Archive for the ‘Art’ 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The story line is not too original–it is the plot of Goldfinger (or Die Hard 3), except of course “Goldfinger” has been replaced by a North Korean Superman, and he is the protagonist.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).

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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

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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.

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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!

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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

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Social Science Institute on the DPRK’s Economic Development Zones

Monday, January 20th, 2014

According to the Hankyoreh:

The latest issue of the quarterly publication of North Korea’s Social Science Institute – published on Nov. 15, 2013, and viewed on Jan. 19 – included an article titled, “Major Issues Pertaining to Making the North Korean Economy Stronger by Establishing and Expanding Economic Development Zones.”

According to the North Korean article, there are five important tasks that must be accomplished if the new Zones are to be successful.

1. building infrastructure such as roads and railroads

2. enacting laws for the special economic zones that take into account the profit of the government and of investors

3. providing benefits for foreign investors

4. operating and managing projects in a way that is suitable to the characteristics of the zones

5. creating the right political and military environment

Read more here:
N. Korea connects politics and military to economic development
Hankyoreh
Choi Hyun-june
2014-1-20

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North Korea promoting localization of raw materials for light industry and construction sectors

Monday, January 20th, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2014-1-20

North Korea is encouraging “localization” of raw materials in light industry and construction from this year to improve the lives of the North Korean people.

On January 7, RodongSinmun reported that various cabinet organizations were espousing the New Year’s address of Kim Jong Un. It reported that the Ministry of Light Industry’s executives and employees are engaging in discussions to explore ways to increase localization of raw materials in light industry factories.

A rally was held in Pyongyang earlier this month at Kim Il Sung Square where people pledged to accomplish the national tasks put forward by Kim Jong Un. Tong Jong Ho, Minister of Construction and Building-Materials Industry,delivered a speech that vowed to “make an unprecedented leap in localization of building materials (cement, glass, metals, and other construction materials),” by repairing building materials factories in all provinces.

The Choson Sinbo, pro-North Korean newspaper in Japan,reported on January 2 that at the New Year meeting at the Pyongyang Socks Factory, the plant manager, Lee Sung Hui, made a speech and promised to “raise the level of socks production and localization of raw materials to a higher level in Vinalon and PP fibers (synthetic) this year.”

North Korea is promoting light industry and construction as the key sectors to improve the living standards of the people and asserting localization of raw materials as a priority to make advancements in these fields.

In his New Year message, Kim Jong Un emphasized that lighting industry must play a “major part in improving the people’s standard of living” and that the construction sector is “an important front for solidifying the foundations of a thriving country and creating bases for the people’s happy life.” He called for modernization of factories in light industry and normalization of production, placing importance on increasing the proportion of locally-available raw materials.

Many experts analyze this year’s rising emphasis on the localization of raw materials as reflecting the intentions of the North Korean authorities to focus on pragmatically achievable policy goals first. Of course, increasing the proportion of locally-available raw materials requires the construction of domestic production base, which remains complicated because of international sanctions and lack of foreign currency — issues that cannot be easily resolved– among other limitations.

From 2012, North Korea’s launch of a long-range rocket and third nuclear test was accompanied with rising emphasis on the importance of localization. On December 3, 2013, Rodong Sinmun carried an article entitled, “Localization and National Pride,” that reported on the onsite inspection visits by Kim Jong Un to various economic sectors where he underscored the importance of “equipment, materials, and elements of localization” and “our strengths and technology.”

North Korea acclaimed that the launch of the long-range rocket in December 2012 was a “successful launch of a satellite based on 100 percent domestic science and technology.” Then in February last year, immediately following the nuclear test, it boasted that “Thrilling clap of independent nuclear thunder broke out based on 100 percent of our own wisdom and technology.”

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Kim Jong-un’s new year address (2014)

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

A new year has begun, so most DPRK watchers are analyzing Kim Jong-un’s new year address (a return to a practice established by Kim Il-sung which was replaced by the “joint editorial” in the Kim Jong-il era). I have compiled most of the good analysis of the speech below.

First of all, you can watch the full speech here (in Korean):

You can read the full speech on KCNA here (English, Korean). For those of you who cannot access KCNA, click here to read a PDF of the speech in English and Korean.

Commentary:

38 North and here

New York Times

Washington Post

Institute for Far Eastern Studies

Yonhap and here

Choson Exchange

Stephan Haggard

Council on Foreign Relations

Nautilus Institute

Hankyoreh

New Focus International

Evans Revere

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DPRK’s “Economic Research” focuses on regional economic development zones

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

According to Yonhap:

North Korea is focusing more on diversified development of its economy and pushing regional industries to play a greater role in earning foreign capital, Pyongyang watchers said Sunday.

Observers in Seoul said that the Oct. 31 issue of “economic research” published in the North highlighted the need for regional governments to generate more revenue, bolster industrial output and earn more foreign capital.

According to papers in the research journal that offer a glimpse into how Pyongyang wants to run the country, factories in the provinces must strive to modernize and form close knit alliances with industries located in the capital city and with laboratories.

