Archive for the ‘DPRK organizations’ Category

The (Market) Forces of History in North Korea

Friday, October 30th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

The market is a common topic for debate in history. How did it impact the rise of the anti-slavery movement in the US and the UK? What impact did economic conditions have in the French Revolution? These questions are, and should be, asked in the current debate about North Korea’s socioeconomic development as well.

But despite the hope of many, the market might not simply be a story of growing individualism and disconnect from the power of the state. While such a trend may well be at work, it could also be the other way around.

This was recently illuminated through an interesting story by Reuters. In a visit to Pyongyang, they took a look at how markets and everyday business transaction function in North Korea at the moment. As they note, it is telling that a reporter from an international news agency can make transactions in the open, with a government minder by his side, at the black market rate. Business that previously had to be done in the shadows now happens in the open:

Shoppers openly slapped down large stacks of U.S. dollars at the cashier’s counter. They received change in dollars, Chinese yuan or North Korean won – at the black market rate. The same was true elsewhere in the capital: taxi drivers offered change for fares at black market rates, as did other shops and street stalls that Reuters visited.

The most obvious conclusion is that the state is adapting itself to the bottom-up development of the market. Indeed, this is the way the story is often told. In this narrative, the government is only reacting to developments and has long lost the economic policy initiative.

But one could also see a government that is confident enough to relax the rules. It just isn’t a certain fact that the state and the market are two opposing entities.

First, connections to the state still seem to be good for those wanting to trade on the market. For example, according to the surveys conducted by Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland that laid the foundation for Witness to Transformation (2011)party membership is still considered one of the best ways to get ahead in North Korea (or at least it was at the time when the surveys were conducted). A somewhat similar trend can be discerned in survey results presented by Byung-Yeon Kim of Seoul National University at a conference at Johns Hopkins SAIS in late September this year. Kim’s results also indicate that there is a strong positive correlation between party membership and participation in both the formal and informal economy.

Second, the government is making money off of the market. DailyNK recently reported that the fees charged by state authorities for market stalls was raised. They also noted that regulations of the markets seemed to have gotten more detailed over the years. As noted in this report published by the U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS, the space that the government allocates to markets has consistently increased in the past few years. Not only have official markets grown, many of them have also been renovated and given better building structures.

All in all, this paints a picture of a government that controls markets while allowing them more space to function. It is not clear that formerly black market activity happening in the open means that the market is gaining ground at the expense of the state. They may well be moving together. That is good news for those hoping for stability, but bad news for those banking on a market-induced revolution. Despite the hope of many that the market will cause the demise of the regime, the role of the market force in North Korea’s history is far from clear.


North Korea’s domestic impacts of lower coal prices

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

North Korea is seeing some interesting impacts domestically from the lowered coal exports. DailyNK reports that market trade has picked up in intensity as a result of the lower exports of coal:

Amidst the growing private economy in North Korea, a number of people are growing wealthy by cashing in on the expanding distribution industry. Recently, a growing number of these newly rich are purchasing China’s Jinbei brand of small 2-3 ton load trucks to facilitate business operations, Daily NK has learned.

“Recently, Jinbei trucks coming in from Dandong Customs House through to the Sinuiju customs office in North Korea are becoming very hot items in the transportation market,” a source in North Pyongan province reported to Daily NK on September 16th. “Foreign-currency earning enterprises are importing these smaller Jinbei trucks which are quite different from the 20-30 ton load trucks that were previously the norm.”

This information was cross-checked via an additional source in the same province and a source in South Pyongan Province.

As North Korean coal exports have decreased and domestic market activity has picked up, the small trucks have become more useful for delivering goods to local markets. “Ordinary men use bicycles or motorbikes to distribute goods, but the rich are able to buy these small 2-3 ton load trucks and use those instead,” he explained.

These trucks, as with most vehicles in North Korea, are first imported by foreign-currency earning enterprises and sold unofficially to individuals with the cash to pay up front and in full–i.e. the donju. Because possession of vehicles is still officially forbidden in North Korea, the car remains registered under the name of the affiliated enterprise’s name; the entrepreneurial individual utilizing it kicks back a portion of his–or, less frequently, her– profits to the company.

Read the full article:


Jinbei trucks roll in, ‘donju’ distribution operations rise



Why won’t North Korean trees grow like Kim Jong-un told them to?

Friday, September 4th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

The forestry campaign that Kim Jong-un launched in a speech earlier this year continues. According to a new brief by IFES, North Korean state media has criticized certain nurseries for poor management.

