Archive for the ‘State Offices’ Category

Nobel Prize winners visit PUST

Saturday, May 7th, 2016

According to a press release put out by PUST, Professor Aaron Ciechanover (Chemistry 2004), Professor Finn Kydland (Economics, 2004), and Dr. Sir Richard Robert (Medicine, 1993) visited the campus in Pyongyang.

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You can read the press release for additional information.

While in Pyongyang, the laureates made some [misguided] comments on US sanctions. According to Deutcsh Welle:

Nobel medicine prize winner Richard Roberts, Nobel economics prize winner Finn Kydland and Nobel chemistry prize winner Aaron Ciechanover have described how United Nations sanctions and a lack of internet access are hampering North Korean scientists.

Speaking to reporters following their visit to Pyongyang, the three laureates from Norway, Britain and Israel called for a rollback of many of the international restrictions that have been placed on the Communist state.

“You don’t pressurize via making people sicker,” said Ciechanover: “That’s not the right way to go.”

Roberts described how North Korean academic institutions suffered from a lack of modern scientific equipment. He said restrictions on internet use prevented most scientists from collaborating with colleagues in other countries, or accessing the latest scientific literature.

“So this embargo is really hurting the scientists in some major ways, and I think that’s a great shame,” Roberts added.

He said there was a strong desire for more international exchanges. During the trip, at least two North Korean students were invited to the West.

The Western scientists visited hospitals, universities and research institutes in Pyongyang and met with students and academics. They described clean and modern facilities – a stark contrast to other accounts, which describe the country as brutally impoverished.

The trip, which has been described as an exercise in “silent diplomacy,” was planned more than two years ago with help from the International Peace Foundation (IPF). In turn the Vienna-based organization received an unsolicited email from the Korean National Peace Committee.

Notice that Kydland, the economist, is not quoted in reference to the sanctions. UN Sanctions do not impede economic or social progress so much as North Korea’s actual economic, trade, and investment policies. North Korea has only itself to blame for the state of its economy. Finally, there is no UN embargo on the DPRK, only targeted sanctions on entities that all members of the UNSC agree are involved in the country’s weapons programs. The US, but not UN, has imposed an embargo of “dual use goods” going to the DPRK, but this is aimed at the country’s military, and applies to countries other than the DPRK.

The doctors also demonstrated an ignorance of socialist health economics when they visited the Okryo Children’s Hospital. According to the New York Times:

But the laureates suggested Saturday that the United Nations sanctions imposed on the North because of its nuclear program should be eased. At the Okryu Children’s Hospital in Pyongyang, a showcase medical center that Kim Jong-un visited during its construction in 2013, Mr. Ciechanover said that there were 300 beds and a capacity for 300 outpatients, but that doctors administered only about 60 tests a day, a low figure that he attributed to the sanctions. Doctors faced shortages of medicine and took the view that “you give only what you have to,” he said.

The United Nations sanctions do not apply to medicine, but they restrict the North’s access to foreign currency, and the government is known to channel its limited resources toward the military.

Also, some BBC reporters covering the PUST visit were expelled.

Here is coverage on KCTV.

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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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9th Plenary Meeting of 13th SPA Presidium Held

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

According to KCNA (2016-3-30):

The 9th plenary meeting of the 13th Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) of the DPRK took place at the Mansudae Assembly Hall Wednesday.

The plenary meeting was attended by members of the SPA Presidium.

Officials concerned were present there as observers.

Discussed at the meeting were review of the implementation of the state budget for Juche 104 (2015) of the DPRK and the state budget for Juche 105 (2016).

A report was made at the meeting.

According to the report, the state budget for last year was correctly carried out.

The plan for state budgetary revenue was over-fulfilled 1.3 percent or an increase of 5 percent over the previous year.

The plan for local budgetary revenue was fulfilled at 113.8 percent while that for state budgetary expenditure was carried out at 99.9 percent.

15.9 percent of the total expenditure was allocated for national defence while 47.5 percent for building an economic power and the improvement of the standard of people’s living.

Investment in the fields of science and technology showed a 4.7 percent increase over that last year.

36.6 percent of the total expenditure was earmarked for cultural construction including education, public health, sports and literature and arts.

The state budgetary revenue for this year is expected to go up 4.1 percent out of which transaction revenue will hold 3.3 percent, the revenue from the profits of state enterprises 4.5 percent, the revenue from the profits of cooperative enterprises 1.5 percent, that from real estate rent 4 percent, that from social insurance 1.1 percent, that from the sale of properties and price difference 2.5 percent and other revenue 1.3 percent. The revenue from economic trade zone is expected to grow 4.1 percent.

