Archive for the ‘China’ Category

[Updated] Kim Jong-un oversees master plan for Sinuiju facelift and construction

Wednesday, December 5th, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

A couple of weeks ago, KCNA carried a report of Kim Jong-un’s oversight of a grand, general reconstruction plan for Sinuiju, North Korea’s most important hub for trade with China.

North Korea, it seems, expects that trade primarily with China will continue to grow and remain the country’s most important source of foreign currency revenue for the foreseeable future. This is something to keep in mind through the speculations about US and other western investments in North Korea in the event that sanctions are lifted and denuclearization (whatever version of it) comes through.

The plans for Sinuiju are also notable simply because Sinuiju is not Pyongyang. There has been quite a bit of work done in the past few years, under Kim Jong-un, at extending the renovations drive and infrastructure construction to smaller, provincial cities (mostly provincial capitals). One message seems to be that Kim Jong-un’s ambitions and promises of economic development aren’t just for the elite, but for the population as a whole.

It’s unclear how the plans that Rodong speaks of are related to the Sinuiju International Economic Zone. An issue of the quarterly North Korean magazine Foreign Trade in 2015 indicated that renovations of Sinuiju would focus on infrastructure renewal, but as the example of the bridge to nowhere shows (see below), it’s unclear what actual progress is being made in reality on this.

Some specific thoughts and annotation below (my emphasis, except on the leader’s names, that’s all standard KCNA):

Pyongyang, November 16 (KCNA) — Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army, examined and guided the master plan for Sinuiju City together with leading officials of the party, administration and design organs of North Phyongan Province.

Learning about the implementation of the behests of President Kim Il Sung and Chairman Kim Jong Il for the construction of Sinuiju City and examining in detail the master plan for the construction of Sinuiju City and a diorama of the future city, Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un set forth the tasks and ways of successfully sprucing up Sinuiju City to meet the demand of the present era.

“The present era” = likely, the era of a growing middle class with demands for consumption and entertainment, many of which make their money through the markets and semi-private business.

He said that it is necessary to form the center of Sinuiju City deep up to the southern Sinuiju area with the statues of

Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il at the center square of the city as the axis, arrange high-rise apartments and public buildings at provincial and city levels in its surroundings in a dimensional way, successfully arrange the blocks of high-rise and skyscraper apartment buildings along the main axis and arterial road of the city and the bank of the Amnok River in formative artistic way and build many parks within the dwelling area and thus turn the city into the one in the park.

This all sounds very expensive. Meanwhile, North Korea faces largely unfunded humanitarian needs, which could be met relatively cheaply. In fact, the equivalent of one-sixth of North Korea’s total luxury goods imports in 2017 would be enough.

Saying that it is necessary to build many modern and majestic architectures rich in national character in order to build the city befitting to a gateway city of the country, he called for successfully arranging the public buildings such as theatre, cinema, sports village, ice rink and sci-tech library and service facilities including hotel and department store in a rational way and to be of modern taste.

Books have been written about the concept of “rationality”, so I won’t go into what the use of that phrase means in this context. But it does sound like what Kim is talking about is simply making Sinuiiju “modern”, with all of what that entails. These days, there’s quite a bit of reporting and chatter around about how Pyongyang, and other North Korean cities, have undergone stark modernizations during Kim’s tenure. This is clearly true, but it’s worth remembering the reason why these things are news: the presence of “service facilities”, “department store[s]” and the like, things taken for granted in much of the world, is still not widely spread in North Korea outside of Pyongyang. (This is also true for Wi-fi.)

He also gave a direction of sprucing up the present industrial areas and remodeling the railway station of the city and Uiju Airport in a modern way.

Speaking of infrastructure: this is the only part of the article where infrastructure is mentioned. It is interesting and notable that despite the attention and grand plans for Sinuiju, the new bridge connecting the city to Dandong had still not been connected to North Korea’s road network as of mid-February this year, as far as I can tell from satellite imagery. This is the most recent date for which imagery is available.

The end of the new bridge from Dandong, on the North Korean side. Photo: Google Earth.

Underlining the need to pay deep attention also to the creation of cultural environment including urban greening, he called for creating green belts near the city’s main road and around the industrial area to make sure that one citizen has 50 square meters of green tract of land, and for building city park, botanical garden and recreation ground in a cozy and peculiar manner to suit the specific conditions of the local city.

