Archive for October, 2008

(UPDATE)DPRK food update

Friday, October 24th, 2008

UPDATE 3: Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland chime in with “Famine in North Korea Redux”. 

UPDATE 2: IFES notes that Pyongyang is acknowledging the food shortage:

DPRK stressing unaided resolution to food crisis
Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 08-10-24-1

On October 22, the North Korean Workers’ Party newspaper, Rodong Shinmun, reported on the international food crisis, and stressed, ‘The only things we can trust in the face of today’s severe food crisis are the efforts and self sacrifice of our blood, sweat, and tears,’ emphasizing an autonomous resolution to the food problem.

According to the paper, Kim Jong Il stated, “Today in our country, the agricultural problem is a very important problem that must be decisively resolved in order to build a strong and prosperous socialist nation.”

In particular, the paper stressed the urgency of the food problems, reporting, “Rice and food are of the utmost importance, like a lifeline to us,” while admitting that fertilizer, agricultural chemicals, fuel, and other essential items were in short supply, but adding, “the basis of agricultural production is not physical conditions, but determination.” By emphasizing that ‘determination’ would be key to solving the problem was a way of indirectly admitting that the government did not have the means to provide the supplies necessary to increase agricultural output.

The tone of the article conveys the idea that as the food crisis worsens around the world, international food aid to North Korea is being reduced, causing the worsening of the food crisis in the DPRK. It would appear that the government is trying to calm the people’s discontent by blaming outside influences, while at the same time mobilizing the efforts of North Korean farm workers.

While all of North Korea’s media sources have been repeatedly reporting the current global food crisis, they have emphasized that most others do not have rice to give, and those that do are not giving it, so that the North’s domestic food shortages need to be resolved by the North Koreans themselves.

UPDATE: Jess adds some great statistics in the comments

The Daily NK reports on the Ministry of Unification’s claims about the DPRK’s food situation.

ORIGINAL POST:We are getting some mixed messages on the state of the DPRK’s agricultural production and access to food….

Last month, IFES and the Daily NK reported that the DPRK was expecting a decent harvest this fall since the country’s farmlands were spared the seasonal flooding of the previous years:

A source involved in China-North Korea trade at a company in Shenyang was quoted on the 30th as saying, “[North Korean] rice traders are expecting this year’s food production to be considerably improved compared to last year,” and, “This year, with no large natural disasters, rice paddies and crop fields are doing well, and crop production will probably be much greater than last year.”

In a related matter, one North Korean insider reported, “With the [North Korean] food situation, no one is doing as well as the wholesalers,” and, “As the fall harvest season has come, traders have come by farms in each province and reported that rice and corn harvests are very good.”

The source went on to say, “This year, farming was not difficult, so as autumn passes, the market price of rice looks likely to fall. The price of corn will fall even faster, hitting the 1000 won per kilogram level by mid October.” In fact, by the end of this year’s fall harvest, the price of food is expected to return to pre-shock levels. Currently, rice is selling for 2200 won and corn for 1300 won per kilogram in North Korean markets. (IFES)

This week, however, the UN World Food Program sent the opposite signal, highlighting the acute food shortages they are seeing:

The UN food agency said Thursday that millions of North Koreans face a food crisis, but a South Korean official said that Seoul has not decided whether to respond to a request for food aid to the communist country.

“Some areas of the northeastern provinces in the country … have become extremely vulnerable, facing a situation of a humanitarian emergency,” Jean-Pierre de Margerie, the WFP’s country director for North Korea, said at a forum on North Korea.

Around 2.7 million people on North Korea’s west coast will also run out of food in October, the WFP said in a report released Tuesday.

The food shortages have forced many North Koreans to go to hills to collect wild food to complement their daily rations and reduce the number of meals per day to two, said de Margerie.

Asked if North Koreans face starvation, he said his agency hasn’t seen any evidence of starvation but said, “We have reached (a) very critical level and we shouldn’t wait for another starvation before ringing the alarm bells.”

The WFP also said the food shortages have especially affected urban households in areas with low industrial activity due to higher food prices, reductions in public food rations and lower employment.

Donor countries should back us up … Now is (the) time to act,” de Margerie said. (AP via New Zealand’s 3 News)

According to another report in the Times of London:

On Tuesday, WFP announced that some 2.7 million people on North Korea’s west coast will run out of food in October, and that, because of the worsening food situation, it was increasing from 1.9 million to 6.5 million the population which it seeks to help with food aid.