North Korea has once again come out on broadcast television criticizing the poor management of tree nurseries at some of its Forest Management Centers. This public criticism of the forest restoration effort comes after the emergence of Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yeo Jong, as an influential figure in the Department of Propaganda and Agitation.

On August 26, 2015, Korean Central Television (KCTV) aired a program entitled, Let’s Go Forward in Patriotism and Strength in the Forest Restoration Battle. The broadcast criticized several Forest Management Centers, including one in North Hwanghae Province’s Songnim. “They set up sun shades carelessly and then do not even water saplings properly. As a result saplings have become withered and yellow,” the program alleged.

The broadcast went on to a scathing critique of the tree nursery’s poor management: “The spraying equipment also does not properly work […] No more than 30% of the trees are alive […] The soil is overgrown with weeds […] One of the trees still has not sprouted.”

It also condemned the management of the Kangdong County tree nursery. “Because they do not properly conduct fertilizer management and also do not follow water guarantee measures, the saplings turn yellow and wither away. In the vegetable gardens there is so much seaweed that it is difficult to tell whether they are fields of saplings or meadows.”

“The fact that saplings can not grow properly is not due to unfavorable climate conditions but the defeatist and ‘non-owner’ work attitudes of the Forest Management Center workers and tree nursery work groups, who half-heartedly do their work and quit,” the broadcast added.

It went on to say, “When the workers use their heads creatively and engage in the work enterprisingly, great results are achieved in the expansion of the country’s permanent assets […] If all combatants in the forest restoration work sincerely, the Party’s forest restoration plans will be moved forward.”

One could of course argue that the issues described might result from the disconnect between political orders and constraints on the ground. For example, it has been reported that tree species that would suit local conditions in certain parts of the country would take at least three years to produce, but that the central government authorities want things to proceed immediately anyway. I am no forestry expert but it seems like a difficult task for even the most stern of political orders to make trees grow properly in the wrong conditions.

The full text of the IFES brief is available here:

North Korean Broadcast Criticizes Forest Restoration Results

The Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University



How the North Korean media describes a market

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

A recent brief from IFES (08-07-2015) details how an article in the North Korean newspaper Tongil Ilbo describes sales at Kwangbok market in Pyongyang (emphasis added):

According to the Tongil Ilbo, there are now a number of local products sold at Pyongyang’s Kwangbok Area Supermarket, which was built in October 1991. “By achieving the informatization and computerization of all business activities, from warehousing to the sale of goods, the Kwangbok Area Supermarket guarantees accuracy and speed in its service. It is a commercial service center managed to guarantee the maximum convenience of its customers,” North Korea’s independent newspaper reported on July 11, 2015.

It explained that the Kwangbok Area Supermarket, which has a total floor area of 12,700 m2, sells household products, electronics, general textile products, and grocery products such as confectioneries on every floor. In addition, each North Korean brand is sold in the relevant department, including brands such as ‘Ryongmasan,’ ‘Kuryonggang,’ ‘Kumkop,’ ‘Hwawon,’ ‘Mirae,’ ‘Songchon,’ and ‘Bommaji.’

Located on the first floor, the grocery department displays local products produced by factories like the Pyongyang Flour Processing Factory, the Kumsong Food Factory, and the Kumkop General Foodstuff Factory for Sportspersons. “People like to purchase locally-produced products […] In the future public service networks like the Kwangbok Area Supermarket will emerge in other places as well,” the newspaper reported.

Kim Song Won, manager of the Kwangbok Area Supermarket, commented, “With the unprecedented growth of the country’s self-sustaining economic foundation, there is greater demand among the people for variety and quality in their products […] Accordingly, we are bringing in many domestic products and are working to provide services so that customers can purchase products that they like.”

Several things in this report are interesting to note. For example, while I am not sure that the market-oriented language is itself anything new in North Korean media lingo, the emphasis is striking. It is consumer preference that matters. Variety is considered important, not just the quality of the products. Again, Kim Il-sung too I believe talked about the importance of quality, but here it’s a matter of producing what people like, rather than what they need.

Read the full text:

IFES Kyungnam

Surge in Local Product Sales at Kwangbok Area Supermarket



DPRK insurance market updates

Monday, August 17th, 2015

UPDATE 1 (2015-8-20): The Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES) reports on developments in the DPRK’s insurance market:

New Insurance Products Appearing in North Korea

All sorts of insurance products, such as cell phone insurance and insurance against damage to fruit farms, are starting to appear in North Korea.

The Korea National Insurance Corporation (the state insurance company representing North Korea), revealed on its website on August 12, 2015 that the issue of cell phone insurance was discussed at the annual general meeting of provincial governors held in Pyongyang in February 2015.

