Archive for May, 2012

North Korea’s ‘organizational life’ in decline

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

A quick note related to the story below: I have located on Google Earth the Workers’ Party headquarters, headquarters of the Democratic Women’s Union of Korea, headquarters of the Kim Il-sung League of Socialist Working Youth, and the headquarters of the General Federation of Trade Unions of Korea. The headquarters of the Union of Agricultural Workers of Korea, however, eludes me.  If you have any idea of its location please let me know…

Andrei Lankov writes about the purposes of these organizations in the Asia Times:

In the early 1980s, when the present author was a student at the Soviet University, my teacher often described North Korea as a “country where meetings never end”. Having grown up in Stalin’s Russia, he knew a thing or two about meetings and indoctrination, but the North Korean standards appeared excessive even to him.

The more I interact with North Koreans, the more skeptical I become about how outsiders understand the working of a repressive system.

For outsiders, regime repressiveness is usually associated with an omnipresent political police, but it appears that other, less sinister-looking, institutions have played a major role in shaping the consent of the North Korean populace.

Read more of the article below…

Since its foundation in the late 1940s, the North Korean state has followed a zero tolerance approach in its dealings with dissent. The authorities strive to discover and punish/correct even minor deviations from the prescribed way of thinking.

But the political police only get involved in rare and extreme cases. In most cases, the real and alleged offenders are disciplined by their own peers and immediate supervisors within their “organization”.

Indeed, so-called “organizational life” has been a peculiar and omnipresent feature of North Korean life since the 1960s, even though it has declined in the past two decades.

Every single North Korean must belong to a cell of one (and only one!) organization, and this cell, usually consisting of one or two dozen people, has multiple opportunities to control and correct his/her behavior. There are five such organizations in the North, with each having easily definable and mutually exclusive membership – the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP), the Youth Union, the Trade Union, the Farmers Union and the Women’s Union.

Once a North Korean turns 14, he or she is expected and, indeed, required to join the Kim Il-sung Youth Union and stay there until the age of 30 (unless he or she is lucky enough to be admitted into the KWP at young age).

After 30, the lucky and socially ambitious can still theoretically join the party (not an easy undertaking), while the rest become members of the Trade Union or Farmers Union, depending on whether they work in the fields or on a production line. Even housewives, without a job, are not left out, since they are required to be members of the Women’s Union.

The rules are simple and unambiguous. An industrial worker in his late 20s will attend meetings and other activities of the Youth Union in his work place. Once he turns 30, he is required to switch membership to the Trade Union. He might marry a woman from the same factory, but if she decides to become a housewife (a very common occurrence), she would switch membership to the Women’s Union.

Typically, every organization holds three meetings every week, each one lasting between one and two hours. Two of the three weekly meetings are indoctrination sessions. Their participants are lectured about the greatness of the Kim family, the glories of the socialist economy and the depraved nature of the pro-American South Korean puppet regime, as well as about other similarly lofty, ideologically useful topics.

The content of the lectures is supposed to be memorized and tests are occasionally held, but examiners are not excessively strict.

This system makes sure that propaganda messages are delivered to every Korean. It is possible that people do not read newspapers (because North Korean newspapers are seriously boring) or do not listen to official radio, so the major ideas of propaganda are delivered straight to their workplace.

But it is another weekly function that seems to constitute the true core of North Korea’s organizational life – the so-called “self- and mutual criticism sessions”. In most cases, such sessions are usually held on a weekly basis.

During a criticism session, every member of an organization – in other words, every adult North Korean – is supposed to deliver something akin to public penitence and confession. He or she must admit some improper acts that he or she committed in the previous week.

Serious deviations are seldom admitted and discussed; people usually limit themselves to relatively trivial matters like, say, being a few minutes late for a job or not taking proper care when cleaning the shop floor.

Every act of public confession should be accompanied by a proper quote from Kim Il-sung (leader from 1948 to 1994) or his son Kim Jong-ll (leader from 1994 until his death in 2011).

Then a repentant sinner must be criticized by another member of the same organization. Usually both confession and criticism are kept short, taking hardly more than a minute or two per person.

In most cases, these sessions are essentially performances where people admit the sins they know to be relatively minor and hence harmless.

It is also known that future participants of the Saturday performance (“self- and mutual criticism sessions” tend to be scheduled for Saturdays) sometimes make preliminary deals and agree on who should criticize whom and for what.

Nonetheless, there is always the small but real risk of a public denunciation, a situation getting out of control, and therefore the sessions do exercise significant pressure over organization members.

If something more improper has taken place, a more specialized session can be conducted within the organization (often called “the ideological struggle session”).

