Archive for December, 2009

2009 Inspections by Kim Jong Il focus on economic, military sites

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No.09-12-22-1

The latest on-site visit by Kim Jong Il, in mid December, marked the 156th inspection of the year. This is an increase of approximately 170 percent over last year. Among those accompanying the ‘Great Leader’, Secretary of the Central Committee of the Korean Workers’ Party Kim Ki-nam was seen most frequently, traveling with Kim Jong Il on 107 different occasions. Others seen frequently with Kim include Jang Sung-taek, brother-in-law and right-hand man, as well as Party Central Committee Vice-chairman Pak Nam-ki.

According to North Korean media officials, Kim Jong Il’s on-site inspections this year include 64 visits to economically important locations, 43 to military installations, 13 to sites related to foreign affairs, and 36 to other sites, for a total of 156 visits. Kim made only 90 visits during 2008.

Last year, 55 percent (50 visits) of Kim Jong Il’s on-site inspections were to military sites, while 26 percent (24 visits) of trips were to sites related to the economy. This year, 41 percent of site visits were to economically-relevant sites, while only 27 percent were to military sites.

These visits are linked to the recent ‘100-day Battle’ and ‘150-day Battle’ to boost domestic production in order to meet North Korea’s goal of being a ‘strong and prosperous nation’ by 2012.

North Korean authorities are undertaking massive construction projects across the country, such as the building the Huicheon Thermoelectric Plant, tens of thousands of new housing units, and other large-scale construction projects.

Broken down monthly, Kim Jong Il has ventured out to on-site visits 10-19 times per month, with the exception of July (8 visits). He has made 8 visits in December up until the 17th.

It is also important to note those who have travelled with Kim. As mentioned previously, Kim Ki-nam was seen 107 times and Jang Sung-taek travelled with Kim 82 times. In addition, Hyon Chol-hae, a former bodyguard of Kim Il Sung and confidant of Kim Jong Il, made 56 visits, General Ri Myong-su was seen with Kim 48 times, and Vice Marshal of the Korean People’s Army Kim Yong Chun was seen on 30 different occasions.

Of particular interest among all of Kim Jong Il’s public appearances this year is that in November he made a visit to the headquarters of the Ministry of People’s Security. Kim also visited the naval complex in Nampo in mid November, and made his first visit to the North’s very first free-trade zone, in Rason, North Hamgyong Province, inspecting the Rasong Dae-heung Trade Fishery Complex. Both of these followed the inter-Korean naval clash in the Yellow Sea on November 10th.


North Korea revises economic management laws

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No.09-12-21-1

The Korean Central Broadcasting Station (KCBS) announced on December 16 that the North Korean Supreme People’s Assembly Standing Committee has revised the North’s Real Estate Management Law, the Commodities Consumption Level Law, the General Equipment Import Law, and other laws related to economic management. This on the heels of the November 30th announcement, when authorities announced across-the-board currency reform measures, apparently in an attempt to regain control of the country’s market economy.

The KCBS reported that the Real Estate Management Law “regulates fundamental issues of real estate registration and inspection, use, and payment of user fees,” but offered no further details.

Since 2006, North Korean authorities established new offices in each city, county, and region throughout the country. These offices were responsible for surveying property, occupied and vacant, claimed by organizations and businesses, as well as recording the size of each structure on these lands.

In the mid-1990s, with the onset of serious food shortages, food rations to workers were halted and North Korean authorities from every branch and level (including the military, railway, business enterprises) were encouraged to distribute foodstuffs in ways more beneficial to themselves. These authorities planned to resolve food distribution issues through agricultural moves.

The new Real Estate Management Law appears to be aimed at labeling land used for private purposes as strategic nationalized land and strengthening the state’s ability to collect real estate taxes. However, the broadcaster failed to explain in detail how this restructuring would occur.

By enacting the Commodities Consumption Level Law, North Korean authorities can control the basis at which goods are injected into each production sector. This appears to be in preparation for taking cost-reduction measures for enterprises related to production in each region. The broadcaster explained that there were legal demands for the enactment and enforcement of regulations on the level of consumption.

The General Equipment Import Law newly regulates import plans, contracts, and the use of goods by factories, schools, hospitals, ships and broadcasters in an effort to control quality. In each sector, the measure prevents double-investment and controls consumption competition.

As these economic control measures are focused on factories and other bases of production along with importers, it appears that, in conjunction with the recent currency reform, North Korean authorities are attempting to control production quality on all levels. For example, as the North is suffering ongoing supply difficulties due to a lack of materials, the law on consumption levels is an attempt to restrict goods by forcefully managing demand. The law on imports appears to be in an effort to regulate general-use goods in light of the increased reliance on foreign equipment.