“At last year’s meeting, provincial governors from all over, including Pyongyang, North Hamgyong Province, Yanggang Province, and Jagang Province, met and introduced new areas of business such as cell phone insurance. They discussed increasing the number of insurance policy holders and expanding coverage to raise insurance premium revenue,” the insurance company reported.

Recently, as the number of cell phone owners shoots up, the instances of lost or damaged phones have also risen. It appears that this new form of insurance is being offered against this backdrop to compensate cell phone owners for such incidents. As in South Korea, it is not yet mandatory for North Korean cell phone owners to purchase cell phone insurance.

Currently, North Korea’s primary mobile carrier, the Egyptian firm Orascom, owns a 75% share in North Korea’s mobile communications company Koryo Link. As of the end of June 2014, the company had 2.4 million cell phone subscribers in North Korea.

The Korea National Insurance Corporation is also preparing to offer insurance for fruit trees in order to compensate owners of fruit farms for damage caused by natural disasters or other events.

The company explained the background behind offering this insurance product on their homepage. According to the website, since Kim Jong Un came to power, a lot of effort has been put into the development of agriculture and fruit farms, but due to recent abnormal climate phenomena like El Niño, these fields have experienced a lot of difficulties.

The website reveals, “Based on experience accumulated in the testing phase, we plan on offering insurance coverage within several years for modern, large-scale fruit farms like Taedong River Integrated Fruit Farm and Kangwon Province’s Kosan Fruit Farm.”

In order to do this, the company has been performing risk appraisals since 2013 with international damage appraisers for each of the fruit farms. This suggests that it is keeping foreign reinsurance companies and contracts in mind.

The company offers fruit farms insurance coverage for a variety of calamities and natural disasters. It covers fruit trees in the event of drought, landslides, or fire; fruit in the event of hail, drought, excessive moisture, extreme heat, or fire; and the quality of fruit in the event of hail, heavy rain, or storms.

The provision of insurance for fruit farms is seen as an extension of North Korea’s ongoing efforts to earn foreign currency through insurance companies.

The fact that various insurance products are appearing in North Korea has attracted attention in the context of North Korea’s recent economic developments. Since Kim Jong Un came to power, the regime has tried to recognize and protect private property as the market economy has expanded through the growth of companies’ independent management rights and the expansion of private profits. Especially in the case of insurance companies, it is believed that the regime is trying to maximize profits by generating additional income through insurance premiums.

ORIGINAL POST (2015-8-17): Elizabeth Shim reports the following at UPI:

On Tuesday, Pyongyang’s Korea National Insurance Corp. posted on its website information on annual meetings held in each province. Issues of mobile phone insurance were discussed during the meetings, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.

The North Korean insurance firm said in statement that new businesses were being introduced to meet the increased demand for mobile phone insurance in Pyongyang and the provinces, South Korean television network SBS reported.

The mobile phone is becoming a central component of everyday life for many North Koreans, particularly for merchants who are on the road to sell wares around the country – but damage or loss of phones are raising the demand for insurance in the country.

Egyptian firm Orascom owns a 75 percent stake in North Korea’s main network, Koryolink, and offers services to 2.4 million North Koreans.

Other insurance mentioned include new policies for agriculture and protection plans for large-scale fruit farms by the Taedong River and in Kangwon province are being assembled, according to North Korea. The plans would provide protection against weather effects like “El Nino,” that is resulting in increased drought, torrential rain, high temperatures and other factors that are hurting crops.

The Korea National Insurance Corporation web page is here. Here are the two specific reports mentioned in the article:

Annual conference of provincial KNIC branches held

The annual conference of provincial branches of Korea National Insurance Corporation was held in Pyongyang on February 25th and 26th.

It was attended by head-office officials concerned and branch managers, and accountants thereof, of different provinces.

Its agenda involved review of last year’s insurance operations conducted by the provincial branches, and determination of their goals to be reached this year.

Great appreciation was shown in the conference for the branches including the ones in Pyongyang, North Hamgyong Province, Ryanggang and Jagang Provinces, all of which, last year, introduced new insurance products, like mobile phone insurance, into sale, and brought an increase in the number of the insureds and objects to result a rise in premium income, and made prompt indemnifications on a scientific basis thus contributing to the stabilization of operation, production of the insureds concerned and people’s lives, as well.

Stress was laid on adoption and development of effective business strategies plus further improvement and intensification of insurance operation upholding the slogan reading “ Let us all turn out in the general offensive to hasten final victory in the revolutionary spirit of Paektu!”, thus enhancing the role of insurance in line with the development of national economy and improvement of the livelihood of the people as befitting the significance of the year marking the 70th founding anniversary of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

Lectures were given on business practices involving accountancy and some insurance accounts during the conference.