When this is to be done, the offender is subjected to one or two hours of a verbal harangue, often of a quite offensive and rude nature. Usually, this is the way in which an organization deals with offenses that are too trivial to be dealt with by the police, but are nonetheless seen as relatively serious – like, say, frequent absence from work without sufficient reason, or traveling to another part of the country without obtaining a proper permit (and being caught there).

Through organizational life, the state ensures that every single North Korean is exposed to the official ideology and also gets regular training in the politically correct ways of conduct.

The slow but unstoppable disintegration of Kim Il-sung’s “national Stalinism” in the past two decades seriously undermined the foundations of organizational life. Nowadays, a majority of North Koreans make a living outside the official state economy and they have now become much less dependent on their workplaces and supervisors.

Increasingly, they see organizational life as a troublesome and time-consuming formality. They can nowadays negotiate a deal with their supervisors, getting permission to be absent from the workplace, if they pay a contribution to the factory’s budget – this is known as an “August 3 contribution” (after the date of a government decree that allowed such practice).

Tellingly, this contribution frees the payer not only from attending his/her workplace but also from time-consuming indoctrination and mutual criticism sessions – after all, the average adult North Korean is supposed to spend three to five hours a week attending these functions.

When the functions are conducted, they are much easier than was the case in the 1970s and 1980s. The meetings are shorter nowadays, and absenteeism – once almost unthinkable – came to be ignored if it remained relatively infrequent (or if the “August 3 contribution” had been paid).

This relaxation seems to be especially pronounced in the Women’s Union, since most North Korean housewives are much involved with the black market economy and hence, if compared to workers of state factories, have less time for the boring activities of their local Women’s Union cells.

Like many institutions of the “old North Korea”, organizational life is seemingly on the decline. But this decline is by no means complete, and a majority of North Koreans are still taken care of by their organizational supervisors. And these people make sure that even minor deviations from what is considered to be correct are likely to be discovered and censured.

Read the full story here:
North Korea’s ‘organizational life’ in decline
Asia Times
Andrei Lankov


Some recent interesting publications

Monday, May 21st, 2012

“Pyongyang paints history in its own image”
Andrei Lankov
Asia Times

“Book Review: Secret History of the KLO in the Korean War”
Stephen Mercado
Intelligence in Public Literature

“South Korea-North Korea Relations: Plumbing the Depths”
Aidan Foster-Carter
Comparative Connections 

“NKIDP e-Dossier No. 6: The Origins of the Northern Limit Line Dispute
Terence Roehrig”
Wilson Center North Korea International Documentation Project

“NKIDP e-Dossier No. 7: East German Documents on Kim Il Sung’s April 1975 Trip to Beijing”
Ria Chae
Wilson Center North Korea International Documentation Project 


South Korean clothing gaining popularity in DPRK

Monday, May 21st, 2012

According to the Daily NK:

The popularity of South Korean culture is so high in North Korea that dramas aired on one day in the South are being made into DVDs in northeastern China the next and, by the third day, are cropping up on the fringes of North Korean markets. The North Korean people are then watching these dramas over and over again, sharing them with close friends and swapping them for others with trusted confidantes. In the process, the fashions worn by the stars of these dramas become objects of considerable envy.

It is thus inevitable that South Korean clothes would be popular among the North Korean people more generally. As a Yangkang Province source told the Daily NK recently, “Even households that are not doing that well are going out in South Korean clothes, while the demand for Chinese goods is more limited.”

In particular, the source went on, “Since the start of this year, there have been noticeably more people selling South Korean clothes in the markets, because that is what people want to buy.” Prices reflect this, the source said; for example, South Korean t-shirts sell for nearly double the price of the Chinese equivalent.

Despite the fact that selling South Korean products is deemed treasonous by the North Korean authorities, the practice continues. People refer to the illicit clothes in creative ways to avoid official censure; for instance, ‘Clothes with no label’ or ‘Clothes from the house below’. And indeed the clothes do not have labels, because they are removed in order to get through customs on the Sino-North Korean border.

According to the source, “People believe that Chinese clothes are not good enough, to the extent that they need some additional needlework before they can even be worn. South Korean clothes are the opposite; good design and good quality. Even without the label, people know whether they are seeing a South Korean or Chinese item.”

This phenomenal demand for South Korean clothes first started when North Korean defectors began to send South Korean clothes through smugglers to family. One such defector recently received orders from her family back in North Korea, namely “send as many South Korean clothes as you can because I can sell them all in the market.”

“She used to tell me not to send anything that might get her in trouble,” the source recalled. “Nothing tight-fitting, bright colored, revealing or with English letters on. But that is not the case anymore.”

