Archive for the ‘Civil society’ Category

Sanctions hurting North Korean sports development, KCNA says

Monday, February 13th, 2017

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Reports Yonhap:

North Korea on Monday denounced a set of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions against Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests as they are hampering the country’s development in the sports field.

Kang Ryong-gil, deputy secretary general of North Korea’s Olympic Committee, told foreign reporters in Pyongyang that the sanctions “hinder the aspiration of North Koreans to develop sports,” according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

He claimed that the UNSC sanctions resolution adopted in March last year even included recreational sports equipment on a list of banned luxury goods.

Kang’s remark came as the UNSC imposed tough sanctions against North Korea in March and November 2016 for its two nuclear tests and a long-range rocket launch. The resolutions focused on curbing the inflow of hard currency to the regime. It also came as North Korea plans to take part in the Asian Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan, which will be held from Feb. 19 to 26.

The sanctions led some countries to impose exports bans on North Korea over such sports equipment as skis, yachts and mountaineering boots, he said. The blockade of money transfers also prevents fund assistance which the International Olympic Committee (IOC) provides for sports development in member countries.

“The thing is that sports firearms can never be turned into rockets nor rockets be fired from them,” Kang said.

Original article:
N.K. claims U.N. sanctions hamper its sports development
Yonhap News
2017-02-13

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Private ownership of cars in North Korea

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Yonhap reports (citing Joongang Ilbo) that since last year, private North Korean citizens are able to register ownership of cars formally and legally. The headline is slightly misleading – visitors and pictures from Pyongyang and other large cities have long since showed a vast increase of cars in the country, so their existence there is itself nothing new. However, if a change has occurred in ownership structures to make an already prevalent practice formally legal, it follows along with a trend over the past few years where practices already taking place are further incorporated into a formal legal framework:

Under civil law, North Koreans are allowed to possess cars and bequeath or inherit them, but in reality, people register cars under the name of organizations, not under the name of individuals.

Local newspaper JoongAng Ilbo reported that ordinary North Koreans have been permitted to register cars in their names since late last year, a move that heralds the recognition of private ownership.

The Ministry of Unification, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said more North Koreans are moving to own vehicles for personal use.

Full article:
N. Koreans showing inclination to possess cars: unification ministry
Yonhap News
2017-01-31

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Kim Jong-un’s 2017 New Year Address

Monday, January 2nd, 2017

Here is the Uriminzokkiri broadcast of Kim’s speech:

Here are links to the Rodong Sinmun text (English, Korean). I have not looked at them carefully, but they appear to be the same length (implying that the English and Korean versions are the same).

Many outlets are focusing on the security implications of the speech, but I want to focus on the economic aspects. At the Seventh Party Congress held in May of 2016, North Korea announced a “Five Year Plan“. “Plan” was not the right English word however. It was actually a “Five Year Strategy.” This translation error was corrected in the English text of Kim’s 2017 New year Address, which correctly refers to the “Five Year Strategy”.

Here is the relevant text from Rodong Sinmun:

We should concentrate our efforts on implementing the five-year strategy for national economic development.

This year is of key importance in carrying out this strategy. In order to open up fine prospects for the implementation of the strategy and develop the country’s overall economy onto a higher plane, while building on the successes gained last year, we should attain the goals for this year’s struggle without fail.

“Let us accelerate the victorious advance of socialism with the great spirit of self-reliance and self-development as the dynamic force!”–this is the militant slogan we should uphold in this new year’s march. We should wage a vigorous all-people, general offensive to hit the targets of the five-year strategy on the strength of self-reliance and self-development.

The strength of self-reliance and self-development is that of science and technology, and the shortcut to implementing the five-year strategy is to give importance and precedence to science and technology.

The sector of science and technology should concentrate efforts on solving scientific and technological problems arising in modernizing factories and enterprises and putting their production on a regular footing with the main emphasis on ensuring the domestic production of raw materials, fuel and equipment. Production units and scientific research institutes should intensify cooperation between themselves, and enterprises should build up their own technological development forces and conduct a proactive mass-based technological innovation drive, propelling economic development with valuable sci-tech achievements conducive to expanded production and the improvement of business operation and management.

