Archive for the ‘Germany’ Category

German firm to set up in Kaesong Zone

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

According to the Wall Street Journal:

A German industrial needle maker will open an office in the joint inter-Korean industrial complex inside North Korea, South Korea said Tuesday.

The move will mark the first non-Korean business entity inside the plant but falls short of Seoul’s goal to bring in manufacturing operations from foreign companies to help ensure North Korea doesn’t unilaterally close the complex again.

The plant was shuttered for five months last year after Pyongyang withdrew its labor force during a sharp escalation in threatening rhetoric. Seoul officials in recent years have mulled over the possibility of attracting foreign companies, which they say would help the factories run without interruption.

Seoul’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said Groz-Beckert, a maker of industrial needles and other tools for textile manufacturers, will open a sales office inside the facility, located a few miles north of the border. The ministry didn’t specify a schedule.

Here is coverage in AFP.

Here is coverage in Voice of America.

Read the full story here:
German Firm to Open Sales Office Inside North Korean Complex
Wall Street Journal
Jeyup S. Kwaak
2014-6-10

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Kempinski claims to [not] be taking over management of Ryugyong Hotel

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

UPDATE 1 (2013-3-28): NK News reports that Kempinski has officially pulled out of the deal:

“Kempinski Hotels confirms that KEY International, its joint venture partner in China with Beijing Tourism Group (BTG), had initial discussions to operate a hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea, however no agreement has been signed since market entry is not currently possible”, Regional PR Director Hilary Philpott told NK NEWS by email.

ORIGINAL POST (2012-11-1): According to Bloomberg:

The 105-story, pyramid-shaped Ryugyong Hotel, whose foundations were poured almost three decades ago, will open partially in July or August, Kempinski AG Chief Executive Officer Reto Wittwer said today at a forum in Seoul. The German luxury-hotel manager will be the first western hospitality company to operate in North Korea, he said.

“This pyramid monster hotel will monopolize all the business in the city,” Wittwer said. “I said to myself, we have to get this hotel if there is ever a chance, because this will become a money-printing machine if North Korea opens up.”

Kempinski, based in Munich, is handling management while Egypt’s Orascom Telecom Media & Technology Holding SAE (OTMT) funds the hotel as part of a $400 million mobile-phone license it won from the North Korean government in 2008, he said. Cairo-based Orascom has spent $180 million on completing the hotel’s facade.

The top floors of the hotel will house guests in 150 of the originally planned 1,500 rooms, which “will be developed over time” to remodel the insufficiently designed spaces, Wittwer said. Shops, restaurants, a ballroom and Orascom’s offices on the ground and mezzanine floors will also open next year.

Additional Information:

1. Koryo Tours published the first photos taken inside the building.

2. The Choson Ilbo reports that the South Koreans tried investing in the hotel during the Noh Administration.

Read the full story here:
Kempinski to Operate World’s Tallest Hotel in North Korea
Bloomberg
Sangwon Yoon
2012-11-1

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Humedica donates 20 tons of rice to DPRK

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

According to Reliefweb (2012-3-23):

According to the World Food Programme of the United Nations, one in three children is affected permanently by hunger, mal- or undernutrition to a degree so alarming that the children are too small for their age. Also one in four nursing mothers is mal- or undernourished – and we can imagine the consequences for the infants.

In order to help above all those who are weakened by diseases, we offer support in the form of food supplies and together with a local partner of humedica we sent another relief good shipment, this time containing 20 tons of rice, to the DPR of Korea on March 23.

The nutritious staple will be provided to the hospital in Haeju (Hwanghae-namdo province), where ill children, women and men are offered medical treatment during their stay as in-patients. Thanks to the humedica shipment, these patients will regain new strength.

Haeju is a city of 222,396 inhabitants. It is located at the western coast of the country, 140 kilometres south of the capital of Pyongyang. Located at a distance of seven kilometres and half from the town is Mount Suyang, which is above all famous for of its cataracts. The water of Mount Suyang falls down over cliffs of a height of 128 metres and a breadth of twelve metres into the depths of a picturesque little lake.

On the mountainside itself, there is an old fortification built in the Goryeo Dynasty that can be visited by tourists. Sights in Haeju are an old stone cooling house (also built in the Goryeo Dynasty) and a pagoda of five floors. Haeju is an important traffic junction; above all companies in the cement and chemical industry have set up their businesses there (Source of information: Wikipedia).

Since 1998, humedica has been sending relief shipments with a value of more than one million euros to the DPR of Korea. Besides food, seeds or special additional food these shipments also contain drugs, sanitary articles, medical equipment and every-day necessities.

Please support us with your personal contribution so that we will be able to help the people in this country also in future.

humedica e. V.
Donation reference “Famine relief North Korea”
Account 47 47
Bank Code 734 500 00
Sparkasse Kaufbeuren
SWIFT/BIC-CODE: BYLADEM1KFB
IBAN: DE35734500000000004747

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DPRK ambassador to Germany caught fishing without license

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Pictured above: The North Korean embassy in eastern Berlin and the hostel located on its embassy compound.

According to Der Spiegel:

In recent years, there have been numerous reports of foreign diplomats in Berlin abusing their diplomatic immunity by committing crimes. Traffic violations appear to be the most common offense, but diplomats have also been accused of exploiting domestic employees and even theft. Most of the time, all they have to do is show their diplomatic passport to get off scot-free.

This week, it would seem, a new transgression must be added to the list. Berlin newspapers are reporting that the North Korean ambassador to Germany did a bit of fishing on Sunday — albeit without a license.

According to reports in dailies Berliner Morgenpost and BZ, Berlin police discovered a man fishing on the Havel River in the city’s Spandau neighborhood on Sunday afternoon. When the officials asked to see the man’s fishing license, he apparently responded by saying he was the North Korean ambassador.