▲ South Korea seizing the ‘hanbok’ market

The preference for South Korean clothes not only refers to daily wear, it also extends to North Korea’s traditional ‘hanbok’. Cha Kwang Ok, a woman of 40 who recently defected said, “Last year I went to my cousin’s house in Pyongyang and saw people in the city wearing hanbok, but they looked different to the ones they usually wear in Chosun. I thought to myself at the time, ‘Pyongyang’s economy has really developed’; they were the South Korean style hanbok.”

North Korea’s traditional hanbok jacket has a narrow ‘dongjeong’ (thin white cloth-covered paper collar) and is of a single color. It features embroidered flowers, and there are only two different styles. In contrast, South Korean hanbok, as worn by queens in the many, many historical dramas produced by South Korean broadcasters, have a wider dongjeong and are of multiple colors.

Han Yong Kwon, age 46 and originally from Pyongyang, defected to South Korea in 2011. In her estimation, “Even as late as 2010 I could not see women wearing South Korean-style hanbok in Pyongyang, so seeing them appearing now in the so-called ‘Capital of the Revolution’ is evidence that the ‘Korean Wave’ is spreading rapidly in North Korea.”

Additional evidence for the same can even be found in the Chosun Art Film Studio-published 2012 calendar, wherein there is a picture of a model wearing the same hanbok as South Korean actress Lee Young Ae wore in the 2003 drama ‘The Great Jang Geum’, showing that even North Korean state entities no longer seem to regard the colorful hanbok as particularly South Korean.

Read the full story here:
South Korea Seizing Clothing Market
Daily NK
Kang Mi Jin


DPRK 2012 drought compendium (UPDATED)

Saturday, May 19th, 2012

Pictured above: South Hwanghae, the DPRK’s “rice bowl”

UPDATE 11 (2012-8-2): DPRK cuts official food rations. According to the Daily NK:

World Food Programme reports during the month of July, North Koreans received only half the amount of recommended food, rations have been reduced down to half what they should be 300 grams per day.

Between drought and flood damage, crops have suffered and the distribution system is failing to meet the needs of the people.

Due to unrelenting poor weather condition this past July, North Korean food rations per person, already at the minimum recommended amount, were cut in half.

United Nations affiliated organization, the World Food Programme (WFP) recorded that from July 1st until the 15th, food distribution in North Korea was 370 grams per person per day, but during the second half of the month rations were reduced to a mere 300 grams, revealed a Voice of America broadcast two days ago. The World Food Programme puts the recommended amount of food per day at 600 grams minimum.

According to a North Korean based-WFP local official, rations consist of 20-30% rice and 70-80% corn. During the summer, barley, potatoes, wheat and other crops are included in the distribution.

From January until March, rations were maintained at 395 grams per person, and in April they were increased to 400 grams. In May, rations were reverted back to 395 grams and June again saw a slump, down to 380 grams per person.

The WFP attributes the decline in rations to various natural disasters, such as drought and flooding have led to extensive damage of cropland across North Korea.

The WFP estimates these ration shortages will continue to be severe until harvest time arrives in November.

The flip side of this story is that North Koreans obtain the majority of their food from private and black markets.

The Daily NK tracks rice prices in the DPRK here.

Read the full story here:
WFP Reports July Rations Cut in Half at NK
Daily NK
Kim Tae-hong

UPDATE 10 (2012-6-21): Although the drought was initially reported in North Hwanghae Province, the shortage of water is causing additional problems (electricity generation) in other parts of the country. According to the Daily NK:

The source believes that it is primarily the failure of the newly completed hydroelectric power station at Heecheon in Jagang Province to reach official expectations that is causing the problem. It has been known for some time that water levels behind the dam at Heecheon are insufficient to meet electricity generation targets.

However, there are other reasons for the current state of affairs, notably events for the 10t0th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung and the period of mass mobilization for farming.

According to the source, “Because they wanted it for the April events, most of the electricity coming to Pyongyang went to the Mansudae and Central districts, while the places where most people actually live didn’t get regular supplies. Then in May they started sending most of it to cooperative farms in North Hwanghae Province for the mass farming mobilization.”

Currently, residential areas of the capital are receiving electricity two or three times a day for an hour or two at a time, meaning anything from three to five hours of power per day.

UPDATE 9 (2012-6-19): Yonhap reports that Seoul believes the drought’s effects on food production are not as serious as others claim:

Food shortages in North Korea do not seem to be as serious as expected while the country grapples with a months-long drought, Seoul’s foreign ministry said Tuesday, in a blunt assessment that contradicts warnings from United Nations agencies.

Poverty-stricken North Korea appears to face another bleak year with its farm industry hit by an unusually long drought, particularly in the western areas, the North’s state media recently reported, raising concern it could exacerbate its food shortages.

Asked whether South Korea will consider resuming its state food aid to the North if the drought further worsens, Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Byung-jae replied, “Our general assessment is that (the North’s food situation) is not so serious as to fall into a level of crisis.”

