Archive for the ‘International Governments’ Category

Humanitarian aid, luxury goods and aid diversion in North Korea

Monday, October 29th, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein 

North Korea imported luxury goods from China for at least $640 million, says one South Korean lawmaker. Reuters:

“Kim has bought lavish items from China and other places like a seaplane for not only his own family, and also expensive musical instruments, high-quality TVs, sedans, liquor, watches and fur as gifts for the elites who prop up his regime,” opposition lawmaker Yoon Sang-hyun said in a statement.

“With the growing loophole, Kim would be able to near his goal of neutralizing sanctions soon without giving up the nuclear weapons.”

Last year, North Korea spent at least $640 million on luxury goods from China, according to Yoon.

China does not provide breakdowns of its customs figures. Yoon compiled data based on a list of banned items crafted by Seoul in line with a 2009 U.N. resolution.

Beijing’s customs agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Beijing has said it strictly abides by international sanctions against North Korea.

The 2017 luxury trade volume was down from the 2014 peak of $800 million, but was only a 3.8 percent drop from $666.4 million in 2016, according to Yoon.

The luxury items accounted for 17.8 percent of North Korea’s entire imports from China last year which totaled $3.7 billion, Yoon said.

Purchases of electronic products such as high-end TVs made up for more than half of the total transactions, worth $340 million, followed by cars with $204 million and liquors with $35 million.

China’s trade with North Korea from January to August this year tumbled 57.8 percent from the year-earlier figure to $1.51 billion, China’s customs agency said last month.

But Yoon’s analysis also shows North Korea funneled more than $4 billion into luxury shopping in China since Kim took power at the end of 2011.

Yoon accused China of loosening enforcement of sanctions, and criticized South Korea’s recent request for U.N. and U.S. exemptions to restart inter-Korean economic cooperation.

Full article:
North Korea bought at least $640 million in luxury goods from China in 2017, South Korea lawmaker says
Hyonhee Shin
Reuters
2018-10-22

Now, none of this means that Kim Jong-un is personally swimming in a sea of handbags and TV-sets in Pyongyang. Rather, it means that North Korea – whether semi-private companies or state entities – has imported a fair amount of so-called luxury goods, despite sanctions that should prevent such imports. The term “luxury goods”, moreover, is too broad in this case and encompasses several items that wouldn’t necessarily be classified as “luxurious” by most.

At the same time, UN institutions estimate that 1/4 of children in rural North Korea are underweight. As Chosun Ilbo reports:

The wealth gap between country and city is widening. One in every four rural children is undernourished and underweight and the North has the most serious poverty issue in East Asia, the FAO said.

The wealth gap between country and city is widening. One in every four rural children is undernourished and underweight and the North has the most serious poverty issue in East Asia, the FAO said.

The proportion of underweight children in rural areas is 27 percent but only 13 percent in the cities.

Full article:
1/4 of Rural Kids in N.Korea Underweight
Kim Myong-song
Chosun Ilbo
2018-10-18

The World Food Program (WFP), meanwhile, has only received 27 percent of their funding appeal for 2018:

According to Herve Verhoosel, a spokesperson for the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN agency is staring at a massive 73 per cent shortfall in funding for 2018, hurting critical programmes such as nutritional support for children.

“We must not wait for diplomatic progress to alleviate the suffering of millions of people – funds are urgently needed now,” said Mr. Verhoosel.

“Any donation we receive today will take at least six months to reach the people who need it, due to the time it takes to purchase and transport food.”

A lack of funding risks reversing small gains in nutrition for mothers and children, made over the past four years, on the back of concerted efforts by humanitarians. Limited funding has also resulted in the suspension of operations to build resilience among disaster-hit and vulnerable communities.

WFP needs $15.2 million over the next five months to avoid further cuts to programmes which help feed around 650,000 women and children each month.

Across the country, which is officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), more than 10 million people – almost 40 per cent of the population – are undernourished and in need of support, with one in five children stunted due to chronic malnutrition.

The country is also vulnerable to natural disasters, such as drought and flooding, which affect agricultural production and livelihoods.

