Archive for the ‘Civil society’ Category

Naenara reports on Wonsan SEZs

Wednesday, October 7th, 2015

Naenara carried an interview with Choe Yong Dok, Director of the Economic Zone Development of Kangwon Provincial People’s Committee.

In the interview, Director Choe commented on the Wonsan-Mt. Kumgang International Tourist Zone and the Hyondong Industrial Development Zone.

I tried copying the text here, but was not successful. Here is the PDF.


North Korean state media still not pleased with forest restoration

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

A new brief from IFES recaps the content of yet another North Korean TV broadcast detailing problems arising as the new forestry policies are being implemented:

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.

Read the full article:


North Korean Broadcast Criticizes Forest Restoration Results



Pyongyang Standard Time

Friday, August 7th, 2015

UPDATE 3 (2015-8-20): Pyongyang Time reportedly causing confusion along inter-Korean border. According to the Korea Times:

North Korea’s new standard time is making it difficult for some South Korean firms operating in the Gaeseong Industrial Complex (GIC) to transport their goods on time to their customers in the South, officials here said Thursday.

The two Koreas have been missing hotline calls from each other since Saturday when the North’s regime unilaterally pronounced its new standard time by turning their clocks back 30 minutes behind the time zone in the South.

“The 30-minute time difference is making us late in transporting our goods produced at the GIC to our customers although we’re working under a schedule as usual,” a manager at a garment manufacturer in Seoul said, declining to be named.

The firm is one of 124 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that hire some 53,000 North Koreans at the inter-Korean industrial park in Gaeseong. The border city is about 53 kilometers northwest of Seoul.

According to the company, it has shipped products from the GIC via trucks every day at 11:50 a.m. This is one of the daily time slots set by the two Koreas for the South Koreans to enter or exit the joint industrial complex.

“The problem is that it’s 12:20 p.m. in South Korea. And we’ve seen that the 30-minute time difference can cause a significant delay in delivering the goods to our sub-contractors in Gyeonggi Province and those in the outer regions,” the manager said.

He added his company, which only operates factories in Gaeseong, may re-open a plant in the South, which was closed in 2004 when the GIC opened, if the government fails to settle the time-related issues.

“We decided to close our plant in the South to capitalize on cheap labor of skilled North Korean workers. Now is time to give a second thought,” the manager said.

Some other firms said the so-called “Pyongyang Time” does not have any impact on their business.

“We ship all components to assemble paragliders to our inventory in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province and we don’t see any difference before and after Pyongyang Time,” said a staff at Gin Gliders.

A public relations official for Good People, an underwear manufacturer, said only 2 percent of the firm’s products are from the GIC while the rest are made in Jeonju and Cambodia.

“We used to make 30 percent of our products at the GIC, but not any longer since 2013,” said the official, who has asked not to be named.

The operation hours of the Seoul-Pyongyang hotline have been from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays since 1992 when the two enemies set up the direct communication system using non-dial phones across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)

The Ministry of Unification said the North Koreans have not been picking their hotline phone set up at their side of Panmumjeom, the inter-Korean truce village at the DMZ, until 9:30 a.m. from Monday.

The unification ministry also said North Koreans have asked its officials to stay at Panmunjeom until 4:30 p.m. instead of pulling out at 4 p.m.

“We still begin work at 9 a.m. and call it a day at 4 p.m. in accordance with the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)+9 time zone,” a ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

“And we obviously wouldn’t know how North Koreans will handle things in case of emergencies after our officials left for home.”

UPDATE 2 (2015-8-15): Pyongyang Standard Time has launched. According to Yonhap:

North Korea set itself a new time zone Saturday in a move expected to complicate relations with South Korea.

North Korea’s time zone is now 30 minutes behind that of the South.

“The Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK decided to set the standard time of the Republic with 127 degrees 30 minutes east longitude as a standard and to apply it from August 15,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said in a dispatch, referring to the country’s rubberstamp parliament.

DPRK is the acronym of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

North Korea marked the start of the new time zone by ringing the Pyongyang Bell at the Pyongyang Astronomical Observatory at the stroke of midnight, according to KCNA.

“At the same time, all industrial establishments, trains and ships across the country sounded sirens and whistles,” it said. “Service personnel of the Korean People’s Army on their duties of defending the country, scientists working on satellites to explore a new area of conquering space and all other people of the country set their clock and watches according to Pyongyang time amid excitement and delight at the national event.”