Fruit Crop Insurance to be introduced in future

According to a far-reaching plan of Chairman Kim Jong Il and supreme leader Kim Jong Un to supply the people with fresh fruit in and out of season, Taedonggang Combined Fruit Farm had been built as the best integrated base for fruit production, keeping production going on a high level, and furthermore, Kosan Fruit Farm has been expanded as a large-scale fruit farm with the introduction of scientific, intensive and modernized methods into fruit production.

At present, the farms have boosted production by applying the densely planting method of dwarf fruit trees following the world-wide trend of fruit farming development and growing several kinds of fruit trees including high-grade apple, pear and peach as befits the specific conditions of our country.

They grow apple trees of Korean original varieties such as Hwangju, Pukchong and Unryul together with dwarf apple trees of more than a hundred of varieties including Granny Smith, Fuji and Golden Delicious,and meet their own demand for young saplings by growing them on their own.

However, there have frequently occurred abnormal weather phenomena due to El Nino in recent years, causing negative effects on agriculture and fruit farming in our country and its surrounding countries.

As far as fruit farming is so greatly influenced by the nature and terrain and weather conditions as agriculture, Korea National Insurance Corporation (KNIC) has intention of newly underwriting insurance contracts with fruit farms in our country so as to put production on a normal basis under the adverse weather conditions recently occurred.

The subject matter insured under Fruit Crop Insurance shall be fruit and fruit trees cultivated by fruit farms in DPRK, and the covered risks are as follows;

– Yield Loss Coverage

Drought, freezing, landslide, fire,

– Fruit Tree Loss Coverage

Hail, drought, excessive moisture, extreme heat, fire,

– Quality Loss Coverage

Hail, torrential rainfall and windstorm.

In 2013, KNIC conducted a risk survey on some fruit farms in our country in cooperation with international loss adjusters, and since then KNIC has underwritten insurance contracts with those farms.

KNIC, on the basis of practical experience gained at that pilot stage, shall cover against the risks mentioned above modernized and large-scale fruit farms including Taedonggang Combined Fruit Farm and Kosan Fruit Farm within a few years to come.

Although KNIC has a dubious history, today the group still posts regular financial information which (if accurate) would make it one of the most financially transparent organizations in the DPRK (Congrats to them for at least trying). See tables here, here, and here.

Previous posts on the Korean National Insurance Corporation here.

Once they figure out crop insurance, the next step should be a commodity futures market!

Read the full UPI story here:
North Korea to provide insurance for drought, lost phones
Elizabeth Shim


The drought that didn’t matter, North Korea says – thanks to agricultural reform?

Monday, August 10th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

During the past few months, the World Food Program (WFP) has made reoccurring pleas for increased food assistance to North Korea to alleviate the food shortages expected from a severe summer drought. The North Korean government made similar statements and claimed that the drought was the worst one to occur in 100 years. Aid to the country was subsequently increased from the originally planned level, due to the drought. But now, one North Korean official is saying that food production ended up increasing, after all, thanks to agricultural reforms.

A recent brief by the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University (IFES) cites a July issue of Tongil Sinbo, a North Korean state-run weekly newspaper. There, Chi Myong Su, director of the Agricultural Research Institute of the Academy of Agricultural Sciences in the country, says that

“the effectiveness of field management system (pojon) from cooperative farm production unit system (bunjo) is noticeable and succeeded in increasing grain production despite the adverse weather conditions.”

The article cited by IFES highlights the smaller work-team structure as key to the success of the reforms. Also, it almost outright states that greater economic incentives were the main factor (although they call it “enthusiasm” and “patriotism”):

“Despite the adverse weather conditions last year, the high grain yield was possible due to implementation of scientific farming methods and field management system to increase enthusiasm of farmers,” and “based on this experience, many cooperative farms across the country will expand subworkteam management system to field management system.”

This is interesting for several reasons.

First, the agricultural reforms seem increasingly pronounced. Though other reforms were reportedly backtracked earlier this year, the government seems eager to claim success for the road travelled in agriculture.

I have written elsewhere that the data doesn’t necessarily support a claim that reforms are working. There is still reason to be skeptical – after all, a North Korean government official claiming that his government’s policies are working is not surprising – but even the claim itself is interesting.

Second, the statement raises questions about monitoring and data gathering capacities, both of the regime and relief organizations in Pyongyang. Again, just a few months ago, alarm bells were ringing about a potential food shortage, and now, a regime official claims that food production has increased. What was the basis of the WFP and regime claims that a food shortage was imminent a few months ago, and what has changed since those claims were made?

