Archive for the ‘DPRK organizations’ Category

‘High-temperature air-combustion technology’ developed

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

At the Third Session of the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) held on April 9, Premier Pak Pong Ju of the DPRK Cabinet delivered a progress report on the Cabinet’s performance for the previous year and goals for this year. He said, “High-temperature air-combustion technology and other technologies that do not require the use of heavy oil should be introduced into various fields of the national economy.” As North Korea is a non-oil producing country, such technology would be beneficial. But whether this technology is possible requires careful consideration.

According to various state media reports, “high-temperature air-combustion technology” maintains the internal temperature of the furnace by combusting gas or liquid raw material into the air by heating it to high temperature, wherein high temperature needed at the time is acquired through the gasification of anthracite. Respectively, this technology is also called the high-temperature, air-combustion technology by the gasification of anthracite.

This technique is known as energy-saving advanced technology that manages the thermal efficiency which greatly lowers the heat loss that occurs from the used gas discharge. This technology is characterized by its wide range of application that includes heating of the metal factory that uses heavy oil as fuel, as well as glass melting furnace, furnace refractories (or kilns), pottery baking furnace, and heat treatment furnace.

For the production or heating of rolled steels, application of this technology allows for effective production without the use of heavy fuel oil.

Accordingly, the Ministry of Metal Industry has begun to implement projects with major metal industry enterprises such as Kim Chaek Iron and Steel Complex, Hwanghae Iron and Steel Complex, and Chollima Steel Complex. This technology is being introduced into various enterprises including all steel production process and refractories that use heavy oil.

In 2011, North Korea emphasized “vanguard technological breakthroughs” and constructed heating furnace equipped with high-temperature air combustion technology at the Kim Chaek Iron and Steel Complex for the commemoration of Kim Il Sung’s 100th birthday. It was widely publicized that introduction of this technology has put an end to the steel billets production system that uses heavy fuel oil.

In this regard, Rodong Sinmun reported on January 11 that Kaesong Insulator Factory in North Hamgyong Province succeeded in the complete domestic production of high-speed transfer switch and thermal mass which is the core of the high-temperature air-combustion technology. It also drew particular attention as the news touted that this was the first successful introduction of “large-scale continuous furnace.”

The newspaper boasted that, “the introduction of the high-temperature air combustion technology was introduced with a small investment into the heating furnace and kilns in each sector of the people’s economy,” and evaluated this as a result of “our capabilities and technology that proceeded in accordance with the principles of ‘our-style’ modernization.”

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North Korea to concentrate state budget towards economic construction

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

North Korea has drafted a budget that emphasizes improving the lives of its citizens and the establishment of an economic power this year.

The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that on April 9, 2015, North Korea held the 3rd Session of the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA), where authorities balanced accounts from last year’s spending and decided the budget for this year.

“This year the state budget was designed to further strengthen the self-defense capabilities of national defense while putting technology firmly at the front and bringing about a transformation in the building of an economic powerhouse,” North Korea’s head of the Finance Ministry, Ki Kwang Ho, explained at the session.

First, North Korea decided to raise the entire budget expenditures over last year by 5.5 percent to celebrate the 70th anniversary this October of the establishment of the Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK).

This year the national defense expenditures represent 15.9 percent of the budget, the same as last year. Meanwhile, authorities decided to increase investment in the technology sector over last year by 5 percent.

The following areas were also increased over last year: forestry (9.6 percent), basic construction (8.7 percent), physical education (6.9 percent), education (6.3 percent), culture (6.2 percent), general industry and light industry (5.1 percent), fisheries (6.8 percent), agriculture (4.2 percent) and health (4.1 percent).

Every aspect of the budget is designed to improve the citizens’ lives and further economic development. Finance Ministry Director Ki Kwang Ho explained, “[the budget] enables the state to raise the entire People’s economy and drastically improve the lives of the people while fully engaging in the forest restoration battle and the construction of monumental building projects.”

North Korea, however, did not disclose the full amount of the budget. Based on the budget, it is predicted that North Korea will concentrate state management this year on improving the people’s quality of life.

In his New Year’s address, First Chairman Kim Jong Un intimated his intentions to better the lives of the people through economic reform this year.

“We need to solve the people’s food issue through the three axes of agriculture, livestock and fisheries and bring the food situation to the next level […] We need to encourage businesses to be proactive and creative to take the lead in business activities,” he proclaimed in his address.

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Third session of 13th SPA held

Thursday, April 9th, 2015

According to KCNA (2015-4-9):

The Third Session of the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) of the DPRK took place at the Mansudae Assembly Hall Thursday.

Present there were deputies to the SPA.

Present there as observers were officials of the party, armed forces and power organs, social organizations, ministries and national institutions and those in the fields of science, education, literature and art, public health and media.

The participants observed a moment’s silence in memory of President Kim Il Sung and leader Kim Jong Il, founder and builder and eternal leaders of the DPRK.

Discussed at the session were “1. On the work of the DPRK Cabinet for Juche 103 (2014) and its tasks for Juche 104 (2015)”, “2. On summing up the fulfillment of the state budget of the DPRK for Juche 103 (2014) and its state budget for Juche 104 (2015)” and “3. Organizational matters”.

Deputy Pak Pong Ju, premier of the Cabinet, made a report on the first agenda item.

He said that last year the DPRK registered great successes in grain production, provided a guarantee for completing the stock-breeding base in Sepho area as a gift to the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea and built many monumental structures, icons of Juche architecture, through army-people coordinated operations.

It opened up a bright prospect for implementing the behests of Kim Jong Il on turning the Chongchon River into one of treasure and patriotism, made progress in developing economy and improving the people’s living standard by dint of science and technology and made great achievements in the fields of sports, education and public health, he noted.

It is the main tasks for this year to settle the food problem of the people with the farming, stock-breeding and fishery as the three thrusts, boost electricity production and put the metal industry on a Juche basis while taking it as the lifeline and key point to carry out the behests of Kim Jong Il and pushing forward them consistently, he said, referring to the concrete tasks.

Deputy Ki Kwang Ho made a report on the second agenda item.

The plan of state budgetary revenue for last year was over-fulfilled 1.6 percent, 6 percent increase over the previous year, the plan for state budgetary expenditure was carried out at 99.9 percent, and 46.7 percent of the total state budgetary expenditure was spent for the development of the national economy, 37.2 percent for the cultural field and 15.9 percent for national defence, he said.

The state budgetary revenue for this year will grow 3.7 percent over last year.

The state budgetary expenditure for this year will grow 5.5 percent over last year, 15.9 percent of total budgetary expenditure will be spent for national defence and bigger investment will be made to shore up the national economy and to improve the people’s living standard, he said.

Speakers said that the work of the Cabinet and the fulfillment of the state budget for last year have been reviewed correctly, clear-cut tasks for this year for improving the standard of people’s living and building an economic power have been advanced and the state budget was properly shaped to fully display the advantages of the socialist system. They expressed full support and approval of them.

They evinced the pledge to consolidate the political and military might of the country in every way, bring about fresh progress in all spheres of socialist construction and thus mark the 70th anniversaries of the WPK founding and the liberation of Korea as grand festivals of victors.

The session adopted a decision of the SPA of the DPRK “On approving the report on the work of the DPRK Cabinet and the summing up of the fulfillment of the state budget for Juche 103 (2014)” and an ordinance of the SPA of the DPRK “On the state budget of the DPRK for Juche 104 (2015)”.

Deputy Pak To Chun was recalled from member of the DPRK National Defence Commission due to his transfer to other post.

Deputy Kim Chun Sop was elected member of the DPRK NDC to fill a vacancy upon the authorization of Marshal Kim Jong Un.

KCNA also reports “SPA Session Reviews Cabinet Work Last Year and Advances Its Tasks for This Year“:

Deputy Pak Pong Ju, premier of the Cabinet, delivered a report on the work done by the Cabinet last year and tasks facing it this year at the Third Session of the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) of the DPRK Thursday.

According to the report, last year was a year of shining victories as the foundation for winning a final victory in all fields of building a thriving nation was consolidated and invincible might of Juche Korea was strikingly demonstrated under the wise leadership of Marshal Kim Jong Un.

Farming materials including chemical fertilizers, rice-seedling transplanting machines, mobile threshing machines, farm machine parts and oil were provided as planned last year, true to the intention of the party which set the agricultural field as a key field in the drive of pushing forward economic construction and improving the standard of people’s living and an outpost of defending socialism.

Pasture covering 50 000 hectares was created in the Sepho area and the work of securing livestock was pushed ahead simultaneously with the construction of structures and preparations for their operation to provide a guarantee for completing the stock-breeding base in Sepho area as a gift to the 70th anniversary of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

The Wisong residential district for scientists, Yonphung Rest Home for Scientists, Pyongyang Orphanage and Baby Home and lots of other monumental structures were built as icons of Juche-based architecture.

More than 1 000 valuable scientific and technological development projects were carried out.

The coal industry showed 28 percent increase in production over last year.

The production of cement jumped 12 percent over last year and that of various industrial indices including nitrogen fertilizer, salt and timber also went up.

Players of the DPRK bagged many gold medals at the 17th Asian Games and other international sports events, demonstrating the honor of the country. The popular policies of the party were implemented at a higher level in the fields of education and public health.

Referring to the tasks for this year, he stressed the need to consistently hold fast to the implementation of the behests of leader Kim Jong Il as a lifeline and the most important work. The main thrusts for this year are to organize the economic work with a main emphasis on solving the food problem of the people with agriculture, stock-breeding and fisheries as the three pivots, drastically increasing power production and putting metal industry on Juche basis, the reporter said.

He called for improving the production environment of the units associated with the leadership feats of President Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il and steadily raising their modernization level so as to continue glorifying their undying feats.

It is important to thoroughly carry out the party’s strategic line on simultaneously developing economic construction and the building of a nuclear force and provide equipment, raw materials and funds necessary for the combat readiness of the People’s Army and the defence industry in a responsible manner and thus actively contribute to bolstering up the defence capabilities.

