget was properly shaped to fully display the advantages of the socialist system. They expressed full support and approval of them.

They evinced the pledge to consolidate the political and military might of the country in every way, bring about fresh progress in all spheres of socialist construction and thus mark the 70th anniversaries of the WPK founding and the liberation of Korea as grand festivals of victors.

The session adopted a decision of the SPA of the DPRK “On approving the report on the work of the DPRK Cabinet and the summing up of the fulfillment of the state budget for Juche 103 (2014)” and an ordinance of the SPA of the DPRK “On the state budget of the DPRK for Juche 104 (2015)”.

Deputy Pak To Chun was recalled from member of the DPRK National Defence Commission due to his transfer to other post.

Deputy Kim Chun Sop was elected member of the DPRK NDC to fill a vacancy upon the authorization of Marshal Kim Jong Un.

KCNA also reports “SPA Session Reviews Cabinet Work Last Year and Advances Its Tasks for This Year“:

Deputy Pak Pong Ju, premier of the Cabinet, delivered a report on the work done by the Cabinet last year and tasks facing it this year at the Third Session of the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) of the DPRK Thursday.

According to the report, last year was a year of shining victories as the foundation for winning a final victory in all fields of building a thriving nation was consolidated and invincible might of Juche Korea was strikingly demonstrated under the wise leadership of Marshal Kim Jong Un.

Farming materials including chemical fertilizers, rice-seedling transplanting machines, mobile threshing machines, farm machine parts and oil were provided as planned last year, true to the intention of the party which set the agricultural field as a key field in the drive of pushing forward economic construction and improving the standard of people’s living and an outpost of defending socialism.

Pasture covering 50 000 hectares was created in the Sepho area and the work of securing livestock was pushed ahead simultaneously with the construction of structures and preparations for their operation to provide a guarantee for completing the stock-breeding base in Sepho area as a gift to the 70th anniversary of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

The Wisong residential district for scientists, Yonphung Rest Home for Scientists, Pyongyang Orphanage and Baby Home and lots of other monumental structures were built as icons of Juche-based architecture.

More than 1 000 valuable scientific and technological development projects were carried out.

The coal industry showed 28 percent increase in production over last year.

The production of cement jumped 12 percent over last year and that of various industrial indices including nitrogen fertilizer, salt and timber also went up.

Players of the DPRK bagged many gold medals at the 17th Asian Games and other international sports events, demonstrating the honor of the country. The popular policies of the party were implemented at a higher level in the fields of education and public health.

Referring to the tasks for this year, he stressed the need to consistently hold fast to the implementation of the behests of leader Kim Jong Il as a lifeline and the most important work. The main thrusts for this year are to organize the economic work with a main emphasis on solving the food problem of the people with agriculture, stock-breeding and fisheries as the three pivots, drastically increasing power production and putting metal industry on Juche basis, the reporter said.

He called for improving the production environment of the units associated with the leadership feats of President Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il and steadily raising their modernization level so as to continue glorifying their undying feats.

It is important to thoroughly carry out the party’s strategic line on simultaneously developing economic construction and the building of a nuclear force and provide equipment, raw materials and funds necessary for the combat readiness of the People’s Army and the defence industry in a responsible manner and thus actively contribute to bolstering up the defence capabilities.

Investment in the field of science and technology should be increased and efforts be concentrated on solving scientific and technological problems urgently required by reality including key state projects for the development of science and technology.

Scientific farming methods should be actively introduced into the agricultural field and drive of securing and saving water should be conducted and such farming materials as chemical fertilizers, rice seedling transplanting machines, rolled steel, farm machine parts and oil be satisfactorily provided.

Ministries, national institutions and provincial people’s committees should complete flawlessly and qualitatively the construction of dwelling houses, pens of domestic animals, public buildings, pavement of roads and creation of windbreaks by the 70th anniversary of the WPK. The management of modern stock-breeding bases, fish breeding bases, greenhouses and mushroom production bases in different parts of the country should be put on normal footing and production be boosted there.