Kaesong production value up, export value down

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

According to Yohnap:

Production at the Kaesong complex reached US$27 million in October, up 12.1 percent from $24 million a month earlier, the Unification Ministry said. The October figure also represents a 16.9 percent increase from a year ago.

The overall increase was attributed notably to strong output from machinery and electronics manufacturers, which climbed 26.2 percent and 25.5 percent, respectively. Foodstuff and textile goods also enjoyed 24.9 percent and 8.6 percent increases, respectively.

Exports from the complex, however, shrank 9.1 percent from a month ago to $3.11 million, mostly due to a decline in machinery shipments, according to the ministry.

There are currently 116 South Korean firms operating in Kaesong, matching their capital and technology with the cheap but skilled labor of 42,000 North Korean employees.

Read the full article below:
Production at Kaesong complex rises in October


Official Government-set Prices Are Publicly Announced in the Markets

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

Good Friends (h/t Northeast Asia Matters)
North Korea Today No.316 Hot Topics December 2009

North Korean authorities publicly announced the official national prices in the markets. Contents of announcement are as follow: 22 to 23 won per Kg for rice, 8 won for corn, 12 won for crushed maize, 10 won for corn noodle, 22 won for flour, 9 to 13 won for tofu soy, 50 won for soy oil, 12 won for red bean, 10 Won for string bean, 21 to 22 won for potato starch, 15 to 18 won for millet, 45 won for pork, 50 won for chicken, 40 won for dog meat, 45 won for rabbit meat, 30 to 50 won for whiting fish, 35 to 45 won for sea bass (a set of 2), 50 to 100 won for clams, 60 to 100 won for Atka mackerel, 3 won for an egg, 30 to 40 won for dried pepper, 40 won for powdered-sugar (sugar), 3 won for a cake of tofu, 30 to 40 won for a fresh octopus, 3 won for cabbage, 5 won for radish, 35 to 45 won for a package of food seasoning, 300 to 550 won for a ready-made men’s suit, 350 to 500 won for a ready-made women’s dress, 200 to 300 won for men’s underwear, 250 to 350 won for women’s underwear, 35 won for a pair of men’s jogging shoes, 30 won for a pair of women’s shoes, 200 to 300 won for a pair of men’s shoes, 250 to 400 won for a pair of women’s shoes, 10 50 15 won for market fee, 0.5 won for bicycle storage at market.


North Korea announces new official prices: rice now 23 won per kilogram

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No.09-12-16-1

In accordance with the recent currency reform in North Korea, new state-controlled prices were officially announced on December 9. South Korean NGO ‘Good Friends’ announced on December 13th that rice is now selling for 23 won per Kg, corn at 8 won per Kg, flour at 22 won per Kg, pork at 45 won per Kg and ‘matnaegi’, a common flavor-enhancing food additive, is selling for 45 won per bag. Other prices were also listed per kilogram, including crushed maize at 12 won, corn noodles for 10 won, soybeans from 9-13 won, soybean oil for 50 won, radishes at 5 won, artificial meat for 15 won, and cowpeas for 10 won.

On December 4, the Choson Sinbo, a newspaper printed by the pro-North Korean General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Jochongryeon), reported that North Korean authorities were planning to lower prices to the same level as was seen when the July 1, 2002 Economic Management Reform Measure was enacted.

At the end of November, prior to the currency reform, rice was selling for 1,850 won in Hamheung, 2,000 won in Cheongjin, and 1,700 won in Pyongyang and Sariwon.

In the markets of these four major cities, corn averaged 737.5 won/Kg, flour was sold for 1,687 won/Kg, and pork was 5,450 won/Kg. Pork is the only item now being sold more cheaply, while the price of all other goods went up with the currency reform.

A source inside North Korea has reported that most market traders are not following government pricing guidelines, however, and that the majority of goods are being sold at even higher prices than Pyongyang has set. In the market in Cheongjin, North Hamgyeong Province, rice was being sold for 50 won/Kg, and corn went for 18 won/Kg, more than double government prices. These high prices appear to reflect supply shortages and hoarding.

After the currency reform was announced, North Korean miners received raises, from a basic monthly wage of 6,000 won to the equivalent of 8,000 (pre-reform) won. Miners in North Hamgyeong Province can now put enough food on the table without needing second jobs. On December 4, the Choson Sinbo also reported that the government has guaranteed that living expenses distributed by factories will be distributed in the new currency.


