Archive for March, 2009

Currency Conversion during Korean Unification

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Writing for the Brookings Institution’s Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies, Yeongseop Rhee, Nonresident Fellow in Foreign Policy, takes on the topic of eventual currency union between North and South Korea, assuming that the two Koreas will eventually be unified and that the unification will follow a rapid process rather than a gradual one.

Under these conditions, Rhee discusses the complications of determining a proper conversion rate for the DPRK won, rejecting the official and black market rates, ultimately determining that an undervlued DPRK won conversion rate is preferable to a situation in which the DPRK won is converted at a rate above its true exchange value (a la German reunification). Quoting from the article:

The decision on a conversion rate will depend upon which policy objective is the most important. Considering their relative impacts and past experiences, I suggest that price/macroeconomic stability and competitiveness of North Korean industries should have the high priority: undervaluation of North Korean currency is therefore more desirable.[3] The experiences of other socialist countries show that inflation was one of the most difficult problems at the beginning of economic reforms. Even though the details of each country’s reform path depend upon the state of the economy, price/macroeconomic stabilization has to be the initial priority. Once price/macroeconomic stability is guaranteed, foreign capital – which North Korea eagerly needs for its successful transformation and development – can be attracted.

The undervaluation of North Korean currency is also desirable in terms of labor migration. According to studies on German unification,[4] the most important reason for migration from East to West was not the high incomes in West Germany, but the lack of job opportunities in East Germany. This implies that the overvaluation of North Korean currency to improve the standard of living of the North Korean people would cause more migration because of suffering competitiveness of North Korean firms and job opportunity, and would further place a higher burden on the government budget.

The author then goes on to address the timing of monetary unification (rapid vs. delayed conversion), prefering to emulate the German model of early conversion. Quoting from the article:

First, most proponents of a late currency union argue that currency unification needs to be delayed for a few years until North Korean economy is stabilized and improves to a certain level. However, a temporary delay of a few years will not guarantee the improvement of the North Korean economy to a certain level but is more likely to lead to its deterioration. Even though the North Korean economy may improve, it actually must grow much faster than South Korean economy for a long time to reach a certain compatible level. For example, even assuming North Korean economic growth of 10 percent per year – which would be extremely difficult – it will still take nearly one generation for North Korean per capita income to reach one half of the South Korean level. This suggests that it is impossible to improve the North Korean economy to a certain level compatible with South Korea’s within a few years. Thus, in terms of feasibility, an early union is better.

Second, a gradual strategy for economic reform and opening, such as China has chosen, would not be applicable to North Korea. In comparison with China, North Korea is over-industrialized like Eastern European countries. In this type of economy where the state sector is dominant, there is little reserve of labor outside the state sector that can provide the engine for growth for a new non-state sector, and gradualism cannot work in that context. A sharp downturn in industrial production upon the outset of market reforms is inevitable, and a significant loss of employment in the industrial sector should be expected and accepted as a structural adjustment in North Korea. Thus, the unified fiscal and monetary policy framework to promote structural reforms should be prepared as soon as possible through an early currency union.

Third, according to the theory of optimum currency area, if there exists an adjustment mechanism such as flexible prices and wages or other measures to absorb asymmetric shocks, it is more likely for two countries to form an optimum currency area. When the two Koreas are unified, large fiscal transfers from South Korea to North Korea can play that role of adjustment mechanism because asymmetric shocks to North Korea can be compensated by these fiscal transfers. The two Germanys could form an optimum currency area after the unification because of the centralization of the fiscal system. Thus, as long as fiscal transfers are guaranteed, which will be a sure fact in the case of Korean unification, the loss of the exchange rate policy instrument would not matter much in terms of absorbing asymmetric shocks, and an early monetary union is preferable.

Read the full article on the Brookings web page here.



DPRK preparing for spring fertilizer shortages

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 09-3-17-1

North Korea, facing chronic food deficiencies, is again looking at fertilizer shortages as the spring farming season approaches. North Korean authorities and farmers are particularly troubled by the fact that, just as last year, the likelihood of receiving chemical fertilizer aid from the South is practically non-existent.

A February 26th (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) article titled “Korea’s Effort to Overcome the Food Problem” reported strenuous efforts were underway to “independently” overcome the lack fertilizer in order to ease food shortages throughout the nation. According to the KCNA, “While giving on-the-spot guidance at the Heungnam Fertilizer Complex, Comrade Kim Jong Il explained that in order to ease the food problems, much fertilizer needs to be sent to farming villages.” In addition, it was explained that organic fertilizer production needs to be stepped up in order to compensate for the lack of chemical fertilizer. The report added, “The People’s Army as well as enterprises, institutions, villages, and civic organizations across the country are sending farming utensils and compost to agricultural villages.”

