Archive for the ‘National Defense Commission’ Category

Aidan Foster-Carter on the DPRK’s 2012

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

Aidan Foster-Carter wrties in the Asia Times:

The first quarter of 2012 is almost over. Where did it go, so fast? And for those parts of the world where the calendar is marked by four distinct seasons – which doesn’t apply to much of Asia, but very much includes the Korean peninsula – spring has begun to arrive. Welcome warmth and relief, after the rigors of chilly winter: an especially harsh one in North Korea.

(more…)

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Choson Exchange with a JVIC update

Monday, February 13th, 2012

According to Choson Exchange:

As we mentioned recently, Ri Chol, the broker of the Orascom deal, has moved on from JVIC. Where he has gone is not yet certain, but the choice for his replacement is interesting.

Ri Gwang Gun is the new head of JVIC and was introduced as such to the CEO of Orascom last week. Ri Gwang Gun has held various positions related to trade, including executive positions at state owned enterprises and as Minister of Foreign Trade. He apparently reports to Kim Yang Gon.

He was (is?) a Daepung Investment Group man. We’ve speculated that the existence of both Daepung and JVIC reflected a kind of “competition at the top” for influence in attracting and managing investments. They were both formed around the same time in 2009/2010 and have similar charges. Therefore, Ri Gwang Gun’s promotion could indicate a potential harmonizing of this competition.

Of course, the contours of this are difficult to see. Daepung, with stronger ties to the NDC, could be construed as taking over the JVIC from the top; perhaps the military has been able to exert itself to make sure that in the new leadership era, it does not get shut out of the investment game. (JVIC has become the more active and influential of the two groups.)

It could also be seen as a victory for JVIC, with Daepung being left to crumble and the top talent from that group being brought across. It remains to be seen if there will be some kind of exodus from either group.

Perhaps, also, it is some kind of compromise and a merger of sorts, with competing groups of elites ‘buying in’ to a unified system of investment management under the JVIC brand. They may see this as a way to increase effectiveness, avoid the negative outcomes of unfettered intra-elite competition and therefore encourage stability overall.

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DPRK courting Coca Cola?

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

Pictured above, the DPRK’s local cola logo. Image source here.

UPDATE 1: Stephan Haggard believes this is a non-story.

ORIGINAL POST (2011-10-5): According to Forbes:

Global capital is an inherently lonely trade, but as Gabriel Schulze ambles into the conference room of Yanggakdo International Hotel, a towering edifice separated by a ring of water from the rest of Pyongyang, the most impenetrable capital in the world, it’s hard to imagine a more isolated business meeting.

“We warmly welcome you, the Coca-Cola delegation, with Mr. Schulze as your leader,” says Park Chol Su, the president of North Korea’s Taepung International Investment Group, singling out the 6-foot-7 American from his entourage of four people. “I hope this will be a good opportunity to make progress in the relations between the U.S. and Korea.”

Why is a U.S. businessman in Pyongyang pitching America’s most iconic consumer brand to the world’s most inhospitable marketplace? Because, surprisingly, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is ready to buy, and eager enough to flex its atrophied capitalistic muscles that it let a FORBES reporter follow along–and record everything–as the Coca-Cola discussions heated up.

Park says his Taepung Group, established by Kim Jong Il himself, wants to bring market principles to a planned economy, even down to setting what price a bottle of Coke made in Pyongyang would go for–sort of. “Costs are based on the demands of the market, but we will respect your price,” Park tells Schulze’s delegation. “If the price is too high, it will be restricted.”

North Korea, the most hidebound and repressive of socialist states, is slowly inviting not only China but also the wider Western World to invest in its near-moribund economy. Officials claim the country is open for business with outsiders, and that the political stripes of the investors do not matter as much as the money in their pockets and the willingness to deal. Chinese companies have signed a number of multimillion-dollar deals to extract resources and build and repair infrastructure, such as making port improvements in the northeastern region of Rason and paving a road from there to the Chinese border. Taepung also claims to have inked billiondollar contracts, including one to develop a huge coal mine, but those deals haven’t been nailed.

American signature brands may actually be most welcome, despite or perhaps because of decades of propaganda casting the U.S. as the devil incarnate. Pyongyang’s economic representatives made clear in this and other meetings, with focus and determination, that they want Yum Brands to open up KFC franchises.

Extreme wishful thinking though this may be, it’s linked to a planned ten-year revamp of the North Korean economy to expand national GDP from a meager $30 billion last year to $1 trillion by 2020. (The country can’t even feed its people; there is severe malnutrition in the countryside.) That all but impossible goal cannot be approached without an unshackling of enterprise, which may never occur, and massive help from the outside world, which may never come. The expression “reform and opening,” so familiar in China, is not yet politically acceptable language in Pyongyang. But North Korea’s courtship of the West has begun.

“Coke is strategic. I hope that Coke will serve as a bridge for relations between the two governments,” says Park, a slight man with a toothy smile and a taste for liquor, over a traditional Korean hot pot lunch and beer. Then, perhaps, sanctions could be lifted and more substantial investments could follow. “The door will be open to the whole world, not only China–even the U.S., even Western countries.”

