Archive for the ‘Civil society’ Category

North Korean “Superman” robs Fort Knox

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

I received a strange email from an anonymous source (so of course I opened it) containing the following information:

This is a piece of exciting news that has been leaked from an anonymous source in North Korea and it might be of your interest: some images from the storyboard of the latest film production by the Korean Feature Film Studio, based in the capital of the country, Pyongyang.

The images that we have received show a scene of what appears to be the North Korean version of a Marvel superhero story. He is less muscled than his American counterparts; his clothes are not so tight or shiny but recall the military apparel. He carries a hammer, a sickle and a brush, representing the Korean workers and uses a torch as a weapon. And he is not alone: he has a winged horse as his sidekick.

Apparently, the objective of this superhero is to destroy the capitalist system. In the images we can see him attacking Fort Knox, which holds the largest US official gold reserves, and then flying away with the money and throwing it into the ocean.

I have no idea if this is “real” or where it came from, but it is certainly interesting and entertaining. The people who sent this to me do not seem to know much about North Korea, or they would have easily recognized the Chollima Horse –if not the more obscure “Ranam Torch.” So given how little they appear to know about the DPRK, how would they have access to this information? It is also worth noting that the drawing of the bullion depository at Fort Knox is a very accurate representation of the actual building, but so far no Fort Knox set can be seen at Pyongyang Film Studio.

NK-Goldfinger-1

NK-Goldfinger-2

NK-Goldfinger-3

NK-Goldfinger-4

The story line is not too original–it is the plot of Goldfinger (or Die Hard 3), except of course “Goldfinger” has been replaced by a North Korean Superman, and he is the protagonist. For what it is worth, Kim Jong-il was also rumored to be a big fan of James Bond films.

Of course the US (and everyone else) went off what was left of the international gold standard (Bretton Woods) on August 15, 1971, so the economic implications of the plot are negligible nowadays (Fort Knox gold is an insignificant part of the US economy–it’s actually a drain on the US Treasury until the gold is sold off). Additionally, Fort Knox did not play a role in international gold clearing. That was done by the Federal Reserve. I doubt that these crucial bits of information will make it past the North Korean producers (if there are any).

Share

DPRK animators join industry fair in China

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

SEK-studio-2014-9-21

Pictured Above (Google Earth): SEK Studios in Pyongyang

According to Yonhap:

North Korean animation films have been put on display at an international animation fair in China, with a North Korean official admitting that the country’s animators have been increasingly sub-contracted by foreign studios, according to a Chinese state media report on Wednesday.

About 200 companies from South Korea, North Korea, Australia, Canada, Japan, Russia and other nations joined the five-day animation fair in Shijiazhuang, the provincial capital of Hebei, starting Tuesday, the China News Service said.

North Korea’s state-run SEK studio set up a special exhibition hall at the fair, according to the report.

Ho Yong-chol, head of SEK’s office in Beijing, told the Chinese media that the SEK studio employs more than 1,500 animators and has “an annual production of up to 8,000 minutes” of animated films.

“OEM (overseas export market) has become a main source of productions for North Korean animation studios,” Ho said, adding that the North can produce an animated film with “even less than half” of a European studio’s budget.

North Korea has quietly developed its animation industry. One of South Korea’s popular animation films, “Pororo the Little Penguin,” was produced jointly with North Korean cartoonists.

Read the full story here:

Share

DPRK fun: Guess how many members of the women’s team are civilians

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

DPRK-national-team-2014

Share

Norwegians seeking to set up art school in DPRK

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

According to the Art Newspaper:

The North Korean government has approved plans by two Norwegian artists to open an art academy in the country. Henrik Placht and Morten Traavik travelled to North Korea together for the first time in August to flesh out the proposal and to look for potential sponsors. So far they have received financial support from the Prince Claus Fund.

The academy is due to be called DMZ after the term for the Korean demilitarised zone. It will primarily be an academy for North Korean students, but the plan is to open it up for international exchange programmes, Placht says.

“One of the reasons for us going to North Korea is that we don’t believe in sanctions and the boycott of art,” Placht tells The Art Newspaper. “Next year we are planning an exhibition and workshop in North Korea, in co-operation with the North Korean government, which will feature well-known international artists as well as North Korean artists,” he adds.

The artists already have good contacts in North Korea thanks to Traavik, who has produced several art projects in the country—some in response to North Korea’s dictatorship. In 2012, Traavik organised The Promised Land, a performance in Kirkenes, northern Norway, in which North Koreans holding flags instructed more than 200 Norwegian soldiers to create sequences of images using individual placards.

