Archive for the ‘International Governments’ Category

Sony and “The Interview”

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

UPDATE 6 (2014-12-19): There is the official FBI press release on the matter.

UPDATE 5 (2014-12-19): The New York Times has published information from the FBI that implicates the DPRK in the Sony hack:

The F.B.I. on Friday said it had extensive evidence that the North Korean government organized the cyberattack that debilitated Sony Pictures computers, marking the first time the United States has explicitly accused the leaders of a foreign nation of hacking American targets.

The bureau said that there were significant “similarities in specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, and compromised networks” to previous attacks by the North Koreans. It also said that there were classified elements of the evidence against the North that it could not reveal.

“The F.B.I. also observed significant overlap between the infrastructure used in this attack and other malicious cyberactivity the U.S. government has previously linked directly to North Korea,” the bureau said. “For example, the F.B.I. discovered that several Internet protocol addresses associated with known North Korean infrastructure communicated with I.P. addresses that were hardcoded into the data deletion malware used in this attack.”

The F.B.I. said that some of the methods employed in the Sony attack were similar to ones that were used by the North Koreans against South Korean banks and news media outlets in 2013.

“We are deeply concerned about the destructive nature of this attack on a private sector entity and the ordinary citizens who worked there,” the F.B.I. said.

It added: “Though the F.B.I. has seen a wide variety and increasing number of cyberintrusions, the destructive nature of this attack, coupled with its coercive nature, sets it apart. North Korea’s actions were intended to inflict significant harm on a U.S. business and suppress the right of American citizens to express themselves. Such acts of intimidation fall outside the bounds of acceptable state behavior.”

North Korea has been under extraordinary economic sanctions for decades, and it has done nothing to curb either its nuclear program or these cyberattacks. A military response seems unlikely — the White House said on Thursday that it was examining options for a “proportional response,” and that would seem to rule out conventional military options.

Some of the evidence has been developed from “implants” that the National Security Agency has placed in networks around the world. But North Korea has proved to be a particularly hard target, because it has relatively low Internet connectivity to the rest of the world, and its best computer minds do not move out of the country often, where their machines and USB drives could be accessible targets.

“Suffice it to say,” one senior intelligence official said this week, “that we almost never name a suspect country. So when we do, it’s got to be based on something fairly strong.”

As the F.B.I. pointed out, the attacks at Sony share similarities with a similar series of destructive attacks last year on South Korean banks and broadcasters, and they used the same data-wiping tool that Iranian hackers used to destroy data on 30,000 computers at Saudi Aramco in 2012, according to forensics researchers.

In 2009, a similar campaign of coordinated cyberattacks over the Fourth of July holiday hit 27 American and South Korean websites, including those of South Korea’s presidential palace, called the Blue House, and its Defense Ministry, and sites belonging to the United States Treasury Department, the Secret Service and the Federal Trade Commission. North Korea was suspected, but a clear link was never established.

But those were all “distributed denial of service” attacks, in which attackers flood the sites with traffic until they fall offline. The Sony attack was far more sophisticated: It wiped data off Sony’s computer systems, rendering them inoperable.

“The cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment was not just an attack against a company and its employees,” Jeh C. Johnson, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said in a statement. “It was also an attack on our freedom of expression and way of life.”

Mr. Johnson said the attacks underscored the importance of taking measures “to rapidly detect cyberintrusions and promote resilience throughout all of our networks.”

“Every C.E.O. should take this opportunity to assess their company’s cybersecurity,” he added.

UPDATE 4 (2014-12-18): Paramount has chickened out and will not let any theater show “Team America” right now…See here and here.

UPDATE 3 (2014-12-18): Christmas day screening of Team America at the Alamo Draft House is already sold out.

UPDATE 2 (2014-12-18): Maybe time for a Team America sequel?

UPDATE 1 (2014-12-18): Team America to the rescue! At least one American theatre will stick up for the first amendment. And let’s be honest, it is probably a much better movie.

Oh, and this.

ORIGINAL POST (2014-12-17): Today Sony Pictures announced it was canceling the opening of the film The Interview. According to NBC:

Sony is dropping its planned Dec. 25 release of “‘The Interview,” the comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco that depicts the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The decision comes after some of the nation’s largest movie theater chains, including Regal, Cinemark, Carmike and Cineplex, said they were holding back or dropping “The Interview” from screens in the aftermath of a hack that has ballooned from embarrassing disclosures for Sony Pictures executives to involve threats against theaters screening the film.