According to Tae-Jin Kwon, leading researcher at the Korea Rural Economic Institute, North Korea drastically increased chemical fertilizer imports from China in order to prepare for the possibility of a continued hold on South Korean fertilizer aid, purchasing approximately 40 times more fertilizer at the end of last year and this January than it imported during the same period a year earlier. According to Chinese customs statistics, North Korea imported 25,608 tons of fertilizer between November 2008 and the end of January 2009. During the same period a year prior, North Korea imported a mere 635 tons. Kwon stated that the reason for this sharp increase in chemical fertilizer imports was a measure to stockpile necessary amounts of resources in preparation for the eventuality that South Korean fertilizer aid would not be forthcoming.

During this same period, North Korea imported 12,694 tons of Chinese grains, a notable drop from the 108,109 tons imported one year ago. Kwon argued that this was a reflection of North Korea’s advance import and stockpiling of grain in light of last year’s Chinese measures restricting the export of grain, and the fact that this spring, fertilizer is a more pressing need.

“If South Korean fertilizer aid to the North is not forthcoming this year, it will have a severe impact on the North’s grain production. This is already reflected in grain prices within North Korean markets, and could serve to drive them up even further.”

Over the last 10 years, more than 65 percent of the fertilizer used in North Korea has been provided by the South, with Seoul providing between 300 and 350 thousand tons each year. This is enough to boost North Korean grain production by 600 thousand tons annually. Kwon pointed out, “North Korea owes its increasing grain production since 2000 to South Korean fertilizer aid.”

He went on to add, “Even if the missile situation were resolved and an atmosphere conducive to dialog could be created within 6-Party Talks, the South Korean government would not be able to open dialog with North Korea until after April,” and, “If dialog were reestablished and aid transport were arranged, in order for fertilizer to be effective it would have to be sent to North Korea by May, at the latest.”


DPRK scales back humanitarian work

Monday, March 16th, 2009

Below are excerpts from the Financial Times:

Pyongyang has told Washington that United Nations World Food Programme [WFP] staff will be barred from distributing food aid after March. The Stalinist regime has also told US non-governmental organisations to leave this month, and rescinded permission for other humanitarian groups to visit, the Financial Times has learned.

In an agreement last year, the US agreed to provide North Korea with 500,000 tonnes of food. The WFP was responsible for distributing 400,000 tonnes, with a consortium of NGOs led by MercyCorps in charge of the remainder.

In recent months, however, after North Korea refused to allow sufficient numbers of Korean speakers to join the WFP team, Washington halted food supplies.

Pyongyang has responded by barring food aid workers from operating in the country. So far, the US has supplied 100,000 tonnes to the WFP, and another 70,000 tonnes to the NGOs, which has not been completely distributed.

A US State Department official said that while the US was satisfied with the number of Korean speakers who were allowed to join the NGOs, it was unhappy that the same situation was not true for the WFP, which is responsible for distributing 80 per cent of the food. In addition to MercyCorps, the other NGOs are World Vision, Global Resource Services, Christian Friends of Korea and Samaritan’s Purse.

The official said the US was also responding to North Korea blocking aid workers from conducting a nutritional survey, which was included in the agreement.

“US aid workers have enjoyed tremendous co-operation in the countryside from North Koreans and we hope the DPRK government in Pyongyang will allow them to continue to feed the hungry,” said a Senate aide involved in North Korean issues. “Food aid should be separated from politics.”

Even before the North Korean threat, WFP had been forced to scale back operations because of the break in US funding. The WFP has only received 4.5 per cent of its $504m budget for North Korean operations. A WFP spokesperson said 4.5m of the 6.2m North Koreans targeted under the programme were not receiving assistance as of December.

“WFP hopes that the US will review the humanitarian situation and that food shipments will resume soon,” the spokesperson added.

North Korea recently informed the US that Eugene Bell, World Care and Kirk Humanitarian – three other US NGOs operating in North Korea – would not be allowed to make visits that were already approved. Pyongyang told the US that the planned visits were being cancelled because of “recent developments”.

Nancy Lindborg, president of MercyCorps, said North Korea sometimes temporarily blocked NGOs from visiting. However, she added that she was “hopeful and confident” that the visits would resume. She said her consortium had a “good working relationship” with its North Korean partners.