Investment in the field of science and technology should be increased and efforts be concentrated on solving scientific and technological problems urgently required by reality including key state projects for the development of science and technology.

Scientific farming methods should be actively introduced into the agricultural field and drive of securing and saving water should be conducted and such farming materials as chemical fertilizers, rice seedling transplanting machines, rolled steel, farm machine parts and oil be satisfactorily provided.

Ministries, national institutions and provincial people’s committees should complete flawlessly and qualitatively the construction of dwelling houses, pens of domestic animals, public buildings, pavement of roads and creation of windbreaks by the 70th anniversary of the WPK. The management of modern stock-breeding bases, fish breeding bases, greenhouses and mushroom production bases in different parts of the country should be put on normal footing and production be boosted there.

In the fisheries field fishing boats and fishing tackle should be modernized and scientific fishing methods be actively introduced to haul fishes all the year round.

In the field of light industry, local supply of raw and other materials should be actively pushed forward and their production be markedly boosted to provide the people with more consumer goods.

A decisive measure should be taken to provide equipment and materials needed for thermal power plants and coal mines on a top priority basis.

The power stations in tiers on the River Chongchon, Paektusan Songun Youth Power Station, Ryesonggang Power Station, Orangchon Power Station and other hydroelectric power stations that were planned by Kim Jong Il should be completed in a short span of time.

Efforts should be focused on further rounding off the work of putting metal industry on a Juche basis.

In the chemical industrial field, production should be put on a normal footing at Juche fertilizer and Juche fiber production bases.

High temperature air combustion technology and other technologies that do not require the use of heavy oil should be introduced into various fields of the national economy.

Sustained great efforts should be directed to reenergizing the production in the vanguard sectors and key industries of the national economy such as railway transport, mining, forestry and machine-building industry.

All the fields and units should turn out in the drive of restoring forests and work hard to turn the mountains of the country into those in thick verdure full of nuts and fruits. Substantial work should be conducted to turn Pyongyang into the hub and model of Songun culture and a world class city and to spruce up provincial, city and county seats so that they may preserve their local characteristics.

The work to drastically improve education in the new century should be actively pushed forward, enthusiasm for sports should be raised higher and lots of fine literary pieces be created to encourage all people in the general offensive for glorifying the grand October festivals.

The reporter called on all the officials in the field of economic guidance to thoroughly carry out the important tasks set forth by Kim Jong Un in the New Year Address and at the enlarged meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea and fulfill their responsibilities and duties in the general offensive this year marking the 70th anniversaries of the WPK and the liberation of Korea.

Finally, KCNA reports “SPA Session Reviews Implementation of State Budget for 2014 and Sets forth State Budget for 2015“:

Deputy Ki Kwang Ho, minister of Finance, made a report on the review of the fulfillment of the state budget of the DPRK for Juche 103 (2014) and the state budget for Juche 104 (2015) at the Third Session of the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly on Thursday.

According to the report, the plan of state budgetary revenue for last year was over-fulfilled 1.6 percent, 6 percent increase over the previous year.

The local plan for budgetary revenue was carried out at 122.2 percent and the plan for state budgetary expenditure at 99.9 percent.

46.7 percent of the total budget was spent for the development of the national economy.

37.2 percent of the total state budgetary expenditure was spent for the cultural field including education, public health, sports and literature and art.

15.9 percent of total expenditure was directed to national defence.

The state budgetary revenue and expenditure for this year have been shaped in such a way as to bolster up the capabilities for self-defence and effect a turn in building a socialist economic power and a highly civilized nation by giving definite precedence to science and technology.

The state budgetary revenue will grow 3.7 percent over last year; transaction revenue is expected to swell 2. 6 percent, revenue from the profits of state enterprises 4.3 percent, revenue from the profits of cooperative organizations 3. 2 percent, real estate rent 0.7 percent, social insurance fee 2.8 percent, revenue from sale of properties and price differential 1.4 percent, revenue from other sources 0.8 percent and revenue from economic trade zones 3.6 percent.

The national budgetary revenue will account for 79 percent and the local budgetary revenue 21 percent of the state budgetary revenue. Provinces, cities and counties are expected to ensure expenditure with the revenue from local sources and provide profits to the national budget.

The national budgetary expenditure is expected to grow 5.5 percent over last year for focusing investment in augmenting the national power, developing science and technology and undertaking the projects for fulfilling the grandiose plan of the party so as to financially guarantee the general advance for greeting the grand October festival with labor achievements.

15.9 percent of total expenditure will be spent for national defence.

The allocation of funds for the field of science and technology is expected to go up 5 percent.

4.2 percent more financial disbursement will be made for the agricultural field, 6.8 percent more for the fisheries field, 5.1 percent more for the industrial field including light industry and vanguard fields of the national economy, 8.7 percent more for capital construction and 9.6 percent for the forestry field to shore up the national economy as a whole, bring about a turn in improving the people’s living standard and wage a dynamic drive for the building of monumental edifices and reforestation.

Expenditure for education goes up 6.3 percent, that for public health 4.1 percent, that for sports 6.9 percent and that for culture 6.2 percent so as to provide a financial guarantee for the drive for bringing about a turn in building a highly civilized socialist state.

A large amount of funds will be sent as educational aid fund and stipends for the children of Koreans in Japan this year, too.

The reporter stressed that the Korean people faced with huge tasks this year but the DPRK is sure to emerge victorious as there are the tested and seasoned leadership of the Workers’ Party of Korea, invincible revolutionary spirit and fighting spirit and the army and people full of revolutionary and patriotic enthusiasm.

Here is a summary in Yonhap:

 

Additional information:

1. 38 North offers analysis by Ruediger Frank and Alexandre Mansourov.

2. The Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES) offered two reports.

3. Here is coverage in the Daily NK.

4. Here is coverage in Yonhap.

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2015 Kaesong wage fight (UPDATED)

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

In 2011, Kaesong workers officially received their 5th consecutive annual pay increase. In 2012, they “received” their 6th consecutive pay increase. In 2013 there was no pay increase because Pyongyang closed the complex down in a dispute with the South Koreans. In 2014, work resumed at the complex and Kaesong workers “received” a 5% pay increase, but Pyongyang wanted a 10% to make up for the 2013 year (in which they closed the complex). Now it looks like Pyongyang is raising tensions (unjustifiably in my opinion) to recover a “pay increase” they feel they are owed.

For those new to this topic, I should point out that we are not talking about wages paid to North Korean workers. We are talking about US dollar balances (cash) that are given directly by South Korean firms to the North Korean government. The North Korean government keeps all of the hard currency and pays its workers in local currency. That said, The North and South Koreans still officially refer to “wages” (even though they are nothing of the sort), so I will as well.

I am chronicling this developing story in periodic updates below.

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UPDATE 9 (2015-4-1): S. Korea not budging on Kaesong wage row (Yonhap):

South Korea said Wednesday it will ask the country’s firms at the Kaesong Industrial Complex in writing not to succumb to North Korea’s pressure to raise wages for its workers.

The unification ministry said it will soon send a formal letter to 124 South Korean firms operating in the zone just north of the inter-Korean border.

The move comes as the companies, mostly small and medium-sized, will begin to pay March’s wages to around 53,000 North Korean employees on April 10.

In February, the North decided unilaterally to revise a set of labor rules that included the elevation of the minimum wage for its workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex from US$70.35 to $74 starting in March.

The South has rejected the North’s decision, saying the wage issue should be decided through bilateral discussions.

It has urged the South’s firms in Kaesong not to follow the North’s measure.

“We plan to send an official letter to them in order to again make clear the government’s stance on the matter,” Unification Ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-cheol said.

He added there has been no progress yet in efforts to hold talks with North Korea to discuss the issue.

Here is coverage in the Hankyoreh.

UPDATE 8 (2015-3-18): South Korean business owners have crossed into the Kaesong complex to complain about Pyongyang’s unilateral wage increase. According to the Financial Times:

On Wednesday more than a dozen businessmen representing about 120 companies visited Kaesong, about 10km north of the border, to voice their concerns about the move, amid growing concerns about the future of the joint economic project

“The unilateral change of labour rules is a problem,” said Chung Ki-sup, head of the council of the South Korean businesses operating in Kaesong, ahead of the 14-member delegation’s arrival in the North. “But this can be easily resolved when dialogue resumes.”

Mr Chung said the North’s stance might in part be a reaction to Seoul’s refusal to ban North Korean defectors and rightwing civic groups from sending anti-North leaflets across the border.

Experts say the wage disputes are unlikely to lead to another closure of the industrial complex, but the problems have renewed scepticism over the merits of the project.

“The disputes are unlikely to be resolved anytime soon,” said Park Hyung-joong, researcher at Korea Institute for National Unification. “Pyongyang wants to use Kaesong as a political bargaining chip when inter-Korean relations are not good. So the complex will remain exposed to political problems, but closing it carries too big political risks for both sides.”

Here is coverage in the Daily Mail and Yonhap.

UPDATE 7 (2015-3-17): The DPRK has tried circumventing the South Korean government to reach out to the Kaesong firms themselves. According to Arirang News:

In an unprecedented move, North Korea asked the heads of South Korean companies operating at the inter-Korean industrial complex in Kaesong to gather for a meeting that was scheduled for earlier in the day.

No specifics about the meeting were announced and the South Korean government asked the company heads. not to respond to Pyongyang’s call.

Instead, the South Korean government held a meeting in Seoul this afternoon with most of the leaders of companies from the complex.

Seoul discussed possible countermeasures and urged the leaders not to abide by Pyongyang’s one-sided demands.

Watchers believe the meeting was Pyongyang’s way of pressuring the South Korean companies to go along with its unilateral decision to raise wages for its workers from a little over 70 U.S. dollars to 74 dollars a month and revise labor regulations.