Again, that’s going to cost a lot of money, and not least, human effort. Citizens might be happy about green spaces, but they’ll be less so at having to go out and construct them through “voluntary” labor.

Noting that it is most important in urban construction to make sure that citizens don’t feel any inconvenience, he said that it is necessary to increase electricity production and make a maximum use of natural energy so as to round off the city electricity supply network system, perfect the heating system, put the water supply on an international standard and properly establish the system for purifying industrial waste water and sewage as the city has dense arrangement of residential quarters and industrial establishments.

Electricity and energy supply is one of the main achilles heels for the North Korean economy, and its industry is highly vulnerable to shortages in electricity supply. “Maximum use of natural energy” sounds like hydrogen power to me, which is North Korea’s most plentiful source of electricity. Aside from coal, that is, but given the export value of coal, its use for domestic electricity production comes with a high opportunity cost. In any case, the North Korean administration is clearly aware (and has been for decades) that energy is a big problem, and bringing it up in conjunction with a city plan inspection is likely a way of sending the message that the authorities are working on it. How exactly that is being done is less clear.

On the theme of energy in Sinuiju, it might be worth noting that the city is home to one of the country’s main oil refineries, the Ponghwa Chemical Factory, south of the city.

Ponghwa Chemical Factory, south of Sinuiju. Photo: Google Earth.

As I keep stressing all the time, the provincial party committees should pay special attention to the work of intensifying the provincial design organs and construction forces and put constant efforts on it and thus decisively raise the level of the building in the construction projects of local areas, he pointed out.

Calling for reviewing the master plan for Sinuiju City and the long-term goals for city construction in cooperation with powerful design organs of the country, remapping it out to be realistic and submitting it within a few months, he said that the Party Central Committee would discuss and decide on the plan after going through relevant procedures, and the construction of the border city would be conducted year by year and phase by phase with the state backing after setting the goals of 5-year plan.

Noting that the work of remodeling Sinuiju City for which President Kim Il Sung and Chairman Kim Jong Il gave instructions dozens of times is a very important task of carrying out their behests, he stressed the need to gain good fruition within a few years to come.

Article source:
Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un Guides Master Plan for Construction of Sinuiju
Political News Team
Rodong Sinmun
2018-11-16

[Updated 2018-12-6: I added a few details throughout the post, as well as satellite imagery.]

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North Korea spent two million dollars on surveillance equipment

Monday, December 3rd, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

The spread of cell phones in North Korea, rather than being a catalyst for a Pyongyang Spring, is likely giving the regime more means and channels for surveillance. Daily NK reports:

The North Korean regime imported a large shipment of mobile phone wiretapping devices from China in May, local sources have reported.

“The authorities bought new electronic wave interruption devices and mobile phone wiretapping devices in May this year. The cost of the equipment was around 15 million yuan (2.45 billion South Korean won), according to a Ministry of State Security (MSS) official that I talked to,” a source in China close to North Korean affairs.

“The MSS official also told me that the equipment will be supplied to cities on the Sino-North Korean border, starting from Hyesan, Ryanggang Province, and then to Sinuiju, North Pyongan Province, and other cities. The cities are probably filled to the gills with high-quality electronic signal interruption and wiretapping devices now.”

Daily NK recently reported that North Korean law enforcement officials have installed new mobile phone wiretapping devices on the Sino-North Korean border to monitor international calls.

A number of residents calling relatives in South Korea have been arrested, and the MSS has demanded money from their family members in South Korea in return for their release.

The North Korean authorities have strengthened surveillance and wiretapping activities to prevent North Koreans who have access to outside information from sparking unrest in the country. These efforts have become particularly pronounced recently as inter-Korean relations have improved. Ultimately, the authorities want to prevent sensitive domestic information regarding denuclearization and nuclear development plans from leaving the country.

“For North Korean officials who depend on the regime staying in power, they know that the ‘information war’ with their own citizens and the international community is important and are set on preventing things from going in an undesirable direction,” one expert told Daily NK on condition of anonymity.

A separate source in Pyongyang also reported that MSS officials who misappropriated some of the funds used to buy the new equipment were purged.

“Several MSS officials were purged after it was found that they bought cheap equipment and embezzled the rest of the money. Another team of MSS officials had to go to China again to buy better equipment,” he said, adding that the officials who misappropriated the funds faced punishment after the equipment they bought did not operate as intended.