But so far the West hasn’t come calling. North Korea remains in the dysfunctional totalitarian grip of Kim Jong Il. The regime is a defiant nuclear provocateur linked to proliferating weapons, drugs and counterfeit cash abroad, while operating a terrifyingly effective police state at home. Western companies will require more than the usual amount of persuasion. They will want something the North Koreans can’t possibly provide: a blessing from the White House.

That’s where Gabriel Schulze, scion of the Newmont Mining fortune, with a prospector’s taste for risk and opportunity, comes in. He has been surveying this forbidden market on the strength of informal connections to Coke and one of its bottlers, SABMiller, without either company’s toplevel approval–a Cold War-style mission that affords the higher-ups plausible deniability.

SABMiller sent a regional executive, at Schulze’s invitation, to the May meeting with Taepung Group, adding in a statement for this story, “We have no plans to invest in North Korea.” Coke turned down a request from Taepung Group (via Schulze) to visit this summer, and distanced itself from the remotest hint of soft-drink summitry with this statement: “No representative of the Coca-Cola Co. has been in discussions or explored opening up business in North Korea.”

Coke’s skittishness is striking from a company with a history of selling into almost any market–including such villainous or pariah states as Hitler’s Germany in the 1930s, Franco’s Spain and Pyongyang’s historical sponsors, China and the Soviet Union, in the 1980s (though Pepsi got to the Soviet Union first). North Korea is one of the last frontiers. “That is your task, to become a pioneer,” says Jang Gwang Ho, the senior North Korean official in the coterie greeting Schulze’s group.

Tall, blue-eyed and devout, Schulze is full-blooded pioneer. The great-great-grandson of Newmont founder William Boyce Thompson, he runs a family investment office out of Beijing, Schulze Global Investments, which specializes in China and difficult emerging markets.

While he has close ties to Republicans in U.S. politics, Schulze’s forays abroad, such as a cement plant in Ethiopia, are far from conservative. Schulze Global seeks “double bottom-line returns,” he says, profiting while helping poor emerging markets develop. Bringing Coke to North Korea would be historic, but he knows engagement with Pyongyang might be seen as a folly back home, both financially and politically.

“We understand that there’s a high likelihood that there could be all sorts of trouble and that we could end up losing money,” Schulze tells me after his trip. “There’s a lot of [U.S.North Korea] mistrust, there’s a lot of gamesmanship, and for us it’s not about pretending that that’s not there. We’re not in a little bubble of happiness.”

Would it even be legal for Coca-Cola to do business in North Korea, given international and U.S. sanctions? Those sanctions have proven to be narrow and permissive in practice, and there is no stricture against soft drinks (a sip of CocaCola is already imported, mostly from China, and sold to the few with disposable hard currency).

Hundreds of foreign businesses, most of them Chinese, have come into North Korea despite cautionary tales of investments gone bad, of officials changing the terms or the rules, soliciting bribes, demanding substantially higher payments or expropriating joint ventures.

And these businesses have made money. In a 2007 survey of 250 Chinese operations in North Korea, scholars Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland found 88% saying they could turn a profit. (A majority also reported paying bribes.) Enterprises routinely encounter difficulties, yet many persist, hopeful for economic liberalization.

At least one American investor has profited in North Korea as well: Schulze Global. Three times in 2008 it made loans of hundreds of thousands of dollars to mining companies to buy equipment and expand, and each was repaid. This summer Schulze lent an additional $1 million to finance a North Korean conglomerate’s purchases of corn to feed its workers. (He consulted with sanctions lawyers in America before making the loans and has filed notices with the U.S. Treasury Department.)

“That opened the doors” to the Coke project, Schulze says. Making the world’s favorite carbonated beverage in Pyongyang would be quite another matter, though. The country still operates on a planned economy and has difficulty even manufacturing plastic bottles and cans. The government barters for sugar from Castro’s Cuba and would probably have to import steel to build a Coke factory. And although the estimated per capita income is $1,200 a year, the Coke factory’s workers would be paid barely more than a dollar a day (low wages are a key selling point to foreign investors). Further, the nation is plagued with persistent food shortages that force the regime to rely on international aid. Does a country this poor have consumers for the iconic American drink?

The answer is yes, at least in the capital. Home to the privileged upper crust, or an eighth of the nation’s 24 million people, Pyongyang has a visibly robust elite economy. The city’s wide Stalinist thoroughfares, bereft of private automobiles five years ago, are now filled with tens of thousands of foreign cars, including American and Japanese brands.

Mobile phone use is common, with more than 300,000 accounts in the capital using the 3G network built by Egyptian telecom Orascom. That includes some of the city’s traffic women, famous for white gloves and powder-blue uniforms. With traffic lights now doing most of their work for them, one was spotted on the sidewalk jabbering into her cellphone.