“Some areas of the north-eastern provinces in the country have become extremely vulnerable, facing a situation of a humanitarian emergency,” the organisation’s programme director for North Korea said. “We have reached a very critical level and we shouldn’t wait for another starvation before ringing the alarm bells.”

Additionally, UN’s point man on North Korean human rights, Vitit Muntarbhorn, has gone so far as to claim North Korea is clamping down on mobile phones and long distance telephone calls to prevent the spread of news about a worsening food crisis (Times of London). 

The South Korean Ministry of Unification, however, is publicly disputing the UNWFP’s numbers:

A South Korean official has disputed the U.N.’s assessment that millions of North Koreans are at risk of food shortages, saying Friday that the impoverished communist country does not appear to face a “serious” food emergency.

Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon said that North Korea’s harvest this year is not bad, citing South Korean civic officials who recently visited the country.

“We believe that the North’s food condition is not in a serious crisis situation,” Kim told reporters, adding that the weather has been good and there were no heavy rains like the ones that devastated the North last year.

His comments came a day after the U.N. food agency said millions of North Koreans face a food crisis and called on donor countries, including South Korea, to provide urgent food aid.


Earthquake off coast of Chongjin

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

According to the USGS:

An earthquake with magnitude 4.8 occurred [73 miles east of] Chongjin, North Korea at 16:18:36.15 UTC on Oct 22, 2008. (This event has been reviewed by a seismologist.)

View epicenter of quake on Google Maps here.

More details can be found here.


2007 US Geological Survey published on North Korea

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

An advanced copy of the 2007 US Geological Survey of North Korea has been published. 

Here is the outlook from the author, John C. Wu:

For the next 3 to 4 years, the North Korean mining sector is likely to continue to be dominated by the production of coal, iron ore, limestone, magnesite, and zinc. Because of the continuing strong demand for minerals by China, its investments in North Korea’s mining sector are expected to continue to increase beyond its current investments in coal, copper, gold, iron ore, and molybdenum into other mineral commodities, such as nickel, crude petroleum, steel, and zinc. North Korea’s economy is expected to recover slowly but its real GDP is expected to grow at less than 1% during the next 2 years.

The whole report is fairly brief and worth reading in full.  You can download it here: usgs-dprk.pdf or read it on line here.


DPRK economic statistics roundup

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

Reuters published a short article stating many of the DPRK’s economic statistics.  Most of these can already be found on this site, but in terms of a quick update, this is not bad.  The author even acknowledges the wide disparity of the DPRK’s national and per capita income estimates, which is something most articles on these topics fail to address:


Annual gross domestic product in 2007 was just over $20 billion, a fall of 2.3 percent from the previous year due to the effects of widespread flooding, according to South Korea’s central bank. However, a report commissioned by a former South Korean unification minister estimated it was less than half that.


Estimates of per capita income range from $400 to $1,000. Whichever figure is true, the population of around 23 million is one of the world’s most destitute. That compares to around $20,000 in capitalist South Korea, once the poorer of the two halves of the Korean peninsula. North Korea’s economy has declined over the past two decades.


North Korea’s state doctrine preaches self-reliance. But for years it has been unable to produce enough food for its people and relies heavily on foreign aid. Even in good harvests, it produces about 20 percent less than it needs. An estimated 1 million North Koreans perished during famine in the 1990s.

Last month, the U.N. World Food Programme estimated that North Korea would need some $500 million in food aid over the next year to avoid a humanitarian crisis.


Constantly running a trade deficit, North Korea offers cheap labor mostly for relatively low-skilled manufacturing industries, such as textiles. Its chief attraction, especially to neighboring China, is its natural resources, especially coal and minerals.

Some sources, including the U.S. government, believe it bolsters its trade through the illicit exports of weaponry, drugs and counterfeit U.S. dollars.

Its biggest trade partner is China which, by one estimate, accounted for an estimated two-thirds of its total foreign trade last year. By contrast, in the first eight months of this year, Pyongyang accounted for just 0.12 percent of China’s total foreign trade.

Of China’s imports from the North, close to 60 percent were coal and minerals such as iron ore, zinc, lead, molybdenum and precious metals.

South Korea is Pyongyang’s other main trade partner. The two operate an industrial park on the northern side of the border where manufacturers from the South use cheap local labor.

