Archive for September, 2015

North Korea’s domestic impacts of lower coal prices

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

North Korea is seeing some interesting impacts domestically from the lowered coal exports. DailyNK reports that market trade has picked up in intensity as a result of the lower exports of coal:

Amidst the growing private economy in North Korea, a number of people are growing wealthy by cashing in on the expanding distribution industry. Recently, a growing number of these newly rich are purchasing China’s Jinbei brand of small 2-3 ton load trucks to facilitate business operations, Daily NK has learned.

“Recently, Jinbei trucks coming in from Dandong Customs House through to the Sinuiju customs office in North Korea are becoming very hot items in the transportation market,” a source in North Pyongan province reported to Daily NK on September 16th. “Foreign-currency earning enterprises are importing these smaller Jinbei trucks which are quite different from the 20-30 ton load trucks that were previously the norm.”

This information was cross-checked via an additional source in the same province and a source in South Pyongan Province.

As North Korean coal exports have decreased and domestic market activity has picked up, the small trucks have become more useful for delivering goods to local markets. “Ordinary men use bicycles or motorbikes to distribute goods, but the rich are able to buy these small 2-3 ton load trucks and use those instead,” he explained.

These trucks, as with most vehicles in North Korea, are first imported by foreign-currency earning enterprises and sold unofficially to individuals with the cash to pay up front and in full–i.e. the donju. Because possession of vehicles is still officially forbidden in North Korea, the car remains registered under the name of the affiliated enterprise’s name; the entrepreneurial individual utilizing it kicks back a portion of his–or, less frequently, her– profits to the company.

Read the full article:

DailyNK 

Jinbei trucks roll in, ‘donju’ distribution operations rise

2015-09-18

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Pyongyang International Airport’s representative duty free product: Kaesong Ginseng

Thursday, September 17th, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

The September issue of the North Korean foreign magazine Kumsugangsan revealed that Kaesong ginseng is selling well at Pyongyang International Airport’s duty-free shops.

According to the magazine, there are a variety of goods and shops on the second floor departure waiting area of the airport, including souvenir shops, duty-free shops, magazines, coffee, soft drinks, and ethnic restaurants. “The souvenir shops are particularly popular with customers and are full of natural medicinal ingredients like the indigenous ginseng,” the magazine explained.

Salesperson Choi Jin Hyang commented, “Ginseng is divided into grades of chon, ji, and in. The chon-grade ginseng is very good […] In the case of Kaesong Koryo ginseng, the popularity of the chon-grade red ginseng is growing every day.”

Ginseng products like Kaesong Koryo ginseng tea, Kaesong Koryo red ginseng powder, ginseng extract, Kaesong Koryo ginseng pollen, as well as indigenous natural products from Mt. Kumgangsan and Mt. Myohyang are sold in these shops.

The airport’s ethnic restaurants serve dishes such as sinseollo (Korean casserole), Pyongyang naengmyeon (cold noodles), and nokdu jijim (mung bean pancake), while duty-free shops sell hanbok (Korean traditional dress). There are also duty-free shops in the arrival area of the airport.

In the departure procedure area on the second floor, there are shops that sell food, watches, makeup, and bags, as well as booths that sell plane tickets and an international communications office. Various products are sold in the food shops, including Pyongyang Soju and products produced by Rason Daehung Trading Company.

The third floor is a professional service zone that non-travellers can also use. It includes an Asian restaurant, a European restaurant, electronic products, shoes, clothes, and a children’s shop.

The magazine added, “Two brave white tigers, adorned on the outside walls [of the Pyongyang International Airport], and gable roof doorposts preserve Choson’s native ethnic characteristics […] There are also ground and underground parking lots each with the capacity to accommodate over 100 vehicles.”

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New border bridge between North Korea and China: all is well in the border areas

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Yonhap reports a new agreement between North Korea and China to build a bridge over the Tumen River, connecting Tumen City in China and Namyang in North Korea:

North Korea and China have signed an agreement to build a new bridge over the Tumen River that runs between the two nations, Chinese officials said on Wednesday, in the latest sign that economic ties between Pyongyang and Beijing remain largely unaffected despite the North’s nuclear and missile programs.

