Archive for the ‘International Governments’ Category

DPRK emigration numbers in 2015

Sunday, July 5th, 2015

According to Yonhap:

The portion of female North Korean defectors topped 80 percent this year, government data showed Sunday, apparently because North Korean women are under less severe scrutiny by the communist country.

The number of female North Koreans who came to the South reached 444 in the January-May period, accounting for 83 percent of the 535 North Koreans who came to the South, according to the unification ministry.

The data was compiled tentatively as the government’s background checks for North Korean defectors have not been completed, it said. Around 30,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea in search of freedom so far.

Since the portion of female North Korean defectors topped the 50 percent mark for the first time in 2002, the weight has been on the rise, the data showed.

In particular, since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un took office in late 2011, the portion has increased above the 70 percent mark. The corresponding data reached 75.6 percent in 2013 and came in at 78.2 percent in 2014.

Experts said that it might be easier for women to flee the communist country as they are relatively less scrutinized by North Korean authorities.

Meanwhile, the number of North Koreans who defect to the South has been on the decline since 2011, the data showed.

In 2014, the number of defectors reached 1,396, down 48.4 percent from 2011, it said.

“Regardless of sex, the number of North Korean defectors has been falling,” a unification ministry official said. “The trend is likely to continue this year as well.”

While the number of North Koreans coming south has been on the decline since Kim Jong-un came to power, there has been a flurry of media reports recently that indicate that the number of high-level defectors leaving the country is on the increase.

According to the Chosun Ilbo (2015-7-2):

About a dozen senior North Korean officials have defected in recent years because they feared for their lives in leader Kim Jong-un’s purges, a source said Wednesday.

The defectors were working in China and Southeast Asia, some charged with earning hard currency for the regime.

Several have already arrived in South Korea while others are staying in a third country.

Early this year, a mid-ranking official who had been dispatched to Hong Kong from Room 39, a Workers Party office that handles Kim’s slush funds, sought asylum in South Korea with his family.

He reportedly told investigators here he was terrified of Kim’s draconian purges, which saw senior officials executed by anti-aircraft gun, and that officials left in North Korea find it almost impossible to flee because of tight controls but those working overseas can find some opportunities to defect.

Last year, a senior official of Taesong Bank, who had handled Kim’s slush funds in Siberia, fled to South Korea with millions of dollars. Even a senior official of the State Security Department fled the North and arrived here. According to the National Security Service here, the defection particularly upset Kim.

An army general has been staying in a third country since he fled the North recently, according to sources. The general was reportedly involved in the two inter-Korean summits in 2000 and 2007.

The defections highlight the climate of fear among senior apparatchiks since the brutal execution of Kim’s uncle and one-time eminence grise Jang Song-taek, as well as that of former armed forces minister Hyon Yong-chol.

In a report to the National Assembly, the NIS claimed that the North executed more than 70 senior party, government and military officials by firing squad since Kim took power.

And According to Yonhap (2015-7-6):

North Korea may continue to see its officials desert the communist country to settle abroad down the road, but the exodus is not likely to lead to the collapse of the regime, experts said Monday.

North Korea is believed to be coping with an increased number of defections by government officials as of late with frequent fears of purging and punishment haunting North Korean officials under leader Kim Jong-un.

About 10 North Korean military and party officials have reportedly fled the communist country recently in their pursuit of asylum in South Korea or in a third country.

Those defectors reportedly included a mid-ranking North Korean party official who sought asylum in the South with his family early this year while he was managing slush funds in Hong Kong for leader Kim.

Another high-ranking military official also reportedly has been staying in a country outside of South and North Korea since fleeing the communist country.

The recent outflow may continue in the future as more officials terrified of Kim’s “reign of terror” are likely to renounce their allegiance to the communist country, experts noted.

“For the time being, North Korean officials are likely to continue to flee the communist country or seek asylum, which would weaken the regime of the North’s leader Kim Jong-un,” said Chang Yong-seok, a researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University.

Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University, also noted, “Desertion by these people may take place intermittently in the process of solidifying the Kim Jong-un regime and securing the regime’s stability.”

Since taking power in late 2011 after his father Kim Jong-il’s sudden death, the junior Kim has resorted to unusually brutal means to solidify his power base.

In late 2013, Jang Song-thaek, the husband of Kim’s aunt and once the country’s second most powerful official, was executed on charges of treason, along with many other officials with close ties with Jang.

Former defense chief Hyon Yong-chol was also purged in late April apparently due to his disloyalty to Kim.

Still, experts stressed that the terror-driven exodus may not immediately lead to a collapse of the Kim regime although it is likely to resort to military provocations outside the country in order to quell potential political instability inside.

“If Kim’s reign of terror prolongs, his governing style could bring about an instability in the communist country,” said Jung Sang-don, a research fellow at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (KIDA). “Then, there is a possibility that North Korea could make provocations in a bid to tide over its internal problems.”

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, also dismissed the view that a series of defections by officials meant instability in Kim’s regime, saying that there have been no signs of abnormal activities among the North Korean military power or other citizens.

Here is coverage in the Korea Times.

Read the full story here:
Portion of female N. Korean defectors tops 80 pct this year: data
Yonhap
2015-7-5

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UK publishes an updated list of sanctioned DPRK individuals/entities

Saturday, July 4th, 2015

You can see the list here (PDF). I have added this to my DPRK economic statistics page.

There is no similar list (as best I can tell) published by the US government (Please correct me if I am wrong). But links to tools created by the different offices in the US government can be found on my DPRK economic statistics page. I suspect a little research on with tools could be used to produce such a list. The closest I have seen to a complete list is here (PDF).

UPDATE: Josh Stanton offers this link.

NK News reports that the European Commission also tightened sanctions on the DPRK.

See Josh Stanton’s summary here.

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North Korean company advertisements appear in World Cup preliminary match

Friday, July 3rd, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2015-7-3

North Korea has attracted attention after it recently featured a number of corporate advertisements in a preliminary match of the 2018 Russian World Cup.

In the past, North Korea rejected everything related to capitalism. But since Kim Jong Un’s rise to power it appears to be actively using sports and commercial capital in order to attract foreign capital as its market economy rapidly expands.

On June 16, 2015 Korean Central Television (KCTV) broadcast the second match of the Russian World Cup Asian qualifying rounds. The match, in which North Korea and Uzbekistan played, was held at Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Stadium, where advertisements by North Korean companies such as Kaesong Koryo Ginseng and the Pyongyang Building Materials Factory appeared in force. Kaesong Koryo Ginseng and Choson Kumgang Group in particular appeared to have spent a lot of money sponsoring the event, as every most ads belonged to one of these companies. Conspicuous among the advertisements were those from companies that have not been well-known in the outside world, such as Malgun Achim (literally ‘clear morning’), a manufacturing company known in North Korea for producing IT products such as computers. Exhibiting numerous ads for North Korean companies at an international sports event and broadcasting the event on TV to the world is rather unprecedented behavior for North Korea.

When the 27th Mangyongdae Prize International Marathon was held in Pyongyang in 2014, not only were there no ads for North Korean companies, but there were no ads for foreign companies either. As a result British contestant Will Phillips, who qualified to participate in the marathon as a foreign amateur athlete, remarked at the time, “It feels like time just stopped in the ‘60s.” However, an article appeared in the January 2015 edition of the Kim Il Sung University Bulletin that emphasized the importance of advertisements in attracting investment and gave specific instructions to heed the publication times of major foreign newspapers and even pay attention to broadcast ratings. Since then North Korea has paid attention to foreign advertisements and has really upped its efforts to attract foreign currency.

As the market economy spreads rapidly in the Kim Jong Un era, this event is viewed as a sign of change in North Korea’s foreign economic policy. The promotion of North Korean companies in a preliminary round of the World Cup, which relatively many foreigners can view, is interpreted as an attempt to ultimately attract foreign capital. At the same time, it appears there is a dimension of inducing competition between North Korean companies to boost domestic demand. This event can also be connected to one of the characteristics of the Kim Jong Un regime, which emphasizes and encourages physical education throughout the state. Such a scene, which seamlessly joins sports with commercial capitalism, is unprecedented for North Korea.

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Rason serves as Hunchun port (again)

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015

Back in 2011, an experimental project saw the shipment of coal from Hunchun (China) to Shanghia via the North Korean port of Rason. Since then, no such effort is known to have been repeated.

Until now, apparently…

According to UPI:

A maritime route that includes the North Korean port of Rajin has enabled Chinese shippers to significantly reduce costs over a more time-consuming land route, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.

Chinese cargo from the northeastern city of Hunchun has made the journey to bustling Shanghai twice in June, according to Chinese authorities.

Hunchun officials said 38 containers that left the city on June 24 arrived in Shanghai on June 27, and on June 11, 42 containers were delivered to China’s eastern coast – all using Rajin as a key point where cargo could be loaded onto ships.

I have not been able to locate any additional information.

Read the full story here:
China, North Korea cooperate on Rajin shipping route
UPI
Elizabeth Shim
2015-7-2

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Humanitarian aid to DPRK almost flat on-year in H1 2015

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

According to Yonhap:

The growth of humanitarian aid sent to North Korea stayed almost flat in the first half from a year earlier, a U.N. agency said Wednesday, raising concerns about food shortages in the North.

The global community’s humanitarian assistance to the North amounted to a combined US$21.3 million in the January-June period, compared to $20.6 million in the same period last year, according to data compiled by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

But the figure in the first half marked a 40 percent decline when compared to $35.6 million in the first half of 2013, it showed.

The U.N. and six countries — South Korea, Switzerland, Sweden, Canada, France and Germany — supplied humanitarian aid to Pyongyang this year.

Switzerland was the top donor with $9.17 million, or 43 percent of the total aid, followed by South Korea with $4 million and Sweden with $3.23 million, the data showed.

By type, food and nutrition aid topped the list with $9.64 million worth contributed, followed by healthcare work at $6.2 million, and the supply of drinking water at $2.4 million, it said.

A separate U.N. report showed that about 70 percent of North Korea’s 24.6 million people are suffering due to food shortages and 1.8 million, including children and pregnant women, are in need of nutritional food supplies aimed at fighting malnutrition.

Aid from China and Russia would not appear in this study.

Read the full story here:
Humanitarian aid to N. Korea almost flat on-year in H1
Yonhap
2015-7-1

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US group seeks to seize Mudu-bong

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

According to the Jerusalem Post:

Shurat Hadin – Israel Law Center on Tuesday requested that Mexico permit it to seize an impounded North Korean ship to satisfy a $330 million it won against Pyongyang in April in a US civil damages trial for wrongful killing of a Christian priest.

