Archive for the ‘DPRK organizations’ Category

Kim Jong-un’s Party Congress prep: construction projects

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Kim Jong-un has made at least two announcements recently, as the Korean Worker’s Party heads for its 7th Party Congress in May, about construction projects to be done. One of them is an orphanage in Ryanggang province, Daily NK reports:

Projects underway to promote Kim Jong Un’s legacy as a leader ahead of the 7th Party Congress in May are said to be in full swing across the nation. One such project taking place in Ryanggang Province calls for the full mobilization of residents to build an orphanage as an expression of the leader’s “love for the next generation,” Daily NK has learned.

“Authorities have recently been harassing residents saying that the orphanage under construction next to Kim Jong Suk Teachers’ College in Yonbong-dong needs to be ready for the Marshal’s (Kim Jong Un) inspection by the time of the Party Congress,” a source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK on Thursday. “The provincial party office has been hurrying people along, claiming the construction must be completed before the event.”

Progress was said to be slow during the winter, which was unseasonably cold, but construction efforts are now appearing to ramp up.

The project is being driven by the provincial head secretary and other cadres from the provincial Party and People’s Committee and is being promoted as a means to express loyalty to the leader, who has emphasized his “love for children,” said the source.

She added that cadres associated with the efforts, who have confidently stated that the facility will see completion before the Party Congress, have also been intensifying crackdowns on those seeking to avoid mobilization, out of concern that failure to complete the project on time may lead to issues of accountability.

“Vendors who are busy trying to make a living in the market were often able to get out (of mobilization) with bribes, but even that isn’t easy now,” a separate source in Ryanggang Province explained.

“The price for skipping a day of mobilization is now up to 10 RMB (13,000 KPW) a day per head, so some find it more affordable to just go to the construction site.”

The 13,000 KPW demanded is enough to purchase approximately 2kg of rice based on current prices, which is far from negligible for most members of the public. The higher price tag in effect acts as a tool to turn up the heat on people for mobilization.

The pressure to complete the project before the major political gathering has led to mobilization of students in the afternoons and workers at state-run factory as well.

The near full mobilization also involves specialized colleges, meaning that among the younger generation, stormtroopers (who are working on a railway project in Samjiyon) are seemingly the only group among ordinary residents that are exempt from the orphanage project.

Full article:
Kim Jong Un calls for construction of new orphanage in time for Party Congress
Kang Mi Jin
Daily NK
2016-04-19

IFES at Kyungnam University has also published an analysis of the news about the Ryomyong street project, which Curtis has already written about in this blog. They note that the recent sanctions do not seem to have altered plans for the project. Kim Jong-un’s rhetoric instead highlights the project as a blow against the international community and the US — North Korea will go full steam ahead on its own policies and no outside pressure can hold them back (my emphasis below):

On March 18, the state media Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that Kim Jong Un declared the construction of ‘Ryomyong Street’, which is to be built between Kumsusan Palace of the Sun and the Ryonghung Crossroads in Pyongyang. The street’s name signifies a place where ‘the dawn breaks in the Korean revolution’. Kim also mentioned that the area is to be surrounded by magnificent skyscrapers and multi-level buildings that fit the geographical characteristics surrounding the palace, displaying the Party’s idea of giving importance to science and talents in socialist Korea.
[…]
Along these lines, Kim put emphasis on the policy of securing building materials in constructing the new street and to diversify the size, design and color of decorative objects on the exterior of buildings. He also instructed for the mobilization of ‘soldier-builders’ who previously worked on the construction of Mirae Scientists Street. The construction of the new street shall be carried out with “Mallima speed” during the country’s ‘70-day campaign’ in run-up to the Party Congress scheduled for this upcoming May. The news report also stated that “the party, state, and society should render positive assistance to the construction and the Cabinet, commissions, ministries and national institutions take the lead in this work.”

According to the report, Kim Jong Un also said that “The construction of the street is not merely for formation of a street but serves as a political occasion of clearly showing the spirit of the DPRK standing up and keeping up with the world, despite all sorts of sanctions and pressure by U.S. imperialists and their followers, the appearance of the country advancing to realize the great ideal of the people and truth that the DPRK is able to be well-off in its own way and nothing is impossible for it to do.” The construction of the street appears in part as a means to show off the strength of ‘Songun’ Korea, following in the footsteps of Kim Jong Il’s policy.