“Sony Pictures has been the victim of an unprecedented criminal assault against our employees, our customers, and our business,” Sony said in a statement Wednesday, saying that it reached the decision after the top cinema chains pulled out.

“Those who attacked us stole our intellectual property, private emails, and sensitive and proprietary material, and sought to destroy our spirit and our morale — all apparently to thwart the release of a movie they did not like. We are deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees, and the American public,” the company said.

At the same time, another North Korea themed film was also put on hold.

This seemed like a massive over-reaction in my opinion until a few minutes later when this story was published by the New York Times:

American intelligence officials have concluded that the North Korean government was “centrally involved” in the recent attacks on Sony Pictures’s computers, a determination reached just as Sony on Wednesday canceled its release of the comedy, which is based on a plot to assassinate Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader.

Senior administration officials, who would not speak on the record about the intelligence findings, said the White House was still debating whether to publicly accuse North Korea of what amounts to a cyberterrorism campaign. Sony’s decision to cancel release of “The Interview” amounted to a capitulation to the threats sent out by hackers this week that they would launch attacks, perhaps on theaters themselves, if the movie was released.

You can read the remainder of the article here.

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DPRK-Russia trade down this year

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

Trade between North Korea and Russia dropped significantly this year, despite Pyongyang’s efforts to step up economic cooperation with Moscow, data showed Thursday.

Russia’s exports to North Korea reached US$59.01 million in the first nine months of this year, down 10.1 percent from the same period last year, according to the data by the Vladivostok office of the state-run Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA).

In particular, Russia’s exports of flour to North Korea plunged 72.2 percent on-year to $770,000.

Russia’s imports from its neighbor also fell 7.9 percent on-year to $6.46 million during the January-September period.

North Korea’s imports of electronics and coal from Russia also tumbled 61 percent and 44.6 percent, respectively, according to the data.

Russia’s imports of North Korean nuclear reactors, boilers and other machinery, meanwhile, shrank 57.1 percent on-year to reach $451,000,

Bucking the overall decline, Russia’s imports of North Korea-made clothes soared 35.5 percent on-year to $3.61 million, maintaining an uptrend of recent years.

North Korea has been intensifying efforts to expand economic cooperation with Russia, recently deciding to use the Russian ruble as a trade currency as well as launching a fledgling logistics project to link Russia’s border city of Khasan to the North’s port of Rajin.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea-Russia trade shrinks this year
Yonhap
2014-12-4

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Hyundai Asan losses in the DPRK

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

Hyundai Asan Corp., the company that pioneered inter-Korean commercial ties, said Tuesday that its loss from the suspension of its North Korea tour programs is estimated at nearly 1 trillion won (US$909 million) over the past six years.

The company said on the eve of the 16th anniversary of starting the tours to Mount Kumgang on North Korea’s east coast that it has also been forced to reduce its workforce by up to 73 percent.

Before visits were stopped, the company employed 1,084 people to handle tours to Mount Kumgang and the city of Kaesong, but the staff has been slashed to just 285. Kaesong was the capital of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392).

The estimate is based on the assumption that some 300,000 tourists would have visited the scenic mountain and seaside resort on an annual basis if the ban was not placed. For Kaesong, Hyundai Asan said the loss in earnings was calculated on the premise that some 100,000 people would have visited the city per year.

Seoul banned all tourists from visiting the isolated country after a North Korean guard shot a South Korean visitor dead in July 2008 at Mount Kumgang. South Korea said the North must formally apologize for the mishap and assure that the tragedy will not occur in the future.

Tourists first started visiting the mountains in November 1998 and by 2008, over 1.93 million made the trip to the North.

“The halt in tourism to the mountain resort has cost the company 809.4 billion won, while losses brought on by a ban on tourism to the ancient city of Kaesong on the west coast, has ballooned to 125.2 billion won with the total reaching 934.7 billion won,” the company said. They added that if tours do not resume soon, the loss in earnings will reach the 1 trillion won mark.