Mexico impounded the 6,700-ton Mu Du Bong for illegal weapons smuggling on its way from Cuba to North Korea following notification by UN sanctions monitors that the ship belonged to a blacklisted firm. The ship ended up accidentally landing on the Mexican coast and North Korea has protested Mexico’s continuing to hold on to the ship.

The Tel Aviv-based NGO hired Mexican lawyer Alberto Mansur to request that Mexico honor and enforce the US court ruling as part of its obligations to honor foreign judgments under the Hague Convention.The April judgment, which also included findings by a US federal court in Washington that North Korea had kidnapped, tortured and killed South Korean-American Rev. Kim Dong Shik, included $15m. each to Shik’s son and brother as well as $300m. in punitive damages.

Dong Shik, a South Korean who was a permanent resident of the US and had spent seven years providing aid and proselytizing to North Korean defectors who tried to escape via China, was abducted in China in 2000. In 2005, a South Korean court convicted an ethnic Korean of his abduction in concert with North Korean intelligence.

Shurat Hadin said that it hoped that the context of the requested seizure, the North Korean outlaw regime ignoring weapons smuggling laws and flouting UN resolutions, would help its case since it tied into Pyongyang’s massive human rights violations in abducting and murdering innocent persons, which was at the heart of the Dong Shik judgment.

The judgment was a default judgment in which the defendant, North Korea, did not even appear at trial, leading most to predict that it would go unenforced since default judgments are notoriously hard to collect on, especially with a regime such as North Korea, which has few connections to the West.

After the April judgment, Shurat Hadin said the family was investigating all the possible avenues to collect the judgment against North Korean assets including seizing bank accounts, property and shares in foreign companies in the United States and abroad.

But even Shurat Hadin admitted that Mexico’s seizure of the ship was a shocking gift and unexpected opportunity to collect on the judgment. The NGO’s President Nitsana Darshan- Leitner said that “North Korea should know that we are actively tracking its assets and looking to seize them everywhere in the world. This outlaw regime must be taught that it cannot abduct and murder foreign citizens and that eventually there will be a price to pay.”

“There is no reason why this boat which clearly belongs to North Korea cannot be used to satisfy our judgment,” she said.

In the April judgment against North Korea, the court said that the two $15m.

and the $300m. damages awards were consistent with comparable cases against North Korea and Iran for other similar wrongful actions and recognized the tremendous suffering by Dong Shik’s family members.

In December 2014, Shurat Hadin convinced a US federal appeals court to grant default judgment against North Korea on liability, paving the way for April’s massive damages award by the lower district court.

The ruling by the US Appeals Court for the District of Columbia, written by Judge David S. Tatel, reversed an earlier district court ruling that had dismissed the case, despite North Korea failing to defend itself, on the grounds that the plaintiffs had failed to present any direct evidence of what happened to Dong Shik.

The appeals court based its ruling on proof that Pyongyang kidnapped Dong Shik, a wealth of information about it torturing and killing prisoners, its systematic attempts to block direct evidence from emerging and its failure to counter the plaintiffs’ claims.

The ruling was also significant because it allowed a case to go forward based on the “terrorism exception” to the US Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which somewhat broadens the paths and precedents open to suing foreign nations for terrorist acts.

Read the full story here:
NGO seeks to seize N. Korean ship to pay off $330 m. US judgment for killing of priest
Jerusalem Post
Yonah Jeremy Bob
2015-6-30

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DPRK and FATF (UPDATED)

Monday, June 29th, 2015

UPDATE 8 (2015-6-29):  FATF says member states should pay “special attention” to financial transactions with North Korea. According to VOA:

The Paris-based Financial Action Task Force last week reaffirmed its earlier decision to put the community country on its watch list because of North Korea’s “failure to address the significant deficiencies in its anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism,” the task force said in a public statement released on its website. It said that failure poses “serious threat … to the integrity of the international financial system.”

The task force had a plenary meeting last week in Brisbane, Australia.

“The FATF reaffirms its 25 February 2011 call on its members and urges all jurisdictions to advise their financial institutions to give special attention to business relationships and transactions with the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], including DPRK companies and financial institutions,” it said.

The group also expressed concern about the North’s noncompliance with its recommendations to fight money laundering.

In an apparent attempt to ease financial sanctions by the United States and the United Nations, the North promised steps to address money laundering concerns. In July 2014, Pyongyang announced it had joined the Asian affiliate of the anti-money laundering body as an observer. Later, the North sent a letter to the FATF indicating its commitment to implementing actions recommended by the group.

The FATF, created in 1989, has 36 members, comprising 34 member countries and territories and two regional organizations.

UPDATE 7 (2015-3-16): Following the FATFs statement regarding the DPRK on February 27, the US Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued a new advisory.

Read the full advisory here (PDF)

Here is coverage in Yonhap.

UPDATE 6 (2015-2-17): The FATF has issued another statement on North Korea:

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is the global standard setting body for anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT). In order to protect the international financial system from money laundering and financing of terrorism (ML/FT) risks and to encourage greater compliance with the AML/CFT standards, the FATF identified jurisdictions that have strategic deficiencies and works with them to address those deficiencies that pose a risk to the international financial system.

Jurisdictions subject to a FATF call on its members and other jurisdictions to apply counter-measures to protect the international financial system from the on-going and substantial money laundering and terrorist financing (ML/FT) risks emanating from the jurisdictions.

Iran
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)

Jurisdictions with strategic AML/CFT deficiencies that have not made sufficient progress in addressing the deficiencies or have not committed to an action plan developed with the FATF to address the deficiencies. The FATF calls on its members to consider the risks arising from the deficiencies associated with each jurisdiction, as described below.

Algeria
Ecuador
Myanmar

———–
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)

Since October 2014, the DPRK sent a letter to the FATF indicating its commitment to implementing the action plan developed with the FATF.

However, the FATF remains concerned by the DPRK’s failure to address the significant deficiencies in its anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regime and the serious threat this poses to the integrity of the international financial system. The FATF urges the DPRK to immediately and meaningfully address its AML/CFT deficiencies.

The FATF reaffirms its 25 February 2011 call on its members, and urges all jurisdictions, to advise their financial institutions to give special attention to business relationships and transactions with the DPRK, including DPRK companies and financial institutions. In addition to enhanced scrutiny, the FATF further calls on its members, and urges all jurisdictions, to apply effective counter-measures to protect their financial sectors from ML/FT risks emanating from the DPRK. Jurisdictions should also protect against correspondent relationships being used to bypass or evade counter-measures and risk mitigation practices, and take into account ML/FT risks when considering requests by DPRK financial institutions to open branches and subsidiaries in their jurisdiction.

UPDATE 5 (2015-2-4): NK News picked up the Choson Sinbo piece and offered these comments:

But other regime watchers suggested that there are at least certain segments of the North Korean elite who do indeed want money laundering combated.

“There’s a cohort of DPRK businessmen who want the country to take more active steps in dealing with financial improprieties because they are losing money or opportunities,” said Michael Madden of North Korea Leadership Watch. “The DPRK leadership, particularly Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong, is thinking more long-term on this.”

And Christopher Green of the Daily NK suggested that this was an effort by the North Korean government to not only avoid sanctions, but assert its control over the domestic financial industry by cracking down on money launderers.

“The state wants to bring into its remit all those rogue financial elements that occasionally tend to fall outside the remit of the ruling coalition,” he said. “The state is in a constant battle to stay as top dog in the financial sector in a country where so much is illegal for historical and political reasons – and illegality is always exploited eventually.”

And Daniel Pinkston of the International Crisis Group suggested that the North may have its eye on its northern neighbor with this move.

“I think it will be helpful – from the DPRK perspective – if Pyongyang ever needs to plead their case with Beijing to avoid financial sanctions that include Chinese banks since they are critical for the DPRK’s international financial linkages,” Pinkston said.

Kim Chon Gyun told the Choson Sinbo that the nation’s penal code has already been revised to reflect international standards when punishing money laundering.

UPDATE 4 (2015-2-3): Yonhap reports on the recent Chosun Sinbo article:

North Korea has created a national committee on efforts to fight money laundering and terrorist financing, a senior Pyongyang official confirmed Tuesday.

The communist nation’s move came after it joined the Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG), the Asia-Pacific arm of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) under the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), last year.

“The National Coordinating Committee is an organ to guide projects to prevent money laundering and financing of terrorism,” Kim Chon-gyun, head of North Korea’s central bank said in an interview with the Chosun Sinbo. The newspaper is published by the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, or Chongryon.

The panel, chaired by a deputy premier of the Cabinet, involves officials from the central bank, the foreign ministry, the finance ministry, and law-enforcement authorities, he added.

The North has already revised its penal code to take punitive measures against related violations in accordance with international norms, said Kim.

In January, Pyongyang said that it sent a letter to the FATF, based in Paris, pledging the sincere implementation of an action plan to meet global anti-money laundering standards.

UPDATE 3 (2015-2-3): The Chosun Sinbo has posted an article on anti-money laundering measures in the DPRK. Here is a rough translation:

[Interview] Kim Chon-kyun, the President of the Central Bank of the DPRK, Cooperation with International Organizations for Prevention from Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing.

“Establishment of the National System for Preventing from Illegal Acts”

By Kim Ji-young, reporter from Pyongyang

Kim Chon-kyun, the President of the Central Bank of the DPRK presented, at the interview with the Choson Sinbo, the opposite stance of North Korean government against money laundering and terrorist financing as follows.

“What cannot be allowed according to institutional characteristics”

– A letter from the president of the Central Bank of the DPRK that pledged to implement plans for action for prevention from money laundering and terrorist financing was submitted to Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on Jan 1st. How has the negotiation between North Korea and FATF proceeded?

The implementing recommendations of the plans for action we pledged this time were consented at the negotiation between North Korea and Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering in Cambodia on September 2014.

When looking into the recommendations, it included maintaining cooperative relations such as sharing data and proceeding cooperation with organizations, joining as a member state, devising a means to sanction and to punish on money laundering and terrorist financing, reinforcing the confirmation procedure of traders, establishing financing watching and information business system including reporting surreptitious trade, joining in international agreement, assessing loca, etc. These measurements are, in a word, that we should establish national system to punish severely illegal acts like internal/external money laundering and terrorist financing.

North Korea institutionally does not allow those illegal acts.

Long before such “international standard” appeared, North Korea already set legal, organizational measurement adequate for our society to prevent from money laundering –like acts. This is specifically described on our laws and those regulations have renewed according to the need for development in reality.

It is interesting that the head of the central bank is the point man for this operation because the DPRK’s central bank does not have the authority to hold foreign currency accounts–only accounts denominated in DPRK won. It seems to me that international money laundering should also be of concert to the Foreign Trade Bank, a sanctioned entity that is responsible for managing hard currency deposits in the DPRK.