The city’s new Pothonggang Department Store was fully stocked with imported fare to be had at prices in North Korean won that are affordable only at the black-market exchange rate (2,500 won to the dollar at the time, compared with the official rate of 100 won). Name brands like Heinz Ketchup (the equivalent of $4 a bottle), Mars bars (a little more than $4 per bag) and all manner of high-end liquors and cigarettes are on offer, usually imported from Europe or Asia. On another floor you can find imported sweaters, dresses and shoes.

The checkout lines run briskly in midafternoon, the shopping done mostly by women, many of them likely the wives of government officials and army officers. (Kim Jong Il showcased the store with a visit in December.) Out on the streets the proles shop for snacks and locally made sodas–typically fruity concoctions in glass bottles–at hundreds of kiosks throughout the city, mostly priced at the black market rate of 20 cents to 40 cents.

Those prices would be 25 times higher at government exchange rates and thus out of reach for almost all North Koreans on their official salaries–but hard currency is flowing into the capital, “through this and that channel,” Jang says, and is spent. “Although officially they are not receiving the salaries from the government in hard currency, they have! So they like to spend the hard currency for their children because the children like to drink the Coke,” he explains.

Jang, of course, is not a commoner or for that matter a typical North Korean apparatchik. He speaks fluent if idiosyncratic English, was educated partly in the U.K. and is married to a doctor. First vice president of Taepung Group, he has a dual appointment on a government body overseeing economic development. Over two days of meetings Jang exudes an almost relaxed air of detachment. He typically parries questions with humor and stories while puffing on Dunhill cigarettes and flashing a Longines watch. (The president of Taepung, Park Chol Su, is a Chinese national, chosen in part for his Chinese contacts and experience.)

Do North Koreans like to drink beer? asks Anton van Heerden, a South African who runs SABMiller’s Asian supply chain. Yes, especially a growing cadre of retirees. “I can see so many old men, over 60, normally in the evening if we look around the city, they are making a queue to buy the beer,” Jang says, adding with a laugh: “There are crazy people! A lot of people drink the beer–30 bottles in the evening! I don’t know how.”

Friendly though they are with Schulze, Jang and Park both make clear that they answer to a higher power, the leader they refer to only as “the top man,” “the General” or the “Dear Leader”: Kim Jong Il. Park was born to Korean parents in northeastern China in 1959, as Kim Il Sung’s regime recovered from the Korean War. Park built relationships with North Korean officials by selling them much-needed gasoline in the 1990s. He is a salesman again, puffing up his chest as he blusters about the will of the General to change North Korea’s economy, led by his Taepung Group.

Parse the bombast and you get a rare glimpse inside the complexities of power relationships. Park says he has never met the top man and instead takes his instructions from a close Kim confidant, 73-year-old Kim Yang Gon, who is chief of the United Front Department, an intelligence arm of the Korean Workers’ Party, and chairman of the Taepung Group. Still greater power at Taepung likely lies with another member of the board of directors, Kim Jong Il’s brother-in-law Jang Song Taek, who as vice chairman of the National Defense Commission is considered North Korea’s second-most-powerful man. The National Defense Commission, chaired by Kim Jong Il, is also Taepung’s controlling shareholder.

To some Western analysts the tight control of Taepung signals that Kim’s coterie is not an agent of change and reform but precisely the opposite–a means to tighten its grip over the North Korean economy. The reasoning: Kim wants Taepung to bring in multibillion-dollar deals for resources, power plants, ports and roads, they say, so that he and his cronies can control the spoils.

Schulze hears the skeptics. But he notes that a Coca-Cola investment would be far more symbolic than lucrative. The total ante probably wouldn’t exceed $10 million (with Schulze Global’s share at $2 million)–tiny by comparison with some resource deals. He also argues that the only realistic way to engage with North Korea is precisely through those in power. “People say this is the leadership looking to benefit itself, and I would say yes, that is absolutely true.” But, he adds, “it doesn’t negate the fact that selfish ambition can still drive positive change and development, particularly in the economy, which can make a real difference in the lives of North Koreans.”

His groundwork laid in North Korea, Schulze will continue his quixotic quest to lobby not only Coke but also Capitol Hill and the Obama Administration. He is, in a way, following in the footsteps of his great-great-grandfather Thompson, the mining magnate. Thompson shocked his friends in the business establishment when, after returning from Russia after a trip in the fall of 1917, he urged that the U.S. and Britain engage with the new communist regime there to moderate the impulses of Lenin and Trotsky. No one, obviously, followed that advice.

Read the full story here:
Invading North Korea
Forbes
Gady Epstein
2011-10-5

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Economic performance and legitimacy in the DPRK

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

Geoffrey See and Andray Abrahamian (both representatives of Choson Exchange) wrote an article in the Harvard International Review which asserts that economic successes are becoming more important to the political narratives that reinforce the DPRK leadership’s claims to legitimacy. Below is an excerpt from their article:

North Korea’s most important domestic policy statement comes each New Year, when the major newspapers publish a joint editorial. The editorial often signals where government priorities will be in the coming year. In 2010 the newspapers spoke of “Bring[ing] about a decisive change in the people’s lives by accelerating once again light industry and agriculture.” Similar themes were echoed in 2011. This is opposed to the joint editorials of the past few years, which have focused on the more traditional themes of military strength, revolution, and socialism.

