Reforestation in North Korea

March 19th, 2018

One of the most striking differences between North and South Korea on satellite imagery is the observable difference in forest coverage. By the end of the Korean War, the entire peninsula had experienced severe deforestation. To repair the damage to the environment, South Korea launched a massive re-forestation campaign in the 1960s and 1970s (check out this South Korean propaganda video that looks like it was made in North Korea).

In the DPRK, “Tree Planting Day” was reportedly established on March 2, 1946 (KCNA made a note of it a couple of weeks ago, as it does every year). But although lip service has always been paid to reforestation, implementation seems to have always taken a back seat to other priorities (both official and unofficial) such as food self-sufficiency, mitigating famine, mitigating a shortage of heating fuel, and the need for hard currency (exported timber).

Kim Jong-il’s record on forestation seems rather limited. Despite “Tree Planting Day” and numerous annual campaigns to spruce up parks and revolutionary sites, he only visited the Central Tree Nursery twice of which I am aware (2009-10-2 and 2011-10-9) towards the end of his life. The nursery, however, did see some growth in the last years of his leadership:

The day after KJI’s visit to the tree farm in 2011, KCNA reported that work was being done at provincial level to promote reforestation (2011-2-10):

Provincial tree nurseries are being updated into bases for the mass production of saplings of good species.

The nursery in Pyongyang built a room for disseminating science and technology and the production process of the paper humus-pot equipped with modern facilities.

The nursery of South Phyongan Province newly made tall sapling production base covering at least 100 hectares and built the humus-pot production base. It is cultivating more than 800,000 saplings of dozens of species.

The nursery of North Phyongan Province completed nine construction projects including the 100-odd square meter grinding and mixing ground.

Jagang Province is pushing ahead with the construction of the nursery of the province with a humus-pot factory of hundreds of square meters, greenhouse, hostel and other public service facilities at the final stage.

The advanced sapling production technology has been introduced to cities and counties across the country.

Hundreds of millions of trees were planted in mountains of the country during the period of national mobilization for improving land administration in spring this year.

Kim Jong-un, however, has placed a high priority on reforestation. Here is an article from the March 2018 issue of Korea Magazine:

I have identified nearly 400 new tree farms and forest management stations that have been built in the DPRK since Kim Jong-un took over as leader. These facilities have been regularly featured in the official media. The effort appears to be driven by the Forestry Bureau (산림총국) under the Ministry of Land and Environmental Protection (국토환경보호성), however, the military is playing a significant role as well. The largest tree farms of which I am aware are the Central Tree Nursery (pictured above), Kangwon Provincial Tree Farm, and the Tree Nursery 122 of the KPA.

Despite the obvious proliferation of tree farms and tree planting, I could not remember coming across any significant satellite imagery showing successful reforestation projects taking root (pun intended)—until now. Pictured below is a satellite image of the area south of the town of Singye in North Hwanghae Province that contains evidence of at least five reforestation sites:

Site 1 (38.480039°, 126.524338°): Image date (Top): 2014-3-20, Image date (Bottom): 2017-11-29

Area 2 (38.477669°, 126.537321°): Image date (Top): 2007-10-4, Image date (Bottom): 2017-11-29

Area 3 (38.487852°, 126.541397°): Image date (Top): 2015-8-16, Image date (Bottom): 2017-11-29

Area 4 (38.495523°, 126.554775°): Image date (Top): 2012-11-8, Image Date (Bottom): 2017-11-29

Area 5 (38.493341°, 126.541830°): Image date (Top): 2007-10-4, Image date (Bottom): 2017-11-29

Some analysis and implications: These reforestation projects are probably not the only ones in the area, they just met the minimum standard of proof to show there was an active reforestation project going on in Singye. There are no doubt many more like this throughout the country, though I have not looked to see how other areas compare. This is the first time I remember noticing on Google Earth that forest cover was growing in North Korea in any significant way (They have also been planting trees along the railroad tracks for several years, but that is not reforestation).

All of these projects are on hills, and this makes sense from a forestry perspective (keep the mountains from eroding into the riverbeds). However, in North Korea many of the hillsides are being used for agriculture. In the images above it is unclear if the hillside plots are under the purview of cooperative farm production quotas, or if they are one of several kinds of “private plots” that farmers use to supplement their diets/income. Either way, the growth of forest cover means a reduction in farm-able land, and this is likely going to have some significant effects on land allocation politics at the local level.