On Aug. 7, North Korea announced it would turn back its clocks by 30 minutes to rid itself of the legacy of Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of Korea.

South Korean officials have expressed concern the move will complicate inter-Korean affairs, particularly movements in and out of the joint industrial complex in North Korea’s border city of Kaesong.

It could also create confusion in messages exchanged between their militaries.

Here is coverage in KCNA.

Here are some interesting observations by Martyn Williams.

UPDATE 1 (2015-8-12): And the inter-Korean trash-talking over the new time zone has begun. According to the Yonahp:

North Korea slammed President Park Geun-hye Wednesday for condemning the North’s decision to push back its standard time by 30 minutes, saying that her remarks are “unpardonable.”

Park expressed deep regret Monday over Pyongyang’s unilateral move to push its clocks back a half-hour starting Liberation Day, which falls on Saturday. The North claimed that the move is aimed at removing what it called the vestige of Japan’s colonial rule.

Currently, the two Koreas use identical standard time, set under Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

The North blamed Park for commenting on its decision, saying that what she said is an “unpardonable and politically motivated provocation.”

“All countries have their own standard time. It is the universally accepted practice in the world for each country to fix its own standard time as it is a matter pertaining to the sovereignty of an independent country,” said a spokesman for the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea.

North Korea claimed its decision to fix the new standard time reflects its “firm faith and will” to make Japan pay for what North Korea called its “hideous crimes.”

The Unification Ministry has said that the North’s move is feared to deepen differences between the two Koreas and to run counter to efforts to promote inter-Korean cooperation and prepare for a peaceful unification.

The time differences could cause some logistical problems, such as the timetables at a joint industrial park in the North Korean city of Kaesong.

Seoul said that South Korea’s choice of the present time zone is based on practical benefits, such as daylight savings, rather than colonial history.

ORIGINAL POST (2015-8-7): According to KCNA:

Pyongyang Time Newly Fixed in DPRK

The DPRK decided to fix a new standard time on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation.

A relevant decree promulgated by the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK on Wednesday noted as follows:

It was on August 15 when President Kim Il Sung, benefactor of national resurrection and peerless patriot, crushed the brigandish Japanese imperialists by making long journeys of anti-Japanese bloody battles and liberated Korea. It was the day of historical significance as it put an end to the history of national sufferings and brought about a radical turn in carving out the destiny of the country and its people.

The wicked Japanese imperialists committed such unpardonable crimes as depriving Korea of even its standard time while mercilessly trampling down its land with 5 000 year-long history and culture and pursuing the unheard-of policy of obliterating the Korean nation.

It is the firm faith and will of the DPRK’s service personnel and people to force the Japanese imperialists to pay for the monstrous crimes committed by them for a century, firmly defend the national sovereignty and demonstrate for eternity the dignity and might of the great Paektusan nation shining with the immortal august names of Kim Il Sung and leader Kim Jong Il.

The Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK made the following decision reflecting the unshakable faith and will of the service personnel and people on the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation:

Firstly, the time at 127 degrees 30 minutes east longitude or 30 minutes later than the present one shall be fixed as the standard time of the DPRK and called Pyongyang time.

Secondly, Pyongyang time shall be applied from Aug. 15, Juche 104 (2015).

Thirdly, the DPRK Cabinet and relevant organs shall take practical steps to carry out this decree.

The media has jumped all over this, so there is not much more to say. But here are my $.02:

NK is a very nationalist society, and the only country as vilified as the US is Japan. August 15 is not celebrated in NK as the end of WWII, but as the victory over Japanese colonialism (brought by Kim Il-sung, not allied forces)

The Kim Jong-un regime has placed a lot of significance on symbolism: Kim resembling his grandfather, building orphanages and water parks to show he cares about the people, etc. So moving the clock back a half-hour is an interesting move. High symbolic value (carrying out the revolution started by his grandfather), but it will not fundamentally deal with the key problems the regime is facing domestically and internationally.

It will also be something that North Korea can prod the south with: “You are still on Colonial time, not Korean time.” South Korea had also reverted to pre-colonial “Korea time” in 1954, but switched back to Japan time in 1961 under Park Chung-Hee (the current president’s father) who received aid from Japan was a US allly.

North Korea has been holding talks with the Japanese in recent years, but little progress has been made. Could this announcement signal that they are done trying with Japan?