UPDATE 6 (2015-3-12): The DPRK rejects South Korea’s call for talks on Kaesong wages. According to Yonhap:

North Korea claimed Thursday its decision to raise wages for its workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex is a legitimate measure under its sovereignty, dimming hopes of an early resolution to disputes between the two Koreas over the issue.

The North’s Central Special Development Guidance Bureau, which is in charge of operating the complex, made clear that it is not a matter to be decided through consultations with the South’s government.

Last month, Pyongyang notified Seoul of its unilateral decision to elevate the minimum wage from US$70.35 to $74 starting in March. It also said it would collect 15 percent of their basic wage plus overtime payments as “social security.” Currently, the South’s firms pay 15 percent of the basic wage alone.

The South strongly protested against the decision, suggesting that the two sides hold dialogue on March 13 to discuss the problem.

Officials here emphasized that the two Koreas have agreed to decide every issue related with the operation of the joint venture through mutual consultations.

The decision on the wage hike is a “normal and legitimate” exercise of the North’s legislative rights, the bureau’s spokesman told Pyongyang’s propaganda website, Uriminzokkiri.

It’s not a subject for bargaining with the South, he added.

It makes no sense, he added, for the North to hold talks with the South at a time when it is staging a war rehearsal with joint military drills with the United States on the peninsula.

He argued that wages for the North’s workers in Kaesong are still low for their heightened skills and productivity and in comparison with the wage level in special economic zones in other nations.

UPDATE 5 (2015-3-11): Throwing fuel on the fire of this mess, the North and South Koreans are required to resolve real estate rental rates this year. There will be no practical way to resolve this issue independently of the ongoing wage dispute. According to Yonhap:

When the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the North’s border town of the same name started operations in 2004, Seoul agreed with Pyongyang to pay the rent for the North Korean land used by South Korean companies from 2015 after negotiations on the amount.

In November, the North’s Central Special Development Guidance Bureau in charge of the industrial complex notified its South Korean counterpart of its intention to start talks on the rent issue, according to the officials.

But the negotiations are widely expected to face a bumpy road, given a wide opinion gap shown in the countries’ previous exchanges on the issue.

In 2009, the North attempted to collect up to US$10 of rent per 3.3 square meters of land, but it faced strong opposition from South Korea, so the plan was dropped immediately.

Following the North’s notification in November, Seoul has decided not accept such a level of rent as put forth by the North in 2009, which could further mount the inter-Korean tension over the factory complex down the road, according to the officials.

The joint Kaesong factory park is already at the center of an inter-Korean feud after the North announced last month its unilateral decision to raise the minimum wage of North Korean workers in the park from US$70.35 to $74 starting with their March wages.

Seoul, however, rejected the wage increase decision and said it will punish any South Korean firms complying with the North Korean demand.

April 10 is feared to become a watershed in the inter-Korean tension over the Kaesong park as South Korean firms will start paying March wages that day.

South Korean officials have previously said that the North could take extreme measures, such as the withdrawal of its workers from the complex in a bid to increase pressure on the issue.

UPDATE 4 (2015-3-9): South Korea not happy with the DPRK’s moves on Kaesong. According to Yonhap:

South Korea’s unification ministry issued a strongly-worded statement Monday against North Korea’s attitude on their joint venture in Kaesong, calling again for immediate dialogue to resolve pending problems.

It’s “deeply regrettable” that the North is not responding to Seoul’s offer of talks to discuss Pyongyang’s unilateral decision to raise wages for its workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, said the ministry.

“It’s questionable whether (the North) has the will for the development of the complex as the two sides agreed,” its spokesman Lim Byeong-choel said, reading out the statement at a press briefing.

The North is violating an inter-Korean agreement and rules to decide all issues related to the operation of the Kaesong zone, including working conditions, added Lim.

Last month, the communist nation announced a 5.18-percent hike in the minimum wage for its workers in the zone to US$74 a month starting in March.

“The government can never accept such a unilateral measure by North Korea,” the official said. “The government will take every necessary step for the development of the Kaesong Industrial Complex and the protection of (the South’s) firms there.”

He urged Pyongyang to hold talks with the South on Friday as proposed.

Launched in 2004 in the North’s border town, the zone is home to about 120 South Korean firms, mostly small and medium-sized, which employ more than 53,000 North Korean workers.

The South’s government has advised the companies not to comply with the North’s decision on the wage level.

UPDATE 3 (2015-3-4): South Korean government holding meeting with stakeholders to determine response to DPRK. According to Yonhap:

The South Korean government said Wednesday it will hold a round-table meeting this week with the heads of local firms operating in the Kaesong Industrial Complex to discuss how to handle North Korea’s unilateral decision to raise the wages of its workers there.

The unification ministry is scheduled to hold the meeting with the council of relevant companies at its headquarters in Seoul at 5 p.m. on Thursday, said ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-cheol. The ministry is in charge of inter-Korean relations.

“We plan to review measures regarding the recent situation,” he said at a press briefing. “Along with related government officials, Chung Ki-sup, head of the council, and about 10 other representatives will attend (the meeting).”

Another ministry official also said the meeting is intended “to share the government’s position on the matter and listen to the opinion of the firms.”

Last week, the North announced it would raise the minimum wage for its workers in the zone by 5.18 percent to US$74 a month starting in March.

South Korea said it cannot accept a decision made without mutual consultation.

The ministry spokesman said the North has not responded yet to the South’s offer of talks on the Kaesong complex on March 13.

“The government will continue to urge North Korea to hold consultations between the authorities of the two sides, which are essential for the development of the Kaesong Industrial Complex,” Lim said.

The North is apparently aware that both sides have already agreed to resolve every problem related to the operation of the joint venture, he added.

UPDATE 2 (2015-2-26): According to Yonhap:

North Korea has notified South Korea of its unilateral decision to raise the minimum wage for its workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex by 5.18 percent, the unification ministry said Thursday.

In a fax message sent Tuesday, the North said it would increase the minimum wage from $70.35 to $74 starting on March 1, a ministry official told reporters.

In addition, the North announced that it would collect 15 percent of their basic wage plus overtime payments as “social security,” he said. Currently, the South’s firms pay 15 percent of the basic wage alone.

The North Korean workers’ average wage amounted to $141.4 per month in 2014, according to the ministry’s data.

Under Pyongyang’s plan, South Korean firms will have to pay $164 on average for a North Korean worker a month, up 5.53 percent from the current $155, said the official.

He stressed that the South’s government can’t accept the North’s move.

“The two sides are supposed to set wages for workers at the complex and other working conditions through mutual consultations,” he said. “The government will advise our firms to pay the current level of wages until the issue is settled through consultations between the related authorities of the two sides.”

Those companies are scheduled to pay March wages for the North’s workers between April 10-20.

Earlier Thursday, the South attempted to deliver a protest letter, but the North refused to receive it, said the official.

“It’s very regrettable that the North shows such an attitude,” he said.

About 120 South Korean garment and other labor-intensive plants employ more than 53,000 North Koreans at the complex, which was created in 2004.

UPDATE 1 (2014-12-09): North Korea amends Kaesong Industrial Complex labor regulations, lifts wage increase limit. According to the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES):

According to a December 5th report of North Korea’s propaganda media Uriminzokkiri, the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly reached a decision on November 20 to revise the Act on the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC).

It reported that ten provisions in the Kaesong worker regulations were revised including the 5 percent ceiling on annual wage increase to the minimum wage.

North Korea’s General Bureau for Central Guidance on the Development of the Special Zone delivered the notice in writing to the Kaesong Industrial Complex Management Committee on December 8, stipulating that 13 provisions were revised. Out of the 49 total provisions, the 13 provisions that were modified pertain to the function of the KIC Management Committee and the wage system.

According to the decision, North Korea elucidated the labor and wage regulations will be unilaterally directed by the General Bureau, dismissing the authority of the KIC Management Committee. Furthermore, the clause that depicts the minimum wage of USD 50.00 and limit of 5 percent wage increase were deleted. Instead, the revised provisions prescribe that the General Bureau will make the decision every year.

In addition, overtime pay will be increased from the current 50 percent to between 50 to 100 percent. Furthermore, workers who have worked for more than a year will be eligible for severance pay, regardless of the condition of their leave. The previous clause stated severance pay was to be paid only when the termination incurred from “circumstance of the company”; but this condition has been deleted from the revised clause, and pay must now be given even for voluntary leave. Also removed was the provision that states the wage should be paid directly to the employee in cash.

Meanwhile, the South Korean government made a statement disproving the recent modifications to the KIC regulations. The South Korean government is refuting North Korea’s decision based on the fact that it was a unilateral decision by the North without consulting the joint committees of the KIC. The South is affirming its position to strongly counter against the North’s one-sided decision.

Revision of the labor regulations of the KIC is regarded as a violation to the general agreement that undermines the stability and the credibility of the KIC regulations. Such labor regulations clearly violate the inter-Korean agreements on wage system and various labor and tax systems newly reached by the various institutions in the North-South Joint Committee of the KIC after the KIC was restarted last year.

The current minimum wage of a KIC worker is USD 70.30, which reaches up to an average of USD 150.00 per month after various incentives are included. Each company is paying a total of USD 210.00 per employee where 15 percent of the minimum wage is allocated to social insurance, transportation, and snack costs.

North Korea has persistently demanded for a wage increase. North Korean employees dispatched to China’s Dandong City are paid an average of USD 300.00 per month. Thus, the recent move by North Korea can be seen as a move to raise the minimum wage at the KIC to a similar level. In addition, this move can be interpreted as North Korea’s intention to maximize economic gain by taking unilateral action toward tenant companies in the KIC.

