Archive for February, 2008

North Korean team gets help in the U.S. for treating disease

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

Joong Ang Daily
Nam Jung-ho

Tuberculosis, practically non-existent in most developed countries, is North Korea’s biggest concern. Five public officials from the communist country recently visited the United States to learn how to prevent and treat the disease, according to an official of The Korea Society, a New York-based nonprofit group that invited the North Koreans.

The official, who declined to be named, said visits to the United States by North Korean public health officials are not new, but publicizing them is.

“Things have changed. In the past, we would have been bombarded with complaints about helping North Korea, suspected of supporting terrorism, if we had officially announced it,” the representative said. “The program could have been canceled completely, so we kept the program as low profile as possible.”

Tuberculosis is extremely rare in South Korea, but more than 1 million people a year in the impoverished North get infected with the disease.

The public health officials were taught how to prevent and treat tuberculosis, an infectious disease caused by bacteria. Several area medical institutes promised to donate medicine and medical instruments to the North to fight the disease, the representative said.

“We are interested in the efforts to dispel diseases, since they can not only serve humanitarian purposes but also benefit U.S. medical research,” said the representative of The Korea Society. “In North Korea, they can implement perfect control over their patients, making it easier to measure the effects of new medicines or new treatment.”

According to the official, three doctors and two public health officials from North Korea visited eight hospitals and other public health centers in San Francisco, California from Jan. 12 to 19. The visit was arranged by The Korea Society and Stanford University.


Koreas to send joint cheering squad to Olympics

Monday, February 4th, 2008


South and North Korea agreed Monday to send a 300-strong joint cheering squad to the Beijing Olympic Games in early August, the Unification Ministry said.

One hundred and fifty people from each side will travel across the heavily armed border by train to Beijing, it said.

The agreement was made by working-level officials at a one-day meeting in Kaesong, a North Korean border city.

The two sides agreed to hold another round of talks to discuss the details of sending the joint cheering squad, the ministry said in a news release.

Hailed as a symbol of inter-Korean peace and reconciliation, the cross-border railway was reconnected in May last year for the first time in 56 years. It was severed in the early stage of the 1950-53 Korean War.

The two Koreas agreed during the second summit of their leaders in October to transport the joint cheering contingent to the Aug. 8-24 Olympics using the Gyeongui railway, which is linked to the Chinese railway system.

South Korea also hopes to connect the railway to the Trans Siberian and Trans Chinese railways so products from the world’s 13th biggest economy can be transported to Europe at lower costs and in less time.

Yoo Sang-il, a member of the Korean Olympic Committee, led the three-member South Korean delegation to the talks. Yoo’s North Korean counterpart was Hwang Chol, a department director of the North’s Council for National Reconciliation.


North Korea: The Columbus complex

Monday, February 4th, 2008

Several days ago, Orascom Telecom issued a press release claiming “that it has been granted the first commercial license to provide mobile telephony services in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) using WCDMA (3G) technology,” and also claiming, “The DPRK has a population of approximately 23 million of which 67% is between the age of 15 and 64 years, moreover, there is currently no mobile services in the country.”

(Although we won’t know if these demographics are correct until the next census).

However, Dr. Aidan foster Carter took issue with these statements this weekend in the Asia Times…

In 2008, not even North Korea is a cellphone virgin. The DPRK and mobile telephony have a tangled history, starting over a decade ago. (There’s a very useful account as of 2005 at this site.) The tale includes a joint bid in 2002 by several South Korean firms to build a CDMA network in Pyongyang, which sank when Washington made it clear it would not let Qualcomm sell the technology.

That false start apart, our Egyptian Columbus is ignoring, and perhaps usurping, a Thai Leif Ericsson in the shape of Loxley. Back in 1995, the Thai conglomerate set up a 70:30 joint venture, North East Asia Telephone & Telecommunication, with the very same partner Orascom has now bagged, KP&TC. NEAT&T had a 30-year “exclusive” concession – or so it thought.

They’re not the only ones. Hyundai used to vie with Samsung to be South Korea’s biggest chaebol or conglomerate. The group’s northern-born founder, the late Chung Ju-yung, was a pioneer of inter-Korean business. His reward was to be fleeced rotten by Pyongyang, which charged almost a billion dollars for a six-year tourist concession – and then coolly offered bits of it to rival operators like Lotte. As a result, Hyundai splintered into separate firms – and no other chaebol will touch the North with a bargepole. Cheating really doesn’t pay.

But back to the luck of the Loxleys. Having begun with a mainly fixed network in the Rason special economic zone in the northeast, several years later in 2003 Loxley rolled out mobile service in Pyongyang – only to see them banned after a mere six months. That was in May 2004, soon after a huge rail explosion destroyed a swath of the northwestern town of Ryongchon – hours after Kim Jong-il’s train had passed through from China. Officially an accident, one rumor is that this was an assassination attempt triggered by a mobile phone.