Read the full article here:
N Korea-US distrust halts food aid
Financial Times
Demetri Sevastopulo

Below: State Department Briefing, Mercy Corps Press Release
US State Dept press briefing
Robert Wood, Acting Department Spokesman
March 17, 2009

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say or to confirm about North Korea cutting off or saying it does not want U.S. food aid —
MR. WOOD: Yeah.
QUESTION: — and kicking out U.S. NGOs over an accelerated timeline?
MR. WOOD: Yeah, yeah. North Korea has informed the United States that it does not wish to receive additional U.S. food assistance at this time. And we will work with U.S. NGOs and their North Korean counterparts to ensure that food that’s already been delivered – excuse me, food that’s already in North Korea is distributed to the intended recipients. And one of the things I also want to mention is that we have aimed to implement the U.S.-DPRK food aid program according to the terms agreed to by the United States and the North Korean Government in May 2008.
And I will give you just a breakdown in terms of the amount of food aid that we have provided. The U.S. has delivered 169,000 metric tons of U.S. food to North Korea in 2008 and 2009. The last shipment of U.S. food aid, which was nearly 5,000 metric tons of vegetable oil and soy blend, arrived in North Korea in late January and is being distributed by U.S. NGOs.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) of that?
MR. WOOD: Of which one, the 5,000 metric tons? Yeah, I am sorry. I don’t have any – any value here. We can try and get that to you in the Press Office.
QUESTION: Could you say when you were notified of this and how you were notified?
MR. WOOD: I don’t know, but it was obviously communicated to us by the North Koreans. I don’t know how that was done, whether it was done through the New York channel or some —
QUESTION: (Inaudible)?
MR. WOOD: Yeah, I just – I don’t know.
QUESTION: Last week maybe?
QUESTION: Just a clarification?
MR. WOOD: Yeah.
QUESTION: You said it’s being distributed by U.S. NGOs or UN NGOs?
QUESTION: Of the (inaudible) metric tons, what is it of? Is it grain? Is it – what is it?
MR. WOOD: Well, I’ll have to get the specifics on it, but I refer to our last shipment of U.S. food, which was, you know —
QUESTION: Oil and soy blend.
MR. WOOD: That’s right. I don’t have that breakdown. We can certainly try and get that for you, Sue.
QUESTION: (Inaudible), are you disappointed in this?
MR. WOOD: Of course. Absolutely. I mean, this was a program intended to try to help get food to needy North Koreans, and we’re obviously disappointed in that. This, you know, does not help us implement this agreement that we reached with the North back in 2008, so —
QUESTION: Well, not only does it not help you implement it, it kind of – I mean, are they abrogating the agreement?
MR. WOOD: Well, I don’t have the actual text of the agreement, so I can’t say with absolute specificity that they’re in violation of it. But we have an agreement to try to deliver, you know, this food assistance, and now the North is saying they do not want to receive any more assistance. So you know, we’re concerned about it.
But the food that is there right now in North Korea, we’re going to work with U.S. NGOs, with their North Korean counterparts, to make sure that this assistance gets to the people who —
QUESTION: Can you be a little bit more explicit about why you’re concerned about it, why you’re disappointed?
MR. WOOD: Well, I mean, clearly this is food assistance that the North Korean people need. That’s why we’re concerned. You know, this humanitarian assistance that we provide to the North has nothing to do with the Six-Party Talks. This is about our true humanitarian concern for these people. And as you know, the food situation in North Korea is not a good one, and so we’re very concerned about it.
QUESTION: Did they give you any explanation why they won’t – they didn’t want any more?
MR. WOOD: They have just said that they do not want to receive any additional food assistance at this time. That’s about as far as they went.
QUESTION: But no reason was provided at all? Just a one-sentence note you got?
MR. WOOD: I mean, it’s – I don’t know if it was one sentence that was given to us, but you know, that was the bottom line. And that’s the most important part of this.
QUESTION: And when did they inform you?
MR. WOOD: It was, I think, over the last couple of days, I believe.
QUESTION: Robert, do you know what the accelerated timeline for the withdrawal of the NGOs will be?
MR. WOOD: I don’t know.
QUESTION: It was supposed to be the end of May.
MR. WOOD: Yeah, I don’t know. Again, probably the best folks to address that are the North Koreans.