Another public sign of a shift towards focusing on economic issues is the type of official visits and inspections carried out by Kim Jong Il. Following in the footsteps of his father, Kim uses these visits to signal emphasis or encouragement of specific industries, activities, and policies. According to a report by the Institute for Far Eastern Studies, the first six months of 2011 have seen Kim exceptionally busy, participating in 63 official activities. Unlike previous years, however, the number of military visitations has dropped off: only 14 visits were military related, the lowest number ever recorded. By contrast, 28 visits were economic related.

In terms of policy, North Korea has been haltingly experimenting with Special Economic Zones (SEZ) since the mid-nineties, but has recently built a bit more momentum in this area. Rason, an SEZ in the far northeast, is finally seeing some basic infrastructure upgrades that were long talked about but always delayed. Government investment bodies have started to promote the idea that Rason will be the “next Singapore,” an ambitious marketing claim to anyone who has been to Rason. With both Russia and China leasing port space, it seems more likely to be transformed into a regional transportation hub. Meanwhile, along the Chinese border in the northwest, the Hwanggumpyong SEZ recently held a groundbreaking ceremony, attended by high-ranking North Korean officials and Wang Qishan, China’s commerce minister.

Senior politicians in North Korea are increasingly judged by their ability to bring in foreign direct investments. These efforts appear to be competitive rather than coordinated. North Korean leaders associated with the National Defense Commission, the highest level policy body, have been meeting with visiting foreign investors. In 2009, the Daepung International Investment Group was re-purposed along the lines of a holding company model as a vehicle for attracting foreign direct investment l with “27 joint ventures planned and to be managed by the Group.” Daepung Group is backed by specific high-level individuals. Jon Il-Chun, reportedly the Director of Office 39, a murky international trade and finance organ, is definitely involved with the Daepung Group. Media reports also indicate that Kim Yang Gon, Director of an organization tasked with managing contacts with South Korea, the United Front Department of the Workers’ Party, is also behind the group.

In July of the same year, the Joint Venture & Investment Commission (JVIC) was established. Instead of a holding company model, JVIC is a government institution modeled as a “one-stop shop” for investors – that is, JVIC is meant to “seek out investments and assist investors in setting up operations in North Korea.” While multiple institutions claiming to hold such authority have always existed in North Korea, many of these institutions have been merged into JVIC and long-time investors have been directed to liaise with JVIC as their primary government contact. JVIC’s nominal and public head is Ri Chol, a high-ranking North Korean government official.

In August of 2010, we received credible reports that foreign investors were approached to help set up a group similar to Daepung that would be backed by another member of the National Defense Commission. Given this proposed initiative’s similarities to Daepung, the prior establishment of JVIC, and that all three groups do not appear to communicate with each other, we surmise that these various groups have a competitive relationship with the support of different patrons. Investment officials with whom our teammates have met confirm that the relationship between the agencies is “very competitive.” If this is the case, it is a signal that influential groups in Pyongyang sense that future power bases will require the ability to attract and deploy capital.

The full article is worth reading here:
Harvard International Review
Geoffrey K. See and Andray Abrahamian
August 23, 2011

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Pyongyang seeing more inspections

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

According to the Daily NK:

With the border area enveloped in ‘Storm Trooper Unit’ inspections, operations against South Korean goods have been stepped up in distant Pyongyang, according to a man from the city who talked to the Daily NK in Dandong, China on Tuesday.

“Inspections by ‘Group 109’, which has been around for a while, have gradually become more intense,” the man, Kim, explained. “Worst of all, they are showing up in the middle of the night without warning to search for CDs, DVDs and recorders, and if there are any materials such as pornography or South Korean merchandise, then the offender is taken away. There are no exceptions.”

“In the past when the National Security Agency or People’s Safety Ministry came to inspect, people would pay them to let it slide, but nowadays the authorities send an agent from both of those agencies and the Defense Security Command as a team, which makes it hard to get out of it if you get caught,” he added.

A Daily NK source from Pyongyang confirmed the story, saying that as recently as July one could escape Group 109 punishment for watching South Korean or American DVDs with a bribe of $100 in central Pyongyang, or less in the surrounding areas.

Group 109 is an organization set up by the Chosun Workers’ Party to crack down on illegal media including CDs and DVDs. The group is one of a number of ‘Gruppas’, as they are locally known, currently operating in the capital, with others including Group 622, which handles juvenile delinquency, and Group 27, actually a branch of the Defense Security Command, which deals with mobile phone usage.

The various groups have been conducting their assorted inspections to weed out myriad ‘anti-socialist’ behavior for some time, but bribery has always provided an escape route, albeit while those without money or connections were made an example of. However in recent times, allegedly since successor Kim Jong Eun ordered more intense inspections and punishments, the ‘Gruppas’ have had to take their tasks more seriously.

The volume of South Korean goods trading in the market has contracted due to the recent crackdowns, but their popularity is undiminished; evasion of inspections is apparently being achieved via house calls to trusted clients. Kim says that the preference is only getting stronger for South Korean goods amongst cadres, a group which has always been safe from inspections.