In the fisheries field fishing boats and fishing tackle should be modernized and scientific fishing methods be actively introduced to haul fishes all the year round.

In the field of light industry, local supply of raw and other materials should be actively pushed forward and their production be markedly boosted to provide the people with more consumer goods.

A decisive measure should be taken to provide equipment and materials needed for thermal power plants and coal mines on a top priority basis.

The power stations in tiers on the River Chongchon, Paektusan Songun Youth Power Station, Ryesonggang Power Station, Orangchon Power Station and other hydroelectric power stations that were planned by Kim Jong Il should be completed in a short span of time.

Efforts should be focused on further rounding off the work of putting metal industry on a Juche basis.

In the chemical industrial field, production should be put on a normal footing at Juche fertilizer and Juche fiber production bases.

High temperature air combustion technology and other technologies that do not require the use of heavy oil should be introduced into various fields of the national economy.

Sustained great efforts should be directed to reenergizing the production in the vanguard sectors and key industries of the national economy such as railway transport, mining, forestry and machine-building industry.

All the fields and units should turn out in the drive of restoring forests and work hard to turn the mountains of the country into those in thick verdure full of nuts and fruits. Substantial work should be conducted to turn Pyongyang into the hub and model of Songun culture and a world class city and to spruce up provincial, city and county seats so that they may preserve their local characteristics.

The work to drastically improve education in the new century should be actively pushed forward, enthusiasm for sports should be raised higher and lots of fine literary pieces be created to encourage all people in the general offensive for glorifying the grand October festivals.

The reporter called on all the officials in the field of economic guidance to thoroughly carry out the important tasks set forth by Kim Jong Un in the New Year Address and at the enlarged meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea and fulfill their responsibilities and duties in the general offensive this year marking the 70th anniversaries of the WPK and the liberation of Korea.

Finally, KCNA reports “SPA Session Reviews Implementation of State Budget for 2014 and Sets forth State Budget for 2015“:

Deputy Ki Kwang Ho, minister of Finance, made a report on the review of the fulfillment of the state budget of the DPRK for Juche 103 (2014) and the state budget for Juche 104 (2015) at the Third Session of the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly on Thursday.

According to the report, the plan of state budgetary revenue for last year was over-fulfilled 1.6 percent, 6 percent increase over the previous year.

The local plan for budgetary revenue was carried out at 122.2 percent and the plan for state budgetary expenditure at 99.9 percent.

46.7 percent of the total budget was spent for the development of the national economy.

37.2 percent of the total state budgetary expenditure was spent for the cultural field including education, public health, sports and literature and art.

15.9 percent of total expenditure was directed to national defence.

The state budgetary revenue and expenditure for this year have been shaped in such a way as to bolster up the capabilities for self-defence and effect a turn in building a socialist economic power and a highly civilized nation by giving definite precedence to science and technology.

The state budgetary revenue will grow 3.7 percent over last year; transaction revenue is expected to swell 2. 6 percent, revenue from the profits of state enterprises 4.3 percent, revenue from the profits of cooperative organizations 3. 2 percent, real estate rent 0.7 percent, social insurance fee 2.8 percent, revenue from sale of properties and price differential 1.4 percent, revenue from other sources 0.8 percent and revenue from economic trade zones 3.6 percent.

The national budgetary revenue will account for 79 percent and the local budgetary revenue 21 percent of the state budgetary revenue. Provinces, cities and counties are expected to ensure expenditure with the revenue from local sources and provide profits to the national budget.

The national budgetary expenditure is expected to grow 5.5 percent over last year for focusing investment in augmenting the national power, developing science and technology and undertaking the projects for fulfilling the grandiose plan of the party so as to financially guarantee the general advance for greeting the grand October festival with labor achievements.