According to the reports, the angler did not have any proof of identity on him, nor did he have a fishing license. The police then asked their colleagues to bring them a current photograph of the ambassador and his personal details. When they arrived, the officers reportedly confirmed that the man was indeed the ambassador, Si Hong Ri, who took his current position in September 2011.

The officers then apparently told the ambassador to cease his illegal fishing activities. According to the police report quoted by the Berliner Morgenpost and the BZ, “the ambassador politely acknowledged (the request) with a smile and continued with the offense.” The police were unable to do anything, given the man’s diplomatic immunity.

When contacted by SPIEGEL ONLINE on Thursday, a Berlin police spokesman confirmed that a report had been filed on Sunday but declined to comment on the identity of the person involved. Fishing without a license is a crime in Germany punishable with up to two years in prison or a fine.

Yonhap also reported on the incident.

Read the full story here:
North Korean Ambassador Caught and Released
Der Speigel
2012-1-19

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DPRK 2011 food shortage debate compendium

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

UPDATE (2012-2-1): Karin Lee of the National Committee on North Korea wrote a great summary of the DPRK’s food situation in 2011:

In December 2010, North Korea began asking multiple countries for food aid. Its request to the U.S. came in early 2011, but it wasn’t until December 2011 that a deal seemed close, with the U.S. prepared to provide 240,000 metric tons (MTs) of assistance. Kim Jong Il died soon after this news hit the press, and details of the potential deal were never announced.

In the ideal world, Ronald Reagan’s “hungry child” knows no politics. But the case of North Korea is far from ideal. The U.S. government states it does not take politics into consideration when determining whether to provide aid to North Korea. Instead, the decision is based on three criteria: need in North Korea, competing demands for assistance, and the ability to monitor aid effectively. Yet these three criteria are subjective and tinged by politics.

In 2011 a succession of four assessment delegations (one by U.S. NGOs, one by the U.S. government, one by the EU and one by the UN) visited the DPRK. All found pretty much the same thing: widespread chronic malnutrition, especially among children and pregnant or lactating women, and cases of acute malnutrition. The UN confirmed the findings late last year, reporting chronic malnutrition in children under five in the areas visited — 33% overall, and 45% in the northern part of the country.

Some donors responded quickly. For example, shortly after its July assessment, the EU announced a 10 Million Euro donation. Following its own May assessment, however, the U.S. government was slow to make a commitment. Competing demands may have played a role. In July, the predicted famine in the Horn of Africa emerged, prompting a U.S. response of over $668 million in aid to “the worst food crisis in half a century.” While there was no public linkage between U.S. action on the African famine and inaction on North Korea, there could have been an impact.

But the two biggest factors shaping the U.S. government’s indecisiveness continued to be uncertainty about both the severity of the need and the ability to establish an adequate monitoring regime. At times, South Korean private and public actors questioned the extent of the North’s need. Early on, a lawmaker in South Korea asserted that North Korea already had stockpiled 1,000,000 metric tons of rice for its military. Human rights activist Ha Tae Keung argued that North Korea would use the aid contributed in 2011 to augment food distributions in 2012 in celebration of the 100th birthday of Kim Il Sung and North Korea’s status as a “strong and prosperous nation.” According to Yonhap, shortly after the U.N. released the above-noted figures, South Korean Unification Minister Yu Woo-Ik called the food situation in North Korea not “very serious.”

South Korea’s ambivalence about the extent of the food crisis was noted by Capitol Hill, exacerbating congressional reluctance to support food aid. A letter to Secretary Clinton sent shortly before the U.S. assessment trip in May began with Senators Lieberman, McCain, Webb and Kyl explaining they shared South Korean government suspicions that food aid would be stockpiled and requesting State to “rigorously” evaluate any DPRK request for aid. With the close ROK-U.S. relationship one of the administration’s most notable foreign policy accomplishments, such a warning may have carried some weight.

Monitoring is of equal, if not greater congressional concern. Since the 1990s U.S. NGOs and USAID have worked hard with DPRK counterparts to expand monitoring protocols, and conditions have consistently improved over time. In the 2008/2009 program, the first food program funded by the U.S. government since 2000, the DPRK agreed to provisions such as Korean-speaking monitors. The NGO portion of the program was fairly successful in implementing the monitoring protocol; when implementation of the WFP portion hit some bumps, USAID suspended shipments to WFP until issues could be resolved. The DPRK ended the program prematurely in March 2009 with 330,000 MT remaining.

In 2011 the Network for North Korean Human Rights and Democracy conducted a survey of recent defectors to examine “aid effectiveness” in the current era. Out of the 500 interviewees, 274 left the DPRK after 2010. However, only six were from provinces where NGOs had distributed aid in 2008/2009. Disturbingly, of the 106 people interviewees who had knowingly received food aid, 29 reported being forced to return food. Yet the report doesn’t state their home towns, or when the events took place. Unfortunately such incomplete data proves neither the effectiveness nor ineffectiveness of the most recent monitoring regime.

Some believe that adequate monitoring is impossible. The House version of the 2012 Agricultural Appropriations Act included an amendment prohibiting the use of Food for Peace or Title II funding for food aid to North Korea; the amendment was premised on this belief. However the final language signed into law in November called for “adequate monitoring,” not a prohibition on funding.

The U.S. response, nine months in the making, reflects the doubts outlined above and the politically challenging task of addressing them. It took months for the two governments to engage in substantive discussions on monitoring after the May trip. In December, the State Department called the promised nutritional assistance “easier to monitor” because items such as highly fortified foods and nutritional supplements are supposedly less desirable and therefore less likely to be diverted than rice. The reported offer of 240,000 MT– less than the 330,000 MT the DPRK requested – reflects the unconfirmed report that the U.S. identified vulnerable populations but not widespread disaster.