This call is similar to a speech given by Vice Premier Ro Du-chol on Wednesday at a ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of regional governments being given authority to generate profits and manage their respective budgets.

The senior official stressed that all cities and counties need to do their utmost to improve their economies and come up with necessary policy plans.

Such a move calls for redoubled efforts to attract overseas investments in mineral mines and other manufacturing facilities.

Ro’s remarks have been interpreted as Pyongyang paying more attention to regional economies and getting local authorities to take charge of providing for its citizens, instead of relying on the central government.

Related to such calls, the North recently announced that it will set up a total of 14 special economic zones across the country to pursue economic growth and bring in more investments. At present the communist country only has four such special zones, including those set up in Kaesong and the Mount Kumgang resort.

“There has been a trend coming into this year of the North paying closer attention to building up its regional economy,” said Cho Bong-hyun, an analyst at the IBK Economic Research Institute. The North Korean expert said that this may be a move by the North to bring about results on the economic front under the Kim Jong-un leadership.

Kim, who took over running the country following the sudden death of his father in late 2011, has called for the simultaneous development of the country’s nuclear capability and its economy.

This move is seen as a departure from the “songun,” or military-first politics, pursued by his late father, Kim Jong-il.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea focusing more on regional development: research journal
Yonhap
2013-11-10

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Recent DPRK wage increases / economic management changes

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

UPDATE 3 (2013-11-14): North Korea accelerating economic reforms? Wages and prices to be self-regulated (IFES):

North Korea appears to be pushing for internal economic improvement measures. Chosun Sinbo, the pro-North Korean newspaper in Japan, released an article on November 6 that discussed various performance-enhancing management and operational changes that took place at the Pyongyang Essential Foodstuff Factory this year.

Chosun Sinbo referred to Kim Jong Un’s speech made last March at the plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party about improving economic management and named the recent changes at the food factory as a pilot project for this purpose. The news article added that “There are studies to bring fundamental changes in economic management and specific measures are being made to turn this into a reality.”

The main systemic changes made at the Pyongyang Essential Foodstuff Factory were the increase in autonomy of the company and the enforcement of wage differential based on performance. Based on the principle of cost compensation, prices of products produced with raw materials at the factory may be freely adjusted after consulting with the state.

The news article further explained that “The principle of socialist distribution is a simple system of distributing as much as you earn and the cost of living is determined by labor productivity.”  It also reported that some of the employees’ wages increased. Such news is likely intended to advertise to the outside world about North Korea’s changing domestic economic policies.

The North Korean economic journal Kyongje Yongu has also been increasingly reporting on the principle of distribution based on economic performance. In the recent issue published on October 30, 2013 (issue No. 4), an article titled “The Principle Problem of Properly Implementing the Socialist Labor Wage System” criticized the equalization of product distribution as it decreases the enthusiasm of workers toward production: “The strength and life used during the process of labor must be compensated through the principle of earning the amount of your labor.” The article stressed that wages must increase with production and rationalized the need for such wage increase.

Chosun Sinbo and Kyongje Yongu articles reveal the long-term efforts by the North Korean government in enhancing research about economic improvement measures and expanding projects in various factories, companies, and cooperative farms to implement these measures.

Recently, North Korea launched the State Economic Development Commission and organized a number of international forums on special economic zones.  These can be construed as possible signals toward economic reform, as North Korea continues to make various changes in its internal economic policies.

UPDATE 2 (2013-11-7): Another story of note in the Daily NK ties factory wage increases to the ability of enterprises to negotiate prices with the state:

Choson Sinbo, the regular publication of the pro-North Korea General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon), has published news of a Pyongyang-based food factory being used as a testing ground for independent economic management. The enterprise fixes prices semi-independently in discussion with the state and pays increased wages, the piece, published yesterday, explained.

The publication conveyed, “Pyongyang Essential Foodstuff Factory became a test unit and conducted research in order to enact changes to overall economic management. They are currently implementing these.”

It continued, “Of particular note is the organization of production and economic management based on cost compensation principles and the socialist rules of division. Pyongyang Essential Foodstuff Factory has enacted the measures for themselves and prepared the collateral to allow for expansion and reproduction.”

“This factory has shed the state planning model and sources its own materials, and in discussion with the state it has been able to set its own prices as it sees fit. There is also a measure currently being adopted that provides monthly allowances in consideration of the labor of the employees,” it further emphasized.

However, a high-ranking defector was skeptical when asked about the piece, telling Daily NK, “These factories produce things like soybean paste, soy sauce, salt and side dishes. They have always played the role of distributor to the people, so there is no way that they would be able to just set prices how they wish on these products. It’s likely that the measures focus on work teams making apple and pear beverages, liquor and beer; things that do not relate to improving the lives of the people.”

UPDATE 1 (2013-11-7): The Daily NK follows up on the DPRK’s strategy to bring official wages in line with the price level:

North Korea’s decision to drastically increase the wages of workers in parts of the heavy industrial sector is designed to boost morale and improve productivity, the better to expand the country’s capacity to generate foreign currency income from investments in the exploitation of its mineral resources.