Article source:
North Korea spent $2M on surveillance and wiretapping equipment in May
Kim Song Il
Daily NK
2018-12-03

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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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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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North Korean state security agents fine Chinese visitors for making phone calls abroad

Thursday, August 9th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Daily NK:

North Korean Ministry of State Security (MSS) agents have been ramping up the issuance of monetary fines for Chinese business people and drivers in the country for various infractions.

“Chinese business people and truck drivers are being fined for taking calls from China while they are in North Korea,” a source in China close to North Korean affairs told Daily NK on August 7. “A surveillance agent stationed near the Wonjong Border Customs Office is stopping vehicles driven by Chinese business people and truckers who are detected receiving calls and issuing them with fines.”

“Chinese tourists have their phones confiscated by travel agencies so they cannot make calls, but business people and truck drivers are under no such restrictions and could previously receive calls from China without issue,” he continued, adding that international calls to China are permitted within a radius of one kilometer of the customs office.

Chinese nationals affected are responding with incredulity at the 1,000 yuan fines for taking calls from China but “they are forced to pay the fine, however, because they depend on good relations with the North Korean authorities to conduct cross-border business.”

MSS agents have long forced North Koreans to pay bribes in exchange for letting them off the hook for making international calls. But these agents are now more pressed than ever to find ways to earn money and it appears that Chinese nationals are now in their crosshairs.

The North Korean government keeps a watchful eye over the activities of its agents, but corruption has such deep roots within the MSS that agents have no qualms with taking advantage of Chinese nationals.

One of the driving forces behind the push to earn more money is the nationwide requirement to pay “loyalty funds,” which is aimed at supporting development of the Wonsan-Kalma marine tourist zone and the Samjiyon area.

On top of their surveillance of cellphone users, MSS agents are also fining Chinese vehicles that carry North Korean passengers.

‘There are cases where Chinese truck drivers take on North Korean passengers to make a little extra cash, but MSS agents are cracking down on this activity and fining the drivers 500 KPW for each male passenger and 1,000 KPW for each female passenger. Chinese drivers are now increasingly ignoring hitchhikers on the road,” a source in North Hamgyong Province added.

“The fines are causing Chinese business people to be more watchful of their activities in North Korea. Some are even questioning whether they should even be doing business in the country.”

Article source:
MSS agents fine Chinese nationals for infractions to earn money
Mun Dong-hui
Daily NK
2018-08-09

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Daily NK interviews a state security agent on sanctions, defectors, and life in North Korea

Wednesday, August 8th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Daily NK:

As changes to the political situation on the Korean Peninsula continue in the wake of the inter-Korean, US-DPRK (abbreviation for North Korea’s formal name) and Sino-DPRK summits, Daily NK recently met with an official from North Korea’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) in China to talk about international sanctions toward North Korea and the inter-Korean relationship. The MSS officer displayed a clear anti-American bias with his own ideological convictions, but also offered some objective evaluations of the North Korean regime.

Following is a transcript of the full interview.

Daily NK (DNK): International sanctions are still in effect for North Korea, as you know.

Ministry of State Security official (MSS): They are hard to accept. I’m not sure whether South Korea is trying to make itself look good in the eyes of Trump as it accepts the continued sanctions against North Korea, but in any case, they [the sanctions] are an irritant. There are many [North Korean] restaurants in China. The sanctions have made it impossible for new workers for these restaurants to enter China, and those who are here must return to North Korea next year.

I can understand [the international community] criticizing North Korea for not living as well as capitalist countries after moving away from socialism and operating in the international market like other countries. However, I’m angry that China, Russia and the South have come together to sanction us and that the US makes us a very poor country by preventing our goods from entering the international market.

If you ask anyone in North Korea – young or old – they will respond that North Korea must fight and drop a nuke on America. I think that Chairman Kim Jong Un got rid of nuclear weapons so that the sanctions would be lifted and our lives would improve, but personally speaking, I think we should drop a nuke on New York or Washington, D.C.

Why are South Koreans so angry about us making intercontinental ballistic missiles? We are seeking peace by destroying our [nuclear] underground facilities, but the US has simply stopped its military exercises. They could restart them again [at any time]. They claim they will get rid of the sanctions eventually but it’s hard to believe that.

DNK: The inter-Korean atmosphere, however, is focused on continuing exchanges and cooperation.