Press Release by relief organizations:

March 19, 2008                                                                     


Contacts:  Joy Portella, +1.206.437.7885, [email protected]

March 19, 2009—The following is a statement issued by the NGO Partners that have been distributing food aid in the DPRK through a program supported by the U.S. Agency fro International Development (USAID). The NGO Partnership is led by Mercy Corps, co-led by World Vision, and includes Christian Friends of Korea, Global Resource Services and Samaritan’s Purse:

This week, North Korean authorities have asked us to close the USAID-supported food assistance program that we have been operating since June 2008. Our joint team, dedicated to this program, will leave the DPRK by the end of March.
We are saddened by this decision, but are very proud of what the program has accomplished.  Working closely with our North Korean partner, we have ensured that food reached almost one million vulnerable children, pregnant and nursing mothers and the elderly.
Each of our organizations has worked in the DPRK for more than a decade. We remain committed to assistance in that country, and our individual, on-going programs focused on health, water, sanitation and agriculture will continue as before.
The NGO Food Assistance program is part of a larger 500,000 metric ton initiative supported by USAID in which the World Food Program was to distribute 400,000 metric tons of food and the NGO Partners were to distribute 100,000 metric tons.  In the ten months of this program, 169,000 metric tons of food has been delivered to the DPRK, of which the U.S. NGOs have brought in 71,000 metric tons of food.  This food from NGOs has benefitted more than 900,000 people in the two north west provinces of Chagang and North Pyongan.
This has been a model program with unparalleled monitoring cooperation to ensure that food gets to those most in need. Our in-country staff of 16 people has worked closely with our North Korean partners.
The NGO food assistance program was scheduled to run until the end of May 2009. Until the end of the month, we will work with our North Korean partners to ensure a proper close-out.
We remain committed to helping the people of the DPRK to overcome hunger and improve their lives. The food program resulted from the tremendous humanitarian need in the DPRK. We will continue to work—as individual agencies and in cooperative partnerships—to address these needs. We hope the success of this program will serve as a model for the future.


Friday fun: DPRK traffic women stop cars

Friday, March 13th, 2009

(h/t Michael Rank) The Guardian published this image yesterday:


Click on image for full size


New CRS reports on DPRK and…

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

First item…In the right-hand menu there is a page where I archive Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports on North Korea.  I added couple of recent publications today:

North Korea: Terrorism List Removal?
February 2, 2009

US Assistance to North Korea
December 24, 2008

Second item…Koryo Tours, the longest running tour company to operate in the DPRK, has revamped their web page.  Check out this year’s tour dates and locations—some of which are newly opened.  Mass games will (likely) be held again this year.

Third item…Fellow adventure traveler Paul Lucaks (who blogs at Knife Tricks) published a book review of Charles Jenkins’s The Reluctant CommunistCheck it out here.


North Korea Google Earth

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

North Korea Uncovered v.16
Download it here


The most recent version of North Korea Uncovered (North Korea Google Earth) has been published.  Since being launched, this project has been continuously expanded and to date has been downloaded over 32,000 times.

Pictured to the left is a statue of Laurent Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  This statue, as well as many others identified in this version of the project, was built by the North Koreans. According to a visitor:

From the neck down, the Kabila monument looks strangely like Kim Jong Il: baggy uniform, creased pants, the raised arm, a little book in his left hand. From the neck up, the statue is the thick, grim bald mug of Laurent Kabila (his son Joseph is the current president). “The body was made in North Korea,” explains my driver Felix. In other words, the body is Kim Jong Il’s, but with a fat, scowling Kabila head simply welded on.

This is particularly interesting because there are no known pictures of a Kim Jong il statue.  The only KJI statue that is reported to exist is in front of the National Security Agency in Pyongyang.  If a Kim Jong il statue does in fact exist, it might look something like this.

Thanks again to the anonymous contributors, readers, and fans of this project for your helpful advice and location information. This project would not be successful without your contributions.

Version 16 contains the following additions: Rakwon Machine Complex, Sinuiju Cosmetics Factory, Manpo Restaurant, Worker’s Party No. 3 Building (including Central Committee and Guidance Dept.), Pukchang Aluminum Factory, Pusan-ri Aluminum Factory, Pukchung Machine Complex, Mirim Block Factory, Pyongyang General Textile Factory, Chonnae Cement Factory, Pyongsu Rx Joint Venture, Tongbong Cooperative Farm, Chusang Cooperative Farm, Hoeryong Essential Foodstuff Factory, Kim Ki-song Hoeryong First Middle School , Mirim War University, electricity grid expansion, Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground (TSLG)” is also known as the “Musudan-ri Launching Station,” rebuilt electricity grid, Kumchang-ri suspected underground nuclear site, Wangjaesan Grand Monument, Phothae Revolutionary Site, Naedong Revolutionary Site, Kunja Revolutionary Site, Junggang Revolutionary Site, Phophyong Revolutionary Site, Samdung Revolutionary Site, Phyongsan Granite Mine, Songjin Iron and Steel Complex (Kimchaek), Swedish, German and British embassy building, Taehongdan Potato Processing Factory, Pyongyang Muyseum of Film and Theatrical Arts, Overseas Monuments built by DPRK: Rice Museum (Muzium Padi) in Malaysia, Statue de Patrice Lumumba (Kinshasa, DR Congo), National Heroes Acre (Windhoek, Namibia), Derg Monument (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia), National Heroes Acre (Harare, Zimbabwe), New State House (Windhoek, Namibia), Three Dikgosi (Chiefs) Monument (Gaborone, Botswana), 1st of May Square Statue of Agostinho Neto (Luanda, Angola), Momunment Heroinas Angolas (Luanda, Angola), Monument to the Martyrs of Kifangondo Battle (Luanda, Angola), Place de l’étoile rouge, (Porto Novo, Benin), Statue of King Béhanzin (Abomey, Benin), Monument to the African Renaissance (Dakar, Senegal), Monument to Laurent Kabila [pictured above] (Kinshasa, DR Congo).