15.9 percent of total expenditure will be spent for national defence.

The allocation of funds for the field of science and technology is expected to go up 5 percent.

4.2 percent more financial disbursement will be made for the agricultural field, 6.8 percent more for the fisheries field, 5.1 percent more for the industrial field including light industry and vanguard fields of the national economy, 8.7 percent more for capital construction and 9.6 percent for the forestry field to shore up the national economy as a whole, bring about a turn in improving the people’s living standard and wage a dynamic drive for the building of monumental edifices and reforestation.

Expenditure for education goes up 6.3 percent, that for public health 4.1 percent, that for sports 6.9 percent and that for culture 6.2 percent so as to provide a financial guarantee for the drive for bringing about a turn in building a highly civilized socialist state.

A large amount of funds will be sent as educational aid fund and stipends for the children of Koreans in Japan this year, too.

The reporter stressed that the Korean people faced with huge tasks this year but the DPRK is sure to emerge victorious as there are the tested and seasoned leadership of the Workers’ Party of Korea, invincible revolutionary spirit and fighting spirit and the army and people full of revolutionary and patriotic enthusiasm.

Here is a summary in Yonhap:

 

Additional information:

1. 38 North offers analysis by Ruediger Frank and Alexandre Mansourov.

2. The Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES) offered two reports.

3. Here is coverage in the Daily NK.

4. Here is coverage in Yonhap.

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China rejects DPRK coal shipment (Again)

April 4th, 2015

UPDATE 1 (2015-4-4): For the second time this year, the Chinese have rejected a shipment of North Korean coal. According to the Korea Herald (Yonhap):

China has returned a shipment of anthracite coal to North Korea because it failed to meet standards for mercury emissions, according to a local report on Saturday.

This appears to be the second rejection by China of the North Korean mineral this year.

The shipment arrived at the Longkou port of China’s northern coastal province of Shandong late last month, but was returned as its quality did not satisfy China’s environmental regulations, iQiru.com, a local Shandong Internet news site, reported, citing an unnamed Longkou port official.

The report did not elaborate further or include the volume of the rejected North Korean coal.

In September last year, China announced strict regulations against the sale and import of coal with high toxic pollutants, including mercury and sulfur, to improve the country’s air and water quality.

Anthracite coal accounted for 39.8 percent of North Korea’s total exports to China last year.

China’s imports of North Korean coal plunged 53.2 percent from a year earlier to 16.78 million tons in January this year, according to Chinese customs data.

ORIGINAL POST (2015-3-9): Back in October of 2014, Kevin Stahler was the first person to point out (as far as I am aware) that the DPRK’s coal exports to China were in decline. Quoting Kevin:

However, this year North Korea’s anthracite exports to China are on course for a hard landing. The total value of imported anthracite is down 23 percent in the first half of 2014 compared to a year earlier. That’s an annualized $340 million hit to North Korea’s balance of payments. But North Korea is not alone: China has seen a double-digit decline in both the value and volume of its total world coal imports from January – August 2014.

On March 4, 2015, Yonhap reported that China returned a shipment of coal to the DPRK for reasons related to domestic environmental protection regulations:

China has rejected imports of some North Korean anthracite coal because the coal failed to meet domestic standards for mercury emissions, a local newspaper reported Wednesday, in what appeared to be China’s first rejection of North Korean minerals over environmental concerns.

The shipment was returned to North Korea on Feb. 27 from the Rizhao port of China’s northern coastal province of Shandong, the National Business Daily newspaper reported, citing an unnamed port official.

The report did not elaborate further, or include the volume of the rejected North Korean coal.

After three decades of rapid industrialization, China regularly sees hazardous air pollution with levels of particulate matter rising to nearly 40 times the limits set by the World Health Organization during the winter months.

In September, China announced strict regulations against the sale and import of coal with high toxic pollutants, including mercury and sulfur, to improve the country’s air and water quality.