Treaty of Friendship, Co-operation and Mutual Assistance Between the People’s Republic of China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

Peking Review, Vol. 4, No. 28, p.5.
Transcribed/HTML: Max, B. and Mike B.
(h/t Northeast Asia Matters)

July 11, 1967

The Chairman of the People’s Republic of China and the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, determined, in accordance with Marxism-Leninism and the principle of proletarian internationalism and on the basis of mutual respect for state sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and mutual assistance and support, to make every effort to further strengthen and develop the fraternal relations of friendship, co-operation and mutual assistance between the People’s Republic of China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, to jointly guard the security of the two peoples, and to safeguard and consolidate the peace of Asia and the world, and deeply convinced that the development and strengthening of the relations of friendship, co-operation and mutual assistance between the two countries accord not only with the fundamental interests of the two peoples but also with the interests of the peoples all over the world, have decided for this purpose to conclude the present Treaty and appointed as their respective plenipotentiaries:

   The Chairman of the People’s Republic of China: Chou En-lai, Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China.

   The Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea: Kim Il Sung, Premier of the Cabinet of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,

Who, having examined each other’s full powers and found them in good and due form, have agreed upon the the following:

Article I

The Contracting Parties will continue to make every effort to safeguard the peace of Asia and the world and the security of all peoples.

Article II

The Contracting Parties undertake jointly to adopt all measures to prevent aggression against either of the Contracting Parties by any state. In the event of one of the Contracting Parties being subjected to the armed attack by any state or several states jointly and thus being involved in a state of war, the other Contracting Party shall immediately render military and other assistance by all means at its disposal.

Article III

Neither Contracting Party shall conclude any alliance directed against the other Contracting Party or take part in any bloc or in any action or measure directed against the other Contracting Party .

Article IV

The Contracting Parties will continue to consult with each other on all important international questions of common interest to the two countries.

Article V

The Contracting Parties, on the principles of mutual respect for sovereignty, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit and in the spirit of friendly co-operation, will continue to render each other every possible economic and technical aid in the cause of socialist construction of the two countries and will continue to consolidate and develop economic, cultural, and scientific and technical co-operation between the two countries.

Article VI

The Contracting Parties hold that the unification of Korea must be realized along peaceful and democratic lines and that such a solution accords exactly with the national interests of the Korean people and the aim of preserving peace in the Far East.

Article VII

The present Treaty is subject to ratification and shall come into force on the day of exchange of instruments of ratification, which will take place in Pyongyang. The present Treaty will remain in force until the Contracting Parties agree on its amendment or termination. Done in duplicate in Peking on the eleventh day of July, nineteen sixty-one, in the Chinese and Korean languages, both texts being equally authentic.
Plenipotentiary of the
People’s Republic of China

Plenipotentiary of the
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea


Book review Tuesday: Lankov and Foster-Carter

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

Book Review 1: The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves-And Why It Matters
Author: B.R. Meyers
Reviewed by: Andrei Lankov
Review Publisher: Far Eastern Economic Review (the last issue)
Order this book on Amazon here

Most books on North Korea focus on the nuclear issue, that never-ending soap opera of the international diplomacy. In the rare cases when North Korean domestic dynamics are taken into account, the authors (most of whom do not speak or read Korean) concentrate on the official pronouncements of the regime.

Brian Myers takes a fresh approach. He largely ignores what the regime tells the outside world about itself, but concentrates instead on what North Koreans themselves are supposed to believe, paying special attention to the North Korean narratives and mass culture, including movies and television shows. North of the DMZ, mass culture is not about entertainment. Rather it is a lighter version of propaganda whose task is to deliver the same message, but in more palatable form.

As in the case in the Soviet Union, Pyongyang uses works of fiction to send signals which cannot be transmitted otherwise due to current political considerations. For example, when North Korean media found a few kind words for South Korean President Kim Dae Jung who visited North Korea in 2000 with impressive amounts of giveaway cash, North Korean novels still ridiculed him as a pathetic double-dealer.

Continue Reading here…

Bookr review 2: North Korean Posters
Editor: David Heather
Reviewed by: Aidan Foster-Carter and Kate Hext
Review Publisher: Print Quarterly, December 2009 issue (Vol XXVI no 4), pp 429-31.
Order this book on Amazon here

North Korean art is hardly well-known, but it has recently seen something of a surge. For this David Heather can claim some credit, and does. As he boasts in his brief (just one page) preface to this block of a book, “I held the largest exhibition of North Korean Contemporary Art in the West in June 2007 in the heart of London and managed to fly the North Korean Flag in Pall Mall for probably the first time ever” (p.7, capitals in original).