That same year, Traavik also produced the first Norwegian arts festival in North Korea, “Yes, we love this country”, named after Norway’s national anthem. Meanwhile, earlier this year, he arranged for musicians from the Kum Song Music School to come to Bergen in western Norway to perform a Norwegian children’s play.

Placht also has experience setting up academies in extreme political contexts. In 2002, he founded the International Academy of Art Palestine, where he was a project director until 2009. “I will be able to draw on my experiences in Palestine when it comes to fundraising, curating and co-operating with the government,” Placht says. “But I will also seek to create trust with North Korea so that they will have a natural ownership of the academy.”

More information here.

Read the full story here:
Norwegian artists plan to open art academy in North Korea
Art Newspaper
Hanne Cecilie Gulstad
2014-8-28

Share

North Korea increases production of consumer goods according to consumer demands and preferences

Monday, August 25th, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2014-8-25

Due to the strengthening of capitalism and competition in North Korean society, it appears that the status of consumers has risen considerably.

In the North Korean economy — which has clung to a supply-oriented, planned economic model — it is extremely rare to see production change in response to consumer demands and preferences.

The Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, published an editorial on August 3, 2014, calling for the “Brisk Opening of the August Third Consumer Goods Production Movement.” This editorial encourages the public by assuring that the consumer products will be made according to the needs and demands of the people.

“A socialist society cannot think about the production of consumer goods that are above the reaches of the people,” the editorial emphasizes, and that “the peoples’ demands and interests are [the Party’s] absolute top priority, and it is the noble duty of the Party to create these desired consumer goods for the people to enjoy.”

Through the use of various media, North Korea has propagandized the “consumer-focused” policy, claiming to have spurred competition and the increase in quality of products and services throughout the nation.

Joguk (Motherland), a media outlet of the pro-North Korean General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, published an article in their August 2014 issue entitled, “The Standard of Competition Is Determined by the People.” The article emphasizes production tailored to consumer demands, saying that “Product evaluation is something which can be done only by those who demand and directly use the product; it can only be done by the general public.”

The article further states that “Products popular among the general public and used by the masses are evaluated accordingly for their high quality.” It also mentions the cosmetic brands “Eunhasu” and “Pomhyanggi” as examples.

In a July 30, 2014 article, the Choson Sinbo introduced the Potong River Shoe Factory, which is responsible for the production of popular products such as the so-called “kill heel” high-heeled shoes, wedge-heeled shoes, and pointed stilettos. By working together with a department store and periodically reviewing customers’ feedback, the Potong River Shoe Factory can produce shoes to cater to shoppers’ preferences.

This method of setting the focus on consumer evaluation can also be found in North Korea’s education system.

On August 7, 2014, the Rodong Sinmun introduced the “bottom-up evaluation” system at Kim Jong Suk Middle School. This process, touted as one of the successes of educational reform, allows students to evaluate their teachers once per semester. By creating competition among educators, this system is expected to have effects all across the nation.

These types of changes are said to have close relations to the Kim Jong Un regime’s policy focusing on light industry, which also accounts for the improvement of standards of living for the people.

It appears that unlike the heavy chemical industry previously emphasized by the Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il regimes, light industry must consider not only production amounts, but the quality of the products as well. This inevitably leads to the emphasis being put on consumer product reviews.

Through consumer reviews, competition arises and productivity is increased, leading to the production of consumer goods with higher added value. Despite being called a “Socialist Competition,” in reality this system may not be so different from capitalism.

Share

KCTV updates news introduction

Monday, August 18th, 2014

Click above to watch the news introduction (Youtube)

On August 14 North Korea’s KCTV launched a new video introduction for its evening news broadcast.

The introduction begins with a global map that zooms in on the Korean peninsula followed by scrolling news clips and ending with “보도” (News).

The appearance of the evening news was last changed in 2012.

Thanks to Martyn Williams for technical help with this post!

Share

DPRK imports digital televisions

Sunday, May 25th, 2014

According to the Korea Times:

North Korea’s imports of digital television sets from China have more than quadrupled this year, a South Korean trade group said Sunday, amid reports that the country is moving to introduce digital TV broadcasting.

In the first four months of the year, China shipped digital TVs amounting to some US$17.66 million to North Korea, up 338 percent from $4.02 million during the same period last year, according to the Korea International Trade Association.

The figure is the fifth-largest amount for any single item shipped from China to North Korea in the January-April period. Gasoline topped the list.

The North earlier said on a state-run website that it was moving to introduce digital TV broadcasting. The country also asked the U.N. International Telecommunication Union in 2011 for assistance in switching from an analog to a digital broadcasting system.