Article source:
Critical food programmes in North Korea can’t wait for ‘diplomatic progress’, UN food agency warns
UN News
2018-10-09

So, what is really going on here? Is it accurate to say, like the headlines imply, that North Korea’s leadership is simply buying a bunch of luxury items for millions of dollars and letting children starve in the countryside? Is there a real risk that humanitarian aid can be diverted to the army, and what does this really mean? These are separate questions, but they are interrelated in the sense that they all touch upon Pyongyang’s incentives and policy choices when it comes to its humanitarian situation.

On 38 North, the host website of this blog, Kee Park and Eliana Kim show convincingly that the fear of diversion of aid to the military is exaggerated and unfounded:

International donors and organizations have become increasingly reluctant to provide funds to North Korea. Although five countries—Switzerland, Sweden, Canada, France and Russia—have responded to the UN’s request this year, there is still a funding gap of $88.1 million. Previous donors such as United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, Ireland, South Korea and others remain uncommitted. One concern frequently cited for this reluctance is that foreign aid, including critical humanitarian aid, will either be diverted to the military or fund the nuclear weapons and missile programs or take pressure off of the regime to provide for its people.

However, these concerns are based on basic misunderstandings of how and why humanitarian assistance is provided to North Korea. Facts on the ground show that the potential for diversion is minimal and the main benefactors are generally not government or military institutions. Given the mission of UN humanitarian assistance, denying the DPRK this assistance for political purposes is both unethical and inhumane.

Full article:
The Case for Funding the UN’s Request for Humanitarian Assistance to the DPRK
Kee B. Park and Eliana E. Kim
38 North
2018-10-23

One of their most central arguments is that opportunities for diversion are too small to be meaningful. Overhead costs only make up a small percentage of total costs, and little of it could even hypothetically be diverted given that it’s all needed to run UN operations in the country. When it comes to diversion of actual food aid, the authors argue that most diversion that may occur is done towards the markets – that is, the state doesn’t actually take foodstuffs for its own use, and resources that are used elsewhere do not necessarily benefit the North Korean government.

It also seems like diversion was much more of a real concern in the 1990s and early 2000s. The worry was primarily about diversion of food aid to the military and away from society’s most needy, and it wasn’t unfounded at all.  But we have to assume that there’s been a great deal of learning done by NGOs and international institutions present on the ground. They know what they’re doing.

Today,  food aid volumes aren’t large enough to be meaningful for the army to try to divert, it seems, even if they would want to. Much of the aid, moreover, consists not of rice and other goods consumed by the general public, but likely of nutritional assistance designed to maximize the caloric intake of vulnerable groups such as children and breastfeeding mothers. We also have to remember that the chain of aid distribution and reception is long and diverse. Park and Kim argue that Pyongyang has invested much more in recent years to meet humanitarian needs. I would add that people who have worked with humanitarian aid delivery on the ground have often commented on how local officials and staff members, regardless of what one might think of Pyongyang’s intentions, are often passionate and genuine in their will and hard work to ensure that food aid reaches their local constituents and intended recipients.

However, this angle misses an important point. Diversion isn’t just about the army grabbing bags of rice intended for malnourished children, it’s also, arguably, about resources in the bigger picture. At the end of the day,  for the North Korean regime, feeding the most vulnerable is a matter of priority. We know it could, should it choose to do so. Even in years when North Korean harvests have likely been lower than this year (which we don’t yet have figures for) given the upward  trend in harvests over the past few years, the deficit left between domestic production and projected need wouldn’t have been that expensive to make up for.

Enter the luxury goods. We don’t know what proportion of the $640 million represent purchases strictly made by the state, and not by individual North Koreans or private enterprises. (The lines in this realm are rarely clear-cut.) But even low-balling it and assuming that only 1/6 is bought by the government to supply Kim Jong-un’s court and patronage networks, that’s still more than what would have been required in food imports to meet the estimated needs of the population in 2012, when, again, production was probably even lower than it is today. The UN appeal of $111 million of this year is also roughly equivalent to 1/6 of North Korea’s estimated “luxury” goods import of the past year.