As forest cover grows under the national plan, cooperative farms will have to reallocate a smaller number of land parcels among a fixed number of workers. If the forests grow to reclaim land from private plots, farmers who had grown accustomed to their hillside property will have to figure out how to share remaining land with their neighbors, or move to another location. I imagine both of these processes can get messy, and perhaps the reforestation project is receiving mixed reviews at the local level (depending on its effects on individual farmers).

This forestation policy also raises questions with regards to food supply and the growth of the informal economy in North Korea, but these questions are beyond the scope of this humble blog post. Maybe later…

NOTE: I have published some of the blog post below in Radio Free Asia (in Korean) here. The RFA article contains additional reporting that is not part of this blog post, and some of the information in this blog post may not be in the RFA article.


Kalma Coastal Tourist Area Update

March 15th, 2018

Planet Labs (@planetlabs) has posted some March 2018 imagery of construction of the Kalma Coastal Tourist Area construction site which help bring the project into greater focus.

There appear to be two staging areas for the construction site where workers live and supplies are stored.

Below are close-ups of the two large staging areas circled in yellow in the image above:


I overlaid recent Planet images onto Google Earth and outlined the building and facility construction site. The coastal resort is taking place in the area outlined in yellow below:

Here are a couple of Planet images of the construction site where we can see a few building foundations have been set:

I believe this project is supposed to be completed in about a year, so it will be worthwhile to check in on it periodically with Planet images to see how the project is developing.

See previous (and updated) blog post on this topic here.


Developments in North Korea’s electronic payment systems

March 12th, 2018

I have recently published most of the information below in Radio Free Asia (in Korean), so here it is again in English.

As an economist with an interest in North Korea’s monetary policy, banking, and capital markets, I have kept an eye on developments in North Korea’s payment technologies.

In this area I have previously posted about Koryo Bank Card, Narae CardKumgil Card, Ryugyong Commercial Bank ATMs, Jonsong Card, Golden Triangle Bank Card, Mirae Bank toll-road payments, e-commerce platforms Okryu, Sangyon, and Kwangmyong, and loyalty card programs at Haemaji Restaurant, Kwangbok Supermarket, and Moran Shop. There are, of course, other examples I have not blogged about.

Recently, however, the North Korean media has highlighted continued developments in this field, and I wanted to capture some of that information for readers here.

According to the North Korean media (2018-1-21), the Pyongyang Information Technology Bureau (평양정보기술국) and a subordinate organization, the Card Research Institute (카드연구소), appear to be developing cards for North Korea’s electronic payment system. Perhaps rather ominously, KCTV mentions that the agency is working to  expand the use of cards with features like user identification. Below is a screenshot of some of the cards that they are producing. 

Below are the names of cards as best I can tell (L-R,T-B):
1. Koryo Bank
2. South Hamgyong Province Science Library Card
3. Pyongyang Metro
4. KoryoLink
5. ?
6. ?
7. Yaksu (mineral water) Payment Card
8. Jonsong Card
9. Soson? Gas Station
10. Jangmi Health Complex
11. Jonsong Card (Duplicate)
12. ?
13.  Taedongmun Cinema?
14. ?
15. Mirae Health Card
16. “Juyu” Card

We already know that some of these cards are in use (KoryoLink, Jonsung) and others are apparently still in development (Pyongyang Metro Card) [As far as I am aware, people still pay for the metro with tokens]. Some of these are prepay cards for a specific service (KoryoLink for mobile phones), some are prepay cards for broader commercial transactions (Koryo Bank, Jonsong Card), others are probably a mix of loyalty and prepay cards.

A couple of recent articles in DPRK Today shed additional light these developments. The new smart card management system is called Ullim (Ulrim, 울림), presumably named after the famous waterfall in North Korea. The Ullim Network acts as a clearing house for outstanding fuel cards, bank payments, member card services, etc. The system is 100% locally developed (they claim).

