Archive for the ‘South Korea’ Category

Senior DPRK officials to visit Seoul for close of Asian Games

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

According to Reuters:

Three senior North Korean officials will make a rare visit to South Korea on Saturday to attend the Asian Games closing ceremony in what could potentially bring a breakthrough in tense ties between the rival Koreas.

Heading the delegation will be Hwang Pyong So and Choe Ryong Hae, who are senior aides to North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong Un, South Korea’s Unification Ministry spokesman told a news briefing.

The announcement of the visit comes as a surprise because Pyongyang has been issuing invectives toward the South and President Park Geun-hye, criticising her calls for Pyongyang to end its arms programme and improve human rights conditions.

Hwang is the head of the North Korean army’s General Political Department, a powerful apparatus loyal to the secretive country’s leader and a key post overseeing the 1.2-million-member military.

Here is coverage in the Associated Press.

Here is coverage in Yonhap.

Here is coverage in the New York Times.

Here is coverage in the Korea Times.

Here is coverage in the Washington Post.

Here is Aidan Foster Carter in NK News.

Interesting analysis on the story in the Daily NK which provides a rational for the visit based on domestic politics.

Additional Information

1. NK Leadership Watch has bios of the men: Hwang Pyong So, Choe Ryong HaeKim Yang Gon

2. Here are bios on Wikipedia: Hwang Pyong So, Choe Ryong hae, Kim Yang Gon

3. Here is the South Korean MOU leadership organization chart where you can see these individual’s positions within the system.

4. Andray Abrahamian writing in 38 North last year on sports.

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2014 Inter-Korean development plans

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

According to the Daily NK:

The Ministry of Unification released its plans for the 2014 Inter-Korean Development Program on August 18th. 96 new enterprises are among the proposals stipulated in the report’s 30 articles.

The chief components of the plan include:

1. the establishment of a channel for consistent Inter-Korean dialogue
2. a solution for the Separated Families issue
3. provision of humanitarian aid geared towards North Korean citizens
4. adherence to international regulations through a cooperative exchange system
5. the restoration of national solidarity through sociocultural exchanges
6. expanding other ongoing inter-Korean economic collaboration projects
7. normalization of Kaesong Industrial Park operations and
8. tailoring refugee resettlement funds to individual defector needs.

In a statement about the plan, a Ministry of Unification official said, “There is much significance in the fact that this proposal was a government-wide effort; a total of 24 administrative bodies came together to formulate these ideas and strategies.”

The comprehensive program also included detailed plans for the repair and renovation of the Kaesong-Pyongyang Expressway and the Kaesong-Sinuiju Railway. The premise of the official Inter-Korean Development Program has always been to improve overall conditions in the North while fostering better relations between North and South, but this most recent plan is the first to delineate detailed plans for large-scale investments in infrastructure.

Expansion of other inter-Korean economic collaborations were also outlined, such as:
1. Kaesong-Sinuiju railroad and Kaesong-Pyongyang railroad repairs
2. Imjin River flood prevention business
3. Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO] support of the North Korean fishing industry
4. proposals such as vitalization of inter-Korean shipping are included. In addition, depending on the situation, 5. they plan to gradually introduce reopening trade and commerce, resumption of basic economic cooperation and, launching of new businesses.

A continued dedication to improving human rights in North Korea was also announced, starting with continued pressure on lawmakers to overcome the impasse and pass the North Korean Human Rights Act. The proposed law first appeared in 2005 but has since stagnated in the National Assembly due to failure by ruling and opposition parties to reach a consensus. Additional plans to increase support to private organizations advocating human rights in North Korea as well as striving to implement the recent recommendations by the UN based on the Commission of Inquiry [COI] findings on human rights in North Korea.