And that’s just using luxury goods as an illustrative example. We could also look at any one of the massive infrastructure investments by Kim Jong-un and the renovations and new constructions of entire city blocks and streets in Pyongyang, or loft projects such as the Masikryong Ski Resort. The point is that North Korea surely has the funds to cover the humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable among its population, but chooses not to and instead counts on the UN to foot the bill for doing so. A form of “diversion”, if you will.

This is not to argue either for or against giving humanitarian aid. That the regime makes certain policy choices seems a morally problematic argument for not funding humanitarian needs. But in the long run, especially as North Korea’s economic health improves, one has to wonder whether it’s sensible for the international community to keep paying for humanitarian needs in a country whose regime could afford to do so, but makes a different policy choice, year after year.

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Moon’s Europe trip

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

President Moon went to Europe. In France, he argued that sanctions against North Korea should be eased. Yonhap:

Moon agreed with the need to maintain pressure on the North until it denuclearizes, but said such pressure could be or should be eased to encourage the impoverished North.

“I believe the international community needs to provide assurances that North Korea has made the right choice to denuclearize and encourage North Korea to speed up the process,” the South Korean president told the joint press conference.

Moon’s remarks come amid an apparent tug of war between the United States and North Korea over when the North should be entitled to rewards for giving up its nuclear ambition.

Pyongyang is said to be demanding timely rewards for what it claims to be irreversible denuclearization steps it has already taken while Washington is insisting on maximum sanctions and pressure until the impoverished nation fully denuclearizes.

In his third bilateral summit with Moon, held in Pyongyang last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un offered to take additional denuclearization steps, including the dismantlement of the country’s only nuclear test site, in presence of international experts for verification.

“Chairman Kim Jong-un has said he is willing to not only halt the country’s nuclear and missile tests and also dismantle its production facilities, but also dismantle all nuclear weapons and nuclear materials it currently possesses if the United States takes corresponding measures,” the South Korean president told Macron in their meeting, according to Moon’s chief press secretary Yoon Young-chan.

Full article/source:
Moon says France, U.N. can speed up N. Korea’s denuclearization by easing sanctions
Yonhap News
2018-10-16

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N Korea condemns international sanctions, again

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Yonhap summarizes KCNA:

In a commentary by an individual writer, the Korean Central News Agency said that the U.S. should take corresponding steps in response to Pyongyang’s major conciliatory action in the past few months.

“If the U.S. intends to be stubborn in its sanctions, which means to continue to pursue hostile policy, is the Singapore Joint Statement which promised to end the extreme hostile relations between the DPRK and the U.S. and to open up new future of any worth and what did the U.S. president mean by ‘big progress’ which he bragged,” the commentary said in English.

“Quite long period has passed since the DPRK stopped nuclear tests and inter-continental ballistic rocket launches and it is, therefore, natural for sanctions measures taken on that pretexts to disappear accordingly,” it added.

DPRK stands for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The commentary emphasized that China and Russia have also called for denuclearization and the establishment of peace on the Korean Peninsula in a “phased” and “simultaneous” way, meaning each country involved should take corresponding measures every step of the way.

It even called into question the real intention behind Washington’s firm stance on sanctions.

“It is an undeniable reality that denuclearization and sanctions are misused as tools for meeting party interests and strategies of the political forces within the U.S., not to solve bottleneck problems between the DPRK and the U.S. to even a certain extent,” it said.

Its accusatory tone comes as the leaders of the U.S. and North Korea are pushing to hold their second summit meeting “at the earliest possible date,” resuming diplomacy after months of stalemate since their first-ever meeting in Singapore in June.

During the June summit, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un promised to work toward the “complete” denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in return for “new” relations with the U.S.

The North has demanded the U.S. take “corresponding” measures for what it claims to be substantive and practical denuclearization steps, including a moratorium on missile and nuclear tests and dismantling of a major nuclear test site. Easing sanctions and declaring an end to Korean War have been cited as possible concessions.