The full article can be found hrere:
FACTBOX: Some facts about the North Korean economy
Jonathan Thatcher


The Relationship between the Party and the Army under the Military-First Policy

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

Daily NK
Choi Choel Hee

With Kim Jong Il’s condition an issue, there has been a lot of talk about North Korea’s government system in the post-Kim Jong Il era.

Due to the strengthened military influence caused by the military-first policy, one prediction is that a military-based collective leadership system may take power after Kim Jong Il.

However, a defector who used to be a high-ranking official in North Korea pointed out that this prediction comes from an incorrect understanding about the relationship between the Party and the military.

Hwang Jang Yop, who is a former Secretary of International Affairs of the Workers’ Party, has said that not military authorities but the Party would likely grasp power after Kim Jong Il’s death.

I. Chosun (North Korea) People’s Army Is the Army of the Party

According to the Regulations of the Workers’ Party, the Chosun People’s Army is defined as “the revolutionary military power of the Workers’ Party.” Separate from the regular chain of command in the Army, Party members are assigned to each unit to command them. That is, there are two command structures: a military chain of command and the Party’s organizational system.

The People’s Army is controlled by the Party Committee of the Chosun People’s Army under the Military Committee of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party. The chief secretary of the Party Committee of the Chosun People’s Army is Cho Myung Rok, who also holds the position of Director of the General Political Bureau of the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces. His roles are to inform the Army of the Party’s instructions and regulations and to monitor and supervise the Army to make sure it adheres to the Party’s will and regulations.

At the same time, the highest political apparatus in the military, the General Political Bureau, is under surveillance of the Guidance Department of the Central Committee of the Party. Therefore, a Vice-Director of the Guidance Department of the Central Committee presides over the military while the military command system is always subordinate to the Party command system.

Regarding this relationship between the Party and the military, Hwang Jang Yop, the former Secretary of International Affairs of the Party, gave as an example “the Sixth Corps’ Coup d’état case,” and said that, “The suspected leaders of the coup were shot at once in a hall. The figure who ordered and carried out the massacre of the conspirators was Kim Young Choon, the Vice-Director of the National Defense Commission, but the political manager behind everything was Jang Sung Tae, Director of the Ministry of Administration, one of the departments under the Central Committee of the Party. This implies that there are different management systems overseeing the military — those of the military itself and those of the Party.”

II. The Right of Personnel Management and of Inspection Over the Military

The reason why the Director of the Guidance Department holds such a powerful influence is that the Director has the right to manage personnel and inspect the military.

Even the right to implement personnel management within the Army goes to the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Party. The members of the Secretariat are the Director of the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces, the Army Chief of Staff, the Director of the General Political Department, the Director of the Operations Department, and, in some cases, the commander of the Defense Security Command of the Army is included.

The Guidance Department of the Party maintains the right to inspect the Army. The scariest inspections for the military are the ones by the Guidance Department. On a rumor that the Guidance Department is coming, a few military officials are usually purged.

The fact is well known that Kim Jong Il himself also holds power over the military through controlling the Guidance Department.

The posts in charge of the military within the Guidance Department are the No. 13 Life Guidance Department and the No. 4 Cadre Department. Department #13 directly controls and instructs the operations of the Army Committee of the Central Committee of the Party and General Political Department of the Party.

III. Department #13 and Department #4 of the Guidance Department

The roles of these two departments are to monitor how well the Army follows the ideology and the leadership of Kim Jong Il, and whether or not party organizations and political organizations within the Army are operated well by the Party leadership. The Army Committee of the Party and the General Political Bureau doesn’t have the authority to make decisions, so it has to consult with Department #13 before taking action.

The Vice-Director of the Guidance Department is in charge of Department #13. The offices of Department #13 are located in the building of the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces due to its association with the General Political Department of the People’s Army.

It also oversees the Army Committee of the Central Committee, the General Political Department, and the Army Committee. Department #13 participates in the major military meetings including the ideological struggle meeting. It hosts an annual fifteen-day-long Guidance Department lecture of the Party for military officials.

The No. 4 cadre department has the final say over personnel matters regarding high military officials. Officials whose rank is higher than brigadier general must be approved by the Guidance Department. After the Guidance Department signs off, posts and military title can be granted by the order of the supreme commander of the People’s Army. Therefore, the Guidance Department of the Party holds absolute control over the Army through exercising its right of personnel management of the officials.