The halt in tourism is particularly painful because the company, part of the larger Hyundai Group, invested 226.8 billion won in various facility investments and US$486.69 million to acquire land and operational rights from Pyongyang.

Hyundai Asan said that despite troubles, it has a plan in place that can restart tours in two months, with its top executives still hoping that cross-border relations will improve so operations can resume.

Read the full story here:
Hyundai Asan faces 1 tln won loss on N. Korea tour suspension
Yonhap
2014-11-18

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Eugene Bell expands TB work in DPRK

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

A U.S. charity group said Tuesday it has agreed with North Korea to expand its medical aid program in the impoverished nation.

Under the deal, the Washington-based Eugene Bell Foundation will construct three new wards at tuberculosis (TB) treatment centers in Pyongyang.

It is the fruit of a three-week trip to the communist nation by a group of 13 officials from the foundation.

“The number of patients at those treatment centers has grown as the activity of our foundation is increasingly known,” a foundation official said. “Every treatment center suffers a severe lack of wards.”

The foundation has long provided medical humanitarian assistance to North Korea, especially for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis.

In a new program, it is sending 770 million won (US$750,000) worth of TB medication to the North.

Read the full story here:
U.S. charity group to expand medical aid program in N. Korea
Yonhap
2014-11-11

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DPRK to open Tongrim to Chinese/other tourists

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

New-tongrim-Hotel-2014-10-16

Pictured Above (Google Earth): The new Tongrim Waterfall hotel

UPDATE 2 (2014-11-11): Koryo Tours announces that westerners will be able to visit Tongrim as well:

For anyone looking for an exciting opportunity to travel in one of the least-seen parts of the least-seen nation in the world Koryo Tours is proud to offer the option to visit the city of Sinuiju, and take a drive down to the city of Dongrim – newly open to western tourists after years of our hard work pushing for access.

We have two options available for tours to this area; a day trip from the Chinese border city of Dandong, or an overnight extension to one of our regular DPRK trips as an extension to any tour that leaves the country by train – both on group and independent tours.

These areas were opened to western tourists due to the hard work of Koryo Tours’ staff in negotiating with the local and national authorities in the DPRK for access to these areas – know that if you join one of these trips, or any of our tours, you’re travelling with the company that made it all possible, we’d be glad to have you along with us!

You can now visit Sinuiju, Dongrim, and stay overnight either if you finish your tour in the DPRK by train travelling from Pyongyang up to Sinuiju on the Chinese border – this is a 24 hour extension that offers a great way to see some sites in North Pyongan province; a rarely seen part of North Korea.

UPDATE 1 (2014-10-16): DPRK opens Tongnim-jun to Chinese tourists. According to the Global Times:

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) opened its city of Tongnim-jun to Chinese tourists on Thursday, in the latest sign of the reclusive country developing its tourism sector.

Tongnim-jun is in Sinuiju, an area which borders northeast China’s Liaoning Province.

Under an agreement signed by tourist agencies of the two countries, Chinese group tourists can visit Tongnim-jun for two days from Dandong City in Liaoning.

The Dandong branch of the China International Travel Service has built a four-star hotel in the area with an investment of 30 million yuan (4.88 million US dollars).

Chinese group tourists can visit a number of DPRK cities, including its capital Pyongyang, Rason, Namyang, Chongjin and Mount Kumgang, by bus or by train.

The two countries are considering opening self-drive tours for Chinese tourists from Dandong, according to You Zejun, head of the municipal tourism commission.

The DPRK is working to develop its burgeoning tourism sector. It has approved several new travel programs and simplified entry applications to woo Chinese tourists.

In April, a train service from Ji’an City of Jilin Province was launched to link with Pyongyang, Kaesong and Panmunjom in the DPRK, making it the second city after Dandong with such services.

ORIGINAL POST (2013-1-11): According to Sina English:

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said it will open a village famous for a scenic waterfall in the northern part of the country to Chinese tourists from July.

The report by the China News Service said the tourist department of China’s Dandong city government will begin a two-day travel program on the route linking the Chinese city of Dandong to the North’s Donglim County, about 40 kilometers southeast of the border city of Sinuiju.

The news outlet said the Chinese travel department has been operating a one-day Dandong-Sinuiju travel route.
A four-star hotel is under construction as well as other amenities for travelers in the DPRK village in the North Pyongang Province, according to the report.