Anthracite coal accounted for 39.8 percent of North Korea’s total exports to China last year.

In January, China’s imports of North Korean coal plunged 53.2 percent from a year earlier to 16.78 million tons, according to Chinese customs data.

On March 9, UPI reported on one of the key aspects of China’s new environmental policies and how it will affect the DPRK:

China’s crackdown on coal-related pollution will take a heavy toll on the North Korean economy, South Korean newspaper Donga Ilbo reported Monday.

China’s plan is to drastically reduce coal consumption by 160 million tons in the next five years. The plan, presented at the National People’s Congress in Beijing, aims to reduce the fossil energy use that is contributing to severe pollution in big cities, The Australian reported.

Countries exporting coal to China are all affected, but the plan could create an economic crisis in impoverished North Korea. Coal and iron-ore exports are two of North Korea’s biggest exports to China, its biggest trading partner.

According to the Donga Ilbo, more than 97 percent of North Korean exports are shipped to China*, and coal, iron ore comprise 60 percent of all North Korean exports.

China’s anti-pollution policy is affecting North Korean cargo. A North Korean ship delivering coal to China was turned away at the coastal city of Rizhao on Feb. 27. The Donga Ilbo reported the coal did not satisfy China’s environmental regulations.

The rising ban and other factors are placing the impoverished North Korean economy in a tight squeeze.

Anna Fifield also covered this story for the Washington Post and Guardian.

*The article reports that China accounts for 97% of the DPRK’s international trade. This is only true if one excludes South Korean trade–which South Korea does because they consider North-South trade as “inter-korean” trade.

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Increase in sales volume of domestic goods in North Korean stores

April 3rd, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

North Korea’s official news agency, Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on March 25, 2015 that the volume of domestic goods sold at North Korean stores is increasing.

“Every display is filled with all kinds of inexpensive, high-quality domestic goods. Numerous shoppers are purchasing these goods, all of which are produced at domestic light industry factories. This is a sight that is commonly seen today at Choson’s [North Korea’s] department stores,” KCNA reported.

The news agency also quoted the manager of Pyongyang’s Department Store No. 1: “In recent years there have been remarkable improvements in every indicator, from the amount and quality of light industry goods produced domestically to the brands and packaging. As this has occurred, demand for these goods has increased,” he explained.

While he says that stores are mainly selling domestically produced goods like food and cosmetics, he also said, “Because furniture and building materials, shoes and clothing, medicine and other goods are also low-priced and suited to the tastes and health of our people, they are gradually overwhelming imports.”

The manager of Sinuiju Cosmetics Factory commented as well: “Previously, our ‘Pomhyanggi’ (or ‘Spring Scent’) brand was the only product that people could point to as a cosmetics product […] But the popularity of Pyongyang Cosmetics Factory’s ‘Unhasu’ (or ‘Milky Way’) is rising, and when you include the units produced at Myohyang Cosmetics Factory, its units actually surpass ours and are putting up a strong challenge. We had better get ourselves together.”

At light industry factories across the country, production of food products is rapidly increasing, and quality is improving as well. But it has reportedly not been easy to meet the people’s demand. Thus, manufacturers are working to improve product design and manufacturing technology and pledge to actively help improve the lives of the people.

In addition to this, KCNA reported that at places like the Namhung Youth Chemical Complex and the Hamhung Automated Equipment Factory, they are also spurring on production of domestic products through means such as domestically producing raw materials and equipment.

Meanwhile, North Korea is building one modern foodstuff factory after another in Pyongyang. The Rodong Sinmun, mouthpiece of the Workers’ Party of Korea, reported on March 18, 2015 that in the Nakrang district, construction of the ‘corn processing plant’ entered its final stages. There are plans for this factory to produce around 10 different food items out of corn (corn is the most common food ingredient in North Korea), including corn noodles and snacks.