I am unsure how the Ullim Network is related to the Narae Network which is managed by the Foreign Trade Bank. Narae Cards are noticeably absent from any of the information put out by/on the Pyongyang Information Technology Bureau. Since all of these products seem connected to the Jonsong Card, under the control of the Central Bank, it may be that the Central Bank and the Foreign Trade Bank, which are still legally separate organizations last I heard, are developing their own separate e-payment networks. But foreigners buy KoryoLink cards (featured in this material) with Narae Cards, so I am not sure what exactly is going on. Maybe KoryoLink Cards for North Koreans (as opposed to foreigners) can be bought on the Jonsong card on the Ullim Network and foreign KoryoLink cards care bought with Narae cards issued by FTB? Maybe I am just overthinking all of this… Here are  some other Ullim member cards featured in DPRK Today (KKG Bank was circled by me):

The cards featured in the lower image are (clock-wise from the top):
1. Koryo Bank
2. Jonsong Card
3. Pyongyang Children’s Hospital
4. Ryugyong Health Complex
5. Pyongyang Information Technology Bureau
6. Sci-Tech Complex

DPRK Today has also published information on the Pyongyang Bike Share Card, “Ryomyong” (려명자전거카드). This card is also part of the Ullim Network.

Recently, North Korean media also highlighted an electronic payment card for the Kwanghung Shop located in Rakrang District. It is unclear if the Kwanghung Shop card is related to the Ullim Network since it has not appeared in any of the marketing materials yet.

According to the report, the Kwanghung Shop card can be used offline and for online purchases. The shop also claims to offer delivery services for their goods if ordered online  or by phone.

According to KCTV news (2018-2-23), the Energy Information Research Institute (전력정보연구소) under the Ministry of Electric Power Industry (전력공업성) is developing a payment card and mobile phone payment app:

The research discussed in the video is part of the National Power Management System (국가통합전력관리체계) named Pulyagyung (불야경/Bright Night Lights). The phone payment system displayed is a prototype remote electricity allocation system that allows retail electricity consumers to order electricity service from their mobile device instead of going to a physical office to have power allocated to a specific location.

Implications: There is a bright and a dark side to this technology. On the light side, we can group benefits to consumers: Payments are facilitated, savings options are increased, transactions costs are lowered meaning consumers benefit even as individual firms may earn float from the technology.

The dark side of the technology is of course how it can be used by the government for purposes of control/appropriation. In the old days, North Korea (and many other communist and developing countries) kept foreign currency out of the hands of their people through the use of Foreign Exchange Certificates (FECs). People had to change their foreign exchange into “green” money (for capitalist countries) and “red” money (for communist countries) to spend in local hard currency shops. This allowed the spenders to use their hard currency value to purchase imported goods while the actual hard currency paper stayed out of the hands of the people in the shops. This system was scrapped in the early 2000s. Electronic payment technologies mark a return to the goals of the FEC system…People can have foreign exchange balances to spend on imported goods at hard currency shops, but the actual paper currency remains on deposit at a bank.

This is bad news for North Korea’s black market and unofficial economy as well. With electronic payments it is harder to hide income and transaction history from the government (for tax/appropriation purposes). It would be very easy for officials in an anti-corruption investigation to pull up a spreadsheet of ones legal income and transactions to see if there is a substantial mismatch with your assets and standard of living.

Anyway, we will see how this develops. There is still a great deal we do not know.


“Maximum pressure” and the North Korean economy: what do market prices say?

March 9th, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

With the news today about a summit between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump tentatively planned for the end of May, there has been much debate about the role of the US policy of “maximum pressure” through economic sanctions.

The efficacy of the policy is difficult to evaluate, particularly since it often takes many months or even years for the full effect of sanctions to play out. Whether the policy has been effective or not depends on, well, how you judge success or failure. There is little doubt that North Korea’s exports have taken a significant hit not primarily from the sanctions themselves, but from China’s enforcement of them. This is the single biggest difference between how sanctions have hit the North Korean economy during the past year, versus previous years. It seems fairly indisputable that sectors of the economy have suffered, with export industries taking the biggest hit.