The village is most famous for its Donglim waterfall, a popular tourism location. The area near the waterfall is also well known for its scenic landscape.

The media report added that when the North opens the route in July, about 100 tourists will likely sign up for the tour program every day, whose two-day itinerary will cost about 1,000 Chinese yuan (US$160.9).

China’s tourist industry estimated that about 10,000 Chinese people visited the North on the Dandong-Sinuiju tour program in 2012.

Read the full story here:
DPRK to open waterfall village to Chinese tourists
Sina English
2013-1-11

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North Koreans working in China (2013 and 2014)

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

UPDATE 1 (2014-11-11): Yonhap has now published some more realistic numbers of North Koreans working in China:

The number of North Koreans going to China to find work rose an average 20 percent annually in the last three years, reaching a record 93,000 in 2013, a report by a local international traders association said Tuesday.

These North Koreans are usually paid barely more than half what Chinese workers get, according to the findings by the Korea International Trade Association (KITA).

The report said the rate of workers’ increase is more than twice as high as the 9.1 percent in overall rise of migrant workers entering China in the same period.

For 2014, 44,000 North Koreans have arrived in the world’s second largest economy to find jobs, roughly on par with figures from the year before.

KITA said the number of North Korean workers entering China constitutes 47.8 percent of North Koreans visiting the neighboring country as a whole. Last year some 207,000 North Korean nationals entered China, up sharply from 116,000 in 2010.

“The increase seems to be a win-win arrangement for both sides since workers send back money, which is an easy way for the cash-strapped communist country to get hard currency, while China benefits from cheap labor,” the trade association said.

North Korean workers are usually paid 260,000-280,000 won (US$238-256) per month, which is much less than 440,000-530,000 won that businesses pay Chinese citizens.

In particular, KITA said that agreements signed between Pyongyang and Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces and other regional authorities in the North Korea-China border areas in 2012 is effectively fueling the influx of cheap workers.

The agency said South Korean companies, however, that have set up operations in China are barred from using North Korean workers due to opposition from Pyongyang.

“There is a need to get North Korea to lift its ban on allowing its workers who can benefit these firms to be employed by a South Korean company,” a KITA official said. He said in the long term, it may be feasible to use North Korean workers, with their cheap labor costs, to allow South Korean firms to make inroads into China’s domestic consumer market.

Read the full story here:
Influx of N. Korean workers into China jumps 20 pct annually in 3 years
Yonhap
2014-11-11

ORIGINAL POST (2014-10-14): According to Yonhap:

About 7,000 North Koreans are estimated to be working in China’s border cities with the North, bringing hard foreign currency to the cash-strapped regime, a senior South Korean diplomat said Tuesday.

“We have estimated that there are around 2,500 North Korean workers in Dandong and some 4,500 North Korean workers in Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture,” said Shin Bong-sup, consul general at the South Korean Consulate in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang.

Dandong is a Chinese border city where more than 70 percent of bilateral trade between North Korea and China is conducted. Yanbian, home to ethnic Koreans in China, also borders North Korea.

Shin gave the estimated number of North Korean workers in the Chinese border cities during an annual parliamentary audit in Beijing.

This number is much lower than I would have expected. In 2012, Yonhap reported that there were 4,000 North Koreans in Kuwait. Additionally, two stories in 2012 (see here and here) put the number of workers at 20,000-40,000.

However a recent report in the Daily NK indicates that cross-border family visits (which often involve significant business activity) are also on the decline this year.

Read the full Yonhap story here:
About 7,000 N. Koreans work in Chinese border cities: diplomat
Yonhap
2014-10-14

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North Koreans working on Qatar construction projects

Friday, November 7th, 2014

According to The Guardian:

In the sprawling construction zone that will eventually become Qatar’s gleaming $45bn (£28bn) Lusail City, where the 2022 World Cup final will be held, four construction sites are said to be using North Korean workers, although there is no suggestion they are involved in building World Cup stadiums.

On one site, North Koreans battled biting desert sands and searing heat to construct a luxury residential tower. They laboured on as day turned to night, long after workers from other nationalities had left the site.