In early January, the DPRK responded. Rather than accepting the assistance that was under discussion, it called on the United States to provide rice and for the full amount, concluding “We will watch if the U.S. truly wants to build confidence.” While this statement has been interpreted positively by some as sign of the new Kim Jong Un regime’s willingness to talk, it also demonstrates a pervasive form of politicization – linkage. A “diplomatic source” in Seoul said the December decision on nutritional assistance was linked to a North Korean pledge to suspend its uranium enrichment program. Linkage can be difficult to avoid, and the long decision-making process in 2011 may have exacerbated the challenge. Although Special Representative Glyn Davies was quick to state that “there isn’t any linkage” between the discussion of nutritional assistance and dialogue on security issues, he acknowledged that the ability of the DPRK and US to work together cooperatively on food assistance would be interpreted as a signal regarding security issues. Meanwhile, the hungry child in North Korea is still hungry.

UPDATE 75 (2011-12-5): The ROK will donate US$5.65 million to N. Korea through the UN. According to Yonhap:

South Korea said Monday it will donate US$5.65 million (about 6.5 billion won) for humanitarian projects in North Korea through the U.N. body responsible for the rights of children.

The donation to the United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, will benefit about 1.46 million infants, children and pregnant women in North Korea, according to the Unification Ministry, which is in charge of relations with the North.

Seoul’s contribution will be used to provide vaccines and other medical supplies as well as to treat malnourished children next year, said the ministry.

There have been concerns that a third of all North Korean children under five are chronically malnourished and that many more children are at risk of slipping into acute stages of malnutrition unless targeted assistance is sustained.

“The decision is in line with the government’s basic stance of maintaining its pure humanitarian aid projects for vulnerable people regardless of political situation,” Unification Ministry spokesman Choi Boh-seon told reporters.

South Korea has been seeking flexibility in its policies toward the North to try to improve their strained relations over the North’s two deadly attacks on the South last year.

Despite the South’s softer stance, North Korea recently threatened to turn Seoul’s presidential office into “a sea of fire” in response to South Korea’s military maneuvers near the tense western sea border.

South Korea donated $20 million for humanitarian projects in North Korea through the UNICEF between 1996 and 2009.

Last month, the South also resumed some $6.94 million worth of medical aid to the impoverished communist country through the World Health Organization.

Separately, South Korea also decided to give 2.7 billion won ($2.3 million) to a foundation to help build emergency medical facilities in an industrial complex in the North Korean border city of Kaesong.

UPDATE 74 (2011-12-2): The Choson Ilbo reports that the DPRK’s food prices are rising after the 2011 fall harvest, however, the price increase is not due to a shortage of output, but rather political directives. According to the article:

The price of rice in North Korea is skyrocketing, contrary to received wisdom that it drops after the harvest season. According to a source on North Korea on Wednesday, the rice price has risen from 2,400 won a kg in early October to 5,000 won in late November.

North Korean workers earn only 3,000-4,000 won per month.

This unusual hike in rice price seems to be related to preparation of next year’s political propaganda projects.

A South Korean government official said, “It seems the North Korean government is not releasing rice harvested this year in order to save it up” for celebrations of regime founder Kim Il-sung’s centenary next year, when the North has vowed to become “a powerful and prosperous nation.”

UPDATE 73 (2011-11-24): According to the Daily NK, DPRK television is calling on people to conserve food:

With barely a month left until 2012, the year in which people were promised a radical lifestyle transformation to coincide with the North Korea’s rebirth as a ‘strong and prosperous nation’, programs calling upon people to conserve food are now being broadcast by Chosun Central TV and the fixed-line cable broadcaster ‘3rd Broadcast’.

Chosun Central TV is broadcasting the programs as part of ‘Socio-Culture and Lifestyle Time’, which begins directly after the news on Thursdays at 8:40pm. The majority of the content is apparently now about saving food.

A Yangkang Province source told The Daily NK on Wednesday, “Recently the head lecturer from Jang Cheol Gu Pyongyang Commercial University, Dr. Seo Young Il, has been appearing on the program both on television and the cable broadcasting system, talking about saving food.”

In one such program, Professor Seo apparently noted, “In these days of the military-first era there is a new culture blossoming, one which calls for a varied diet,” before encouraging citizens to eat potatoes and rice, wild vegetables and rice and kimchi and rice rather than white rice on its own, and then adding that bread and wheat flour noodles are better than rice for lunch and dinner.

It is understood that older programs with titles such as ‘A Balanced Diet is Excellent Preparation for Saving Food’ and ‘Cereals with Rice: Good for Your Health’ are also being rebroadcast, while watchers are being informed that thinking meat is required for a good diet is ‘incorrect’.

Whenever North Korea is on high alert or there is a directive to be handed down from Kim Jong Il, both of Chosun Central TV and the 3rd Broadcast are used to communicate with the public. For this reason, some North Korea watchers believe the recent food-saving campaign may reflect a particularly weak food situation in the country going into the winter.

According to the source, one recent program showed a cookery competition involving members of the Union of Democratic Women from Pyongyang’s Moranbong District. During which, one woman was filmed extolling the virtues of potato soup, saying “If we follow the words of The General and try eating potatoes as a staple food, there will be no problem.”

Read all previous posts on the DPRK’s food situation this year blow:

(more…)

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Sport in North Korea

Monday, July 11th, 2011

A German-language documentary was recently released on the sports facilities in the DPRK.  Featured in the film are the April 25th Sports Team football field, Moranbong Sports Team facilities, Kim Il-sung Stadium, Sosan Sports District, Pyongyang Indoor Stadium (A State of Mind), Pyongyang Primary School No.4, and Yangggakdo Stadium.  The documentary makers also apparently had access to the North Korean women’s team at the recently concluded Women’s World Cup.

Click on the image below to watch the film.

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Nosotek developing popular software in DPRK

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

Volker Elosser of Nosotek gives an interview in German here.