As for implementation, this should not be too difficult. North Korea is a small country with a highly urbanized population. The government already controls what time people get out of bed in the morning with loud speakers and patriotic music. Since nothing in the DPRK is automated, there is not any computer code that needs to be adjusted. Finally, infrastructure in North Korea is so unreliable that being on time is not as big a deal there as it is in South Korea or other developed countries.


Choco Pies in North Korea (UPDATED)

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015


Pictured above (Source here): A Choco Pie wrapper in Pyongyang (October 2014)

UPDATE 6 (2015-7-14): The Daily NK reports that the DPRK’s ‘Choco Pie’ knock-off falls far short:

Daily NK has obtained a North Korean snack rolled out to squash demand for a popular South Korean treat that had first become a sensation among factory workers in the inter-Korean industrial complex and spread across the country. Known as ‘Chocolate Danseolgi,’ the snack displays a striking resemblance with the much-loved South Korean ‘Choco Pie’.

The new treat is said to have been produced to cut off fantasies about the capitalist world its workers may harbor.


Starting last month, North Korea has been providing its Kaesong factory workers with ‘Danseolgi’, according to a source who has ties with the North and passed on the new snack to Daily NK on the condition of anonymity. This comes after Pyongyang banned supplies of the famed ‘Choco Pie’ within the industrial complex last year, as they were being sold by the workers on the black market for good returns and gaining greater popularity across the country.

The South Korean ‘Choco Pie’ snack was first introduced to Kaesong workers in 2006. Due to its soaring popularity, many had come to develop a sense of curiosity or fantasies about the South, the source said. Seeing the chocolate cake snack with marshmallow filling win over so much love, Pyongyang set out to create an alternative in the hopes of choking off demand.

Last year, after banning ‘Choco Pie’ supplies, the North tried to force South Korean firms to provide its factory workers with a home-grown chocolate double-layered cake snack, and this year in March, it even rolled out a chocolate coated rice cake treat also similar to an existing South Korean product.

Despite these efforts, local goods have failed to take off, as Kaesong workers are already acquainted with tastes from South Korea and are only eating the ‘Danseolgi’ as they have no other choice, according to the source.

The treat is one of the “latest products” put out for Kaesong workers. “It was smuggled out of the country by way of a North Korean trader in the Rason Economic Special Zone who works with Chinese traders,” she explained.

“Currently in the North, the ‘Chocolate Danseolgi’ is being distributed to workers as supplies, and they’re not sold on North Korea’s regular markets,” she asserted. Every last ingredient used to make the snack, from the butter to the chocolate, is imported from China.

Predictably, Kaesong workers invariably far prefer the taste of the original chocolate snack from South Korea, the source said, adding, “North Korea will never be able to produce the South’s Choco Pie.”

One of Daily NK’s reporters who tried out the North Korean ‘Danseolgi’ described the snack as “decidedly lacking in chocolate flavor ” and “being overwhelmingly pungent of butter.” The wrapper claims to include marshmallow in the product, but our taste tester reported any semblance of its texture to be nonexistent and noted that the cake itself is incredibly prone to crumbling.

UPDATE 5 (2015-6-9): DPRK asks that all South Korean food served in the KIC be replaced by North Korean substitutes. According to Voice of America:

North Korea has asked South Korean businesses at the Kaesong industrial complex to replace all foodstuffs given to its workers at the inter-Korean park with North Korea-made products.

A representative of the South Korean businesses, who visited the complex Tuesday, told VOA’s Korean Service that South Korean companies began distributing North Korean substitutes for popular South Korean food supplies to the North Korean workers as early as March. Almost all South Korea-made food products have now been replaced with North Korean products.

Choco Pie, a popular South Korean snack cake, also has been replaced with a similar North Korea-made sweet. The chocolate covered cake with marshmallow filling has become one of the most popular items in the North’s black markets. Other North Korea-made foodstuffs given to the workers include instant noodles with chicken broth and condiments.

In an attempt to keep South Korean foodstuffs from the complex, the North is imposing an additional business tax on the companies for bringing in South Korea-made products. About 50 South Korean businesses supplying food for the complex face bankruptcy, according to representatives of the South Korean businesses.

Some business owners have expressed concern about the quality of North Korean foodstuffs. One representative said some workers are suffering from food poisoning after the switch.

A South Korean official who asked to remain anonymous told VOA the North Korean move is aimed at blocking the flow of South Korean products into the North and earning foreign currency.