The electric-power, metallurgical and chemical industries should take the lead in the efforts to hit the targets of the economic strategy.

The electric-power industry should carry out its production plan without fail by ensuring good maintenance of generating equipment and structures and stepping up its technical upgrading. It should run the nationwide integrated power control system effectively and organize alternated production scrupulously to ensure balance between power production and consumption; it should also develop the various sources of power to create a new generating capacity on a large scale.

The metallurgical industry should introduce advanced technologies to lower the iron production cost and ensure normal operation of Juche-based production lines to turn out iron and steel in larger amounts. The state should take stringent measures to supply raw materials, fuel and power to the Kim Chaek and Hwanghae iron and steel complexes and other metallurgical factories.

The chemical industry is a basis for all other industries and plays an important role in consolidating the independence of the economy and improving the people’s living standards. This sector should revitalize production at the February 8 Vinalon Complex, expand the capacity of other major chemical factories and transform their technical processes in our own way, thus increasing the output of various chemical goods. It should direct efforts to establishing a C1 chemical industry to carry out the tasks at every stage promptly and satisfactorily.

The coal-mining industry and the rail transport sector should meet the demands for coal and its transport by power stations and metallurgical and chemical factories on a top priority basis.

The machine-building industry should be rapidly developed. Machine factories should step up their modernization, perfect the processes for the serial production of new-type tractors, vehicles and multi-purpose farm machines, and produce and supply different kinds of high-performance and quality machinery and equipment.

This year light industry, agriculture and fishing industry should be radically developed to make greater progress in improving the people’s living standards.

Light industry should work out proper management strategies, regarding use of domestically available raw and other materials as their core, so as to revitalize production and bring about a turn in diversifying the range and types of consumer goods and improving their quality. It should normalize production in the mines and enterprises in the Tanchon area, so that they can prove effective in improving the people’s living standards.

The agricultural front, the major thrust in building an economic giant, should raise a strong wind of scientific farming and push forward the movement for increasing crop yield. It should widely introduce seeds of superior strains and scientific farming methods, whose advantages have been proved in practice, expand the area of land under two-crop farming, and be proactive in inventing and introducing high-performance farm machines. By doing so, it can attain the production goal of grains. It should adopt measures to run the livestock farming base in the Sepho area on a normal basis and increase the production of fruits, mushrooms and vegetables, so that the people can enjoy benefits from them.

The fishing sector should conduct a dynamic drive for catching fishes and push perseveringly ahead with aquatic farming. It should build modern fishing vessels in a greater number and lay out a comprehensive fishing equipment production base in the east coast area, so as to consolidate the material and technical foundations of the fishing industry.

The construction sector should complete the construction of Ryomyong Street at the highest level and concentrate its forces on the major construction projects including the building of the Tanchon Power Station, modernization of the Kim Jong Thae Electric Locomotive Complex and the development of the Wonsan area. It should also build more educational and cultural facilities and houses in an excellent way.

Upholding the slogan of self-reliance and self-sufficiency, every field and every unit of the national economy should launch a dynamic struggle to increase production and practise economy to the maximum, and thus carry out the plan for this year on all indices.

The whole country should turn out in land administration. We should further transform the appearance of the land of our country by building modern tree nurseries in provinces, perseveringly pressing on with the forest restoration campaign and conducting river management, road repair and environmental conservation on a planned basis.

In order to bring about a turnabout in implementing the five-year strategy for national economic development, it is imperative to carry on economic guidance and business management with clear objectives and in an innovative way. The Cabinet and other economic guidance organs should work out tactics to ensure the sustainable economic development by putting the overall national economy definitely on an upward track, and implement them with an unflinching perseverance.

The speech itself contains nothing remarkable [to me]. There are thought to be economic adjustment measures in agriculture and enterprise management that are decentralizing authority and allowing greater economic incentives to be implemented (on an uneven basis) across the country. These policies have gone by various names: 5.30 Measures (for enterprises), 6.28 Measures (for agriculture) as well as the moniker “Our Style Economic Management Methods” or “Economic Management System in Our Style”, but whatever these policies actually are, they appear to still be unworthy of Kim’s public endorsement.