Despite the strong sanctions imposed upon the country by the international community, North Korea is striving to achieve some form of economic success. The 70-day campaign has been initiated in the run-up to the Seventh Congress of the Workers’ Party. North Korean media are boasting about the country’s successes on the production front since the campaign’s initiation, saying “under the Juche ideology, people are working hard especially in the fields of electricity, coal, metal, and railroad transportation that they have achieved great success in the [campaign’s] first week.”

Full article here:
North Korea to Construct ‘Ryomyong Street’ Despite Sanctions
Institute for Far Eastern Studies
03-29-2016

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North Korean reforestation in practice

Friday, April 8th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

On this blog, we’ve often written about forestry issues in North Korea. It’s a particularly interesting area from an economic point of view, because it embodies many of the fundamental problems with central planning in North Korea. DailyNK reports on how these problems continue to show up in the current reforestation campaign:

“On Arbor Day (March 2), the grounds still hadn’t thawed from the winter cold, so no matter how hard you try, the trees aren’t able to secure their roots,” a source from North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Wednesday. “There’s not enough manpower to dig through the frozen ground, and the tree and forest management offices are all for show. So from the initial planting stage, we’re unable to find healthy saplings to plant.”

(See this post for some pictures from the Russian embassy’s activities on Arbor Day).

Sources in Ryanggang Province and South Hamgyong Province corroborated this news.

“On top of that, those from above are pushing the citizenry to plant tens of thousands of trees in time for the ‘70-Day Battle’, so some people find tree segments without roots and just place them in the soil, before reporting them as progress made,” he added. “You can even see people who don’t have the money to buy these saplings, going out at night to uproot those planted elsewhere and transferring them to new areas that have been designated for forestation that month.”

North Korea has for many years pushed for reforestation in the spring with all-out campaigns, but the results have been negligible so far, according to the source. This is because the majority of the trees planted each year are unable to survive due to poor soil conditions and problems with sapling health. Even those that manage to survive do not last long in the absence of proper care.

Not only that, some people quietly cut down the trees to use for firewood, while others uproot them to cultivate the corn needed to feed their families, as many are planted on small mountain plots that were previously used by individuals to grow produce.

A defector with three decades of experience participating in reforestation campaigns in the North explained that such efforts are destined to fail as long as people are struggling to resolve fundamental necessities like securing enough food and fuel for heat.

“Outside of Pyongyang, people in the North don’t use gas to heat their homes, so they’re out looking for coal or firewood. Without enough coal in the rural areas, they have no choice but to go to the mountains and chop down trees,” said the source, who declined to be identified, adding that the situation is no different when the land needs to be cleared for crops.

South Korea previously supported the North’s reforestation efforts, the defector noted, adding that, “more than 100,000 trees were sent over during that time, but they probably all ended up in cadres’ furnaces,” emphasizing how futile these campaigns are when more pressing needs exist.

If the central government orders that trees must be planted, they must be planted, no matter the conditions on the ground. The problem, of course, is much deeper than just a lack of tree plantation efforts. As long as North Korea’s structural energy and food problems aren’t alleviated, campaigns like this one are bound to have little success in the long run.

Full article here:
Another year, another misguided attempt at reforestation
Kim Ga Young
DailyNK 
2016-04-07

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The UNSC sanctions and the North Korean economy

Friday, March 11th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

In the past few days, Daily NK has carried a number of interesting reports on how the latest round of UNSC sanctions have impacted the domestic economy in North Korea. Below, I’ve gathered a compendium of sorts. I’ll continue updating it as more stories surface.

Only a short while after the sanctions were announced, trucks carrying mineral exports were blocked from entering China. Some businesspeople were apparently surprised at China’s relatively forceful implementation of the sanctions, given that little impact had been seen from past sanctions:

Chinese authorities began prohibiting mineral exports from North Korea on March 1st in a move not strictly related to the passing of UN Security Council Resolution 2270, which outlines sanctions against North Korea. North Korean authorities and foreign-earning currency enterprises tied to the military did not see this move coming and expressed embarrassment and shock.

In a telephone conversation with the Daily NK on March 4, a source from North Pyongan Province said, “Beginning on March 1, mineral exports such as coal and ore have not been allowed to pass through Chinese customs into China. Trucks loaded with mineral deposits have been idly waiting in front of Chinese customs near Dandong. The foreign trading companies are simply waiting for instructions from the higher authorities.”

Full story:
Trucks loaded with mineral exports blocked from entering China
Seol Song Ah
Daily NK
2016-03-07

A few days later, Daily NK reported that “panic” had begun to set in, not just among high-level businesspeople and traders involved in the mineral extraction industry, but also among market vendors who worry that they won’t be able to buy products for import from China:

“The news that the UN resolution containing sanctions against North Korea passed unanimously is spreading like wildfire through [domestic] cell phones. People in the North had little interest in sanctions in the past, but these days they are expressing concern that ‘this time things are going to be different,’” a source in South Pyongan Province reported to Daily NK on March 7.

