Archive for July, 2007

Kim Jong Il’s Yacht, UNESCO, Golf, and the Taean Glass Factory

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

Now available on Google Earth! 
(click above to download to your own Google Earth)

North Korea Uncovered v.3

Google Earth added a high-resolution overlay of the area between Pyongyang and Nampo.  In it, most of the Koguryo tombs listed with UNESCO are now distinguishable.  In addition, viewers can see the latest Kim Jong Il palace (including a yacht), the DPRK’s premier golf course, and the Chinese-built Taean Glass factory.  I have also made some progress in mapping out the DPRK electricity grid.

This is the most authoritative map of North Korea that exists publicly today.  Agriculture, aviation, cultural institutions, manufacturing, railroad, energy, politics, sports, military, religion, leisure, national parks…they are all here, and will captivate anyone interested in North Korea for hours.

Naturally, I cannot vouch for the authenticity of many locations since I have not seen or been to them, but great efforts have been made to check for authenticity. In many cases, I have posted sources, though not for all. This is a thorough compilation of lots of material, but I will leave it up to the reader to make up their own minds on the more “controversial” locations. In time, I hope to expand this further by adding canal and road networks.

I hope this post will launch a new interest in North Korea. There is still plenty more to learn, and I look forward to hearing about improvements that can be made.


Trendy London welcomes North Korean art

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

Asia Times
Michael Rank

Above the chic shops and arcades of London’s Pall Mall, the flag of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea wafts incongruously in the wind. Look inside, and portraits of the Great Leader and the Dear Leader stare out at you.

No, the North Korean army hasn’t marched across the River Thames, but Pyongyang has established a small cultural enclave in London’s West End in the form of the first major exhibition of North Korean art in the Western world.

Curator David Heather says he first got the idea after meeting a North Korean painter at an art exhibition in Zimbabwe in 2001. “I got chatting with Mr Pak and he invited me to Pyongyang,” said Heather, making it all sound surprisingly straightforward. But the 45-year-old financier admits that mounting the exhibition was “quite a challenge … very time-consuming” and also admits that he has no great knowledge of art or the international art market.

He describes the surprisingly extensive exhibition of about 70 artworks as “an opportunity for people to see art from what is a secretive and protective society at first hand”.

The show ranges from apolitical landscapes and ceramics to a vast, blatantly propagandistic battle scene celebrating the routing of the US Army in the Korean War, as well as hand-painted posters on such unexpectedly diverse themes as “international hero” Che Guevara and “say no to sexual slavery in the 21st century”. This is a clear reference to Korean and Chinese “comfort women” who were forced into prostitution to serve Japanese soldiers during World War II.

Heather brought over three of the artists to London for the opening of the exhibition, including Pak Hyo-song, whom he had met in Zimbabwe and who has two dramatic – if highly un-North Korean – wildlife paintings of zebras and lions on show.

Pak spent five years in Zimbabwe as representative of the Mansudae Art Studio, North Korea’s leading group of official artists, whose activities include designing monuments and propaganda posters on behalf of foreign, mainly African, governments.

Pak’s dramatic if not entirely lifelike oil paintings seem to have been influenced by the well-known British African wildlife artist David Shepherd, and sure enough, the 47-year-old “Merited Artist” told Asia Times Online at the opening party that he was a great fan of Shepherd.

He is undoubtedly the only North Korean artist to have had a one-man show in Europe, after Heather mounted an exhibition of 15 of his paintings in Wiesbaden, Germany, in 2005.

The London opening featured a remarkable mix of people. It was was a rare chance for the three North Korean artists and normally elusive members of the North Korean Embassy in London to mix socially with South Korean diplomats, art collectors and business people as well as with British Foreign Office officials, members of Britain’s tiny pro-Pyongyang New Communist Party, and at least one aging Moonie.

Heather said he had hopes of bringing the show to Paris, Berlin and even New York, and that only a few days after the opening he had already sold 50 posters at 250-300 pounds sterling (US$500-600) each, as well as two large paintings priced at several thousand pounds.

The sum of 300 pounds may sound like a lot for a none too subtle North Korean poster by an anonymous artist, but propaganda art is highly fashionable nowadays, with Chinese posters from the 1960s and 1970s fetching hundreds of dollars in London and New York. Given that the North Korean posters are hand-painted while the Chinese pictures are mass-produced prints that originally cost a few cents, the North Korean versions may turn out to be rather smart investments.