Another recent IFES brief also deals with North Korean press reports about the agricultural reforms. It quotes a Rodong Sinmun article from earlier in the summer that brings up some adjustment problems that farmers have had, such as learning how to properly use fertilizers. The most interesting part in my opinion is the following:

The newspaper stressed that “when all farmers claim ownership of their field and subworkteam, one can create innovation in the farming operations.”

Thus, it seems like Pyongyang wants to encourage experimentation and diversity in production methods. This would be a potentially important step towards more efficient agriculture. Perhaps it is part of a pattern. Provinces have reportedly gotten significant leeway in setting up their respective special economic development zones, which could also be a way to encourage experimentation in policies and management methods.

According to the Tongil Sinbo article, reforms are set to expand further in the country given the alleged success. Perhaps it won’t be too long before we can learn more about them through assessments by multilateral organizations like WFP.


Friday fun: New stamps and wild speculation…

Friday, August 7th, 2015

Kim Jong-un has committed significant construction resources to improving the lives of children (particularly orphans) in the DPRK. Now you can share Kim Jong-un’s love of the children (sarcasm) with the people you know by collecting and sending stamps of the Songdowon International Children’s Camp and the new Pyongyang Baby Home and Orphanage:

STAMP-2015- Sondgowon-International-Children-Camp

STAMP-Pyongyang-Baby-Home Orphanage

Although the stamps are meant for foreign collectors, they are denominated as KPW 30. If the cost of a first class letter in the DPRK is 30 won, that translates into appx $.30 at the official rate and $.00375 at the black market rate (nearly 1/3 of a US penny).

But the Pyongyang Baby Home stamp booklet shows four stamps on a post card, so maybe the official price of sending a postcard is KPW120, or $1.20 at the official rate and $.015 at the black market rate. That seems a bit more reasonable, but it is still probably likely that, as in the USA, mail delivery is a drain on the government’s budget (subsidized activity). I wonder how hard it is to raise postal rates in the DPRK?

Luckily the Ministry of Post and Telecommunication (체신성) does not have to rely on the cabinet for its complete budget. There is always the international stamp-collecting market…and a small venture known as KoryoLink.

I also doubt that any of the money generated from the sale of these stamps actually goes to supporting the budgets of the Pyongyang Baby Home and Orphanage and Songdowon International Children’s Camp, but you never know.


DPRK emphasizes development of marine resources

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

According to KCNA:

Development of Marine Resources Spurred in DPRK

The development of marine resources has been pushed forward in a far-sighted way in the DPRK according to a new national strategy for developing marine resources.

The Ministry of Land and Maritime Transport, the Ministry of Fisheries and the State Hydro-meteorological Administration are paying deep attention to marine survey and observation and research into marine resources, while laying sound material and technical bases for them.

Researchers of Kim Il Sung University have made successes in the research into marine energy resources, marine information system and marine environmental protection. They are also pushing ahead with the research into searching for fishing ground on the East and West seas of Korea and the ocean and into aquaculture and marine mineral resources.

The establishment of a latest marine technology park progresses apace.

Kwak Il Hwan, secretary of the DPRK society for marine studies, told KCNA:

It is one of important national policies to protect and develop marine resources.

Students and citizens are encouraged to get more knowledge about the sea through different occasions like the Day of Sea (July 12) and months for maritime physical culture (July and August).

Big efforts have been paid to putting the research into marine resources on a higher scientific basis.

And here is coverage of the report by the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES):

Marine Development Projects Underway in North Korea

North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on July 24, 2015 that marine resource development projects, such as the establishment of an Advanced Marine Technology Development Zone, are currently being pursued in North Korea.

While KCNA reports that the establishment of the Advanced Marine Technology Development Zone is moving along, Choson Marine Association head clerk Kwak Il Hwan adds, “Protecting and increasing marine resources while actively developing and using them is becoming one of the state’s main policies.”

The news agency also revealed, “As a marine space resource, ports will be constructed, navigation channels will be developed, and there were will be tidelands and marine tourist spots; on the west coast it will become a tideland capable of development as well as a wealth of information.” This statement indicates that the Advanced Marine Technology Development Zone will be designated on the west coast.

“A training system for our country’s experts and engineers in the marine sector is in place, and a technological foundation for the development and use of marine resources, including research bases in each field all over the country, has been secured,” KCNA reported.

Along with this, the news agency revealed that in the Ministry of Land and Marine Transport, the Ministry of Fisheries, and the meteorological observatory, they are proceeding with projects like maritime studies, marine observations and research projects, and maintenance reinforcement work through material and technical means.

