Archive for the ‘Domestic publication’ Category

Dutch stamp dealer accused of being a spy in North Korea

Sunday, November 27th, 2011

By Michael Rank

A Dutch stamp dealer who was arrested in North Korea this summer has told how he was held in solitary confinement for two weeks and threatened with spending 15 years in prison for spying.

Willem Van der Bijl said in a telephone interview that he had visited North Korea about 24 times since 1998 in order to buy stamps, postal stationery and propaganda posters, and that three of his business contacts were arrested with him last August. Although he was freed after a highly unpleasant two weeks during which he was held in a two-by-three metre cell, he has no idea what has happened to his North Korean colleagues, but fears they will be severely punished.

He said he had been “intimidated” by his interrogators but not physically mistreated during his detention. “They yelled at me but did not hit me”, he said, adding that he was accused of being a spy apparently because of the large number of photographs he had taken of the North Korean countryside during trips to factories outside Pyongyang to discuss possible joint ventures.

He was released after signing a confession to his alleged crimes, and said the North Koreans confiscated his laptop and camera as well as a Kim Il Sung badge that had been given to him, but his money was returned to him. “I was happy to leave,” he said, adding that “There was nothing really wrong in what I did…All I did in North Korea was fairly correct”.

Van der Bijl, 60, photographed here with an interview in Dutch, said his North Korean colleagues were held in the same interrogation centre as he was and that he was deeply concerned that “They will have to face trial, and I will never see them again.”

Although mainly a stamp dealer with a stamp shop in Utrecht, he said he had become interested in collecting propaganda posters during his last few visits, and had a collection of thousands of posters.

He said North Korean officials seemed divided in their attitude as to whether such posters should be sold to foreigners. “The ‘doves’ say this art is popular in the west and should be sold; the ‘hawks’ do not want to export secret paintings, they are meant for the Korean people,” Van der Bijl said.

He said his hopes mounted every Tuesday and Saturday that he would be released as there are flights from Pyongyang to Beijing on those days, and as time progressed he became more worried that he would be sentenced to spending up to 15 years in jail for espionage. When he was freed he was told he could apply for a visa to visit North Korea again, but he told NKEW said he had no wish to do so as long as the current regime remains in power.

He said he had taken car journeys about 120 km outside Pyongyang nominally to visit companies to discuss joint ventures, but he was more interested in taking photographs of the impoverished countryside, and that North Korean factories were too dilapidated for there to be any serious chance of doing business with them.

Somewhat surprisingly, Van der Bijl is quoted on two official North Korean websites here and here before his arrest concerning local elections in North Korea in July. He visited a polling station during the elections and was quoted as saying, “Looking round the poll, I have been greatly impressed by the free and democratic elections and I have had a better understanding of the DPRK’s reality.

“In the DPRK every citizen is eligible to vote and to be elected. Those who have worked a lot for the people are elected as deputies. The popular election system of the DPRK is really excellent.”

He confirmed he had spoken to North Korean reporters at a Pyongyang polling station, but said all he had told them was that he had never seen elections run in such a way before, and strongly denied praising the elections as free and fair

Also surprisingly, Van der Bijl is shown wearing a Kim badge in two photographs of him on the Pyongyang Times websites. It’s rare for foreigners to be given a Kim badge and still rarer for them to be shown wearing one in the official North Korean media. Van der Bijl said he was unsure where the photos were taken. One of the websites shows Van der Bijl’s signature, copied from his passport.


KCNA publishes new “motivational” posters

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

Click images for larger view.

According to KCNA (2011-9-22):

New posters have been produced in the DPRK to help more splendidly spruce up Pyongyang and hasten the harvest this year.

Poster “Let’s develop Pyongyang, the capital city of revolution, into a world-class city!” vividly reflects citizens all out to turn their city into a more beautiful and magnificent one.

Poster “Let us all go for harvesting!” depicts an agricultural worker at work with joy against the background of a coop field alive with harvesting. It arouses the people to go out for reaping in good time the crops cultivated with the sweat of their brow during spring and summer.

Click here to learn more about Pongyang’s recent renovations.


Economic performance and legitimacy in the DPRK

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

Geoffrey See and Andray Abrahamian (both representatives of Choson Exchange) wrote an article in the Harvard International Review which asserts that economic successes are becoming more important to the political narratives that reinforce the DPRK leadership’s claims to legitimacy. Below is an excerpt from their article:

North Korea’s most important domestic policy statement comes each New Year, when the major newspapers publish a joint editorial. The editorial often signals where government priorities will be in the coming year. In 2010 the newspapers spoke of “Bring[ing] about a decisive change in the people’s lives by accelerating once again light industry and agriculture.” Similar themes were echoed in 2011. This is opposed to the joint editorials of the past few years, which have focused on the more traditional themes of military strength, revolution, and socialism.