North Korea Bans Foreign Cars

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

Radio Free Asia
Jung Young

See also: Daily NK 2007, NK goes after busses

Authorities in North Korea have begun enforcing a ban on the use of foreign cars in the isolated Stalinist state, putting further pressure on a population already struggling to survive.

Beginning in early February, Pyongyang’s National Defense Commission began enforcing a directive banning imported cars and ordered a crackdown.

According to a cross-border Chinese merchant, those targeted by the crackdown are primarily officials who take bribes to fraudulently register cars to state-owned enterprises or military bases.

Authorities also want to stop North Korean mechanics from rebuilding and modifying imported cars by changing them from right-hand-drive Japanese vehicles—the Japanese drive on the left—to left-hand-drive vehicles for use on North Korean roads.

“The National Defense Commission regards failure to enforce its directive banning imported cars as a provocative act,” said the Chinese merchant, who is a frequent traveler to North Korea.

“Various officials have been instructed to let go of the imported used cars, and many of those who failed to comply with that directive are in trouble now. In particular, officials working for the Forestry Department appear to have been reprimanded,” he added.
Deadlines expire
In February 2007, the National Defense Commission issued a nationwide directive to eliminate imported cars.

Foreign passenger cars were to be removed within three months, while foreign freight vehicles were to be phased out within two years.

National Defense Commission officials were clamping down in particular on right-hand-drive used cars imported from Japan, ordering that they all be scrapped.

Sources said this could be because supreme leader Kim Jong Il dislikes the sight of Japanese cars, most of which are smuggled into the country and given fake military license plates, on North Korean roads.

But they also note that the North Korean military is experiencing shortages both of fuel and of the hard currency needed to buy it.

One expert suggested that the National Defense Commission may want to prevent imported cars from burning the fuel that keeps military vehicles on the road.
Conversion of used cars
The order to scrap right-hand-drive Japanese cars prompted a rush by the owners of imported cars to convert their vehicles to left-hand drive, a complicated and expensive process.

In Songpyong, a district of Chungjin city in Northern Hamgyong province, mechanics at the Soosong Tractor Plant and bus factories are switching steering wheels from right to left, sources said.

Owners of the modified cars then have them registered to military bases or factories that are authorized to operate the cars, paying their officials about 300,000 North Korean won (U.S. $100) monthly for the favor.

But even converted vehicles are no longer slipping through the net, North Korean car owners say.

“We’re pretty much done for,” one such car owner said. “From here on, the only vehicles allowed on the roads of North Korea are military vehicles.”

“Life is already very hard, but if our cars are taken away and scrapped, the situation will be terrible, and our very survival in jeopardy,” the car owner said.

Currently, Japanese cars make up around 80 percent of imported vehicles in North Korea.


China exports beef, flour to North Korea, trade grows 41% in 2008

Monday, March 9th, 2009

By Michael Rank

China has exported 5.014 tonnes of beef, worth $77,174, to North Korea via the northern port of Dalian (Chinese source here) and has also agreed to ship 60,000 tonnes of flour (Chinese source here), according to brief reports on Chinese websites.

The export of beef, in 485 containers via the border city of Dongdan in February, was the first of its kind from Dalian, the report said, adding that Dalian is China’s second biggest beef-exporting port after Hong Kong.

The flour will be supplied under an international aid agreement in the period June-August and is being supplied by Jinyuan Flour, a company based in Zhengzhou, capital of the northern province of Henan, and is guaranteed to be of export quality and free of additives, while the beef was supplied by Dalian company Jiansong Xuelong Foods Co Ltd. The report gave no value for the flour.

Another report (Chinese source here) said Chinese-North Korean trade grew by 41.3% last year to $2.793 billion. Chinese exports grew 30.2% to $2.032 billion while North Korean exports to China were up 30.2% at $760.07 million, the report said, quoting Chinese customs statistics.