GPI consultancy report on DPRK trade mission

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

From GPI:

For many entrepreneurs, North-Korea is a relatively unknown trade destination. For this reason, from 28 September to 4 October 2008, a Dutch economic delegation investigated the business climate in this country. You may download a short report of this unique mission here.  Because of its success, another mission will be organised in 2009.
The participants noticed trade and investments in several fields, including textile and garments, shipbuilding, agribusiness, logistics, mining, animation and Information Technology. The findings of the mission will be presented at the seminar “Doing business with North-Korea”, which will take place in The Hague in spring 2009. A videofilm about the tour will be shown as well.
If you are interested in business opportunities in North-Korea, or in joining a seminar or trade mission, please contact us for further details. It is also possible for us to give presentations at business seminars abroad, in order to present the findings of the Dutch mission in more detail.
With best regards,
Paul Tjia (sr. consultant ‘offshore sourcing’)
GPI Consultancy, P.O. Box 26151, 3002
ED Rotterdam, The Netherlands
E-mail: [email protected]
tel: +31-10-4254172 
fax: +31-10-4254317


Korea Business Consultants Newsletter

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

Korea Business Consultants has published their latest newsletter.  You may download it here.

Topics covered include:
Six Party Talk progress
South Korea/Russia gas deal
More factories opening in the DPRK
UN survey of DPRK population
Summit pledges
Pyongynag hosts autumn trade fair
KEPCO to Abandon NK Reactor Gear
Trust Company Handling DPRK’s Overseas Business
DPRK-Russia Railway Work Begins
ROK Opposition Calls for Renewed Cooperation with DPRK
ROK Delegation Leaves for DPRK
ROK Aid Workers Leave for DPRK
“ROK Makes US$27.6 Billion from DPRK Trade”
“Kaesong Output Tops US$400 Million”
DPRK, Kenya Set Up Diplomatic Ties
Medvedev Hails DPRK Anniversary
Claim to North Korean rock fame
International Film Festival Opens


Korean height gap

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

This week the Wall Street Journal did a pretty thorough review of the North – South Korean “height gap” after John McCain mentioned it in a presidential debate.  Here is a hefty quote from the post (well worth reading here):

…Several checked and (here, here, and here) found studies supporting his claim of a height gap, though the gap’s size depends on which South Koreans and North Koreans you’re measuring. The researchers behind these studies told me that McCain’s statement is true of younger Koreans, but not of adults. (A McCain campaign spokesman didn’t respond to my request for the source of the claim.)

One study of North Korean refugees compared to South Koreans of the same age found that South Korean young men were 2.3 inches taller than their North Korean counterparts, while the gap among young women was 2.6 inches. Meanwhile, among non-refugee boys and girls living in both countries between the ages of one and a half and six and a half, a separate study found that the height gap was around three inches (varying slightly by age and gender); between six and a half and seven and a half, the height gap was 4.9 inches for girls and five inches for boys.

The height gap is so age-dependent for two reasons, researchers told me: People of different ages experience peak growth at different times, and at different times the discrepancies between the two Koreas in nutrition, health and overall well-being may differ. Also, adults who were undernourished as children may catch up slightly later.

“Adults were raised 20 to 50 years ago — thus, you proxy the environmental impact in the past, so it does not really make sense comparing different time periods,” Daniel Schwekendiek, author of the study of child heights, said.

Schwekendiek, an economist at Germany’s University of Tuebingen, was a postdoc student of Sunyoung Pak, a biological anthropologist at Seoul National University who conducted the refugee study. Pak said it’s unclear whether refugees are a representative sample of the North Korean population, though she did point out that the older people she studied, born in the 1930s, were taller than their southern-born counterparts, suggesting that there has been a growing height gap, as North Korean height growth stagnated. (People, like other mammals, tend to be heavier and taller at greater latitudes, Pak said.)

Schwekendiek’s samples were randomly selected — in North Korea, by the United Nations in 10 of 12 provinces, to investigate malnutrition, and in wealthier, healthier South Korea, by the Korean Research Institute of Standards and Sciences, on behalf of industries that wanted to produce goods that fit children.

Both researchers said height is a useful measure of well-being because North Koreans and South Koreans share genetic ancestry, and also because height numbers are more reliable and objective than economic stats coming out of Pyongyang. “As height and weight are measured physically, this leaves less room for political manipulation compared to conventional health and human welfare indicators,” Schwekendiek said.