The most interesting part of the speech was at the end where Kim appeared to critique (criticize?) his own performance. I can’t imagine reading such words from Kim Jong-il:

Comrades,

As I am standing here to proclaim the beginning of another year, I feel a surge of anxiety about what I should do to hold our people in greater reverence, the best people in the world who have warmly supported me with a single mind out of their firm trust in me.

My desires were burning all the time, but I spent the past year feeling anxious and remorseful for the lack of my ability. I am hardening my resolve to seek more tasks for the sake of the people this year and make redoubled, devoted efforts to this end.

Previously, all the people used to sing the song We Are the Happiest in the World, feeling optimistic about the future with confidence in the great Comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. I will work with devotion to ensure that the past era does not remain as a moment in history but is re-presented in the present era. On this first morning of the new year I swear to become a true servant loyal to our people who faithfully supports them with a pure conscience.

And I will push the effort to set up across the Party a revolutionary climate of making selfless, devoted efforts for the good of the people.

As long as the great Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism is illuminating the road ahead of us and we have the single-hearted unity of all the service personnel and people around the Party, we are sure to emerge victorious.

Let us all march forward dynamically towards a bright future, holding up the splendid blueprint unfolded by the Seventh Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea to develop ours into a powerful socialist country.

For what it is worth, here is how KCNA reports on Rodong Sinmun’s summation of  the year:

Pyongyang, January 3 (KCNA) — The last year was a year to be specially recorded in history as the 7th Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea was held, Rodong Sinmun Tuesday says in an article.

It was also a year of historic significance when all the people started a grand general advance towards the final victory of the revolution in hearty response to the programme set forth by the Congress, the article says, and goes on:

Last year a new milestone was laid in the struggle to further strengthen the Party and accomplish the revolutionary cause of Juche.

In May last year the 7th WPK Congress was held significantly amid the revolutionary enthusiasm of all the party members, service personnel and other people throughout the country and the great interest of the world.

The Conference of Chairpersons of the Party Primary Committees held last year for the first time in the history of the WPK was a meeting of significance and glory as it paved a shortcut to developing the WPK into the great Kimilsungist-Kimjongilist party and accomplishing the cause of socialism.

The congresses of the youth league and the women’s union, the General Federation of Trade Unions of Korea and the Union of Agricultural Workers of Korea held in succession in wake of the 7th WPK Congress marked an epoch-making milestone in further consolidating the working people’s organizations, the transmission belts of the Party, and enhancing their militant role as required by the developing revolution in which the modeling of the whole society on Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism is pushed ahead in all spheres.

Last year saw a radical turn in bolstering up the defence capabilities of Juche Korea and a turning phase brought about on all fronts for building a powerful socialist country.

All the brilliant successes made by the DPRK in all fields of the revolution and construction are by no means attributable to any good conditions, nor are they a fortuitous result of any divine power.

It is thanks to the experienced and tested guidance of respected Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un that the year of 2016 was recorded as a year of great turn in the development of the Party and the revolution and the struggle and life of the people.

The mysterious power that brought out the epoch-making miracles and victories in the worst adversity is the result of the single-minded unity and the great self-development capability of the army and people.

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New E-Commerce Website ‘Manmulsang’ Launched

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2016-12-7

A new shopping website, ‘Manmulsang’, has been launched in North Korea. The North Korean site, announced that there is “recently in our republic a new shopping website [e-commerce] offering a wide variety of commercial services through the state computer network and mobile telecoms network.”

According to the site, Manmulsang was developed by Yonpung Commercial Information Technology Company, and allows users to find information about domestically produced and imported products, as well as to read information about the economic activities of vendors registered on the website. Additionally, it has features including an ‘e-shop’, ‘economic information’, ‘upload product’, ‘announcements’, ‘my products’, ‘restaurant information’ and ‘food order’.

There are hundreds of products available in the ‘e-shop’, with the site saying “this site has new and special service features that distinguish it from sites that have existed before: it allows users to read domestic and foreign economic information – economic information services – and to order food via food order services.”