A source in North Hamgyong Province corroborated this news, reporting the same developments on the ground in that region.

“Sinuiju is known as the gateway to China and the ultimate symbol of friendly relations between our two nations. That’s why news of its closure to mineral exports is causing dismay,” she explained, adding that a rumor has also taken off that international customs offices in other border towns such as North Hamgyong’s Rajin and Hoeryong will be shuttered.

Further anxiety is being stoked by the fact that trusted allies such as China and Russia are participating in the sanctions and the fact that residents are getting detailed information about the resolution’s specific clauses.

“People are further concerned because things have apparently changed significantly since China helped the country to overcome the difficulties during the ‘Arduous March,’ [famine] in the mid 1990s. People from all over the country are concerned that China might shut the border down totally. If that happens, it will become difficult for everyone to make a living,” the source indicated.

“Wholesalers and market vendors are feeling the most vulnerable to the UN sanctions. Their greatest fear is that they won’t be able to buy products. Merchants who have been selling Chinese products at cheap prices are expecting a cost increase and have momentarily discontinued sales.”

Full story:
Panic sets in as sanctions specifics circulate 
Daily NK
Choi Song Min
2016-03-08

Not just mineral exports to China have taken a hit. Food products specialties like hairy crab, frequently imported to cities like Yanji in China from North Korea’s northern fishing cities like Rajin, are now being sold at domestic markets instead:

“These days items that were previously hard to find because they were earmarked for export are suddenly emerging at the markets,” a source from North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Thursday. “The price haven’t gone down enough yet, so you don’t see too many people actually buying them. But you do see flocks of curious people coming out to the markets to see all the delicacies for sale.”

She added, “High-end marine goods like roe, sea urchin eggs, hairy crab, and jumbo shrimp and produce like pine nuts, bracken, and salted pine mushrooms were once considered to be strictly for export, but now they’re easy to find. The number of such products, referred to as ‘sent back goods,’ at Sunam Market and other markets around Chongjin is growing by the day.”

Additional sources in both North and South Hwanghae Provinces reported the same developments in those regions.

Despite the sanctions that have already kicked in, products from China are still flowing into North Korea. however, the goods sold in bulk to China–minerals like coal, marine products, etc.– have nowhere to go and are therefore making their way back into the country.

Full story:
Would-be food exports to China popping up in jangmadang
Choi Song Min
Daily NK
2016-03-11

Politically, too, the topic of sanctions has become highly sensitive. According to reports by Daily NK, surveillance authorities have increased their focus on certain groups that they deem as more likely than others to speak out about the added pressures from the sanctions:

The boost in surveillance is interpreted as a move by the regime to nip in the bud any rumblings of political unrest engendered by members of society more likely to speak out about the pressure squeezing North Korea. Those tracing the lines of the circumstances leading to this pressure, namely a volley of sanctions lobbed at North Korea by the international community in response to its nuclear test and rocket launch, are a threat to the regime’s authoritarian grip over the population.

A source with the Ministry of People’s Security [MPS, or North Korea’s equivalent of a police force] informed Daily NK on March 8 that internal orders came down at the beginning of March for the MPS to survey and track the recent movements of those anyone ascribed to the “wavering” cohort. Two separate sources in the same province verified this information, but Daily NK has not yet confirmed if the same orders are in effect in other provinces.

Full story:
MPS steps up surveillance to suppress potential ‘pot stirrers’
Kang Mi Jin
Daily NK
2016-03-11

(UPDATE 2016-02-18): a couple of days ago, Daily NK published another piece on this topic. They note that market prices have remained relatively stable, and that many people don’t seem to treat this sanctions round as anything out of the ordinary:

Market prices in North Korea have remained relatively stable despite stronger sanctions enforced by the international community, including China, as well as greater limitations on market operationsdue to nationwide preparation for Pyongyang’s May Party Congress.

Multiple Daily NK sources within the country have confirmed that rice prices in Pyongyang, South Pyongan Province’s Sinuiju, and Ryanggang Province’s Hyesan are trading at 5,100 KPW, 5,150 KPW, and 5,080 KPW per kilogram, respectively, similar to levels before sanctions were stepped up (5,100 KPW, 5,100 KPW, 5,260 KPW).