South Korean companies have been providing about $60 per month in snacks to each North Korean worker. With approximately 53,000 workers at the complex, Pyongyang can now garner up to $3 million every month from the snack sales.

UPDATE 4 (2014-9-24): According to the Daily NK, workers in the KIC are receiving a different dessert than the Choco Pie now. Also, the Kumunsan Company is producing substitute goods, and they are winning over consumers:

[…] the once popular South Korean snack Choco Pie is seeing a decline in its asking price. In June, Pyongyang demanded that South Korean companies at the industrial complex stop distributing Choco Pies to workers there, as officials had found it problematic that North Korean workers were saving the snacks and selling them in the markets. More recently, the northern workers have been receiving Chaltteok Pie (찰떡) [a chocolate covered rice cake from the South], individually packaged coffee, yulmucha (율무차)[grainy tea made with Job’s Tears], and candy bars.

“In Pyongyang, at the ‘Geumeunsan Trade Company,’ (금운산, Kumunsan Trade Corporation) they have been baking bread for about a year,” the source said, adding, “Of all the different kinds of bread, the most popular are the ones with butter inside, and they are less than 1000 KPW– much cheaper than Choco Pie.”

The trade company is an affiliate of the Military Mobilization Department [Military Manpower Administration in South Korea], which deals with the procurement of military supplies among its many functions. They either directly import the goods or obtain them from military factories in various locations across the country, and oversee the manufacturing of military equipment and machinery.

Geumeunsan Trade Company maintains branches in multiple areas, including Rasun and Cheongjin, and the office in Pyongyang imports ingredients such as flour, sugar, and cooking oil directly from China. According to the source, the raw material prices are cheaper than in the  North’s markets, and the products taste good, allowing it to monopolize the confectionery market there.

“The company has brought in foreign equipment and technology, putting it ahead of the South’s Choco Pie in price and taste,” he said, concluding, “This is why with the introduction of these different breads in Pyongyang, the price of Choco Pie [from the South] has dropped to 500 KPW from 1,200 KPW.”

See also this story in Radio Free Asia.

Read the full story here:
Kaesong Goods Fetch Highest Market Prices
Daily NK
Seol Song Ah

UPDATE 3 (2014-7-1): Media reports claim that the DPRK has banned the use/possession of Choco Pies in the Kaesong Industrial Complex. According to the Washington Post:

By some estimates, as many as 2.5 million Choco Pies were traded monthly — though it’s unclear who exactly was so assiduously following Choco Pie markets.

Regardless of its volume, the trade will now surely be shrinking.

According to recent reports in the South Korean press, North Korean authorities have now banned the South Korean-produced Choco Pie at the Kaesong Industrial Complex following a lengthy crackdown on the chocolate treat that has made it scarce in Pyongyang.

Before, workers could pocket as many as 20 pies every night of work. But now, South Korean factory staff said they’ll instead get sausages, instant noodles, powdered coffee or chocolate bars as a bonus.

More information here and here.

UPDATE 2 (2013-9-20): Is the DPRK manufacturing a counterfeit Choc Pie? According to the Daily NK:


Pictured Above: Ryongsong Foodstuff Factory, Ryongsong District, Pyongyang (Google Earth)

The price of a North Korean own-brand “Choco Pie” fell to just 500 won in domestic markets following news that the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) was to reopen, Daily NK has learned. The local version of the chocolate snack, which is made by Orion in South Korea, had previously risen to 3000 won on the back of the protracted KIC closure.

A source in Pyongyang reported to Daily NK on the 19th, “Sometime around May, Yongseong [Ryongsong] Foodstuff Factory in Pyongyang started selling ‘Choco Pies’ in the markets. People hadn’t seen a Choco Pie since Kaesong stopped, so their reaction was really something.”

“People were surprised because the packets said ‘Choco Pie’ and ‘Choco Rice Cake’ [a similar product with a glutinous rice center], and they couldn’t tell the difference between them and those from the ‘neighborhood below’ [South Korea] unless they checked closely,” the source went on. “Sure, people could tell they weren’t the real thing as soon as they ate them, but they were still pretty satisfied.”

According to the source, after South Korean Choco Pies disappeared from North Korean markets following the closure of the KIC, domestic traders started looking into importing the original South Korean and similar Chinese versions of the popular treat. However, the cost and difficulty of doing so meant that very few ended up crossing the border.