“The move by the North Korean government to switch to a digital broadcasting system appears to be an effort to win greater public support by showing that the people’s lives are improving,” said Cho Bong-hyun, an analyst at the IBK Economic Research Institute.

Read the full story here:
Trade report says N. Korea importing large number of digital TVs
Korea Times
2014-5-25

Share

May Day Stadium Under Renovation

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Here is a December 2013 satellite image of the renovation (currently under way):

May-day-2013-12-1

 

My comments are in this NK News article

Share

The rise and fall of the Rakwon Chicken Specialty Restaurant (a case study in inter-Korean business)

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

UPDATE 4 (2014-2-18): Western tourists are still visiting the restaurant (meaning it has a contract with KITC). The restaurant still has the sign “Rakwon Chicken Specialty Restaurant”, though it is a different color than the original. See tourist video here and here.

UPDATE 3 (2014-2-17): The Hakyoreh updates us on the fate of the inter-Korean chicken restaurant:

In 2005, Choi made his first trip to North Korea to inquire about chicken imports. Soon he had changed plans: he would open his own restaurant there selling South Korean-style chicken. Acquaintances tried to talk him out of it, but he was determined. “I went to Pyongyang and I could see there was money in it,” he recalled. And with economic cooperation between South and North at an all time high, he didn’t see much of a political risk either.

He went back and forth to Pyongyang a few times looking for partners. Finally, in June 2007, he opened up the Rakwon Chicken Restaurant, selling South Korean-style chicken on Puksae Road in the Kaesonmun neighborhood of Moranbong District. His North Korean partner provided the building and staff; Choi was responsible for the interiors, ingredients, recipes, and management system. He reached a deal where he took 70% of profits with a total investment of 500 million won (US$470,000). The opening drew a lot of media attention at the time, with write-ups in the South Korean press and foreign outlets like the Washington Post and Japan’s NHK.

Early on, he did strong business selling at fairly steep prices – the equivalent of US$11.30 for a single bird. His clientele came mainly from the city’s upper class and Chinese visitors. Sales of 100 million won (US$94,000) a year looked to be in sight. “My plan was to open up 100 restaurants in the North,” Choi said.

But in 2008, less than a year after he opened the restaurant, Lee Myung-bak took office as South Korean President. Lee’s administration put a stop to the previous decade’s policies of engagement and cooperation with North Korea, opting for sanctions and containment instead.

“There was a promise between the two sides, and I never thought that would be rejected completely,”Choi said. “Suddenly, that was the reality.”

Bit by bit, exchange ground to a halt. A March 2008 shipment of ingredients through Nampo turned out to be Choi’s last interaction. He had not yet received a single share of revenue.

Then came the announcement of the so-called “May 24 measures” in 2010. Following the sinking of the ROKS Cheonan warship the preceding March, Seoul had called a complete halt to all exchange and economic cooperation with North Korea.

“All the May 24 measures did was drive it home,” Choi insisted. “Most of the economic cooperation had been choked off long before that.”

For the next four years, Choi wasn’t able to set foot in North Korea. Without his support, the restaurant lost its chicken focus and began selling ordinary cuisine. Choi’s other business began to suffer too.
“I’d put my house and buildings up as collateral to borrow the 500 million won to invest in the North,” he said. “Then, to top it all off, there was the US financial crisis. Things began to go downhill rapidly in South Korea, and my business started to fall apart.”

UPDATE 2 (2009-1-1): The BBC offers an update of the new chicken restaurant:

The governments may not be on the best of terms but a South Korean businessman seems to have found a way to North Koreans’ hearts: their stomachs.

Choi Won-ho, the owner of a fried chicken chain, was told he was doomed to fail when he opened his first branch in the impoverished North last year.

But encouraged by his progress so far, he is already preparing to open another one.

Mr Choi runs a fast food franchise in South Korea with a total of 70 stores.

He opened one more last year – no real challenge you might think – except this extension to his fried chicken empire is in the heart of one of the most secretive and business-unfriendly places on the planet.

But Mr Choi says the citizens of Pyongyang have been queuing in front of his shop which is taking around $1,000 a day.

He is now preparing to meet North Korean officials in January to finalise the approval for a second outlet.

His customers are almost certainly all members of North Korea’s elite, a country in which the World Food Programme says up to 9m people will face urgent food shortages this winter.

Relations between the two Korea’s have been at a low since the conservative government of President Lee Myung-bak came to power in the South in February.

North Korea has severed official contacts, stopped all cross-border tourism and restricted entry to a joint industrial zone built with southern money.

But despite the chill, Mr Choi’s fried chicken venture seems to be sizzling.