Full article/source:
N. Korea demands lifting of sanctions, calls them hostile policy against Pyongyang
Yonhap News
2018-10-16

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China-NK trade dropped by 59.2% January–September of 2018, says China

Saturday, October 13th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Global Times reports Chinese customs figures:

China has consistently complied with UN’s resolutions on North Korea and bilateral trade tumbled 59.2 percent year-on-year from January to September, said an official with the General Administration of Customs (GAC) on Friday.

The value of China’s trade with North Korea was 11.11 billion yuan ($1.61 billion) in the first three quarters, according to data released by the GAC.

During the same period, China’s export volume to North Korea was 10.11 billion yuan, down 40.8 percent on a yearly basis and imports stood at 1 billion yuan, down 90.1 percent year-on-year, the GAC data showed.

The implementation of the Security Council’s decision is an obligation that all UN members should fulfill, said Li Kuiwen, an official with the GAC.

Li noted that “China’s customs has consistently carried out the relevant resolutions of the Security Council in a comprehensive, accurate, serious and strict manner.”

China’s trade volume with North Korea in the January-to-August period fell 57.8 percent from a year earlier to $1.51 billion, the GAC said on September 23.

Article source:
China-North Korea trade drops 59.2% in January-September period: customs
Global Times
2018-10-13

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Russia wants sanctions on North Korea to ease

Thursday, September 27th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

I don’t think we have systematic, rigid data enough to prove that Russian sanctions implementation overall on North Korea has eased even though the Russian government’s line on easing international sanctions has gone on consistently for months. But still, it’s only logical that a government working for sanctions pressure to ease would at the very least make sanctions implementation oversight and rigor less of a priority. Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Pompeo used his opening address to swipe at permanent Security Council members Russia and China for violating U.N. sanctions involving the sale of petroleum products in excess of North Korea’s maximum 500,000-barrel allowance and for providing other forms of economic relief.

“The members of this Council must set the example on that effort, and we must all hold each other accountable,” Mr. Pompeo said, calling for an end of ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products, linked to Chinese and Russian entities, and a halt to hosting of North Korean laborers, a reference to the thousands of workers who have been granted permission to work in Russia.

“This violates the spirit and the letter of the Security Council resolutions that we all agreed to uphold,” he told the Council.

Mr. Lavrov used his address to bash the U.S. and its allies for exerting excessive pressure on North Korea, saying it was unacceptable for sanctions to be used as a form of “collective punishment.”

Mr. Lavrov defended North Korea’s call for economic relief, saying Pyongyang has taken meaningful steps toward implementing its promise to give up its nuclear weapons and urged the U.N. Security Council to send a “positive signal” in return.

“Negotiations are a two-way street,” Mr. Lavrov said, adding that Russia would draft a proposal to allow certain economic projects in North Korea to be exempt from sanctions.

Mr. Lavrov said such projects would be in the interest of all parties and would ease the “extreme socioeconomic and humanitarian suffering” caused by the sweeping sanctions regime currently in place. He also took aim at the U.S. for implementing secondary sanctions, which he described as “illicit practices” that undermine the sovereignty of other nations.

It’ll be interesting to see what these economic projects are specifically. My bet is on infrastructure and railway renovations and possibly new construction,  or perhaps ones centering around the Rason port and special economic zone.

Full article:
Russia’s Lavrov Calls for U.N. to Ease North Korea Sanctions
Jessica Donati
Wall Street Journal
2018-09-27

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The economic side of the Moon-Kim summit

Friday, September 21st, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

The economic aspect has been continuously front-and-center throughout the Moon-Kim summit in Pyongyang (September 19–20). From a diplomatic standpoint, this is not all that surprising. Moon and Kim are pursuing what appears to be a rather classical Sunshine 2.0 pattern, with roughly the same contents as the predecessor. As Yonhap reports:

Earlier in the day, the leaders of South and North Korea agreed to work together for balanced economic development on the Korean Peninsula.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to break ground on a joint project to connect railways and roads across their border this year and vowed diverse cooperative projects to deepen their friendly ties and foster a reconciliatory mood.