“The traders go around the city knocking on people’s doors, quietly asking whether the residents would like to buy some South Korean merchandise. For this reason the nickname ‘knock-knocker’ is sometimes used to refer to them,” Kim explained.

Read the full story here:
Pyongyang Seeing Tighter Inspections
Daily NK
Lee Seok Young
2011-8-24

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On the de-facto privatization of industry in the DPRK…

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Pictured above (Google Earth): A bus depot in Rakrang-guyok, Pyongyang.  See in Google Maps here.

According to the Daily NK:

Growth and improvement is evident in some areas of the private sector in North Korea, Ishimaru Jiro of ASIAPRESS revealed on the 16th, pointing to the growth of bigger, better private transit concerns and relatively productive coal mining operations as evidence of this trend.

In the past, trains were almost the only viable means of long-distance transportation in North Korea. Then, as private business began to grow and the railways fell into a deep malaise, vehicles such as trucks and cars belonging to military bases, state security and state enterprises were pushed into service to earn money for moving people; this, the so-called ‘servi-cha’ industry.

The servi-cha industry has long been fragmented and small scale; but now transportation companies run by rich individuals (‘donju’) which purchase several buses and hire drivers, guides and mechanics, are acting just as a transit company in a capitalist state would do.

With profit-sharing and bribery as the backbone, a large number of North Korean organs and enterprises have decided to lend their name to these individuals, fuelling the growth and development of a network of sorts.

“From the early 2000s, a high-speed bus network mostly between major cities began to emerge,” Ishimaru, revealing the latest research by ASIAPRESS internal North Korean sources, commented. “The companies are packaged as an enterprise affiliated to some state authority outwardly, but they are actually operated by individuals who pay kickbacks to that authority.”

The People’s Safety Ministry affiliated 116 Task Force Team is one such transportation company, Ishimaru says. It operates buses connecting Shinuiju, South Pyongan Province and Pyongyang. Ordinarily, the bus parks at a station or major public location, and then departs when it is full of passengers going to the next destination.

Here are previous posts on the servi-cha industry.

Read the full sotry here:
Green Shoots of Private Enterprise Growth
Daily NK
2011-8-17

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Premier Choe Yong-rim is making unprecedented but vigorous economic inspections

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2011-7-13

Kim Jong Il’s field guidance visitations decreased significantly in recent weeks. In place of the North Korean leader, Premier Choe Yong-rim is known to be making solo economic inspection visitations.

According to South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, Premier Choe has made a total of 17 on-site inspections from February. Starting with Huichon Power Plant, four trips in March, two in April, six in May, and lastly, four visits in June were recorded. A high-level official to make on-site inspections unaccompanied by its leader is an unprecedented case. This suggests major change for North Korea in which the chief of Cabinet is now directly heading the economy.

Although these inspections were short day trips, sites visited concentrated mainly on factories, power plants, cooperative farms, and construction sites. While making inspection rounds, Choe’s main duty is to deliver the orders of Kim Jong Il, but he was also witnessed actively suggesting measures to resolve problems that were raised at the sites.

Premier Choe’s economic inspections correspond with the DPRK’s plan of building a strong and prosperous nation by 2012 and an effort to propagate the spirit of self-sufficiency and encourage Juche or self-reliance of the economy throughout the country.

The last report of Kim Jong Il’s official field guidance was on June 3, at the Kosan Fruit Farm located in the Kosan City of Gangwon Province. For more than a month, Kim Jong Il allegedly has not provided any onsite inspections.

There are numerous speculations on the cause of the reduced inspections but many are linking it to Premier Choe.

Many news outlets in North Korea have begun to report on Premier Choe’s economic inspection visits in isolation from Kim Jong Il and related news are on the rise. The details include visits to Kim Chaek Iron and Steel Complex, Nanam Coal Machine Mining Complex, and Chongjin Steel Mill from June 23 to 25 and Chollima Steel Complex on June 29.

On July 2, KCNA covered the news about Choe’s visits to Bukchang Thermalelectric Power Plant. There he presided over meetings discussing the issues of securing raw and building materials to improve facility and technological management as well as specific plans to increase energy production.

Choe’s frequent visits are interpreted to demonstrate the rise in power of the Cabinet compared to its relatively weak position of the past, compared to the Workers’ Party of Korea and National Defence Commission.

Others construe the developments as an effort to weaken any internal dissatisfaction or negative sentiments towards the regime by emphasizing the premier’s active involvement with the economic development to achieve the national goal of becoming powerful socialist state by 2012.

The decline in field inspections by Kim has raised suspicion about the health of North Korean leader. Some suggest that Kim is taking time off to recuperate from the tight schedule of his recent China visit in late May.

Recently, Japanese Kyodo News reported that Kim Jong Il cancelled plans to visit Russia on June 29 for health reasons.

Some speculate Kim is behind the scenes contemplating the changing foreign policies, deterioration of North-South relations, and food shortages.