Here is a translation of the article by Google Translate:

Click on the images to read the article.  I apologize for using these awkward images, but Google Translate only allowed me to copy/paste the original German.  This was the only fast/easy solution I could come up with.

The article references an article in PC World by Martyn Williams.  You can read this here.

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Donor fatigue…

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

According to Kang Hyun-kyong in the Korea Times:

As a veteran aid worker, Wolfgang Gerstner was weary of a vicious circle of escalating tensions between South and North Korea after the latter was found to be responsible for the sinking of the warship Cheonan on March 26.

According to the German consultant working for international aid group Caritas Germany, North Korea’s bellicose acts have led those outside the country who have tried to help it to harden their attitudes.

This has resulted in a decrease of donations, causing children there to live without vaccinations for example.

Gerstner, 53, went on to say that children and ordinary people living in the impoverished North, whose living standards couldn’t be worse, suffer the unintended consequences of the regime-led provocations.

“It is difficult for people living outside North Korea to separate ordinary people living in the North from the regime,” Gerstner, who oversees Caritas’s humanitarian aid program to North Korea (the CI-DPRK program), said last Thursday in an interview with The Korea Times at a hotel in Seoul.

Caritas relies on donations from individual and corporate members to sustain their humanitarian aid to less developed nations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

The aid organization also receives funds from the German government and Catholic churches here in Korea for the vaccination campaign for North Korean children.

North Korea is one of the nations where the rate of child mortality is alarmingly high.

According to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 55 of every 1,000 children in North Korea die before they turn five.

Child mortality can be largely preventable if young children are vaccinated.

The North issuing a threat, however, is a stumbling block to the international effort to save children there.

When recipient governments make threats, it is natural for people living outside those nations to harden their view toward them, making donors or potential donors rethink their contribution.

“I don’t have the exact figure regarding the loss in donations after the provocation, but it certainly does have an effect on the amount,” Gerstner said.

“Escalating tensions make it difficult for aid workers like me to convince our donors to contribute to humanitarian assistance for the people there.”

Catastrophic security

The German aid worker sat down with the reporter days after wrapping up his recent visit to North Korea from June 8 to 12 this year for the regular vaccination program.

During the four-day field trip, Gerstner and August Stich, a medical advisor working with the Medical Mission Hospital Wuerzberg in Germany, visited the Sadong Tuberculosis Center, the new national laboratory at the Pyongyang Tuberculosis Hospital.

The two-man delegation also met with officials from the North Korean Ministry of Public Health and experts in medical institutes in Pyongyang and in the neighborhood of the North’s capital.

They made the June visit after about 500,000 North Korean children aged from seven to 16 years old were vaccinated in three rounds from February to April, thanks to the Caritas program.

Since March 2007 when he was first called upon to handle the CI-DPRK program, Gerstner has been to the North approximately 20 times for talks with his North Korean counterpart — the Ministry of Public Health.

His most recent trip came at a time when tension on the Korean Peninsula has shown little sign of subsiding after a multinational investigation team concluded last month that a North Korean torpedo was responsible for taking the lives of 46 sailors.

The North has denied it.

In an attempt to teach North Korea a lesson that any criminal acts will invite punishment, South Korea referred the Cheonan case to the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) in early June, calling for retaliatory measures against the North for the unacceptable act.

North Korea has claiming it is “innocent” and further threatened to take “counter-measures” if the UNSC sides with the multinational team over the probe results and comes up with punitive measures against it.

The two Koreas’ engaging in a game of chicken in the wake of the sinking of the ship has led to international media headlines featuring the peninsula on the verge of a war.

A vicious circle

The security standoff has spillover effect on humanitarian assistance to the North.

Disappointed, individual and corporate donors have become skeptical about contributing money or goods for the improvement of living conditions in the North.

Lesley-Anne Knight, secretary general of Caritas, expressed her concern over the unintended consequences of rising tensions last Tuesday during a news conference held in Seoul.

“This tension, of course, makes it much more difficult for us as humanitarian actors to maintain a neutral and impartial interest at the international level for North Korea,” Knight said.

“When there is a bellicose act, when people start to feel concerned about conflict escalating, international attention and the sympathy perhaps of the international humanitarian community for the plights of the (North) Korean people tends to diminish, tends to wane.”

Knight went on to say that “that is the extreme concern for us.”

Caritas, which has spent a total of $33 million on humanitarian aid and development in North Korea since 1995, called for a continuation of assistance.

The reaction came weeks after the South Korean government’s halt of assistance to the North in retaliation for its torpedo attack on the ship.

“(Humanitarian assistance) is absolutely essential for us. The situation of the majority of the North Korean people is that most of them are struggling to get their daily basic needs. Most specifically, food and health,” Knight said.

‘N. Korean kids are brave’

In his previous visits to the North in March, Gerstner had opportunities of taking a closer look at the facilities of clinics, institutes, and primary and secondary schools, while monitoring the North’s implementation of Caritas’s vaccination programs.

“Compared with South Korean hospitals and their amenities, hospitals in the North are less modern. Doctors there have to rely more on traditional medicine as they don’t have necessary facilities and medicine,” he said.

He called North Korean children “very brave.”

“It happens in other countries that school age children cry when they wait for their turns in line for taking vaccination shots. But North Korean children never cried even when they took the shots,” he said.

Previously, Gerstner was involved in several emergency relief programs in Africa, Latin America and the former East Germany. He helped organize rehabilitation programs in the local community.

Gerstner said North Korean teachers and children were “friendly and open-minded” when meeting with him, although they never spoke.

He said the most difficult part when implementing the aid program to North Korea was access to information and communication.

“For planning, we need information and have to communicate with our counterpart. The ministry has no email account, making it more difficult for us to execute the program,” he said.