North Korea has demonstrated an interest in e-commerce since 2005. In an article entitled ‘The features of e-commerce and issues with its development’ published in Sahoegwahakwon hakbo [Social Science Studies Review] (Issue 2, 2005), the author, North Korean professor Ri Haeng Ho, says “With the rapid development of information technology, new phenomena are evident that were not previously visible in the economy”. In the article, Ri introduces the features, advantages and tasks related to e-commerce.

Ri also says that “beyond the development of e-commerce, commercial distribution is expanding into previously unimaginable areas. . . . Trade is expanding through the internet, and e-markets are being launched, providing information relevant to the market price of traded goods and thus facilitating trade.” Thus, Ri states e-transactions are characterized by the openness of commercial activity, the centrality of small, specialized retailers, and the emergence new specialist brokerage services.

Ri also argued that “the introduction of e-commerce will, with the aid of information technology, maximize effectiveness in commercial transactions, reduce production costs and raise profit. . . . E-commerce can cut waste and maximize cost reduction.”

As advantages he listed: (1) saving manpower and time through overcoming physical distance, standards and divisions; (2) reducing prices through using virtual shops; and (3) minimize unnecessary production and waste.

Ri goes on to emphasize that while company-company and company-individual transactions are highly active, there is a need to expand electronic payment systems, deal with tax payment issues, revise relevant laws, and establish computer security systems.

An article entitled “General Understanding of e-commerce” carried in Social Science Studies Review (Issue 3, 2005) also asserts that “In order to creatively apply the results of e-commerce transactions to our country’s specific trade conditions and circumstances, there is a need to deepen research into e-commerce transactions.”

At the same time, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) opened the Pyongyang Business School in July 2005, and the school has taught e-commerce, advertising and public relations management, new product development and marketing strategy, among other subjects, to North Korean government cadres, trade company personnel, and foreign trade research institution personnel, most of whom are in their forties and fifties.

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North Korea’s equalizing credit system?

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Daily NK:

A deferred payment system is becoming popular in North Korea for garment production, manufacturing, and food services, wherein raw materials are provided for credit instead of cash. As marketization accelerates in North Korea, these types of private transactions are helping to build trust between finance providers and are opening the door to citizens who would otherwise not have enough money to start a business.
“Operating a restaurant near a train station or market has now become a possibility for more North Koreans than ever before, even those who are not members of the donju (newly-affluent middle class). Restaurants tend to have high profit margins and a lower risk of insolvency, which has merchants feeling more comfortable providing credit for such endeavors,” a source in Kangwon Province told Daily NK on December 2.
“As market controls are easing, suppliers are entering into intense competition with each other. Some merchants have begun to deliver restaurant supplies on credit to businesses that are performing well. In doing so, they have been able to capture larger proportions of the market.”
“This has opened up new possibilities for people with good business acumen that don’t have the capital to establish a business. Such individuals are able to acquire both a storefront and raw materials on credit. That has created more opportunities for new businesses to grow.”
Full article:
Credit system fuels new market entrants
Seol Song Ah
Daily NK
2016-12-07
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Pyongyang Folk Village (UPDATED)

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

UPDATE 4 (2016-11-30): The most recent Google Earth imagery of the Folk Park demolition is posted below (2016-10-4). Three earlier images that were posted to Google Earth have all been deleted.

UPDATE 3 (2016-11-9): Yonhap has posted yet another image of the Folk Park demolition that briefly appeared on Google Earth, but has since been deleted.

UPDATE 2 (2016-6-28): Yonhap has published imagery from Google Earth showing the demolition of the park has begun. You can read the article here (in Korean). For unknown reasons, this imagery was only briefly posted to Google Earth. It has since been deleted.

UPDATE 1 (2016-6-14): Yonhap reports that the Pyongyang Folk Park is being torn down. According to the article:

North Korea’s leader has ordered the dismantling of a folklore theme park in Pyongyang in a bid to erase the remaining legacy of his uncle Jang Song-thaek who was executed in 2013 for treason, a source familiar with the reclusive country’s affairs said Tuesday.

The North’s leader Kim Jong-un is believed to have ordered his officials to close the Pyongyang Folklore Park which opened in April 2012, the observer said. Work on the park began late 2008 under the instruction of the incumbent leader’s late father Kim Jong-il.