In addition, Kim Il Sung University is pushing for the effective development and use of marine resources, invigorating the exploration of fisheries, sea farming, a marine ecology and environmental information management system, the exploration of marine mineral resources, and collection research projects on the East and West coast and in ocean waters.

KCNA also revealed that research in areas like marine energy resource development, marine environment protection technology, and a marine information system are achieving results.


Choco Pies in North Korea (UPDATED)

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015


Pictured above (Source here): A Choco Pie wrapper in Pyongyang (October 2014)

UPDATE 6 (2015-7-14): The Daily NK reports that the DPRK’s ‘Choco Pie’ knock-off falls far short:

Daily NK has obtained a North Korean snack rolled out to squash demand for a popular South Korean treat that had first become a sensation among factory workers in the inter-Korean industrial complex and spread across the country. Known as ‘Chocolate Danseolgi,’ the snack displays a striking resemblance with the much-loved South Korean ‘Choco Pie’.

The new treat is said to have been produced to cut off fantasies about the capitalist world its workers may harbor.


Starting last month, North Korea has been providing its Kaesong factory workers with ‘Danseolgi’, according to a source who has ties with the North and passed on the new snack to Daily NK on the condition of anonymity. This comes after Pyongyang banned supplies of the famed ‘Choco Pie’ within the industrial complex last year, as they were being sold by the workers on the black market for good returns and gaining greater popularity across the country.

The South Korean ‘Choco Pie’ snack was first introduced to Kaesong workers in 2006. Due to its soaring popularity, many had come to develop a sense of curiosity or fantasies about the South, the source said. Seeing the chocolate cake snack with marshmallow filling win over so much love, Pyongyang set out to create an alternative in the hopes of choking off demand.

Last year, after banning ‘Choco Pie’ supplies, the North tried to force South Korean firms to provide its factory workers with a home-grown chocolate double-layered cake snack, and this year in March, it even rolled out a chocolate coated rice cake treat also similar to an existing South Korean product.

Despite these efforts, local goods have failed to take off, as Kaesong workers are already acquainted with tastes from South Korea and are only eating the ‘Danseolgi’ as they have no other choice, according to the source.

The treat is one of the “latest products” put out for Kaesong workers. “It was smuggled out of the country by way of a North Korean trader in the Rason Economic Special Zone who works with Chinese traders,” she explained.

“Currently in the North, the ‘Chocolate Danseolgi’ is being distributed to workers as supplies, and they’re not sold on North Korea’s regular markets,” she asserted. Every last ingredient used to make the snack, from the butter to the chocolate, is imported from China.

Predictably, Kaesong workers invariably far prefer the taste of the original chocolate snack from South Korea, the source said, adding, “North Korea will never be able to produce the South’s Choco Pie.”

One of Daily NK’s reporters who tried out the North Korean ‘Danseolgi’ described the snack as “decidedly lacking in chocolate flavor ” and “being overwhelmingly pungent of butter.” The wrapper claims to include marshmallow in the product, but our taste tester reported any semblance of its texture to be nonexistent and noted that the cake itself is incredibly prone to crumbling.

UPDATE 5 (2015-6-9): DPRK asks that all South Korean food served in the KIC be replaced by North Korean substitutes. According to Voice of America:

North Korea has asked South Korean businesses at the Kaesong industrial complex to replace all foodstuffs given to its workers at the inter-Korean park with North Korea-made products.

A representative of the South Korean businesses, who visited the complex Tuesday, told VOA’s Korean Service that South Korean companies began distributing North Korean substitutes for popular South Korean food supplies to the North Korean workers as early as March. Almost all South Korea-made food products have now been replaced with North Korean products.

Choco Pie, a popular South Korean snack cake, also has been replaced with a similar North Korea-made sweet. The chocolate covered cake with marshmallow filling has become one of the most popular items in the North’s black markets. Other North Korea-made foodstuffs given to the workers include instant noodles with chicken broth and condiments.

In an attempt to keep South Korean foodstuffs from the complex, the North is imposing an additional business tax on the companies for bringing in South Korea-made products. About 50 South Korean businesses supplying food for the complex face bankruptcy, according to representatives of the South Korean businesses.

Some business owners have expressed concern about the quality of North Korean foodstuffs. One representative said some workers are suffering from food poisoning after the switch.

A South Korean official who asked to remain anonymous told VOA the North Korean move is aimed at blocking the flow of South Korean products into the North and earning foreign currency.

South Korean companies have been providing about $60 per month in snacks to each North Korean worker. With approximately 53,000 workers at the complex, Pyongyang can now garner up to $3 million every month from the snack sales.