The South Korean government expressed its intentions to improve the quality of life for North Korean residents by increasing humanitarian aid and support. Most notably, the South vowed to separate political and humanitarian issues, ensuring that vulnerable social groups receive the support they need, regardless of tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Read the full story here:
Report: 2014 Inter-Korean Development Plans
Daily NK
Koo Jun Hoe
2014-8-19

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DPRK tightens entry rules in Kaesong factory park

Friday, July 18th, 2014

Apparently out of fear that the Keasong Industrial Complex might be used to subvert national security, the DPRK is instituting new rules for South Koreans entering the park. According to Yonhap:

“The North notified the management committee for the Kaesong Industrial Complex of its plan to tighten entry rules starting on Friday,” said the ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs.

Under the stricter rules, South Korean workers are subject to a one-day entry denial if they are found carrying prohibited materials critical of the North Korean regime or automobile black boxes.

Those who don’t abide by entry rules by failing to cover up their car license plates or deviating from regular entry allowance hours will also be put under entry denial of up to two days, according to the ministry.

The North has also hinted at the possibility of punishing South Korean companies operating in the Kaesong complex, depending on the level of future entry rule violations, the ministry said.

Currently, North Korea fines South Korean workers US$100 for carrying cell phones, while failure to abide by entry hours is subject to a $50 fine.

The toughened rules also came despite Seoul’s pronounced opposition to the unilateral decision.

Seoul has previously expressed its opposition and demanded the changes be discussed bilaterally, but the North has unilaterally issued the notification, officials said.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea tightens entry rules in Kaesong factory park
Yonhap
2014-7-18

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Kumgang Resort operational status (UPDATED)

Monday, July 14th, 2014

Pictured above (Google Earth): April 2010 satellite imagery of the Kumgang tourist resort

The Kumgang resort was receiving 400,000 visitors per year until in July 2008 it became the scene of a terrible tragedy, the shooting of a South Korean tourist. Following the incident, the South Korean government prohibited its citizens from visiting the resort until the DPRK allowed a joint-Korean investigation of the shooting and made a guarantee of future safety.  The DPRK never agreed to these terms so the park fell idle.

The suspension of the project has cost the DPRK government millions of dollars. In response it has moved to pressure the ROK government to change course and allow the tours to resume. Below I have kept a timeline of the course of these events and their outcomes.

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2014-7-14: The Hankyoreh marks July 11–the 6th anniversary of the day when tours to Mt. Keumgang in North Korea were suspended. 

“As a result of the suspension of tourism to Mt. Keumgang, we have lost nearly 1 trillion won [US$981 million], including the 300 billion won [US$294.32 million] invested in the facilities and an estimated 530 billion won in lost revenue,” the investors said. They urged the governments of North and South Korea to immediately hold working-level talks to resume tourism to Mt. Keumgang and to hold reunions for divided families.

“The position of the government is that the issue of the safety of its citizens must be resolved before it can allow tours to Mt. Keumgang to resume. In addition, given the continuing UN Security Council sanctions in response to North Korea’s nuclear and missile testing, which occurred after tours to Mt. Keumgang were halted, we think that the tours cannot be resumed until the government indicates that doing so would not be in violation of UN sanctions,” said Ministry of Unification spokesperson Kim Ui-do during a regular press briefing on July 11.

2012-11-27: The Hankyoreh reports that North Korea provided a written guarantee for the safety of tourists at Mt. Kumkang during 2010 working level talks with the South Korean government.

2011-9-6: South Korea asks foreigners not to invest in Kumgang saying such investments would violate existing property rights.

2011-9-6: Park Chol-su, head of Daepung International Investment Group, said he wants to discuss with South Korea’s Hyundai Asan how to handle its assets at the North’s Mount Kumgang.

2011-8-31: Chinese tourists arrive in Kumgang on Mangyongbong.

