Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

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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US hip hop performers film video in DPRK

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

UPDATE 4 (2014-1-8): You can see the video here:

UPDATE 3 (2014-1-7): The Guardian offers additional information on the rap video trip here:

Pacman and Peso have granted the Guardian an exclusive preview of the video – as well as their first interview about an adventure in the world’s most despotic regime.

The genesis of their music video was a random encounter earlier this year with Ramsey Aburdene, a 25-year-old Washington-based investment banker who liked their music and became their manager. Aburdene had a friend who used to be in the military and specialises in getting people into Pyongyang, so they hatched the plan to shoot a rap video there.

No one involved in the trip could easily articulate why exactly North Korea was an appropriate backdrop for the music video. But they still managed to raise $10,400 on the crowd-funding website Kickstarter.

Interviewed recently in Aburdene’s bedroom in a shared house in Mount Pleasant, Pacman, 19, and Peso, 20, recounted their surreal, eye-opening experiences in North Korea.

They managed to film their rap video inside Pyongyang’s faltering metro, beside the demilitarized zone bordering South Korea, on a rice farm and in front of various North Korean monuments, not least the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, an ornate mausoleum for Kim Il-sung, the so-called founder and eternal president of the country, and his son, Kim Jong-il.

Before arriving in North Korea, the group took part in a tour through Asian countries including China, Hong Kong and Mongolia. But it almost began in disaster in Beijing, when the rap entourage, which included some of Aburdene’s university friends, decided to hire motorcycles.

Peso, whose real name is Dontray Ennis, collided with a car near Tiananmen Square and, aware that he was not insured, fled. An angry crowd apprehended Pacman, whose real name is Anthony Bobb. “I was like, man, we ain’t going to North Korea. I’m gonna get locked up in Beijing,” Pacman recalls. “This shit gonna be on the news.”

After some ad-hoc diplomacy and a visit to a car repair shop, the group was let free, but missed their flight to Hong Kong, arriving late for the next leg of the journey – hosted by their main financial backer.

James Passin, a 41-year-old hedge fund manager who has poured millions of dollars in Mongolia, and also has business interests in North Korea, donated $5,100 to their Kickstarter campaign.

Described in BusinessWeek as ‘The American Who Bought Mongolia’, Passin was keen to be involved in the project. “He actually wanted to be in the North Korea video, but then his advisors told him it was probably better not to be,” Aburdene said.

Instead, Passin invited the rapping tour to Hong Kong, where he happened to be hosting his investor conference – and birthday celebration – in the Grand Hyatt hotel. Later, Passin flew the group to Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia. It was Peso’s favourite stop on the whole tour, not least because of the generous hospitality of their host. “The moment we arrived we got chauffeur rides to the hotel,” he said. “I had lobster with some fries while I was sipping on Sprite,” said Pacman.

Returning briefly to Beijing, the group picked up some tailored silk suits in preparation for North Korea. But by then the situation in Pyongyang had changed.

It was the end of November, and Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old Korean War veteran, had been detained in North Korea. The State Department strongly discouraged American citizens against visiting North Korea, the first warning of its kind since Pyongyang began allowing tourists into the country in 1995.

Pacman and Peso were being compared to Dennis Rodman, the former basketball star who has developed unlikely friendship with Kim Jong-un. Unlike Rodman, who is currently in Pyongyang accompanied by a fleet of former basketball players, the DC rappers did not have the blessing of Kim Jong-un, or indeed anyone else from North Korean officialdom.

Instead, they had always planned to travel beneath the radar, shooting their video under the cover of a sightseeing tour. With the five-day trip just hours away, the entourage began to realise that an interview with the BBC was probably not the best way to maintain a low-profile. Shortly before boarding, they read a Gawker article mentioning how, despite the State Department advice, “a much-publicized trip by two DC rappers, Pacman and Peso, is going ahead as planned.”

“All the buzz we were getting, I thought we were gonna get hemmed up, captured,” said Pacman. His rapping partner agreed: “I was like: uh-oh. Are we gonna make it?” They put their worries behind them and flew to Pyongyang regardless.

When the aircraft doors opened, they walked out to the sound of snapping cameras. “As soon as I seen cameras, I started being myself,” said Peso. “I started flipping my jacket open, smoking my cigarette in front of the cameras, turn[ing] round to make sure they got the suit.”

Despite the the flurry of attention from Associated Press journalists at the airport, the rappers succeeded in going largely unnoticed in North Korea.