Located in the foot of Mount Taesong in the North’s capital, the 2 million square-meter theme park is known to have been set up and spearheaded by Jang, and features propaganda structures as well as a folk village.

“Since early last month, the sound of explosions has been heard inside the park,” the source said. “Rumor has it that the folklore park is being dismantled.”

Another Pyongyang watcher said that the North’s leader is said to have expressed negative views that the park reminds him of the relative he ordered killed.

“The closure of the park appears to reflect Kim’s uneasiness about the possibility that traitors can show up at any time even as he has consolidated power through the reign of terror,” the source added.

In 2013, Kim ordered the execution of his once-powerful uncle Jang, accusing him of treason. The move is seen as a step to reaffirm the leader’s power which he inherited in late 2011 after the sudden death of his father.

The North’s leader has strengthened his reign of terror by purging and executing scores of party and military officials.

My sources tell me that the park is definitely closed, but cannot confirm anything else in the story.

You can read the full story here:
N.K. leader orders theme park closure to erase executed uncle’s legacy: source
Yonhap
2016-6-14

ORIGINAL POST (2011-12-6): Back in April 2010 I wrote about how the DPRK had launched the construction of a “Folk Village” (평양민속공원) at the foot of Mt. Taesong in eastern Pyongyang. In May of 2010 I posted new satellite imagery of the park’s construction.

Last weekend I was discussing this facility with some friends, and today KCNA posted images of the park’s construction (all below)–so I thought it would be time for another update.

Using North Korean television and print images (plus a little common sense) I have been mapping out all of the attractions in the new folk village:

The Google Earth satellite image above is dated 2010-10-6, nearly a year after the project was announced on North Korean television in December of 2009.  Despite the image being taken nearly a year after the park’s construction began, I have identified: The Ryugyong Hotel, Pyongyang Ice-Skating Rink, Sosan Handball Gymnasium, Mangyongdae Children’s Camp, Monument to the Party Founding, Grand People’s Study House, West Sea Barrage, Arch of Triumph, Tower of the Juche Idea, Chollima Monument, Okryu Monument, Tangun’s Tomb, an ancient dolmen, and a walking path shaped like the Korean Peninsula.  There are still quite a few places to label, so contributions are welcome.

Here is what KCNA recently had to say about the project (2011-12-6):

The construction of the Pyongyang Folklore Park is progressing apace in Korea.

Frame assembling and interior projects have almost been finished in the park construction.

The park, which is being built in a large area at the foot of Mt. Taesong, will showcase the history of the nation and miniatures of historic relics, structures built in recent decades, folk village, folk amusements and Mts. Paektu and Kumgang.

Visual aids showing the 5 000-year-long Korean history will be installed in the quarter of history at the entrance of the park.

More than 130 full or reduced-sized historic relics, including the mausoleums of King Tangun and King Tongmyong and the monument to the great victory in the battle in northern area of Korea, are taking shape in the quarter of historical interest.

The present era quarter will include miniatures of the Tower of the Juche Idea, Party Founding Memorial Tower, West Sea Barrage, Arch of Triumph, Chollima Statue and other monuments and edifices.

The folk village quarter is full of models of palaces, government offices and dwelling houses dating back to Koguryo Kingdom (B.C. 277-A.D. 668), Koryo Kingdom (early 10th century-late 14th century), Palhae Kingdom (698-926) and Ri Dynasty (1392-1910).

Restaurants serving cuisines peculiar to different localities are also being built there.

The visitors will be able to enjoy views of Mts. Paektu and Kumgang and folklore amusements like archery, ssirum (Korean wrestling), seesawing, swinging and yut-game in the park.

Although the above satellite image is dated 2010-10-6, the recent photos from KCNA (2011-12-6) show some progress has been made:

 

 

 

UPDATE: According to a later article published in the Choson Ilbo (2011-12-8), two of the temples in the 5th picture above  are replicas of  Dabotp and Seokgatop in Gyeongju’s Bulguksa Temple.  These are cultural relics of the southern Silla Kingdom, not the northern Koguryo Kingdon to which the DPRK frequently claims to be the cultural inheritor.