This is also the case on the foreign exchange front, with 1 USD trading for 8,150 KPW in Pyongyang, 8,200 KPW in Sinuiju, and 8,170 KPW in Hyesan, showing some signs of strengthening for the local currency from pre-sanction rates (Pyongyang 8,200 KPW, Sinuiju·Hyesan 8,290 KPW).

“There had been concern we would see fewer goods in the market because of UN sanctions, but in reality, there hasn’t been much difference,” a source from North Pyongan Province told Daily NK in a telephone conversation on Sunday. “The state is placing restrictions on opening hours for the market for the ‘70-day battle’ (mobilization for the Party Congress), but the markets have remained lively, and there’s not much change in terms of market prices.”

Further confirming trends previously reported by Daily NK last week, an additional source in North Hamgyong Province reported yesterday that some people had stocked up food worried about sanctions from the UN, but that this hasn’t led to a violent gyration in prices. “Actually, in some regions, we’re seeing prices of certain products drop,” he noted.

This price stability seen in the marketplace, in spite of the sanctions having kicked in earlier this month, can be attributed to the fact that most products are still trading as they would have save one of the North’s main export items: minerals.

The simple reality that people have experienced similar times before is also at play. “In the past, people who had stockpiled food during other sanctions discovered that after the political climate evened out a bit they were unable to get their money’s worth for everything they bought. This is why we’re seeing less of it,” a source from Ryanggang Province explained. “Initially there was a little bit of noise, but in general people are remaining calm.”

Full article:
Market prices so far showing resilience against sanctions
Daily NK
Kang Mi Jin
2016-03-14

Also, Marcus Noland recently launched a “Black Market Contest” at the Witness to Transformation blog, letting readers bet on what will happen with the unofficial exchange rate as a result of the sanctions:

The exchange rate issue has re-emerged with the imposition of sanctions. My colleague Steph Haggard leans toward the view that the imposition of a broader set of sanctions, particularly with respect to mining, together with enhanced Chinese enforcement will generate a balance of payments cum financial crisis with uncertain implications for political stability. I am more skeptical of both the additional coverage and the likely Chinese rigor in enforcement.

But this is an empirical issue. If the sanctions bite, then one would expect to see their effects manifested in the black market rate on the won. So we decided to offer up this conundrum to the wisdom of the crowd, or at least of our readership, in this Witness to Transformation Black Market Contest. Yes, you can ply your wits against North Korean loan sharks and black market traders. Or maybe the North Korean monetary authorities. Here’s how it works.

Steph thinks that within two months, evidence of the impact of sanctions should begin to emerge. So the object of the contest is to guess the black market won-dollar rate two months hence. Since the sanctions resolution passed 2 March, we will use the first DailyNK average rate applying to the post-2 May period as the reference. So you have the next month to analyze trade data, contact spies in Dandong, or call in favors in Switzerland to inform your estimate. Whoever guesses closest to the May black market rate wins. In the event of a tie, whoever submitted their entry first wins.

Please list your estimate in the comments section below. The entry period closes 15 April.

Full article:
Witness to Transformation Black Market Contest
Witness to Transformation blog
Marcus Noland
2016-03-16

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North Korea emphasizes economic independence amid pending international sanctions

Thursday, March 10th, 2016

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

With the soon-to-be announced UN Security Council’s sanctions against the DPRK in response to the country’s recent provocations, North Korea is urging economic independence through its ‘speed battle’ to confront the resolution.

On February 29, the state-sponsored Rodong Sinmun newspaper emphasized that “against the sanctions, building an independent national economy based on today’s modern technology is the utmost important mission for us . . . as without strong self-reliant economy, we cannot move towards autonomy.”

The newspaper also defined the building of the independent national economy as “a historical mission that is challenging but needs to be achieved for a bright future.”

Such claims by the DPRK can be interpreted as a means to unite the country behind the Party and prepare the people for the upcoming sanctions, as the UN Security Council is about to pass the most impactful sanctions against the country ever.

North Korea is also urging its people to join the ‘70-day campaign’ to greet the upcoming Seventh Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea, which is to be held in May. The 70-day campaign is a ‘speed battle’ (as it is traditionally known), which is a socialist mobilization technique employed to increase people’s performance in order to meet economic production or construction targets in the building of a strong country. This technique was first introduced in North Korea’s economic planning back in the early 1970s. The newspaper emphasized that the goal of this year’s 70 day-long campaign is to overcome the struggle in solidifying the Party under the monolithic leadership based on the philosophies of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il – i.e., Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism.