2011-8-30: South Korea calls for international boycott of Kumgangsan resort

2011-8-28: Taephung Investment Group outlines new Kumgang business plan

2011-8-24: Kumgang opened to DPRK and Chinese toursits

2011-8-23: South Korean workers leave Kumgang

2011-8-22: DPRK orders expulsion of remaining South Korean staff, auctioning of assets

2011-8-19: Hyundai officials visit Kumgang amid dispute over fate of company assets

2011-8-6: Steve Parks claims he has signed an MOU with the DPRK government

2011-6-2: “DPRK Law on Special Zone for International Tour of Mt. Kumgang” released. PDF of the statute here.

2011-4-29: SPA designates Kumgang special zone

2011-4-1: DPRK rescinds Hyundai’s Kumgang contract rights

2010-11-15: Kumgang re-fozen

2010-10-31: Family reuniuons were held there in October/November

2010-8-7: DPRK using Kumgagn assets to serve tourists in the North

2010-5-16: Taephung shows Chinese investors Kumgang

2010-5-3: Most South Korean and Chinese employees leave

2010-4-25: The National Defense Commission takes over the properties and puts the Korea Taepung International Investment Group in charge of attracting investors and tourists to the resort.

2010-4-23: Seoul denounces the seizure

2010-4-11: Chinese tourists began arriving at the resort (here and here).

2010-4-11: Employees told to leave/sealed up

2010-4-11:The DPRK “seizes” the Hyundai properties in the Kumgang resort

2010-3-24: Investors worried about losing out

2010-3-18: DPRK threatens to seize Kumgang Resort

2010-3-18: Hyundai-Asan’s chief offers to resign

2010-3-10: DPRK threatens to revoke contracts with South Korean partner, Hyundai-Asan

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ROK private sector aid to the DPRK at low

Monday, June 16th, 2014

ROK-DPRK-aid-Hankyoreh

According to the Hankyoreh:

In terms of levels of private-sector [interchanges], the situation is even worse than the previous all-time low under the Lee administration. According to the annual White Paper on unification published in March, the total amount of private aid to North Korea authorized by the Ministry of Unification in 2013 stood at 5.1 billion won (US$5million). This amount not only pales in comparison to the 90.9 billion won (US$89.3million) okayed in 2007, the last year of the Roh Moo-hyun administration, but is only one-sixth the 31.0 billion won ($30.5 million) annual average during the Lee years. Even in 2011 and 2012, years when interchange and cooperation with North Korea were banned under the May 24 measures adopted in the wake of the ROKS Cheonan sinking, aid from NGOs amounted to 13.1 billion won (US$12.9million) and 11.8 billion won (US$411.6million), respectively. Between 120,000 and 180,000 people traveled between the Koreas under the Lee administration in comparison with last year’s total of 76,000. The Ministry of Unification is calling the numbers misleading.

“Last year, there was not any real aid to North Korea until August because all ties had been cut off after their third nuclear test in February,” a senior ministry official said on condition of anonymity. “The amount of aid and the number of people involved in exchange fell because there was a six-month vacuum,” the official explained.” The NGOs are countering by arguing aid has remained at a low 2.1 billion won (US$2.06million) this year, despite a lack of major frictions.

There are, however, signs of some change in inter-Korean interchange though the NGOs are cautioning against reading too much into the government’s decisions. On June 4, the Ministry of Unification approved the first agricultural exchange effort since the May 24 measures. The Gyeongnam Unification Agricultural Cooperation Committee has sent 33 million won (US$32,400) worth of strawberry seedlings to North Korea, where they are to be grown for four months before being brought back South

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Data on Kaesong’s cumulative performance

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

Cumulative production of the inter-Korean industrial park has come to US$2.3 billion as the most salient outcome of rapprochement between the Koreas marks its 10th anniversary of operations this week, the unification ministry said Thursday.

The joint factory complex in the North Korean border town of Kaesong opened a decade ago following the first inter-Korean summit meeting in 2000, in which their leaders adopted a joint declaration calling for closer cooperation and exchanges.