Therefore, attention turned to domestic production. The source explained, “Production volumes were low at first, and the state tried to control the flow of the product into the markets. They were 500 won a piece at the end of the first month; but that had risen to 3000 won by the end of last month. But the price sank back down upon news of the KIC re-start.”

“As soon as Choco Pies stopped coming out of the KIC, Yeongsong Foodstuffs Factory moved quickly and must have made quite a bit of money,” he guessed. “They were trying to imitate the South Korean pies but the product was way too sweet, which is partly why the price collapsed on the news of Kaesong.”

Only 60% (32,000) of the pre-closure North Korean workforce (53,000) returned to work when the KIC re-opened for a “trial run” on September 16th. At the same time, South Korean businesses, many facing financial difficulties after five months of nonproductive shutdown, have reportedly reduced the quantity of Choco Pies and other snacks previously distributed to workers. It is unclear what effect these circumstances could have on the price of goods flowing out of the KIC over the longer term.

Read the full story here:
NK Choco Pie Price Falls on KIC News
Daily NK

UPDATE 1 (2011-10-31): According to the Daily NK, North Korean management in the Complex requested back in August that South Korean businesses stop offering ‘Choco-pies’ (a South Korean snack) to North Korean workers and give them cash instead.

ORIGINAL POST (2009-5-20): Donald Kirk has a must-read article in today’s Asia Times on the subtle ways that the Kaesong Industrial Zone is undermining Pyongyang’s control over the North Korean people.  He points out that the DPRK’s verbal attacks on South Korea, combined with demands for new land, labor, and road use contracts in the Kaesong complex, are an attempt to blame South Korea when Kim Jong-il finally closes the project.

Quoting from the article:

Think Choco Pie, the thick wafer-like confection, all pastry and cream, served in the Kaesong Industrial Complex as a daily dessert for the 40,000 North Koreans who toil for 100 South Korean companies with factories in the complex.

“North Koreans love Choco Pie,” said Ha Tae-keung, president of NK Open Radio, which beams two hours of news daily into North Korea from its base in Seoul. “It’s an invasion of the stomach.”

North Korean workers, and the friends and family members for whom they save their daily treats, may salivate over Choco Pie, but it’s giving a severe stomach ache to senior officials fearful of the infiltration of South Korean culture in all corners of their Hermit Kingdom.

Choco Pie – along with other favorite South Korean cakes and candies as well as instant coffee – has come to symbolize the image of the capitalist South as a multi-tentacle beast that may be impossible to digest.

For Kim Jong-il, suffering from diabetes, recovering from a stroke and hoping to survive a few more years while grooming his neophyte youngest son, in his mid-20s, to succeed him, the best way to deal with the Kaesong complex, 60 kilometers north of Seoul and just above the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas, may be to spit it out.

It’s for this reason, said Ha, that North Korea has precipitously scrapped the agreements under which South Korean companies operate in the complex, built and managed by Hyundai Asan, an offshoot of the sprawling South Korean Hyundai empire.

“He’s come to see Kaesong as a burden rather than an asset, and is inclined to shut it down,” said Ha.

While the Kim Jong il government focuses its attention on cultural infiltration from the South, there appears to be little it is doing, or can do, about cultural infiltration from China–the DPRK’s most significant trading and political partner to the north:

When it comes to South Korean cultural infiltration, however, North Korea has far more to fear from the entry of goods from China than from the Kaesong complex. South Korean DVDs and CDs, even soft-core porn movies made in the South, are now distributed surreptitiously throughout North Korea. Electronic gadgetry, MP3 and MP4 players, TV sets, radios and rice cookers, also shipped via China, are also available for those with the money to pay for them.

Read the full article here:
Pyongyang chokes on sweet capitalism
Asia Times
Donald Kirk


North Korea’s “donju”

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

According to Reuters:

Nail salons, massage parlors, cafes and other signs of consumerism were unheard of in rigidly controlled North Korea just a few years ago, but they are slowly emerging in one of the world’s last bastions of Cold War socialism.

North Korea operates a centrally-planned economy modeled on the former Soviet Union where Western-style conspicuous consumption is anathema.

But as a growing middle class of North Koreans earns more money in the unofficial economy, the demand for products such as cosmetics, smartphones, imported fruit juices and foreign clothes is on the rise, according to residents and visitors.

There are now 2.5 million North Korean mobile phone subscribers in a country of 24 million people. Even some state-owned factories are diversifying product lines from rationed daily necessities to meet the demand for non-essential goods.