Each day, Pacman and Peso hopped on a tourist bus, which ferried them to approved locations across the country in the company of government-sanctioned tour guides. So as not to attract attention, they used a small, Canon camera to shoot video, filming segments surreptitiously whenever their minders were looking the other way. Microphones, headphones, or amplified music were out of the question. Instead, they improvised. “We were just spitting the voice that was in our head,” Peso said. “It was just work, work, work, non-stop.”

They were not helped by the sub-zero temperatures and snow. There was rarely heating in any of the buildings and the silk suits provided little comfort. “One of the North Koreans, he gave me his coat,” Pacman said. “I asked him if he wanted it back, and he was like, ‘Nah, just keep it for the rest of the night.’”

Memories such as that left both young men with a positive experience of North Korea. They still speak about their recollections in dreamy monologues. “The old ladies looked like they were carrying the heaviest things. The army people walking down the street had guns,” said Pacman. “You see a whole bunch of rice fields. People was riding bikes. The little kids was walking down the street by themselves, they must have been in first grade. But everybody waved.”

One month on, both Pacman and Peso say they still feel energised by their journey to North Korea. They look and sound more animated than before they departed, when the anxiety was showing on their faces. “No-one has made a music video in North Korea before. Or even thought about it,” Peso said proudly. Pacman said his rapping had improved since their return. “It sounds stronger, the words are coming faster, quicker,” he said.

Smiling, he remembers the elation he felt when they departed Pyongyang. “The first thing I thought was: we made it out,” he said. “We beat the odds.”

UPDATE 2 (2013-12-1): According to the Associated Press:

The two rappers said their trip shied away from politics.

“I mean we did not go there to be political. We just go down there to shoot our video and that about the reason why we went, not political,” said Pacman – whose real name is Anthony Bobb.

The duo from the Washington area spoke to reporters at an airport in Beijing upon their return from a five-day trip to North Korea.

“Nobody shot a video in North Korea, let alone thought of it. Nobody even thought of making a video in North Korea. You know what I’m saying?” said Peso, whose real name is Dontray Ennis.

More in The Guardian.

UPDATE 1 (2013-11-8): According to the Guardian:

Pacman and Peso have never traveled much beyond the poor suburb of Washington DC where they live. But after a successful internet fundraising drive, the unsigned hip-hop duo will next Saturday embark on a trip, to shoot a video they hope will jumpstart their career, with an unlikely destination – North Korea.

After raising $10,400 from their  Kickstarter campaign, the pair will first fly to China and then on to Pyongyang, where they plan to film songs such as “God Bless Amerika” on a party bus.

Neither of them have flown on an airplane. They say they only recently discovered that North Korea was a foreign country.

Comparisons are inevitably being made with Dennis Rodman, the former basketball player whose visits to North Korea resulted in an unlikely friendship with the country’s dynastic leader, Kim Jong-un. But Pacman, 19, and Peso, 20, unsigned artists in search of a record deal to lift them out of poverty, are on the cusp of a very different kind of trip.

The story of the rap duo’s adventure could only be forged in a place like Washington, a deeply divided city where separated communities only occasionally overlap. A few months ago, Pacman was walking through his neighbourhood, Congress Heights, when he came across a group of twentysomethings shooting a music video. He struck up a friendship with one of the group, a white, 24-year-old investment banker named Ramsey Aburdene, who has since been managing the pair in his spare time.

Aburdene, from DC’s affluent north-west quadrant, had an acquaintance who happened to be an expert on North Korea. Mike Bassett, 34, is a former Iraq war veteran who was lived for seven years in South Korea, four of them with the US army.

A self-described pacifist, Bassett has become a fixer for people interested in traveling to Pyongyang. A Master’s student at American University, he has coordinated several cultural exchanges and traveled extensively in the country since restrictions were eased in 2010.

He has arranged the two rappers’ flights and visas, and laid the necessary groundwork for their tour. Bassett insists North Korea is misunderstood in the eyes of the west, and says Pacman and Peso will be treated with courtesy. Still, he has felt it necessary to provide the young rappers with some cultural advice, and instructed them to amend some of their lyrics.

An entourage consisting of Pacman, Peso, Bassett and Aburdene, plus other friends, departs next Saturday. At their leaving party in Washington on Thursday, in a bar near Aburdene’s house, Peso and Pacman provided well-wishers with an introduction to their debut mixtape.

Once or twice, the crowd broke out into chants of “North Korea”. But no-one really seemed to know exactly why the pair were traveling to the autocratic state, least of all Pacman and Peso. “I’m a thrill-seeker, I don’t fear nothing,” said Pacman, a smiley, baby-faced teenager whose real name is Anthony Bobb. “I like an action movie. I can’t sit and watch a drama flick – it takes too long.”