Read the full article here:
Donors turn their back on N. Korea for provocation, putting kids at risk
Korea Times
Kang Hyun-kyung
6/28/2010

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Ulrich Kelber interview on recent trip to DPRK

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

The interview (in German) can be found here. A reader, however, sent in an English version:

Klaus-Martin Meyer: Mr. Kelber, you were recently in North Korea for the first time. Was this trip in what is certainly a totally different world consistent with your expectations?

Ulrich Kelber: Though I prepared myself with both oral and written accounts, there were things, both positive and negative, that surprised me. Among the negative things were the uniformity and control; among the positive were how well educated the people are, and their effort to bring the country forward.

Klaus-Martin Meyer: The political climate of the Korean peninsula is currently more tense than ever. The North Koreans described their version of the fall of Cheonan. How realistic is it?

Ulrich Kelber: I’m not an expert on these sorts of questions, which prevents a very detailed assessment. North Korea’s November threats of retribution alone aroused suspicions. But, in fact, South Korea has to allow questions. Why can’t an independent commission examine the evidence? Why aren’t the survivors permitted to testify publicly?

Klaus-Martin Meyer: In Pyongyang you also visited a German joint venture with the company Nosotek. As a member of the Bundestag, what are your impressions of the working conditions and day-to-day work of software developers in this sector of the North Korean economy? Are you convinced that Nosotek is actually developing for the international market?

Ulrich Kelber: Yes, we saw typical products for the international market, which, as a computer scientist, greatly interested me. The programmers and graphic designers are obviously very highly trained, with technical equipment up to Western standards. One significant exception to this is the lack of internet access in the company itself. Of course, this makes business and customer support more difficult, but isn’t an obstacle for actual software development.

The working conditions were the same as I have seen at German start-ups or in developing countries. No one could comment on the wages, which is also the customary rule in Germany. However, I had the feeling that the employees were part of the middle class, to whatever extent it exists in North Korea.

Klaus-Martin Meyer: How do you rate the opportunities and risks for foreign entrepreneurs in North Korea?

Ulrich Kelber: That’s hard to say after a single visit, but at Nosotek there seems to be little standing in the way of economic success. Possible risks would be the regime further shutting the country off, or wider-reaching sanctions. The well-trained employees, which I also can affirm in other areas such as the trades and agriculture, represent a great opportunity for all businesses.

Klaus-Martin Meyer: As usual in closing, our standard question (not just in interviews about communist countries.) Where do you see North Korea being in five years?

Ulrich Kelber: If the regime doesn’t open up economically, the country will barely progress, in spite of any efforts, for example, to maintain their infrastructure. Even with a little more openness, North Korea could make enormous economic gains, since both infrastructure and well-trained workers are available. The possibility of a political thaw depends both on the ability of the North Korean regime to resolve the succession issue, as well as whether or not South Korea’s hardliners keep calling the shots.

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German Parliamentary delegation visits DPRK

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

Here is the report (PDF).  It is in German, but Stephen Smith (who does English, German, and Romance language translations) produced an English language version for all of us:

It was without a doubt one of the strangest official visits I have ever taken, more like Cuba than anything else.  The same slogans, the same ever-present security services, and the same absurd rules on taking pictures and communicating with the outside world.  Compared to the loose Cubans, the North Koreans have an uncompromising assiduousness and iron resolve.

What I saw in North Korea lies somewhere between between what we were shown by our minders, and the one-sided Western impression of the country as the world’s poorhouse.  Many foreign observers have praised the North Koreans’ high levels of education, along with their will and discipline to see their projects though to completion.  Economic liberalization by the regime and an end to the sanctions would result in a rapid economic recovery.

Although we had little opportunity to speak to North Koreans not pre-selected by the regime, the signs of malnutrition among the rural population and even parts of the urban population of Pyongyang were unmistakable.  Here a comparison with impoverished African living standards would be completely appropriate.  With regards to its sometimes-crumbling infrastructure, however, North Korea is at least at the level of a poor emerging market.  The drive to maintain and modernize the infrastructure – the roads and housing stock, for example – is also unmistakable.

Surveillance in North Korea is all-encompassing: even for North Korean citizens, trips to other provinces are only possible with official authorization.  The landline phone networks of foreigners, the government, and ordinary North Koreans are strictly separated by technical means.  Nobody knows who’s doing the informing, who or what they’re informing on, or who they’re reporting it to.

To a European, the personality cult of the two North Korean leaders, Kim Il-sung and his son Kim Jong-il, seems grotesque.  Upon each visit to factories and state enterprises, attention is called to the number of visits “by the president” or “by the general,” and what “notes and guidelines” they gave.  These can range from instruction on the proper feeding of ostriches, to the more efficient operation of machines, to the proper way to store old books.  Kim Jong-il is said to have tested new varieties of apple trees in his own garden before they were distributed across the country.  The veneration of the founder and “eternal president” of the People’s Republic, Kim Il-sung, who died in the 1990′s, is indeed quite noticeable in rare face-to-face discussions with North Koreans.

Before our trip, tensions between the two Koreas ran high, due to the dispute over the responsibility for the sinking of the South Korean warship “Cheonan” and the deaths of its 46 sailors.  The German Foreign Office didn’t want us to make the trip, but our group considered it important, especially given the circumstances, that relations are not severed.

Our group consisted of representatives of the trip’s organizers, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiffung, Frank Hantke, and Werner Kamppeter; WAZ [trans. note: a German newspaper] senior editor Richard Kiessler; WAZ journalist Jutta Lietsch; August Pradetto, professor of political science at the Helmut-Schmidt Armed Forces University; former MP and federal justice minister Herta Däubler-Gmelin; MP and speaker Johannes Pflug; and myself.

Sunday/Monday, May 23/24, 2010

Departure from Frankfurt.  Most of the other participants have already arrived, for example via China.  Flight to Beijing, arrival on Monday morning, then another trip to Pyongyang.