ORIGINAL POST (2014-12-9): In 2011, Kaesong workers received their 5th consecutive annual “pay increase”. In 2012, they received their 6th consecutive pay increase. In 2013 there was no pay increase because Pyongygang closed the complex down in a dispute with the south Koreans. In 2014, Kaesong workers received a 5% pay increase, but Pyongyang wanted a 10% to make up for the 2013 year (in which they closed the complex!). Now it looks like Pyongyang is signaling that it intends to unilaterally raise wages.

According to Yonhap:

South Korea is scrutinizing North Korea’s unilateral decision to amend a number of wage-related clauses at the jointly operated Kaesong Industrial Complex, an official said Tuesday.

As soon as a review of the North’s demands are finished, the government will take appropriate steps, the unification ministry official told reporters.

“We are in the process of reviewing and analyzing the contents revised by the North,” he said on background.

The South and the North have an agreement over 49 items in place on the working conditions for around 53,000 North Korean workers in the zone.

Without prior consultations with the South, the North announced its decision to revise 13 of them, which include scrapping a 5-percent cap on the annual minimum wage increase rates, easing qualifications for severance pay and strengthening the authority of the North’s agency in charge of running the complex, according to the official.

North Korean workers’ wages have jumped 5 percent every year since 2007. North Korean workers are currently paid US$70.35 each month. If various allowances and incentives are counted, wages reach $130, reportedly about 50 percent higher than the average income of workers in North Korea.

Read the full story here:
S. Korea reviewing NK move over Kaesong workers’ wages
Yonhap
2014-12-9

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North Korean cabinet adopts forest restoration resolution

Thursday, March 12th, 2015

According to the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES):

North Korea’s official news agency, Korean Central News Agency reported on March 7, 2015 that the North Korean Cabinet has adopted a resolution to support national forest restoration activities.

According to the news agency, the Cabinet recently “announced this decision, which they adopted to fully mobilize the entire party, military, and citizenry in the forest restoration battle.”

The resolution states that the General Bureau of Forestry of the Ministry of Land and Environment Preservation will procure the funds necessary for forest restoration and that the State Planning Committee, General Bureau of Forestry of the Ministry of Land and Environment Preservation, as well as other agencies such as the forestry and agriculture ministries, will draft a concrete plan.

The directive also set up a management system including a supervisory and regulatory task for forest conservation, and it urged for cooperation between county residents and the development of scientific technology in the forestry sector.

In accordance with First Chairman of the National Defence Commission Kim Jong Un’s guidelines, since last year North Korea has repeatedly drawn attention to the precarious state of the country’s forests and has been encouraging tree-planting and nature conservation.

Welcoming ‘Tree-Planting Day’ on March 2, Kim Jong Un also revealed North Korea’s plans to begin an intense forestation restoration campaign. The leader spoke directly regarding this effort, saying, “Forests are a precious resource of our country and a great treasure that we must bequeath to future generations […] However, since the ‘Arduous March,’ people, while saying that they are procuring firewood and provisions, have recklessly damaged our forests, and since the country could not even erect a forest fire prevention measure, our country’s precious forest resources have been greatly reduced.”

In addition, while referencing issues like the drought and damage incurred during the rainy season due to the deforestation, Kim Jong Un emphasized patriotism: “If the country’s forests are not currently beyond repair, they lie at the crossroads of recovery.”

Ordering the complete restoration of forests within 10 years, Kim added that “The entire party, military, and citizenry need to fully engage in a forest restoration battle to make the green forests in the Motherland’s mountains lush.”

Following this, ‘Tree-Planting Day’ was held as an extensive tree-planting event, and Kim Jong Un encouraged the people to plant many saplings in the central tree nursery and regional tree nurseries.

In addition he stressed the importance of the forest conservation work and ordered the supervision and regulation of forest development and conservation through means such as the prohibition of reckless logging, forest fire prevention measures, and the provision of firewood.

On March 2, 2015, Rodong Sinmun reported that Kim Jong-un had given a talk on forestry. You can download a PDF of the talk here.

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Railways Profit on “donju” cash

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

According to the Daily NK:

The North Korean railway system, a popular form of public transportation, is the latest mechanism through which the authorities are raking in profits. Railway officials are charging more than 100 times the regular state price for tickets on the most popular routes– a move specifically targeting the donju [new affluent middle class] and their money.

“Following orders handed down from the Ministry of Railways, diesel engines started towing train cars at the beginning this year, allowing the trains to run on time,“ a source in North Hamkyung Province reported to Daily NK on March 4th. “Previously it was hard to operate the 23~24 trains, which run between Pyongyang and Chongjin, due to shortages of electricity. However, this problem was solved by utilizing diesel engines that replaced the electric trains.”

He went on to explain that diesel engines, free from reliance on electricity, allow trains to depart and arrive on time despite shortages in power. Needless to say, this reliable option is extremely popular, particularly among those reliant on them to do business, which the railways are using to their advantage by charging exorbitant fees for their services.

“A limited number of tickets for these trains are sold in the official railway offices for 1,300 KPW [10 RMB] to regular customers. But it’s all a facade. Behind the scenes, dozens of women are being mobilized to sell tickets for 100 times the actual price,” he said. “It’s already difficult enough for most travelers to purchase tickets for a train bound for Chongjin from Pyongyang, and now the only real option is to get them on the black market, where the cost is exponentially higher.”

In this burgeoning black market arena, ticket prices have skyrocketed 100 RMB [135,000 KPW] and make up 80% of total sales; only 20% of ticket sales take place at official train station ticketing offices. Areas surrounding the stations are filled with female brokers selling tickets, who, according to the source, constantly holler out, “Get your ticket for the express train—100 RMB!”

For the donju, trains serve as an integral part of their business operations–and time is money. “Trains other than the Pyongyang-Chongjin train take more than fifteen days to travel 800 km,” the source explained. “Late last month, it took a 9~10 train from Pyongyang bound for Musan twenty days to arrive at its destination.”

The 7~8 train, which runs from Pyongyang to the Tumen River, was originally an international express bound to Russia, while the 9~10 train transported civil servants to various locations for international business trips. The 23~24 train, however, is the most widely used train in modern North Korea, designated specifically for business purposes since the proliferation of market activity at the start of the 21st century.

Read the full story here:
Railways Profit on Donju Cash
Daily NK
Choi Song Min
2015-3-5

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On the 349 slogans (not 310)–and the politburo meeting resolution

Friday, February 13th, 2015

Yesterday nearly every major media outlet reported that the DPRK had published 310 new slogans. This was inaccurate. The DPRK published 349 slogans. Here they are numbered in a PDF document. You might marvel that I would go and count them like this, but it was not that hard. Another friend told me there were 375, and he was also wrong.

Here is what Yonhap had to say about the slogans:

North Korea’s key governing party organs have released a set of campaign slogans calling for painstaking efforts to improve the livelihoods of its citizens, Pyongyang’s state media said Thursday.

The Central Committee and the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea announced the 310 slogans [ACTUALLY 349] to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the country from the 1910-45 Japanese colonial rule as well as the founding of the governing party, according to the Korea Central News Agency (KCNA).

Noteworthy among the long list were calls to shore up the North Korean economy and enhance the livelihoods of the country’s citizens.

Among the slogans calling for livelihood enhancement was, “Make tireless efforts with an extraordinary determination to resolve the problems of the people’s living at any cost!,” according to the KCNA.

The slogans also stressed the regime’s willingness to mend ties with South Korea.

“It is a long-cherished desire of all the fellow countrymen and an urgent task of the nation to put an end to the tragedy of national division that has lasted 70 years,” one of the slogans read.

Lately, the North has shown signs of attempts to thaw long-standing tension with Seoul, with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un expressing his desire to open inter-Korean talks during his New Year’s address earlier this year.

North Korea often announces such slogans encompassing all sectors of society on special occasions, hinting at the communist country’s policy direction going forward.

But more importantly, today (February 13th) KCNA announced a meeting and resolution of the KWP’s politburo:

On February 10, Juche 104 (2015), the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea met in Pyongyang, capital of the revolution.

Attending the meeting were members of the Presidium of, and members and alternate members of, the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

The meeting adopted a resolution of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, titled, “On Greeting the 70th Anniversaries of the Founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the Liberation of the Country as Revolutionary, Auspicious Events of Songun Korea Which Is Prospering under the Leadership of the Great Party.”

The resolution stated that our Party, army and people will greet before long the 70th anniversaries of the founding of the glorious Workers’ Party of Korea and the liberation of the country in a meaningful way.

A grand celebration of the anniversaries will constitute an important occasion for exalting the brilliance of the immortal exploits performed by the great Comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, who achieved the historic cause of national liberation, founded a revolutionary party of the Juche type and led our revolution along the road resplendent with victory, and for demonstrating the high prestige and militant might of our Party, which is adorning the new century of the Juche era with proud victories and prosperity.

Holding fast to the banner of independence, the great Comrade Kim Il Sung defeated the brigandish Japanese imperialists by fighting a bloody war for 20 years and thus achieved the historic cause of national liberation; and on the basis of the organizational and ideological groundwork of building a party and the glorious revolutionary traditions created in the flames of the anti-Japanese revolution, he founded a revolutionary party of the Juche type, the Workers’ Party of Korea.

By enhancing the leadership role of the Party in the revolution and construction, he led to victory the Fatherland Liberation War, postwar reconstruction and two stages of social revolution, built the people-centred socialist system of our own style, achieved socialist industrialization of our country from scratch, and turned it into a powerful socialist country, which is independent, self-supporting and self-reliant in national defence.

The great Comrade Kim Jong Il formulated ComradeKim Il Sung’s revolutionary ideology as Kimilsungism and developed our Party into an ideologically pure and organizationally integrated body in which monolithic ideological and leadership systems are firmly established, into a motherly party which has formed a harmonious whole with the masses and serves them, into a seasoned and experienced party which is possessed of a high level of leadership art, and into a promising party which has definitely been assured of the leadership being inherited.

