Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 10-12-22
On December 1, the North Korean Supreme People’s Assembly Standing Committee announced an order to elevate the position of the National Resource Development Office, which is overseen by the Cabinet’s Ministry of Extractive Industry, to the Ministry of National Resource Development. According to the Korea Central News Agency, this measure is aimed at increasing development and export of underground resources as international sanctions against the North further limit Pyongyang’s access to foreign capital.
The regime’s focus on increasing earnings can be seen in Kim Jong Il’s on-site guidance trips, as well. The KCNA reported on December 3 that Kim had recently visited Danchon, South Hamgyong Province, touring the Danchon Magnesia Factory, the Danchon Mining Equipment Factory, and the Danchon Port facilities. During his visit to the magnesia factory, Kim Jong Il emphasized the need for increasing the production of quality asphalt. In addition, after receiving a report on the status of implementation of CNC in the Danchon Mining Equipment Factory, he stated, “The factory needs to normalize at a high level of mass production to turn out the necessary numbers of mining and processing equipment.” Upon reviewing the Danchon Port facilities, Kim Jong Il urged staff to work towards ensuring a loud chorus of boat whistles in the port for the upcoming 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung in 2012.
U.S. financial sanctions levied against the North have made it difficult for Pyongyang to collect export earnings from its mining efforts, one of its key earners of foreign capital. In May of last year, when sanctions were strengthened in response to North Korea’s second nuclear test, European and even Chinese banks froze money transfers to North Korea. The [North] Korea Magnesia Clinker Manufacturing Group could not collect 4.6 million USD in earnings from the export of zinc to Europe. It appears that the North has tried to compensate for these losses by increasing the export of iron ore from Musan. Exports to China passing through the Musan customs office have more than doubled, rising from 1200 to 2500 tons per day.
The mines of Musan, holding more than seven billion tons of iron ore, are the North’s primary vehicle for earning foreign capital. In 2004, China’s Tonghua Steel and Iron Group signed a contract with North Korean authorities granting the group 50-year development rights at some key North Korean mines, and is planning to invest seven billion Yuan in developing the sites. Beijing plans to use the access to North Korean mines to meet some of the expected 80 million ton shortfall of iron ore in 2010. However, there are rumors that North Korea has canceled the contract with no explanation, causing much speculation about the direction of Pyongyang’s export strategy.