But what has been the impact on the economy as a whole? It’s difficult to say, but we have two important indicators: prices of rice and foreign currency on North Korean markets. The data on these two indicators is far from perfect, and it is difficult, if not impossible, to draw firm conclusions from it. (For an explanation of this data, and the rationale for using rice prices in lieu of the formal goods basket used to measure inflation in other countries, see this article, for example). Nevertheless, neither of the two indicators suggest a situation out of the ordinary on North Korean markets during the period that “maximum pressure” has been applied.

First, a look at rice prices. If sanctions were truly devastating the North Korean economy, there is a whole host of reasons why one should expect rice prices to increase.

One of them is expectations of worse times to come as importing inputs for agriculture as well as food becomes increasingly difficult. Another is that if importing food products in general* becomes more difficult, perhaps because Chinese traders anticipate that their North Korean counterparts won’t be able to pay, consumers would be expected to switch more of their consumption to domestically sourced goods, increasing demand and thus prices. In general, anxiety about worsening times often leads to inflation.

This does not seem to have happened. In fact, rice prices have been remarkably stable over the past year (if the graph looks strange, click for full image):

There may well be other forces at work, too. Increased smuggling of cheaper Chinese rice, for example, may well have contributed to the price stability. But this is in itself a sign of the resiliency of the North Korean economy; when some supply decreases, there are ways of compensating through other means.

Exchange rates are another important metric. If the inflow of foreign currency (in this case US dollars) decreases, its price – the exchange rate – should go up. Expectations matter here, too: if the market expects that foreign currency supply will dry up in the future, it tends to act in the present and make purchases today to hedge for tomorrow. As with rice prices, exchange rates have been remarkably stable over the past year (again, click for better image):

In sum, we have little or no hard evidence that the North Korean economy, on the whole, has suffered significantly and harshly from sanctions thus far. That may itself not be an argument against sanctions, since again, it may take much longer than just a year for their full impact to play out. But it does call into question the claims that “maximum pressure” is the chief reason for Kim Jong-un’s outreach to Donald Trump.

*This likely holds true regardless of the level of self-sufficiency in North Korea’s agricultural production.


North Korean markets insulated from sanctions, but not forever

March 7th, 2018

Posted by Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Analysis at Daily NK:

In 2017 alone, the United Nations Security Council passed four major sanctions resolutions against North Korea: Resolutions 2356, 2371, 2375, and 2397. Under the measures, the North’s crude oil imports were restricted, and coal and mineral exports were banned. Additionally, the North was prohibited from sending its laborers to work abroad – one of the key ways in which the regime earns foreign currency.
“One cannot say that, on a macro level, sanctions against North Korea have been ineffective,” said Lee Seok Ki, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade (KIET). “Since around August or September of 2017, the North’s exports have dropped significantly, and we have seen a major impact from sanctions on their industrial output. The country’s anthracite (coal) exports are down 66% compared to the previous year, which is a devastating hit to their mining sector, and the trend is expected to continue.”
Lee added that while most indicators point to declining imports, it remains difficult to conclude that sanctions have had the same effect on the North Korean manufacturing sector. Despite this, Lee noted that “sanctions are having an effect on the trade sector and we will continue to see both quantitative and qualitative effects in the long term.”
Other experts support the opinion that sanctions are working against the North’s overall trade. “North Korea’s exports to China are down 37%, which has led to a further 1.8% drop in growth for the North’s economy over the last year,” said Kim Byung Yeon, a professor at the Department of Economics at Seoul National University.
“If the North is unable to get sanctions lifted, the growth rate for their economy could drop to as low as minus 5% in the next year,” Kim added, explaining that the effects on economic growth will be significant due to the structure of the North’s economy and the relatively high proportion that exports contribute to it.
Kim said that citizens working in the trade sector have been most affected by sanctions, though he points to the government as taking the most damage. “Most trade has been conducted by state-owned and party- or military-run companies, meaning that the elite class and government officials take a big hit from sanctions,” Kim said. “Kim Jong Un relies heavily on trade as a source of income (for his regime), which means that the person most impacted by sanctions is none other than Kim Jong Un.”
But while sanctions appear to be having a significant effect on the North’s trade and industry, experts are noting that the local markets in the country have not been affected as heavily.
“When you look at the price of rice or the exchange rate over time, it’s hard to see any major effect of sanctions (on local markets),” KIET researcher Lee said.
Daily NK’s own research has come to the same conclusion, finding that the price of rice in North Korea’s markets has remained steady at around 4,000 to 5,000 KPW per kg since the beginning of the recent surge in international sanctions.
“People have been relying on themselves, actively participating in the markets and smuggling since the end of the Arduous March (great famine of the 1990s), which means that sanctions do not yet seem to be having an effect on the markets,” said a source in North Hamgyong Province, pointing to the steady availability of consumer goods as evidence.
“Kim Jong Un has instituted improvements in the quality of domestic-made goods, leading to these products in many cases pushing out Chinese versions from the markets,” said Lee Geun Young, Professor at the Yanbian University Department of Political and Public Administration. “There are now fewer items being brought in from China, so these products are having less influence on market prices.”
However, experts also believe that the damage inflicted by sanctions will inevitably reach the markets. “It’s not easy to precisely predict when the effect of sanctions will reach the markets,” Professor Kim said. “But one thing is clear: because many items rely on some form of importation, the long-term effects of a continuing decline in trade will inevitably lead to a reduction in the volume of available goods and a decrease in consumer purchasing power.”
Article source:
North Korean markets insulated from sanctions, though not forever
Jang Seul Gi
Daily NK