The agreements were reached during summit talks held in Pyongyang between Moon and Kim.

“We will prepare for (inter-Korean economic cooperation) in a calm and orderly manner,” Finance Minister Kim Dong-yeon said in a meeting with reporters here.

“But inter-Korean economic projects can gather speed if circumstances improve,” he said.

The minister said any inter-Korean economic projects should need support from the international community, and there are still many things to be done in advance.

The latest agreement came months after the leaders reached a deal during their April summit to modernize and eventually connect rail and road systems across their divided border.

Field surveys have been carried out to examine the state of some sections of the North’s rail and road networks, but the process has not moved fast enough, apparently due to stringent sanctions imposed on the North for its nuclear program.

Railways and infrastructure are both less politically touchy than outright trade, and potentially mutually beneficial, even though the south will carry the economic burden:

“The South and the North agreed to explore practical measures aimed at increasing exchange and cooperation and seeking balanced development,” read a joint statement they signed after the summit.

“The two agreed to hold a ground-breaking ceremony this year for connecting railways and roads running along their eastern and western coasts,” it also stated.

The decision came months after the leaders reached a deal during their April summit to modernize and eventually connect rail and road systems across their divided border. The Seoul government has set aside nearly 300 billion won for next year to carry out those projects.

Field surveys have been carried out to examine the state of some sections of the North’s rail and road networks, but the process has not been fast enough, apparently because of global sanctions on the North.

The second point of the Pyongyang Declaration promises more economic cooperation for “balanced” growth, and vows to reopen projects such as the Kumgangsan tourism zone, and the Kaesong Industrial Park, according to Moon, “when conditions allow“. Here’s an English-language full-text version of the declaration. A particularly interesting but understudied point is 2.3, on ecological cooperation.

Kim Jong-un’s forestry interest has been a recurring theme throughout his tenure, and as this blog has covered, he’s spoken about the problems associated with excessive tree-felling – the root cause of which is North Korea’s planning failures of the 1990s – in more honest terms than his father did. At the very least, there’s been strong hints of both pragmatism and understanding of North Korea’s structural problems in the way that Kim has talked about the forestry issue (and many others too for that matter). Indeed, the Korea Forest Service chief accompanied Moon to Pyongyang, and he hopes to get to work soon following the summit:

“Forests surrounding populous urban areas were heavily destroyed, but forests in less populated regions were well-preserved,” Kim Jae-hyun said in a meeting with reporters at a government complex in Daejeon. “I saw enough hope.”

He was speaking after accompanying South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s visit to North Korea from Tuesday to Thursday.

As the first step, Kim said the Korea Forest Service will explore ways to create tree nurseries in much-destroyed regions.

“The North Korean side wants large-scale tree nurseries, but it would be more practical to start with small nurseries in regions suffering from deforestation the most,” he said.

In regard to disease and insect control efforts, the official said the use of machinery could be limited as the North is under U.N. sanctions for its missile and nuclear tests, while pesticides are allowed.

“I think (the disease and insect control measures) should start immediately to build trust between the two Koreas,” he said.

The forest expert said his North Korea visit as part of the official entourage showed Moon’s “willingness” to pursue inter-Korean cooperation in the forest sector.

“Looking down from an airplane along the western coastline, North Korea’s forests were very impressive,” Kim said. “There were few trees on hills near Pyongyang, while trees were well-maintained on the way from Sunan Airport to Baekhwawon guesthouse.”

Mountains near Yalu River on the North Korean border with China were denuded, but Mount Paekdu showed off all colors of beautiful trees, he said.

Moon and Kim aren’t the only ones who have talked about economic cooperation. The mayor for Busan, South Korea’s second most populated city, for example, has announced projects that his city will spearhead. Yonhap again:

Busan’s envisioned projects, unveiled in time for President Moon Jae-in’s historic visit to North Korea, call for boosting the city’s cooperation with the North in the fields of fisheries trade and processing, modernization of fishing vessels and equipment, shipbuilding, exhibitions and conventions and smart city technology, the city said.