On February 10, 2015, in Pyongyang’s Mangyongdae district, ‘Mangyongdae Kyonghung Foodstuff Factory’ was completed and went into operation. KCNA emphasized that this foodstuff factory is “a modern and comprehensive food manufacturing center” and will supply residents with “tasty and nutritious food.”

Similarly, in June 2014, the Unha Taesong Foodstuff Factory in Pyongyang’s Potonggang district finished construction and began production. North Korea’s official web portal,  ‘Naenara’ explained that the factory produces approximately 100 kinds of food such as bread, snacks, candy, beer, ham and sundae (or Korean sausage).

The fact that in a relatively short period of time modern foodstuff factories are continually being built in Pyongyang is consistent with the most important task of North Korea in the Kim Jong Un era: improving the food situation of the North Korean people. On February 18, 2015, First Chairman Kim Jong Un spoke at the enlarged meeting of the Political Bureau of the Workers’ Party. There, he asserted that the improvement of people’s lives was the nation’s first priority, and he specifically emphasized the importance of solving the food issue. Unlike the past, recent efforts extend beyond solving the food shortage problem and aim to raise the quality of food for the people.

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DPRK expels German and American aid workers

April 2nd, 2015

UPDATE 1 (2015-4-8): Less than a week since expelling a German aid worker, the DPRK announces it deporting and American. According to the Wall Street Journal:

North Korea said Wednesday it has deported an American aid worker for “plot-breeding and propaganda” against the isolated state.

A report from Pyongyang’s state media named the aid worker as Sandra Suh. It said Ms. Suh has been a frequent visitor to the country since 1998 for humanitarian work but engaged in anti-North Korean “propaganda abroad with photos and videos … she secretly produced and directed.”

The Korean Central News Agency report said Ms. Suh has been deported.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Seoul said she couldn’t immediately comment on the report. Attempts to locate Ms. Suh weren’t immediately successful.

Foreign aid workers’ access to North Korea is extremely limited and the presence of U.S. citizens is rare. The regime has in the past shown reluctance to let foreign aid agencies work inside the state and has occasionally denied visa renewals when its economic performance made some gains.

The Los Angeles Times follows up (2015-4-8):

Suh is the founder of the Los Angeles-based humanitarian organization Wheat Mission Ministries.

Her daughter-in-law told the Los Angeles Times in a brief phone call that her family was thankful that it appeared Suh would be released, but declined to give details on Suh’s visits to North Korea out of concern about jeopardizing her return.

Eun-sook Suh said Sandra Suh was originally from the Pyongyang area and fled south during the Korean War. She initially returned to North Korea with the hope of finding long-lost family members.

“We’re just thankful that God seems to be helping her return,” she said.

Wheat Mission Ministries did not immediately return a request seeking comment, but its website states it was founded by Sandra Suh in 1989 “in response to the needs of the children and families of North Korea” and was formally established as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in 2005. Suh, however, is not listed as a current staff member.

The Korean Central News Agency did not say when Suh was detained, nor was it clear whether she had already been deported. The agency said Suh had engaged in anti-North Korean “propaganda abroad with photos and videos” that she “secretly produced and directed, out of inveterate repugnancy” toward the secretive nation.

According to the group’s website, Wheat Mission sends medicine, medical equipment, food, building materials, clothes, shoes and blankets to North Korea. The organization is also involved in teaching North Korean healthcare professionals and building schools and orphanages. It says it is inspired “to share the love and humility of Christ.”

North Korea has detained and then released a number of Westerners in recent years who were missionaries or devout Christians, including Korean American missionary Kenneth Bae and Jeffrey Fowle, an Ohio man who traveled to North Korea on a tourist visa and intentionally left a Bible in a hotel room.

The country director of a German aid group, Welthungerhilfe, or World Hunger Aid, was recently expelled. The group said Pyongyang had asked the worker, Regina Feindt, to leave the country in February without saying why. Welthungerhilfe has worked in North Korea since 1997, spending tens of millions of dollars on projects to improve food, sanitation and water supply.