On June 14, 2004, a group of 15 South Korean groups signed contracts to operate factories in the then-newly built complex, inaugurating the era of the Kaesong Industrial Complex. In December that year, the joint complex saw its first batch of goods produced in its factories.

In the first full year of operations in 2005, annual output reached $14.9 million before jumping by more than 30-fold to $469.5 million in 2012, according to the unification ministry.

But yearly output nearly halved last year from 2012 after Pyongyang suspended operations of the Kaesong complex for five months from April amid inter-Korean tensions. The figure rose to $168.1 million in the first quarter of this year.

The value of inter-Korean trade through the park came to an accumulated $9.45 billion, according to the ministry.

A total of 940,000 people have visited the inter-Korean economic zone, with 125 South Korean firms currently operating in the complex designed to match deep-pocketed South Korean companies with cheap North Korean labor.

Among the firms, 73, or 58.4 percent, are textile firms, while another 24 firms are machinery or steel makers. The complex is also home to 13 electronics makers and 9 chemicals firms, the ministry noted.

The Kaesong complex also saw the number of North Korean workers grow from around 6,000 in 2005 to 52,000 as of recently, along with monthly salary more than doubling from $50 to more than $130.

Although this story reports salaries of $130, a separate story released just a couple of days ago claims the monthly incomes are just $70. I am not sure why the discrepancy.

Read the full story here:
Cumulative output of Kaesong park reaches US$2.3 bln
Yonhap
2014-6-12

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Eberstadt on DPRK Trade

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

UPDATE 1 (2014-6-12): Witness to Transformation has an update here.

ORIGINAL POST (2014-6-4): Nicholas Eberstadt has written an interesting article on trends in the DPRK’s trade patterns from 2002-2013.

Here is just one graph:

Eberstadt-graph-DPRK-trade-2014-6-4

Read the full article here.

Dr. Eberstadt draws some counter-intuitive conclusions that cannot be observed directly from the published data. You can read all about the published data on the DPRK’s 2013 trade statistics here.

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DPRK leases ROK waters to Chinese fishermen

Friday, May 30th, 2014

NLL-chinese-fishing-2014-6-4

 

Pictured Above: Areas where the fishermen are allegedly crossing the NLL

According to the Joongang Ilbo:

North Korea signed a contract with Chinese fishermen allowing them to fish in waters near the disputed maritime border including South Korea’s waters, sources told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday.

The contract allows Chinese fishermen to work near the Northern Limit Line (NLL), the de facto maritime border between the two Koreas in the Yellow Sea, including South Korean waters below the boundary, Seoul officials said. In return for giving the Chinese fishermen the right to work in South Korean waters, particularly during crab and squid seasons, North Korea is paid a certain amount of money annually, officials said.

“As North Korea has expanded its joint fishery area with China [to the southern waters below the NLL], some Chinese vessels are moving southward more than they did before,” a South Korean government official said. “We are thinking of more active measures to keep them from violating the NLL.”

Officials confirmed that the South Korean waters allegedly being rented out to the Chinese fishermen were three areas north and east of Baengnyeong Island and north of Yeonpyeong Island. Under the alleged contract, several North Korean and Chinese vessels have recently worked together, officials said. Some North Korean fishermen were allegedly hired by the Chinese vessels’ owners as well.

“Last year, most Chinese vessels worked north of the NLL, but recently they worked very close to the NLL and some crossed the line,” a Korean Coast Guard official said. “So we dispatched additional patrol ships and special Coast Guard forces to the areas.”

Starting in April, the Chinese ships gradually approached the NLL, officials said, and from mid-May, several large vessels crossed the border frequently, apparently for crab fishing.

The Korean Coast Guard seized a total of six Chinese boats that violated the NLL since May 19, including three 10-ton vessels on Tuesday. They said they also spotted about 100 vessels, assumed to be Chinese, near Yeonpyeong Island, and 170 near Baengnyeong Island, fishing in South Korean waters.