Pacman said people keep telling him not to go; his aunt tried to talk him out of the trip and his mum told to him to watch his back. “Me personally, I don’t pay too much to politics, so I can’t say what is right. Then again, who is to say what is right and what is wrong?”

His serious-looking partner Peso, from Landover, said: “I’m excited – the only thing I’m not excited about is the plane.” He added: “We’re changing the game. Nobody has shot a video in North Korea like we’re about to do.”

Asked if he was worried for his safety, Peso, whose real name is Dontray Ennis, replied: “You don’t think this is a dangerous place to be living at right now? There’s your answer, then.”

The idea that Pacman and Peso are just as likely to be subject to arbitrary detention, arrest and mistreatment in the streets around their home as Pyongyang has become a theme in the promotion surrounding their trip. It was the thrust of a piece profiling the pair in the Washington Post, which helped them easily surpass their fundraising goal of $6,000. The 4,000-word feature gave the pair huge exposure in the city, not least because the reporter interviewing them, Monica Hesse, was stopped and searched by police in the process.

“We’re not trying to be political heroes or anything like that,” said Aburdene. “We understand there is terrible stuff going on in North Korea, but there is terrible stuff going on here that people aren’t straight up about.”

Both Pacman and Peso have spent time in jail for minor offences. There is no doubt their day-to-day lives are not comparable to that of of the predominantly white community that is fast gentrifying America’s capital.

Aburdene said that he trusts Bassett when it comes to protecting the party’s safety in North Korea. He is not worried they will be detained, but is concerned their footage might get confiscated and said he realised they may need to tread carefully. “Even if it’s not a standard, crazy, party-like thing, I’ll enjoy the anthropological side,” he said.

But beneath the bravado, there appears to be at least a hint of anxiety on the part of the two young rappers.

At one point during a pre-show interview, Peso seemed only half-joking when he talked about the pair maybe being killed in North Korea. “If we don’t die, it will probably be a big life-changer,” he said.

He looked a little uncertain, before adding: “Can I ask you a question? What do you think is going to happen when we go over there?

ORIGINAL POST (2013-9-18): US hip hop performers to film video in DPRK. According to the Washington Post:

A few weeks ago, a Kickstarter project was posted on the Internet featuring two young men who went by the names of Pacman and Peso. The duo and their producer were using the crowdsourcing site to raise money for a creative endeavor; they wanted to make a music video. A rap music video. They wanted to do it on a karaoke party bus. They needed only $6,000, a fairly modest sum, considering that this estimate also included lodging and two overseas flights. The video, you see, was going to be filmed in Pyongyang.

North Korea.

Rappers Pacman, 19, and Peso, 20, are raising $6,000 to make a music video. They want to do it on a karaoke party bus in Pyongyang, North Korea. Here, they spend time in the District and Maryland, making music and spending time with family and friends.

“This trip will be a fantastic opportunity for Pacman and Peso to meet young, dynamic people and significantly broaden their horizons,” read the proposal, which was posted Aug. 30, “in addition to jump starting their musical careers.” The title was straightforward and surreal: “Pacman & Peso Make a Music Video in North Korea.”

So, yes, it sounds weird. Two African American youths from Southeast D.C. and Prince George’s County have paired with a white part-time producer from Northwest D.C., and they all want to go to North Korea because they see it as their best shot at a better future. Call Christopher Guest. Call Dave Chappelle. Someone is pulling your chain.

Unless, of course, it’s real. Unless it’s complicated. Unless it’s a whimsical windmill-tilt of a heartbreak.

“My goal was to rap,” says Peso, 20, whose real name is Dontray Ennis. If it wasn’t that, it was football. “But other than that, it was either doing wrong in the streets, or getting locked up.”

“This is my only option now,” he says of North Korea. “If it was to work.”

Read more here.

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Kim Cheol Woong performance in Virginia

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Apologies to readers outside the DC area, but I am posting a “local” event. I hope to see you there.

North Korean pianist, Kim Cheol Woong, who now lives in Seoul, will be performing at an event in Burke, VA. You can learn more about Mr. Kim in this New York Times article.

Here is the marketing flyer with the date, time, and location:

MaJoong-Poster-EN

Here is the flyer in Korean (한국)

Here is a, invitation letter (PDF) from NKUS, North Korean Refugees in the USA (Homepage, Facebook).

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North Korea stressing science and technology in agricultural sector

Friday, March 15th, 2013

Institute for Far Eastern studies (IFES)
2013-3-14

North Korea is emphasizing the importance of science and technology in the agricultural sector.

The Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), recently featured an article written by Ri Yong Gu, director of the Ministry of Agriculture, titled “Key Issues to Pay Attention for Introducing Technology Products in Farming Operations.” The article emphasized the importance of science and technology in the WPK’s policies and claimed technology products, such as farm machineries, fertilizer, pesticides, and soil conditioners must be introduced to promote agricultural production.

In addition, the article called for accurate assessment of economic benefits to be gained by introduction of technology products and for evaluation of scientists, technicians, and farmers to mobilize the public and to integrate science and technology with production in all units of the agricultural sector.

Technology products were explained as an important factor for reducing agricultural production costs, making crucial the selection of appropriate technology based on the experience and skill level of farmers and soil conditions of each farm.

Choson Sinbo, the Japan-based pro-North Korean newspaper, featured an article on February 27 that scientific farming methods were incorporated in the Samji River Collaborative Farm that linked with the Center for Agricultural and Technology Dissemination through a computer network.

It is not new for North Korea to emphasize the use of science and technology in agriculture; however, in recent years, more emphasis is being placed on this factor.

In the 2013 New Year’s speech by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, agricultural and light industries were named as the frontline industries for economic construction. In the speech, Kim stressed that “incorporating science and technology into agricultural production and increasing the level of integration must be accomplished in order to reach wheat production target for this year.”

In time for rice planting season in May, North Korea is hoping to increase fertilizer production and to promote agricultural technology in order to boost production countrywide.

This emphasis is in line with the successful launch of the long-range rocket launch last December, preferential atmosphere toward scientists, and promotion of science and technology in the economic sector.

Increased grain production last year may be due to improved fertilizer supply. Production is expected to improve this year as scientific farming continues to be emphasized.

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Mansu Hill statue drama…

Monday, February 11th, 2013

UPDATE 3 (2013-1-10): Kyodo (via The Telegraph) solves the riddle of just why the Kim statues on Mansu Hill were covered up in October 2012 (See below)–a new version of the Kim Jong-il statue was put up. It replaced a statue that was erected in April 2012.

Below is a before/after comparison.

NKOREA_STATUE_COMP_2476186c

UPDATE 1 (2012-10-3): A reader sends in this image of the statues covered up.

Ruedeger Frank also publishes an image at 38 North.

ORIGINAL POST (2012-9-24):

Pictured above are satellite and ground-level images of the Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il statues on Mansu Hill. Although these statues were unveiled just this past April, word on the street is that they are once-again  hidden under a protective covering  that was placed on the site sometime in mid-September. Unfortunately, there are not yet any pictures of the new wraps.

Although it is unclear why the statues have been covered up, Occam’s razor tells me that they are doing some maintenance work of some kind.

On a related note, the Mansu Hill model replica at the newly constructed Pyongyang Folk Village is missing its Kim statues as well. North Korean television footage of Kim Jong-un’s visit to the newly-opened park revealed a Mansudae Grand Monument that looked rather hollow in the center owing to the absence of the Kim statues:

As we all know, official images of the leaders are produced exclusively by the Mansudae Art studio in Pyongyang’s Phyongchon District. Either the art studio has not gotten around to making miniature replicas of the statues on Mansu Hill or this exhibit will never have them.

I believe the latter is probably the case.

From an ideological perspective, miniature Kim replicas would not inspire the masses the way the real [large] statues are meant to. They would almost certainly cause confusion. Can you imagine bowing to a statue shorter than you? Actually from the television footage it is difficult to make out the scale of the site, but it is quite probable that even miniature statues would be larger than life-size.

From a fiscal perspective, installing real [miniature] Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il statues would be expensive for the park managers. In addition to the cost of commissioning the two statues, the park managers would have to begin treating this part of the park as an actual revolutionary site–with all the formality, expense and protocol associated therewith. I don’t think anybody wants that.

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A Semantic Network Analysis of Changes in North Korea’s Economic Policy

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Published by the journal Governance
Authors: Changyong Choi and Jesse D. Lecy

Download a PDF of the article here.

Abstract:

To shed light on the inner workings of policymaking in North Korea, this study examined the process behind economic policy change through an analysis of the official state economics journal (Journal of Economic Research 경제연구). Semantic networks are used to trace the introduction and evolution of policies during four distinct economic periods in North Korean history between 1986 and 2009. Although reform is catalyzed by political and economic crises, the emergence of new policy topics occurs incrementally prior to change. Specifically, new policy discourse tends to emerge in gradual and cautious ways but policy change occurs swiftly in periods of crisis. During periods of stability, the state retreats to the centralized socialist economic system, often through coercion and force. This view of the policy process suggests that foundations of economic reforms in North Korea are yet weak and instable, and policy reform will continue to be vulnerable to the political influence of conservatives.