Another public sign of a shift towards focusing on economic issues is the type of official visits and inspections carried out by Kim Jong Il. Following in the footsteps of his father, Kim uses these visits to signal emphasis or encouragement of specific industries, activities, and policies. According to a report by the Institute for Far Eastern Studies, the first six months of 2011 have seen Kim exceptionally busy, participating in 63 official activities. Unlike previous years, however, the number of military visitations has dropped off: only 14 visits were military related, the lowest number ever recorded. By contrast, 28 visits were economic related.

In terms of policy, North Korea has been haltingly experimenting with Special Economic Zones (SEZ) since the mid-nineties, but has recently built a bit more momentum in this area. Rason, an SEZ in the far northeast, is finally seeing some basic infrastructure upgrades that were long talked about but always delayed. Government investment bodies have started to promote the idea that Rason will be the “next Singapore,” an ambitious marketing claim to anyone who has been to Rason. With both Russia and China leasing port space, it seems more likely to be transformed into a regional transportation hub. Meanwhile, along the Chinese border in the northwest, the Hwanggumpyong SEZ recently held a groundbreaking ceremony, attended by high-ranking North Korean officials and Wang Qishan, China’s commerce minister.

Senior politicians in North Korea are increasingly judged by their ability to bring in foreign direct investments. These efforts appear to be competitive rather than coordinated. North Korean leaders associated with the National Defense Commission, the highest level policy body, have been meeting with visiting foreign investors. In 2009, the Daepung International Investment Group was re-purposed along the lines of a holding company model as a vehicle for attracting foreign direct investment l with “27 joint ventures planned and to be managed by the Group.” Daepung Group is backed by specific high-level individuals. Jon Il-Chun, reportedly the Director of Office 39, a murky international trade and finance organ, is definitely involved with the Daepung Group. Media reports also indicate that Kim Yang Gon, Director of an organization tasked with managing contacts with South Korea, the United Front Department of the Workers’ Party, is also behind the group.

In July of the same year, the Joint Venture & Investment Commission (JVIC) was established. Instead of a holding company model, JVIC is a government institution modeled as a “one-stop shop” for investors – that is, JVIC is meant to “seek out investments and assist investors in setting up operations in North Korea.” While multiple institutions claiming to hold such authority have always existed in North Korea, many of these institutions have been merged into JVIC and long-time investors have been directed to liaise with JVIC as their primary government contact. JVIC’s nominal and public head is Ri Chol, a high-ranking North Korean government official.

In August of 2010, we received credible reports that foreign investors were approached to help set up a group similar to Daepung that would be backed by another member of the National Defense Commission. Given this proposed initiative’s similarities to Daepung, the prior establishment of JVIC, and that all three groups do not appear to communicate with each other, we surmise that these various groups have a competitive relationship with the support of different patrons. Investment officials with whom our teammates have met confirm that the relationship between the agencies is “very competitive.” If this is the case, it is a signal that influential groups in Pyongyang sense that future power bases will require the ability to attract and deploy capital.

The full article is worth reading here:
Harvard International Review
Geoffrey K. See and Andray Abrahamian
August 23, 2011


Science and technology and improving the lives of the North Korean people

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief 2011.06.30

North Korea designated this year as the “year of light industry” in an effort to increase consumer goods production and enhance the lives of the people. In addition, a June 23 editorial in the Rodong Sinmun reiterated the importance of science and technology for building a strong and powerful nation and improving the lives of citizens.

Science and technology was mentioned as one of the three pillars for building a strong and powerful nation — the other two being ideology and advanced weaponry.

The editorial emphasized, “We must construct a self-reliant economy and stand on our own two feet no matter what,” and stressed that production system of Juche steel and Juche fertilizers is a victory for the Juche ideology and the science and technology policy of North Korea.

In addition, the column highlighted the importance of promoting Juche, modernization, and informatization in all sectors. “Modern successes in science and technology must be fully adopted and institutionalized in order to enhance production and economic effectiveness. To do so, we must engage in the fight for conserving energy, fuels, materials and national resources.”

The role of scientists and technicians was also accentuated. The future development of science and technology and construction of a strong and powerful economy was depicted to be in the hands of this group. In particular, importance for science research in light industry, agriculture, people’s economy, and modernization for industries was further highlighted.