The South Korean government notified Beijing of the illegal fishing and called for them to stop, officials said.

“The Foreign Ministry and the Coast Guard told the Chinese Coast Guard officials about the contract that included our waters,” another South Korean official said. “We demanded the Chinese government warn the vessels not to cross the NLL.”

Military officials in Seoul raised concerns about the purpose of the contract. They say that the regime appears to be attempting to nullify the effectiveness of the boundary as well as to earn foreign currency.

“In the name of controlling the Chinese vessels, some North Korean patrol ships could cross the border or seize our fishing boats as well,” a military official said.

Read the full story here:
North rents out waters near NLL
Joongang Ilbo
Jeong Yong-soo
2014-5-30

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DPRK – China Trade 2012-2013 comparison

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

UPDATE: Here is the original KOTRA report.

ORIGINAL POST: According to Yonhap:

Despite years of international sanctions, North Korea’s overall trade volume reached a new annual high in 2013 due largely to growing shipments to and from its closest ally, China, a South Korean trade agency said Thursday.

The North’s overall trade volume came to US$7.34 billion in 2013, up 7.8 percent from the previous year, according to the state-run Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA).

“It is the highest amount since KOTRA began compiling data on North Korea’s annual trade volumes in 1990,” it said in a press release.

The country’s exports jumped 11.7 percent on-year to $3.22 billion, with imports growing 5 percent to $4.12 billion.

Bilateral trade volume between North Korea and China came to $6.54 billion, accounting for 89.1 percent of the North’s overall trade in 2013.

“North Korea’s dependence on China for trade has been increasing steadily since 2005 when its trade volume with China exceeded 50 percent of its overall trade,” KOTRA said.

“In addition, it shows China’s pledge to tighten its customs check on shipments to and from North Korea, in protest of North Korea’s missile launch in December 2012 and a nuclear test in February 2013, did not have any significant effect on North Korea-China trade,” it added.

The large increase in North Korea’s overall exports was attributed to growing shipments of fuel, such as coal, which surged 14.9 percent on-year to $1.43 billion, accounting for 44.4 percent of the country’s total exports.

Out of all energy exports, 97.2 percent were shipped to China.

Russia, another North Korean ally, was the country’s second-largest trading partner in 2013, with bilateral trade volume spiking 37.3 percent to $104 million.

Note, this does not contain South Korea data, which for purely political reasons is counted as inter-Korean (domestic) trade. According to a KIEP presentation by Yoon Deok-ryong, DPRK-ROK trade in 2013 amounted to $1.14b.

Here is what the Institute for Far Eastern Studies had to say:

North Korean Foreign Trade Volume Posts Record High of USD 7.3 Billion in 2013

According to a recent report by the Korea Trade Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA), foreign trade in North Korea (excluding inter-Korean trade) reached a record high of USD 7.3 billion in 2013, up 7.8 percent from the previous year. The report, released on May 22, 2014, marks the fourth year since South Korea enacted the “May 24 Measures,” suspending all inter-Korean trade and economic cooperation outside of the Kaesong Industrial Complex. KOTRA, a South Korean state-run agency which analyzes North Korea’s foreign trade volume, noted that last year’s figures were the highest ever since they began recording data in 1990.

The report shows that North Korean exports and imports in 2013 both increased compared to the previous year, up 11.7 percent (totaling USD 3.2 billion) and 5 percent (totaling USD 4.1 billion), respectively. KOTRA’s data analysis says that North Korean exports consist mostly of “mineral resources such as coal, iron ore, copper and aluminum,” and noted that “the recent boom of contract manufacturing (toll processing) businesses has led to an increase in textile and clothing exports.” Imports, such as electricity, transport vehicles and grains also saw increases, but North Korea was still able to cut their trade deficit by about USD 20 million, from 1 billion (2012) to 980 million (2013).