That militant tone, here tongue in cheek, is deadly serious in North Korean Posters. On page after gaudy page angry Korean heroes curse and smite the foe, mostly Americans with hook noses. Fists, tanks and sledgehammers crush; bayonets lunge and stab; rockets rain down – including on a shattered US Capitol (p. 138), in blithe disregard of post-9/11 sensitivities.

In a year when North Korea has been censured by the UN for testing a nuclear device and a long-range missile, such images can only reinforce stereotypes of what Koen De Ceuster in his introduction calls a country “often misrepresented and largely misunderstood” (p.9). Yet there is more to North Korean art than this, as anyone who attended David Heather’s shows at La Galleria can attest. (For those who missed out, images and comment can still be found by searching Philip Gowman’s London Korean Links website, an indispensable resource.)

Here one finds a commercial tie-in modestly unadvertised in North Korean Posters. The said posters, plus a range of other artworks – various genres of painting, tapestry and ceramics – may be purchased via, which proclaims that: “La Galleria Pall Mall has the privilege to be the only Gallery outside DPR Korea to be permitted to sell art and represent individual artists from North Korea. We can certify that all the works are original and authentic, made and signed by the artists themselves in Pyongyang.” These posters, here described as “Propaganda Popart” (sic), can be yours for £250 each (unframed) plus postage.

“Individual artists”? Not one is named in the book under review. Nor are the pieces dated; so one cannot trace the evolution of styles or themes, let alone particular artists. By contrast, the first volume in this series by Prestel – Soviet Posters, featuring Sergo Grigorian’s collection (2007) – is divided into six periods; each work is dated, with notes on artists and other detail. The absence of such basic data in North Korean Posters is a serious omission. De Ceuster’s useful Introduction gives the broad context, yet is oddly free-standing. With few exceptions the posters are left to shout for themselves, with no information except basic translations of the slogans – which, bizarrely and inconveniently, are printed sideways rather than below.

Furthermore, when is a North Korean poster “original and authentic”? De Ceuster notes that “hand-painted reproductions find ready buyers abroad.” is silent on this key question for collectors: what exactly does your £250 buy, an original or a copy? (Also its comments on the actual art are trite, even illiterate: gouache and propaganda are misspelled.)

The ambiguities go on. Curiously, Northkoreanart does not say who exactly is its partner in Pyongyang, but its sister site reveals this as the Mansudae Art Studio. Yet a search swiftly brings up, based in Italy and claiming to be “the only official web-site of the Mansudae Art Studio in the West,” which pipped Heather to the post with an exhibition in Genoa in May 2007. Will the real Mansudae reps please stand up? The Italian site is far more educative. Through it one can buy The Hermit Country, which despite a clichéd title (it must have miffed the comrades) is a much better, broader book on modern North Korean art, not limited to posters. The moving spirits here are a pair of Pier Luigis: Cecioni, a collector who owns 600 works; and Tazzi, an idiosyncratic but insightful critic.

For a serious academic survey, Jane Portal’s aptly titled Art Under Control in North Korea (Reaktion/British Museum, 2005), with its fully integrated text and illustrations, is essential. The current art scene in Pyongyang was recently described in an excellent piece by Adrian Dannatt in March’s Art Newspaper. This is big business, on an industrial scale. Mansudae has a thousand artists producing “at least 4,000 top level original works a year [and] a factory-style section producing copies for western hotels;” while abroad it claims to have held over 100 shows in some 70 countries.

Perhaps there are yet more ‘sole agents’ out there? North Korea lends itself to a Columbus complex. People who happen upon it often imagine they are the first ever to do so, and even when disabused they like to claim a special niche. Scepticism is in order, on many counts.

As Dannatt says: “it could not be easier to assemble a collection of contemporary DPRK art … but it could not be harder to source the originals.” He quotes Nicholas Bonner, the doyen of collectors in this area – he began in 1993, and is curating a major exhibition in Brisbane in December – on how many ‘original’ works are in fact copies, and how to tell the difference. Bonner’s website, showcasing his gallery in Beijing, makes no monopoly claims but focuses on the actual art. Interestingly Bonner eschews the propaganda genre, but has a fascinating selection of film posters: a far less aggressive variant, ignored by Heather. He is also scrupulous in specifying that what he offers are “hand painted copies.”