2009 Supreme People’s Assembly (s)elections

Friday, March 6th, 2009

UPDTE 5: (h/t Werner) Here is a link to the full list of SPA members (in Korean).   Kim Jong il’s district, 333, is the only one not published.  Jang Song Taek (Kim’s borther in law) is representing district 31.

UPDATE 4: Michael Madden sends in more biographies of prominent North Koreans:

Kim Kyong Hui, biography here
Ju Sang Song, biography here
Ji Yong Chun, biography here
Choe Ryong Hae,  biography here
Kim Yong Ju, biography here

UPDATE 3: Daily NK coverage of the election results here. 

UPDATE 2: Yonhap reports that fewer lawmakers were replaced than in the 2003 election, when there was a 50% turnover.  Choe Sung-chol, vice chairman of the Asia-Pacific Peace Committee handling inter-Korean affairs, was removed from the Assembly, according to its new list. 

UPDATE 1: The AP is reporting that none of Kim Jong il’s sons were (s)elected to the SPA.  Who was (s)elected?  I am still waiting on the full list, but the AP reports the following:

Members of the new parliament announced Monday included Kim Yong Nam, the North’s No. 2 official and the ceremonial head of state; Jang Song Taek, head of the Workers’ Party’s administrative department and Kim Jong Il’s brother-in-law; and Kang Sok Ju, the first vice foreign minister.

Read the full story here

ORIGINAL POST: On Sunday, March 8, the DPRK will hold “our-style elections” for members of the Supreme People’s Assembly.  Organizaitonal charts of the North Korean government can be found here, although they are based on the a de jure reading of DPRK’s legal procedures not the de facto operation of the political system.  A list of top policymakers (in state offices) can be found here.  I will post relevant material as it becomes available.  In the meantime, here is some related information:

1. DPRK recent military personnel changes.

2. Kim Jong il nominated for SPA.

3. CIA publishes list of policymakers.

4. DPRK ministerial shakeup.

5. Election day pictures: 1, 2, 3.

6. KCNA coverage of the election: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

7. Biographies if prominent NK policy-makers by Michael Madden posted below.

The Associated Press provides some context for the (s)election:

North Korea holds elections Sunday for its legislature, the Supreme People’s Assembly. A look at key factors in the upcoming poll:

WHAT’S AT STAKE: Voters will elect the country’s 12th Supreme People’s Assembly for a five-year term. The assembly currently has 687 deputies but the number, which is linked to the country’s population, could change.

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: Legislatively, the assembly is a rubber-stamp body. But since members double as key officials, the election provides a glimpse of the ruling elite in the secretive country.

WHO’S RUNNING: Only one candidate runs in each constituency. By law, individuals and organizations can recommend candidates, but the ruling Workers’ Party is widely believed to pick candidates. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is running in constituency No. 333.

THE VOTE: Officially, it’s a secret vote. In reality, it’s not. To vote against a candidate, voters go to a special booth to cross out the name, making it obvious who is doing so. Defectors say opposing a candidate is unthinkable. Polls typically open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and results are announced the following day.

TURNOUT: In the last election in 2003, turnout was 99.9 percent, state media said. All citizens aged 17 or older are eligible to vote.

The Donga Ilbo offers, “6 Rising Stars in the North Korean Elite”:

A report by the South Korean Unification Ministry presented to the National Assembly yesterday mentioned six politicians among the 20 most frequently mentioned by the North’s official daily Rodong Shinmun last year as rising stars in Pyongyang’s hierarchy.

The six were not mentioned in 2007.

One North Korea expert said, “North Korea’s leadership has been controlled by Kim Jong Il. Those frequently mentioned by media can be considered powerful politicians. After the elections Sunday, North Korea’s political elite will be replaced. In the process, we need to pay more attention to the rising stars.”

The most notable among the six is Ri Yong Chol, first secretary of the Central Committee of the Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth League. He ranks 15th for being mentioned 45 times last year.

Since being elected secretary in December 2007, Ri has often appeared on the political scene. He even had an interview with the state-run (North) Korean Central News Agency on the implementation of projects announced in a New Year’s joint editorial.

Kim Jong Il established the league, a fringe organization of the ruling Workers’ Party whose previous name was the Socialist Working Youth League, to strengthen the political foundation of his successor.

To lure the “third and fourth generations of revolution,” Kim renamed the body the Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth League after his late father.

In 2007, the list of the North’s top 20 politicians had nobody from the league. Ri’s rapid rise indicates Kim Jong Il’s strategy to strengthen the power of his successor.