“Nobody needs to drink coffee, and nobody needs to spend money on it, but people do. This is what’s happening in Pyongyang, and it’s a change,” said Nils Weisensee, a coffee roaster from Germany who works with the Singapore-based Choson Exchange NGO to train North Koreans in business skills.

While the repressive and impoverished country is still years away from becoming a consumer paradise, it is now home to a rising class of rich North Koreans known as “Donju”, meaning “masters of money”, thanks to the growing unofficial economy.

Some Donju spend their cash on private English tuition for their children, or on South Korean or Japanese clothes, according to research by the South Korean government-run Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU), in Seoul.

“People can choose between toothpaste that uses crystals or nanotechnology to make it more effective than normal toothpaste, or a special one flavored for children,” said Weisensee.

Many of the Donju have made money trading in informal markets, or by setting up small businesses. Some businesses operate as a form of public-private partnership, where staff of state enterprises are given permission to start quasi-autonomous profit-making enterprises.

Around 70 percent of that profit goes to the state, with the rest going to individuals, according to defectors from the country, including Choi Song-min, who ran a shipping service before fleeing to the South in 2011.

“For example, at a Chongjin city branch of the transport ministry, they might say to their bosses ‘how about we sell coffee to the people waiting for our buses'” said Choi, who now writes for the Daily NK, a Seoul-based website, and has regular contact with sources inside the North.

At the food section of the Kwangbok Department Store in central Pyongyang, moneyed shoppers can choose between a wide variety of consumer foods like fruit juices, chocolates and soda, according to Troy Collings of Young Pioneer Tours.

“People weren’t just buying basic foods. They were considering factors other than price, by buying the imported orange juice instead of the local one, for example,” said Collings, who leads regular tourist trips to North Korea.

Even leader Kim Jong Un was quoted as saying North Korean-made cosmetics should compete in quality with foreign luxury brands like Chanel and Christian Dior, according to the Choson Sinbo, a pro-North Korean newspaper in Japan.

“These nouveau-riche who make money in the markets need a channel for consumption,” said Ahn Chan-il, 63, a North Korean defector and former South Korean intelligence official who receives information from contacts inside North Korea.

“Things like cars, massages, raffles, pet dogs. North Korean people are already riding on the back of the tiger that is the market economy, not the regime,” said Ahn.


North Korean consumer capitalism is very much in its early days, residents of Pyongyang said. A chronic energy shortage, brutally repressive government and deeply ingrained corruption ensure that the pace of change is sluggish, and limited.

“What use are these new, kitschily-decorated places that mostly imitate Chinese nouveau-riche life if there is no electricity to cook the food?” a diplomatic source in Pyongyang told Reuters.

One area of downtown Pyongyang, jokingly known by foreign residents as “Pyonghattan” or “Dubai”, is home to expensive department stores, a sushi restaurant and a 24-hour coffee shop.

“Oftentimes you will be turned away, not because you are a foreigner, but because there is just no energy to operate the kitchen. Good luck trying to get a proper meal in Pyongyang after 10 p.m.,” said the source.

Defectors said the consumer boom extends to cities beyond Pyongyang, where bustling markets or train stations are now home to small coffee stalls, and wearing jewelry is an outward and accepted sign of status.

Ahn said the nearby city of Pyongsong is where many well-off North Koreans live, thanks to wholesale businesses importing products from China.

Choi said the coffee drinking trend for moneyed North Koreans began to appear last year: “To look cool, the Donju, party officials and young people like college students go to coffee shops to meet people”.

Read the full story here:
Pyongyang Bling: The rise of North Korea’s consumer comrades
James Pearson and Ju-min Park


Cafe culture thrives from extra time and cash

Friday, May 22nd, 2015

According to the Daily NK:

Along with restaurants selling food such as pizza and hamburgers, a growing number of cafes are sprouting up across North Korea, breaking out of Pyongyang where they were once concentrated. Major cities in other provinces have seen an increase in relatively affluent and young people who are willing to splurge on coffee and western dishes, Daily NK has learned.

“In the areas around Hamheung Station square a lot of coffee and tea houses as well as hamburger shops have popped up,” a source in South Hamkyung Province told Daily NK on Thursday. “Around the intersection and marketplace, where there’s a lot of foot traffic, state companies under the Party and military have opened coffee and hamburgers joints to pull in more money.”