There is only one other “Folk Village” in the DPRK of which I am immdeiately aware, and it is in Sariwon, North Hwanghae Province. See it in Google Maps here. I “helped” with its construction when I visited the DPRK in 2004. I did not really help, but the photo op for the North Korean media made it look like I did.

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Sinuiju Stadium torn down

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

Sinuiju-stadium-2015-3-12 Sinuiju-Stadium-2015-9-2

Pictured above (Google Earth): (L) Sinuiju Stadium on 2015-3-12, (R) Sinuiju Stadium on 2015-9-2.

The stadium is either being renovated or this will be the location of the North Phongan Sports Village. New imagery will reveal the answer!

More at RFA here (in Korean).

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The economy in Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s address: what’s there and what isn’t

Sunday, January 10th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

The supposed hydrogen bomb test has come to dominate the news on North Korea over the past few days, for obvious reasons. Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s Address has naturally ended up in the shadow of the nuclear test, but it is worth going back for a closer look. Overall, it is a speech that appears to contain few major announcements or indications. Perhaps more surprising than what themes are there, are the themes that are absent.

Stephan Haggard pretty much sums up how economic matters are treated in the speech, as they often are in North Korean rhetoric on economics: “As usual, the economic components of the speech rely more on exhortation than any clear policy message, confusing results with the means of achieving them.”

That is, in much of the speech, Kim simply talks about what will be achieved but leaves out how to get thereTake the following paragraph, for example (my emphasis added):

The Cabinet and other state and economic organs should decisively improve their economic planning and guidance. Leading economic officials should fully equip themselves with Party policy, work out plans of the economic work in an innovative way and give a strong push to it on the principle of developing all the sectors at an exponential speed by relying on the inexhaustible creative strength of the working people and by dint of modern science and technology. They should accurately identify the main link in the whole chain of economic development and concentrate efforts on it while revitalizing the overall economy, especially when the conditions are not favourable and many difficulties arise. They should be proactive in organizing and launching the work of establishing on a full scale our style of economic management method which embodies the Juche idea, thus giving full play to its advantages and vitality.

And:

All the sectors of the national economy should set ambitious goals and maintain regular production by tapping every possible internal reserve and potentiality.

Those who are more savvy at reading between the lines and interpreting rhetorical symbolisms can perhaps draw out meaningful signals from quotes such as these. But at face-value, they seem to give little indication of policy changes. Or of any policy at all, for that matter.

What are the areas that Kim hold up as economic priorities, then? Stephan Haggard points out heavy industry as one such theme. It is also the one mentioned first in the speech. Infrastructure and power supply also features fairly prominently (and is mentioned early on), with specific references to several power station construction projects. Kim also mentions IT and the “knowledge-driven economy” (emphasis added):

Our working class, scientists and technicians, true to the instructions of the great leaders, made a big stride in making the metallurgical industry Juche-based, built model, standard factories of the era of the knowledge-driven economy in various parts of the country and put production lines on a modern and IT footing, thus opening a new road of advance for developing the overall economy and improving the people’s standard of living.

Presumably, this is what North Korean media mean when they talk about the H-bomb test as an economic boost: that such capabilities show North Korea’s strength as a knowledge-based economy.

Domestic production capabilities are highlighted all the way through. This theme isn’t new. Kim Jong-un has often emphasized the importance of goods diversity and local production. This lies well in line with the basic economic tenets of the Juche doctrine. Here is one example of how domestic production capacity is highlighted in the speech (emphasis added):

The flames of the campaign to implement the Party’s ideas and defend its policies have unfolded a proud reality of our indigenous plane flying in the sky and our indigenous subway train running under the ground, and rich fish and fruit harvests were gathered, their socialist flavour bringing pleasure to the people.

One theme that features relatively prominently is construction. In one paragraph, Kim even states that “Construction is a yardstick and visual evidence for the strength of a country and the quality of its civilization”, and continues to urge the country to build more:

The construction sector should launch a general offensive to implement the Party’s construction policy and grand plan. By doing so, it should build important production facilities, educational and cultural institutions and dwelling houses on the highest possible level and at the fastest possible speed, so that they serve as standards and models of the times. In this way it can make sure that the great heyday of construction continues without letup.