The 70-day speed battle will be a good opportunity to observe the leadership capabilities of Kim Jong Un following the era of his late father Kim Jong Il. With the international community gearing towards announcing sanctions against North Korea due to the country’s latest nuclear test (of possibly a hydrogen bomb) and launch of a long range missile, economic stabilization of the country through robust policy can be regarded as a ‘battle’ related to Kim’s leadership. That is, the 70-day speed battle is not just an ordinary economic mobilization campaign, but 70 days of establishing Kim Jong Un as ‘leader’ as the Party Congress approaches.

On the same day (February 29), the Choson Sinbo (the pro-North Korean newspaper published in Japan) emphasized in a column that “the initial bill on sanctioning the DPRK has been drafted for the fifth time. . . . which shows that no sanctions can compromise Choson [DPRK] from building an autonomous strong nation.”

The newspaper criticized the United States saying “the United States has shown the most savage and brutal side of imperialism by asking China to join the sanctions against the DPRK with such terms that completely isolates the DPRK from the world, aiming for the country to be unable to exist and ultimately collapse as a state.”

The newspaper also said that the claim that the UN sanctions will not affect the North Korean people’s livelihoods is completely hypocritical and cunning, and expressed disappointment with China’s agreement to the sanctions.

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Friday fun with North Korea’s new slogans

Friday, February 19th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

What better way to start off the weekend than to go through North Korea’s latest batch of political slogans (“Joint calls/공동구호”)? These were issued collectively by the Central Committee and the Central Military Commission on Wednesday February 17th, and printed on the frontpage of Rodong Sinmunas part of the run-up to the 7th Party Congress to be held later this year.

Below I have gathered those that relate to the economy, and a few other interesting ones, with brief annotation:

The calls underlined the need to make hurrah for the WPK and socialism resound far more loudly this year when the Seventh Congress of the WPK is to be held by staging an all-out death-defying struggle for building a thriving nation and improving the people’s living standard.

The Byungjin line is alive and well.

Let’s dynamically wage this year’s general advance in the same spirit as shown in succeeding in the H-bomb test!

Let’s build an economic giant as early as possible with the strength and the spirit of Korea and at the Korean speed!

Send more satellites of Juche Korea into space!

As often before, the satellite launch and the hydrogen bomb test are tied into the theme of economic development: both are technological advancements, showing the overall progress of the economy.

Produce more new-generation electric locomotives and passenger cars!

A shout-out to the domestic car industry?

Put the manufacture of Korean-style world-class underground trains on a serial basis!

The domestically manufactured subway cars haven’t been forgotten. One wonders if people living outside Pyongyang feel as strongly about them.

Step up the modernization of the mining industry and keep the production of nonferrous metal and non-metallic minerals going at a high rate!

Provide more resources for building an economic giant by channeling effort into prospecting underground resources!

At least now Jang Song-taek can’t touch them anymore.

Make the foreign trade multilateral and diverse!

This is interesting, and a clear statement about an important rationale for the SEZs: North Korea will remain politically and economically vulnerable as long as China continues to be its single largest trading partner by a large margin.

Let’s greet the 7th Party Congress with proud achievements in the improvement of the people’s living standard!

The people “will never have to tighten their belts again”, as Kim Jong-un said in his first public speech in 2012.

Achieve a great victory on the front of agriculture this year!

Which the regime has already claimed it did last year. The UN doesn’t agree.

Let’s give a decisive solution to the problem of consumer goods!

Let’s produce more world-competitive famous products and goods!

North Korean media has highlighted strides in consumer goods production several times this year.

Make Wonsan area an icon of city layout and build it into a world-level tourist city!

A shout-out to the Wonsan tourist zone, presumably.

Establish Korean-style economic management method guided by the Juche idea in a comprehensive manner!

Sounds like the management reforms, with greater autonomy for enterprises, are still on the table.

Let the entire party and army and all the people turn out in the forest restoration campaign!

And make sure they “properly conduct fertilizer management“. This is the only reference among the slogans to the forestry campaign, where the regime has publically acknowledged some crucial and systemic problems, but is yet to find a credible solution.

Put an end to proclivity to import!

Does this tell us something about North Korea’s trade balance that the numbers aren’t showing?

The Korean People’s Internal Security Forces should sharpen the sword for defending their leader, system and people!

Note that “people” comes after both “leader” and “system”.

Let us thoroughly implement our Party’s policy of putting all the people under arms and turning the whole country into a fortress!

Enhance the fighting capacity of the Worker-Peasant Red Guards by intensifying their drills as the anti-Japanese guerillas did in Mt. Paektu!

Develop and produce a greater number of various means of military strike of our own style that are capable of overwhelming the enemy!