“To meet the demand of modern times of integrating science and technology and production, technological revolutionary movement must be started and combine the collective knowledge of producers and masses.” It was said that the core and fundamental technology (information, nano, and bioengineering technologies) along with cutting-edge technology (new materials, energy, and space science technologies) must be incorporated to fully contribute to the building of a powerful socialist state.

This editorial appears as an attempt to encourage the growth of production in light and agriculture industries in order to meet the goal of reaching the “strong and powerful nation” by 2012. In this year’s New Year Editorial, revolutionary development in science and technology, tight integration of science and technology with production, revolution of light industry and development of people’s economy through science research were mentioned as chief objectives of the year. It was said that significant weight will continue to be placed on the economy and technology including “integration of science and technology and production” and “technological revolutionary movement of the masses.”


Friday Grab Bag: Anju, UN, pr, app

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Anju’s outdoor market

Voice of America published a series of photos from inside the DPRK. Many of the pictures are from Anju. Looking through them, I saw this outdoor market of which I was unaware.  It did not, however, take too long to find it on Google Earth. The coordinates of the outdoor market are 39.623199°, 125.680848°. Anju and nearby Sinanju both also have one covered market each.  Lots of shoes for sale.


UN Conference on Disarmament
The winner of the “rolling eyes” award this week goes to the announcement that the DPRK has been named to the presidency of the United Nations Conference on Disarmament.  According to the official press release:

In his initial address to the Conference as president, So Se Pyong of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said that he was very much committed to the Conference and during his presidency he welcomed any sort of constructive proposals that strengthened the work and credibility of the body. He was ready to work closely with all members to provide the grounds for strengthening their work. As president, he would be guided by the Rules of Procedure and take into account the position of each delegation to find common ground on substantive issues and procedural matters as well. With their support and cooperation, he would do everything in his capacity to move the Conference on Disarmament forward.

I am sure you can think of some recommendations for him!

Canada has since boycotted the committee (2011-7-11).


How to Generate Good Press: Write it
This week the Wall Street Journal’s Korea Real Time had a great post about the North Korean proclivity to purchase advert space in foreign publications and then report “favorable coverage” to the people back home.  “See how much foreigners envy us and out leader[s]”?!

Paying for space in Blitz actually represents something of an economy drive for the Pyongyang publicity machine. Back in 1997, as famine gripped the land, the regime shelled out for some pricier real estate: a full page in the New York Times. That allowed the KCNA to boast that the U.S. newspaper of record had “dedicated one whole page to a special writeup under the title ‘Kim Jong Il Emerges As Lodestar For Sailing the 21st Century’”—with, as the KCNA noted, a large color picture.

Here are five stories from KCNA citing praise in the New York TimesKCNA 1, KCNA 2, KCNA 3, KCNA 4, KCNA 5.  As far as I can tell, the DPRK has never advertised in the Wall Street Journal.  Wouldn’t that be something.


DPRK: There’s an app for that
Martyn Williams writes about Eric Lafforgue’s new iPhone app featuring his pics of the DPRK.  His photo set is here.  Now all we need is a Kernbeisser iPhone app.


On DPRK information sources…

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

UPDATE: On a related note…

North Korea’s Digital Underground“, The Atlantic, April 2011

ORIGINAL POST: The following blurb appeared in a recent article on 38 North:

Feeding this confusion are serious problems with information collection about the domestic situation in North Korea. Policymakers in Seoul and Washington rely heavily (whether they know it or not) on testimony or information provided by North Korean defectors. Defectors and networks of informants who move across the China-North Korea border, are key sources for a new constellation of media organizations like Daily NK, Open North Korea Radio, Free North Korea Radio, Good Neighbors, Radio Free Asia (U.S.), Asia Press (Japan), and other internet media. To be sure, people coming out of the DPRK can be important sources of information—for example, these networks brought out information about the 2009 currency reform. However, the new “media” organizations are not staffed by independent, professional journalists. To the contrary, they are propaganda organs and advocacy organizations designed to undermine regime stability in the North. Their reports frequently lack verification, yet regularly appear in Yonhap News, the leading South Korean government news agency, without any filtering. Major conservative newspapers, such as Chosun Ilbo, Joongang Ilbo, and Donga Ilbo, quote them as is. International news media, including the wire services and leading American newspapers, in turn, reprint them as world news. Unverified reports and politically motivated characterizations of North Korean instability are transmuted into truth. There are even cases of defectors reportedly being pressured to tow the official line. For example, Yonhap News was pressured to remove a senior reporter, herself a defector, from its North Korea desk when she discounted exaggerated reports by defector organizations of instability around the Kim family succession and currency reform failures.