MSS: The sanctions must be lifted first for anything to really happen. With the sanctions still in effect, I could accept that President Moon Jae-in is the “trailblazer of the Korean people,” but he continues to look to America for guidance. We could ask South Korea to lift the sanctions, but they just do what America tells them to do. We are a brave people made up of the worker class, who form the basis of the socialist revolution. We have nothing to lose from a war. South Korea would hate to go to war, but the majority of us [North Koreans] would go to war without hesitation.

DNK: Have you ever watched South Korean dramas before?

MSS: Yes, I’ve watched them in secret in China. I have seen defectors on South Korean dramas like ‘Now on my way to meet you’ and ‘Moranbong Club.’ They don’t necessarily lie about everything; they get some things right. It is true life in North Korea is hard and that there are almost no rations from the government. There are some places that only give two-weeks worth of rations and people make up for the lack of food by going into business and cooking corn porridge, and some people even die due to the lack of food.

However, some defectors say that residents just walk by dead bodies on the street. How could that even be possible in a place inhabited by human beings? Even during the Arduous March [widespread famine of the mid-1990s], that wasn’t the case. Soldiers and inminban [neighborhood watch-like units] dug graves to bury the dead. That [walking by dead bodies] wouldn’t have even happened in Korea’s feudal period.

When I asked someone why the defectors lie like that, I was told that they are given money to appear on such TV shows. They received free education and healthcare in North Korea, but now they turn around and spit on their own country. They talk trash about their own country. I can acknowledge that life is tough in North Korea, and that people are hungry and there is no electricity so it’s difficult for factories to operate. But they [defectors] exaggerate too much.

Generally speaking, the women that go to South Korea end up living fairly well and the reality is that people [North Koreans] go to South Korea. However, half of them have committed some type of crime. They have fled because they have the police on their tail. At least half of them are in this situation. They have run away because they have committed a crime like borrowing money from people, and being unable to pay the money back, they have run away before getting caught by the police and being sent to a labor camp.

It is these types of people who come out on TV, crying and telling lies. I would be extremely upset if I lived [in the type of country they are describing]. There are difficulties in North Korea, but real people live there.

DNK: Does the North Korean state still have ironclad control over the country?

MSS: It is still difficult for people to move around freely. Nobody can go from the provinces into Pyongyang. You must have a pass to do that. I hope that the country will soon become like China where you only need a residence card to travel. We have a lot of problems. I hope that these problems will be resolved.

In China, people can send instant messages to those living in Germany or England. North Koreans can take pictures with their cellphones, but cannot use the internet. North Koreans cannot make international calls, either. They couldn’t even dream of it.

The state is worried about the impact of bringing in ‘capitalist-related things’ into the country because they could dampen the people’s ideological stance. I think in some ways the state’s restrictions on foreign things has helped keep North Korea’s ideological stance free of contamination.

Article source:
North Korean state security agent shares thoughts on sanctions, defectors and life in North Korea
Kim Song Il
Daily NK
2018-08-08

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The economics of coal trade, sanctions, and rice prices in North Korea

Monday, August 6th, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

This may just be one piece of anecdotal evidence, but it’s interesting to note that sanctions haven’t necessarily leading to coal exports stopping – as we know from the multitude of evidence that North Korean coal ships have still been making their transport rounds – but primarily to drastically slashed prices, and surely to significantly smaller volumes being shipped as well. This reinforces the point that even if trade continues, sanctions put a large premium on trading with North Korea. Importers of North Korean coals, simply put, have to get charged less because of the risk they’re taking, and those exporting North Korea need to be paid more for the endeavor to be worth it.

(UPDATE on August 12th): I realized I may have misread the article – the source that Daily NK spoke with appears to be referring to domestic prices for coal, not export prices. Still, since we know that coal is in fact being exported through various evasion methods (albeit in fairly small quantities, perhaps), the point stands.

The article also makes an interesting point about the market prices for rice. It is remarkable how little prices have changed through the past year, when sanctions have been in place and enforced by China to a much greater extent than before. Still, according to this piece, prices aren’t dropping even though people’s incomes in fact are going down significantly, at least in parts of the country. So it may be that prices were already at or close to the “reservation price” for suppliers, i.e., the lowest point at which they’re willing to sell at all. Hard to confirm or check, but it is a plausible partial explanation for the strange dynamics of market prices in North Korea over the past year.