One North Korean worker helping to build the high-rise said: “People like us don’t usually get paid. The money does not come to the person directly. It’s nothing to do with me, it’s the [North Korean recruitment] company’s business.”

A project manager of the lavish development said the workers “don’t have a single rial themselves” and “borrow money from us if they need small things like cigarettes”.

“The descriptions of the conditions North Korean workers endure in Qatar – abuse of vulnerability, withholding of wages and excessive overtime – are highly indicative of state-sponsored trafficking for forced labour,” a modern form of slavery, said Aidan McQuade, the director of Anti-Slavery International.

Sources in Qatar estimate there may be as many as 3,000 North Koreans working on projects across the emirate. They are part of an army of workers the North Korean regime exports around the world to bring in much-needed foreign currency. According to defectors’ groups, there may be as many as 65,000 North Koreans abroad, mainly working in Russia, China, Mongolia and the Middle East.

Kim Joo-il, a former army officer who escaped North Korea in 2005, estimates that the Pyongyang government typically takes 70% of the total salary of workers abroad, and that after all “fees”, notionally for food and accommodation, have been paid, workers will be left with only 10% of their salary.

Two employees of state-run North Korean recruitment firms operating in Qatar admitted that their workers do not receive their salaries in person, but insisted a proportion of their wages are sent back to the workers’ families in North Korea.

A spokesperson from the ministry of labour and social affairs said: “We take all issues around worker payment extremely seriously. There are currently 2,800 North Korean guest workers registered in Qatar and we have no recorded complaints about their payment or treatment. Qatar is determined to continually improve labour conditions for all who work in the country, and will continue to work with NGOs, businesses and other governments to achieve this.”

North Koreans are alleged to have participated in construction of facilities at South Africa’s World Cup as well.

Here are previous posts involving Qatar.

You can read the full story here:
North Koreans working as ‘state-sponsored slaves’ in Qatar
The Guardian
2014-11-7

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DPRK oil imports from China in 2014 (UPDATED)

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

UPDATE 8 (2014-11-14): Yonhap speculates on Chinese oil exports to the DPRK:

China appears to be continuing to provide North Korea with crude oil, contrary to its customs data, officials here said Friday.

China exported not a single drop of crude oil to North Korea in the first nine months this year, according to formal data.

If true, it might reflect widespread speculation that the relations between the communist allies have been strained to some extent due to Pyongyang’s repeated provocative acts.

South Korean officials, however, believe China is continuing to send crude oil to North Korea either in hidden trade or in the form of aid.

“Without China’s provision of crude oil, the operation of many of North Korea’s industrial facilities and vehicles would be suspended. But there has been no such indication yet,” an intelligence official said.

Beijing may be deliberately excluding its crude oil shipments to Pyongyang from the customs data in a bid to give the world the impression that it is joining the international community’s efforts to put pressure on it, another government official said.

He dismissed the view that the North has replaced China with Russia as its main source of crude oil imports.

“North Korea has brought in more crude oil from Russia this year, but the total amount is still less than 100,000 tons,” he said.

North Korea used to import an annual average of half a million tons of crude oil from China. (Yonhap)

UPDATE 7 (2014-11-4): According to Yonhap, North Korea’s jet fuel imports from China have begun to rebound this year.

North Korea imported 13,000 tons of jet fuel from China between January and September, a sharp rise from 359 tons in the same period last year, the unification ministry official told reporters.

But the amount is still far short of past tallies: 38,000 tons in the same period of 2011 and 39,000 tons in that of 2012, he noted, citing formal data from China’s customs authorities

UPDATE 6 (2014-8-23): For what it is worth, China recorded zero oil exports to North Korea in July. According to Yonhap:

According to the Chinese data analyzed by the Beijing unit of the Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency, there were no shipments of crude oil from China to North Korea from January to July.

Diplomatic sources with knowledge of the matter cautioned against reading too much into the official trade figures because China has been providing crude oil to North Korea in the form of grant aid and such shipments have not been recorded on paper.

In the first seven months of this year, China’s exports to North Korea rose 1.8 percent from a year ago to US$1.95 billion, while imports fell 4.3 percent to $1.57 billion, according to the data.