ORIGINAL POST (2015-4-2): James Pearson writes in Reuters (also printed in the Guardian):

North Korea has expelled the country director of one of the few foreign aid groups to operate in its territory.

Welthungerhilfe, whose name translates as World Hunger Aid, is one of Germany’s largest non-governmental aid organisations and has been working in North Korea since 1997, spending more than €60m on projects designed to improve food, sanitation and water supply.

It said North Korea had asked its country director Regina Feindt to leave the country in late February, without warning or saying why.

Feindt’s colleague Karl Fall, who had worked in the country for 12 years, left of his own volition the next month.

“Welthungerhilfe does not see anything in Mrs Feindt’s behaviour that would have justified an expulsion,” the aid group said.

It said Feindt left North Korea on 26 February and Fall left on 19 March. Feindt and Fall were not available to comment, Welthungerhilfe said.

The abrupt departures came as a surprise to members of the small foreign community in Pyongyang, according to a regular visitor to the North Korean capital who wished to remain anonymous, citing the sensitive nature of working there.

Welthungerhilfe would not comment on the events leading up to Feindt’s deportation. “We don’t know why this has happened,” said spokeswoman Simone Pott.

The NGO still has a skeleton presence in North Korea. It said its activities to improve water and sewage systems in cities were unaffected.

“At the moment we are in discussions with the North Korean authorities to secure a basis for continuing our development work in the country for the benefit of the people of North Korea,” the group said.

Read the full story here:
North Korea expels country director of German aid group
Guardian
2015-10-2

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How to run a “private” bus company in the DPRK

April 1st, 2015

According to the Daily NK:

More independent transportation companies, run by the donju, or new affluent middle-class, are springing up in North Korea’s main transit hubs and driving up fares.

“There is a growing number of bus and truck companies operating not only in Pyongyang but nationwide,” a source from North Hamkyung Province told Daily NK last Friday. “People are buying buses or trucks and then paying the state a certain fee to open up transportation companies authorized by the central authorities.”

She explained that those members of the donju with significant amounts of money establish contacts with central bodies and win over the right to operate. “The ‘Pyongyang Transit and Trade Company’ and the ‘General Bureau of Transportation,’ which fall under the Cabinet, write up permits for individual donju and are authorizing the operations in exchange for a certain amount of the profits,” she said, adding that each region has bus companies that come from those two Pyongyang-based offices, creating a de facto public-private collaborative operation.

The donju, by importing second-hand buses from China for 3,000 to 4,000 USD, are overtly raking in profits and revolutionizing bus transportation in North Korea; personal bus transportation was only available in two to three cities in the early 2000s, including Pyongyang, but now it has spread nationwide. According to the source, some companies own anywhere from dozens to hundreds of buses.

“The fare between Chongjin and Musan used to be 8,000 KPW [1 USD] until just two years ago, but now it has jumped to 50,000 KPW [6.25 USD]. The bus that runs between Chongjin and Kim Chaek is currently 80,000 KPW [10 USD] – ten times the original price,” she noted. “Donju are raising the fares to whatever they want depending on the oil prices and exchange rate with the Chinese yuan.”

In the North’s main cities, state-run trams, trolleys, and long-distance buses do operate, but the vehicles are old and the companies beset by economic difficulties. The number of donju-run companies, however, is increasing by the day, leaving the state no choice but to accept their money and grant them license to operate.

“People are happy that there are more options for transportation but there are a lot of complaints about the expensive fares,” the source said. “Some say it’s not unusual for such companies to be operating in the way they do considering the dilapidated condition of state companies, but in the end it’s the regular people who bear the brunt of it all.”

Additional posts on the DPRK’s bus networks here.

Read the full story here:
Transportation Options Taking Off
Daily NK
Choi Song Min
2015-04-01

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