In the days of the Arduous March and forced march, when our people and revolution faced the worst-ever hardships and trials, he developed our Party into the guiding force of the Songun revolution, firmly safeguarding the sovereignty of our country and nation, developing our motherland into a single-heartedly united politico-ideological power and into an invincible military giant, which no formidable enemy dares to provoke, and kindling the flames of the industrial revolution in the new century to lay a firm foundation on which we can effect a great leap forward, great innovations, in building our country into an economic giant.

The exploits of the great Comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, who laid an eternal cornerstone for the victorious advance of our country and revolution by leading the cause of building a party of the Juche type and a prosperous country along the road resplendent with victory, will shine for all ages to come.

It is the steadfast will of the respected Comrade Kim Jong Unto further develop our Party and our Republic, which were founded by Comrade Kim Il Sung and led by him and Comrade Kim Jong Il, into the party and state that will shine forever together with the ideas and august names of the great leaders.

By formulating Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism as the eternal guiding ideology of our Party and revolution, he has provided a fundamental guarantee for developing ours into the party of the great Comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, and under the unfurled banner of modelling the whole society on Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism, he is wisely leading to victory the showdown with the United States and the building of a thriving nation.

Under his outstanding and seasoned leadership, the prestige and authority of our Party are being raised remarkably, and the history and tradition of victory of heroic Korea are being carried forward to the hilt, and the cause of building a thriving nation is advancing full of vigour despite the incessant moves of the imperialist reactionaries to isolate and suffocate our country.

The respected Comrade Kim Jong Un said:

“We must hold up the great Generalissimos Kim Il Sung andKim Jong Il as the eternal leaders of our Party and people, as the sun of Juche, and step up modelling the whole society on Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism so as to build on this land a dignified, thriving socialist country, a powerful Paektusan nation, as wished by the great Generalissimos.”

All Party members, service personnel and people, rallied behind the Party ring after ring under the slogan “Let us all turn out in the general offensive to hasten final victory in the revolutionary spirit of Paektu!” must make greater efforts to create a new speed of the times, the speed of Korea, in building a thriving socialist country and demonstrate to the whole world the prestige and mettle of the prospering Songun Korea.

The Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea has adopted a resolution on the measures aimed at greeting the 70th anniversaries of Party founding and national liberation as revolutionary, auspicious events of Songun Korea which is prospering under the leadership of the great Party by giving full play to the revolutionary spirit and mettle of Paektu. The resolution reads in the following vein:

First, we will hold the great Comrades Kim Il Sung andKim Jong Il in high esteem as the eternal leaders of our Party and people and add eternal brilliance to their immortal revolutionary exploits.

We will splendidly lay out the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, where the great Generalissimos are preserved in their lifetime appearances, as the eternal sanctuary of the sun and defend it to the death, and have their bronze and coloured statues set up at such important units as those visited by them.

We will renovate the Korean Revolution Museum as befits the storehouse of national treasures, where one can learn the revolutionary careers of the peerlessly great men of Mt Paektu and their immortal exploits in a comprehensive way, spruce up other bases for education in revolutionary traditions and intensify educational work through them.

Second, we will strengthen the Party and consolidate rock-solid the single-hearted unity of our Party and revolutionary ranks.

This is a decisive guarantee for carrying forward through the generations and accomplishing under the leadership of the respected Marshal Kim Jong Un the revolutionary cause of Juche and the revolutionary cause of Songun pioneered on Paektu.

We will establish stringent organizational discipline whereby the whole Party acts as one under the monolithic leadership of the respected Marshal, and consolidate the political and ideological position of our revolution by taking hold of public sentiments and uniting the masses of the people firmly around the Party.

Third, we will hold fast to the Party’s line of the Songun revolution so as to build up our national self-defence capability.

In order to achieve final victory in the showdown with the United States and speed up the building of a thriving socialist country, it is urgent to strengthen the People’s Army, the buttress and main force of the Songun revolution, develop defence industry and step up the work of arming all the people and fortifying the whole country on a high level.

We will establish the monolithic command system of the respected Supreme Commander Kim Jong Un more firmly across the People’s Army and press on with the movement of winning the titles of O Jung Hup-led 7th Regiment and Guards Unit, in order to develop the army into an invincible force of guards who are fully possessed of the spirit of defending their leader and country to the death, the strongest in idea and faith, and capable of winning all battles.

We will display the same spirit and mettle as we did in conquering outer space to manufacture larger numbers of powerful, cutting-edge military hardware of our own style that are of high precision, light, unmanned and intelligent, so that we can cope with modern warfare, and develop defence industry by relying on latest science and technology.

Fourth, we will raise a fierce wind and achieve a major leap forward on all the fronts where we are building a thriving socialist country, in order to usher in a great golden age of Songun Korea.

That all sectors and all units of the national economy accelerate the onward march to bring about an upsurge in the building of an economic giant is a sure guarantee for fully demonstrating the country’s might as a politico-ideological and military power and achieving a brilliant triumph in the struggle to build a thriving nation and defend socialism.

We will open up a shortcut to the building of the knowledge-based economy by developing science and technology and going beyond the cutting edge, and bring about a radical turn in improving the people’s standard of living by resolving the food problem of the people with crop cultivation, animal husbandry and fishing as the main thrusts and directing great efforts to developing light industry.

In particular, we will firmly take hold of agriculture as an area of major thrust, enlist and concentrate nationwide efforts for agricultural production, speed up the building of the livestock farming base in the Sepho area, and make a fresh turn in the development of animal husbandry.

We will open up a new era of “gold sea” and make the whole socialist country permeated with the fragrant smell of fish and other kinds of seafood by decisively bolstering up the fishing sector, and direct uninterrupted efforts to developing light industry so as to increase the production of consumer goods for the people.

We will thoroughly translate the Party’s Juche-oriented idea on architecture into reality and usher in a new golden age of construction by completing without fail and by the dates set by the Party such major projects as building the Sci-Tech Complex, Mirae Scientists Street, second-stage Wisong Scientists Dwelling District, Terminal 2 of Pyongyang International Airport, Building No 3 of Kim Il Sung University, Pyongyang University of Architecture and Secondary School No 1 and renovating the Central Zoo and Mangyongdae Schoolchildren’s Palace.

We will make a leap forward in the vanguard sectors, basic industries, including electric-power generation, coal mining, rail transport and metal, chemical and machine-building industries, and other major sectors of the national economy.

We will direct nationwide efforts especially to expediting the construction of the Paektusan Songun Youth Power Station, the multi-tier power stations on the Chongchon River and the Wonsan Army-People Power Station, and to stepping up modernization of factories and enterprises.

We will bring about a new turn in the fields of education, public health service, art and literature, mass media and sports and in conserving the cultural heritage of our nation and exalting their brilliance by putting spurs to the building of a civilized socialist nation.

We will enlist the whole Party, the entire army and all the people in restoring the forests of the country and improving the work of land administration so as to transform the appearance of the country’s land.

We will arouse the whole society to vigorously conduct mass-based movements like those of winning the titles of Forest of Socialist Patriotism and Model County in Afforestation, and push ahead with the work of covering the whole country with fruit and other trees and flowers on the strength of cooperation between the service personnel and people.

Fifth, we will make a vigorous effort to achieve the historic cause of national reunification and promote international solidarity with our revolution.

Holding aloft the slogan “Let the whole nation join efforts to open up a broad avenue to independent reunification in this year of the 70th anniversary of national liberation!” we will resolutely frustrate the anti-DPRK war moves and nuclear and human rights rackets by the US imperialists and the south Korean puppets and open up a broad avenue to independent reunification by uniting firmly all the fellow countrymen in the north, in the south and abroad under the banner of patriotism, under the ideal of By Our Nation Itself; we will also develop foreign relations in a multilateral and proactive way, and strengthen international solidarity with our revolution.

Sixth, we will organize and hold events in celebration of the 70th anniversaries of Party founding and national liberation as grand political festivals.

We will hold in grand style a parade of the service personnel of the ground, naval, air and anti-aircraft and strategic forces of the Korean People’s Army and a procession of Pyongyang citizens in celebration of the Party’s 70th anniversary so as to fully demonstrate at home and abroad the might of the service personnel and people united single-heartedly behind the respected Marshal.

We will also hold different political events in a meaningful way to mark these landmark anniversaries.

The resolution, in its last part, stressed the need for Party organizations and other political organs at all levels to thoroughly implement the tasks set forth in the resolution by scrupulously arranging organizational and political work to carry it out and regularly keeping up-to-date with the progress of the work, and for the Cabinet and other relevant organs to take administrative and practical measures to carry out these tasks.

Looking back with deep emotion upon the immortal revolutionary exploits the peerlessly great men of Mt Paektu performed for the development of the Party and the building of a prosperous country, our service personnel and people are now filled with a firm determination to work harder to achieve the final victory of the revolution under the leadership of the great Party.

Invincible is the cause of the Workers’ Party of Korea, the party of the great Comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, which is advancing under the leadership of the respected Comrade Kim Jong Un holding aloft the banner of independence and Songun, and certain is the final victory of the building of a thriving socialist nation, a powerful Paektusan nation.

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Sony, “The Interview”, and new US sanctions

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

UPDATE 28 (2015-3-17): Vox.com reports that a US congressman may have revealed a US response to the Sony hacking:

Rep. Michael McCaul hinted at a think tank event on Tuesday that the US may have been responsible for North Korea’s massive internet outage in late December.

McCaul, in the course of his answer on how the US responds to cyber threats, then mentioned North Korea: “There were some cyber responses to North Korea,” he said, referring to the country’s alleged role in the November hacks against Sony Pictures.

Though he did not explicitly confirm long-held suspicions that US cyberattacks were responsible for North Korea’s mass internet outage, McCaul’s comments have come as close as any official US statement ever has to acknowledging a role.

The comments, made at a cybersecurity policy event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, were first reported by Bloomberg reporter Chris Strohm and confirmed by a source with knowledge of the event.

Here is a link to the original Bloomberg report.

