North Korea’s natural resources and the “Five-year Plan”

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

North Korea’s natural resource and minerals issue runs as a clear thread throughout its economic past and present. On the one hand, they provide immense wealth (not least through export revenues), but on the other hand, the leadership has often been wary of letting their role grow too large. Moreover, it appears that the North Korean leadership, both at various times in history and in recent years, has seen individuals scrambling to amass personal wealth through mineral exports as a danger to state incomes and economic control. Recall that one of the accusations against Jang Song-taek was that he sold off the country’s natural resources to “foreign countries” for cheap.

In a brief from the beginning of the month, IFES analyzes Rodong Sinmun coverage of the role of natural resources in implementing the five-year plan for economic development, the details of which are yet to be revealed:

Kim Jong Un has appealed for all energy to be put into developing underground resources in order to implement the ‘Five Year State Economic Development Strategy’ (unveiled at the 7th Party Congress of the Workers Party of Korea held in May).

In reporting that appeared in Rodong Sinmun on July 13, 2016 it was asserted that “The task of developing and using underground mineral resources effectively to raise self-sufficiency and independence lies in front of party members and workers who are vigorously participating in a 200 day speed battle to make a breakthrough in the implementation of the Five Year State Economic Development Strategy in the country, which is known worldwide for its minerals.”

Self-sufficiency and natural resource dependence have often been highlighted in North Korean economic publications as mutually exclusive. Presumably, Rodong Sinmun advocates that natural resources be used for economic production through fuel and the like, rather than merely for export incomes.

It went on to urge that “with the close collaboration between the state resources development sector and scientific research groups, all resources must be concentrated on prospective and current surveys (surveys that measure mineral reserves) to ensure that the Five Year State Economic Development Strategy succeeds.”

It added, “energy must be put in to find more as yet undeveloped potential sites for development . . . reserves must be secured to ensure that mine production continually rises.”

It also emphasized that “all illegal extraction of underground mineral resources by [production] units, factories and collective organizations for the benefit of their own unit alone must be gotten rid of . . . [and] the role of institutions supervising and controlling underground resources and environmental protection must be strengthened.”

In other words, incomes from mineral extraction should go to the central government, and individuals trying to exploit the expanding opportunities for private business activity to generate personal profits through mineral exports should be kept under control.

Admittedly, the paper also demanded natural tourist attractions be protected: “the staff of supervisory institutions must engrave deeply in their hearts the earnest wish of the Great Leader by not developing Mount Kumgang and Mount Myohyang, regardless of how large the underground mineral deposits are there, and hand down their beautiful scenery and nature to posterity.”

At the aforementioned 7th Party Congress, Kim Jong Un unveiled the ‘Five Year State Economic Development Strategy’, and also set out to revolve energy problems and strengthen the self-sufficiency and independence of the people’s economy.

Full publication here:
Mobilizing “All Energy in Securing Underground Resources” to Implement Development Strategy
Institute for Far Eastern Studies
2016-08-01

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