UPDATE 5 (2014-8-4): The Hankyoreh weighs in on Chinese oil exports to the DPRK:

However, there are also other experts who counter that suspending the supply of crude oil ought not to be read as a sign of deteriorating relations between North Korea and China. They say that, while the statistics read zero, the supply of crude oil is actually continuing. In fact, the price of gasoline and other petroleum products in North Korea remains stable, reports have indicated.

Radio Free Asia reported that gasoline was selling recently for around 10 to 11 won per kilogram at North Korea’s markets, around the same as the 11 won price from 2012. The price of diesel also remained steady at 6 to 7 won, the broadcaster said.

The South Korean government believes that while China may have reduced its crude oil exports, it is continuing to supply North Korea with oil as a form of aid. “China has been supplying North Korea with 500,000 tons in trade, along with a similar amount of free oil. It appears to be providing North Korea with enough crude oil to prevent problems from occurring in North Korean society,” said a senior Ministry of Unification official on condition of anonymity.

But many experts believe that relations between North Korea and China are not in such a bad state that China would shut off the supply of crude oil. “Relations between North Korea and China are not normal, but they should not be seen as especially bad, either. From the viewpoint of a superpower, China appears to be steadily observing North Korea’s behavior, without grief or joy,” said Lee Hui-ok, professor at Sungkyunkwan University.

Indeed, aside from interaction between senior officials, other sectors appear to be operating normally without any major disturbances. Trade between North Korea and China in the first half of the year remained at levels similar to 2013. Chinese exports to the North from January to May of this year were US$1.27 billion, down slightly from US$1.33 billion last year. But a big rebound in June brought the first half figures up to US$1.58 billion, nearly the same as the US$1.59 billion posted last year.

In the area of tourism, China also appeared to be taking a more aggressive attitude in the first half of the year than in 2013, running new tourism programs using bicycles and trains, reports said. In the area of personnel exchange, working-level contact is continuing, despite the lack of meetings between senior officials.

“There are virtually no senior political officials from North Korea visiting China. However, technical and economic officials continue to visit China for inspections and training,” said an official at the South Korean embassy in China, on condition of anonymity.

“It is dangerous to read too much into the temporary fluctuations and the sluggish mood recently affecting relations between North Korea and China. That would be a false diagnosis of their relationship,” said Lee Nam-ju, professor at Sungkonghoe University.

“Since North Korea and China understand each other, it does not appear likely that their relations will be suddenly damaged,” Lee said.

UPDATE 4 (2014-7-14): NK News reports on Chinese petrol exports to the DPRK:

China has increased deliveries of oil products to North Korea during the first five months of 2014 according to the latest Chinese customs data, which also confirms the widely reported halt in crude oil shipments.

However, data from the Chinese General Administration of Customs shows that the oil-products being delivered to North Korea only cover a fraction of the supplies of crude once shipped, with total deliveries falling by over 60 percent.

Experts were unsure over whether this constituted a warning from Beijing in response to North Korea’s regional provocations or whether the slow-down was due to the DPRK’s aging refineries. Crude oil must be refined into petroleum products such as fuel oil, diesel and aviation fuel before being used.

In total, China exported more than 88,000 tons of refined products to the DPRK between January and May 2014, with more than half of the growth caused by spikes in gasoline and kerosene shipments. Gasoline, is primarily used as a fuel for motor vehicles, while kerosene is used to power jet engines and as a heating fuel in North East Asia.

“[This] is somewhat over half of the recorded exports from China to the DPRK in 2010, and somewhat over a quarter of the net petroleum products imports that we estimated for the DPRK from all nations in 2010.  So there may be a real shift in petroleum products exports going on,” David Von Hippel a Senior Associate at the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability told NK News.

Kerosene, used as an aviation fuel, saw the sharpest spike in exports increasing by 5131% when compared to the same period last year. The North Koreans imported more than a hundred thousand barrels, mostly in one bulk shipment in March, amidst news published in early July by Reuters that the DPRK was looking to restart domestic flights.

Gasoline exports also rose by 84% to approximately 280 thousand barrels when compared to the  January – May period in 2013.

DPRK imports of diesel rose to 63,000 barrels and mark the first time China has exported the petroleum product since 2011, although no data is available before this point. The exports remain at a low level however, representing only a few percent of total DPRK yearly usage.