“At present, no plan is in the offing with regard to government-level food assistance to North Korea,” Cho said.

Last week, U.N. agencies operating inside North Korea reported that millions of North Korean people are suffering from chronic food shortages and dire health care, appealing for the world to raise funds to provide food to the impoverished state.

The North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Friday that the North’s key breadbasket areas including North Hwanghae Province have been hit by an unprecedented drought.

KCNA added that “crops are withering” due to the most serious drought in 60 years.

The North’s defiant launch of a long-range rocket in April blew up a Feb. 29 deal with the U.S. under which Pyongyang would freeze nuclear and missile tests in exchange for 240,000 tons of food aid.

New leader Kim Jong-un has stressed the importance of food production in the two personal statements he has made to the people this year. A bad harvest could deal a blow to his regime as he tries to consolidate his grip on power.

The North has relied on outside food aid to feed its population of 24 million since natural disasters and mismanagement devastated its economy in the mid-1990s.

South Korea halted its unconditional state aid to the North in 2008, by linking food aid to progress on Pyongyang’s nuclear dismantlement. But Seoul has continued to selectively approve humanitarian and medical assistance to Pyongyang from religious and private aid groups.

The DPRK has yet to formally request any food assistance following the announcement of the drought.

UPDATE 8 (2012-6-5): According to the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES):

North Korea is reporting serious drought. North Korea has had over 40 days of dry weather (as of the end of May) and 40 percent of cropland was reportedly damaged from the drought. The west coastal areas were hit the hardest, allegedly the worst drought in fifty years, according the Hydro-meteorological Service of the DPRK. The month of June is also anticipated to be dry without much rainfall, which will likely worsen the already critical food shortage problem in North Korea.

The KCNA released an article on May 24 with a statement from Choe Hyon Su, department director of the Ministry of Agriculture: “West coastal and other areas excluding north mountain areas are suffering damages from forty days of dry weather until today (May 24), and 40 percent of our farmlands are experiencing damages from the drought.”

The extreme drought conditions are expected to intensify until June and cabbages, corn seedlings, and other grains are drying out in the parched and cracked fields. An all-people campaign to overcome the drought situation is currently on-going in the country. Bureaucrats and workers have been mobilized to irrigate farms and ordered to take other necessary measures to prevent further drought damage, state media reported.

In addition, the KCNA reported on May 26 that Choe Yong Rim,the Premier of the DPRK, visited Saenal Farm in Sinchon County and Oguk Co-op Farm in Anak County, South Hwanghae Province to survey the farming situation.

The premier reportedly “highlighted the importance of settling the food shortage in building a thriving nation and called on all officials and other agricultural workers to play their role as those responsible for the nation’s agricultural production.” He also stressed the “need to meet technological requirements for harrowing and winding up the rice-transplanting in [the] right season.”

Furthermore, Choson Sinbo reported on April 24 that North Korea is raising efforts to solve the food shortage problem through increasing fertilizer production and succeeded in “coal gasification,” which is North Korea’s own fertilizer production process.

The process converts coal from a solid to a gaseous state that is similar to natural gas, and can be converted to ammonia that is used to make fertilizer. North Korea has rich deposits of coal and would otherwise have to import natural gas for fertilizer production. However, Namhung Youth Chemical Complex succeeded in its coal gasification process, turning coal to hydrogen gas.

In addition, Hungnam Fertilizer Complex is reported to have succeeded in its brown coal gasification process. The fertilizer production goal for this year from these two facilities is set at 1 million tons, the news reported.

North Korea has widely publicized fertilizer produced by coal as “Juche fertilizer.” North Korea continues to endorse that fertilizer produced from the gasification of coal will serve as a major pillar in building a strong nation along with “Juche steel,” and “Juche textile.”

UPDATE 7 (2012-5-29): According to the Korea Herald:

In at least one area of South Pyongan Province where journalists from the Associated Press were allowed to visit, the sun-baked fields appeared parched and cracked, and farmers complained of extreme drought conditions. Deeply tanned men, and women in sun bonnets, worked over cabbages and corn seedlings. Farmers cupped individual seedlings as they poured water from blue buckets onto the parched red soil.

“I’ve been working at the farm for more than 30 years, but I have never experienced this kind of severe drought,” An Song Min, a farmer at the Tokhae Cooperative Farm in the Nampo area, told the AP.

It was not clear whether the conditions around Nampo were representative of a wider region. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said it had not yet visited the affected regions to confirm the extent and severity of the reported drought.

North Korea has suffered chronic food shortages for the past two decades because of economic and agricultural mismanagement as well as natural disasters. A famine in the 1990s killed an estimated hundreds of thousands of people.