Out of the state budgetary revenue the national budgetary revenue will account for 76.8 percent while that from local areas 23.2 percent.

The state budgetary expenditure is expected to go up 5.6 percent over last year out of which 4.8 percent will go to industries, 4.3 percent to agriculture, 6.9 percent to fisheries, 13.7 percent to capital construction and 7.5 percent to forestry.

It was decided to increase expenditure in the field of science and technology 5.2 percent, the field of education 8.1 percent, the field of public health 3.8 percent, the field of sports 4.1 percent and the field of culture 7.4 percent.

15.8 percent of the total expenditure will be spent for national defence.

A large amount of educational aid fund and stipends will be sent for the education of Korean children in Japan.

A decision of the Presidium of the SPA “On approving the review of the fulfillment of the Juche 104 (2015) state budget of the DPRK” and a decree of the Presidium of the SPA “On the Juche 105 (2016) state budget of the DPRK” were adopted at the meeting.

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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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3rd National Conference of Financial and Banking Officials Held

Sunday, December 13th, 2015

UPDATE 2 (2015-12-14): Yonhap reports on the meeting:

North Korea held its third conference of financial and banking officials over the weekend, resuming the rare event after a 25-year hiatus in what could be an emerging sign that the country’s economy has climbed out of the level of subsistence and is gearing up for financial reform.

The Third National Conference of Financial and Banking Officials held on Sunday at the People’s Palace of Culture in Pyongyang was reported by the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and Korean Central TV, monitored in Seoul.

“The conference reviewed successes and experience gained by those in the field of finance and banking in the past,” the KCNA said in an English report carried on Sunday.

The meeting also discussed ways to ensure “the financial guarantee for building a thriving nation,” according to the state media.

In a letter sent to the conference, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un highlighted the important role of the financial sector for national development.

“To improve financial and banking work is an inevitable demand for hastening the building of a thriving nation,” Kim was quoted as saying in the letter. “Reliable financial resources are necessary to build the people’s paradise featured by strong national power and great prosperity.”

Kim also ordered “revolutionary measures for steady development” of the financial system, as well as “fluent circulation of currency.”

It was North Korea’s first meeting of its kind since the last second session was held in September 1990 under the leadership of late leader and North Korean founder Kim II-sung.

A host of Cabinet and party officials attended the conference, including Pak Pong-ju, premier of the Cabinet; defense chief Pak Yong-sik; Finance Minister Ki Kwang-ho; and central bank chief Kim Chon-gyun, according to the KCNA.

Under the Kim Jong-un regime, the reclusive country has gotten out of extreme poverty and seems to be gearing up for a radical reform of its financial sector, Cho Bong-hyun, researcher at the state-run Industrial Bank of Korea (IBK), said of the latest meeting.

“The plan intends to reform the banking system so as to make it a window for luring in foreign currency and boosting the circulation of money,” Cho noted.

The country is now in the process of mapping out a financial reform plan with guidance from China, and it may create a reform policy out of it and officially announce the policy possibly in the general party meeting set for May next year, he added.

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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Orascom (OTMT) loses control of KoryoLink

Friday, November 20th, 2015

UPDATE 1 (2015-12-11): Orascom CEO claims to still control KoryoLink, but cannot obtain hard currency or get it out of the country.

ORIGINAL POST (2015-11-20): Martyn Williams broke the story here.

The first problem is that Orascom could not repatriate its profits:

Orascom’s efforts to get its profits out of North Korea have been unsuccessful, partially because of international sanctions imposed on the country but mainly by the government’s refusal to let the money go.

To transfer money out of North Korea, Orascom needs permission from the government and it hasn’t been granted, despite it being a partner in the joint venture.

The government hasn’t acted because it can’t afford to.

The profits are held in North Korean won, but the currency isn’t traded internationally and the government’s official rate is set artificially high, at 100 won to the U.S. dollar. At that rate, Orascon’s holding at the end of last year was worth $585 million.

But at the black market exchange rate, which is effectively the real value of the currency in North Korea, the cash is worth only $7.2 million. And therein lies the problem. The government can’t afford to pay the money at the official rate, and it can’t be seen to officially recognize the black market rate. So the two sides have spent months locked in talks about what to do.

Secondly, the DPRK government launched a second cell phone network to compete with KoryoLink, and efforts to merge the companies have been successful:

The issue came to light in an auditor’s report in June, and a month later Orascom dropped a bombshell: It said the North Korean government — supposedly its close partner — had set up a second carrier to compete with Koryolink.

With its options limited, Orascom entered merger talks to combine Koryolink with the new carrier. The North Korean government has agreed to the move in principle, but so far nothing has happened.