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Kim Jong-un’s new year address (2013)

Friday, January 11th, 2013

Kim Jong-un ditched the new year “Joint Editorial” of the Kim Jong-il era and has personally taken on the role of reading a new year speech (appx .5 hrs)–as was done by his grandfather, Kim Il-sung. Here is a video of the speech (in Korean..no subtitles):

KCNA published the text of the full speech. Here is the English version. Here is the Korean version.

Having read it all, I can understand why Kim Jong-il did not want to give these speeches.  If I had absolute power I would not want to either.  Here is some analysis that others have provided:

The New York Times highlighted Kim jong-un’s softening tone towards South Korea:

“A key to ending the divide of the nation and achieving reunification is to end the situation of confrontation between the North and the South,” Mr. Kim said. “A basic precondition to improving North-South relations and advancing national reunification is to honor and implement North-South joint declarations.”

He was referring to two inter-Korean agreements, signed in 2000 and 2007, when two South Korean presidents, Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, were pursuing a “Sunshine Policy” of reconciliation and economic cooperation with North Korea and met Mr. Kim’s father in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

And on economics:

In his speech, Kim Jong-un, echoed themes of previous New Year’s messages, emphasizing that improving the living standards of North Koreans and rejuvenating the agricultural and light industries were among the country’s main priorities.

But he revealed no details of any planned economic policy changes. He mentioned only a need to “improve economic leadership and management” and “spread useful experiences created in various work units.”

The Daily NK issued this commentary:

According to the Ministry of Unification in Seoul, “Overall there was no new policy; they stuck to the existing line.”

In last year’s New Year’s Joint Editorial, the Kim Jong Il era equivalent of this morning’s address, a North Korean regime conscious of the risks of succession emphasized little more than the need to adhere closely to the last instructions of Kim Jong Il as a means of promoting social stability. Kim Jong Il’s name was mentioned a total of 34 times in that editorial.

This year, Kim Jong Eun focused on propagating the accomplishments of his first year, predominantly the December 12th rocket launch success, which he set up as an example for all sectors of the North Korean economy to promote growth. He even put forward a rocket-inspired slogan for 2013, calling for overall economic development based on the “spirit that conquered the universe.”

Cho Bong Hyun, a researcher with IBK’s economic research arm, told Daily NK today, “The core characteristic of this year’s New Year’s Address was emphasizing the Unha-3 launch and linking it to the economy. Kim Jong Eun seems to be planning to use the success of the rocket launch as a tool with which to vitalize the economy.”

However, the list of major achievements mentioned in the address included the military parade that marked the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth, the completion of Huichon Dam and its affiliated power plant, and the construction of athletic facilities around Pyongyang. It is hard not to regard such projects as indicators of North Korea’s fundamental economic weakness rather than strength.

Kim made references to reunification and improving relations with South Korea as well, but did not appear to offer a compromise position that could spur dialogue. Indeed, he appeared also to confirm that Kim Jong Il’s military-first political line is set to continue in 2013 and on into Kim Jong Eun’s rule.

Regarding the softer tone with South Korea, the Daily NK had this to say:

The message for South Korea in North Korea’s statement for the New Year was considerably more gracious than that of last year. Kim Jong Eun stated in his address, as per the subsequent official translation, “An important issue in putting an end to the division of the country and achieving its reunification is to remove confrontation between the north and the south.”

Despite the fact that the “unity of the Korean people” has been a constant theme of North Korean discourse over several decades now, the reaction to Kim’s words was abnormally enthusiastic. Some experts even believe that the speech revealed Kim Jong Eun’s ardent wish to restore inter-Korean relations, and say that North Korea is sure to put more weight on dialogue with South Korea going forward. The state-run Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU) concluded that North Korea has returned to a gentler South Korea policy.

Yet the reality is that North Korea has been going back and forth between dialogue and provocation over many years. This was even true under the left wing Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo Hyun administrations. Lest we should forget, at the launch of the Lee Myung Bak administration in 2008, the first conservative administration for ten years, North Korea expressed great anticipation that progress in inter-Korean relations was impending.

At that time, North Korea called for the creation of “a new history of peaceful prosperity” and the promotion of legal and institutional mechanisms to prepare for unification. However, as inter-Korean relations went astray and Kim Jong Eun moved closer to the driving seat, North Korea embarked on a set of extreme provocations. Mind you, even then North and South were still discussing the possibility of a summit behind the scenes.

North Korea has chosen to limit its attacks on the new administration for one major reason; to test it. This happened in the 2003 and 2008 addresses (then known as the New Year’s Joint Editorial); indeed, it happens each time a new administration is launched down in Seoul.