Whatever the reason, with service still suspended over a year later, Thailand’s then foreign minister, Kantathi Suphamongkhon, went to Pyongyang in August 2005 to fight Loxley’s corner. He got no joy. North Korea still bars hand-phones, confiscating them from the rare foreign visitor at the country’s Sunan airport and coming down hard on bold souls along the northern border who have illicit mobile phones using Chinese networks. Last October, a factory boss who made international calls from 13 lines – unlucky for some – installed in his basement was reportedly executed in a stadium in front of 150,000 people.

Dr. Foster-Carter gives a great summary of the DPRK’s mobile phone adventures, but I have a couple of data points that flush out the story a bit further.

While visiting Pyongyang in 2005, I personally witnessed an elite North Korean woman (who also claimed to have a reserved room at the Koryo) discretely use a mobile phone, then wrap it in a pink handkerchief a store it in her purse.  Even my guides were shocked, having previously told me that cell phones were recalled for security reasons.  One told me, “She must be special, I am just a normal person.”

Additionally, many journalists to the country are provided with state-sanctioned cell phones to use.  I met a reporter from Reuters who had one.

The full article can be found here:
North Korea: The Columbus complex
Asia Times

Aidan Foster-Carter


Inter-korean resource deveopment growing

Saturday, February 2nd, 2008

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 08-12-1-1

Much time and energy has been devoted recently to the promotion of a scheme to further develop North Korean natural resources. In July 2005, the Committee for the Promotion of South-North Economic Cooperation agreed to cooperate in the joint development of the North’s underground resources, and in July of last year a project was launched. A total of 17 agreements with the North have been reached, through which target mines have been selected and inspection methods, time-frames, and other details have been worked out. Many difficulties were faced during negotiations, but through continuous information gathering, it was decided that there was sufficient cause to invest in the project, so a proposal was made and the very first inter-Korean resource development enterprise was launched.

Since last August, forty-seven experts in mining, infrastructure, and other areas have carried out general as well as detailed inspections of all aspects of the Kumduk Zinc Mine and Ryongyang and Daeheung magnesite mines, including infrastructure such as railway and road access, harbor facilities, and electrical capacity. The North was convinced to allow photography and surveying of mining sites, as well as the 90km of rails and roads stretching between the mines and Danchun Station and the nearby Kim Chaek Harbor. Through these surveys, enough information was gathered to satisfy investors, and to publish three volumes worth of inspection reports and pictures.

The Danchun region mining project is one that has been thouroghly prepared through long negotiations and numerous inspections and surveys. Now, based on the results of last year’s surveys, the project’s feasibility study is scheduled to be completed by the end of March. The on-site inspections confirmed the quality and marketability of the mining resources, and the potential for mining development.

In addition, because the mines are currently operational, the risk is much lower than that of an exploratory project. It was assessed that only some parts of the power and railway systems need improvement. Of course, full investment in the project would come about only after completion of the feasibility study currently underway.

A DPRK natural resource development project is necessary for both North and South Korea. For the South, mineral resources can be expanded through investment in production, while the North can benefit economically by increasing production through South Korea’s capital infusion and the introduction of mining technology.

This venture can also play an important role in accomplishing the denuclearization and development plans of the incoming Lee Myung-bak administration. Direct investment in locations in North Korea is the preferred method for advancement of the North’s resources. In particular, investment into energy infrastructure necessary for the processing and transport of these mined goods is preferred over other forms of investment. It is important for South Korea to invest in developing the North’s resources before other outside investors take advantage of the opportunity.


DPRK’s largest copper mine flooded with difficulties

Saturday, February 2nd, 2008

Institute for Far Eastern Studies
NK Brief No. 08-1-29-1

It is being reported that North Korea’s Chungnyun Mine, in Hyesan, Ryanggang Province, is facing severe economic difficulties due to floodwater. Hyesan mines produce 80 percent of all North Korean copper, and the North had estimated that it will be able to continue mining copper there for the next forty years. Chinese firms in Hebei’s Luan River region had wanted to import 51 percent of Hyesan Chungnyun Mine’s product, but the deal fell through due to opposition from North Korea’s committee overseeing its second (military) economy.

In 1996, during the North’s ‘Arduous March’, electricity was not provided to the mine, leading to flooding in the mineshafts. Since 1998, Kim Jong Il has budgeted 8.2 million USD to dewater the mine, and the mine was recovered using electricity and equipment provided by China.

The mine resumed operations in May, 2004, and in March of last year even an ore-dressing plant and crushing facility were constructed, indicating that there were high expectations that production would grow. However, as water filled up at the dam for the near-by Samsoo Powerplant, completed in May, the mines began to flood again.

There was no end to criticism that the powerplant, located in Jangan-Ri, Hyesan, Ryanggang Province, was to be constructed on a limestone foundation that would leech massive amounts of water, however, as a result of its construction, despite this opposition, water leaks out of the power station and has flooded the mine.