North Korea’s grain imports tripled in 2017

March 5th, 2018

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

North Korea’s grain imports from China last year showed a threefold increase over the same period of the previous year. Having analyzed a set of data released by the Chinese General Administration of Customs, Tae-jin Kwon, a South Korean expert on North Korean agriculture and the head of the Center for North Korea and North East Asia Studies of the GS & J Institute, disclosed this analysis to the Voice of America on February 14.

This means North Korean grain imports have more than tripled from 54,683 metric tons imported in 2016—the amount of imports totals $67.33 million, a 2.3-fold increase from $27.91 million in the previous year.

Wheat flour (81, 654 tons) made up 46 percent of the total North Korean imports, accounting for the largest part of the imports. This is followed by corn (57,887 tons) and rice (36,408 tons), along with starch and soybeans. In particular, corn imports grew more than 16 times compared to 3,125 tons the year before, and flour imports, which stood at 7,000 tons in the previous year (about twelvefold).

During December 2017, North Korea’s grain imports from China grew more than four times the amount it imported in the same period a year before. In particular, imports of flour increased to 25,000 tons, more than 22 times from the same period last year.

Last year, as the crackdown on the DPRK-China border tightened due to the international sanctions on North Korea, formal grain imports seem to have increased while the informal imports were restricted.

Although North Korea’s grain production in 2017 seems to have declined slightly from the previous year, its grain imports from China are expected to remain at the same level.


A small update on the Nampho leadership boat

March 1st, 2018

Contemporary North Korea watchers (including myself) first noticed this boat in a Google Earth satellite image dated 2015-10-4. I mentioned it in articles for RFA (2016-2-3) and NK News.

A check of historical imagery of the Nampho area also reveals the boat docked there on 2013-11-4.

The boat is quite large (appx 50m in length). At the time of publication, I speculated that it might be stored at a large boat house in north-eastern Pyongyang with some other leadership boats. Though this is the largest boat house I am aware of on the Taedong River, I am still not sure if this is the case.


Subsequent imagery shows the boat berthed on Chol-do at KPA Navy Unit 123 (2016-5-31).

Despite the boat’s size, it does not appear on any other public (Google Earth) satellite imagery as far as I am aware.

Although its current purpose remains a mystery, it was recently featured on KCTV. According to the footage, the boat is actually quite old, and it used to be one of Kim Il-sung’s.

So despite only being recently “discovered” by the open source community, the boat appears to have been around for some time, and it does not appear to violate the UNSC prohibition on the export of luxury goods to North Korea. It may be one of Kim Jong-un’s boats (he may have inherited it), but it is possible it has been “handed down” to some other agency (for use by senior navy personnel for example) at some point when the Kim family upgraded their transportation options. The evidence for this latter theory is that the boat’s location does not coincide with any of Kim Jong-un’s guidance trips. However, this is not definitive evidence since Kim makes public appearances that are not reported in the official media, or are reported to have taken place on different days than they actually occurred.