The agreement was signed in Pyongyang on Tuesday by North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Pak Myong-guk and the Chinese Ambassador to North Korea, Li Jinjun, the Chinese Embassy said in a statement.

The new bridge will link the North Korean border city of Nanyang and the Chinese border city of Tumen, where bilateral trade with North Korea is bustling.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

During the signing ceremony, Li told Pak that the new bridge “will provide greater convenience for people of the two countries and trade ties” and “will also contribute to improving infrastructure of the China-North Korean border,” according to the statement.

Tumen is, of course, close to the larger city of Yanji (연길) and the two are well connected by highway.

It is perhaps symbolic of China-North Korea relations on the more local level that the announcement comes amidst news of increased signs of North Korean nuclear and rocket activity. Often, economic activity and ties between Chinese and North Korean border regions goes largely unaffected by regional political tension.

Read the full story:

Yonhap News

N. Korea, China sign deal to build new bridge over Tumen River

09/16/2015

Yonhap News

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North Korea promotes French investment in cement company

Thursday, September 10th, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

North Korea recently promoted its cooperation with foreign companies, highlighting a North Korean cement company that has received investment from a French corporation. This is viewed as a strategy by North Korea to attract foreign investment by publicizing examples of foreign capital in the country.

On September 1, 2015, North Korea uploaded an article on its foreign website ‘Naenara’ promoting the Pyongyang Sangwon Cement Joint Venture, which the French cement company Lafarge has invested in. President of the company Yun Chae Hyok was quoted as saying, “Through each other’s efforts the company is raising the quality of cement by expediting the modernization of the production process as well as increasing production to contribute actively to the country’s primary construction targets.”

Regarding the Sangwon Cement Joint Venture, the Naenara article stated, “The quality of limestone is good, the reserves are plentiful, and from a transportation perspective, the location is good […] The production process is automated, and the company is using supplementary materials, including limestone, in production, so the outlook is very good.” The article also introduced the company Lafarge. “The French building materials company Lafarge, which has more than 200 cement factories, is a corporation that specializes in the production of cement and plaster as well as aggregate and concrete,” it explained.

Naenara also reported that in 2014 the joint venture company built ‘Affiliate Furnace No. 1,’ and according to a decision made by the board of directors in June 2015, next year it will complete construction of ‘Affiliate Furnace No. 2.’ It is believed that North Korea’s intent in promoting the Sangwon Cement Joint Venture is to attract investment from other foreign companies by publicizing examples of foreign capital in the country.

The Pyongyang Sangwon Cement Joint Venture was created when Lafarge invested in North Korea’s Sangwon Cement Complex. In 2007 the Egyptian company Orascom, which is currently invested in North Korea’s Koryolink, acquired 50% of the shares in Sangwon Cement and prepared to invest in the company, but in December of that year it passed its shares and the related mining rights to Lafarge. At the time Lafarge commented, “Given the rapidly growing demand for cement in North Korea, the potential for Sangwon Cement Factory is large.” The company went on to update factory equipment and expand investment in machinery and facilities.

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Sangyon e-commerce system introduced (and Jonsong Card)

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015

KCNA issued a story today that raised some eyebrows:

Electronic Commerce System ‘Sangyon’ Introduced in DPRK

Pyongyang, September 8 (KCNA) — The Institute of the Commercial Science in the DPRK developed “Sangyon”, an electronic commerce system.

The system makes it possible to ensure business through local network with credit card issued by the Central Bank.

This 24-hour service system has already been introduced to the West Pyongyang Department Store and many other commercial units, winning popularity among its users.

The reason this story raised eyebrows was the mention of a “credit card”. I had to go to the original Korean article to see if the word “credit card” was ever used.  Here is the original Korean:

(평양 9월 8일발 조선중앙통신)

조선에서 전자상업체계 《상연》이 개발되여 봉사활동에 도입되고있다.