Aidan Foster-Cater responds in this Asia Times article:

How do we know anything about North Korea? Where can you find reliable information? If sources conflict, how does one judge between them? Bottom line: Who ya gonna trust?

These are key questions. And they’re as old as the hills – which North Korea has more of than facts. My own interest in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is now, dare I confess, in its fifth decade. Even when I started, back in the 1960s, data of any kind were a problem. There were almost none to speak of.

No point asking Pyongyang. I was a fan in those days, but even so I winced at the regime’s clunky propaganda, and its emptiness: the absence of even the most basic facts and figures.

In the 1950s, North Korea did publish some statistics, but in the 1960s they stopped. Why? As growth slowed, paranoia and secretiveness ballooned. Nicholas Eberstadt has noted it was the same in the USSR and China, when Stalin’s and Mao’s excesses were at their height [1]. In Moscow and Beijing the mad blackouts eventually ended. In Pyongyang, darkness still rules.

Normal countries need numbers. A national budget with no figures: What a crazy idea! Not in North Korea, where this bizarre charade is enacted every year, most recently on April 7.

What passes for a parliament in Pyongyang usually meets for just one day a year, in spring. The main business is to pass the budget, which they duly do. (There’s no debate, obviously.)

And no numbers, either. Take a look at the official Korea Central News Agency [2]. Finance minister Pak Su-gil uttered a few percentages, but not a single actual solid figure. Weird.

Until 1994, they at least gave the budget totals, so we could work out some of the rest. South Korea’s Unification Ministry (MOU) reckons it heard a real number on the radio, once, and on that basis offers its own guesses here and there. Yet this is meagre stuff. A joke, really.

But I’ve banged on about this before in these pages [3], so what’s new pussycat? Two things.

First, I personally have taken this matter up, at the highest level. Only the other day I had words on the subject with the Speaker of the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) himself. No really, I did. Choe Thae-bok, an urbane gent of 82 and a very senior figure, spent a week in London just before the SPA session. Tea at the House of Lords, that sort of thing. All a bit surreal, and it’s easy to scoff. But at times like these, it’s important to keep the doors open.

Over a convivial dinner at Asia House, I asked Choe about those budget blanks. He said he’d look into it, but I admit I wasn’t holding my breath. Ah well. He must be a busy chap.

Fortunately in 2011 we can supplement Pyongyang’s crummy crumbs with more solid fare. It’s a new world: the information age! NK may resist, but two things have changed – a lot.

First, and obviously, the Internet has been a boon. We who follow North Korea are no longer sad lonely nutters. Online we can find each other – we are legion! – and pool our knowledge. Kind folks like Curtis Melvin at NKeconwatch and Tad Farrell at NKNews, among others, have put a lot of work into creating crucial online resources on North Korea. (For their pains, they have survived more than one cyber-attack [4]. Who on earth would do a thing like that?) So now we can collate and compare notes.

Read the rest below the fold….



Pyongyang Times available at Naenara

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

The Pyongyang Times is the DPRK’s weekly English-language newspaper.  It has long been available via Naenara, but restricted behind an exclusive login and password.  On Friday I noticed that the articles are now free to view without an account.

Pictured above is the main screen for the current issue.

Click here to read the Pyongyang Times in English.  It appears to be available in the other languages in which Naenara posts as well.



DPRK television broadcasts Google Earth Imagery

Friday, February 18th, 2011

As far as I am aware this is the first use of Google Earth imagery on North Korean television.  Satellite images of Mt. Paektu (백두산) were used in a show about the revolutionary sites of Sobaeksu Valley (소백수골): Kim Jong-il’s official birthplace and a few other places.  The show was broadcast on North Korean television on February 16th, 2011 (Kim Jong-il’s official birthday). The imagery used is now dated, so we know this segment of the show was recorded before December 11, 2010.

Wouldn’t it be great if they told the North Korean people these images came from Kwangmyongsong 1 or 2?

I uploaded a clip of the show to Youtube.  You can see it here.

So how many North Koreans are using Google Earth?


DPRK to distribute light industrial goods to the people by April 2012

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 11-02-08

In last month’s New Year’s Joint Editorial, North Korean authorities reaffirmed the national drive to strongly develop the country’s light industrial sector by 2012, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung. On February 2, the Choson Sinbo, the newspaper of the pro-North Korean residents’ league in Japan, proclaimed that all efforts were being focused on delivering high-quality light industrial goods by April of next year.