UPDATE 27 (2015-1-18): The New York Times is reporting that the NSA had broken into North Korea’s computer system before the North Koreans hacked Sony:

Spurred by growing concern about North Korea’s maturing capabilities, the American spy agency drilled into the Chinese networks that connect North Korea to the outside world, picked through connections in Malaysia favored by North Korean hackers and penetrated directly into the North with the help of South Korea and other American allies, according to former United States and foreign officials, computer experts later briefed on the operations and a newly disclosed N.S.A. document.

UPDATE 26 (2015-1-9): The NSA played a role in identifying the DPRK.

UPDATE 25 (2015-1-7): FBI reveals more details (New York Times):

The F.B.I.’s director, James B. Comey, said on Wednesday that the United States had concluded that North Korea was behind the destructive attacks on Sony Pictures partly because the hackers failed to mask their location when they broke into the company’s servers.

Mr. Comey said that instead of routing some of the attacks and messages through decoy servers, the hackers had sent them directly from known North Korean Internet addresses.

Though Mr. Comey did not offer more details about the government’s evidence in a speech in New York, senior government officials said that F.B.I.’s analysts discovered that the hackers made a critical error by logging into both their Facebook account and Sony’s servers from North Korean Internet addresses. It was clear, the officials said, that hackers quickly recognized their mistake. In several cases, after mistakenly logging in directly, they quickly backtracked and rerouted their attacks and messages through decoy computers abroad.

UPDATE 24 (2105-1-5): The DPRK criticized the latest round of unilateral sanctions imposed by the US. According to the New York Times:

North Korea denounced the United States on Sunday for imposing new sanctions on it after a cyberattack on Sony Pictures, calling them byproducts of American “hostility” toward the North.

North Korea reiterated its denial of involvement in the hacking of Sony computers and said Washington’s sanctions would only strengthen resolve to pursue its “military first” policy. That policy calls for an arms buildup, including nuclear weapons development, as a “deterrent” against Washington’s policy.

“The persistent and unilateral action taken by the White House to slap sanctions against the D.P.R.K. patently proves that it is still not away from inveterate repugnance and hostility toward the D.P.R.K.,” an unidentified government spokesman was quoted as saying by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency. D.P.R.K. stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s official name.

The statement from the spokesman was the North’s first reaction to the new sanctions the Obama administration announced on Friday.

UPDATE 23 (2015-1-2): US sanctions Pyongyang over Sony hack. According to the AP:

President Barack Obama signed an executive order on Friday authorizing the sanctions. Although the U.S. has already sanctioned North Korea over its nuclear program, these are the first sanctions punishing Pyongyang for alleged cyberattacks.

The Obama administration says the sanctions affect three North Korean entities, including a government intelligence agency and a North Korean arms dealer. The U.S. is also sanctioning 10 individuals who work for those entities or the North Korean government.

Those sanctioned are barred from using the U.S. financial system, and Americans are prohibited from doing business with them.

The updates to the treasury department’s list of sanctioned entities and individuals can be found here.

Here is the press release from the treasury department.

Here is additional coverage: Reuters, New York Times, Vox.com.

UPDATE 22 (2014-12-31): FBI still maintains DPRK is behind the attack.

UPDATE 21 (2014-12-25): Lizard Squad takes credit for DDoS attack on Xbox live. Also, I have had trouble accessing North Korean web pages this evening (11:20pm).

UPDATE 20 (2014-12-24): Meet the hacker group, Lizard Squad. Also, here is another story in the New York Times which casts doubt on the theory that the hack originated in the DPRK.

UPDATE 19 (2014-12-24): Via @levie on Tiwtter:

“A country with no internet is now essentially responsible for causing Hollywood to adapt its business model to the Internet. This is weird.

UPDATE 18 (2014-12-24): Martyn Williams reports that “The Interview” will be available on line. More at CNN and Washington Post.

UPDATE 17 (2014-12-23): Sony has authorized a limited release of “The Interview”  on Christmas Day. According to the Associated Press:

“The Interview” was put back into theaters Thursday when Sony Pictures Entertainment announced a limited theatrical release for the comedy that provoked an international incident with North Korea and outrage over its cancelled release.

Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton said Tuesday that Seth Rogen’s North Korea farce “will be in a number of theaters on Christmas Day.” He said Sony also is continuing its efforts to release the film on more platforms and in more theaters.

“We have never given up on releasing ‘The Interview,'” Lynton said in a statement Tuesday. “While we hope this is only the first step of the film’s release, we are proud to make it available to the public and to have stood up to those who attempted to suppress free speech.”

For Sony, the decision was the culmination of a gradual about-face: After initially saying it had no plans to release the movie, the company began softening its position after it was broadly criticized.

Moviegoers celebrated the abrupt change in fortune for a film that appeared doomed as “The Interview” began popping up in the listings of independent theaters across the country Tuesday, from Atlanta to Los Angeles. The film stands to open in as many as a few hundred theaters on Thursday, the day it was originally set for wide release.

One of the loudest critics of the film’s shelving — President Barack Obama — hailed Sony’s reversal.

“The president applauds Sony’s decision to authorize screenings of the film,” said Obama spokesman Eric Schultz. “As the president made clear, we are a country that believes in free speech, and the right of artistic expression. The decision made by Sony and participating theaters allows people to make their own choices about the film, and we welcome that outcome.”

Rogen, who stars in the film he co-directed with Evan Goldberg, made his first public comments in a surreal ordeal that began with hackers leaking Sony executives’ emails and culminated in an ongoing confrontation between the U.S. and North Korea. The FBI has said North Korea was behind the hacking attacks.

“The people have spoken! Freedom has prevailed! Sony didn’t give up!” said Rogen on Twitter.

“VICTORY!!!!!!!” said James Franco, who co-stars in the film. “The PEOPLE and THE PRESIDENT have spoken.”

The film will be showing at the Alamo Draft House (where Team America was yanked).

UPDATE 16 (2014-12-23): In Update 11 I noted that the US has asked for Chinese support. Apparently China is cool to the idea. According to the Washington Post:

China said Tuesday there was no proof that North Korea was behind a cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, signaling its reluctance to side with the United States over the incident, while also rejecting speculation it could have cut off Pyongyang’s Internet access as punishment.

Asked about American requests for help from China to punish North Korea for cyberattacks, Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry, said the United States and North Korea needed to communicate directly.

She said Beijing had not seen proof of who was behind the attack on Sony. “We need sufficient evidence before drawing any conclusion,” she said at a news conference.

Administration officials had asked China last Thursday to block Pyongyang’s access to Internet routers and servers based in China, to expel North Korean hackers living in China and to pressure the regime of Kim Jong Un to end its alleged cyberoffensive against companies in the United States, according to one official.

Read the full story here.

UPDATE 15 (2014-12-22): This morning I was having trouble loading some North Korean web pages. Looks like others were as well: Martyn Williams, Bloomberg, Vox, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post.

UPDATE 14 (2014-12-22): Martyn Williams has some more information here.

UPDATE 13 (2014-12-21): KCNA has published a second statement on the Sony hacking–this time from the National Defense Commission (the initial statement was from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs):

U.S. Urged to Honestly Apologize to Mankind for Its Evil Doing before Groundlessly Pulling up Others

Pyongyang, December 21 (KCNA) — The Policy Department of the National Defence Commission of the DPRK issued the following statement Sunday:

Strange thing that happened in the heart of the U.S., the ill-famed cesspool of injustice, is now afloat in the world as shocking news.

The Sony Pictures Entertainment, the biggest movie producer in the U.S., which produced the undesirable reactionary film “The Interview” daring hurt the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK and agitating even terrorism and had a plan to distribute it, was exposed to surprisingly sophisticated, destructive and threatening cyber warfare and has been thrown into a bottomless quagmire after suffering property losses worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The public in the U.S. is now describing this case as “disgrace suffered by Sony Pictures Entertainment,” “very sorry thing caused by the U.S.,” “Sony Pictures Entertainment showing a white flag before hackers” and the “unprecedented disaster suffered by the U.S.”

Those who meted out a stern punishment of justice were reported to be cyber experts styling themselves “guardians of peace”.

Seized with terrible horror and threat in face of their merciless hacking attack in retaliation against unjust actions, many movie and drama distributors in North America including 41 states of the U.S. and Canada immediately canceled the screening of the reactionary movie. And it was reported that the Sony Pictures Entertainment which directly sponsored its production and distribution hastily issued a statement on Dec. 25 that it would suspend the screening of the undesirable movie which had been planned in 63 countries.

The NDC of the DPRK highly estimates the righteous action taken by the “guardians of peace,” though it is not aware of their residence.

It, at the same time, considers as fortunate the step taken by the Sony Pictures Entertainment to give up the overall distribution of the above-said movie due to the decision and strong pressure of the movie and drama distributors for stopping the screening of the reactionary movie, though belatedly.

This is an official stand of the army and the people of the DPRK on what happened in the heart of the U.S.

This stand is taken by the DPRK because the movie “The Interview” is an undesirable and reactionary one justifying and inciting terrorism which should not be allowed in any country and any region.

Another reason is that the movie is run through with a story agitating a vicious and dastardly method of assassinating a head of a legitimate sovereign state.

No wonder, even political and social circles of the U.S. commented that it is quite wrong to defame the head of the state for the mere reason that his politics is different from that of the U.S. and it is in the hostile relationship with the latter and, therefore, the Sony Pictures Entertainment got into a serious trouble and paid a due price.

For these reasons, the DPRK is more highly praising the “guardians of peace” for their righteous deed which prevented in advance the evil cycle of retaliation– terrorism sparks terrorism.

It is quite natural that the movie and drama producers should refrain from undesirable deeds contrary to the noble mission to lead morality and civilization.

But what matters is that the U.S. and its followers are groundlessly trumpeting that the recent cyber attack was made by the DPRK.