상업과학연구소에서 내놓은 이 체계는 국가콤퓨터망을 통하여 상품소개 및 판매,상업정보소개를 진행하는 전자결제방식의 상업봉사체계이다.

이 체계는 중앙은행에서 발행하는 《전성》카드를 리용하여 손님들이 상점에 가지 않고도 필요한 상품에 대한 검색과

주문,카드를 리용한 전자결제와 송달을 받을수 있게 한다.

손님들의 상품수요를 실시간적으로 장악하여 생산단위들에 맞물려준다.

전국적범위에서 상업발전추세에 맞게 무현금류통을 늘이고 상품구입의 편리성을 도모해주는 전자상업체계는 24시간 봉사하고있다.

서평양백화점을 비롯한 많은 단위에 도입되여 사용자들로부터 호평을 받고있는 전자상업체계는 계속 확대도입되고있다.(끝)

The Korean report is quite different from the English version. It says that they have developed an e-commerce system called Sangyong 《상연》. On this system, available 24-hours a day no less, companies can list products, provide information, and consumers can actually make purchases for delivery. This system accepts the Jonsong card [《전성》카드] (a pre-pay card issued by the Central Bank in local currency) for payment.

UPDATE (2016-3-10): Simon Cockerell has posted a photo of a Jonsong Card to his Instagram Account:

Jonsong-Card

The Institute for Far Eastern Studies (2015-8-28) had this to say about the Jonsong Card:

Use of electronic payment cards expands in North Korea

It appears that the use of electronic payment cards in North Korea is spreading as North Korea’s central bank releases a new payment card. Photos of the card (called ‘Jonsong’) have been uploaded to social networking sites like Instagram and Facebook by foreigners currently in North Korea. The card is issued by the Central Bank of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (hereafter ‘North Korea Central Bank’).

Until now, North Korean’s primary credit cards have been the ‘Narae’ card, issued by the North Korea Foreign Trade Bank in 2010, and the ‘Koryo’ card, issued by Koryo Bank in 2011. ‘Narae,’ a foreign currency debit card, can be used at locations like hotels or foreign currency shops after card-owners load it with foreign currency at a bank; the affiliate card ‘Koryo’ can be used when paying for services or products at shops that have a payment system and deal in foreign currency.

Recently, Yonhap News released a photo of the electronic payment card ‘Sonbong,’ reporting that the card is now in use. The card is issued by the Golden Triangle Bank and can be used in the Rason Special Economic Zone. Both the Sonbong and Narae cards feature a yellow electronic chip on the front of the card. In contrast, North Korea Central Bank’s recently confirmed Chonsong card does not display such a chip and contains a red and blue diamond-shaped design in the lower right-hand corner.

It has not yet been confirmed whether this is a general electronic payment card or if it is intended for specific purposes. In a February 2015 interview with the Japan-based Choson Sinbo, the president of North Korea Central Bank revealed, “North Korea Central Bank is focusing on satisfying the capital requirements that arise in a country’s economic construction by turning over domestic funds more smoothly […] As part of that effort, it is pushing forward the development of new financial products as well as the use of cards in people’s daily lives.”

It is estimated that approximately 4 billion dollars are circulated and held privately by North Korean citizens. As a step to legalize that currency, it is widely known that North Korea implemented the ‘cooperative currency system’ (effective March 1, 2013), inducing individuals and agencies to open and use foreign currency accounts and actively encouraging the use of cards.

These days, foreigners visiting North Korea pay for hotel rooms, taxi fares, and other products with the Narae card after charging it with foreign currency.

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Why won’t North Korean trees grow like Kim Jong-un told them to?

Friday, September 4th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

The forestry campaign that Kim Jong-un launched in a speech earlier this year continues. According to a new brief by IFES, North Korean state media has criticized certain nurseries for poor management.