The city will push to invite North Korean filmmakers and actors to the Busan International Film Festival and hold an inter-Korean film festival.

Nikkei Asian Review also reports that the Moon government has put pressure on Samsung and its head, Lee Jae-yong, to present a large-scale investment plan for North Korea. Samsung has manufactured TV:s in North Korea before, but this time around, the company hasn’t appeared as eager as its other chaebol-counterparts to draft up implementable blueprints for investments up north. Politically, it makes sense. Samsung’s PR hasn’t exactly been superb as of late, with the arrest and later release from prison of its CEO relating to corruption charges tied to the Choi Soon-sil/Park Geun-hye-scandal.

South Korea’s main steelmaker Posco is also hoping for opportunities following the summit:

The executive was part of the business delegation that accompanied President Moon Jae-in on his trip to North Korea earlier this week. Choi and other businessmen discussed various inter-Korean economic cooperation projects that can be pursued going forward if conditions are right.

“It will be a big opportunity not only for POSCO but for the steel industry as a whole,” Choi said. “I think POSCO will be able to find chances for growth.”

The company recently created a new task force to prepare for potential business opportunities in North Korea. POSCO Daewoo, POSCO Engineering & Construction Co. and POSCO Chemtech Co. are participating in the task force.

The steelmaker said it wants to play a key role in railroad and other infrastructure projects in line with the changes in the geopolitical environment in Northeast Asia.

My five cents on what all this entails for the North Korean economy:

Of course, as of yet, nothing. Most of the plans and visions are routinely accompanied by the caveat “when conditions allow”. The infrastructure plans may be able to go ahead even with sanctions in place, at least the rhetoric from the Moon administration, and the timetable for breaking ground on the railway connections before this year is over, seems to suggest so. I’m no expert on the judicial side of the sanctions, but it’s hard to imagine that this will be fully uncontroversial from that standpoint.

In any case, North Korea is in dire need of infrastructure improvements and if they are extensive enough, they should hopefully not just connect South and North Korea with Russia and China for cheaper freight, but also make domestic goods transportation simpler and more efficient, with positive impacts for the markets and private manufacturing in the country.

On re-opening Kaesong, things are a bit more complicated. In its nature, Kaesong is a manufacturing zone mostly cut off from the rest of North Korea. Sure, the incomes of the workers did enter the North Korean economy, and arguably, the fact that South Korean consumer goods could to some extent enter North Korean markets through Kaesong spurred competition for more high-quality goods on the North Korean market as well. But Kaesong is hardly the only, and perhaps not even the main route through which such products enter the country. These are also pretty weak arguments when you look at the entire economic picture.

The problem with Kaesong isn’t so much what it was/is/will be, but the missed opportunities. The hope with special economic zones tends to be that institutional frameworks that are tried there first can later spill over into the rest of the country. In the case of North Korea, the arrangement made pretty sure that that didn’t happen, at least from what we can tell. Had inputs been sourced from North Korea, that could also have spurred wider economic growth, at least in some regions. In theory, there are lots of opportunities for synergy and cooperation between South Korean companies and smaller North Korean ones, not just the state. If the goal is economic development in North Korea more broadly, and not just economic profit on the southern side and incomes for the north, there are lots of models that carry far greater potential.

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WSJ on the holes in the sanctions regime against N Korea

Saturday, September 15th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

WSJ:

The still-confidential report, prepared by a U.N. panel that monitors sanctions compliance, says North Korea has been caught selling arms to Syria, Yemen, Libya and other conflict zones around the world. The U.N. investigators found a massive rise in fuel imports through transfers involving Russian and Chinese ships. The report also cited numerous examples of coal shipments from North Korea to China that were structured to avoid surveillance.

The illegal trade is weakening U.S. efforts to pressure the regime to abandon its nuclear program, the panel says, citing intelligence reports.