I am not sure where the Ministry of Unification is getting their numbers. I just did a tabulation of Kim Jong-il’s and Choe Yong-rim’s economic guidance trips and public appearances from February 2011 — July 13 and get very different results than they are announcing: 36 visits for Kim Jong-il and 47 for Mr. Choe.  All the data, including links to the KCNA sources are here in an Excel Spreadsheet.

Also worth mentioning is that between June 3 and July 13 (contrary to the report) Kim Jong-il made 11 or 12 public appearances–four of which were guidance trips. See them here in an Excel Spreadsheet with links to the KCNA source.

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Daily NK on anti-socialist activities

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

Part 1: The Illogicality of Anti-Socialist Policy
Lee Seok Young
2011-6-22

In North Korea today, those actions which are subject to the harshest oversight and most excessive punishment are those deemed anti-socialist, an expression of the extent to which such actions are seen as a threat to the regime.

Yet these very actions have already taken deep root in people’s lifestyles, spreading rapidly as a result of chronic economic difficulties, food insecurity, endemic corruption and the inflow of information from abroad.

First of all, every North Korean and defector the Daily NK meets says much the same thing; that if people had not followed an ‘anti-socialist’ path during the mid-90s famine, they could not have survived. The power which maintains North Korean society through the hardest times is that derived from anti-socialist actions, and it is those actions which the authorities would like to put an end to.

The blocking of these so-called ‘anti-socialist trends’ nominally began with Kim Jong Il’s 1992 work, ‘Socialism Is a Science’, issued following the fall of the Eastern Bloc. A time of great fear for the regime, ‘Socialism Is a Science’ expressed a determination to block out anti-socialist phenomena.

However, a famine exploded nationwide shortly after the publication of the thesis, placing these very anti-socialist modes of behavior at the core of the lives of almost everybody in the nation.

Having completely replaced Kim Jong Il and the Chosun Workers’ Party as the alpha provider of sustenance, money is now uppermost in the minds of the people. If they can, they are moving away from the collective farms, factories and enterprises to become more active in the market.

“At a time when the state didn’t provide rations and workers were not even receiving their monthly wages, the ones who started trading early on were all best able to avoid this predicament,” said one defector, “Others followed after their example and, rather than trying to find work, went straight into the market.”

Money, then, is the fundamental toxin that now threatens to shake the very basis of the Kim regime, completely undermining the ‘let’s work the same, have the same and live well’ lifestyle that the regime has long been demanding from the people.The authorities, as part of a losing battle to halt this slide, ‘educates’ the people with the mantra, “Don’t become a slave to money,” but it makes no difference.

People are growing more and more money-oriented. What simply began as a desperate rearguard action to survive extreme poverty has become a preoccupation with accumulating wealth. The many who don’t have the capital to start a business are keen to work with those who do.

One interviewee, a woman hailing from North Hamkyung Province, told The Daily NK, “They have to keep trying, but they can’t eliminate it. How could they, when the state itself is actually encouraging its spread? Everywhere you go, they demand bribes, and people with money never get punished even when clearly guilty, because everyone is desperate to earn money.”

Given that the central authorities demand Party funds from regional bodies, and regional Party and military cadres in turn work with smugglers, and the cadres charged with inspection turn a blind eye to criminal acts in exchange for bribes, the whole system is, as the interviewee said, rotten from the top down.

One defector who left his position as a cadre in a Yangkang Province enterprise agreed, recalling, “The Party periodically collected money from our factory, but since all the machinery had long since stopped running, they made us work in the market and give 30% of the profits to the authorities. It was the state that promoted anti-socialism in consequence.”

Another defector originally from North Hamkyung Province said in a similar vein, “The National Security and People’s Safety agents stationed on provincial borders stop people without the right permit to travel, but let them pass in exchange for a few packs of cigarettes. Some even ask for your wrist watch. It’s not just the people; the whole nation is busy being anti-socialist.”

Increasing exposure to foreign materials is also influencing the situation somewhat. Such things are especially popular with students and women working in the markets, two groups which are more up-to-date than most.

South Korean and Western culture is being transmitted quickly via DVD, and materials that are brought into the state from China by traders and smugglers are also pushing forward new trends such as the ‘Korean Wave.’

To the North Korean people, who once lived in near complete isolation from the rest of the world, the introduction of foreign materials has intensified their yearnings for a new life style. The stricter the regulations become, the thirstier for something else the people become.

Part 2: Crackdowns Enhancing Anti-Socialist Cycle
Mok Yong Jae
2011-06-23

‘Anti-socialism’ in North Korea is a destabilizing force disturbing the foundations of the system. For that reason, the authorities place a great emphasis on rooting it out. Inspections are frequent and their targets varied. But the fact is that this has done little to stop the growth of such activities; in fact, quite the opposite; some believe that targeted inspections actually increase instances of smuggling, for example.

These focused inspections are handed down in the name of the ‘Party Center’ in other words Kim Jong Il. The latest inspections over anti-socialist trends in border areas have been being carried out by Kim Jong Eun’s direct instruction. First people are educated about and warned against ‘anti-socialist behavior’, then provincial Party and military cadres launch an inspection.