Heather said he had “no idea” how much he had invested in the exhibition, including renting a gallery on one of London’s most expensive streets for six weeks. “I don’t do it to make or lose money,” he said, but he clearly takes pride in being “a good negotiator”.

He said the North Koreans are “very direct and straightforward” and that “they are very open to ideas”. He has visited Pyongyang just once, in 2004, and conducted most of his negotiations in Beijing. Heather said he had bought 150 artworks, which he would show in rotation. Pricing the pictures was difficult, as this was the first time North Korean works of art were being sold in the capitalist West, he noted. “It opens up a new market which wasn’t there before.”

The biggest and most expensive picture in the exhibition is called Army Song of Victory and is priced at 28,000 pounds. A collective work by seven artists, it shows a Korean People’s Army brass band celebrating as US troops flee in the Battle of Rakdong River in 1950. A spokeswoman said the gallery was considering an offer of 21,000 pounds on the opening night.

Heather said he had received “a lot of help” from the North Korean Embassy and the British Foreign Office, and quiet encouragement also from the South Korean Embassy, which was anxious to see what North Korean art was all about. He has taken the North Korean artists to the Houses of Parliament, the British Museum and the historic city of Bath – despite the floods covering much of western England – and invited them to his home for a traditional British dinner of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

Heather has clearly formed an excellent rapport with the North Korean Embassy, and has even played golf with one of its diplomats on a course near London. “He’s sort of average like me. He has played on the Pyongyang golf course; it’s mainly for the elite,” Heather explained.

But holding an art exhibition is just the beginning, and Heather is now hoping to bring a 150-member North Korean orchestra over to London next year. “I’m hoping they will play in the Royal Albert Hall or Royal Festival Hall,” he said, referring to London’s two biggest concert halls.

This may not be quite as far-fetched as it sounds. Heather is working on the orchestra project with British soprano Suzannah Clarke, who has given several concerts in Pyongyang and is one of North Korea’s few foreign celebrities. Her rendition of “Danny Boy” is said to be especially popular with North Korean audiences. Given her fame and his business prowess, it’s an unlikely plan that just could come off.

Artists, Arts and Culture of North Korea runs at La Galleria, 5b Pall Mall, London SW1Y 4UY, until September 2.


N. Korea elects 27,390 deputies in local elections

Monday, July 30th, 2007


North Korea has elected 27,390 deputies to the government councils of provinces, cities and counties, the North’s state-run media reported Monday.

“All registered voters, except those who are staying abroad or those who are working at sea far away from the land, took part in the election as of 18:00 Sunday,” the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said, citing data from the Central Election Guidance Committee.

The KCNA reported that those who were not able to go to the polls because of old age and illness cast ballots into “mobile ballot boxes,” saying all voters across the country took part in the election with ardent revolutionary enthusiasm.

Voter turnout was 99.82 percent, and all the voters cast yes votes for candidates in all constituencies, according to the KCNA.

The number of deputies is up 740 from the last election in August in 2003, the KCNA reported. In 1999, North Korea elected a total of 29,442 deputies to local assemblies.


Gaeseong output boosts inter-Korean trade

Monday, July 30th, 2007

Korea Herald
Ko Kyoung-tae

Trade between South and North Korea expanded fast this year as South Korean manufacturers picked up investment and output at the Gaeseong Industrial Park, trade data showed yesterday.

The Korea International Trade Association said the inter-Korean trade rose to a record high $720 in the first half, up nearly 30 percent from a year earlier.

Imports from the North jumped over 60 percent to $390 million, while exports slightly declined to $330 million, according to the association.

The large leap in imports from North Korea largely resulted from the fast-growing manufacturing facilities in Gaeseong.

The two Koreas have traded around $190 million of products and machineries through the industrial complex in the first six months, up almost 80 percent from a year earlier.

The KITA officials expect the rising interests in the Gaeseong complex to further push up the cross-border investment and trade in the coming years.

South Korean conglomerate Hyundai Group built the manufacturing park in the North’s border city of Gaeseong in 2004 in a bid to attract South Korean manufacturers looking for cheap labor.

More than 20 South Korean companies currently employ around 11,000 North Korean workers.

Gaeseong’s output accounts for about one-third of the total inter-Korean commercial trade, the KITA noted.

Other regular trade also soared over 65 percent to $210 million as fishery and commodity imports grew in recent months.

In contrast, aid from South to North Korea remained stagnant.