Upon arrival in the tiny Pyongyang airport we were met by representatives of the North Korean Workers’ Party, and spoke briefly in the main hall of the airport.  We’d like to emphasize that we considered it important to come for a dialogue during this tense time.  We took this opportunity, as well as others in the next few days, to indicate to the North Koreans that a flexible reaction, and not the immediate threat of “total war,” would strengthen their position.

We had to leave our cell phones at the entryway, though they wouldn’t have worked anyway.

We had dinner at the hotel, at the request of our hosts, and the conversation was rather diplomatic, followed by short group meetings.  Johannes Pflug, an Asia expert who has been to North Korean several times, was our spokesman.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Before we left the hotel, Mr. Tong, responsible Western European affairs within the Central Committee of the Korean Workers’ Party, related to us the official position on the Cheonan accident as reported in North Korean newspapers.  The North Koreans indirectly threatened to use their nuclear weapons, and especially intensified their criticism of the expert panel’s findings, stressed North Korea.  Many statements were disputed in detail and they demanded that North Korean experts also be allowed access to the evidence, and that the surviving South Korean sailors be given permission to testify before international experts.

Before our first meeting we visited the house in Mangjongdä where Kim Il-sung was born, a simple peasant house for a cemetery caretaker, which was arranged as a memorial.  From a hill closeby there was an outstanding view of nearby Pyongyang.

Exchange of ideas with Mr. Ri Jong-chol, vice commander of the international division of the Korean Workers’ Party.  At our request he expounded upon his ideas of North Korean’s present situation: “We have designed a new form of synthetic fiber, which could improve our clothing supply,” “We have developed a new chemical fertilizer through anthracite gasification, to raise the level of food production” (because of the sanctions, North Korea suffers from a fertilizer shortage), “In 2009 there will first be 151 days of action during which new houses, hydroelectric dams, and orchards will be created, followed by an additional 100 days” (part of the preparations for 2012, the 100th year anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung), “Reunification as our biggest wish,” “The South Koreans’ current policy towards the North is confrontational,” “We have proposed a US-North Korea peace treaty,” “American policy towards North Korea has again been put in the hands of hardliners because of the desire by American Democrats to win seats in the US Senate.”

Our questions as to why China supported the recent UN sanctions against North Korea and what, specifically, a peace treaty with the USA would include (currently there is only a ceasefire agreement) were not addressed.  In North Korea’s view the Non-Proliferation Treaty is unfair, according to Mr. Ri, for the “atomic threat by the USA still remains.”

In the early afternoon we had a discussion with the leader of the European section of the Foreign Ministry, Mr. Kim Chun-guk, followed by a visit to the monument to the Juche ideology of Kim Il-sung, which differs from Marxist ideology in that it places a strong emphasis on national autonomy.  A focus of the discussion was the tension surrounding the sinking of the Cheonan.  The North Koreans put forth the same arguments as on Monday morning, and we criticize the immediate threats of war by North Korea, and encourage a political rather than military solution.  The conversation turns to the poor relationship with Japan, North Korea being accused of never having revealed the fate of Japanese citizens kidnapped in the ’70s and ’80s.  The accusation was rebuffed, notwithstanding the admissions of kidnapping in the 1990s.  The North Koreans say that they freed all the surviving abductees, and that Japan has yet to apologize for the “death, kidnapping, and forced prostitution” during the 1910-1945 colonial occupation.

Later in the afternoon we had a discussion with the chairman of the Korean-German parliamentary friendship group, Mr. Ri Jong-hyok, who studied in East Germany in the 1960s and was a classmate of Kim Jong-il.  During this discussion it was worth paying special attention to the nuances in his answers, despite his evasiveness in answering our questions.  He expressed fear that because of the tensions, the Special Economic Zone, supported jointly by North and South Korea, may no longer be tenable.  We interpreted this as suggesting that the North Korean leadership has not yet decided on a specific reaction to further South Korean sanctions.  The tensions surrounding the sinking of the Cheonan played the biggest role in our discussion, in addition to North Korea’s energy supply.  At the end we gave him a list of eleven names of German citizens who are children of North Korean exchange students in East Germany in the ’50s and ’60s, and who are seeking contact with their fathers and half-siblings.

In the evening, there was a banquet at the German embassy.  The German ambassador would soon be sent from North Korea (diplomatic relations since 2001) to Guatemala.  The German embassy lies on the ground floor of the former East German embassy, which it currently shares with the British and Norwegian embassies.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

In the morning we paid a visit to a glass factory constructed by the Chinese and a Yellow Sea lock built in the 1980s, which included an 8-kilometer long dam, which turned a lagoon into a freshwater lake.  The glass factory built in 2005 is of the highest technical standard.  According to the factory leadership, 50% of the production is for the domestic market, with the other 50% destined for China.  One thousand employees build not only window glass, but also stained glass, plate glass, bulletproof glass, and glass doors.  One branch builds bottles and blenders with the cooperation of the German firm Tekal.  They are especially proud of their CNC machines, with which all sorts of glass jewelry and various pre-cut parts can be built.  The introduction of CNC in North Korean firms is part of the current modernization campaign by Kim Jong-il.

On the way to the Yellow Sea lock we noticed the poor overall supply situation.  But more specifically we noticed that, after the two typhoons in the 1990s hit, peasants have cut down trees for their own private use, and have planted crops on the steep hills.  These fields yield few crops, but have totally eroded the soil.  Only 16% of North Korea’s acreage is provisioned for agriculture.

At the Yellow Sea lock we were also met by a pretty, young girl, dressed in quasi-traditional costume.  Ultimately this turned out to be standard operating procedure; young girls are trained specifically for this job.  Each enterprise has a large mural of Kim Il-sung and/or Kim Jong-il in the entryway – a large stone tablet (30 meters on one side) with laudatory verses and a room dedicated to the history of the enterprise, with special attention paid to visits by North Korean leaders.