North Korea has once again come out on broadcast television criticizing the poor management of tree nurseries at some of its Forest Management Centers. This public criticism of the forest restoration effort comes after the emergence of Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yeo Jong, as an influential figure in the Department of Propaganda and Agitation.

On August 26, 2015, Korean Central Television (KCTV) aired a program entitled, Let’s Go Forward in Patriotism and Strength in the Forest Restoration Battle. The broadcast criticized several Forest Management Centers, including one in North Hwanghae Province’s Songnim. “They set up sun shades carelessly and then do not even water saplings properly. As a result saplings have become withered and yellow,” the program alleged.

The broadcast went on to a scathing critique of the tree nursery’s poor management: “The spraying equipment also does not properly work […] No more than 30% of the trees are alive […] The soil is overgrown with weeds […] One of the trees still has not sprouted.”

It also condemned the management of the Kangdong County tree nursery. “Because they do not properly conduct fertilizer management and also do not follow water guarantee measures, the saplings turn yellow and wither away. In the vegetable gardens there is so much seaweed that it is difficult to tell whether they are fields of saplings or meadows.”

“The fact that saplings can not grow properly is not due to unfavorable climate conditions but the defeatist and ‘non-owner’ work attitudes of the Forest Management Center workers and tree nursery work groups, who half-heartedly do their work and quit,” the broadcast added.

It went on to say, “When the workers use their heads creatively and engage in the work enterprisingly, great results are achieved in the expansion of the country’s permanent assets […] If all combatants in the forest restoration work sincerely, the Party’s forest restoration plans will be moved forward.”

One could of course argue that the issues described might result from the disconnect between political orders and constraints on the ground. For example, it has been reported that tree species that would suit local conditions in certain parts of the country would take at least three years to produce, but that the central government authorities want things to proceed immediately anyway. I am no forestry expert but it seems like a difficult task for even the most stern of political orders to make trees grow properly in the wrong conditions.

The full text of the IFES brief is available here:

North Korean Broadcast Criticizes Forest Restoration Results

The Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University

2015-09-03

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Phoenix Commercial Ventures terminates its association with Hana

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

According to the PCV web page:

As a result of irreconcilable differences between the board of Phoenix and the local management, Phoenix Commercial Ventures Ltd has terminated its association with Hana Electronics JVC with immediate effect.

Hana Electronics JVC was a 50/50 joint venture between Phoenix Commercial Ventures Ltd and the trading department of The Ministry of Culture.

Phoenix has no further connection with Hana or any interests (direct or indirect) in its operations.

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Inter-Korean trade returns to pre- May 24 sanctions levels

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

According to Yonhap:

Inter-Korean trade in the first seven months of this year recovered to levels before Seoul imposed blanket sanctions against the North for the sinking of its naval ship, government data showed Thursday, thanks to increased exchange via a joint industrial complex.

According to the Korea Customs Service (KCS) data, the value of cross-border trade reached US$1.53 billion in the January-July period, which is roughly on par with $1.56 billion reported for January-July of 2009. The total also marks a 22.4 percent increase from $1.25 billion worth of goods traded in 2014.

In the seven-month period, South Korea shipped some $716 million worth of intermediate goods and components to the North and brought in $816.5 million in assembled products.

The increase was attributed to a rise in the unit cost of products traded through the joint industrial park in the North’s border city of Kaesong.

Two months after the North’s deadly torpedoing of the Navy ship Cheonan in March 2010, Seoul slapped the sanctions on Pyongyang, severing almost all exchanges with the communist North.

In 2010, trade between the two Koreas plunged to just over $1.14 billion, while in the following year, the figure fell to just under $11.2 billion. Trade figures rose to around $1.27 billion in 2012, but nosedived again to $604 million in the following year after Pyongyang pulled out its workers from Kaesong, effectively shutting down the complex for five months.

Almost all of the trade during the seven-month period centered around the Kaesong industrial complex just north of the demilitarized zone that separates the two Korea.

The zone, which was excluded from the sanctions, is home to more than 120 South Korean companies that employ about 55,000 North Korean workers. It was created following the landmark 2000 inter-Korean summit and first churned out products in late 2004.