The Daily NK also reports that the new year speech’s treatment of economic issues is nothing new:

[…] Promoting the development of light industry has been a key feature of a number of recent New Year’s Joint Editorials, the keynote editorial carried across North Korea’s three main publications; Rodong Shinmun (for the Chosun Workers’ Party), Chosun People’s Army (for the military) and Minju Chosun (for the Cabinet).

Evan Ramstad at the Wall Street Journal highlights a similar theme.  In his article, “North Korea’s Message: New Style, Similar Script“, he very cleverly compares 2013, 2012, 2011 publications. They are very similar.

Stephan Haggard confesses to being worn down (as am I), but offers some thoughtful comments nonetheless:

The basic economic message seems to be “do everything,” which is really equivalent to not prioritizing anything at all. But it is possibly worse than that. The slogan for the year is “Let us bring about a radical turn in the building of an economic giant with the same spirit and mettle as were displayed in conquering space!” This approach suggests that the regime’s thinking is still locked into the idea of leapfrogging, “100 day battles,” and monumentalism; indeed, the first reference to economics in the speech is to “Juche-oriented and modern factories and enterprises and reconstructed major production bases in key industrial sectors on the basis of advanced science and technology…”

If there is any logic to the speech—a big assumption—it sounds like heavy industry comes first. (“By adopting decisive steps to shore up the vanguard sectors of the national economy and the sectors of basic industries, we should develop coal-mining, electric-power and metallurgical industries and rail transport on a preferential basis and provide a firm springboard for the building of an economic giant.”) This is disheartening to say the least, but who knows? In the next section, the speech says the country should concentrate on people’s livelihoods, agriculture and light industry “too,” and also with the increasing emphasis seen in recent speeches on “science and technology” as a panacea.

Haggard followed up with these comments:

We see three things in the speech, editorials and posters that are discouraging. The first is the ongoing confusion between ends (being a strong and prosperous nation) and the strategy of getting there (heavy industry first, technological leap-frogging, vague injunctions to focus on people’s livelihoods). Second, the emphasis on technology as a form of economic deliverance is everywhere (“Today’s era is an era of science and technology, and we should open up an epoch-making phase in building an economically powerful state with the power of science and technology. The key to crushing the sanctions and blockades by the imperialists and leaping forward into an economically powerful state lies in science and technology.”) A single-minded focus on technology can put a missile in space, and the launch has to be seen as an achievement. But a single-minded focus on technology can’t produce economic growth in the absence of policies that promote ongoing innovation and provide incentives to using technology in an efficient way.In our humble opinion, it is a greater–if more mundane–achievement to grow at 3-4 percent a year than to waste hundreds of millions of dollars on a non-functioning satellite and military posturing.

Which brings us to the final problem: what we call the exhortatory approach to economic growth. The endless exhortation in important speeches is not coincidental. In the absence of meaningful incentives, the only way to squeeze more juice out of the workforce is hope that they respond to nationalist appeals by increasing effort. But a country’s workforce can work very hard and remain poor if what it is doing destroys value, as forced-march economic campaigns typically do. As we know from past socialist collapses, a surprising share of the capital stock in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe was essentially worthless when the final reckoning came. Effort cannot substitute for fundamentals, if anyone is even paying attention to these campaigns any more.

Evans Revere, writing for Brookings, made some interesting observations:

Kim Jong-un’s choice of venue for the New Year’s speech was important. He delivered his remarks at the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) Central Committee building, a site selected to reinforce another theme of his year-old leadership: the primacy of the Party over other institutions and the role of the KWP as the main vehicle for his rule. It was no accident that the Party flag was displayed prominently next to Kim as he spoke.

Having sought to convey that he is a leader in his grandfather’s mold, and having reminded the nation (particularly the military) that the Party under his leadership is in the driver’s seat, Kim spent much of the speech holding forth on another central theme of his reign: economic growth. Looking through this section of the speech, one is hard pressed to find details about future economic plans or concrete new ideas aimed at boosting the DPRK’s anemic economy. In fact, its hortatory calls for making new “advances,” “building an economic giant,” and “breaking through the cutting edge” resemble the timeworn, empty exhortations of past New Year’s editorials. Thin gruel indeed.

Andray Abrahamian at Choson Exchange picks up on a similar theme:

For those of you with an interest in empirical measurements, Kim Jong Il’s “Songun” only got six mentions this year. Kim Il Sung’s “Juche” got 13. But as much as the content of Kim’s speech is important, the very fact that he made a speech at all demonstrates his continuing efforts to associate himself with the pre-Songun era of his grandfather. Implicit in Kim’s style is a return to the relative stability and prosperity that Kim Il Sung oversaw.