Daily NK:

As coal exports have slowed to a crawl due to international sanctions, North Korea’s coal country of Kaechon, South Pyongan Province, and Kujang County, North Pyongan Province, have been suffering under intense economic difficulties. Most residents in these areas were dependent on the export of coal and are directly feeling the effects of the trade stagnation.

“When coal was being exported, it went for up to 130,000 won (16 US dollars) a ton, but now due to the sanctions the price has fallen to 50,000 won (around 6 US dollars) a ton […] The coal must be sold for workers to get paid. The halt in  exports has even led to someone starving to death,” said Kim Woo Chul (alias, male resident of Kujang County), who was traveling in China on August 1.

“In April or May this year a fifty-year-old man died of starvation,” he said, nothing that while corn is provided by the government in July and August, “it lasts for less than two months.”

Kim also said that rice is being sold in the market but most people in the region can’t afford it. “Food is not scarce in the Kim Jong Un era, but people have no money so they can’t buy it,” he emphasized. Kim also noted that there were many empty food stands at the markets because demand has fallen due to the lack of money.

Another resident from Kaechon, South Pyongan Province, named Ri Sung Rim (alias) added, “There is a lot of rice at the markets, and people would buy it if they had money, but they don’t have money because coal is not being sold anymore […] People who ran private businesses selling coal are having a particularly bad time and are starving because they can’t even make corn porridge.”

She explained that a small amount of corn is given to those actually producing coal by the state, but teams that are not producing anything receive no food rations. “They have nothing to eat so there are even people who are taking their children and leaving the region,” she said.

The two interviewees also talked about the chronic electricity shortages in North Korea. While Pyongyang and other major cities are supplied with a relatively steady supply, the rural areas receive very little. People cannot watch television because of the lack of electricity, which means that many in these areas only recently found out that Kim Jong Un had met with the leaders of South Korea and the US.

“Electricity is only supplied for an hour or less in Pyongsong, while those who are wealthy siphon off electricity from factories or use car batteries,” said Kim. “Some of the wealthier people use car batteries to watch KCNA on television sets, but most cannot afford that.”

“Production teams get electricity, but residents don’t get electricity in their homes […] Car batteries need to be recharged to supply electricity at home, but there are no places to recharge them. People get them recharged if they know someone at the factories, but they are out of luck otherwise,” Ri said.

“I only found out about Chairman Kim Jong Un visiting China when I visited the country […] People need electricity to see the news and, since they can’t, they don’t know what’s going on.”

Article source:
Export sanctions lead to hard times for those in coal-producing regions
Ha Yoon-ah
Daily NK
2018-08-06

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Further indications that China’s sanctions pressure on North Korea is decreasing

Friday, July 27th, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

This blog has previously covered the fact that China’s sanctions pressure on North Korea seems to be decreasing, according to a number of signs, after the spring of summits. No official announcement or the like has been made (which wouldn’t come in any case), but the trend is consistent with China’s previous patterns in sanctions enforcement against North Korea: keep the pressure up while global attention focuses on North Korea, and scale it back once things calm down. A recent NK Pro article lends credence to this view, based on information from sources that have visited the Sino-North Korean border, as well as other visible signs. I won’t copy and paste from it since it’s for subscribers only, but here are some of the main points:

  • Traffic across the Friendship Bridge between Dandong and Sinuiju, estimated to be carrying some 60 percent of Sino-North Korean trade, appears to have gone back to somewhat more normal levels, if not fully to what they would be in normal times. It should be mentioned that estimating traffic by counting trucks – which I have done myself – is a tricky method, since we can’t really know what volumes are inside the trucks. Still, it’s one of few methods that exist for estimating traffic over the bridge.
  • The construction of a bridge between Tumen city in China and Namyang in North Korea, which paused as tensions increased, appears to be continuing. According to NK Pro’s source, China is paying for it all.
  • Chinese tourism to North Korea has spiked in July, as other outlets have reported as well.
  • Gas prices in North Korea have fallen in July, as this blog has also covered before.

None of these indicators give hard evidence that Chinese sanctions enforcement is slacking off, but taken together, they provide a pretty clear picture. I recently spoke to a person who just visited Dandong, and said that traffic remains unusually slow, both according to their own impression and that of local businesspeople. But traffic may be slower on a given day or during a given week for other reasons. At the end of the day, we don’t really know for sure, but taken together, the impression is that things appear to be moving away from “maximum pressure” pretty consistently.

 

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