Enhance the fighting capacity of the Worker-Peasant Red Guards by intensifying their drills as the anti-Japanese guerillas did in Mt. Paektu!

These four slogans seem to be saying that the Four Military Guidelines, adopted in 1962 by the Central Committee, are still very much in play: 1) arming the population, 2) fortifying the country, 3) establishing a cadre-based army, and 4) modernizing military equipment. Mao would probably have been happy to know that his People’s War Doctrine lives on in North Korea.

The whole list of slogans is very long, and saying that policy areas need to improve, or that production in a certain area needs to go up, isn’t much of a policy line. Still, it’s interesting to see what areas are highlighted.

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Insurance products promoted to target foreign investment enterprises

Tuesday, January 26th, 2016

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

North Korea is promoting insurance products targeted at foreign-investment companies with increasing efforts to attract foreign capital through special economic zones.

On January 19, 2016, the state-run Korea National Insurance Corporation (KNIC) made an official announcement on its website on new insurance products for the economic development zones. It announced that KNIC is promoting various insurance products to protect life and property for foreign investment companies, including fire insurance and accident liability insurance for gas accidents, third party automobile liability insurance, and third party construction liability insurance.

In addition, KNIC announced that it will offer a variety of insurance products according to personal and business demands. The website elaborated, “in order to meet the growing insurance need in the economic development zones, KNIC is introducing development of various insurance products and to realize the international insurance trends and the diversification of the insurance sector to ensure the prompt insurance coverage to remain as credible institution among foreign companies.”

The KNIC first began to operate fire, automobile, gas accident liability insurances to tenant companies in the Kaesong Industrial Complex from 2005.

Meanwhile, North Korea’s Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) adopted the insurance regulation along with property regulation for the Economic Development Zone (EDZ) last July. The insurance regulation consisted of four chapters and 52 articles, but specific details were not disclosed. However, details on insurance contracts, insurance offices, as well as installation and operation of the insurance office were revealed.

Previously, North Korea enacted new EDZ laws in May 29, 2013 which guaranteed special privileges for economic activities conducted in special economic zones as specified in the law. On November 6, 2013, three EDZ Operational Regulations were adopted (management institutional regulations, establishment regulations, and business establishment and operational regulations) by the Presidium of the SPA.

This new property insurance policies and regulations appear as a new measure to ensure added legal protection to improve investment environment of foreign capital from the three existing operating regulations.

In February 2015, Ri Sun Hak, department director of the Ministry of External Economic Relations, stated in an interview with the KCNA, “Our country is fully equipped with the legal environment to protect the legitimate rights and interests of investors.” The news also depicted ‘foreign investment law,’ ‘economic development law,’ and ‘external economic arbitration law’ were newly enacted or revised. The foreign investment laws was revised to streamline investment formalities and to provide various services for foreign-investment companies.

However, the question still remains as to gauge the effectiveness of North Korea’s insurance operations. As the international community, including the UN Security Council, is likely to impose stronger sanctions to condemn North Korea’s fourth nuclear test, the solvency of North Korea’s insurance companies remains uncertain and unreliable.

In addition, the KNIC’s Germany branch and President So Tong Myong (Seo Dong-Myung) are both on the EU’s list of sanctions, which is likely to act as an impeding factor for smooth insurance operations. The EU listed six KNIC senior employees to the sanctions list subject to an EU-wide asset freeze and travel ban.

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Economic reforms to come at North Korea’s Party Congress, Daily NK says

Monday, January 11th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Daily NK today carries a piece reporting on economic reforms to potentially come at the Korean Worker’s Party Congress coming up this year:

In terms of the possibility of declaring new economic reforms, the source explained he would announce reform measures that stay within the overall framework of socialism. Taking an extra step forward from the new economic management system’s ‘June 28 Measures,’ which pertained to agricultural policies, the pending package of reforms will include provisions authorizing individuals to directly manage factories. In practice, this would enable the state to collect more taxes from the donju [newly affluent middle class] by providing them with more freedom to make money.

Aspects of these changes are already underway in select locales. “In some regions, municipal People’s Committee business offices have been granting donju increased license to earn money,” he said. “Provided that people can offer up the initial 6,000 RMB fee and build their own factories with basic infrastructure such as sanitation facilities they are relatively uninhibited in their business operations.”

Hints at reforms like these were largely absent from Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s Address, I argued in an earlier post.

Read the full article:
Major organizational changes to be announced at Party Congress
Choi Song Min
Daily NK
2016-01-11

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3rd National Conference of Financial and Banking Officials Held

Sunday, December 13th, 2015

UPDATE 1 (2015-12-13): According to KCNA:

There took place the third national conference of financial and banking officials at the People’s Palace of Culture on Sunday.