China also upped exports of Butane by 28%, which is used primarily as fuel gas or in gasoline blending. “[Butane] is more likely used as an input to bottled gas (for example, liquefied petroleum gas, LPG), which is, we have heard, increasingly used for cooking in urban households that can afford it in the DPRK.” Von Hippel told NK News.

UPDATE 3 (2014-5-24): This Daily NK article further highlights why we should be skeptical of official reports of the DPRK’s oil imports from China:

Daily NK has confirmed that China is currently supplying oil to North Korea through a pipeline running between the two. Though there have been cases where Beijing has suspended such shipments in response to North Korean intransigence, particularly over nuclear issues, but this has not happened recently.

On April 10th, Daily NK visited an oil storage and pipeline facility in Dandong. There, our team interviewed Chinese Ministry of Public Security officials guarding the facility, which is owned by a subsidiary of China National Petroleum Corporation, or CNPC.

When asked about oil assistance to North Korea, one of the officers acknowledged, “We are continuously supplying oil (to North Korea),” but “cannot say how much we send each month or how much remains as of now.”

Oil deliveries to be transferred to North Korea are received at this facility from a larger nearby facility, Basan, and then are shipped to a partner storage facility at Baekma in Pihyun Couunty, North Pyongan Province. The pipeline is 11km long.

According to sources, these deliveries are not recorded in Chinese customs data, or in foreign trade statistics. The oil from the pipeline is rather characterized as de facto aid, either in the form of low interest loans or free of charge.

This is why, on April 24th, Korean agency KOTRA released a figure of ‘zero’ for oil exports from China to North Korea for the first quarter of 2014, basing it on Chinese customs data. The data says zero for commercial transfers; however, supplies in the form of aid and assistance may not have stopped at all.

In this regard, a diplomatic source said, “China has the ability to stop the oil supplies whenever they want, but they’ve never done so for a long period of time.” He went on, “Above all, China places as much importance on security as North Korea places on nuclearization, and it doesn’t want to see disorder in the North Korean regime. This explains why China keeps providing this assistance.”

Meanwhile, Chinese trade statistics show that 520,000 tons of oil was exported to North Korea every year from 2009 to 2012. Mostly small North Korean tankers shipped this oil.

UPDATE 2 (2014-5-26): The DPRK officially did not import any oil from China as of April 2014. According to Yonhap:

China sold no crude oil to North Korea in the first four months of this year, data compiled by South Korea’s government trade agency showed Monday, in an unusual four-month absence of oil shipments amid the North’s threats of a nuclear test.

The Beijing unit of the South’s Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) said in a report, citing data from China’s customs authorities, that there were no oil shipments from China to North Korea from January to April this year.

A four-month absence of oil shipments from China to North Korea was also reported in 2009, when the North conducted its second nuclear test.

However, a diplomatic source in Beijing cautioned against reading too much into the official trade figures.

“The Chinese side has provided crude oil to North Korea in the form of grant aid, which is not recorded on paper,” the source said on condition of anonymity.

North Korea also appears to have been trying to diversify its source of oil imports, through countries such as Russia, the source said.

UPDATE 1 (2014-4-24): DPRK official imports from China in Q1 of 2014: zero.

According to Yonhap:

China did not export any crude oil to North Korea in the first three months of this year, data compiled by South Korea’s government trade agency showed Thursday, in an unprecedented three-month absence of oil shipments amid North Korea’s threats of a nuclear test.

Monthly shipments of crude oil from China to North Korea were absent in February, June and July last year, but it was the first time that China apparently stopped exports of crude oil to North Korea for three consecutive months.

The Beijing unit of the South’s Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) said in a report, citing data it collected from China’s customs authorities, that there were no oil shipments from China to North Korea from January to March this year.

“To my knowledge, it is the first time that China did not export crude oil to North Korea for three consecutive months and that would impact the North Korean economy,” a diplomat at the South Korean Embassy in Beijing said on the condition of anonymity.

Also worth highlighting from the report:

China’s total trade with North Korea fell 2.83 percent to US$1.27 billion in the January-March period, compared with the same period a year ago, according to the KOTRA report.