Read the full story here:
South Korea Chicken Success in NK
BBC
John Sudworth
2009-1-1

UPDATE 1 (2008-11-1): The restaurant is set to open in February 2008. According to Yonhap:

An inter-Korean joint-venture chicken franchise will open its first store in Pyongyang early next month, the head of the franchise’s South Korean partner said Friday.

The store set to open in early February will provide a food delivery service using motorbikes for the first time in the communist country, Choi Won-ho, president of the South Korean company said.

No North Korean restaurants offer food delivery service now, according to defectors from North Korea.

Fried, grilled and steamed chicken dishes as well as draft beer are available for delivery, he said, adding the food will be prepared in the North Korean style.

“I recently received a photo of the store’s interior design from our North Korean business partner, Rakwon General Trading Corporation, along with the offer to open the first store before the 66th birthday of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il,” Choi told Yonhap News Agency by phone. “After opening, I will use radio and newspaper ads to promote the business.”

Kim’s birthday, which falls on Feb. 16, is the most festive holiday in the North.

The North Korean company will provide land, some 20 low-cost workers, chicken, and draft beer. The early-stage investment, equipment, cook and spicy chicken will come from the South Korean chicken franchise called “Matdaero Chondak,” Choi said.

The first “Rakwon” chicken restaurant in Pyongyang will have the capacity of seating about 200 people, he added.

The businessman said he will visit North Korea next week to discuss the opening of the store.

“I hope the business will thrive enough so that we can open store No. 10 in Pyongyang,” he added.

Read the full story here:
Inter-Korean joint venture chicken franchise to open first store in Pyongyang
Yonhap
1/11/2008

ORIGINAL POST (2007-11-3): A South Korean entrepreneur is investing in a new fried chicken restaurant in Pyongyang:

According to Reuters:

A South Korean businessman plans to begin a fried chicken delivery service in the North Korean capital, with the first foreign-run restaurant in a country that struggles to feed its own people.

Choi Won-ho, head of a fried chicken franchiser that has about 70 restaurants across South Korea, said Friday he is opening a 50-table restaurant in Pyongyang on Nov. 15. It will also deliver chicken and draft beer to homes.

“I have wanted to be the world’s best chicken brand,” Choi told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

“But I thought it makes no sense to conquer the world without sharing food with our compatriots. That’s why I went there first,” he said. “I plan to get into the Chinese market via Pyongyang.”

He laughed off concerns his venture may be too risky in the impoverished and isolated country of 23 million, where the elite citizens of the capital are much better off than others.

“I don’t think that I’m going to lose money at all,” he said.

It will be the first foreign-run restaurant in North Korea, according South Korea’s Unification Ministry.

Choi, 48, who has been in the fried chicken business for 15 years, said he hired an ethnic Korean Chinese as the main cook for the Pyongyang outlet and taught him all his cooking know-how. About 20 North Koreans will also work at the restaurant and five scooters will be used for deliveries, he said.

Choi said he invested about 500 million won (US$551,339, ?382,264) in the joint venture with a North Korean trading firm that will take 30 percent of the profits from the business.

North Korea is one of the poorest countries in the world and has relied on foreign food aid to feed the population for more than a decade since natural disasters and mismanagement devastated its economy.

Relations between the two Koreas have improved significantly since their first-ever summit in 2000, spurring a series of exchange projects between the Cold War rivals that fought the 1950-53 Korean War. That conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving the two sides still technically at war.

According to the Joong Ang Ilbo:

South Koreans are making two very different attempts to improve the culinary life of impoverished North Koreans.

First, a South Korean fried chicken franchise will open the only foreign-run restaurant in North Korea, targeting family dining on special occasions.

Second, the labor union of a South Korean conglomerate has built a plant in Pyongyang to provide cheap corn noodles to northerners who suffer from food shortages.

Choi Won-ho, who runs Matdaero, a 70-store fried chicken franchise in the South, said yesterday he would open a restaurant in a joint venture with a North Korean state-run trading company, near the Arch of Triumph in central Pyongyang on Nov. 15.

The restaurant will both receive walk-in customers and deliver chicken and draft beer to homes. Such places are common in South Korea, but it will be the first chicken joint of its kind in North Korea.

Choi has invested 500 million won ($551,000) in the restaurant’s cooking facilities, interior decoration and delivery scooters. He will split the profit 70-30 with the North Korean firm.

Choi, 48, who has been a chicken entrepreneur for 15 years, said there should be sufficient demand despite North Korea being one of the world’s poorest countries, because he plans to offer lower prices to locals.