Kim Thae Jong, vice director of the international department of the party’s Central Committee, ranks ninth for appearing 62 times in the media. He was a frequent player in diplomacy last year and even appeared in the royal box when North Korea held a national event to commemorate the 17th anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s taking office as supreme commander of the North’s military in December last year.

In 2007, Vice Marshal Kim Il Chol was the sole military officer among the top 20 elites but fell out of last year’s list.

Replacing him were marshals Hyon Chol Hae (11th) and Ri Myong Su (13th). Hyon accompanied Kim Jong Il most often last year and Ri ranked second in that category.

Among Cabinet members, Foreign Trade Minister Ri Ryong Nam, who was mentioned by media 43 times, ranked 17th. Kim Jong Il appointed nine new ministers including Ri last year.

Most of the six ministers appointed since October last year have been emerging technocrats.

Michael Madden submits these brief biographies of some DPRK notables:

Kim Ki-nam, biography (PDF), photo
Ri Yong-mu, biography (PDF)
Kim Il-chol, biography (PDF), photo
Jon Pyong-ho, biography (PDF)

Jang Brothers

Jang Sung-taek, PDF biography here, recent photo with Kim Jong il here.

Jang Sung-gil
Birth date: January 13, 1939
Last known position: Lieutenant General, KPA

Positions held:
1981: Colonel, and Vice-Commanding Officer, Second Corps, KPA
1982: Colonel, and Commanding Officer, 13th Division, Second Corps, KPA
Vice-Commanding Officer, Second Corps, KPA
1985: Major General, Commanding Officer, 32nd Division, Fifth Corps, KPA
1992: Vice-Commanding Officer, Fourth Corps, KPA
1992: Promoted to Lieutenant General, KPA (April)*
1996: Commanding Officer, 105th Division, Ryu Kyong-su Tank Command, KPA (December)

Presumed to be relieved of command of the 105th Tank Division, during JST’s p.n.g. status.

*General Jang is part of the same 1992 class that promoted Kim Yong Chun

Jang Sung-u
Born: 1935, Kangwon Province
Kim il Sung Military Academy

Positions held:
1971: Vice Department Director, Organization and Guidance Department, CCKWP
1977: Promoted to Major General, KPA
1980: Member, CCKWP (October)
1982: Dlegate, 7th SPA (February)
Awarded Order of Kim il Sung (April)
1984: Promoted to Lieutenant General, KPA (May)
1986: Delegate, 8th SPA (November)
1988: Director-General, Reconnaissance Bureau, MPAF
1989: 1st Vice Director, Public Security Department (January)
1990: Delegate, 9th SPA, representing Saenal, South Hwanghae (April)
Promoted to Colonel-General, KPA (presumed April)
Member, Qualification Screening Committee, SPA (May)
1991: Director, General Political Bureau, State Security Department (December)
1992: Interim Position in the Central Command, KPA (April)
Director-General, General Political Bureau, State Security (May)
1994: Commanding Officer, Third Corps, KPA
Member, Kim il Sung Funeral Committee [#85]
1995: Dismissal, as Director-General, General Political Bureau, State Security Department (November)
1996: Commanding Officer, Third Corps, KPA (July)
1998: Delegate 10th SPA (July)

Jang’s inner circle

Cho Chun Hwang
Position: First Vice Department Director, Propaganda and Agitation Department, CCKWP
Baccalaureate, History, Kim il Sung University

Previous positions:
1972-1990: Mr. Cho worked as a staff member, division director, and department deputy director in the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the CCKWP.
1991: Vice Department Director, Propaganda and Agitation Department, CCKWP
1997: First Vice Department Director, Propaganda and Agitation Department, CCKWP (June)
2000: Vice Department Director Propaganda and Agitation Department, CCKWP (July)

Ri Yong Bok
Position(s): Chief Secretary, Nampho City People’s Committee
Member, 11th SPA
Member, Qualification Screening Committee, SPA

Positions held:
1972: Chairman, KIS League of Socialist Working Youth (December)
Presidium member and delegate, 5th SPA (December)
1982: Vice Department Director, Youth Guidance and Three Revolutions Department, CCKWP (June)
1998: Delegate (606 ED), 10th SPA (July)
Appointed Chief Secretary, Nampho City People’s Committee

Ri Kwang Gun
Position: unknown, possibly in Europe; former Minister of Foreign Trade
Born: 1935
Namsan Senior Middle School
Pyongyang Foreign Language Institute, German Department
Kim il Sung University