“These violations render the latest U.N. sanctions ineffective by flouting the caps on the [North Korea’s] import of petroleum products and crude oil as well as the coal ban imposed in 2017,” the U.N. experts warned in the report, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

[…]

The U.N. panel’s findings are the latest indication that North Korea continues to engage in banned activities even as it engages in these diplomatic efforts.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week about a group of North Korean operatives in China using U.S. social media to pursue online schemes benefiting the regime. Also this week, the Journal reported North Korean ships had brought in 89 illicit cargoes of fuel in the first five months of the year obtained via ship to ship transfers primarily with Chinese or Russian counterparts.

[…]

The U.N. called out Chinese companies for buying tens of millions of dollars worth of North Korean iron, steel, textiles, food and other products, though Beijing disputed the figures. Citing official trade data, the U.N. said China bought more than $100 million in textiles from North Korea the last three months of 2017, $95 million more than Beijing reported directly to the panel. China disputes the U.N.-reported figures.

The U.N. panel also said it found more than 200 Chinese joint ventures with North Korea, collaboration banned last year by the Security Council. According to a U.S. Treasury Department advisory published in July, those companies conduct a vast array of business including software development, construction and aquaculture.

In Russia, which has also been criticized for what U.S. and U.N. officials say is lax sanctions enforcement, investigators found 39 joint ventures.

North Korean financial agents also continue to operate in Russia and China, the U.N. report said, despite the mandate to expel any bank representatives. Establishing and managing bank accounts allows North Korea to collect the illicit revenues generated overseas. When accounts were closed in the European Union, North Korea operatives simply transferred the funds to others in Asia, the U.N. report says.

Full article/source:

U.N. Cites New Evidence That North Korea Is Violating Sanctions

Ian Talley
Wall Street Journal
2018-09-15

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Dollar exchange rate on North Korean markets at high-point

Wednesday, September 5th, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

One of the more puzzling issues through the “maximum pressure”-period and harsh Chinese implementation of international sanctions on North Korea has been the lack fo significant changes in the market exchange rate between the won and the dollar. For a number of apparent reasons – lack of inflow of hard currency being the most significant one, as North Korea’s exports have dwindled – we should have logically seen the exchange rate appreciating, and the dollar becoming more expensive. This largely hasn’t happened.

The won is still remarkably stabile, but over the past few weeks, it’s gone up to higher levels than at any point through 2017 and 2018. An average of the three cities reported in Daily NK’s four most recent observations show that the dollar trades for an average of about 8237 won, the highest observation that I can find in my dataset (based on Daily NK price reports) since the summer of 2016.

Won for US-dollars at market rates, 2017–September 2018. Data source: Daily NK. Graph: NK Econ Watch.

It’s doubtful whether this suggests any significant change in market conditions. Currencies, after all, fluctuate, and this change isn’t all that great. The won is up by less than 200 since the previous observation, from 8041 on July 31st. That’s not a massive change, or beyond the scope of normal currency fluctuations. In a bigger-picture perspective, things still look remarkably stabile, as the graph below shows. Looking at the won-USD-exchange rate since 2009, it’s still very much hovering around 8000, perhaps and highly speculatively a currency peg the North Korean government has chosen, and is able to keep up through means that remain unknown.

Won for USD-rates on the markets, 2009–September 2018. Data source: Daily NK. Graph: NK Econ Watch.

Still, a number of things may be happening here. The most obvious factor to consider is whether the current stall between the US and North Korea in negotiations is causing people to hoard dollars, anticipating further restrictions in trade and currency inflow. Off the top of my head, this seems unlikely. If the won-USD-market exchange rate didn’t move much when North Korea was being slapped with sanctions against all of its crucial export goods, I doubt that a lack of diplomatic movement could move the exchange rate to higher levels than during, say, the summer and fall of 2017, when tensions were really ramping up.

It is more likely that domestic conditions are behind the increase. For example, border controls on trade and smuggling reportedly tightened on the Chinese side around mid-August. On the North Korean side of the border, too, news reports indicate that security has tightened as the 9th of September approaches, North Korea’s 70th founding anniversary. It’s also possible that the government’s generally increased demand for resources around the holiday has impacted the currency market.

Alone, this increase says little. Should the USD consistently keep appreciating on the markets, however, that would suggest more serious and prolonged difficulties for border trade and economic conditions overall.