The FBI issued the results of the investigation into the hack at the Sony Pictures Entertainment on December 19.

According to them, it suffered tremendous losses.

One may say this is the due price incurred by wrong deed, the evil act of hurting others.

The U.S. released a statement asserting that this loss was caused by the DPRK.

No matter how big and disgraceful the loss may be, the U.S. should not pull up others for no reason.

The FBI presented a report on the results of technical analysis of hacking program used by the “guardians of peace” for this attack, citing it as the ground that the serious hacking was caused by the DPRK.

The report says the malignant code had access to north Korea’s IP already known several times and the hacking methods applied in the “March 20 hacking case” and during cyber warfare against media and various other computer networks in south Korea in recent years are similar to that applied against the Sony Pictures Entertainment this time, being another ground that “this was done by the north”.

The report, in particular, adds that the malignant code and algorithm applied during the attack are similar to what was used during the hacking attack on south Korea, citing it as a proof.

Not satisfied with those groundless “evidence”, the FBI is letting loose ambiguous remarks that it is hard to fully prove due to the “protection of sensitive information sources.”

This means self-acknowledgement that the “assertion about the north’s deed” came from an intentional allegation rather than scientific evidence.

It is a common sense that the method of cyber warfare is almost similar worldwide. Different sorts of hacking programs and codes are used in cyberspace.

If somebody used U.S.-made hacking programs and codes and applied their instruction or encoding method, perhaps, the “wise” FBI, too, could not but admit that it would be hard to decisively assert that the attack was done by the U.S.

Moreover, the DPRK has never attempted nor made a “cyber-attack” on south Korea. The rumor about “cyber-attack” by the DPRK was a concoction made by the south Korean puppet regime and its plot.

After all, the grounds cited by the FBI in its announcement were all based on obscure sci-tech data and false story and, accordingly, the announcement itself is another fabrication. This is the DPRK’s stand on the U.S. gangster-like behavior against it.

What is grave is that U.S. President Obama is recklessly making the rumor about “DPRK’s cyber-attack on Sony Pictures” a fait accompli while crying out for symmetric counteraction, strict calculation and additionally retaliatory sanctions.

This is like beating air after being hit hard. A saying goes every sin brings its punishment with it. It is best for the guilty to repent of its evil doings and draw a lesson when forced to pay dearly for them.

The DPRK has clear evidence that the U.S. administration was deeply involved in the making of such dishonest reactionary movie.

It is said that the movie was conceived and produced according to the “guidelines” of the U.S. authorities who contended that such movies hurting the dignity of the DPRK supreme leadership and inciting terrorism against it would be used in an effective way as “propaganda against north Korea”.

The U.S. Department of State’s special human rights envoy went the lengths of urging the movie makers to keep all scenes insulting the dignity of the DPRK supreme leadership in the movie, saying it is needed to “vex the north Korean government”.

The facts glaringly show that the U.S. is the chief culprit of terrorism as it has loudly called for combating terrorism everywhere in the world but schemed behind the scene to produce and distribute movies inciting it in various countries of the world.

It is not exaggeration to say in the light of the prevailing situation that the U.S. administration and President Obama looking after the overall state affairs of the U.S. have been behind the case.

Can he really cover up the crimes he has committed by trying so hard to falsify the truth and turn white to black.

So we watched with unusual attention what had been done by the “guardians of peace” to avert terrorism and defend justice.

Yet, we do not know who or where they are but we can surely say that they are supporters and sympathizers with the DPRK.

The army and people of the DPRK who aspire after justice and truth and value conscience have hundreds of millions of supporters and sympathizers, known or unknown, who have turned out in the sacred war against terrorism and the U.S. imperialists, the chieftain of aggression, to accomplish the just cause.

Obama personally declared in public the “symmetric counteraction”, a disgraceful behavior.

There is no need to guess what kind of thing the “symmetric counteraction” is like but the army and people of the DPRK will never be browbeaten by such a thing.

The DPRK has already launched the toughest counteraction. Nothing is more serious miscalculation than guessing that just a single movie production company is the target of this counteraction. Our target is all the citadels of the U.S. imperialists who earned the bitterest grudge of all Koreans.

The army and people of the DPRK are fully ready to stand in confrontation with the U.S. in all war spaces including cyber warfare space to blow up those citadels.

Our toughest counteraction will be boldly taken against the White House, the Pentagon and the whole U.S. mainland, the cesspool of terrorism, by far surpassing the “symmetric counteraction” declared by Obama.

This is the invariable toughest stand of the army and people of the DPRK.

Fighters for justice including “guardians of peace” who turned out in the sacred drive for cooperation in the fight against the U.S. to defend human justice and conscience and to dismember the U.S. imperialists, the root cause of all sorts of evils and kingpin of injustice, are sharpening bayonets not only in the U.S. mainland but in all other parts of the world.

The just struggle to be waged by them across the world will bring achievements thousands of times greater than the hacking attack on the Sony Pictures Entertainment.

It is the truth and inevitability of the historical development that justice prevails over injustice.

Whoever challenges justice by toeing the line of the biggest criminal U.S. will never be able to escape merciless punishment as it is the target of the sacred drive for cooperation in the fight against the U.S.

The U.S. should reflect on its evil doings that put itself in such a trouble, apologize to the Koreans and other people of the world and should not dare pull up others.

UPDATE 12 (2014-12-21): Obama states he will consider adding the DPRK back to the list of state sponsors of terror. According to the New York Times:

As the United States moves closer to taking Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terrorism, President Obama said he would “review” whether to return North Korea to the list, part of a broader government response to a damaging cyberattack on Sony’s Hollywood studio.

“We have got very clear criteria as to what it means for a state to sponsor terrorism, and we don’t make those judgments just based on the news of the day,” Mr. Obama told CNN in an interview broadcast Sunday. “We look systematically at what’s been done.”

North Korea was removed from the list six years ago, but the government has again prompted the ire of the United States after the F.B.I. said it had extensive evidence that linked the North Korean government to a cyberattack on Sony Pictures.

UPDATE 11 (2014-12-21): Media reports indicate the US will seek Chinese support to resolve North Korean hacks. According to the New York Times:

The Obama administration has sought China’s help in recent days in blocking North Korea’s ability to launch cyberattacks, the first steps toward the “proportional response” President Obama vowed to make the North pay for the assault on Sony Pictures — and as part of a campaign to issue a broader warning against future hacking, according to senior administration officials.

“What we are looking for is a blocking action, something that would cripple their efforts to carry out attacks,” one official said.

So far, the Chinese have not responded. Their cooperation would be critical, since virtually all of North Korea’s telecommunications run through Chinese-operated networks.

It is unclear that China would choose to help, given tensions over computer security between Washington and Beijing since the Justice Department in May indicted five hackers working for the Chinese military on charges of stealing sensitive information from American companies.

The secret approach to China comes as American officials, convening a half-dozen meetings in the White House Situation Room last week, including one of the top national security team on Thursday night, have been developing options to give to the president during his vacation in Hawaii. They include new economic sanctions, mirroring those recently placed on Russian oligarchs and officials close to President Vladimir V. Putin, which would cut off their access to cash — the one perk that allows the elite surrounding Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, to live lifestyles their starving countrymen can barely imagine.

The sessions also included discussions of “information operations” directed at the North Korean people, officials said, but similar efforts by South Korea to sway opinion in the North have often created a furious backlash.

This was also covered by the Wall Street Journal.

Although China has made no public response to the request, a separate report in the New York Times indicates that frustration with the DPRK among China’s leadership is as an all time high.

UPDATE 10 (2014-12-20): The DPRK denies involvement and makes an offer:

DPRK Foreign Ministry Rejects U.S. Accusation against Pyongyang over Cyber Attack

Pyongyang, December 20 (KCNA) — A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of the DPRK gave the following answer to a question put by KCNA Saturday as regards the U.S. accusation against the DPRK over a cyber attack on a movie company in the U.S.:

Obama, Kerry and other high-ranking authorities of the U.S. cried out for sort of counter-measure Friday, claiming that the results of the investigation into the cyber-attack on the Sony Pictures Entertainment proved that the DPRK was behind it.

They, without presenting any specific evidence, are asserting they can not open it to public as it is “sensitive information.”

Clear evidence is needed to charge a sovereign state with a crime.

Reference to the past cyber-attacks quite irrelevant with the DPRK and a string of presumptive assertions such as “similarity” and “repetition” can convince no one.

The U.S. act of daring charge the DPRK with a crime based on absurd “investigation results” reveals its inveterate bitterness toward the DPRK.

This is proven, as in the recent cyber-attack, by the recent urge made by a man called a “human rights special envoy” of the U.S. State Department to movie-makers that they should harass the north Korean government and keep alive scenes hurting the dignity of the its supreme leadership.

The U.S. ruling quarters are working hard to divert the criticism of its administration to the DPRK as the plan of putting on show the anti-DPRK film on Christmas Day canceled due to the controversial cyber-attack, causing an uproar in the U.S.

We will never pardon those undesirable elements keen on hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK. In case we retaliate against them, we will target with legitimacy those responsible for the anti-DPRK acts and their bases, not engaging in terrorist attack aimed at the innocent audience in cinemas.

The army of the DPRK has the will and ability to do so.

The U.S. State Secretary is going to justify the production of the movie hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership of a sovereign state while trumpeting about the freedom of expression. He should know that there is punishment of libel in enforcement of international law.

We propose the U.S. side conducting a joint investigation into the case, given that Washington is slandering Pyongyang by spreading unfounded rumor.

We have a way to prove that we have nothing to do with the case without resorting to torture as what the CIA does.

The U.S. should bear in mind that it will face serious consequences in case it rejects our proposal for joint investigation and presses for what it called countermeasure while finding fault with the DPRK.

UPDATE 9 (2014-12-19): Some technology writers still believe the the DPRK was not behind the attack. And here. And here.

UPDATE 8 (2014-12-19): US Department of State on the hacking.