The Yellow Sea lock was built by 30,000 workers in 1981-86 in order to prevent the encroachment of saltwater fifty kilometers up the river to Pyongyang, and thus to ensure safe drinking water for agriculture, residential use, and industry.  The enormous dam is broken into three lock chambers, allowing ships of up to 50,000 gross registered tons to pass through.  Despite the seven meter tidal range, the dam only generates enough electricity to power the lock.

There are many people out in the rice fields since the planting season is just beginning, and the office workers must regularly help.  Many soldiers can also be seen in the fields, and incidentally at road and housing construction sites as well.  In contrast, over the next few days there were barely any armed soldiers to be seen; no signs could be seen of a general mobilization, as many Westerners assumed would occur after the Cheonan incident.  In the West it is known that the North Korean army employs 1.3 million of the country’s 24 million citizens.  Not known, however, is the fact that the army must to a large extent finance itself, mostly working domestically in agriculture and building projects, and therefore is not constantly under arms.

The mobilization of North Korean troops, presumed by South Korea, is nowhere to be seen, and in addition hardly anybody among the population or in government expects a war due to the Korean crisis.

Outside of Pyongyang there are barely any cars on the enormous eight-lane arterial highways.  The traffic in Pyongyang itself has, however, definitely increased.  In terms of mass transit there is a subway, surface trams (constructed similarly to East German trams, because of the earlier COMECON bond), buses, and trolley buses (in horrible condition).  The populace, however, covers considerable distances by bicycle and by foot.  Women are apparently forbidden by Kim Jong-il from riding bicycles, as he once witnessed a woman in a bicycle accident, though there seemed to be no lack of women in the streets.

At lunchtime we had a discussion with the Swedish ambassador, which was, at his request, off the record.

After lunch we visited the Pyongyang textile factory and the ostrich farm on the airport road.  Here we heard a typical history lesson, this time including the story of why Kim Il-sung is called “father”: as he visited workers and heard from them that their fathers couldn’t visit them, Kim is supposed to have said that he would be the father to all Koreans.  Otherwise stated: those who in our country look to the Bible for metaphors, allegories, and quotes would in North Korea look to the country’s founder, Kim Il-sung.

Nine thousand workers (mostly women, aged 17 to 55) worked in the textile factory, which was shown to us by the party secretary in charge.  This stands in contrast to the history lesson given at the start, where it was suggested that an earlier “heroine of work” is still working at age 70.  They answered my query by stating that the female workers themselves choose when they’d like to retire, at which point free general healthcare is provided by the state.

The fabrics produced used to be exported, but the factory came to a standstill in the ’90s, and now only serves the domestic market.  Exports should resume in 2011, after further production increases.  Those looms which we could see were thoroughly modern, though the condition of the machines in other rooms remains an open question.  The party secretaries of the concern are depicted in photos as being on equal footing as the director.  A third of the seamstresses in the factory are party members, who must apply and prove their worth to be chosen.

There are very few small traders on the streets, hawking snacks, drinks, or – as we saw once – popsicles.  Refrigeration is, however, a huge problem in North Korea, due to a lack of cooling units and unreliable and inadequate power supplies.

The ostrich farm, whose animals are used for meat, has been around since 1998 and has gradually increased its population to 10,000 animals over the span of one year.  The meat was until recently exported, but now, on the advice of Kim Jong-il, serves only the domestic market.  Because of transportation and refrigeration issues, the animals are slaughtered when restaurants or businesses request them, on the order of about 20-30 per day, each animal yielding about 100 kg of meat.  It must be noted that meat is not part of the average Korean’s diet, but rather goes largely to restaurants which serve foreigners and better-off North Koreans.

Five hundred people work in the ostrich farm, the processing factory, and in feed production.  The ostriches can survive temperatures as low as -10 degrees in the harsh Korean winter, but any lower and they must be moved inside.

A side note: North Korea is a very clean country.  Not only because people barely have anything to throw away, but also because it doesn’t occur to anybody to throw away trash (not even plastic bags, which one sees everywhere in the countryside of other developing countries).

At the end of the day we visited NOSOTEK, a joint venture software firm.  Founded by the German programmer Volker Eloesser in 1970, the firm mostly develops cell phone and Flash games, but also ports video games for consoles.  The customers usually don’t want there to be any references to North Korea in the games, some of which are well known.  Thirty five people work for the firm in Pyongyang, ten are on loan from other firms, and there are ten more at the Chinese branch.

The idea came to Mr. Eloesser during a visit as a member of a delegation in 2005, and by the end of 2007 the firm was founded.  While the education of programers and graphic designers in North Korea is top rate, he had to introduce quality assurance, teamwork, and entrepreneurial thinking.

Because of North Korea’s internet restrictions, he only has access in his private home.  He must bring his business data with him to work every morning, and take it back home every night.  From his personal phone (part of the foreigner network) he cannot reach any of his Korean colleagues directly.  Since as a foreigner he is forbidden from using phones intended for Koreans, he must, in case of an emergency, go to, for example, a restaurant and ask a Korean to call his colleague and pass along the message.

Despite all of this, Mr. Eloesser is very happy with his decision to found a North Korean firm.  He works pragmatically around the everyday problems of North Korea.  He gets by okay because the the North Koreans know that he wants neither to denigrate the leadership nor start a counterrevolution, but rather just to run the company.  We agree to have dinner the following day.

In the evening we had a meeting with Kathi Zellweger from the Swiss development agency, which has been in North Korea since 1993.  They have implemented programs dealing with biological pest control, crop rotation, government control of the hillsides, rehabilitation of river power plants, and building of educational capacity.