UPDATE 4 (2014-9-24): According to the Daily NK, workers in the KIC are receiving a different dessert than the Choco Pie now. Also, the Kumunsan Company is producing substitute goods, and they are winning over consumers:

[…] the once popular South Korean snack Choco Pie is seeing a decline in its asking price. In June, Pyongyang demanded that South Korean companies at the industrial complex stop distributing Choco Pies to workers there, as officials had found it problematic that North Korean workers were saving the snacks and selling them in the markets. More recently, the northern workers have been receiving Chaltteok Pie (찰떡) [a chocolate covered rice cake from the South], individually packaged coffee, yulmucha (율무차)[grainy tea made with Job’s Tears], and candy bars.

“In Pyongyang, at the ‘Geumeunsan Trade Company,’ (금운산, Kumunsan Trade Corporation) they have been baking bread for about a year,” the source said, adding, “Of all the different kinds of bread, the most popular are the ones with butter inside, and they are less than 1000 KPW– much cheaper than Choco Pie.”

The trade company is an affiliate of the Military Mobilization Department [Military Manpower Administration in South Korea], which deals with the procurement of military supplies among its many functions. They either directly import the goods or obtain them from military factories in various locations across the country, and oversee the manufacturing of military equipment and machinery.

Geumeunsan Trade Company maintains branches in multiple areas, including Rasun and Cheongjin, and the office in Pyongyang imports ingredients such as flour, sugar, and cooking oil directly from China. According to the source, the raw material prices are cheaper than in the  North’s markets, and the products taste good, allowing it to monopolize the confectionery market there.

“The company has brought in foreign equipment and technology, putting it ahead of the South’s Choco Pie in price and taste,” he said, concluding, “This is why with the introduction of these different breads in Pyongyang, the price of Choco Pie [from the South] has dropped to 500 KPW from 1,200 KPW.”

See also this story in Radio Free Asia.

Read the full story here:
Kaesong Goods Fetch Highest Market Prices
Daily NK
Seol Song Ah

UPDATE 3 (2014-7-1): Media reports claim that the DPRK has banned the use/possession of Choco Pies in the Kaesong Industrial Complex. According to the Washington Post:

By some estimates, as many as 2.5 million Choco Pies were traded monthly — though it’s unclear who exactly was so assiduously following Choco Pie markets.

Regardless of its volume, the trade will now surely be shrinking.

According to recent reports in the South Korean press, North Korean authorities have now banned the South Korean-produced Choco Pie at the Kaesong Industrial Complex following a lengthy crackdown on the chocolate treat that has made it scarce in Pyongyang.

Before, workers could pocket as many as 20 pies every night of work. But now, South Korean factory staff said they’ll instead get sausages, instant noodles, powdered coffee or chocolate bars as a bonus.

More information here and here.

UPDATE 2 (2013-9-20): Is the DPRK manufacturing a counterfeit Choc Pie? According to the Daily NK:


Pictured Above: Ryongsong Foodstuff Factory, Ryongsong District, Pyongyang (Google Earth)

The price of a North Korean own-brand “Choco Pie” fell to just 500 won in domestic markets following news that the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) was to reopen, Daily NK has learned. The local version of the chocolate snack, which is made by Orion in South Korea, had previously risen to 3000 won on the back of the protracted KIC closure.

A source in Pyongyang reported to Daily NK on the 19th, “Sometime around May, Yongseong [Ryongsong] Foodstuff Factory in Pyongyang started selling ‘Choco Pies’ in the markets. People hadn’t seen a Choco Pie since Kaesong stopped, so their reaction was really something.”

“People were surprised because the packets said ‘Choco Pie’ and ‘Choco Rice Cake’ [a similar product with a glutinous rice center], and they couldn’t tell the difference between them and those from the ‘neighborhood below’ [South Korea] unless they checked closely,” the source went on. “Sure, people could tell they weren’t the real thing as soon as they ate them, but they were still pretty satisfied.”

According to the source, after South Korean Choco Pies disappeared from North Korean markets following the closure of the KIC, domestic traders started looking into importing the original South Korean and similar Chinese versions of the popular treat. However, the cost and difficulty of doing so meant that very few ended up crossing the border.

Therefore, attention turned to domestic production. The source explained, “Production volumes were low at first, and the state tried to control the flow of the product into the markets. They were 500 won a piece at the end of the first month; but that had risen to 3000 won by the end of last month. But the price sank back down upon news of the KIC re-start.”

“As soon as Choco Pies stopped coming out of the KIC, Yeongsong Foodstuffs Factory moved quickly and must have made quite a bit of money,” he guessed. “They were trying to imitate the South Korean pies but the product was way too sweet, which is partly why the price collapsed on the news of Kaesong.”