The conference reviewed successes and experience gained by those in the field of finance and banking in the past and discussed the tasks for reliably ensuring the financial guarantee for the building of a thriving nation and ways to do so.

Present at the conference were Pak Pong Ju, Pak Yong Sik, O Su Yong, Vice-Premiers of the Cabinet Ro Tu Chol, Ri Mu Yong and Ri Chol Man, Minister of Finance Ki Kwang Ho, President of the Central Bank Kim Chon Gyun, President of the Foreign Trade Bank of the DPRK Kim Song Ui, leading officials of commissions, ministries, national institutions, provinces, cities and counties and exemplary financial and banking officials and persons of merit.

Pak Pong Ju, member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the WPK and premier of the Cabinet, read out the letter of Marshal Kim Jong Un to the participants in the conference “Let Us Dynamically Accelerate the Building of a Thriving Nation by Bringing about a Turn in Financial and Banking Work”.

In the letter Kim Jong Un said the financial and banking work in the DPRK has steadily developed, financially guaranteeing the socialist construction and the people’s material and cultural life under the deep care and leadership of President Kim Il Sung and leader Kim Jong Il.

The President set forth the unique idea of finance and banking which embodied the principle of the Juche idea and established the advantageous Korean-style financial and banking management system for solving all the problems arising in the financial and banking work in line with the independent demand and interests of the popular masses, the letter said, and went on:

Kim Jong Il developed in depth the Juche-oriented idea and theory of finance and banking of the President to provide the guidelines for improving the financial and banking work and established the party’s leadership system on the work and took revolutionary measures for the steady development of the financial and banking system.

To improve the financial and banking work is an inevitable demand for hastening the building of a thriving nation. Reliable financial resources are necessary to build the people’s paradise featured by strong national power and great prosperity.

It is necessary to financially guarantee the party’s Songun revolutionary leadership and the building of a thriving socialist nation by consolidating the financial foundations of the country and ensuring fluent circulation of currency. This is the general task for the financial and banking field.

The financial and banking officials should always bear in mind the deep trust and expectation of the party and successfully fulfill their lofty duty before the country and people and bring about a fresh turn in the financial and banking work.

Ro Tu Chol, alternate member of the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee and vice-premier of the Cabinet and chairman of the State Planning Commission, made a report.

He said that Kim Jong Un saw to it that the conference was held, and sent the letter to indicate the orientation and ways for improving the financial and banking work.

All the successes in the financial and banking work are a precious fruition of the undying efforts of the great leaders and the wise leadership of Kim Jong Un, the reporter noted.

He called for firmly establishing the monolithic leadership system of Kim Jong Un and orientating the financial and banking work to implementing the line and policy of the party.

Speeches were made at the conference.

ORIGINAL POST (2015-12-18): North Korea to Hold National Financial Bank Workers Assembly for the First Time in 25 years (Institute for Far Eastern Studies):

North Korea will host the “National Financial Bank Workers Assembly” for the first time in 25 years. This may be interpreted as the regime’s effort to pursue economic development through restructuring the financial system, as living conditions for the people and financial situation have improved since the start of the Kim Jong Un regime.

According to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on December 10, “Participants at the third National Financial Bank Workers Assembly paid respect to comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun.” The news did not mention the date, place, or the size of this event.

However, it is customary for participants ahead of a big event to visit and pay respect to Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il by visiting the palace.

The “National Financial Bank Workers Assembly” was last held in September 1990 during the Kim Il Sung era. It was never held during Kim Jong Il’s rule.

It is likely that North Korea is holding this assembly as the food security issue has improved relatively over the last 25 years, and it seems to reflect the regime’s intention to establish the official financial system.

The North Korean economy has demonstrated modest growth after Kim Jong Un’s decision to expand economic zones and acknowledge enterprise management autonomy, among other market-related measures.

In particular, with the emergence of the nouveau riche or ‘donju’ (meaning ‘masters of money’), financial transactions have been increasing, hence the need for new measures to bring about improvements in banking institutions.

For the upcoming 7th Party Congress in May 2016, tangible results in sectors of the economy must be made and this may be a contributing factor to hold the “National Financial Bank Workers Assembly,” as the regime may seek to construct large buildings and various infrastructures through the use of finances from banks.

North Korea has reportedly been promoting computerization of the financial system. The country has also sent more than 40 people from the Ministry of External Economic Affairs to Southeast Asia to receive training in microfinance.