As exclusively reported yesterday by Daily NK, major industrial concerns in North Hamkyung Province such as Kim Chaek Iron and Steel Complex have raised wages by a factor of approximately one hundred, from a derisory 3,000 won per month, around half the market price of a kilo of rice, to 300,000 won. Thus far, 100,000 won of the total has been paid in cash and the remainder in kind in an attempt to head off the very real danger of dramatic price inflation that would result from 100% cash payments.

That such a substantial wage rise was only deemed feasible in enterprises with the potential to export primary or secondary resources for foreign exchange should not come as a surprise. Smaller domestic enterprises don’t have the liquid resources to take such a step. As with the Kaesong Industrial Complex, wages in cash and kind have always been more generous for workers in joint venture enterprises than elsewhere. The latest move reflects an extension of that reality.

At this early stage, experts believe that the measure is designed to create a business model for North Korea not unlike that on show at Kaesong, under which each province can improve its economic performance and attract greater quantities of foreign capital. By actively nurturing those rare businesses that are competitive in the regional environment, the country hopes to raise productivity overall.

A researcher with Industrial Bank of Korea, Cho Bong Hyun told Daily NK, “Raising salaries for enterprises in the minerals sector looks like an inevitable choice, since productivity couldn’t have been expected from light industrial enterprises when the operational level of most of those factories is so low.

Cho continued, “The Kim Jong Eun regime, which is currently concentrating on producing results in the economic sphere, made this decision based on the fact that for some time it has been earning foreign currency quite easily by exporting its mineral resources. They also hope that by raising salaries they can induce greater productive effort, since workers have not wanted to work properly since the public distribution system collapsed [in the 1990s].”

Yoon Deok Ryong, a senior research fellow with the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy added, “Kim Jong Eun has granted this autonomy to firms and raised wages in order to earn foreign currency and firm up his system. He wants to right the economy by discriminating in favor of businesses that are somewhat competitive.”

However, despite cautious enthusiasm for the latest step, the two experts cautioned that unless North Korea moves further in the direction of a market economic system, the measure might not prove effective.

Cho explained, “No matter how tightly the North Korean authorities seek to control economic activity, they will find it almost impossible to stop these wage rises inciting inflation and causing the value of the North Korean Won to nosedive even more. There is also the danger of conflict with between military and Party-Cabinet elements over the management of mineral resource enterprises that can be used to produce military goods.”

Yoon added that workers in enterprises excluded from the latest wage rises will not see the bigger economic picture, and will simply be aggrieved at there being no improvement in their own conditions. “Conflict is unavoidable,” he concluded.

ORIGINAL POST (2013-11-6): According to the Daily NK:

Wage levels for workers in some larger industrial enterprises have risen by a factor of approximately one hundred times, Daily NK has learned. The move, which was put forward as part of the “June 28th Policy” in mid-2012 and is designed to bring wages more into line with market price levels, appears designed to improve the productivity and competitiveness of major industrial concerns.

According to a source from North Hamkyung Province, the monthly wage of people working at Musan Iron Mine, Kim Chaek Iron and Steel Complex and Sungjin Steel Mill rose from an average of just 3000-4000 won up to 300,000 won in September and October. In an attempt to forestall the inflation that such a step would otherwise guarantee, 200,000 won of the payment is issued in goods, with just 100,000 won provided in cash.

The source explained to Daily NK on the 5th, “In September the order was handed down in the name of the State Economic Development Commission to Musan, Kim Chaek and Sungjin; it was about guaranteeing independence in terms of production and the authority to set salary levels. At the time most workers did not believe that they were going to be given a wage of 300,000 won, and are really surprised now that they are actually getting it.”

The source went on to assert that the same instructions have been handed down to all provinces, not only North Hamkyung. “Relatively more competitive” industrial enterprises in each province have been selected, he said, and are resetting wages at a higher level.

Explaining the system of payments in kind, the source said, “Because they are concerned about the danger of inflation being created by the wage rises, they give 200,000 won of it in rice, vegetables, side dishes, other necessities, and electronics. Only the remaining 100,000 won is given in cash.” Workers have been told “not to make purchases in public markets since the state is now providing for your daily needs,” although the instruction is not likely to be adhered to.

Predictably, the source revealed that the move has attracted attention from surrounding enterprises. “Workers who had been ‘off sick’ are coming back,” he said, “and workers from other enterprises have been descending on us after hearing that we are getting a lot of wages and other stuff.”

The move appears designed to increase the competitiveness of major industrial enterprises in North Korea, and to improve the attractiveness of joint ventures to companies in China.

At the time of writing, the dramatic wage increase has not generated rice price inflation in public markets in the North Hamkyung Province region. For example, the price of rice in Musan is currently stable at around 5,800 won/kg.

On this, the source concluded, “Because some of the wages have been given in kind, demand in markets will not rise for the time being.” However, he cautioned that later, when workers attempt to buy and sell the products they have received, instability and inflation could result.

Read the full story here:
Wages Rise 100x in Heavy Industry
Daily NK
Lee Sang Yong
2013-11-6

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