Wall Street Journal
The Numbers Guy

The Korean Height Gap


North Korea Google Earth update

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

Google Earth added some image overlays to the DPRK and shifted some older images, so out of the kindness of my heart I reorganized the place marks to give you a more authoritative geographical experience!

I also added a couple of new locations: Cholima Steel Works, Jang Chol Gu University of Commerce, the DPRK’s Central Bank, Changwang Kindergarden, Chongryun Housing, and Maekjon Ferry Relics. Addtionally the electricity grid and railway network have been marginally imporved. Thanks to “HandyDandy61”.

You can download the most recent version of North Korea Uncovered here.


US sends fourth aid shipment

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

UPDATE: According to Yonhap, the aid shipment has left Virginia:

The latest food aid from the United States to North Korea, comprised of 25,000 tons of corn and other grains, has made its departure from the U.S. state of Virginia, a U.S. radio station reported Saturday.

The Mary-Ann Hudson, a U.S. cargo vessel carrying 20,000 tons of corn and 5,000 tons of beans, left from Norfolk, Virginia, on Friday and is scheduled to arrive at North Korea’s western port of Nampo on Nov. 18, Radio Free Asia reported, citing a spokesperson of World Vision.

In June, the U.S. started shipping the first batch of some 500,000 tons of food aid, which it pledged to deliver to the North over a year-long period, through the World Food Programme (WFP).

Previous shipments were organized by the WFP, but the latest round is conducted jointly by relief organization World Vision and four other relief agencies, according to the spokesperson.

Since the late 1990s, when an estimated 1-3 million North Koreans starved to death, the North has prioritized its agricultural sector while accepting foreign aid to help feed its population of 23 million people. (Yonhap, Latest U.S. grain shipment to N.K. departs, 10-19-2008)

ORIGINAL POST: Press release from Mercy Corps (10/16/2008):

A fourth shipment of U.S. food aid for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea sails this week to be distributed by five humanitarian agencies delivering urgent assistance to North Koreans suffering from severe food shortages. The commodities are scheduled to arrive before winter.

More than 894,000 of North Korea’s most vulnerable people – mainly children, pregnant and nursing mothers, and the elderly – will receive daily rations from this shipment of 25,060 metric tons of bulk corn and soy. The distributions are conducted in two North Korean provinces, led by Mercy Corps with World Vision as co-lead. Samaritan’s Purse, Global Resource Services and Christian Friends of Korea are the partner agencies.

“This new shipment of food will bring critical sustenance to many hungry people in North Korea,” said Nancy Lindborg, president of Mercy Corps. “We are very pleased with our success in getting food to needy people for the past few months, and are confident that efficient food distributions will continue into the winter.”

On arrival at the western port of Namp’o in the latter half of November, the food will be rationed to recipients through public distribution centers, orphanages, school, hospitals and nurseries in Chagang and North Pyongan Provinces. The program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) office of Food for Peace, is the first U.S. food assistance program for North Korea since 2000.

“With North Korea’s people in a precarious situation facing low food stocks and the onset of a harsh winter, our primary concern is the country’s most vulnerable groups, children and mothers especially,” said George Ward, senior vice president of international programs for World Vision in the U.S. “We are moving urgently to ensure this assistance reaches those in most need at a critical time.”

The NGO partnership is on track to distribute 100,000 metric tons of the food aid during the year-long program, reaching 895,000 people, while the World Food Programme (WFP) is distributing another 400,000 metric tons in U.S. assistance. This week’s shipment is the first one entirely allotted for the NGO partnership to dispense.

The lack of food in North Korea became severe this year as floods devastated harvests, China erected barriers to food exports, and prices skyrocketed globally for staples such as rice and maize. In a June 2008 assessment, a team of experts from the partner agencies confirmed findings of food shortages and acute needs in North Korea. Malnourishment was prevalent, rations were reduced, and food stocks were dwindling. Separately, the WFP projected a shortage of 1.66 million metric tons of food, relative to the population’s needs.

The U.S. food assistance program includes clear provisions for monitoring distributions and conducting ongoing needs assessments. The partnership of humanitarian agencies has a staff of 16 based in the DPRK for the duration of the program to monitor activities continually and conduct random visits to distribution points.