Besides the exchange via Kaesong, the KCS said there is no other meaningful trade between the two sides, since the sanctions cut off most exchanges with the North, including tourism, commercial transactions and private aid. Even the Kaesong complex is affected because no new investments are permitted.

Related to the rise in trade, Chung Ki-sup, the chairman of the Kaesong Industrial Complex Companies Association, which represents the interests of local firms operating in the North Korean complex, said he wants the two Koreas to hold talks that would ease restrictions.

“Despite the increase in trade, it is fundamentally impossible to expect any real change under the present circumstances,” the entrepreneur said. He pointed out that more trade with the North can benefit the South Korean economy in a period of slow growth.

Read the full story here:
Inter-Korean trade returns to pre-sanctions levels
Yonhap
2015-9-3

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North Korean Broadcast Criticizes Forest Restoration Results

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2015-9-3

North Korea has once again come out on broadcast television criticizing the poor management of tree nurseries at some of its Forest Management Centers. This public criticism of the forest restoration effort comes after the emergence of Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yeo Jong, as an influential figure in the Department of Propaganda and Agitation.

On August 26, 2015, Korean Central Television (KCTV) aired a program entitled, Let’s Go Forward in Patriotism and Strength in the Forest Restoration Battle. The broadcast criticized several Forest Management Centers, including one in North Hwanghae Province’s Songnim. “They set up sun shades carelessly and then do not even water saplings properly. As a result saplings have become withered and yellow,” the program alleged.

The broadcast went on to a scathing critique of the tree nursery’s poor management: “The spraying equipment also does not properly work […] No more than 30% of the trees are alive […] The soil is overgrown with weeds […] One of the trees still has not sprouted.”

It also condemned the management of the Kangdong County tree nursery. “Because they do not properly conduct fertilizer management and also do not follow water guarantee measures, the saplings turn yellow and wither away. In the vegetable gardens there is so much seaweed that it is difficult to tell whether they are fields of saplings or meadows.”

“The fact that saplings can not grow properly is not due to unfavorable climate conditions but the defeatist and ‘non-owner’ work attitudes of the Forest Management Center workers and tree nursery work groups, who half-heartedly do their work and quit,” the broadcast added.

It went on to say, “When the workers use their heads creatively and engage in the work enterprisingly, great results are achieved in the expansion of the country’s permanent assets […] If all combatants in the forest restoration work sincerely, the Party’s forest restoration plans will be moved forward.”

KCTV aired a similar broadcast on April 2015 called, Let’s Honor the Noble Wishes of the Party and Make the Whole Country a Primeval Forest. This broadcast said that the forest restoration work had run into some snags and berated people connected to the Forest Management Center.

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U.S. imposes sanctions on 2 N. Korean trading firms

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015

According to Yonhap:

The United States has imposed sanctions on two North Korean trading firms under a law banning the transfer of materials related to weapons of mass destruction, according to the State Department.

Polestar Trading Company, Ltd., a North Korean entity in China, and RyonHap-2, a trading firm in the North, were among a total of 22 entities sanctioned by the State Department under the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act, the department said in a Federal Register notice.

Affiliated with the North’s Second Academy of Natural Sciences, Pyongyang’s main weapons development agency, RyonHap-2 is believed to be involved in weapons exports and parts procurements.

The State Department notice, published Wednesday, did not provide specific violations committed by the two firms. The sanctions will remain in place for two years, it said.

The addition of the two North Korean firms brought to 18 the total number of North Korean entities and individuals that remain under active sanctions under the State Department’s Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act.

But the U.S. Treasury Department maintains more comprehensive sanctions on counties like North Korea and Iran. About 70 North Korean individuals agencies, entities, and vessels are on the department’s Specially Designated Nationals’ list.

Here is the notice in the Federal Register.

Read the full story here:
U.S. imposes sanctions on 2 N. Korean trading firms
Yonhap
2015-9-5

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