North Korea state media has publicized the drought but hasn’t asked for international handouts. The country’s past appeals for food aid have been met with some skepticism, however, amid worries that aid would be diverted to the military and Pyongyang elite without reaching the hungry.

You can see a satellite image of Tokhae Cooperative Farm here (Googler Earth:  38.786605°, 125.468135°).

UPDATE 6 (2012-5-27): According to Yonhap:

N. Korea steps up fight against drought

SEOUL, May 27 (Yonhap) — North Korea is stepping up its fight against drought as a prolonged dry spell in the rice-planting season could deal a blow to food production and negatively impact the rule of the its new young leader.

The impoverished nation’s main Rodong Sinmun newspaper, state television and other media outlets are urging citizens to utilize every possible source of water to irrigate rice paddies, while also offering advice on how to help other crops overcome drought.

Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said Friday that western regions of the North have received little rain for a month since April 26. If no rain falls by the end of the month, it will be the driest May for most western regions of the nation since 1962, the agency said.

KCNA reported Saturday that many people have been mobilized across the nation to minimize damage from the drought and that the cabinet and the agriculture ministry are putting together emergency measures.

The North’s premier, Choe Yong-rim, visited farms in the western Hwanghae Province on Saturday to check the situation, KCNA said. Choe was quoted as urging farmers to finish rice planting successfully, saying resolving food problems is one of the country’s most important issues.

New leader Kim Jong-un has stressed the importance of food production in the two personal statements he has made to the people this year. A bad harvest could deal a blow to his regime as he tries to consolidate his grip on power.

The North has relied on outside food aid to feed its 24-million population since natural disasters and mismanagement devastated its economy in the mid-1990s.

UPDATE 5 (2012-5-26): According to KCNA:

Koreans Are Out to Fight Drought

Pyongyang, May 26 (KCNA) — Officials and working people across the country are all out to prevent damage by drought.

The Cabinet and the Ministry of Agriculture took emergency measures to prevent the drought-related damage and all sectors and units are meticulously carrying out organizational and political work to fight drought in a massive manner.

Rural areas are pushing ahead with the work to repair and readjust wells, pools and tube-wells, keep water-pumping and dry-field irrigation equipment in full-capacity operation and irrigate all fields with water collected through damming and digging of river-beds.

North Phyongan and Hwanghae provinces are making good use of existing irrigation system while watering the fields prone to drought damage after finishing the repair of pools, tube-wells, etc.

Jongju, Sariwon, Thaechon, Ryongchon, Pongsan and other cities and counties are concentrating labor power on watering the drought-hit fields of corn, potato, wheat and barley first.

Working people and supporters in South Hwanghae and Phyongan provinces are watering lots of fields every day.

Rural farms in Nampho City and Kangwon and South Hamgyong provinces are successfully watering fields by organizing labor forces to suit to their specific conditions and making an effective use of water resources.

The rural farms near Pyongyang are watering the fields through diverse methods including furrow and water-sprinkling irrigation systems after readjusting irrigation facilities.

All rural farms are frequently weeding and ploughing as required by technical regulations in order to keep soil moist, while applying amino acid compound fertilizer and humate good for resisting drought.

UPDATE 4 (2012-5-26): According to KCNA:

Drought Persists in DPRK

Pyongyang, May 26 (KCNA) — West coastal areas of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea experience a long spell of dry weather. This is an abnormal phenomenon witnessed in the country in fifty years, according to a report of the Hydro-meteorological Service.

There have been few rainfalls for nearly 30 days in those areas since April 26.

Ri Kyong Ho (39), a farmer, saying,

“Only twenty days has passed since we transplanted humus-potted maize. Due to an unusual drought this year, maize is getting dry, as you can see here. We are doing our best to overcome this long spell of drought.”

Pang Sun Nyo (48), chief of Weather Forecast Office of the Hydro-meteorological Service, saying,

“Most areas of the country, especially the western areas, are in the grip of long drought.

There have been few rainfalls for 25 days since April 27. Although it rained a little, it was not enough to overcome drought.

Starting from April 30, the country experienced the highest daytime temperature. The temperature began to lower a little than an average year from mid-May but has gone up since May 18.

The average evaporation loss is 4 to 8 mm and the humidity of land 60 percent at present.

This abnormal weather phenomenon is mainly due to flow of dry and warm air current into the country from the continents on middle latitudes and the south, which prevents cold air current from the north to the south.

The drought is foreseen to persist until the end of May, affected by high air pressure from the south and East Sea of Korea.”

UPDATE 3 (2012-5-25): According to KCNA:

Long Drought in West Coastal Areas of DPRK

Pyongyang, May 25 (KCNA) — West coastal areas of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea experience a long spell of dry weather. This is an abnormal phenomenon witnessed in the country in fifty years, according to a report of the Hydro-meteorological Service.