UPDATE 2 (2015-1-24): According to the Pyongyang Times:

DPRK commits itself to anti-money laundering action plan

The Governor of the DPRK Central Bank on January 15 sent a letter to the Financial Action Task Force on Anti-Money Laundering, assuring it that the country would implement the Action Plan of International Standard for Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism, a spokesman for the DPRK National Coordinating Committee on Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism told KCNA on January 16.

He described this as a manifestation of the DPRK government’s political will based on its consistent stand to step up international cooperation in this field.

Recommendations of the action plan are legislative and organizational measures to criminalize and punish money laundering and financing of terrorism, and almost all of them have long been implemented in the DPRK to suit its actual conditions, according to the spokesman.

The DPRK will sincerely implement the action plan as it has pledged itself for the promotion of mutual understanding with member nations in the face of the obstructive moves of the US and some other countries that are reluctant to cooperate with the international organization, he stated.

He requested the organization to positively respond to the DPRK’s cooperative efforts as it assured in negotiations with the country.

UPDATE 1 (2014-10-24): FATF issues a public statement from Paris that includes the following:

Jurisdictions subject to a FATF call on its members and other jurisdictions to apply counter-measures to protect the international financial system from the on-going and substantial money laundering and terrorist financing (ML/FT) risks emanating from the jurisdictions.

Iran
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)

Since June 2014, the DPRK has further engaged directly with the FATF and APG to discuss its AML/CFT deficiencies. The FATF urges the DPRK to continue its cooperation with the FATF and to provide a high-level political commitment to the action plan developed with the FATF.

The FATF remains concerned by the DPRK’s failure to address the significant deficiencies in its anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regime and the serious threat this poses to the integrity of the international financial system. The FATF urges the DPRK to immediately and meaningfully address its AML/CFT deficiencies.

The FATF reaffirms its 25 February 2011 call on its members and urges all jurisdictions to advise their financial institutions to give special attention to business relationships and transactions with the DPRK, including DPRK companies and financial institutions. In addition to enhanced scrutiny, the FATF further calls on its members and urges all jurisdictions to apply effective counter-measures to protect their financial sectors from money laundering and financing of terrorism (ML/FT) risks emanating from the DPRK. Jurisdictions should also protect against correspondent relationships being used to bypass or evade counter-measures and risk mitigation practices, and take into account ML/FT risks when considering requests by DPRK financial institutions to open branches and subsidiaries in their jurisdiction.

Here is the web page for FATF. You can learn more about FATF here.

ORIGINAL POST (2014-7-19): North Korea joins OECD anti-money laundering group. According to the JoongAng Daily:

North Korea has joined the Asia Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG), whose purpose is to prevent funding of terrorism and development of nuclear weapons.

Members of the APG unanimously decided to accept North Korea and Tuvalu as observers during its general meeting held in Macau yesterday.

APG is the Asia Pacific unit of the Financial Action Task Force under the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has 41 member countries including the U.S., South Korea, China and Japan and observers include countries such as Germany, France and the U.K., as well as 27 international organizations such as the Asia Development Bank and World Bank.

Since North Korea has been accepted as an observer, it has to follow several rules including the prevention of money laundering, funding of terrorist organizations or actions, sharing its knowledge and experience and following global regulations and laws.

The APG will decide later whether to elevate North Korea from observer status to a member country once it evaluates Pyongyang based on its annual reports to the organization and visits by the representatives of the group over the next three years.

South Korea and many other members are trying to figure out the motive behind the unexpected move by Pyongyang, because North Korea was previously opposed to joining the APG.

“[North Korea’s motive] is a mystery to us,” said a high ranking government official, who requested anonymity. “We suspect that North Korea, while looking for ways to ease the international financial restrictions imposed on them, decided to show their efforts in improving their global image [by joining the APG].

“But since the lists that they need to follow are long, we will probably have wait and see how sincere and determined they are with their decision.”

In other words, it could be a facade as a way for North Korea to ease the sanctions imposed on it, since the possibility that Pyongyang will give up its nuclear ambitions is low.

The action is particularly suspicious because up until last year’s APG meeting held in Shanghai, North Korea refused to join the organization because of the rule requiring members and observers to follow global standards. North Korea at the time argued that it would join the APG only after the agreement to follow UN resolutions was taken out.

The resolutions include prevention of money laundering, nuclear terrorism and development of nuclear weapons, which is the opposite of the North Korean government’s goal of securing both economic growth and nuclear weapons.

But now, North Korea has agreed to follow all regulations presented by APG.

The tide seemed to have turned as financial sanctions imposed by the international community and led by the U.S. have intensified.

Pyongyang suffered heavily last year after the U.S. and China closed the accounts of the Foreign Trade Bank of North Korea, which was known as the money laundering window for Pyongyang. The money laundered through the trade bank is suspected of being used in funding the regime’s control over the country.

In May, the state-run Bank of China said it had notified the Foreign Trade Bank of North Korea that it was closing all of its accounts and suspending all financial transactions. It did not specify the number of accounts in the bank.

The move came as a shock considering China and North Korea’s strong ties. China was previously the lifeline of North Korea, whose economy has been heavily dependent on its close ally.

Last year wasn’t the first time that North Korea’s accounts have been shut down. In 2005, the U.S. froze North Korea’s accounts at Macau’s Banco Delta Asia, which was a heavy blow to Pyongyang’s ability to secure foreign capital.

The recent change of heart seems to have been triggered by a report by the U.S. State Department in May designating North Korea as a country that is non-cooperative against terror, citing its decision not to join either the FATF or APG.

Although suspicious, the South Korean government isn’t disapproving of the move by the North, as there are positive aspects such as better transparency of Pyongyang’s finances if it conforms to the APG’s regulations.

And if Pyongyang doesn’t follow the rules and loses its license as an observer, the sanctions against North Korea will further tighten.

“North Korean representatives, after their acceptance was approved [in Macau], stressed that they will work on following the APG’s international standards and our [South Korean] government has emphasized the importance of following the resolutions set by the United Nations Security Council,” said a government official.

Read the full story here:
North Korea joins OECD anti-money laundering group
JoongAng Daily
Jung Won-yeop and Park Jin-seok
2014-7-19

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Yanji – DPRK charter flight resumes

Sunday, June 21st, 2015

According to Xinhua:

An oft-suspended tourist route between China and North Korea has been reopened after its latest closure.

A charter flight carrying 73 tourists left from Yanji, in the Korean autonomous prefecture of Yanbian in northeast China’s Jilin province, for Pyongyang in North Korea on Thursday.

The route will be open until early October, with a planned 32 charter flights on Thursdays and Sundays. All seats on the flights in June have been booked, according to Yanbian Tianyu Travel Agency, which runs the route with North Korea’s Air Koryo.

A four-day trip costs 3,980 yuan (US$650) per person while a five-day trip costs 4,480 yuan (US$720) per person, according to the agency.

The route between Yanji and Pyongyang was first opened in July 2012, but it was closed for the whole of 2013 due to tensions in North Korea. It resumed on June 29 last year and was suspended again in October. A total of 90 flights had been completed on the route by October.

Read the full story here:
Yanbian-Pyongyang tourist route reopens
Xinhua
2015-6-21

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North Korea’s trade volume in 2014: $7.6 billion USD

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2015-6-17

Last year North Korea’s foreign trade volume (excluding economic exchanges with South Korea) totaled 7.6 billion USD, a 3.7 percent increase over the previous year. According to a report recently put out by KOTRA (Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency) entitled “North Korea’s International Trade Patterns in 2014,” last year North Korean exports totaled 3.16 billion USD, while imports totaled 4.45 billion USD. This represents a 1.7 percent decrease in exports and 7.8 percent growth in imports over the previous year. As a result North Korea’s trade deficit in 2014 leaped to 1.29 billion USD, a 41 percent increase over 2013. This expansion of trade appears to be a product of growth in the import of goods such as plastics, machinery and electricity, as well as growth in the export of clothing.

Among North Korea’s main exports, mineral fuels such as coal, at 1.18 billion USD, represented 37.2 percent of total exports and was the country’s main export product. Meanwhile, exports of clothing and components saw the biggest growth rate, at 23.7 percent, and amounted to 640 million USD. In regards to other exports, iron ore totaled 330 million USD (18.3 percent decrease over 2013), fish and crustaceans totaled 140 million USD (21.9 percent increase), and steel amounted to 130 million USD (22 percent increase).

North Korea’s main imports were as follows: mineral fuels (750 million USD – 4.7 percent decrease), electric equipment (430 million USD – 54.8 percent increase), furnaces and machinery (330 million USD – 3.3 percent increase), motor vehicles and parts (230 million USD – 9.6 percent decrease), and plastic (200 million USD – 31.8 percent increase).

It appears North Korea’s main trading partner is still China. Last year its trade volume with China reached 6.86 billion USD (exports – 2.84 billion USD, imports – 4.02 billion USD), a 4.9 percent increase over 2013. This contributed to a slight increase in North Korea’s reliance on trade with China. Its proportion of trade with China went from 89.1 percent in 2013 to 90.1 percent in 2014. After China, the countries that North Korea traded most with were Russia, India, Thailand, and Bangladesh, in that order. Hong Kong and Ukraine dropped off the list of North Korea’s top ten trading partners, and Pakistan and Germany newly appeared on the list at 8th and 10th place, respectively. Trade with Japan has been nonexistent since 2009. Due to its economic sanctions against North Korea, the United States also had no economic exchanges with North Korea in 2014 outside of relief aid, mostly in the form of medical supplies and equipment.

As North Korea’s over-reliance on trade with China continued, its trade deficit widened due to the decrease in exports and surge in imports. Considering factors such as the complementary trade structure (including contract processing and natural resource trade), the protraction of North Korea’s political and economic isolation, and their highly interdependent relationship, it seems likely that North Korea’s strong reliance on trade with China will continue in the future.

[NOTE: KOTRA data excludes inter-Korean trade. If South Korean trade were included, it would be North Korea’s second largest trading partner, and the composition of trade allotted to China would fall.]

Here is coverage in Yonhap:

North Korea’s global trade expanded in 2014 from a year earlier, but its trade deficit also widened due to a drop in exports, a report showed Friday.

According to the report by the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency, North Korea’s trade came to US$7.61 billion last year, up 3.7 percent from a year earlier. The figures did not count its trade with South Korea.

North Korea’s exports shrank 1.7 percent on-year to $3.16 billion last year, while imports grew 7.8 percent to $4.45 billion over the same period, the report showed.

Based on the figures, North Korea posted a trade deficit of $1.29 billion last year, with its shortfall jumping 41 percent from the year before.