If a concerted inspection is to be unleashed on a given area, an inspection unit is set up, and it does the work. In the case of recent inspections targeting drugs and defection, the inspection units have even been sent from the Central Committee of the Party. The makeup of the unit can differ slightly depending on the target of the inspection, but usually includes agents from the National Security Agency (NSA), People’s Safety Ministry and Prosecutors Office. Precise search sites are usually selected at random and the searches conducted without warning, while ‘criminals’ are flushed out in part by getting citizens to report on one another.

However, the effectiveness of this system has a limit. This is primarily due to an overwhelming degree of official corruption at nearly all levels.

The Spread of Bureaucracy and the Limits of Inspections

The primary agents conducting the inspections, agents from the NSA and PSM, collude with smugglers for their own benefit. Anti-socialist activities are not a new means of survival, and the more commonplace the inspections become, the more focused the agents doing it become on their own self-interest; i.e. rent seeking rather than uncovering instances of wrongdoing.

For example, agents seek out big smugglers only in order to offer them an opportunity for their actions to be ignored, something they will do for a price. A source from Yangkang Province explained to The Daily NK, “Hoping not to lose their goods, also so as to avoid prison, in many cases smugglers try to win over agents. They talk to the official for a while, and if they think ‘this guy can be won over’ then some even gently encourage them to find a way to forego any punishment.”

Then, when the inspecting agents begin dropping heavy hints about expensive merchandise, electronics or a piano, for example, the smugglers say, “I’d be delighted to buy that for you,” and for that receive their freedom.

Thus, it is rare for money to change hands directly; goods are bought in China and handed over when the inspection period has come to a close. The smuggler also obtains a permit to import a certain amount of other goods without penalty in the future. By winning over agents in this way, assistance in future times of trouble can also be secured.

In addition, as Lee Jae Won, the former chairman of the Korean Bar Association Committee on Human Rights in North Korea and someone who has interviewed a great number of defectors as author of the 2010 White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea, concludes, “Anti-socialist activities are extremely common for North Korean cadres in public positions such as prosecutors and judges.” The bribing of prosecutors and judges in exchange for leniency or to escape conviction is a daily occurrence, as much as bribing the security forces and cadres.

What Anti-socialist Counteroffensive? Officials are the source of Antisocialism

Now much more so than in the past, cadres and agents are directly involved in the antisocialist activities.

A Chinese-Korean trader who often goes between Dandong and Shinuiju told The Daily NK, “There are so many drugs in North Korea that even the officers supposed to be policing it are taking drugs themselves. Some of them even asked me to take opium to China and sell it. I go back to North Korea every year to visit relatives, and I’ve seen officers there doing bingdu (methamphetamines) with my own eyes.

It is also said that the families of cadres are the main source of South Korean movies and dramas on DVD. Party cadres are, in effect, the very source of the Korean Wave that their bosses in Pyongyang ban on the premise of defending the state from the ‘ideological and cultural invasion of the South Chosun reactionaries’.

A source from Pyongan Province confirmed the story, telling The Daily NK, “These DVDs and VCDs come from the houses of cadres who travel overseas a lot. The children of cadres love watching them. The families of traders have a lot of them, too, but it’s the cadres they’re spreading from.”

Thus, while the central Party single-mindedly attacks anti-socialist behaviour, the cadres and agents who are meant to be carrying out the orders are deeply involved in the ‘anti-socialism’ themselves. The more crackdowns that occur, the more contact there is between the elite and security forces on the one hand and smugglers and traders on the other, offering more opportunities for symbiosis. It is for this reason that some claim the inspections are actually catalyzing the anti-socialism.

Meanwhile, An Chan Il of the World North Korea Study Center pointed out to The Daily NK that the whole thing is completely inevitable, saying, “These inspection teams are not receiving proper rations from the state, so of course they take bribes instead when sent out into the field. Administrative irregularities and corruption are at the very heart of these anti-socialist inspections. The only way for the families of inspecting agents to survive is for the father to be a part of this anti-socialist behavior.”

Choi Yong Hwan from the Gyeonggi Research Institute agreed, adding, “These inspections are intensifying social inequality. The fundamental cause of this is the collapse of the state rationing system due to economic difficulties. It’s a situation where even the agents are hungry, so there is a permanent pattern of them attempting to guarantee their own survival via corruption. There is a vicious cycle repeating here, whereby those who are able to ingratiate themselves with the inspecting agents and cadres survive, and those who do not or cannot get punished.”

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Younger cadres gaining security posts

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

According to the Daily NK:

Recently, younger cadres have started being posted to city and county units of the National Security Agency (NSA) and People’s Safety Ministry (PSM), according to sources.

One such source from North Pyongan Province explained on Sunday, “NSA and PSM cadres are being rapidly changed for younger men, who are now playing a pivotal role. There are now two or three men in their late 20s and early 30s in the case of an NSA office, and among the ten men in a PSM office, five or six are in their 30s.”