Perhaps this is an indication that the building boom in Pyongyang of the past few years will continue. Priorities such as this one primarily benefit those political classes that live in Pyongyang. With few exceptions, as far as I’m aware, most other cities have seen little of the construction boom that the capital city has experienced.

There is also a reference to the coal mining industry. On the one hand, it may be interesting because North Korea’s main export destination for coal is China, and these trade flows have been volatile over the years, and there have been signs that North Korea isn’t getting a good deal in this trade. But on the other hand, this may be reading too much into one small reference in the speech (emphasis added):

In order to achieve breakthroughs for a turning point in building an economic giant the electric-power, coal-mining and metallurgical industries and the rail transport sector should advance dynamically in the vanguard of the general offensive.

Later, coal mining appears only in reference to the domestic power supply (emphasis added):

All sectors and all units should wage a vigorous campaign to economize on electricity and make effective use of it. The sector of coal-mining industry should raise the fierce flames of an upsurge in production to ensure enough supply of coal for the thermal power stations and several sectors of the national economy.

There are two themes that are surprisingly absent. One is agriculture. Agricultural policy is barely present, and when it is, management methods aren’t mentioned. For example:

The agricultural sector should actively adopt superior strains and scientific farming methods, speed up the comprehensive mechanization of the rural economy and take strict measures for each farming process, so as to carry out the cereals production plan without fail.

This is a little surprising, because regime sources have claimed that agricultural production has been boosted during the year, and management reforms with greater incentives for farmers have been touted as the reason. (A close look at the numbers indicates that agricultural production has declined slightly during 2015, moving it towards the average of the 2000s.) If agricultural reforms have indeed been a central tenet of Kim Jong-un’s economic policies, one could at least have expected a reference to these reforms in the speech.

The second theme that is strangely absent is forestry policy. It is only mentioned in one sentence:

The whole Party, the entire army and all the people should buckle down to the campaign to restore the forests of the country.

During the past year, Kim Jong-un has highlighted forestry policy as a key area. He has talked openly and frankly about the role of tree felling in causing floods and subsequent food shortages, and promoted reforestation, albeit not in a way that is likely to work very well. North Korean media has singled out tree nurseries for not doing their job properly. In sum, forestry has been relatively high on the agenda, but the topic still barely made it into the speech.

All in all, from an economic policy standpoint, this year’s New Year’s Address did not contain any major bombshells. The fact that economic issues appear right after the section on the upcoming party congress may be a hint that such issues will be high on the agenda, but then again, it might not mean much at all. Moreover, it is unclear how much can really read into the New Year’s Address for hints about regime policies and priorities. After all, the speech contained virtually no allusions to the H-bomb test that was to come only days later.

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Kim Jong Un’s new year message focuses on building an economic powerhouse

Sunday, January 3rd, 2016

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

In his 2016 New Year Speech, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced plans to build an economic powerhouse.

Kim frequently used expressions such as, ‘priority to self-development,’ ‘concentration of efforts,’ ‘whole Party’, and the ‘whole state’ that placed great emphasis on economic development and improvement of people’s livelihood.

Kim said “The principle of giving priority to self-development should be maintained in building a thriving socialist country [. . .] We should concentrate all our efforts on building an economic giant to bring about a fresh turn in developing the country’s economy and improving the people’s standard of living.”

Kim also stated that “In order to achieve breakthroughs for a turning point in building an economic giant the electric-power, coal-mining and metallurgical industries and the rail transport sector should advance dynamically in the vanguard of the general offensive.” Compared to the 2015 New Year speech, this can be seen as a relative increase in the emphasis placed on the industrial sector.

In particular, he emphasized resolving the power shortages, stating that “The problem of electricity should be resolved as an undertaking involving the whole Party and the whole state.” North Korea suffers from chronic power shortages, especially fuel, as well as decline in the hydroelectric power plant operations. In 2015, interrupted power supply was exacerbated by severe drought. Kim also said that “All sectors and all units should wage a vigorous campaign to economize on electricity and make effective use of it.”