There have been few rainfalls for about 30 days since April 26.

In this period rainfall was registered 2 mm in Pyongyang, 5 mm in Haeju City, 4 mm in Phyongsong City, 1 mm in Sinuiju City and 0 mm in Sariwon City.

The average evaporation loss is 4 to 8 mm and the humidity of land 60 percent at present.

In case there is no rain until the end of this month, the precipitation of May in the west coastal areas would be registered as the lowest from 1962 downward.

The humidity of land stands at 55 percent and the drought is expected to get more serious.

An all-people campaign for overcoming drought is now going on in the country.

UPDATE 2 (2012-5-22): According to the Daily NK:

There is a growing volume of testimony to suggest that food insecurity in Hwanghae Province is now particularly bad, and in a significant number of areas has tipped over into starvation and death. Much of the evidence for this has been published since May 7th by ASIAPRESS, a Japanese group with video journalists working inside North Korea.

Example interviews published in Korean by ASIAPRESS include a woman in her 40s from South Hwanghae Province who claimed that for her the “situation is more difficult than during the ‘March of Tribulation’,” referring to the famine that killed many hundres of thousands of North Koreans in the 1990s.

“The food situation is worse than it was three years ago,” the woman went on. “The waiting room at the station in Sariwon in North Hwanghae Province is overflowing with beggar children, both boys and girls, younger and older.”

A man in his 30s from South Hwanghae Province also testified similarly, saying that “Malnutrition is getting more prevalent for farmers. The farming is going really badly.”

Another witness, from North Hamkyung Province but with experience of visiting Hwanghae, claimed, “I heard from a Hwanghae Province resident that people dead from starvation are appearing in Haeju every day. It is surprising that something like this can happen in the ‘rice region’; by this standard it seems that the situation in North Hamkyung is actually not that bad.”

ASIAPRESS believes the main causes of the extreme food insecurity in the region to be: ▲ decreased food production due to flooding; ▲ food procurement for Day of the Sun events in other areas, mostly Pyongyang; and additional ▲ market stagnation.

In other words, the testimonies obtained by ASIAPRESS suggest in particular that the authorities have been demanding excessive volumes of food from farms while failing to revive flooded farmland. In essence, food production has decreased but food procurement and removal to other regions has risen.

One farmer from South Hwanghae Province commented, “The floods last year washed away most of the fields in coastal areas. In early spring productivity was particularly bad, because rain hit when the flowers were blooming. In addition, productivity was reduced because we couldn’t get fertilizer and water supplies were dodgy because there was little electricity.”

Commenting on his organization’s major findings, Director Jiro Ishimaru concluded, “The cause of the food crisis in Hwanghae Province cannot be put down to an agricultural slump, but to the exploitation and excessive procurement of the authorities. The reason for the food crisis is man-made.”

UPDATE 1 (2012-5-21): According to KCNA:

Western Area Experiences Drought in DPRK

Pyongyang, May 21 (KCNA) — There has been few rainfalls in the western area of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea since April 26.

Most parts of the country, except Ryanggang and Jagang provinces, witnessed a small amount of rainfalls on May 13-14, with no effect on the drought.

Starting from late April, the country experienced the highest daytime temperature. The temperature began to lower a little than an average year from mid-May but has gone up since May 18.

The high temperature has made the rate of overall soil humidity remain under 65 percent.

Water level of the country’s major irrigation reservoirs stands at 55.4 percent on an average. Water storage in Lake Kumsong in South Phyongan Province dropped even to 0.5 percent, in particular.

Affected by alternate high and low pressures, rainfalls are believed to be usual in springs in Korea.

But, in this spring cold air, which should have come towards the south, continues to stay in the north while the warm and dried air persistently come from continents on middle latitudes, causing a long-time drought in Korea.

Such an atmospheric phenomenon is said to last until early June only to cause drought.

ORIGINAL POST (2012-5-11): According to KCNA:

DPRK Experiences High-temperature Weather

Pyongyang, May 11 (KCNA) — The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has been experiencing exceptionally high temperature weather.

From April 30 to May 9, daytime temperatures hit the record high, with 27 degrees Celsius in Pyongyang, 26.6 in Phyongsong, 27.4 in Sariwon, 26.7 in Haeju, 26.9 in Kaesong and 22. 2 in Nampho.

The high temperatures were believed to be caused by the increased high pressure in the sky above the southern area, which prevented the inflow of cold air from the north.

There have been few rainfalls in the western coastal area of the country.

Until mid-May, the country’s weather will be affected mainly by the high pressure in the southern area and in the Okhotsk.