Minerals and fossil fuels, including coal, were among the country’s major export items as its overseas sales stood at $1.18 billion, which accounted for 37.2 percent of its total annual exports.

The report showed that North Korea continues to depend heavily on China for its trade.

Last year, bilateral trade between the two countries reached $6.86 billion, up 4.9 percent from a year earlier. North Korea’s dependence on China in trade increased slightly from 89.1 percent in 2013 to 90.1 percent last year, according to the report.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s global trade expands but trade gap widens: report
Yonhap
2015-6-5

Here is coverage in UPI:

South Korea’s trade promotion agency KOTRA stated North Korea’s trade with the outside world rose to $7.61 billion in 2014, a marginal increase from the previous fiscal year.

In its annual report on North Korea trade trends released Friday, KOTRA noted North Korean exports scaled down while demand for outside materials was up between 2013 and 2014, Yonhap reported.

Numbers indicated North Korea’s exports decreased by 1.7 percent to $3.16 billion in 2014, while imports rose by 7.8 percent to $4.45 billion.

North Korea’s trade deficit jumped to $1.29 billion, up 41 percent from 2013.

In 2014 North Korea imported more electrical equipment, machinery and plastics than it did a year earlier, while exporting more clothing and accessories, according to KOTRA.

The country’s primary export is coal, a trade valued at $1.18 billion and comprises 37.2 percent of North Korea exports.

Clothing and accessories inched up in its share of total exports, rising to $640 million – up 23.7 percent from 2013.

The country’s primary import was fossil fuels at $750 million, followed by electrical equipment at $430 million and boilers, machinery at $330 million.

China remained North Korea’s No. 1 trading partner, reported South Korean newspaper Kyunghyang Sinmun.

In 2014 China-North Korea trade inched up 4.9 percent to $6.87 billion. North Korea imported more than it exported from China. Exports were estimated at $2.84 billion while imports totaled $4.03 billion.

A KOTRA official told Yonhap North Korea’s protracted political and economic isolation has led to a high dependence on trade with China, facilitated by a complementary trade structure between the two countries.

South Korea’s report stated North Korea’s trade dependence on China was as high as 90.1 percent, dwarfing Pyongyang’s next major trading partner, Russia, as well as India, Thailand and Bangladesh.

Read the full story here:
North Korea’s trade deficit continued to grow, says SKorea
UPI
Elizabeth Shim
2015-6-4

Here is coverage in the Joong Ang Ilbo:

North Korea’s international trade volume reached $7.6 billion in 2014, rising by 3.7 percent year-on-year, according to a report on Friday by the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (Kotra).

The growth was backed by Pyongyang’s increased import of electronic devices and machinery and its rising export of clothing, according to the agency.

Kotra said North Korea’s export volume was worth $3.2 billion last year, a 1.7 percent decline from the previous year.

On the other hand, the reclusive state imported $4.5 billion worth of goods, up 7.8 percent. The widening disparity between imports and exports extended the North’s trade deficit by 41 percent to $1.3 billion.

China remained Pyongyang’s biggest trading partner in 2014, the report said, followed by Russia, India, Thailand and Bangladesh. Its trading volume with China increased to $6.9 billion, with imports from that nation accounting for $4 billion and exports $2.9 billion. The overall figure is a 4.9 percent increase from 2013, nudging up the North’s overall degree of dependence on foreign trade with China to 90.1 percent from 89.1 percent.

Hong Kong and Ukraine were no longer in the North’s top 10 trading partners, but Pakistan and Germany made their way onto the list. By contrast, Japan has not traded with the North since 2009, while the United States only provided it with aid and medical equipment.

Kotra noted that the North’s key export products include mineral resources such as coal and brown coal, which account for 37.2 percent of all its exports. Clothing and fisheries products were also among its major exports, with garment shipments recently seeing rapid growth.

The country’s other major export products consist of crude oil, refined oil, machinery, electronic devices, cars and auto parts. The value of resource imports decreased by 4.7 percent last year, while those of electronic machines surged by 54.8 percent.

Kotra expects that the North will continue to rely on its neighboring key ally going forward.

“2014 saw increasing dependence on China, while North Korea extended trade deficits due to the increase in imports and the decline in exports,” Kotra said in a statement. “When considering geopolitical factors and mutually beneficial trade structure, the North is expected to show further reliance on China.”

The Korea Development Institute, a state-run think tank, released its own report that paints dim prospects for the North’s exports.

The institute said the North’s exports of anthracite coal to China are expected to fall in the years to come due to China’s dwindling steel industry and stronger environmental regulations. Its exports of the coal to its ally have been considered the backbone of its economy, accounting for about 40 percent of its overall exports.

The report called on the North to reorganize its trade structure in order to avoid being seriously affected.

“The time has come for North Korea to reshape its external trade structure,” it noted.

Read the full story here:
North’s trade volume rises
Joong Ang Ilbo
2015-6-6

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Iron Silk Road: South Korean involvement in Rason (UPDATED 2015)

Thursday, June 4th, 2015

UPDATE 22 (2015-6-29): Seoul signals interest in renovating small portion of Seoul – Wonsan (Kyongwon) Railway line. According to the Hankyoreh:

The central government has announced plans to restore the South Korean section of the Gyeongwon railway line between Seoul and Wonsan in North Korea.

Questions are now being raised about the purpose of the restoration at a time when the existing Gyeongui and Donghae lines between North and South remain unusable.

The plan was announced on June 28 by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (MLIT).

“We intend to start work in late July on restoring the 9.3-kilometer section of the South Korean Gyeongwon line between Baengmagoji and Woljeong Village [at the Southern Limit Line], where traffic has previously been halted,” the ministry explained.

The project will cost 129 billion won (US$115 million) from the Inter-Korean Cooperation Fund, with additional projects to connect Woljeong Village to the Military Demarcation Line (2.4 km) and from there to Pyonggang in North Korea (14.8 km) contingent on discussions with Pyongyang, the ministry added.

South Korea currently has rail service operating on its 94.4-km section between Yongsan and Baengmagoji, while North Korea is using the 104-km section between Pyonggang and Wonsan.

The MLTI explained that the Gyeongwon Line requires repairs and linkage with the North to form it into a Korean Peninsula railroad that connects in the future with the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Indeed, the linkage of the Gyeongwon Line and Trans-Siberian Railroad is one of the key projects in the Eurasia Initiative announced by President Park Geun-hye. The line would travel via Pyongyang to Wonsan, where it would then continue to Rajin before linking with the Trans-Siberian Railroad. A Keumgangsan branch line between Baengmagoji and Woljeong Village also connects with Naegumgang.

Following an agreement at a 2000 Inter-Korean Summit during the Kim Dae-jung presidency, the two Koreas opened the Gyeongui Line to Kaesong Industrial Complex during the Roh Moo-hyun administration in 2003, and the Donghae Line to Mt. Keumgang in 2006.

But both lines have remained out of service after relations with Pyongyang soured under the Lee Myung-bak administration, which began in 2008. The Gyeongui and Donghae Lines could connect with the Trans-China Railway, Trans-Mongolia Railway and the Trans-Siberian Railroad.

During a preliminary briefing on June 26, the MLTI sidestepped questions about the point of restoring the southern section when the existing Gyeongui and Donghae Lines to North Korea remain unusable.

UPDATE 21 (2015-6-4): The DPRK has blocked South Korea’s membership in the Organization for Cooperation between Railways (OSJD). According to Yonhap:

South Korea again failed to join an international organization for railroad cooperation, a prerequisite for building a trans-Asian railway, due to opposition from North Korea, the Seoul government said Thursday.

It was the second time Seoul sought to join the Organization for Cooperation between Railways (OSJD) since 2003 when the country’s first attempt was again thwarted by Pyongyang’s opposition, according to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.

New membership with the OSJD requires a unanimous vote from the organization’s 28 members, including the communist North.

“We were able to secure explicit support of all other members except North Korea, and the organization is now moving to change its membership procedure from a unanimous vote to two-thirds approval from its members, so we are now looking forward to joining the organization at the next chance,” Vice Transportation Minister Yeo Hyung-koo was quoted as saying.

Yeo has been attending the 43rd ministerial talks of the OSJD in Mongolia’s Ulaanbaatar. OSJD currently has 28 members, including China and Russia.

For South Korea, joining the OSJD is a necessary step to link the country’s own railway system to the trans-Siberian and trans-China railways as part of its long-term goal to reach Europe by land, the ministry said.

UPDATE 20 (2015-4-27): The second shipment of coal is in Rason waiting to be shipped to South Korea. According to Yonhap:

The North Korean port city of Rajin has improved its capacity to handle a second shipment of Russian coals, boosting confidence in the joint coal shipment project involving the two Koreas and Russia, Seoul officials said Monday.

About 140,000 tons of Russian coal is expected to be transferred into South Korea on a ship from Rajin after being moved from Russia’s border city of Khasan on a re-connected railway as a second pilot operation for the three-way logistics project. The shipment will be made between April 16 and May 9.

In November, the first shipment carrying 40,500 tons of Russian coal smoothly arrived in South Korea in its pilot operation of the Rajin-Khasan project.

The project came as a symbolic project of three-way cooperation at a time when inter-Korean exchanges have been almost suspended following the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship by the North in 2010.

“Compared with in November, we think that the port’s capacity to load or unload the shipment was improved,” said an official at the Ministry of Unification, asking not to be named.

“Nothing has been decided, but there may be a third pilot operation for the project,” he said. “We expect that talks over a formal contract could come.”

The project involves three South Korean firms — top steelmaker POSCO, shipper Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. and state train operator Korail Corp. They will decide on whether to clinch a formal contract based on the outcome of the pilot operations.

This time the project also includes two power plant operators: Korea East-West Power Co. and Korea Midland Power Corp.

The coal shipment will arrive at three South Korean ports in early May, including the one in Pohang, 374 kilometers southeast of Seoul and a port in Dangjin, 123 kilometers south of the capital.

The Rajin-Khasan project is part of Seoul’s move to realize President Park Geun-hye’s vision for a united Eurasia.

UPDATE 19 (2015-4-16): The Donga Ilbo reports on the second shipment of coal from Rason to South Korea:

A second trial run in a three-party trade project involving Seoul, Pyongyang and Moscow that will transport more than 100,000 tons of soft coal from Russia to three Korean ports is scheduled to start today, the Ministry of Unification said on Wednesday.

The venture, referred to as the Rajin-Khasan logistics project, will run from today to May 9, and use Chinese ships to transfer the consignment, according to a ministry official.