Private cross-border aid dropped 15 percent to $140 million while government aid more than doubled to $20 million, the KITA noted.

The association estimated that 2007 inter-Korean trade would surpass $1.7 billion, four times that of 2000.


Stalin and Korean War

Sunday, July 29th, 2007

Korea Times
Andrei Lankov

On September 30, 1950, at 11:30 p.m., the Eighth Department of the Soviet General Staff received a coded message from Pyongyang. It took about an hour to decipher it, and then a courier was dispatched to deliver it to Stalin’s residence on the outskirts of Moscow. It was 2:30 a.m., but the Soviet dictator liked to work at night. At any rate, the message was so important that perhaps they would wake him anyway. Kim Il-sung had reported that the North Korean army had ceased to exist, and that the only way to save the North Korean state would be through an urgent dispatch of troops from the USSR.

Stalin was hardly surprised. He was never an enthusiast for Kim Il-sung’s invasion plans, and when in January 1950 he finally granted permission to invade the South, he did so on the assumption that the U.S. would have no time, and perhaps, no will, to interfere. Hence, when Stalin learned of the Incheon landing, he was quick to appreciate what had happened.

Thanks to the recent efforts of historians, especially Alexander Mansourov and Pak Myong-rim whose research I use for this article, we know what was happening in Moscow, Beijing and Pyongyang during the fateful two weeks which followed MacArthur’s amphibious operation in Incheon.

The landing did not come as a complete surprise: the Soviet _ and, obviously, Chinese _ intelligence expected something like it, and the Chinese even warned the North Koreans about the danger.

When Stalin learned about the large-scale landing, he realized that a disaster was looming. As early as Sept. 18, he cabled his instructions to Pyongyang. He requested a stop of the push toward Busan, and demanded the withdrawal of troops from the South to reinforce Seoul’s defenses. This was a reasonable suggestion, but Stalin did not appreciate the degree of U.S. military superiority. It is doubtful whether such a withdrawal would have accomplished much.

But Stalin’s representatives in Korea, including Gen. Shtykov, the first Soviet ambassador to Pyongyang, were even less appreciative of the new dangers. While the U.S. and South Korean forces were fighting their way to Seoul, soon to cut the North Korean troops off from their supply bases, both Shtykov and Kim Il-sung still hoped that the landing force could be contained. The documents confirm that even when the U.N. forces took over the Gimpo airfield and entered the outskirts of Seoul, the North Korean command still hoped to take Busan in the following few days.

The North Korean press remained silent about the landing. By Sept. 18, the sounds of battle were well heard in Seoul, but the official propaganda and communist activists assured everybody that nothing special was taking place. Kim Song-chil, a historian and author of a famous diary, described how his Communist interlocutors insisted that the sounds of distant artillery were merely produced by the field exercises of the North Korean troops.

On Sept. 20, Stalin repeated his demand, and required the withdrawal of forces from the southern part of the country to Seoul, in order to “establish strong frontline positions to the north and east of Seoul.” It indicated that Seoul should be surrendered to the U.N. forces. But Kim Il-sung, with his trademark stubbornness, kept pressing on toward Busan.

Only on the evening of Sept. 25, did Kim Il-sung admit that there was no chance of pushing the South Korean forces into the sea near Busan. He ordered a withdrawal, but it was too late. The next day, heavy battles unrolled into the streets in downtown Seoul where the North Korean forces tried to resist. They did what they could. Kim Song-chil wrote about their bravery with great admiration, and the historian was no fan of the communists.

Over the two days of Sept. 27-28, the North Korean command system disintegrated. Kim Il-sung could not even contact his own Defense Minister Choe Yong-gon, who was in Seoul doing his best to keep the city. An emergency meeting in Pyongyang created a new command structure, presided over by Kim Il-sung, himself. But he was a general without an army; after the battle of Seoul, the North Korean forces ceased to exist.

For a while, there was some hope that the U.N. troops would not cross the 38th parallel. But by Oct. 1, it became clear that such a turn of events was very unlikely. Thus, Kim Il-sung and Pak Hon-yong, his foreign minister and future victim of the purges, wrote a cable in which they desperately asked for help. They admitted “if the enemy were to take advantage of the situation and step up its offensive in North Korea, then we would be unable to stop the enemy by our own forces.” Accordingly they asked for Soviet troops.

But Stalin did not want to launch a third World War. He hoped that the Chinese would take the military responsibilities on. After all, their stake in the situation was greater than his. He eventually succeeded, but it took much effort on his part.