She added, “The coffee is imported from China and Italy. They’re drawing a lot of attention because they not only have hot teas but also all kinds of fruit juices and even an ice shaving machine for hotter days.” The places are becoming popular among donju [new affluent middle class], college students, and young people, as popular “hang out” venues.

“They also have drip coffee and Americanos that South Koreans love so much. They serve it in a 200ml cup right on the spot, and it’s roughly 12,000 KPW [1.48 USD] for one coffee,” she said. “In the case of ordinary residents, they’re unfamiliar with the taste, so many choose hot tea, which is only about half the cost, or they go with cold fruit juices as well.”

An increasing number of people are willing to pay for coffee and drinks, despite them being over double the price of an average laborers’ monthly wage. Such establishments are spreading in large cities such as Nampo, Pyongsong in South Pyongan Province, Chongjin in North Hamkyung Province, and Wonsan in Kangwon Province. Most of these cities are home to foreign currency-earning trading companies, according to the source.

“Restaurants and stands affiliated with trading companies tasked with earning foreign currency sell hamburgers, pizza, waffles and other processed foods made with ready-made mixes,” the source said. “Other restaurants that claim to be more upscale sell omurice [Japanese omelette stuffed with fried rice], curry, yakisoba [stir-fried noodles], and other varieties of Japanese dishes.”

She explained that while the prices at these coffee shops and hamburger establishments may be more than five times that of an average establishment, “more people are showing a tendency to splurge once or twice a month.” When cadres from the Central Party make business trips to areas outside of Pyongyang, provincial officials even escort them to these eateries as a form as hospitality.

This greater variety of cuisine has been welcomed by many, with people from affluent classes to young college students saying they are learning more about the world through various foods, according to the source. However, she did add some are not so pleased about tastes with which they are unfamiliar and the attending hefty price tags.

Read the full story here:
Cafe culture thrives from extra time and cash
Daily NK
Choi Song Min


Development of stem cell cosmetics in North Korea

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

The Chosun Sinbo, mouthpiece of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, reported that North Korea has developed and is now producing cosmetic products that utilize new natural materials and cutting-edge technology, including stem cell technology.

“At the Pyongyang Cosmetic Factory, they are concentrating on developing functional cosmetic products that are natural and low stimulating,” the Chosun Sinbo revealed on April 28.

The biotechnology and light industry divisions of the State Academy of Sciences, as well as scientists, teachers and researchers at the Han Duk Su Pyongyang Light Industry University, are assisting in this work.

According to researchers within the biotechnology division, the product utilizes stem cell technology in regenerating skin, and it is effective in preventing aging, moisturizing skin, and lightening skin.

They said that they developed the cosmetic additive (which has a pine tree scent) at the Pyongyang Natural Perfume Research Center, and that this product matches the characteristics of one’s skin by age and is effective in things like skin lightening and removing wrinkles.

They added that they have also developed a beauty cream that has a moisturizing and whitening effect due to its natural hydrating materials derived from kelp.

In March 2015, First Secretary Kim Jong Un inspected the Pyongyang Cosmetics Factory. During his inspection he cited world-renowned cosmetics brands like Lancome, Chanel, Christian Dior and Shiseido and encouraged the factory to “continually raise the quality of its products so that we can compete with such foreign cosmetic products.”

In particular, Kim noted that “the eyeliner and mascara made by foreign countries retain their shape when exposed to water, whereas the mascara and eyeliner produced domestically create ‘raccoon eyes’ when the wearer only yawns.”

The Pyongyang Cosmetics Factory was established in April 1962 and is North Korea’s representative cosmetics factory, producing all sorts of cosmetic goods such as the ‘Unhasu’ brand. It also produces over 60 types of functional cosmetics including soap, shampoo, beauty cream and skin lotion.


North Korea to attract foreign capital through foreign media

Thursday, May 7th, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

As North Korea struggles to attract foreign investment due to international sanctions, an argument is growing in North Korea that it needs to launch an investment charm offensive targeting foreign media.

Already skilled in socialist propaganda, North Korea appears intent on fully employing those skills in the attraction of investment, the essence of management in capitalism.

In the January 20th issue of the monthly Kim Il Sung University newspaper (vol. 1, 2015), an editorial was published entitled, “The Importance of Proactively Using Various Means to Attract Investment.” This editorial emphasized the importance of using the media in order to attract investment.