A consortium of three South Korean companies – top steelmaker Posco, the Korea Railroad Corporation (Korail) and ship maker Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. – are involved in the project, which will see the soft coal transported to Rajin, North Korea, from the Russian border city of Khasan on a reconnected 54-kilometer (33-mile) railway before being shipped to South Korea.

The expected shipment will be used for thermal power generators and ironmaking. The consignment is three times the amount of coal that was transported in the pilot round, when some 40,000 tons were transferred to Pohang, North Gyeongsang, in November over the same route.

Power plant operators Korea East-West Power Co. and Korea Midland Power Corp. are also participating in the second trial run.

The Russian coal will be transported via two China-flagged vessels, a 44,000-tonner and a 49,000-tonner, that will sail from the Rajin port down the East Sea and around the Korean Peninsula to three ports. The coal is expected to arrive first in Dangjin Port in Gyeonggi, where it will be used by the Korea East-West Power Co.

More is scheduled to arrive the following day in Gwangyang Port in South Jeolla for use by Posco. Korea Midland Power Corp. will get its delivery on May 9, at the Boryeong Port in South Chungcheong.

An inspection team of 18 government officials and representatives from the three South Korean companies will make a weeklong visit to the North Korean city with Russian railway authorities on Friday for the project.

“Our government completed the procedures needed for this second trial operation, receiving approval to visit North Korea and import the coal,” a Unification Ministry official said on Wednesday. “Pyongyang will, depending on its contract with Russia, receive payment just for the cost of using the North Korean port.”

The companies will then decide on whether to forge a formal contract for the trilateral project based on the outcome of both test runs.

The Rajin-Khasan project is a part of President Park Geun-hye’s Eurasia Initiative first announced in October 2013 as a way to boost the regional economy through free trade and economic cooperation in the Eurasian bloc by reconnecting the railways that link both Koreas, China and Russia.

UPDATE 18 (2015-4-14): South Korea awaits  DPRK approval for second coal shipment. According to Yonhap:

A group of three South Korean firms has been in talks with North Korea and Russia over another pilot operation, during which some 150,000 tons of Russian coal may be shipped to the South between late April and early May, according to the source.

“As North Korea has not given final approval for the second operation, the date and size of the shipment has not been decided,” the source said, requesting anonymity.

The logistics project is seen as a symbol of trilateral cooperation between the two Koreas and Russia at a time when inter-Korean relations remain stagnant.

The project involves three South Korean firms — top steelmaker POSCO, shipper Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. and state train operator Korail Corp. They will decide on whether to clinch a formal contract based on the outcome of the two pilot operations.

The project could help realize South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s vision for a united Eurasia.

UPDATE 17  (2015-4-12):  Second trial shipment of coal announced. According to Yonhap:

A consortium of Seoul firms is expected to run another pilot operation of a key logistics project involving South and North Korea and Russia in late April, a government official said Sunday.

The so-called Rajin-Khasan logistics project is the symbol of trilateral cooperation between the two Koreas and Russia at a time when inter-Korean relations remain stagnant.

In the previous pilot operation, 40,500 tons of Russian coal arrived in South Korea on a ship from the North Korean port city of Rajin in November after being transported from Russia’s border city of Khasan on a re-connected railway.

“The companies are in the process of setting a specific schedule with the North and Russia as they are seeking to run a second operation late this month,” said an official at the unification ministry, asking not to be named.

The logistics project involves three South Korean firms — top steelmaker POSCO, shipper Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. and state train operator Korail Corp. They will decide on whether to clinch a formal contract based on the outcome of the two pilot operations.

The project could help realize South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s vision for a united Eurasia.

In October 2013, Park unveiled her Eurasia initiative that calls for, among other things, infrastructure development and freer trade among Eurasian nations by linking their railways.

South Korea imposed the May 24 punitive sanctions on North Korea in 2010 following Pyongyang’s deadly sinking of the Cheonan warship in March that year.

The move has suspended all trade and exchange programs with the North, apart from a joint factory park project in the North Korean border city of Kaesong. The three-way logistics project also has been regarded as an exception.

Here is coverage in the Donga Ilbo.

UPDATE 16 (2014-12-7): According to Yonhap, KEPCO is mulling participation in the Rajin-Khasan project:

The five KEPCO units, led by Korea Midland Power Corp., are reviewing the economic feasibility of the project. “But it is hard to say we will participate in the project as nothing has yet been decided,” said an official at KEPCO.

Last month, a group of officials from the units, along with government officials, visited the North’s Rajin port to assess the viability of importing Russian coal, industry sources said.

South Korea’s leading steelmaker POSCO, a major shipper Hyundai Merchant Marine Co., and the state-run rail operator Korea Railroad are already taking part.

UPDATE 15 (2014-12-1): Seoul offers support to Rajin-Khasan transport project. According to Yonhap:

The South Korean government vowed full support Monday for the nascent Rajin-Khasan project, saying it would help spur the “Eurasia Initiative” proposed by President Park Geun-hye.

The unification ministry described the logistics program, which is on a test run, as the “starting point” for economic cooperation among the two Koreas and Russia.

“It is meaningful as a project to lay the foundation for realizing the Eurasia Initiative, peace in Northeast Asia and the renovation of our economy,” ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-cheol said at a press briefing.

He was referring to South Korea’s plan to bring Russian coal through the North’s port of Rajin.

In the landmark pilot operation, 40,500 tons of Russian coal arrived in the South on a Chinese-flagged ship over the weekend from Rajin. The coal was transported from the Russian town of Khasan to Rajin on a 54-kilometer railway that was re-connected last year.

South Korea’s top steelmaker POSCO began unloading the coal from the ship at its iron mill in Pohang on Monday.

Lim said his government will provide every necessary support for the tripartite project in an effort to achieve the Eurasia Project.

Another ministry official said the South’s consortium, also involving Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. and Korail Corp., is expected to ink a formal contract with Russia next year.

It plans to purchase a stake from RasonKonTrans, a joint venture in charge of the Rajin-Khasan scheme, he told reporters on background.

RasonKonTrans was established in 2008 by Russia’s RZD Trading House and the port of Rajin, with 70 percent controlled by Russia and 30 percent by North Korea.

The South’s consortium is seeking to buy some of Russia’s stake.

“If necessary, I think there could be one more round of pilot operation (before signing the deal),” the official said.

Last year, President Park suggested linking energy and logistics infrastructure in the Far East and Europe.

But Seoul is not yet considering any other measure such as the modernization of the North’s Rajin port, he added.

UPDATE 14 (2014-12-1): Here is coverage of the first coal shipment from the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES):

As South Korean companies have recently been showing interest in the Rajin-Khasan Project currently ongoing between North Korea and Russia, the first ever shipment of 45 thousand tons of Russian coal is set to depart from Rajin harbor (DPRK) on November 28, 2014 and arrive in the South Korean port city of Pohang the following night.

According to the Ministry of Unification, the South Korean delegation will work in conjunction with a Russian railroad construction company while visiting North Korea to do a comprehensive technical inspection of Rajin harbor. The inspection will cover the loading and shipment of coal, entrances and exits for transport ships, railway-to-port connectivity and other complex logistical processes, and will take place from November 24th to the 28th.

Accordingly, a total of 12 representatives from South Korean companies including POSCO, Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. and KORAIL, plus one representative from the Ministry of Unification are slated to take a train from the Russian settlement of Khasan to the North Korean port at Rajin on November 24th. The consortium is visiting North Korea in order to oversee a pilot demonstration of the Rajin-Khasan Project, which will bring coal from Russia into Rajin harbor, where it would then be transported to Pohang harbor in South Korea. This visit is expected to mark the South Korean consortium’s full-fledged participation in the Rajin-Khasan Project.

The pilot project will cover the shipment and transportation of 45 thousand tons of coal mined from the West Siberian region in Russia to the South Korean port of Pohang. After the coal is mined and transported to Rajin, North Korea via railroad, it will be loaded onto a Chinese national freighter (capable of holding 56 thousand tons) which is expected to depart Rajin harbor at 10 A.M. on November 28th and arrive in Pohang the following evening at approximately 10 P.M.

Specifically, this marks the first use of the direct maritime route connecting Rajin harbor to Pohang harbor, which passes over the Northern Limit Line in the East Sea, since the implementation of the May 24 Measures. This direct route, which takes approximately 36 hours, has been calculated to save up to 15 percent in both time and fuel costs. It is expected that this cost-cutting effect would become even greater if the South Korean companies involved in the Rajin-Khasan Project are able to sign into a long-term contract.

The total scale of the pilot project is said to be approximately 4 million USD (approx. 4.45 billion KRW), with around 10 percent of the total being provided by a joint DPRK-Russian corporation known as RasonKon Trans. In relation to this, the Ministry of Unification has stated that the majority of this money is being paid to Russian mining companies, with a small portion being given to North Korea for port dues and other costs, and that there appear to be no problems or abnormalities in this international trade project.

It appears that POSCO, Hyundai Merchant Marine, KORAIL and other South Korean firms have been examining a possible stake in Russian railroad construction companies, and will proceed with establishing a corporate body in Russia to invest in RasonKon Trans. The equity structure of RasonKon Trans currently stands at 7:3, with the Russians holding the larger share. South Korean firms are currently reviewing investing in a stake of the Russian share, and formal contracts are not expected until 2015.

The goal of this pilot project is to test how much supply the project can technically handle, and to use that figure as a base for calculating profitability. The South Korean representatives are planning to hold negotiations with Russia; however, it appears that it will be difficult to conclude these talks within the year. In July, an inspection team was dispatched to Rajin harbor as part of the “Rajin-Khasan Logistics Project,” where they concluded that the port was capable of transporting 4 million tons per year.

The coal mined in West Siberia is transported via the 54 kilometer Rajin-Khasan railroad and takes merely one hour to reach Rajin, where it is then transported to the harbor and distributed to as many as three piers equipped to handle shipment.

UPDATE 13 (2014-11-30): So now that the first trial run is over, what is to stop North Korea from demanding more revenue once the transportation route is formalized? Russia–according to this piece in the Korea Times:

Choi Kyung-soo, a director at the North Korean Resources Institute in Seoul, says that a trilateral partnership tends to be less risky than a bilateral project such as the Gaesong Industrial Complex.

“There is a possibility that the North may try to use the trade route as a means to put pressure on the South when things go badly for them. But I think Russia won’t sit idle if its economic interests are affected,” he said.

Because there is a role that a third party can play, Choi says, the shipment of Siberian coal to South Korea via the North Korean port will be less risky than the Gaesong Project.

UPDATE 12 (2014-11-21): Russia and South Korea launch first pilot project to ship coal via Rason. According to Yonhap:

Under the envisioned program, South Korea’s top steelmaker POSCO will bring in Russian coal via the North Korean port of Rajin. Two other South Korean firms — Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. and Korail Corp. — are joining the project.