North Korea’s minister of light industry, forty-seven year old Hu Chul San, was interviewed by the paper’s Kook Jang Eun. Hu stated that light industrial zones already in operation would be further bolstered and the provision of raw materials would be prioritized for celebrations surrounding the 100-year birthday of the country’s founder.

The North Korean regime has set 2012 as the year in which it will “open the doors to a great and prosperous nation,” and Kim Il Sung’s April 15 birthdate has been set as the first target for economic revival. Just as in 2010, this year’s Joint Editorial called for light industrial growth and improvements in the lives of the North Korean people as the ‘strong and prosperous nation’ goal is pursued.

Minister Hu gave one example of the expected boost in production, stating that all students, from elementary school to university, would receive new school uniforms by next April. “Originally, school uniforms were issued to all students once every three years, but as the nation’s economic situation grew more difficult, [the regime] was unable to meet the demand.” He promised that for the 100-year anniversary, “Rationing would take place as it did when the Great Leader was here.”

The minister also explained that all preparations for distributing light industrial goods to the people next April needed to be completed by the end of this year, since Kim Il Sung’s birthday fell so early in the spring. He stated that a strong base had already been established for the production of high-quality goods, and that many organizations had already mass-produced high-quality goods for the celebration of the 65th anniversary of the Korean Workers’ Party founding last year, offering the Pyongyang Sock Factory, the Sinuiju Textile Mill, the Botong River Shoe Factory, and the Pyongyang Textile Mill as examples.

When asked how North Korea would resolve raw material shortages, the minister explained that since the February 8 Vinalon Complex began operations last year, Vinalon and several other types of synthetic materials were available. The Sunchon Chemical Complex and other industries were also providing synthetic materials to light industrial factories throughout the country, strongly supporting indigenous efforts to increase production. He added, “Raw rubber, fuel and other materials absent from our country must be imported,” but that “national policies were being implemented” to ensure steady supply.

Minister Hu admitted that there was no shortage of difficulties, but that every worker was aware of the importance of meeting the April deadline, and that because raw material shortages were being resolved, light industries were now able to press ahead with full-speed production.


North Korea increasing coal production – seeking to ease power shortages and boost exports

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Pictured Above: Pongchon Coal Mine (Google Earth)

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 11-01-18

The DPRK Workers’ Party’s newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, recently featured a front-page editorial urging the North Korean people to increase coal production. On January 26, the KCNA reiterated the call, reporting that the newspaper editorial highlighted fertilizer, cotton, electricity, and steel as products suffering from a lack of coal, and that “coal production must be quickly increased in the Jik-dong Youth Mine, the Chongsong Youth Mine, the Ryongdeung Mine, the Jaenam Mine, Bongchon Mine [Pongchon Mine] and other mines with good conditions and large deposits.”

The editorial also emphasized that “priority must be placed on the equipment and materials necessary for coal production,” and, “the Cabinet, national planning committee, government ministries and central organizations need to draft plans for guaranteeing equipment and materials and must unconditionally and strongly push to provide,” ensuring that the mines have everything they need. It also called on all people of North Korea to assist in mining endeavors and to support the miners, adding that those responsible for providing safety equipment for the mines and miners step up efforts to ensure that all necessary safety gear is available.

In the recent New Year’s Joint Editorial, coal, power, steel and railways were named as the four ‘vanguard industries’ of the people’s economy. Of the four, coal took the top spot, and all of North Korea’s other media outlets followed up the editorial with articles focusing on the coal industry. On January 15, Voice of America radio quoted some recent Chinese customs statistics, revealing that “North Korea exported almost 41 million tons of coal to China between January and November of last year, surpassing the 36 million tons exported [to China] in 2009.” It was notable that only 15.1 tons were exported between January and August, but that 25.5 tons were sent across the border between August and November.

North Korea’s coal exports to China earned it 340 million USD last year, making the coal industry a favorite of Pyongyang’s economic and political elites. Increasing coal production is boosting output from some of the North’s electrical power plants, while exports to China provide much-needed foreign capital. However, even in Pyongyang, where the electrical supply is relatively good, many houses lack heating and experience long black-outs. Open North Korea Radio, a shortwave radio station based in the South, reported on January 24, “As electrical conditions in Pyongyang worsen, now no heating is available.” Farming villages can find nearby timber to use as firewood, but because prices are so high in Pyongyang, even heating has become difficult. Some in the city even wish for rural lifestyles, just for the access to food and heat.