North Korea’s largest trading partner is China. The trade volume between the two allies reached a total of USD 6.5 billion in 2013, up 8.9 percent from the previous year. This accounts for 89.1 percent of all of North Korea’s foreign trade, showing increasing dependence on China. Despite Beijing’s partaking in international sanctions against North Korea, it appears to have had a little effect on the bilateral trade between the two nations.

North Korea’s other top trading partners behind China include Russia, India, Thailand and Singapore (in that order). In particular, foreign trade with Russia increased by 37.3 percent last year and totaled over USD 100 million (7 million in exports, 97 million in imports). KOTRA explained the sharp increase in Russian imports in the second half of 2013 was due to import of transport vehicles and machineries for the railway construction between the areas of Rajin and Hassan.

KOTRA’s research shows that while the trade with Japan has been nonexistent since 2009, the two nations recently have begun to engage in talks at the bureau-chief level. As expected, due to the economic sanctions imposed on North Korea, foreign trade with the United States remains limited to food, basic necessities, and humanitarian aid.

Coal, lignite and other mineral fuels are North Korea’s largest export products, accounting for 44.4 percent of total foreign exports. This figure increased by nearly 15 percent in 2013, reaching USD 1.4 billion. A staggering 97.2 percent of these mineral exports are sent to China. Other exports such as clothing and textiles saw a 33.5 percent increase from the previous year, totaling USD 520 million. Meanwhile, imports of crude and refined oil – North Korea’s largest import commodities – were recorded at USD 780 million in 2013, a 3.8 percent decrease compared to 2012. North Korea’s oil is imported almost exclusively from China at 94.5 percent.

Despite recent economic sanctions imposed by the international community, North Korea’s foreign trade volume has continued to rise over the last four years thanks to increases in coal, iron and other mineral exports to China. Furthermore, in order to diversify its foreign trade and reduce its trade dependence on China, North Korea likely will continue to further promote bilateral ties with Russia.

Here is coverage in Business Korea.

Aidan Foster-Carter offers this update in the Wall Street Journal’s Korea Real Time.

Nicholas Eberstadt offers analysis here.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s overall trade volume grows to record high in 2013
Yonhap
2014-5-22

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ROK extends bridge loans to firms that invested in the DPRK

Friday, April 25th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

South Korea said Friday it will extend 20 billion won (US$19.2 million) in loans to companies that have been in financial trouble for years due to the suspension of their businesses with North Korea.

The decision came four months after South Korean investors called for special low-interest loans to help ease their financial pinch following the shutdown of their businesses.

South Korea has suspended a tour program to Mount Kumgang since 2008 when a female South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean soldier near the mountain resort on the North’s east coast.

Seoul’s move dealt a heavy blow to South Korean companies that invested in the North’s mountain resort, including Hyundai Asan, the inter-Korean business arm of Hyundai Group.

North Korea has since repeatedly called for the resumption of the tour program, which served as one of a few legitimate revenue sources for the cash-strapped country.

South Korean businessmen involved in projects in North Korea suffered further setbacks in 2010 when Seoul slapped sanctions on Pyongyang over the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on the North.

Under the sanctions, South Korea has suspended inter-Korean projects and banned new investment in the North, except for their joint factory park in the North’s border city of Kaesong.

The unification ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said it expected the latest extension of loans to help ease financial difficulties of the companies.

South Korea has extended special loans worth 62.6 billion won ($60.1 million) to more than 230 local companies involved in cross-border projects with North Korea in recent years.

This week, the North called on South Korea to lift the sanctions imposed on Pyongyang in retaliation for the sinking in March 2010 that killed 46 South Korean sailors.

South Korea has called for, among other things, the North’s admission of its involvement in the sinking in return for lifting of the sanctions, though Pyongyang has refused to take responsibility for the deadly attack.

Read the full story here
S. Korea to extend 20 bln won to firms with ties to N. Korea
Yonhap
2014-4-25

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