“Since it is a normal international commercial trade, it’s my understanding that there is no problem with the U.N. sanctions,” the official told reporters on background.

It is also a “special case” as far as Seoul’s bilateral sanctions on Pyongyang are concerned, he added.

The South maintains the May 24th Measure, effectively blocking all inter-Korean economic projects except for the Kaesong Industrial Complex. The sanctions were imposed for the North’s deadly torpedo attack on a South Korean warship in 2010.

Once the trilateral program is formally launched, he admitted, the North will be able to secure a stable supply of cash.

The three countries are poised for the first test run of the project next week, in which POSCO will import 40,500 tons of coal from a Russian mine in the West Siberian region.

The 54-kilometer railway between the North Korean city of Rajin and Russia’s Khasan will be used and then a Chinese-flagged 56,000-ton ship will carry the coal to the South’s port in Pohang.

The ship is scheduled to depart Rajin on Nov. 27 for about a 36-hour voyage.

If the project proves cost-effective, the South Korean consortium will hold further talks with the Russian side for a formal contract. It would be hard to ink the deal within this year, though, given the time needed for the relevant process, said the official.

POSCO brings in some 2 million tons of Russian coal every year by way of Vladivostok.

The Rajin-Khasan project is expected to cut shipment costs by 10-15 percent in the long term, according to the ministry official.

“But the stability (of its operation) is the key to its success,” he said, citing the possibility of political setbacks amid Pyongyang’s unpredictable behavior.

Meanwhile, a team of 13 South Korean delegates plans to visit Rajin and Khasan next week to monitor the pilot run worth US$4 million. The delegation is composed of a unification ministry official and a dozen related company officials.

The ministry said it approved their trip to the North earlier Friday.

South Korea has an ambition of linking its railway network with that of Europe through North Korea.

Here is coverage in the Korea Times.

The Wall Street Journal also included this information:

Based on current coal prices, the shipment is valued at around $4 million. North Korea is receiving an undisclosed sum, which a Unification Ministry official called “very small.” A spokesman for the Russian Railways said North Korea receives 30% of the usage fee for about 50 kilometers (31 miles) of railroad from the Russian border to Rajin but couldn’t provide details about the payment. A spokesman for Posco declined to comment on the cargo value or the payment structure.

A Unification Ministry official said that since the structure of the deal involves payment via a third country it isn’t subject to Seoul’s sanctions against Pyongyang. The official, who requested customary anonymity, said the exception was also made to promote South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s “Eurasian Initiative,” which aims to link Europe and East Asia with energy and transport networks.

According to the JoongAng Ilbo, the ship was sipposed to depart Rason on Nov 28, but because the loading went smoothly, the vessel left port on Thursday, Nov 27. It arrived in South Korea on the following Saturday.

UPDATE 11 (2014-7-24):  North Korea apparently willing to allow South Korean investment Rason railway project. According to Yonhap:

North Korea is willing to host South Korean firms’ investment in the country’s railway project with Russia, a South Korean government official said Thursday after a recent on-site inspection visit to the North.

A group of 38 government officials and representatives from South Korean rail operator KORAIL, steelmaker POSCO and shipping company Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. returned on Tuesday from their one-week visit to the North’s Rajin port near the country’s northeastern border with Russia.

It was the three-firm consortium’s second visit to the North, intended to conduct a feasibility study on their plan to join the so-called Rajin-Khasan logistics project, linking the North Korean port city to Russia’s Trans-Siberian railway.

“(The North) basically said they are pleased with South Korean investment and reacted with a hope that this (deal) could help South-North Korean relations advance,” a South Korean government official who joined the recent North Korean tour said on condition of anonymity.

The official said based on the recent on-site inspection, the local business consortium may finalize the review of its plan to join the project, adding that it is likely to strike a deal with the Russian side later this year or early next year.

During their summit meeting in Seoul in November, South Korean President Park Geun-hye and her Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, agreed to help the South Korean firms join the project, which would let them invest indirectly in the North.

The local consortium is reportedly planning to test-run a transportation route within this year to move Russian coal to the North Korean port and then to ship it to South Korea’s eastern port of Pohang.

The official said the North Korean port of Rajin is now fully ready for such coal transportation.

“(Transportation) seemed to be possible at any time,” the official said, referring to the Rajin port’s third pier, which has been completed recently and launched last week. The local consortium is seeking to use the new pier if it enters into the North Korean-Russian project.

The new pier is capable of handling 4 million tons of coal annually, the official added.

Under the bilateral logistics project, North Korea and Russia reopened in November a 54-kilometer stretch of railroad track linking the North Korean port to the eastern border Russian city of Khasan after a five-year renovation.

The South Korean official also said the cross-border railroad was being well operated as of recently.

If the local consortium finally decides to join the project, it reportedly may so do by acquiring half of Russia’s share in the project.

The South Korean government has been promoting South Korean firms’ participation in the logistics project, which it views as closely linked to President Park Guen-hye’s “Eurasian Initiative,” a vision that calls for building more infrastructure and freeing up trade between Eurasian nations to create what could become a large single market rivaling the European Union.

The unification ministry earlier said that a formal deal between the consortium and its Russian counterpart for the project will be signed in the second half of the year.

UPDATE 10 (2014-6-11): According to Russian media:

Russian Minister for Far East Development Alexander Galushka announced plans to extend the Trans-Siberian Railroad into North and South Korea during a Russian-Korean trade meeting in Vladivostok on Thursday.

The expansion program calls for a collaborative railway construction project between Russia, North Korea and South Korea. Russian officials hope the expansion will not only triple the speed at which goods are shipped between Europe and Korea, but also restore peace between North and South Korea, RT.com reports.

“We have agreed to launch trilateral projects between Russia, DPRK and South Korea with a focus on the railroad project,” Galushka said, according to RT.com. “It’s important to extend the Trans-Siberian Railroad to the Korean peninsula. It will service to stabilize and improve the situation on the Korean peninsula as a whole.”

Mechel, Russia’s largest steelmaking company, has agreed to supply the steel required for the first phase of the expansion. South Korea’s Hyundai Construction has been identified as a likely commercial partner in the project.

North Korean officials have been reluctant to participate in any collaborative infrastructure program despite the poor conditions of its rail system. Members of the North Korean government began to express interest in a railway development project last September after Russia re-opened a 33-mile expanse of track to Khasan, the last Russian city before the North Korean border, according to RT.com.

UPDATE 9 (2014-4-29): The Choson Ilbo reports that Ms. Choi has returned from the DPRK:

The Organisation for Co-Operation between Railways (OSJD) has decided to hold two major meetings, the Commission on Freight Traffic in 2015 and Conference of General Directors in 2019, in Seoul.

KORAIL president Choi Yeon-hye made the announcement at Gimpo Airport on Monday after returning from an OSJD meeting in Pyongyang. It is unprecedented for an associate rather than full member to host the conference.

The OSJD is an organization of 27 former and current communist countries, including Russia, China and North Korea.

“We don’t know yet whether the North will attend the meetings in 2015 and 2019, but the participants unanimously decided to hold them here, and the North didn’t oppose it, so we expect them to come,” she added.

The annual conference of general directors alternatively takes place in Asia and Europe, but exceptionally the 2019 meeting will also be held in Asia following the 2018 meeting in Vietnam.

The government here is keen to work with the railway body to link South Korea to Eurasia via North Korea.

Here is coverage in Yonhap.

UPDATE 8 (2014-4-22): The Choson Ilbo reports that the head of Korail has left for the DPRK:

KORAIL president Choi Yeon-hye is appropriately on her way to North Korea by train.

Choi left for Pyongyang on a train from Beijing on Monday afternoon to attend a meeting of the Organisation for Co-Operation between Railways (OSJD), KORAIL said Monday.

The OSJD is an organization of 27 former and current communist countries, including Russia, China and North Korea.

The government approved Choi’s request to visit to the North on Sunday after the North sent her a letter of invitation. She got a visa from the North Korean Embassy in Beijing the same day.

The train runs from Beijing to the North Korean border city of Sinuiju in 24 hours, where she switches trains for the 225 km stretch to Pyongyang.

A KORAIL executive said, “Choi’s visit is the North’s first approval of a South Korean official’s visit” since the South imposed sanctions against North Korea in 2010.

She is the first senior South Korean figure to visit Pyongyang since the inter-Korean summit in 2007.

President Park Geun-hye is keen to connect South Korea to Eurasia by railway, which requires cooperation from the OSJD.

Here is coverage in Yonhap.

UPDATE 7 (2014-4-18): The DPRK has “sort of” invited the head of Korail to a conference in Pyongyang. According to Yonhap:

North Korea has invited the head of South Korea’s rail operator to an international conference to be held in Pyongyang next week, a source with knowledge of the matter said Friday.

However, the North made the invitation verbally, which is preventing Choi Yeon-hye, president and CEO of the Korea Railroad Corp., from formally applying for the trip to Pyongyang, the source said.

The rail conference in Pyongyang, scheduled for April 24-28, is meant to boost international cooperation between railway operators, the source said, adding that it is expected to bring together top rail officials from China, Russia and 25 other member states of the Organization for Cooperation of Railways.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said no decision has been made yet on whether to allow Choi to travel to the North for the conference.

UPDATE 6 (2014-3-29): Russia and North Korea held talks on entry of the Russian firms into the Kaesong Industrial Complex and the railway project. According to Yonhap:

Also on the table in the Pyongyang-Moscow talks was how to boost cooperation among the two Koreas and Russia, with Pyongyang and Moscow making it clear that the two “share mutual interest” in the trilateral cooperative projects, according to the report.

“The (Russian) ministry reaffirmed the countries’ mutual interest in joint projects with South Korea, including international connections for railways, gas pipelines and power lines,” it said, adding that the minister stressed stability on the Korean Peninsula is key to achieving the goal.

Discussions of the project to connect the Trans-Siberian Railway (TSR) with the Trans-Korean Railway (TKR), dubbed the “Iron Silk Road,” have been under way for more than a decade, but geopolitical obstacles have hindered it, particularly given North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

South Korea and Russia have also been in discussions to push for a project to build a gas pipeline linking the two via North Korea.

The next meeting of the bilateral commission is scheduled for June in Russia’s far eastern city of Vladivostok, according to the ministry.

You can read more about the gas pipeline here.

UPDATE 5 (2014-3-24): South Korea to import coal through Rajin by next year. According to Korea IT Times (note-I changed the South Korean “Najin” to the North Korea “Rajin”):

A pilot program to carry coal from the port of Rajin in North Korea to Pohang in the south is expected to bear fruit within the year. A high-ranking official at the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said on March 23, “We have finalized a plan to ship coal between Rajin and Pohang before the year’s end as part of the Eurasia Initiative.”