Only 60% (32,000) of the pre-closure North Korean workforce (53,000) returned to work when the KIC re-opened for a “trial run” on September 16th. At the same time, South Korean businesses, many facing financial difficulties after five months of nonproductive shutdown, have reportedly reduced the quantity of Choco Pies and other snacks previously distributed to workers. It is unclear what effect these circumstances could have on the price of goods flowing out of the KIC over the longer term.

Read the full story here:
NK Choco Pie Price Falls on KIC News
Daily NK

UPDATE 1 (2011-10-31): According to the Daily NK, North Korean management in the Complex requested back in August that South Korean businesses stop offering ‘Choco-pies’ (a South Korean snack) to North Korean workers and give them cash instead.

ORIGINAL POST (2009-5-20): Donald Kirk has a must-read article in today’s Asia Times on the subtle ways that the Kaesong Industrial Zone is undermining Pyongyang’s control over the North Korean people.  He points out that the DPRK’s verbal attacks on South Korea, combined with demands for new land, labor, and road use contracts in the Kaesong complex, are an attempt to blame South Korea when Kim Jong-il finally closes the project.

Quoting from the article:

Think Choco Pie, the thick wafer-like confection, all pastry and cream, served in the Kaesong Industrial Complex as a daily dessert for the 40,000 North Koreans who toil for 100 South Korean companies with factories in the complex.

“North Koreans love Choco Pie,” said Ha Tae-keung, president of NK Open Radio, which beams two hours of news daily into North Korea from its base in Seoul. “It’s an invasion of the stomach.”

North Korean workers, and the friends and family members for whom they save their daily treats, may salivate over Choco Pie, but it’s giving a severe stomach ache to senior officials fearful of the infiltration of South Korean culture in all corners of their Hermit Kingdom.

Choco Pie – along with other favorite South Korean cakes and candies as well as instant coffee – has come to symbolize the image of the capitalist South as a multi-tentacle beast that may be impossible to digest.

For Kim Jong-il, suffering from diabetes, recovering from a stroke and hoping to survive a few more years while grooming his neophyte youngest son, in his mid-20s, to succeed him, the best way to deal with the Kaesong complex, 60 kilometers north of Seoul and just above the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas, may be to spit it out.

It’s for this reason, said Ha, that North Korea has precipitously scrapped the agreements under which South Korean companies operate in the complex, built and managed by Hyundai Asan, an offshoot of the sprawling South Korean Hyundai empire.

“He’s come to see Kaesong as a burden rather than an asset, and is inclined to shut it down,” said Ha.

While the Kim Jong il government focuses its attention on cultural infiltration from the South, there appears to be little it is doing, or can do, about cultural infiltration from China–the DPRK’s most significant trading and political partner to the north:

When it comes to South Korean cultural infiltration, however, North Korea has far more to fear from the entry of goods from China than from the Kaesong complex. South Korean DVDs and CDs, even soft-core porn movies made in the South, are now distributed surreptitiously throughout North Korea. Electronic gadgetry, MP3 and MP4 players, TV sets, radios and rice cookers, also shipped via China, are also available for those with the money to pay for them.

Read the full article here:
Pyongyang chokes on sweet capitalism
Asia Times
Donald Kirk


DPRK to hold local People’s Committees elections

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

UPDATE 1 (2015-7-4): Voter rolls displayed at constituencies, sub-constituencies for election of deputies to people’s assemblies. According to KCNA:

Constituencies and sub-constituencies for the election of deputies to the provincial (municipal), city (district) and county people’s assemblies have displayed voter rolls on Saturday.

The voter rolls were worked out, thoroughly pursuant to the Law on the Elections of Deputies to the People’s Assemblies at All Levels.

Registered there are all citizens with suffrage residing in the relevant areas.

The voters are confirming whether they are correctly registered.

ORIGINAL POST (2015-6-9): According to Yonhap:

North Korea said Tuesday that it plans to select deputies to local assemblies in mid-July for the first time since the North’s leader Kim Jong-un took power in late 2011.

Elections for deputies to provincial, city and county people’s assemblies will take place July 19, according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.

The elections are held every four years, and the number of seats is determined by the population of each area.

However, they are widely considered a formality as the candidates hand-picked by the ruling Workers’ Party are rubber-stamped into office.

The latest local elections were held in July 2011 when Kim was the communist nation’s heir-apparent.

Elected deputies hold a meeting once or twice every year to set their provinces’ budgets and draw up plans for law enforcement, experts said.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea to hold local elections in July