“The change to younger agents began last year, making men in their mid-40s who should be at peak capacity start looking over their shoulder,” the source added.

A source from Yangkang Province concurred, adding, “Just now in the local NSA, prosecutors’ office and PSM, early- to mid-30s people have been stationed in almost all posts. These early- and mid-30s people are even taking places as high as vice director of the city or county NSA.”

The NSA and PSM represent the domestic force behind the Kim dictatorship, the tools of both policing and intelligence functions. As such, experts assert that if people loyal to the Kim Jong Il system are being replaced, that is another telling sign that North Korea is edging towards a system led by successor Kim Jong Eun.

Cheong Seong Chang of Sejong Research Institute explained, “This looks like generational change to facilitate the Kim Jong Eun succession system. To increase Kim Jong Eun’s ability to secure the system, they are changing existing cadres for younger men at a rapid pace.”

Even as late as the early 2000s, to become an NSA or PSM agent required an individual to have ten years of military service and two years of civilian work under his belt, and to have passed through a political college dedicated to the respective service.

Having gotten a foot in the door, an individual needed at least three to five years to gain promotion through local agent, vice section chief, section chief, vice director and then director positions, and as a result one would often be in one’s 50s before reaching the vice director’s chair. Of course, family background and political conditions also had to be met.

However, now there is an alternative course, with viable candidates being plucked from military service of only five or six years to enter an ordinary civilian college, and thereafter being stationed with the security forces.

After which, following two or three years as an entry-level agent, those who enter via this foreshortened route are sent for six months of political education, graduating whilst still in their late 20s or early 30s. It is these individuals who are now emerging early into mid-level positions in the security forces.

While it is claimed that this process is open to all soldiers with good backgrounds and represents an example of “Kim Jong Il’s consideration” of his subjects, the reality is that only a minority of young people, noticeably the children of cadres, can benefit from it, according to sources.

Regardless of which, the Pyongan Province source said that this policy change is causing problems, with the younger men speaking disrespectfully to people who are below them but who society traditionally views as their elder.

The Yangkang Province source explained, “Because they got pushed down the pecking order overnight, got hurt or feel betrayed, many are driven to drink. These older men are complaining at getting nagged by younger people.”

Alongside this, recently most new placements are far from an individual’s home.

A Shinuiju source commented, “In the past, prosecutors or People’s Safety agents were people born locally, but since August they have been coming from other provinces or counties. This seems to be a policy handed down to combat the many cases of agents turning a blind eye to the actions of family and friends.”

However, “These days, if you have money you can solve anything, so the interpersonal connections of these people make no difference,” the source concluded.

Read the full story here:
Younger Men Taking Over Security World
Daily NK
Lee Beom Ki and Lee Seok Young
2011-6-21

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NSA agents in Hyesan under greater scrutiny

Friday, June 17th, 2011

Pictured above (Google Earth): Hyesan City’s Kanggu-dong (강구동), Wiyon-dong (위연동), and Songpong-dong (송봉동) mentioned in the Daily NK story below.

According to Daily NK:

A source from Hyesan revealed the news yesterday, saying, “On the 11th, an NSA agent responsible for the Kanggu area of Hyesan committed suicide at his office. In one soldier’s testimony during the process of an investigation into the border guard unit, it came out that he had aided smuggling and defections, and had taken bribes. Out of fear of punishment, he killed himself.”

According to the source, there has recently been one other similar case in the city. In that instance, an NSA agent responsible for the Wuiyeon area killed himself at his house during April, apparently during an NSA investigation centering on the fact that an abnormally large number of defector families were there.

In another instance, NK Intellectuals Solidarity recently reported a case from February, where an NSA agent covering the Songbong area of the city killed himself at the time of his arrest by smashing his head into a wall. In that case, however, the NSA investigation was focused around the sale of 1kg of narcotics.

This is causing tension in the city, the source went on, explaining, “They are warning people not to gossip to others about issues related to the National Security Agency. The rumor now circulating is that there will be an in depth investigation by the central Party soon, so the feeling here is uneasy.”

In North Korea, a local NSA agent is responsible for roughly 1,000 households or less. Through roughly 40 or 50 people’s unit heads and Women’s Union cadres, the agent obtains information on the activities of local people and passes on instructions to them, thus playing a key role in the preservation of the system.

For smugglers and defectors, stepping outside this surveillance net is both important, and also hard. For that reason, smugglers commonly buy off NSA agents. Sources and defectors both agree that abetting defection is rarer, since it is punished more harshly, with whole extended families facing extreme consequences.

Ordinary city residents, meanwhile, are not sad to see the back of any agent who takes his own life, the source added, pointing out that they are one of the most hated groups in North Korea.

Hyesan is an ideal location from which to stage a defection.  Though it is the capital of Ryanggang Province (Yangang, 량강도) , it is both geographically and administratively remote—on the Chinese and DPRK sides of the border.  The border itself is a very shallow, sometimes dry, Yalu River basin which is lined in both directions with railway service.

Read the full story here:
Spate of NSA Agent Suicides in Hyesan
Daily NK
Lee Seok Young
2011-6-17

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