In the event that North Korea abandons the Hyesan Chungnyun Mine, it will be faced with the difficulty of needing to import the large amounts of copper required by the manufacturing industry. As this mine began to flood, North Korea has begun to import most of the copper necessary for its economy from Chile.

Currently, there is no feasible way to technically restore the mine, so as senior authorities in the North are demanding that the mine be saved at any cost, those in charge of operations are said to be uneasy.


Kim Jong il site visits indicate DPRK’s focus on economy

Saturday, February 2nd, 2008

Instutute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 08-1-24-1


North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has started the new year by visiting a series of facilities and locations important to the economy in order to stimulate ‘Economic Revival’. DPRK media outlets reported on January 21 that Kim had examined the 18th national program performance and exhibition which opened last year, and that on the 6th, he visited the Ryesung Power Plant in North Hwanghae Province and dispensed on-location directives.

In North Korea, Kim’s new year’s traveling is indicative of the country’s national goals for the year, and Kim’s trip to economic facilities appears to indicate that DPRK authorities are focusing on rebuilding the economy this year.

On January 9, the Chosun Sinbo, a publication of the General Association of Korean Residents of Japan, reported, “In the changing face of the Northeast Asian political atmosphere emerging as the 6-Party agreement is implemented, [we] are preparing an advantageous atmosphere for the revival of the North Korean economy,” and called for “more active promotion of economic cooperation and exchange with each country in the world.” The article stressed promoting ‘21st century rehabilitation by one’s own effort’ by acquiring modern science and technology appropriate for the country.

Last year saw the beginning of improvement in U.S.-DPRK relations and resolution of nuclear issues, and the national strategy for this year seems to be economic expansion based on these developments. In particular, the symbolic significance of Kim Jong Il’s personal visits to two places of economic interest goes to show that North Korea is on a path intended for economic growth. In North Korea, on-location guidance by Kim Jong Il indicates national objectives and serves to focus national capabilities on that location.

According to North Korea’s New Year’s Joint Editorial, “The role of science and technology in the construction of an economically powerful nation must be decidedly elevated,” and went on to stress that, in line with the demands of the information industrial age, a revolution in education is necessary and a competent labor force that can participate in the creation of a strong and prosperous nation must be greatly promoted.

If Kim Jong Il’s inspection of the power plant is an indication of support for the construction of infrastructure and other electrical facilities necessary for economic development, the inspection program indicates what industrial sector the North will focus its energies on in the future. Through increased production in the light industrial and agricultural sectors, North Korea is expected to focus on improving the lives of the people first, and in the future, focus on development of the IT sector.


DPRK economic statistics from KEI (BoK data)

Saturday, February 2nd, 2008

In October, the Korea Economic Institute published a presentation of North Korean economic data assembled by the Bank of Korea.  Basic stats below:

  • GDP: -1.1% in 2006 (+3.8% in 2005)-Due to decrease in agriculture output. 
  • Services are the largest component of the economy (34%)
  • Trade volume (exports + imports) approximately US$3 billion
  • 2005 trading partners in order: China, South Korea, Thailand, Russia, Japan, Singapore

See the full report here: northkorea.ppt


One eye on the fish, the other on North Korea

Friday, February 1st, 2008

island.JPGThe New York Times (free registration required) ran an article today on Baengnyeong Island, South Korea’s northern most island which is below the NLL (the de jure, though disputed, sea border between the DPRK and the ROK), but only 10 miles from the coast of North Korea.

Fishermen have gone missing from this island for years, and occasionally, naval clashes erupt between the DPRK and ROK.  The latter problem, though not the former, was an agenda item on the most recent Inter-Korea talks between Kim Jong Il and the former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun.

The island is now a sad reminder of the costs of division and isolation:

[F]or Chang Hyung-soo, a 64-year-old retired diver here, this narrow strip of water is what separates him from his hometown [in the PDRK]. It also separates him from three of his friends who were lost in fog while fishing and taken to North Korea three decades ago.


“A few weeks ago, a 93-year-old man came here to take a last look at his hometown across the channel before he died,” Mr. Chang, the retired diver, said from the hilltop. “But he could see nothing because of the fog. I still remember the old man’s tears of disappointment.”

Complicating the matter, however, is the competition from Chinese fishersmen granted territorial access by the DPRK:

To make matters worse, hundreds of Chinese fishing boats, after paying fees to the North Korean Navy, have sailed into waters between their islands and North Korea in recent years while the South Korean fishermen have been restricted to waters close to their own shores.

“The Chinese trawlers catch anything, everything, and deplete our seas,” said Kim Myong-san, 78, who first came to the island as a marine and settled here with his wife.

One Eye on the Fish, the Other on North Korea
New York Times

Choe Sang-Hun

Top image from Google Earth. Download “North Korea Uncovered” to see this location on your own Google Earth.