“I will charge about $3 for a whole chicken for North Koreans and at least $12, the same price as in South Korea, for tourists from the South and other countries,” Choi said yesterday by phone. “One whole chicken will be enough for a four-member family, so the price of $3 will not be too burdensome for special occasions.”

The store will hire about 20 North Koreans to take telephone orders, fry the birds and make home deliveries. It will have seating for 50.

Separately, the labor union of Hyundai Motor Company, Korea’s top automaker, said in a statement that it has completed an 1,800-square-meter corn-noodle plant in Pyongyang. The plant can produce two tons of corn noodles a day, it said.

Hyundai Motor’s 44,000 unionized workers agreed in August to help a South Korean humanitarian group build the noodle factory. Workers donated about 12,000 won each, 500 million won in total, for the facility.

“The plant will be a great help to relieve the food problems of North Koreans,” Chang Kyu-ho, a spokesman for the labor union, said. “Corn is a staple food for North Koreans.”

Read the full stories here:
Fried chicken franchise goes North
Joong Ang Daily
Moon So-young
11/3/2007

S Korean businessman to debut fried chicken at first foreign-run restaurant in North Korea
Reuters (Via DPRK Studies)
Jaesoon Chang
11/3/2007

Share

DPRK Restaurant opens/closes/opens in the Netherlands

Monday, January 27th, 2014

UPDATE 2 (2014-1-27): The North Korean restaurant has re-opened in Amsterdam. According to NK News:

While the Pyongyang Restaurant [See Below] shut down the same year as it opened – allegedly due to a dispute between the Dutch owner Remco Van Daal and its North Korean staff – the Haedongwha staff will now be managed in cooperation with an ethnic Korean manager named John Kim.

Kim, who has lived in the Netherlands for most of his life, also runs a business in Pyongyang exporting sand to Singapore, a source familiar with his background told NK News.

Unlike Haedangwha restaurants in China, which are run directly by the North Korean government, the Netherlands branch is unique in having non-North Korean ownership but a North Korean staff.

You can read more about the restaurant in Het Parool.

Michael Madden tracked down the location.

Here is the official web page of the restaurant.

Learn more about the “other” Haedanghwa here.

UPDATE 1 (2012-9-6): The restaurant has closed. According to the Associated Press:

A North Korean restaurant in Amsterdam staffed by cooks and waitresses from the isolated country has closed its doors.

Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf reported Thursday that Pyongyang Restaurant’s closure was permanent and stemmed from a disagreement between its Dutch owners and North Korean staff.

The restaurant was an oddity, believed to be the only of its kind in Western Europe, though there are similar restaurants in Asia. Dutch labor authorities say North Koreans can get work visas for Europe under standard rules, but few do.

A woman who answered the phone at the restaurant said the establishment was closed. She couldn’t say for how long because she was not authorized to do so. Its website says it is closed “due to holidays.” Phone calls to the owner Thursday went unanswered.

See more here at North Korea Leadership Watch.

ORIGINAL POST (2012-2-5): According to Yonhap:

A North Korean restaurant has opened in the Dutch capital of Amsterdam in what could be the communist nation’s latest attempt to earn hard currency and foster closer ties with Europe.

The “Pyongyang Restaurant” was launched late last month under a joint venture between North Korea and two Dutch businessmen. While North Korea is known to operate dozens of restaurants across Asia, it is the first time a North Korean restaurant has opened in Europe, with the exception of a canteen that briefly operated near the North Korean Embassy in Vienna in the mid-1990’s, according to a local source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The restaurant is staffed by nine North Koreans, including the director and manager, Han Myong-hee, who worked for 15 years at a North Korean restaurant in Beijing operated by the North’s ruling Workers’ Party.

Pyongyang Restaurant, which seats 24 people, has its walls covered with pictures of Pyongyang and North Korean nature, while its menu consists solely of a nine-course meal priced at 79 euros (US$104).

Han said there are plans to offer more affordable dishes such as Korean noodles and dumplings after the restaurant’s official opening on Feb. 17.

“After our official launch, we plan to gradually serve a variety of dishes and during lunch hours as well,” she said. The restaurant currently serves only dinner.

The opening ceremony is expected to be attended by the North Korean ambassador to Switzerland, other North Koreans, and key figures from the Netherlands and different European nations, Han said.

Analysts said the restaurant is likely to serve not only as a source of much-needed cash but also as a bridge to Europe for the isolated North.

“North Korea has been putting a lot of effort into normalizing relations with European nations since 2000,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “The opening of North Korea’s first restaurant in Europe can be seen as the North’s attempt to improve ties with the West through exchanges at the civilian level.”

Read the full story here:
N. Korean restaurant opens in Netherlands
Yonhap
2012-2-5

Share