International sanctions to reported to hit DPRK economy harder

February 28th, 2018

According to Yonhap:

A series of international sanctions will likely plunge the North Korean economy into a deeper slump this year and sharply worsen the living conditions of its citizens, a report said Wednesday.

The United States, the United Nations and other nations imposed tough economic sanctions on the reclusive country in retaliation for its nuclear and missile tests last year.

Lee Suk, a senior researcher at the state-run Korea Development Institute (KDI) and one of the report’s authors, said the international sanctions clearly dented North Korea’s trade last year, stalling or contracting its industrial activity and agricultural output.

“The impact of the sanctions doesn’t appear to have spilled over into the market yet, but there is a possibility that North Korea may suffer further setbacks in production, trade and consumption, sharply aggravating the welfare of economic actors.”

Kim Young-hoon of the Korea Rural Economic Institute estimated North Korea’s grain output for 2017 at 4.71 million tons, down 2 percent from the previous year.

“Pyongyang’s farm production didn’t increase last year, despite a series of agricultural reform measures since 2012,” Kim said. “It is difficult to paint a positive picture of North Korea’s food supply and demand this year.”

Lee Jong-kyu, a KDI researcher, said North Korea’s coal exports to China, its chief ally and economic benefactor, tumbled 78.5 percent on-year in 2017, with their dollar value sinking 66 percent.

The plunge contributed nearly 80 percent to the decrease in the value of North Korean trade with China last year, Lee said, predicting tougher international sanctions will give Pyongyang less leeway in its policy options this year.

Lee Suk-ki, a researcher at the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics & Trade, estimated that North Korea’s mining, agricultural and construction sectors stalled or contracted in 2017, compared with the previous year.

The sectors’ slack or weaker activity probably resulted from a severe drought, a decline in trade stemming from international economic sanctions and a correction following the previous year’s push to ramp up production, the economist said.

This article is derived from the  February 2018 issue of the monthly KDI Review of the North Korean Economy. See page 45 of this PDF (in Korean).

Read the full Yonhap story here
Int’l sanctions to hit N.K economy harder: report


What happened to the Camp 15 (Yodok) Prisoners?

February 27th, 2018

I have already published this in Radio Free Asia, so here is the English-language version.

I have previously written about the apparent decommissioning/downsizing of Camp No. 15 (Yodok) here. There has been some speculation in the media and in the human rights community about what has happened to the prisoners, but I am unaware of a final, conclusive evaluation.

Based on observations in satellite imagery, particularly from patterns of activity related to the decommissioned and recommissioned area that is known as Camp 18 (I don’t know the current name of the new camp since it was reopened), I suspect some of the prisoners have been moved from Camp 15 (Yodok) to the Kowon Mine area of Sudong District, South Phyongan Province.

Pictured Above (Google Earth): The geographic relationship between Camp 15 and the Kowon Mine in Sudong District.

In Camp 15, the first housing to be raised  was in the Revolutionizing Zone in 2014. Shortly after that, housing in other parts of the camp slowly began falling into obvious states of disuse. However, the period where the most housing was razed or deteriorated took place after 2016-6-2.

No significant new housing was built in the town of Yodok, the closest town to the entrance of the prison camp, since the decommission/downsizing process began.

However, an unusual level of new housing was constructed at the remote Kowon Mine and in the nearby town of Sudong. Pictured below is an overview of new housing that was constructed between 2014 and 2017.

Here are some close-ups of these sites:

Site 1: 39.383254°, 126.891885°

In the picture above (Top: 2014-5-5) we can see ten apartment blocks that are in different states of completion. This is the earliest available Google Earth image of this site, so I cannot say for sure when construction started. In the lower picture above (2017-4-18) we can see that all of the buildings have been completed, at least on the outside.

Site 2:  39.363201°, 126.921470°

In the picture above (2017-4-18), we can see 22 apartment blocks under construction. It is not possible to say when construction work started or finished using Google Earth imagery.

Site 3:  39.371160°, 126.973542°

In the picture above (2017-4-18), we can see four apartment blocks under construction.

Site 4:  39.374005°, 127.005262°

In the top image (2014-5-5), we can see the area before construction began. In the bottom image (2017-4-18), we can see nine apartment buildings under construction.