A side anecdote: When Mrs. Zellweger was accompanied on a trip by a Hong Kong hair stylist, North Korean acquaintances of Mrs. Zellweger wanted haircuts like Angela Merkel.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The next morning we had a meeting with Mrs. Hong Son-ok, vice chairperson of the Union for Cultural Connections Abroad.  In addition to a general cultural exchange, we and the ambassador encouraged the willingness of the North Koreans to allow an exchange of North Korean cultural treasures in Germany, including the world-famous Chinese lacquered baskets found in Pyongyang in 1931.  Because they are seen as un-Korean, these lie in the museum’s storage facility and are presently not on display in Pyongyang.  We told them how proud we are of our Roman heritage.

Our suggestion of sending a scholar to Helmut-Schmidt University was received with reservations, as was our wish for more journalist visas, for example for the film festival at the end of the year.  She said that they hadn’t had good experiences with journalists.  Johannes Pflug calls attention to our different understand of media relations and suggested that the next parliamentary group issue more visas to journalists.

After this we took a trip to the Museum of National Friendship, a good 120 kilometers north of Pyongyang.  Here, among the wondrous mountainside, gifts given to Kim Il-sung (128,000) and Kim Jong-il (65,000) are on display in monumental buildings with corridors and rooms dug deep into the mountain.  At various points we guessed that there is more hidden in the mountain than just the museum.

The gifts were at times awe-inspiring, such as the 9.5 ton block of jade.  There are many gifts from the former GDR, as well as from the SED and the LDPD, which merged with the FDP.  Kim Il-sung was depicted as a wax figure in a special room with a birch tree landscape, artificial wind, and music.

There were a few things that suggested to us a parallel society.  Gifts given by small, unimportant countries and international organizations that we didn’t recognize were among the collection.  Among German newspapers, only the “Rote Fahne,” the central organ of the KPD (which has fewer than 200 members), has written positively about Kim Jong-il.

Afterwards they took us through a narrow, hilly, picturesque tributary valley, where they had a barbecue prepared.  This was followed by a visit to the 700-year-old Pohyon Temple, where 800-year-old books were on display.  The temple also has significant to the Workers’ Party of Korea: Kim Il-sung saw himself as following in the tradition of its abbot, who was the leader of the national resistance against a 1359 Japanese invasion.

We then took a detour to the Pyongyang football stadium and spoke with young footballers about their role models, hopes, and assessment for the World Cup.  Ballack and Zidane were named as role models, and the kids wanted only to play in a World Cup.  Their goal for North Korea in South Africa was eighth place.

Later came dinner, where we met once again with the German businessman Volker Eloesser, who told us about his experiences in North Korea.

The next morning we visited the Kim Won-gyun College of Music, named after the composer who wrote the national anthem and the Kim Il-sung song, among others.  Eight hundred students, more than half of whom were women, were being trained in singing, composition, western musical instruments, and traditional Korean music.  Founded in 1949, the school got a new campus of 50,000 square meters, with classrooms, demonstration rooms, music halls, and dorms.  Everything is of the highest level and is still in top shape.

Our visit is thoroughly organized, with many high quality demonstrations.  Ms. Berg, an envoy at the German embassy, told us that North Korean kindergartens place a heavy emphasis on singing and dancing.

Shortly after 10 o’clock we met with the speaker of the People’s Assembly, Mr. Choe Thae-bok, a member of the highest governing body, who studied in Germany [trans. note: doesn't indicate East or West] at the end of the ’50s.  The discussion themes were the same as in other conversations (Cheonan, visas for journalists, exchanges by North Koreans to Germany).  Mr. Choe is more open and sophisticated in his answers – an important talk that allows for some interpretation of current debate in North Korea.

In the early afternoon we visited an orchard in bloom.  With modern cultivars, the 700 hectares produce apples for the city’s population.  The first crop was just produced last year.  Housing for all 700 workers is under construction, with some already ready.  1,200 bees are responsible for pollination, and the plantation has a drip irrigation system.  The capacity should end up yielding over 35,000 tons of apples per year.

As part of the agricultural policy there is a pig farm, a chicken farm, a fish pond, and a turtle hatchery in the neighborhood, in order to use the excrement as fertilizer.  Pests (wasps, dragonflies) are managed both biologically and with pesticides.

On our journey across the country it struck us that there were newly built houses almost everywhere along the route we took.  Whether this applies to the whole country I cannot say, though it was confirmed by other observers.

At four we visited a copper cable factory in the middle of Pyongyang, founded in 1959, with over 1300 employees.  It manufactures everything from basic wires to high-voltage submarine cables, as well as plugs for export and plastic utensils made from the PVC remains of the insulation.

Our two journalists did not accompany us because they were invited to a “press” conference for the diplomatic corps, where North Korea expresses its opinion on the Cheonan sinking for the first time.

Shortly after five we visited the last of the projects, but one which is encouraging for the future of the country: on the outskirts of Pyongyang there were fifteen vegetable greenhouses constructed by Welthungerhilfe [trans. note: an NGO funded largely by Germany, the EU, and the UN].  Thanks to Pyongyang’s good sunlight (39th degree of latitude, corresponding to Sicily), various vegetables can be harvested without heating for ten months out of the year.  The output per hectare is 200 tons of vegetables, many times that of traditional rice cultivation.

As much of the harvest will be sold as covers its cost, with the rest given free of charge to schoolchildren and kindergartners to prevent malnutrition.

The harvest can begin as early as one year after building a greenhouse, which is a good option for a country with little arable land.  The plants lay in a nutrient solution rather than in the earth.  The project leader praised the North Koreans for their knowledge and dedication.

Small greenhouses for balconies and gardens are also being developed, and at 300-800 euros they are very affordable.

In the evening we were seen off with a communal meal with our escorts, interpreters, and drivers.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Return trip to Germany, again via Beijing.

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