Positions held:
1965: Lecturer, German Department, Pyongyang Foreign Language Institute
1972: Professor, German Department, Kim il Sung University
1977-1978: Ministry of Foreign Trade
1979: State External Economic Affairs Commission
1987: 1st Secretary, Economic Affairs, DPRK Representative to Germany
1991: State External Economic Affairs Commission
1997 (presumed): Korea General Equipment Import and Export Corporation
2000: Appointed Minister of Foreign Trade, DPRK (December)

O Kuk Ryol
Born:  1931, Jilin, PRC
Mangyongdae Revolutionary School
Kim il Sung University
USSR Croatia Military University (1962)

Positions held:
1964: Promoted Major-General, KPA Air Force
Appointed, Dean, KPA Air Force Academy (November)
1967: Promoted Lieutenant-General and Commanding Officer, KPA Air Force (October)
Delegate, 4th SPA (November)
1970: Appointed Members, CCKWP (November)
1972: Delegate, 5th SPA (December)
1977: Appointed Vice Chief of Staff, KPA (October)
Delegate, 6th SPA (November)
1978: Appointed Alternate Member, Political Bureau, CCKWP
1979: appointed Chief of Staff, KPA (September)
[His command of the KPA Air Force was succeeded by Jo Myong Rok]
1980: Promoted to Colonel General, KPA (September)
Member, CCKWP; Member, Political Bureau (October)
Member, Central Military Committee
1982: Delegate, 7th SPA (February)
Member, Central People’s Committee
Awarded Order of Kim il Sung (April)
1985: Promoted General, KPA (April)
1986: Delegate, 8th SPA (November)
1988: Removed as KPA Chief of Staff (February)
Removed from the Political Bureau, CCKWP (April)
Removed from Central Military Committee (April)
Appointed Director of Civil Defense, CCKWP (November)
1989: Appointed Department Director, Strategy Department, CCKWP (July)
1992: Order of Kim il Sung (April)
1994: Member, Kim il Sung Funeral Committee (#45) (July)
1995: Member, O Jin-U Funeral Committee (#43) (February)
1998: Delegate (356 Electoral District), 10th SPA (July)
2003: Delegate, 11th SPA
2009: Appointed Vice Chair, NDC (February)

Ongoing: Member, CCKWP; State Funeral Committee

Jang rival

Ri Jah Gang
Postion held:  1st Vice Department Director, Organization and Guidance, CCKWP
Born: 1930
Kim il Sung University

Positions held:
1973: Cadre, Organization and Guidance Department, CCKWP
1975: Vice Director, Organization and Guidance Department, CCKWP
2001: 1st Vice Director, Organization and Guidance Department, CCKWP (July)

On the list of so-called reliable members of the KPA, General Jang Song-u is near the top.  General Jang’s last known position was in the Third Army Corps, whose primary mission is the military defense of Pyongyang.  The Third Army Corps is also responsible the maintenance and support of the Kamsusan Memorial Palace, where General Jang serves as a kind of military officer in residence.   General Jang has always had the support of his younger brother, Jang Song-taek, and the brothers’ careers have advanced on parallel paths in the KPA and the KWP.  Although, due most likely to his military affiliation and the advantage of age (he is eleven years older than Song-taek), General Jang was the first brother admitted to the CCKWP apparatus when he was assigned as a Vice Director of the Organization and Guidance Department CCKWP in 1973.  This was the same year that another Kim Jong il associate with KPA duties, Ri Ji Gang, was assigned to Organization and Guidance.  Based on the accounts of KPA and DPRK State events from the KCNA, General Jang was neither reassigned nor demoted when his brother was removed from the Organization and Guidance Department and confined to his chalet.  Among the capacities in which General Jang has served: he was the commanding military officer in the troop review and parade on the 50th Anniversary of the KWP Foundation in 1995 and; he has assumed interim operational command over the Escort/Bodyguard Units.  Jang Song-u occupies the intersection of the politico(politburo)-military structure and the intelligence agencies (including State Security and the Escort/Bodyguard Units).  The conjunction of General Jang’s political connections and military assignments give him a significant role in matters concerning succeeding governments to Kim Jong il.  In many ways, General Jang’s profile resembles that of those close Kim il Sung aides who eased Kim Jong il into his current job.


How valuable is a North Korean Passport?

Friday, March 6th, 2009

UPDATE:  Hat tip to Stafford who provides a link to the Henley Visa Restrictions Index.

ORIGINAL POST: (Hat tip to Will Wilkinson)  How many countries can you visit on your passport without obtaining a visa?  According to a recent table compiled by The Economist, Denmark, Germany, and the USA offer the most opportunities.   According to the story, “South Koreans could visit 144 countries, whereas North Koreans could visit just 29 countries—if only their government would let them out.”

Below is the table taken from The Economist