Site 5:  39.407088°, 126.859356°

Imaged dates (Google Earth): Top: 2014-5-5-, Bottom: 2017-4-18

Site 6:  39.377282°, 126.850181°

Imaged dates (Google Earth): Top: 2014-5-5-, Bottom: 2017-4-30

The evidence I have presented here is not conclusive, but it is worthy of further investigation by those with budgets to do so. In the images above, I have shown an uncharacteristic increase in local housing construction that takes place at the same time as housing in nearby prison camp 15 is being razed. There is not a similar build-up of housing at any of the other mines or towns near Camp 15, particularly Munchon and Chonnae Coal Mines, as far as I am aware. Additionally this pattern of resettlement to a nearby mine is the same that we saw with the closure and reopening of Camp 18.

It would not be too hard to estimate the number of apartments and families that are moving into these buildings, so if any readers want to do so and send me the findings, I will post them here.



US prepares maritime interdiction to stop North Korean sanctions evasion

February 23rd, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

As the Winter Olympics with all its inter-Korean contacts wind down, the US is preparing to place Coast Guard forces to stop and search vessels in Asia-Pacific waters, to prevent North Korean sanctions circumvention. Reuters:

Washington has been talking to regional partners, including Japan, South Korea, Australia and Singapore, about coordinating a stepped-up crackdown that would go further than ever before in an attempt to squeeze Pyongyang’s use of seagoing trade to feed its nuclear missile program, several officials told Reuters.

While suspect ships have been intercepted before, the emerging strategy would expand the scope of such operations but stop short of imposing a naval blockade on North Korea. Pyongyang has warned it would consider a blockade an act of war.

The strategy calls for closer tracking and possible seizure of ships suspected of carrying banned weapons components and other prohibited cargo to or from North Korea, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Depending on the scale of the campaign, the United States could consider beefing up the naval and air power of its Pacific Command, they said.

The U.S.-led initiative, which has not been previously reported, shows Washington’s increasing urgency to force North Korea into negotiations over the abandonment of its weapons programs, the officials said.

North Korea may be only a few months away from completing development of a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland, despite existing international sanctions that, at times, have been sidestepped by smuggling and ship-to-ship transfers at sea of banned goods, according to officials.

“There is no doubt we all have to do more, short of direct military action, to show (North Korean leader) Kim Jong Un we mean business,” said a senior administration official.

The White House declined official comment.

The effort could target vessels on the high seas or in the territorial waters of countries that choose to cooperate. It was unclear, however, to what extent the campaign might extend beyond Asia.

Washington on Friday slapped sanctions on dozens more companies and vessels linked to North Korean shipping trade and urged the United Nations to blacklist a list of entities, a move it said was aimed at shutting down North Korea’s illicit maritime smuggling activities to obtain oil and sell coal.

Tighter sanctions plus a more assertive approach at sea could dial up tensions at a time when fragile diplomacy between North and South Korea has gained momentum. It would also stretch U.S. military resources needed elsewhere, possibly incur massive new costs and fuel misgivings among some countries in the region.

The initiative, which is being developed, would be fraught with challenges that could risk triggering North Korean retaliation and dividing the international community.

China and Russia, which have blocked U.S. efforts at the United Nations to win approval for use of force in North Korea interdiction operations, are likely to oppose new actions if they see the United States as overstepping. A Chinese official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said such steps should only be taken under United Nations auspices.

China’s Foreign Ministry, in a statement to Reuters, said they did not know anything about the plan, but that in principle China believes U.N. resolutions on North Korea should be fully and thoroughly implemented.

“At the same time, we hope relevant countries act in accordance with Security Council resolutions and international law,” it added, without elaborating.

Full article:
Exclusive: U.S. prepares high-seas crackdown on North Korea sanctions evaders – source
Phil Stewart, David Brunnstrom

I won’t go into the strategic and political implications, but when it comes to sanctions circumvention, a plan like this, thoroughly executed, would likely raise the costs of North Korean sanctions circumvention. Even with what sanctioned trade still goes on, there’s likely a substantial premium charged by traders that deal with North Korea because of the risks involved. As those risks go up, so should the premium. No measures can make circumvention fully impossible, but it can get a whole lot more expensive.


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