Additional information:

1. DPRK – China trade statistics following the Jang Song-thaek purge.

2. DPRK – China trade at all time high in 2013.

3. DPRK diversifying energy sources.

4. DPRK does not import any oil from China in January 2014.

Read the full Yonhap story here:
China didn’t export crude oil to N. Korea in Q1
Yonhap
2014-4-24

ORIGINAL POST (2014-3-10): DPRK oil imports from China in January 2014: Zero!

According to Yonhap:

North Korea did not import any crude oil from China in January, marking the first absence of monthly deliveries from China in five months, a Seoul government report showed Monday.

It was not immediately clear whether the January absence of crude shipments to North Korea from China was linked to Beijing’s growing frustration with Pyongyang over its nuclear program, but it followed the execution of the once-powerful uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un last December.

Last year, monthly shipments of crude oil from China to North Korea were absent in the months of February, June and July. However, annual shipments of crude oil to North Korea from China rose 11.2 percent on-year to 578,000 tons in 2013.

Read the full story here:
No crude import from China to N. Korea in Jan.: report
Yonhap
2014-3-10

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DPRK visitors to China in 2014

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

The number of North Korean visitors to China fell more than 6 percent on-year in the first nine months of this year, a U.S. news report said Thursday, in an apparent sign of chilled relations between the two ideological neighbors.

Some 139,800 North Koreans traveled to China between January and September this year, down 6.5 percent from the same period last year, Radio Free Asia reported, citing China’s National Tourism Administration.

It marked the first decline in three years, possibly due to frayed ties between the two countries.

The figure rose 18.6 percent in 2012 and continued to grow 14.4 percent last year.

Employment was the most common reason to travel to China this year with 47 percent, followed by conferences and business with 19 percent. Less than 1 percent went there for tourism.

The vast majority, or 113,000, of them were men, compared with just 26,800 women, according to the report.

Read the full story here:
N. Korean visitors to China drop 6.5 pct in 2014
Yonhap
2014-10-30

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Smuggling between China and North Korea still prevalent

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern studies (IFES)

On October 15, 2014 Chinese media reported that smuggling along the China-North Korea border, which responds sensitively to North Korea’s situation, is still prevalent and that no particular changes have been detected internally within North Korea.

According to Huanqiu, the website of the Chinese nationalistic tabloid The Global Times, smuggling along the borders of the Liaoning and Dandong provinces has continued to persist in spite of recent flurry of rumors over Kim Jong Un’s whereabouts.

A source familiar with the smuggling situation on the border was quoted as saying, “If tensions were truly rising within North Korea, the very first thing to react would be the border guards, quickly followed by the suspension of smuggling activities.” The source continued, “However, smuggling has so far been unaffected.”

The newspaper captures the scene of a smuggling operation which took place on the night of the 13th near Wollyang Island, a small island on the Yalu (Amnok) River between Dandong and the North Korean city of Sinuiju. North Korean residents send signals to the Chinese on the other side of the river with a red light, to which the Chinese fishing boat responds with a green light. After exchanging signals back and forth, the two parties meet and the deal is finished quickly.

Smuggling along the China-North Korea border has been occurring for quite some time. Besides the smuggling of drugs, which the Chinese government punishes severely, trade products such as food and other daily necessities dear to the North Korean lifestyle have been overlooked for the most part.

Previously, commonly smuggled goods consisted of cooking oil, rice, clothes, and used electronics. However, according to the Huanqiu news, products such as cellphones, PCs, washing machines and refrigerators are also being traded for.

Local sources explained that high ranking “level 1” officials at the provincial and county levels are mainly responsible for ordering these types of products, and that many of the tablet PCs used by high level executives in Pyongyang have been smuggled in through China.

Huanqiu news also introduced another source, who was quoted as saying, “Pyongyang officials are involved in all large scale trade operations along the border. We have connections to high officials in North Korea’s State Security Department, but without them, we cannot do anything.”

Despite the fact that smuggling has been occurring for quite some time, there was a brief slowdown after border security was strengthened immediately following the execution of Jang Song Thaek, former vice chairman of the National Defense Commission in late 2013.

Meanwhile, Huanqiu news also reported that the Third Annual North Korea-China Economic, Trade, Culture and Tourism Expo opened as planned from October 16 – 20 in China’s Dandong province. It was also reported that both legal trade between the two nations and Chinese tourism to North Korea are progressing normally, regardless of recent speculations.

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