Once the coal shipment from Siberia arrives in Rajin through the Hasan train station on the Russian side, South Korean ships will move the cargo to POSCO in Pohang from the No. 3 wharf in Rajin.

The ministry official added, “In a visit to Rajin in February we found that the port facility is capable of handling coal load up to 4 million tons a year. We will send a due diligence team again within the first half to find out the depth of the water near the port.”

The pilot coal shipment program is undertaken as part of the Rajin-Hasan railway project. The 54-kilometer railway link is critical to connecting the rail lines in the south to Busan and the trans-Siberian railway to European destination. Earlier in 2000, Russian President Vladimir Putin and then-ruler of North Korea Kim Jong-il agreed to build the line at the cost of US$340 million.

Rajin is a port city located at the northernmost corner of North Korea bordering Russia. The Russian government has since 2010 been working on building berths capable of holding 70,000-ton vessels in Rajin’s No. 3 wharf. The Chinese government is also in talks with North Korean authorities over building container unloading facility as well as expanding the wharves No. 4 to 6. The problem, however, is the Russian side has not found coal mines big enough to supply the volume demanded by Korean companies including POSCO.

UPDATE 4 (2014-3-24): South Korea has joined the Organization for Cooperation Between Railways (OSJD) in Warsaw. According to the Choson Ilbo:

Korea has taken the first step toward connecting its railways to the Eurasian continent. The Korea Railroad Corporation on Sunday said it became an associate member of the Organization for Cooperation Between Railways (OSJD) in Warsaw, Poland.

In order to connect Korean railways from Busan to Europe, it is essential for KORAIL to register to the OSJD, which makes the rules on the Eurasian continent and overseas treaties amongst member states.

This makes a more realistic prospect of a planned “Silk Road” railway connecting the Korean Peninsula to Europe that lies at the core of President Park Geun-hye’s “Eurasia Initiative.”

The initiative, which was announced in October last year, aims to strengthen Eurasian economic cooperation and prompt an opening of North Korea to lay the groundwork for reunification with the South.

The OSJD invited KORAIL to a meeting of the heads of member states’ railways in Pyongyang next month.

UPDATE 3 (2014-3-5): South Korean companies could be operating out of Rason by next year. According to Yonhap:

South Korea may be able to use the North Korean port city of Rason for logistical purposes as early as early next year, the unification ministry said Wednesday.

“The flow of goods through the Rason region may become possible around next spring if things go smoothly,” Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said in a lecture to a group of former lawmakers.

“In early February, South Korean companies paid an on-site visit to the Rason area and if this (cooperation project) goes smoothly, major progress would take place around September this year,” the minister said of Seoul’s push to join the Rajin-Khasan development project between Pyongyang and Moscow.

The project is designed to develop Rajin, the northeastern North Korean port city now reintegrated into Rason, into a logistics center linked to Russia’s Trans-Siberian Railway.

The government is planning to link the North Korean port to two major South Korean southern ports of Pohang and Busan.

UPDATE 2 (2014-2-6): According to the Wall Street Journal:

…Seoul’s Unification Ministry said on Sunday that an 18-strong Southern business team will visit Rajin in North Korea’s northeast, near Russia and China, on Feb. 11-13. Three firms are going: steelmaker Posco; Hyundai Merchant Marine011200.SE -6.55%, a shipper; and state-owned monopoly Korail. The government isn’t sending anyone.

This follows a deal signed during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s one-day visit to Seoul in November. The plan is for the South Korean trio to acquire up to half of Russian Railways’ 70% stake in RasonKonTrans, a $340 million project which last fall, five years late, finished upgrading 54 kilometers of track from Russia’s border at Khasan down to Rajin, Asia’s most northerly all-year ice-free port. Harbor facilities are also to be modernised.

I was skeptical at the time. The companies sounded non-committal, and two big political reefs loomed. Had anyone asked North Korea, whose railways ministry owns the other 30% of RasonKonTrans? And wouldn’t this breach the ban Seoul imposed in 2010 on all trade and investments in North Korea, outside the Kaesong Industrial Complex? The Southern government says no.

This is just an inspection tour, but North Korea appears to have raised no objection – which is interesting, if scarcely consistent. Pyongyang plays politics with family reunions: a sadistic heartbreaker for elderly Koreans yearning to see their long-lost kin, if only once and briefly.

According to Xinhua (2014-2-9):

A group of South Korean company officials will visit the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea ( DPRK) to carry out field study for joining in Rajin-Khasan railway and port development project between Pyongyang and Moscow, South Korea’s unification ministry said on Sunday.

A total of 18 officials from South Korea’s state-run Korea Railroad Corp. (KORAIL), steelmaker POSCO and shipper Hyundai Merchant Marine are scheduled to visit DPRK’s northeastern port city of Rajin from Tuesday to Thursday.

The ministry said they will meet their Russian counterparts in Vladivostok and then departed for the DPRK.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to cooperate in the Russian-led project during their summit in Seoul last November.

The Rajin-Khasan project aims to refurbish DPRK’s Rajin port and a railroad connecting it to the nearby Russian town of Khasan, paving the way for the Trans-Korean Railway and the Trans-Siberian Railroad reaching Europe.

A double-track railway between Rajin and Khasan reopened last September after years of renovation. It is reported that if the trilateral program runs smoothly, the Rajin port will become a logistics center for South Korean and Russian firms.

The project is part of Park’s plan for building the “Silk Road Express” by linking roads and railways running from South Korea to Europe via the DPRK, Russia, China and other Eurasian nations.

According to Yonhap (2014-2-9):

Officials from South Korean companies set to participate in an economic project between Pyongyang and Moscow will visit North Korea this week for an on-site inspection, the government said Sunday.

The unification ministry said 18 officials from three South Korean firms will visit North Korea’s northeastern port of Rajin from Tuesday to Thursday. The companies are state-run Korea Railroad Corp. (KORAIL), top steelmaker POSCO and No. 2 shipper Hyundai Merchant Marine. No government official will join the trip, the ministry said.

Their inspection is part of South Korea’s participation in the Rajin-Khasan development project, the Russian-led rail and port development venture in North Korea.

It’s designed to develop Rajin into a logistics center linked to Russia’s Trans-Siberian Railway. Last September, a double-track railway reopened between Rajin and Khasan, the nearby Russian town, after years of renovation.

In their summit meeting in Seoul last November, South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to help South Korean firms join the Rajin-Khasan project.

Also last year, Park unveiled her plan to expand economic cooperation with Eurasian nations, dubbed the Eurasian Initiative. The policy is built on the idea that exchanges between South Korea and Eurasian nations, in particular Russia, could help induce the reclusive North Korea to open up and alleviate tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Chris Green of the Daily NK has translated an  interview with the executive director of POSCO Corporate Strategic Planning Dept, Jeon Woo-sik, wherein he offered details about the delegation visiting Rason?

Ha Joon-soo, “나진~하산 프로젝트 현장 실사단 내일 방북“ [Rajin-Khasan Project onsite inspection team to visit North Korea tomorrow], KBS News, February 10, 2014.

Q: What is the makeup of the inspection team?

Jeon: There are five people going from POSCO [포스코]: a ports expert, an investment expert, and staff. There are six from Korail [코레일], another five from Hyundai Merchant Marine [현대상선], and two from the inspection company [실사법인], which makes eighteen. Aside from that, twenty staff from Russian Railways [러시아 철도공사] will accompany [the group]. Meetings with the North Korean side will be conducted in English and Russian, so the Russian side will bring interpreters.

Q: What is an “inspection company”?

Jeon: There is the need for personnel to expertly verify accounting and tax documentation, so we incorporated a body [for that].

Q: There will be no [South Korean] government officials with the group?

Jeon: None. This is a purely private undertaking, and it was decided that if government officials were included it could have a negative impact. Therefore, we formed the entire team from the private sector, and the government accepted this position.

Q: What is the team’s schedule?

Jeon: We minimized it as far as possible. Given that experts from each sector will be doing the inspecting, we decided that three days would be sufficient. Today [February 10] they departed for Vladivostok in Russia, and tomorrow morning [February 11] they will set off by special train. After completing the border formalities at Khasan on the Russia-DPRK border, we expect them to arrive in Rajin at around 12. Construction at Rajin Port is currently underway, so they will conduct visual inspections of the state of the port, whether pier construction is being done properly, and what the state of the Rajin-Khasan railway is. It is also expected that they will get additional information from the Russian side.

Q: What was done in advance to facilitate this?

Jeon: We applied for the visit in the middle of January, and document checks took about three weeks. The North Korean government signed off on the visit on February 5, and [the South Korean] government approved it on February 7.

Q: Can you give a concrete breakdown of what the team is going to do?

Jeon: The port and railway inspections will be divided into areas of expertise. More concretely: they will check the state of the rail track bed, the width of the track and the spaces between the rails, as well as signaling systems and stations. In the Russian documentation it says that Pier 3 is 600m long, but this must be verified, along with the depth of the water, whether it freezes in winter, the state of the mobile port cranes, whether it will be possible to use the pier over the long term, its strength, and how much investment is likely needed for dredging. Once that has been done, we’ll be able to roughly assess the investment cost on the Russian side.

Q: Is it right that, according to the Russian side, construction at Pier 3 will be complete at around the end of 2013?

Jeon: Port construction progress is currently at 90 percent. It’s winter now so construction isn’t possible, but it should be 100 percent complete during the next quarter. We’ll check on the construction of the port distribution terminal during these inspections. As it stands, coal from Siberia is what is coming in, so as long as there is storage for coal it is enough.

Q: Why do you need to perform in-situ checks?

Jeon: As you will be aware, the “Rajin-Khasan Project” is a cooperative one between North Korea and Russia. It’s an integrated port and rail freight business, and is worth a total of $340,000,000. Of this, North Korea has invested 30 percent and Russia 70 percent.

However, around half the Russian stake is supposed to be supplied indirectly by this consortium of Korean firms; yet even last November when a MoU was adopted between Russia and Korea, decisions were made based on documents from the Russian side. We have never seen for real how the construction is proceeding. How much should be invested can only be decided once the precise reality has been seen.

Q: What will happen once the inspection has been completed?

Jeon: We need to know the results of the inspection before we can decide that. Investment sums will be decided within this calendar year.

Q: So, when can we expect boats loaded with coal to come from Rajin down to Pohang and Busan [in South Korea]?