In regards to improving agriculture, livestock, and fisheries sectors, he said that “The crop farming, animal husbandry and fishing sectors should make innovations to effect a radical change in improving the people’s standard of living. The agricultural sector should actively adopt superior strains and scientific farming methods, speed up the comprehensive mechanization of the rural economy and take strict measures for each farming process, so as to carry out the cereals production plan without fail. The animal husbandry and fishing sectors, which are waging an all-out struggle in response to the Party’s call, should ramp up production as soon as possible and see to it that the fish farms, vegetable greenhouses and mushroom production bases built across the country pay off. Thus they can contribute to enriching the people’s diet.”

Kim has made several onsite inspections to facilities in the light industry sector including cosmetics and shoes factories to encourage improvement in quality and domestic made goods. According to Kim, “The light industry sector should put its factories and enterprises on a highly modern footing, provide them with plenty of raw and other materials to keep their production going full steam and increase the number of world-famous products and commodities with a competitive edge.”

He stressed that “All the sectors of the national economy should set ambitious goals and maintain regular production by tapping every possible internal reserve and potentiality. They should also take it as an important policy-oriented requirement to improve product quality, ensure domestic production of equipment and rely on locally available raw and other materials, and make strenuous efforts to this end.”

He also encouraged the launch of the work to establish full-scale the ‘our style of economic management method’: “The Cabinet and other state and economic organs should decisively improve their economic planning and guidance, . . . [and] they should be proactive in organizing and launching the work of establishing on a full scale our style of economic management method which embodies the Juche idea, thus giving full play to its advantages and vitality.”

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North Korea heightens promotion of domestic light industry goods

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

North Korean media is actively promoting the superiority of its light industry products, likening Pyongyang’s department stores to product exhibition halls.

North Korea’s external propaganda site, DPRK Today, posted an article on November 26, 2015 entitled, ‘Come Visit the Pyongyang Department Store No. 1, which is Gaining Popularity for its Domestically-Produced Goods.’ According to the article, “The display stands are so full of domestic products that the department store looks like a light industry product exhibition.”

Opened in 1982 after reconstructing Pyongyang’s former Hwashin Department Store, Pyongyang Department Store No. 1 is located in Pyongyang’s Jung-guyok and is North Korea’s largest department store. With nine floors above ground and one below, it sells numerous domestic goods as well as goods produced in China and other countries. Its most popular items are female beauty products.

According to the article, North Korea’s domestic goods enjoy great popularity with the North Korean people. The Cosmos brand hairpin and Bomhyanggi and Unhasu high-end cosmetics brands (manufactured by the Pyongyang Cosmetics Factory and Sinuiju Cosmetics Factory) are reportedly well-received by women. Also said to be selling well are the Choltchuk socks produced by the Pyongyang Hosiery Factory, shoes manufactured by the Ryuwon Shoes Factory, and light-weight dishes made by Kyongsong Ceramic Factory. The article goes on to boast that people who purchase domestic brands like Rungna, Bombit Bread, Taedong River Bottled Beer, Pyongyang Soju, Raengchon Cider, and Kangso Mineral Water all say, “Our things are the best.”

Between January and February 2015, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited Pyongyang’s cosmetics and shoes factories, where he directly mentioned famous overseas brands and repeatedly called for the production of world-class products. In early November 2015 North Korean media released a flurry of reports boasting about the improvement in the quality of its cosmetics.

On another note, Kim Jong Un is also reportedly visiting military-affiliated fisheries and urging an increase in production. The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on November 25, 2015 that Kim gave field guidance to the No. 15 Fisheries Office, which is affiliated with the 549th Unit of the Korean People’s Army and is pushing forward a “massive fish harvest.”

To encourage the workers, Kim reportedly said, “I hope the laborers and warriors of the fishery offices do as the Party intends and welcome the 7th Congress of the Korean Workers’ Party by fixing and modernizing the offices magnificently and achieving more excellent fishing results. . . . The fishery offices must build on the results this year and set magnanimous goals in order to rapidly increase the yearly fish output in a short period of time.”

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