UPDATE 7 (2014-12-19): President Obama makes remarks on the hackingMore politics here.

UPDATE 6 (2014-12-19): There is the official FBI press release on the matter.

UPDATE 5 (2014-12-19): The New York Times has published information from the FBI that implicates the DPRK in the Sony hack:

The F.B.I. on Friday said it had extensive evidence that the North Korean government organized the cyberattack that debilitated Sony Pictures computers, marking the first time the United States has explicitly accused the leaders of a foreign nation of hacking American targets.

The bureau said that there were significant “similarities in specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, and compromised networks” to previous attacks by the North Koreans. It also said that there were classified elements of the evidence against the North that it could not reveal.

“The F.B.I. also observed significant overlap between the infrastructure used in this attack and other malicious cyberactivity the U.S. government has previously linked directly to North Korea,” the bureau said. “For example, the F.B.I. discovered that several Internet protocol addresses associated with known North Korean infrastructure communicated with I.P. addresses that were hardcoded into the data deletion malware used in this attack.”

The F.B.I. said that some of the methods employed in the Sony attack were similar to ones that were used by the North Koreans against South Korean banks and news media outlets in 2013.

“We are deeply concerned about the destructive nature of this attack on a private sector entity and the ordinary citizens who worked there,” the F.B.I. said.

It added: “Though the F.B.I. has seen a wide variety and increasing number of cyberintrusions, the destructive nature of this attack, coupled with its coercive nature, sets it apart. North Korea’s actions were intended to inflict significant harm on a U.S. business and suppress the right of American citizens to express themselves. Such acts of intimidation fall outside the bounds of acceptable state behavior.”

North Korea has been under extraordinary economic sanctions for decades, and it has done nothing to curb either its nuclear program or these cyberattacks. A military response seems unlikely — the White House said on Thursday that it was examining options for a “proportional response,” and that would seem to rule out conventional military options.

Some of the evidence has been developed from “implants” that the National Security Agency has placed in networks around the world. But North Korea has proved to be a particularly hard target, because it has relatively low Internet connectivity to the rest of the world, and its best computer minds do not move out of the country often, where their machines and USB drives could be accessible targets.

“Suffice it to say,” one senior intelligence official said this week, “that we almost never name a suspect country. So when we do, it’s got to be based on something fairly strong.”

As the F.B.I. pointed out, the attacks at Sony share similarities with a similar series of destructive attacks last year on South Korean banks and broadcasters, and they used the same data-wiping tool that Iranian hackers used to destroy data on 30,000 computers at Saudi Aramco in 2012, according to forensics researchers.

In 2009, a similar campaign of coordinated cyberattacks over the Fourth of July holiday hit 27 American and South Korean websites, including those of South Korea’s presidential palace, called the Blue House, and its Defense Ministry, and sites belonging to the United States Treasury Department, the Secret Service and the Federal Trade Commission. North Korea was suspected, but a clear link was never established.

But those were all “distributed denial of service” attacks, in which attackers flood the sites with traffic until they fall offline. The Sony attack was far more sophisticated: It wiped data off Sony’s computer systems, rendering them inoperable.

“The cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment was not just an attack against a company and its employees,” Jeh C. Johnson, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said in a statement. “It was also an attack on our freedom of expression and way of life.”

Mr. Johnson said the attacks underscored the importance of taking measures “to rapidly detect cyberintrusions and promote resilience throughout all of our networks.”

“Every C.E.O. should take this opportunity to assess their company’s cybersecurity,” he added.

UPDATE 4 (2014-12-18): Paramount has chickened out and will not let any theater show “Team America” right now…See here and here.

UPDATE 3 (2014-12-18): Christmas day screening of Team America at the Alamo Draft House is already sold out.

UPDATE 2 (2014-12-18): Maybe time for a Team America sequel?

UPDATE 1 (2014-12-18): Team America to the rescue! At least one American theatre will stick up for the first amendment. And let’s be honest, it is probably a much better movie.

Oh, and this.

ORIGINAL POST (2014-12-17): Today Sony Pictures announced it was canceling the opening of the film The Interview. According to NBC:

Sony is dropping its planned Dec. 25 release of “‘The Interview,” the comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco that depicts the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The decision comes after some of the nation’s largest movie theater chains, including Regal, Cinemark, Carmike and Cineplex, said they were holding back or dropping “The Interview” from screens in the aftermath of a hack that has ballooned from embarrassing disclosures for Sony Pictures executives to involve threats against theaters screening the film.

“Sony Pictures has been the victim of an unprecedented criminal assault against our employees, our customers, and our business,” Sony said in a statement Wednesday, saying that it reached the decision after the top cinema chains pulled out.

“Those who attacked us stole our intellectual property, private emails, and sensitive and proprietary material, and sought to destroy our spirit and our morale — all apparently to thwart the release of a movie they did not like. We are deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees, and the American public,” the company said.

At the same time, another North Korea themed film was also put on hold.

This seemed like a massive over-reaction in my opinion until a few minutes later when this story was published by the New York Times:

American intelligence officials have concluded that the North Korean government was “centrally involved” in the recent attacks on Sony Pictures’s computers, a determination reached just as Sony on Wednesday canceled its release of the comedy, which is based on a plot to assassinate Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader.

Senior administration officials, who would not speak on the record about the intelligence findings, said the White House was still debating whether to publicly accuse North Korea of what amounts to a cyberterrorism campaign. Sony’s decision to cancel release of “The Interview” amounted to a capitulation to the threats sent out by hackers this week that they would launch attacks, perhaps on theaters themselves, if the movie was released.

You can read the remainder of the article here.

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PUST holds second graduation ceremony

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

PUST-Google-Earth-2014-11-25

Pictured Above (Google Earth): PUST

On Wednesday 19th November, the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) held its second graduation ceremony of 2014, at the campus in the south side of Pyongyang.

100 undergraduate students in science and technology received Bachelor degrees from the co-Presidents of PUST, in the presence of foreigners and diplomats including ambassadors from Europe, Asia and Latin America and UN representatives.

These new graduates are the first year-group of students, who came to PUST in October 2010, when the university began classes in electrical and electronic engineering, computer science; agriculture and life sciences; and finance and management. Some will remain at PUST as graduate students and most others will go to various DPRK state universities for further study. PUST is also active in sending graduate students for both short-term and long-term study abroad, at European and Asian universities, under various partnerships and scholarship schemes.

For more details please see the Press Release (PDF).

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Supreme People’s Assembly adopts three EDZ-related regulations

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

Coinciding with the promotion of the nation’s economic development zones (EDZs), North Korea has recently decided to adopt three new regulations, including the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s Operation Regulation of Economic Development Zone Management,” which opens up high-level positions in management organizations to foreigners within the various EDZs around the nation.

The three new regulations, including the “DPRK Operation Regulation of EDZ Management,” “DPRK EDZ Establishment Regulation” and the “DPRK EDZ Company Establishment Operation Regulation” were obtained and reported by the Maeil Business Newspaper on November 4, 2014 and were said to be adopted by the Standing Committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly just two days later on November 6.

In May 2013, North Korea established the legislative basis for the creation of central-level EDZs (special economic zones, SEZs) and provincial-level economic development zones, and in October, the State Economic Development Board had its status elevated to the State Economic Development Committee and was given total control over business in EDZs. Then, on November 21, the Sinuiju Special Economic Zone (SEZ) was announced alongside thirteen other provincial-level EDZs. The following year, in June 2014, the Wonsan-Mt. Kumgang International Tourist Zone was announced, followed by the July announcement about the designation of six additional economic development zones, including the Unjong Cutting-Edge Technological Development Zone.

It appears that these three new EDZ-related regulations are specific internal regulations in order to better implement the “Law on Economic Development Zones.” According to the first new regulation, the establishment of EDZs will “coincide with the state’s economic development strategy” and will have their establishment agendas written by the “Central Special Economic Zone Guidance Agency.” EDZs are said to be “advantageous to overseas economic cooperation and exchange,” and it was stipulated that EDZs are to be established in “areas of concentrated population,” as well as in “certain remote areas.”

With regards to the regulation on the operation of management agencies in EDZs, it was reported that “management operation at EDZs will be conducted by the EDZ’s Management Operation Association or Management Office (hereafter Management Agency).” Specifically, the regulation states, “Members of the Management Agency may be a person from [the DPRK] or another country who has extensive business experience and who possesses expert knowledge in their field,” showing that foreigners may now be entrusted with high-level positions such as chairman in North Korea’s economic development zones.

Furthermore, it was decided that “foreign and/or domestic experts may be invited to work full time or part time in their appropriate department according to the needs of the Management Agency,” stipulating that foreign experts outside of EDZ managerial positions may also be invited.

In terms of the regulation on the establishment and operation of corporations in EDZs, it was decided that “foreign corporations, individuals, economic organizations and overseas Koreans may invest in EDZs and establish and operate companies through joint ventures or individually.” The regulation also states, “Investment and economic activities are limited only to those who give knowledge to and promote the nation’s safety, the health of the people, a wholesome, socially moral lifestyle and environmental protection, and are prohibited to those who are lagging behind in terms of economic technology.” Instead, the regulation promotes the establishment of companies in the “infrastructure construction and cutting-edge technology sectors,” and has clearly stated that they will receive preferential treatment in the form of tax cuts, favorable land use conditions and other benefits.

Additionally, while the regulation did say that “companies must primarily employ labor from [the DPRK],” it held the door open for foreigners by saying that “a portion of management personnel, specific types of occupational experts and technicians may be employed from other countries.” The regulation also set specific standards for penalties should a company create problems. Businesses caught operating without a business registration or license will face charges between ten and fifteen thousand Euro, businesses who fail to report changes in their company registration will face fines between two thousand and five thousand Euro, and business founders who are caught pocketing investment money without lawful justification will suffer fines between ten and twenty thousand Euro.

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