But back to the book. North Korean Posters is a sadly missed opportunity. It reiterates visual cliché, but gives almost no context – historical, political, artistic – for these specific works. It is just a picture book to flick through: no dates, no dimensions, no artists. For a publisher of Prestel’s stature these are shameful lapses. Is the image somehow meant to speak for itself?

Absent such essentials, this is just another twist on commie chic – like Che Guevara T-shirts. It is all very postmodern and cynical. Once upon a time North Korea was communist. Some of these posters are about ideals people believed in, as they strove to build a better society. In today’s DPRK, a half-starved neo-feudal tyranny, one of the few ways to earn hard cash is factories of well-trained draughtsmen flogging second-hand images – bilious or kitsch, take your pick – to gullible, exoticizing Westerners. (Here as in all else, the contrast with South Korea’s brilliant and original art scene is acutely painful.) The laugh is on us too, if we just gawp at these admittedly striking visuals. Have we lost our minds? Do we care to know what we are we looking at? Neither Heather nor Prestel seem bothered. Caveat lector – et emptor.

I used a copy of Soviet Posters and North Korean Posters to make this artistic discovery.


Friday Fun: The times they are a’ changin’ (UPDATE)

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

UPDATE:  A few weeks ago we were speculating as to whether DPRK women were getting tattoos (see original post below), but it seems this is sadly not the case.  It is more likely that these colorful icons are logos of some kind.  Another visitor to the DPRK this year sent in the following picture:

Click image to see stocking logo on the ankles

Do any readers from China recognize this logo?  I find it hard to believe that stockings made in the DPRK would be so brazen. As an aside, the woman in the picture above is wearing the same shoes as some of the women below.  It looks like thick souled shoes are in this year.

ORIGINAL POST: A recent visitor to North Korea with a very keen eye snapped this photo at Kamsusan Palace:


I have seen tattoos on North Korean men but never on women.  True, these may only be temporary tattoos (more likely since they all seem to match–both in design and in place of application), but this is also interesting.  Given the way the girls went about applying these tattoos it is likely they are trying to signal something.  What?  If anyone can find out more on North Korean tattoos–or where the Pyongyang tattoo parlor is (if there is one)–I will be eternally grateful.  I am not optimistic at this point.

Check out the full set of photos here.

UPDATE: Some readers think these could be logos on stockings.  This would also be interesting.  So would these be a local fashion innovation or imported from China?


Inter-Korean investment lowest since 2000

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No.09-12-9-1

Aid to North Korea and investment into inter-Korean cooperative projects by the South Korean government appears to be hitting a record low in 2009, dropping to a level not seen since the year 2000.

According to the South Korean Unification Ministry, between January and the end of November of this year (2009), the government dispensed a mere 6.1 percent of the nearly 1.12 trillion won allocated. Just over 68.3 billion won were spent on cooperative projects between North and South Korea. This is considerably less than last year, when only 18.1 percent (only 231.2 billion won of an allocated 1.275 trillion won) was put to use.

In each year since 2000, the South Korean government has failed to spend all funds set aside for inter-Korean cooperation. In 2000, 81 percent of funds were distributed, while in 2001 that fell off to 56.1 percent, and then in 2002 dropped to 50 percent. In 2003, this bounced up to 92.5 percent, then fell to 65.9 percent in 2004, rose to 82.9 percent in 2005, dropped back to 37 percent the next year, and jumped back to 82.2 percent in 2007. Looking at how the disbursed funds were spent, one can see that humanitarian aid was especially reduced.

Following the North’s nuclear test, rice, fertilizer and other government aid was suspended, while indirect assistance from private-sector organizations was also reduced. This led the government to spend only 0.9 percent (from January through November) of the 811.3 billion won set aside for humanitarian aid in 2009.

Despite the fact that the South Korean government has spent such a small portion of the inter-Korean cooperation budget over the last two years, it has been decided that if there is movement on the North Korean nuclear issue, a budget increase of 190 million won will be sought for inter-Korean cooperation next year.


US citizens: If you want NOKO jeans you need to go through OFAC

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

NOKO Jeans are finally for sale on their web page here.  However they include a not-so-subtle warning to American shoppers:

Important regarding ordering from the USA: at this time, goods of North Korean origin may not be imported into the United States either directly or indirectly without prior notification to and approval of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). You need to apply for this in order to import goods produced in North Korea. Contact OFAC here: It is the buyer’s responsibility to get this approval.

OFACS is the same outfit that is supposed to go after you if you visit Cuba.  I am not recommending you do so, but it semes to me that it would just be a lot easier to have a friend in Europe order them for you…

Read previous NOKO posts here.