The Institute for Far Eastern Studies issued two reports on the new year speech:

Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s Address Stresses Continuous Economic Management and Improvement
2013-1-4

In the New Year’s address delivered by Kim Jong Un, emphasis was placed on easing the hostile inter-Korean relations and implementation of the June 15 inter-Korean joint declaration.

An intriguing point of this year’s speech was its format, as Kim Jong Un’s delivery of the New Year’s Address was televised — a rare occurrence, considering the last one to be televised was that given by Kim Il Sung in 1994, some nineteen years ago. The Korean Central News Agency and Korean Central Television broadcasted this year’s speech.

The highlight of the speech was Kim Jong Un’s declaration, “To end the state of division of the country and achieve reunification, we must remove confrontations between North and South.” He added, “Respecting and thoroughly implementing the north-south joint declarations is a basic prerequisite to promoting the inter-Korean relations and hastening the country’s reunification.”

This can be interpreted as an effort by the North as a hopeful message to the newly elected South Korean president Park Geun-hye for improved relations and to urge her administration to depart from her predecessor’s North Korea policy and implement the June 15 and October 4 Joint Declarations.

In the 2008 New Year address, North Korea made a similar statement encouraging the then Lee Myong-bak administration to fulfill the joint declarations.

As for North Korea’s foreign relations, Kim stressed that it will expand and develop relations with those countries that are friendly and cooperative to North Korea and affirmed to “strive actively to realize independence in the world and safeguard peace and stability in the region.” However, there was no mention of North Korea’s position on the nuclear issue or US-DPRK relations.

As for the economy, Kim stressed that “the entire Party, the whole country and all the people should wage an all-out struggle this year to effect a turnaround in building an economic giant and improving the people’s standard of living.” The importance of economy and the improvement of the lives of its people were reiterated and agriculture and light industry was named as frontline industries.

Similarly, last year’s New Year joint editorial called for revolution in light industry and agriculture. This year’s message stressed that economic guidance and management must be improved to reflect the realities of development. It also stressed that the North “hold fast to the socialist economic system of our own style, steadily improve and perfect the methods of economic management on the principle of encouraging the working masses to fulfill their responsibility and role befitting the masters of production, and generalize on an extensive scale the good experiences gained at several units.”

In 2012, North Korea announced its ‘June 28 policy’. There is speculation that changes are taking place in various parts of the country to pilot changes in its economic system.

The New Year address also emphasizes the military. “The military might of a country represents its national strength; only when it builds up its military might in every way can it develop into a thriving country and defend the security and happiness of its people.” Kim Jong Un also emphasized that “The sector of defense industry should develop in larger numbers sophisticated military hardware of our own style that can contribute to implementing the Party’s military strategy.”

South Korean government showed a lukewarm response to North Korea’s New Year address. While the format of the address was relatively novel in that it was televised, most North Korea watchers see the content and format of the joint editorial as similar to past addresses. Kim Jong Un placed heavy emphasis on the economic sector, but the method of improvement revealed no major changes from the current policy. Likewise, no concrete measures were suggested for the improvement of inter-Korean relations except for a general suggestion to open the doors for dialogue.

and…

North Korea’s National Science and Technology Council calls the New Year’s Address, “A Shortcut Measure to Become an Economic Powerhouse”
2013-1-11

In the 2013 New Year speech by Kim Jong Un, plans to strengthen the National Science and Technology Council can be noticed to serve as a driving force for the future economic construction of North Korea.

According to the Chosun Shinbo, a pro-North Korean newspaper in Japan, the National Science and Technology Council assessed the New Year speech to substantiate, “The teachings of our leader Kim Jong Un, to stipulate the power of science and technology in order to provide a shortcut in constructing a strong economic nation.”

The news evaluated 2012 as a year of revolutionary achievement for succeeding in the satellite launch as it was the last year of the “Third Five-Year Plan” of scientific and technological development.

According to the newspaper, the National Science and Technology Council was acclaimed as an esteemed mechanism in conducting scientific research contributing to the nation’s economic development and in creating a new foundation for various scientific research sectors to carry out its projects.

As a result, the news claimed noteworthy achievements were made in state-of-the-art scientific research, with over hundreds of studies conducted in reconstruction and modernization projects in factories and enterprises across the country.

The 2013 marks the first year of the “Fourth Five-Year Plan of Scientific and Technological Development” and the National Science and Technology Council outlined its major goals and tasks of this year: “Our scientists and technicians will carry out the tasks put forth by the New Year speech to realize the modernization of our economy and build a strong nation from advancement in science and technology.”

The Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly decided last month to award the Medal of Kim Jong Il to the Korean Committee of Space Technology (KCST) for the successful launch of the Kwangmyongsong 3-2 satellite and commended it as the “paramount event and celebration in our national history of 5,000 years and of our people.”

The successful launch of the long-range rocket was lauded as a major national achievement to North Koreans, with the opportunity to embark on the building of a new satellite named “Kim Jong Un.”

In addition, Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of Workers’ Party of Korea, declared that the era of President Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong-il should be known as the “100 Years of Juche,” while the newspaper referred to Kim Jong Un’s era as the “new 100 Years of Juche.”

For Kim Jong Un, it is critical that his regime improve the North Korean economy in order for him to fully consolidate his power and win the hearts of the North Korean people. Kim is likely to continue to push forward with economic development efforts in 2013, through promoting political stability.

In this year’s New Year’s message, the year 2012 was named as the “year of the people” while agriculture and light industry were said to be major fronts for economic construction of a kangsong taeguk, or strong and prosperous nation. Food shortage and livelihood of the people were also named as major challenges to be resolved to realize kangsong taeguk.

From this year, “June 28 Policy” is likely to continue and already, pilot measures were implemented in selected rural areas to improve economic management and expand autonomy of factories and work sites. Depending on the outcomes of the pilot measure, changes in economic policy is likely to occur this year.

Some new measures likely to take place are as follows: in the agricultural sector, the expansion of farmers’ right to dispose of grain yield; in the industrial sector, the increase of incentives via increasing the autonomy of each company.

Alexandre Mansourov wrote extensive comments on the DPRK’s 2012 in 38 North.

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North Korea Lauds Its Economic Achievements One Year After Kim Jong Il’s Death

Friday, December 14th, 2012

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2012-12-14

In preparation for the first anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s death, North Korea is calling attention to its economic achievements.

North Korean media announced that workers in each production sector met the goals of this year to commemorate the death of Kim Jong Il.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on December 7, “To honor the oath of bloody tears made before our Dear Leader Kim Jong Il, with burning hopes to charge ahead to meet the annual People’s Economic Plan, industrial production output reached 100 percent and production of daily necessities reached 113.7 percent, as of December 5.”Specifically, the machinery industrial sector was said to have reached its annual production goal by 107 percent as of the end of November.

Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpiece of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), also mentioned that a product exhibition was held from December 3rd to 6th in the Pyongyang Department Store No. 1.

In addition, KCNA reported that many hydroelectric power plants across the nation have already exceeded the annual electricity production plan. The KCNA claimed that Sodusu power plant exceeded the annual goal by 120.3 percent, while the Hochon River power plant and Jangjin River power plant reached 107.6 and 109.3 percent, respectively.

North Korean media boasted its economic development and spoke of its economic revitalization strategy. In the KCNA commentary: “We have developed our own economic revitalization strategies for economic development and devotion for this goal is deepening with time.”

North Korea’s recent announcement and actual launch of the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite is also claimed to be an essential process for North Korea’s economic development.

“Unha-3rocket carryingthe satellite Kwangmyongsong-3, was developed by North Korean scientists and engineers by its own technology, and it is a noble achievement for its scientific and technical advancement to realize the goal of economic revival,” stated Choson Sinbo, a Japan-based pro-North Korean newspaper.

Analysts see North Korea’s recent moves (that is, its stressing of economic achievements and the rocket/satellite launch) as Pyongyang’s effort to emphasize the Kim Jong Un regime’s intent to uphold the teachings of the late leader Kim Jong Il through strengthening the economy.

The year 2012 was propagated by North Korea to be the first year of its kangsong taeguk (“strong and prosperous nation”). North Korea is trying to prove to its people that, despite Kim Jong Il’s death, this effort is still continuing under the Kim Jong Un leadership.

In the December 7th article of the KCNA, annual evaluation was made of the various economic achievements. The article called the past year “a historical miracle of a new era,” and “first year of new centennial of juche.” It also stated that a “new historical miracle was created to mark the new era of strong Korea (Chosun) upholding the great teachings of General Kim Jong Il.”

The KCNA mentioned the ‘Day of the Sun’ celebrations and other various celebrations, WPK conference, Kim Jong Un’s onsite visits to military bases, completion of the Huichon Power Station, Pyongyang city park construction, and Moranbong band performances as major achievements of the year.

In addition, the new 12-year compulsory education policy, outstanding performance by North Korean athletes at the 2012 London Olympics (i.e., four gold and one bronze medal), and the commissioning of the new State Culture and SportsGuidance Commission were also mentioned as main accomplishments of the year.

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An affiliate of 38 North