The function of banks has weakened since the late 1990s’ “arduous march” period. But with the launch of the Kim Jong Un regime, the need for normalization of the financial system was proposed along with gradual improvement in the economy. However, it is uncertain to what degree banks will earn people’s confidence. Nevertheless, through this assembly, North Korea is likely to create a means to strengthen the role of official financial institutions.

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Currency arbitrage in North Korea

Tuesday, December 1st, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

North Korean state personnel are making good money from currency arbitrage. Daily NK has a story on how security personnel in the country regularly buy foreign currency in border towns where it’s cheaper than in cities like Pyongyang:

Using their authority over screening passengers on the train as a guise, MPS railway personnel in on the scheme actively pursue exchange deals in main border towns such as North Hamgyong Province’s Rason and North Pyongan Province’s Sinuiju. Each day, Pyongyang-based railway cadres pick out four members who are known to be good at nabbing these deals and put two as a team on the Pyongyang-Sinuiju (trains no. 5, 6) and Pyongyang-Duman River (trains no. 7, 8) trains, so they can exchange money, according to the source.   

This one example among many of state personnel benefit from informal economic activity, through their official roles. It often makes little sense to talk about the market versus the state, as if they were two wholly separate entities.

Read the full story:
MPS personnel profiting on exchange rate disparities
Choi Song Min
Daily NK 
12-01-2015

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Growth of ‘knowledge economy’ in the Kim Jong Un era

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

According to a report published by the Science and Technology Policy Institute (STEPI), since the beginning of his rule, Kim Jong Un has clarified the ‘knowledge economy’ as important as he actively restructures the science and technology system, promotes the high-tech industry, expands education, and boosts the morale of scientists and technicians.

The report, entitled ‘Changes and Implications of the Science and Technology Policy in the Kim Jong Un Era,’ noted that in contrast with the extensive purging of key officials like Jang Song Thaek and Hyon Yong Chol, North Korea’s scientific world has received considerable preferential treatment and is heading the development of the North Korean-style ‘knowledge economy.’

Since coming to power, Kim has pursued a number of projects favoring scientists, including Unha Scientists Street, Wisong Scientists Residential District, and Mirae (‘Future’) Scientists Street. He has also provided private housing to teaching faculty at Kim Il Sung University and Kim Chaek University of Technology.

As a result, more and more researchers are receiving significantly more than just their salaries. At the same time, North Korea is restructuring the R&D system, establishing research centers, extending on-site support for production, and creating for-profit companies.

The report also explained that the regime is continuing efforts pursued during the Kim Jong Il regime, such as the five-year technological development plan, the expansion of computer numerical control (CNC), and the use of the Internet. As it does so, it is pushing forward new endeavors like the establishment of the ‘Science and Technology Hall,’ cyber education, cyber healthcare, and the expansion of electronic payments. Thus, it is improving the level of informatization in North Korea.

“Like the science and technology-centered politics of Kim Jong Il, the Kim Jong Un regime has stressed science and technology in its pursuit of a knowledge economy because it recognizes the importance of this field in building a strong nation and solving the energy and food problems facing the country,” the report claimed.

In particular, around the 60th anniversary of North Korea’s National Academy of Science in December 2012, the regime embarked on an extensive reorganization of the academy. Major targets of the reorganization included the biotechnology and energy fields (critical fields to solving the food issue); high-tech fields like information technology (IT), nanotechnology, and automation; as well as the environmental sector and high-return sector.

In addition, in the beginning of 2015 North Korea dissolved its top software development agency, Korea Computer Center (KCC), leaving only the organization that develops the ‘Red Star’ computer operating system and reorganizing the whole agency as a profitmaking organization. Moreover, in the 4th Five-Year Plan (2013-2017) for scientific and technological development, solving the food and energy issues was emphasized more than in the past.

The report also mentioned the development of tablet PCs and the spread of electronic commercial transactions. In the summer of 2012, North Korea launched three tablet PC models called Samjiyon, Arirang, and Achim. Since then, more models like Woollim, Ryongheung, and Noul have been rolled out. Regarding electronic payments, the use of debit cards like the Narae card, which requires a 4-digit pin number and can be recharged at various shops and hotels, is spreading rapidly.

In regards to these changes, the report stated, “Kim Jong Un’s science and technology policies reflect North Korea’s industrial setting and private demand and are more rational as they correspond with international trends.” However, the report argued that support for key industries is shrinking, and their ability to survive on their own is insufficient. Given the difficulty of establishing a virtuous cycle of investment and profit calculation under the current policies, it concluded that the sustainability of these policies is low.

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