It argued that if the government invited esteemed members of the media when publicizing developments like a new investment environment or policy and the media reported on these events to their respective news agencies, it “could promote these developments widely at home and abroad through such special reports.”

Following this, the editorial advised that authorities select widely-circulated newspapers and magazines commonly read by investors and companies and submit to these publications news regarding things such as the progress of talks, the signing of contracts and agreements, the scale of businesses and related events.

It also suggested that authorities advertise in TV commercials during peak-viewing time. In the case of newspapers, it advised that they pay attention to their selling price, political inclination and religious nature when considering the daily, morning and evening papers.

While stating that maintaining relations with media outlets is important, the editorial also entreated that the government invite members of the press to investment-related events or inform them at the proper time regarding news of the Special Economic Zones (SEZs).

Furthermore, it argued that in order to effectively publicize investment opportunities, economic development zones themselves need to create homepages and make employees proficient in how to use the Internet and search for information that investors request in a timely manner.

At the same time, because “decadent and reactionary ideas and cultures can infiltrate, and information regarding investment targets can be carried away” through the Internet, the editorial did not forget to suggest that authorities only enable selected institutions and interested parties will be permitted to use the Internet.

In addition, in order to facilitate the exchange of information with investors, the editorial encouraged the government to introduce detailed procedures and methods for maintaining email accounts and to use programs like Excel for managing data and documents.


Pyongyang’s official haircut prices

Sunday, January 11th, 2015

A friend passes along some pictures (taken in 2014) of Pyongyang haircuts and prices.


2014-mens-hair-prices-1 2014-mens-hair-prices-2

Here is what the chart says:

Haircut for Men Price Table
Approval “No.4540” on November 11, 2011, by the National Pricing Bureau (State Price Commission)

Cut (long hair)–25 won
*Vigor style cut–50 won
Dry–10 won
Shaving–10 won
Self-shaving–5 won
Curling hair with heated tongs–15 won
Dyeing–50 won

*The “Vigor Style cut (Pae-Ki Mo-Ri)” resembles Kim Jong-un’s hair style


2014-women-haircut-chart-1 2014-women-haircut-chart-2

Here is what the chart says:

Haircut for Women Price Table
Approval “No.4540” on November 11, 2010, by the National Pricing Bureau (State Price Commission)

Permanent (long hair)–100 won
Permanent (short hair)–70 won
Permanent (bangs)–45 won
Hair cut–20 won
Hair cut, Permanent, Hair cut, Dry–110 won
Set (long hair)–30 won
Set (short hair)–20 won
Dry–20 won
Brush (long hair)–20 won
Brush (short hair)–20 won


Kim Jong-un’s 2015 new year address

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

Martyn Williams has posted the best video of it (with English subtitles):

Here is coverage of the speech in the North Korean media (KCNA):

1. Kim Jong Un Makes New Year Address

2. Kim Jong Un Refers to Achievements Made by DPRK Last Year

3. Kim Jong Un Underlines Need to Consolidate Country’s Might as Socialist Political and Ideological Power

4. Kim Jong Un Calls for Fresh Turn in Building Revolutionary Armed Forces and Enhancing Defence Capability

5. Kim Jong Un Advances Tasks to Effect Upswing in Building Socialist Economic Giant and Civilized Nation

6. Kim Jong Un Set Forth Ways of Carrying out This Year’s Tasks

7. Kim Jong Un Deals with Issue of National Reunification

8. Kim Jong Un Deals with Issue of Foreign Relations

9. New Year Address Having Public Response

10. Workers and Farmers Meet to Vow to Implement Their New Year Tasks

Here is coverage of the speech in the international media:

1. N. Korean leader’s speech ‘meaningful’: Seoul (Yonhap)

2. N. Korean leader’s speech arouses cautious optimism (Korea Herald)

3. Kim Jong-un says North Korea is open to ‘highest-level’ talks with South (Guardian)

4. Kim Jong Un Makes Apparent Summit Offer to South Korea (Wall Street Journal)

5. New Year’s Address Reveals a Nervous Leader (Daily NK)

6. Kim’s New Year’s speech reveals economic priorities (Lankov/NK News)

7. Jumping to Conclusions…Again (Klingner/38 North)

8. What’s New in Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s Speech (38 North)

9. Kim Jong Un’s New Year Speech: The Prospects for the 2015 Economic Policy (IFES)

10. Pyongyang’s ‘Year in Review’ Package Emphasizes Kim (Wall Street Journal)