S. Korea completes oil aid shipment to N. Korea under six-nation nuclear accord

Sunday, July 29th, 2007


South Korea on Sunday sent 22,590 tons of heavy fuel oil to North Korea, its last oil shipment to the communist neighbor under the first stage of a landmark nuclear disarmament deal.

Under a Feb. 13 deal signed with five other regional powers, North Korea agreed to shut down its nuclear reactor in Yongbyon in return for 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil aid from South Korea.

The oil shipment, the fifth of its kind, left this southeast port at 1 a.m. and is to arrive at Sonbong Port in northeastern North Korea at 7 a.m. on Monday, South Korean officials said.

North Korea shut down the Yongbyon reactor after South Korea sent the first shipment on July 12. The February deal also calls for North Korea to disclose and disable all its nuclear programs in return for an additional 950,000 tons of oil or equivalent aid.

The six nations — the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan — met in Beijing earlier this month but the talks ended without setting a date to meet again.


Cinema Offers Look Inside North Korea’s Evolution

Friday, July 27th, 2007

NPR, All Things Considered (Hat Tip LDP)

One of the first indications of North Korea’s interest in opening up to the West came not at a diplomatic summit, but at an international film festival. For the first time in its history, North Korea had a film screened at the Cannes film festival, held earlier this year.

Korean film scholar Souk Yong Kim says movies can open a unique window into life in the mysterious country.

What most outsiders know about North Korea is its history of human rights abuses and nuclear proliferation.

In the United States, that has made North Korea a target for satire, in movies such as Team America: World Police by the creators of Comedy Central’s South Park series.

Kim teaches at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and studies North Korean popular culture. She says the country hasn’t been better at portraying us. Especially during the height of the Cold War, propaganda films featured brutal Americans.

One melodrama from 1966 shows a U.S. soldier coming onto a beautiful North Korean woman. When she resists his advances, he shoots her.

“It’s quite in-your-face, blunt propaganda to incite hatred of Americans,” Kim says.

The film scholar says that everything in North Korea’s state-run entertainment industry serves as propaganda.

In North Korea, film has traditionally been a cheap and easy way to spread the revolutionary message to rural peasants, and the medium is beloved by North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

“He is known to be an extremely artistic person by all accounts, and he tapped into that artistic talent to really prove his filial piety for his father, Kim Il Sung,” says Souk Yong Kim.

Kim Il Sung founded the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea. When he died, his son’s documentary about his funeral helped cement Kim Jong Il’s path to power. The aspiring young director showed masses of wailing citizens. Grief even overcomes the narrator.

“This is the moment when the first hereditary socialist nation is born,” Kim, the academic, says. “Now, Kim Jong Il is in charge, and he is showing this to the entire country and the world.”

But by the late 1970s, traditional propaganda films bored the man known as the “Dear Leader,” and he needed something new.

“This crazy man obsessed with film, probably a megalomaniac, went so far as to kidnap a South Korean film couple to make good communist film for him,” Kim says.

A popular South Korean actress and a leading director disappeared over the border in 1978. According to their account, they were abducted by North Korean agents and imprisoned for years in re-education camps. Then Kim Jong Il forced them to make movies. That transformed North Korean cinema.

Director Shin Sang Ok and his wife made seven movies before their dramatic escape in 1986. He made musicals that tackled new themes to North Korean films, like romantic love. He made a Godzilla-like movie that has achieved some cult status. And he supervised others that borrowed from Hong Kong action films, such as one about a North Korean Robin Hood who steals from the rich and gives to the people.

North Korean movies have continued to evolve — albeit under the Dear Leader’s guiding hand. Film professor Kim says he “helped” with the script and production of North Korea’s entry to Cannes, The Schoolgirl’s Diary.

Kim says it’s interesting to note that the teenage girl at the heart of the film carries a Mickey Mouse backpack and sometimes uses English words while chatting with her friends.

She ascribes such influence to the pirated DVDs and other merchandise from the West and Japan that peddlers carry across the border from China, and says that this movie proves that borders are opening.

“Just the fact that they submitted The Schoolgirl’s Diary to Cannes … this year shows they are interested in joining the rest of the world,” says Souk Yong Kim.


N.K. demands pay raise for workers in inter-Korean industrial complex

Friday, July 27th, 2007


North Korea has demanded a 15 percent pay raise for its workers from South Korean companies at an inter-Korean industrial complex just north of the border, sources said Friday.