Jeon: Russian Far East ports are at saturation point dealing with Russia’s natural resources. The best thing would be for the freight headed for South Korea to be taken out and sent through Rajin instead. However, for a South Korean vessel to come and go from Rajin Port requires an authorization process. This part is linked to the 5.24 Measures[1], meaning that it would become possible more rapidly if the 5.24 Measures were lifted.

According to the Hankyoreh (2014-2-11):

Explaining that the Rajin-Hasan Project is a “special case” that is going ahead despite the May 24 measures, Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said that North Korea would have to take meaningful steps before the May 24 measures could be revoked.

During a plenary session at the National Assembly on Feb. 10 on issues related to diplomacy, unification, and national defense, the minister said that the May 24 punitive measures against North Korea would not be lifted until the North took action showing its remorse for the sinking of the Cheonan warship.

The May 24 measures, instituted after the Cheonan was sunk in 2010, constitute a complete ban on economic activity, exchange, and cooperation with North Korea.

But when asked about the Rajin-Hasan project, in which POSCO, Korail, and other South Korean companies have recently received permission to invest, Ryoo said that the project is moving ahead because it has particular significance for South Korea’s national interest regarding relations with Russia. If the project makes progress in the future and material starts to move, Ryoo predicted, various discussions will take place. That is to say, South Korea is moving forward with the Rajin-Hasan project as an exception to the May 24 measures.

On Monday, South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won also said that the Rajin-Hasan issue is a special case.

“What happened to the principles that President Park Geun-hye was talking about?” complained one businessman involved in economic cooperation with North Korea. “If you’re going to relax the restrictions, you should relax them for everyone. It‘s not fair just to relax them for large companies,” the businessman said on condition of anonymity.

Read the full stories here:
North Korea’s Rajin as Rotterdam? A Little Less Crazy Now
Wall Street Journal
Aidan Foster-Carter
2014-2-6

S. Korean firm officials to visit DPRK for Rajin-Khasan joint project
Xinhua
2014-2-9

S. Korean corporate officials to visit N. Korea as part of Pyongyang-Moscow venture
Yonhap
2014-2-9

Rajin-Hasan Project going ahead as a “special case”
Hankyoreh
Choi Hyun-june
2014-2-11

UPDATE 1 (2014-1-16): South Korea launches task force on railway and other projects. According to Yonhap:

South Korea is set to launch a task force on economic cooperation projects with North Korea and Russia, including a long-discussed plan for a trilateral rail link, Seoul officials said Thursday.

The move is the first follow-up step after President Park Geun-hye announced late last year her plan to expand economic cooperation with Eurasian countries for more trade opportunities.

Called the Eurasian Initiative, the policy is centered on the idea that exchanges between South Korea and Eurasian nations, especially Russia, will help induce an opening up in the reclusive North, which lies in between, thus allaying the long-running military and diplomatic tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

The task force, tentatively named the Trilateral South, North Korea, Russia Cooperation Task Force, will be launched as soon as February under the wing of the foreign ministry’s Europe division, according to the officials.

Under the task force, about five government officials will be charged with reviewing the feasibilities of various economic project ideas among the three nations, including much-discussed plans to link a railroad, gas and oil pipes, and electrical grids between South Korea and Russia through North Korea, according to them.

“All the issues concerning the trilateral cooperation among South and North Korea, and Russia can be subject to the task force’s reviews,” a foreign ministry official said. “Specific details about the projects will be known after the task force goes into operations.”

Discussions of the project to connect the Trans-Siberian Railway (TSR) with the Trans-Korean Railway (TKR), dubbed the “Iron Silk Road,” have been under way for more than a decade, but geopolitical obstacles have hindered it, particularly given North Korea’s nuclear and missile ambitions.

In a summit meeting held in Seoul last November, South Korean President Park and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a memorandum of understanding to help South Korean companies join the Rajin-Khasan development project in North Korea, the Pyongyang-Moscow project to link their railways for better logistics.

ORIGINAL POST (2013-11-13): The Russians and South Koreans recently discussed and signed a MOU on investment in the Rajin-Russia railway link and port. According to Yonhap:

South Korea agreed Wednesday to take part in a Russian-led rail and port development project in North Korea that could help reduce tensions with Pyongyang and open up a new logistics link between East Asia and Europe in line with President Park Geun-hye’s “Eurasian initiative.”

The memorandum of understanding was the most tangible outcome from Park’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It calls for steel giant POSCO, Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. and Korea Railroad Corp. to participate in the Rajin-Khasan development project.

The project was designed to develop North Korea’s ice-free northeastern port of Rajin into a logistics hub connected to Russia’s Trans Siberian Railway. In September, a 54-kilometer, double-track rail link reopened between Rajin and the nearby Russian town of Khasan after years of renovation.

Once the project to modernize the port of Rajin is completed, the rail-connected port can be used as a hub for sending cargo by rail from East Asia to as far as Europe. South Korean firms can also ship exports first to Rajin and transport them elsewhere via Russian railways.

North Korea and Russia launched the US$340 million project in 2008.

“The two sides agreed to encourage the rail and port cooperation project that companies of the two sides are pushing for so that it can move smoothly forward,” said a joint statement issued after the summit.

The project fits into Park’s “Eurasian initiative,” which calls for binding Eurasian nations closely together by linking roads and railways to realize what she called the “Silk Road Express” running from South Korea to Europe via North Korea, Russia and China.

Wednesday’s agreement was seen as a first step toward the ambitious vision.

“We, the two leaders, agreed to combine South Korea’s policy of strengthening Eurasian cooperation and Russia’s policy of highly regarding the Asia-Pacific region to realize our mutual potential at the maximum level and move relations between the two countries forward,” Park said during a joint press conference.

“South Korea and Russia will join hands to build a new Eurasian era for the future,” she said.

The Korean consortium plans to buy a stake in RasonKonTrans, the Russian-North Korean joint venture carrying out the rail and port renovation project. A final decision on the planned purchase will be made after a due diligence study in the first half of next year, officials said.

State monopoly Russian Railways has a 70 percent stake in the joint venture, with the North holding the remaining 30 percent. News reports have said that the Korean consortium plans to buy about half the Russian stake.

The purchase could be in conflict with Seoul’s ban on new investments in North Korea, though it is an indirect investment via Russia. The ban is part of sanctions Seoul imposed on Pyongyang after the North torpedoed and sank a South Korean warship near their Yellow Sea border in 2010.

The project could pave the way for similar indirect investments in the North and help reduce tensions on the divided peninsula. Inter-Korean relations, which had shown signs of a thaw following months of high tensions, chilled again after Pyongyang unilaterally canceled reunions for separated families in September.

Putin arrived in South Korea from Vietnam earlier Wednesday on a one-day visit for his second summit with Park. They first met in September on the sidelines of a Group of 20 major economies meeting in Russia’s second-largest city of Saint Petersburg.

In Wednesday’s summit, the two leaders also signed an MOU to enhance cooperation in shipbuilding. Officials said the deal laid the groundwork for South Korea to win orders of at least 13 liquefied natural gas tankers from Russia on the condition of technology transfer.

Also discussed was a long-discussed project to link railways of the two countries via North Korea and through to Europe. The two sides signed an MOU on rail cooperation and agreed to study the project as a long-term venture. The rail project has been talked about for many years, but little headway has been made due to security tensions.

Other projects the two sides agreed to cooperate on as long-term ventures included building a natural gas pipeline linking Russia and South Korea via the North and developing Arctic shipping routes to reduce shipping distances and time between Asia and Europe.

In total, the summit produced 17 cooperation agreement, including a visa-exemption pact calling for allowing Koreans and Russians to visit each other’s nation without a visa for up to 60 days, as well as an accord to set up cultural centers in each other’s nation.

Other topics for the meeting included regional and global security issues, such as the North Korean nuclear standoff. Russia is a member of the six-party talks aimed at ending Pyongyang’s nuclear program and is also one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

“The two sides confirmed they cannot accept Pyongyang’s policy of building independent nuclear and missile capabilities … and stressed that North Korea cannot have the status of a nuclear state,” the joint statement said.

They also emphasized the North should abide by international denuclearization obligations and commitments, and agreed to work together to create the right conditions for restarting the long-stalled six-party talks on ending Pyongyang’s nuclear program, the statement said.

In an apparent swipe at Japan, the statement said that the sides shared a concern that the strong cooperation potential in Northeast Asia has not been realized due to obstacles created by recent “retrograde acts and words on history.”

Putin’s visit to Seoul is the first by a leader from the four major powers that also includes the United States, Japan and China since Park came into office. The Russian president is also the sixth foreign leader to visit South Korea under the Park administration.

Yonhap also published this related but separate report:

The ministry, in charge of all inter-Korean relations, said plans by a South Korean consortium to buy a stake in RasonKonTrans, the Russian-North Korean joint venture, can strengthen ties between South Korea and Russia and create greater opportunities for all sides. The project, first launched in 2008, cost Pyongyang and Moscow US$340 million.

It said the memorandum of understanding, signed on the sidelines of summit meeting between South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier in the day, did not mean Seoul was abandoning its so-called May 24 blanket ban that prohibits all economic and personnel exchanges with the North.

The ban has been in place since 2010, after Seoul accused Pyongyang of sinking one of its warships near the sea border in the Yellow Sea. Seoul at present only permits humanitarian assistance exempt from the sanctions rule.

“This project is special, and efforts will be made to assist visits by South Koreans who have to go to the North to carry out due diligence,” said a ministry official who declined to be identified.

He added that while an investment does conflict to some extent with Seoul’s ban, it is slightly different, since companies will be buying stakes in the Russian company.

“It will be an indirect form of investment and not the direct kind that has been banned so far,” the source said. However, he conceded the move marks the first time that investments into a North Korean project have been authorized.

South Korean businessmen from steelmaker POSCO, Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. and Korea Railroad Corp. are expected to go on fact-finding missions to Rajin and check the rail line linking the port city with the Russian town of Khasan.

Under the project, aimed at utilizing North Korea’s ice-free port, Russia aims to transform Rajin into a logistics base linked to its Trans Siberian Railway (TSR). If the project makes headway, Rajin can be used by South Korean companies to send cargo by rail to Europe using the TSR.

On the controversy that may arise from “bending” the rules, the ministry official said the government is willing to review other indirect forms of investments involving other countries if proposed.

“If a proposal is submitted, it will be judged in terms of the nature of the project, the effect it will have on cross-border relations and North Korean attitude,” he stressed.

Additional Information:
1. Read more about the Russia-Rajin rail link here.

2. Read more about the Russia – South Korea gas pipeline here.

3. Read previous posts on the Rason SEZ here.

Read the full stories here:
S. Korea to participate in Russian-led rail, port development project in N. Korea
Yonhap
Chang Jae-soon
2013-11-13

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