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Electricity supply in Pyongyang keeps getting better as sanctions drag on

Wednesday, September 5th, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

As North Korea’s economically crucial minerals exports are massively down (coal exports by over 70% in 2017 as compared with 2013, for example), some in the country see positive side effects. With coal not being exported, it is instead sent to the part of the country with the highest purchasing power after the previous exports recipients: Pyongyang, as the following article in Daily NK notes (as of now only in Korean, I believe). Electricity supply, indoor heating and warm water supply have all reportedly improved, at least in parts of the city, as a consequence.

This illustrates a crucial point on sanctions. They don’t hit all North Koreans equally, and whatever one may think of the efficiency and political justification of sanctions, the northeastern coal-producing regions are undoubtedly harder hit than the capital city. Daily NK:

최근 북중 접경지역으로 나온 평양의 한 주민은 5일 데일리NK와의 통화에서 “우리가(북한이) 여태까지 중국에 석탄을 수출하다보니 (화력)발전소를 제대로 못 돌렸었다”며 “하지만 이젠 동평양 화력발전소하고 평양(평천) 화력발전소에서 전기를 꽝꽝 만들어 평양으로 보내고 있다”고 전했다.

대한무역투자진흥공사(KOTRA)에 따르면 2017년 북한 광물 수출액은 대북제재가 본격적으로 시작되기 전인 2013년에 비해 64.7% 감소한 것으로 나타났다. 같은 기간 무연탄은 70.8% 감소한 것으로 조사됐다.

또한, 통계청에 따르면 북한의 화력발전 발전량은 2013년 이후 82억kWh에서 2016년 111억kWh로 37.9% 늘어난 것으로 나타났다. 2017년 북한 발전량에 대한 정확한 통계가 조사되지 않았지만 전반적인 발전량 상승 추이로 볼 때 2017년 북한 화력발전소 발전량도 상승했을 것으로 예측된다.

석탄의 내수용 전환과 전력 사정 개선은 난방 및 온수공급에도 영향을 미친 것으로 보인다.

평양의 대다수 가구는 열병합발전에 의한 난방으로 설계됐지만, 그동안 화력발전소들이 제대로 가동되지 않아 난방 문제는 항상 골칫거리였다. 그러나 최근 발전소 사정이 나아지면서 일부 세대에 난방이 공급되고 있는 것이다.

소식통은 “려명거리 같은 최근에 지어진 집들은 발전소 사정이 좀 나아져 온수 난방이 어느 정도 돌아가고 있다”고 말했다.

Full article:

Pyongyang resident: as sanctions stop coal exports, the electricity situation is improving [평양 주민 “석탄 수출길 막혔는데 전력 사정은 좋아져”]
Moon Dong-hui
Daily NK
2018-09-05

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Russia rejects new sanctions on North Korea

Friday, August 10th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Full comment here by the Russian Foreign Ministry:

Russia has blocked the US application to the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee on North Korea (1718) on introducing international sanctions against one individual and several legal entities, including the Russian commercial bank Agrosoyuz that are allegedly involved in illegal activities that are violating the sanctions regime against that country.

The US-presented evidence in support of this proposal is totally unconvincing.  We cannot accept the pressure exerted by the US delegation in the UN Security Council and its subsidiary bodies, which has already become a norm. By means of an artificially tightened deadline, it is trying to push through its own decisions without taking into account the opinion of the other members. The Americans are also obviously trying to use the prestige of UN Security Council Committee 1718 for justifying similar unilateral restrictions that they have just introduced under far-fetched pretexts.

Far from improving the atmosphere of Russia-US relations, the new US sanctions contradict the logic of easing tension around the DPRK. Clearly, Washington is trying to keep Pyongyang under maximum pressure as long as possible, in effect, up to the completion of the denuclearisation process. This policy is destructive for settling the issues of the Korean Peninsula and evokes extreme resentment.

Source:

Comment by the Information and Press Department on the US application to the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee on North Korea (1718) on expanding sanctions
Information and Press Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia
2018-08-10

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