What’s more, the North Korean government has apparently proposed that it be the majority partner in any new venture that’s formed.

That led to a dramatic statement from Orascom when it reported its financial results Monday — “in the group management’s view, control over Koryolink’s activities was lost.”

Sawiris appears to hold out hope, but he might be out of moves.

“We are very proud of the success of our operation ‘Koryolink’,” he said in a statement. “We have around 3 million people today carrying our phones in the DPRK. We are still hopeful that we will be able to resolve all pending issues to continue this successful journey.”

Anna Fifield also followed up in the Washington Post and reported on the name of the new KoryoLink competitor:

This comes after Orascom discovered that North Korea was starting a competitor to Koryolink called Byol, and then began discussions about merging it with Koryolink, thus presumably extracting even more money from Orascom.

Byol (별) translates to English as “Star”.

Here is the OTMT financial report which explains the company’s position (PDF).

Here are screen shots of the relevant sections in the report:

OTMT-report-2015-11-associate

And

OTMT-report-2015-11-other-operator

OTMT-report-2015-11-other-operator2

A small correction needs to be added to the OTMT report, the Central Bank does not set the official exchange rate. That is set by the Foreign Trade Bank.

As Marcus Noland and I have pointed out, North Korea needs a big FDI win to inspire more large-scale foreign investment and modernize its investment regulatory framework, but debacles like this, Xiyang, and the KIC (referring here to the fact that it was too entangled in political risk to be a reliable investment without official subsidies and guarantees) reinforce the view that the DPRK is still too risky to become an attractive investment hub–and this excludes additional problems owing to the country’s weapons programs and human rights abuses.

 

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Types of businesses expanding among North Korean cabinet-directed enterprises

Friday, October 30th, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

Business enterprises under the direct supervision of the DPRK Cabinet appear eager to expand business operations, from mine development to the sale of gochujang (red pepper paste), in order to procure funds necessary for state-level development projects and running the government.

The North Korean cabinet-supervised Korea Taeyang Corporation* revealed on its homepage on October 18, 2015, “We are actively pushing forward joint ventures in the selling and manufacturing of molybdenum products with major companies in China, Switzerland, and Brazil.”

“The molybdenum mine located in Changjin County in South Hamgyong Province produces hundreds of tons of molybdenum concentrate every year, so we are manufacturing molybdenum steel at the molybdenum steel refinery and exporting it,” the company explained.

Their work is not restricted to mining, but extends to transportation and distribution, as well as the restaurant business. The subsidiary Korea Taeyang Transportation Co. owns twenty container wagons, thirty freight cars over 20 tons, fifty 10-ton freight cars, and fifty freight cars under 10 tons.

The Taeyang electrics store, located in Pongnam-dong of Pyongyang’s Pyongchon District, specializes in the selling and repair of electrical appliances and electronics like computers. It was also involved in the vitamin C factory built in 2013 in accordance with Kim Jong Il’s dying injunctions.

In addition, there are ostrich ranches and tourist souvenir shops, as well as restaurants that sell ostrich meat and other North Korean and Chinese cuisines in Pyongyang’s Yonpung Restaurant.

Furthermore, it also operates fertilizer and feed factories, duck ranch, pig factory, instant noodle factory, tobacco factory among others. It also has overseas offices in Beijing, Dalian, Shenyang and Africa.

The corporation expressed, “We are hopeful to make connections with buyers interested in ostrich leather, ostrich crafts, agricultural machineries, teak wood manufactured goods, and red pepper and bean pastes.

The president of Taeyang, Pak Sun Chol, is a delegate to the Supreme People’s Assembly and deputy director of Cabinet affiliated General Bureau of State Development.

On Naenara, the official web portal of the DPRK (targeted toward an international audience), the corporation expressed its intention to “meet the continuous challenges in new areas under the direct guidance of the Republic and develop into a technology-focused company that will strengthen cooperation and exchanges with companies from around the world.”

While some of the profits earned by the company are used by the Cabinet for its operating funds, most of the profits are reportedly used for state construction projects.

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The (Market) Forces of History in North Korea

Friday, October 30th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Special bonus to be granted in DPRK

Friday, September 25th, 2015

According to KCNA (2015-9-25):

The Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK decided to give special bonus to the service personnel and people who rendered devoted and loyal services to present the party with labor gifts.

A decree of the Presidium of the SPA on this was made public on Sept. 23.

The decree said special bonus amounting to 100 percent of monthly rated salaries and wages will be bestowed on all the service personnel, working people and those who receive pensions, subsidies and scholarships on the occasion of the 70th founding anniversary of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

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