Thereby, the daytime temperatures are forecast to be higher than the average ones in most parts of the country, except the eastern coastal area, with a small amount of precipitation.

Drought is likely to come to the western coastal area.


DPRK appoints new Minister of Commerce

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

According to the Daily NK:

It has been confirmed that North Korea’s Ministry of Commerce now has a new head, with Ri Seong Ho elevated to the post. According to the South Korean Ministry of Unification, the move was announced alongside a number of other Cabinet changes during the 5th session of the 12th Supreme People’s Assembly last month.

The change appears to confirm a February 16th report carried by Daily NK in which it was revealed that the then-incumbent, Kim Bong Cheol, had been killed in a helicopter crash.

Kim was last heard of when his name appeared on a list of attendees at the opening of the 3rd ‘No.1 Department Store Product Exhibition’ on January 3rd this year. However, on February 16th, Daily NK reported his death alongside the head of the North Pyongan Province commercial department and three others in a helicopter crash two days earlier.

A source in the region told Daily NK that the men were all killed while en route to distribute gifts from Kim Jong Il to the residents of outlying islands in the West Sea to celebrate the former leader’s birthday.

Read the full story here:
Commerce Minister Change Confirmed
Jeong Jae Sung


UK energy company pulls out of North Korea

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

By Michael Rank

Independent British energy company Aminex PLC has withdrawn from North Korea, citing ‘”the volatile and unpredictable politics of the area”, just two years after signing a deal covering a 50,000 sq km area off the country’s east coast.

Aminex said it was “in the best interests of shareholders for the Company to withdraw from the Korean exploration programme and not participate in seismic acquisition. This decision will allow Aminex to focus on growing its African portfolio.”

The company first signed an agreement for co-operation in oil and gas with the North Korean government in 2004, but this failed to make progress. In 2010 it introduced a new foreign partner, Singapore-based Chosun Energy Pte Ltd, which provided finance for the initial stages and a regional base in Singapore. Aminex said at the time that “despite challenging international politics,” it had “succeeded in maintaining strong relations with the Korean authorities”, resulting in the production sharing contract signed in May 2010.

But industry sources said Stuard Detmer, who was made Aminex CEO last September, was less enthusiastic about North Korea than his predecessor Brian Hall, who remains executive chairman, and this had contributed to the company’s decision to pull out of the DPRK.

Aminex’s main focus is now on Tanzania, where in February it made the first gas discovery in the onshore Ruvuma basin, having also disposed of an oilfield in Texas.

Aminex said in 2010 that the agreement “involves reprocessing and reinterpretation of old seismic data plus acquisition of new marine seismic data during an initial period. Licence holder] Korex believes that the East Sea has great potential for significant discoveries of oil and gas, while recognising the political challenges in the region and the need to ensure that any international sanctions are strictly observed.”

See previous posts about Aminex here.


Farming Regions in State of Tension

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

According to the Daily NK:

This year, the North Korean authorities are once again emphasizing the need to strive for greater food production as the farming season begins, launching the annual 40-day total farm mobilization period with the words “Let’s mobilize the whole party, the whole nation and all the people to reach the grain production targets.”

Rodong Shinmun published editorials on the subject on both the 11th and again on the 12th, reflecting the emphasis being optimistically placed on solving food security issues in 2012. Kim Jong Eun also emphasized the same in his major statements on the 6th and 27th of last month, understandably so given that farm productivity has the potential to play such a decisive role in stabilizing the first full winter of his rule.

Inside sources say that the mobilization atmosphere is unusually intense this year in farming villages. Cadres and people alike are feeling the strain of Kim Jong Eun’s first season in charge, with the assumption being that this year could see severe punishments meted out for any wrongdoing.

A South Hamkyung Province explained to Daily NK yesterday, “The whole nation is out there supporting the farms, including enterprises affiliated with state agencies, upper middle school and college students and military bases. People are not allowed to be at home or in the streets. Restaurants are not open either. Everybody is out on the farms. It’s just like martial law, really brutal.”

“5 or 6 safety agents have set up a desk in the street and are stopping people passing by, confiscating their identifications and the bikes they are on and sending them to nearby farms,” he went on. “People can only pass if they have a confirmation slip from a cooperative farm management committee.”

“The markets are only allowed to open from 5PM to 8PM after farm work is done for the day, so excluding preparation and organizing time, there is only an hour or so that the market is open. Buyers and sellers are all super busy,” he added.

During the 40-day total mobilization period, school classes are halted and students sent off to farms for forty days carrying their food and bedding. Laborers, workers in administrative organs and members of the Union of Democratic Women all commute from home to local collective farms until the planting and seeding is done.

North Korea has had the policy in place since 2006. Prior to that, students still had to farm every day, but full-time workers and members of the Union of Democratic Women went out just twice or three times a month.