In a bid to press for their demand, the North notified South Korea that North Korean workers will refuse to work extra hours or on weekends and holidays starting from August, they said.

In the Kaesong industrial complex, North Korean workers earn about US$57 a month, including a $7 insurance payment, so their basic wages will increase to $66 if the North’s demand is accepted, according to officials.

No pay raise has been given since the complex began operations in late 2004, in spite of such demands being made several times.

“It seems like North Korea is demanding a pay increase accrued since 2004. We will decide on a pay raise at a reasonable level after consultations with the North Korean authorities,” a Unification Ministry official said.

Currently, 26 South Korean companies employ about 15,000 North Korean workers in Kaesong, including construction and office workers, at the site developed on a trial basis.

The number of North Korean workers is expected to increase to more than 350,000 when the complex becomes fully operational by 2012. Monthly production in the complex exceeds US$10 million.

“If the basic wage is increased to $66 and North Koreans work extra hours or weekends, South Korean companies will have to pay an average of $118 per month. Then the advantage of cheap labor in Kaesong will decrease,” said Kim Kyu-cheol, president of the South-North Korea Forum.

The industrial complex, the crowning achievement of a landmark summit between the leaders of the two Koreas in 2000, is one of the two major cross-border projects that South Korea has kept afloat in spite of United Nations sanctions on the the North following its nuclear weapon test in October. The two Koreas also run a joint tourism project at the North’s scenic Mount Geumgang.


Two Koreas to conduct on-site survey of three mines in the North

Friday, July 27th, 2007


South and North Korea will start a joint on-site survey this week of three zinc and magnesite mines in the North’s mountainous northeastern region, the Unification Ministry said Friday.

“The zinc deposit in Komdok mine is about 200-300 million tons, the largest in East Asia, and magnesite deposits in Ryongyang and Taehung are about 4 billion tons, the world’s third largest,” a ministry official said.

Ahead of the 15-day joint survey of the mines starting from Saturday, the South started shipment of light industry materials worth US$80 million to the North on Wednesday. The first shipment was 5 million tons of polyester fabric worth $800,000.

Earlier this month, the two Koreas agreed on how to cooperate in natural resource exploration in the North in return for the South’s provision of light industry materials.

In 2005, South Korea agreed to offer industrial raw materials to the North to help it produce clothing, footwear and soap starting in 2006. In return, the North was to provide the South with minerals after mines were developed with South Korean investments guaranteed by Pyongyang.

But the accord was not implemented, as North Korea abruptly cancelled the scheduled test runs of inter-Korean cross-border trains in May last year, apparently under pressure from its powerful military. The two Koreas carried out the historic test run of trains across their heavily armed border in mid-May.


Ban on Japanese Cars Stronger Than Expected

Friday, July 27th, 2007

Daily NK
Kwon Jeong Hyun

An order was made by North Korean authorities prohibiting the use of all Japanese cars until the year 2009. Though this only applies to old cars manufactured before 2003, it seems that the orders are being enforced stronger than expected.

The drivers seat of cars manufactured after 2004 are being changed to the right hand side by the Japanese Chongryon (General Association of North Korean Residents in Japan), informed a source on the 25th.

In addition, all Japanese cars have been banned from entering Pyongyang excluding cars with permits (such as governmental or company cars). As a result, many Japanese delivery services are experiencing hardship.

This kind of order was made around Kim Jong Il’s birthday on February 16th by central authorities with inspection conducted by the transportation department of the Social Safety Agency in both the rural districts and Pyongyang.

These orders were made amidst a time when relations between North and South Korea had worsened and when a broken down Japanese car blocked the road while Kim Jong Il was on his way to worship at his the Kim Il Song Memorial.

Regarding this, one safety traffic official of Pyongyang city informed, “Cars which have been produced with the South such as the “Hweparam (whistle)” and “Arirang” are being regulated by the nation. National income is being increased by selling these. Further, the regulations were enforced to control the people who were making lots of money by trading cars illegally.”

The Pyeonghwa Motors which operates under the control of the Unification Church has been working in collaboration with North Korea. Since 2002, cars and mini buses have been supplied after parts had been put together at the factory.

This order by North Korean authorities has been enforced strongly and has lasted much longer than expected. Hence many traders and individuals are expressing discontent.

Japanese cars are being sold at ridiculously low prices with yet another year and 2 months remaining until the ban is lifted. People who took out loans in order to purchase the cars are being pressured by their debtors, a source informed.