In 2006, five provincial Party cadres from North Hamkyung Province were caught enjoying a spa during the period. They were summarily kicked out of the Party and sent into internal exile with their families.

“Until last year we were able to get confirmation of attendance from farm management committee cadres by giving a bribe, but with this year being the first under Kim Jong Eun, those tricks are unlikely to work,” the source concluded.

Read full story here:

Farming Regions in State of Tension
Daily NK
Choi Song Min


Myanmar promises halt to DPRK weapons purchases

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

According to the AP (via Washington Post):

Myanmar’s president has confirmed that his country bought weapons from North Korea during the past 20 years and assured his South Korean counterpart that it will no longer do so.

In a meeting with visiting South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Myanmar President Thein Sein said his country never had nuclear cooperation with North Korea but did have deals for conventional weapons, Lee’s presidential Blue House said in an announcement Tuesday.

Thein Sein told Lee that Myanmar will no longer buy weapons from North Korea, honoring a U.N. ban, South Korean presidential official Kim Tae-hyo told reporters traveling with Lee, according to Blue House officials in Seoul.

Lee is on an official visit to Myanmar, the first by a South Korean president since North Korean commandos staged a bloody 1983 attack on visiting South Korean dignitaries.

Myanmar cut off diplomatic relations with North Korea after the attack, but restored them in 2007 as it sought allies in the face of international sanctions over its human rights record and failure to install a democratic government. Myanmar also began buying weapons from North Korea, and was suspected of obtaining nuclear weapons technology as well.

Myanmar is taking steps to emerge from international isolation after decades of military rule ended last year. Those changes were highlighted Tuesday when Lee met opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was held for years under house arrest but is now a member of Parliament.

Suu Kyi said after the 45-minute meeting that South Korea and Myanmar have much in common in having had to “take the hard road to democratic leadership.”

Lee, speaking through an interpreter, said he and Suu Kyi had agreed that “democracy, human rights and freedom must never be sacrificed because of development.”

He said he had praised Thein Sein’s contribution to democratization when he met the Myanmar president on Monday.

He also said he told Thein Sein that he hoped his government “will refrain from any activities” with North Korea that could be considered in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. He described this as a formal request.

A U.N. resolution bars countries from obtaining all but small arms and light weapons from North Korea.

Lee on Tuesday made a brief visit to the site of the 1983 bombing, Martyr’s Mausoleum, a monument to Suu Kyi’s father, Myanmar independence hero Gen. Aung San. The attack left 21 dead, 17 of them South Korean, but failed to kill its target, then-President Chun Doo-hwan, who arrived late and was not harmed.

A statement from Lee’s office said he also agreed to expand South Korean financial assistance to Myanmar.

It said South Korea agreed to help Myanmar develop human resources, build a think tank and invite Myanmar students to South Korea in an effort to share its successful experience in economic development.

Previous posts involving Myanmar here. Recent highlights include the M/V Light Saga and articles by Bertil Linter.

Read the full story here:
South Korea says Myanmar has promised to stop buying arms from North Korea
AP via Washington Post


Kim Yong-nam tours Singapore factories

Sunday, May 13th, 2012

According to Yonhap:

North Korea’s ceremonial head of state Kim Yong-nam visited a foodstuff factory in Singapore on Saturday after talks with the city-state’s parliamentary leader, the North’s official news agency reported.

Kim, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, and his party were briefed on the constant development of the typical foodstuff factory, the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a brief dispatch from Singapore.

Kim and his party also watched a video on the management of the factory before looking around the production processes, it said, adding they also toured Hi-P International Pte Ltd., a manufacturer of electronic products, and a tourist islet.

On Friday, the No. 2 leader of the communist state held talks with Michael Palmer, speaker of the parliament of Singapore, according to the KCNA. The North Korean official will also visit Indonesia for talks with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the agency reported last week.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s No. 2 leader tours food factory in Singapore


Mangyongdae Metro Station concept

Saturday, May 12th, 2012

Back in March I wrote a blog post about how the official Pyongyang Metro maps had been updated to reflect the reality of closed stations and stations that would never come to be. You can read all the specifics here.

Just a couple of months after changing the Pyongyang Metro maps, however, the Mangyongdae Metro Station appears to be back on the table.  It was featured at the 12th “May 21 Architectural Festival” (May 9-11):

It is difficult to say for certain where the station would be placed, but older maps show it near Kim Il-sung’s “native house”.

Given the cost and logistics of such a project, I still remain skeptical it will ever be completed…but the citizens of Pyongyang can dream can’t they?

I uploaded video of the metro stop concept pictures to Youtube. You can see them here. You can see the full KCNA video of the architecture exhibit here.