Archive for the ‘Black markets’ Category

Smuggling between China and North Korea still prevalent

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern studies (IFES)

On October 15, 2014 Chinese media reported that smuggling along the China-North Korea border, which responds sensitively to North Korea’s situation, is still prevalent and that no particular changes have been detected internally within North Korea.

According to Huanqiu, the website of the Chinese nationalistic tabloid The Global Times, smuggling along the borders of the Liaoning and Dandong provinces has continued to persist in spite of recent flurry of rumors over Kim Jong Un’s whereabouts.

A source familiar with the smuggling situation on the border was quoted as saying, “If tensions were truly rising within North Korea, the very first thing to react would be the border guards, quickly followed by the suspension of smuggling activities.” The source continued, “However, smuggling has so far been unaffected.”

The newspaper captures the scene of a smuggling operation which took place on the night of the 13th near Wollyang Island, a small island on the Yalu (Amnok) River between Dandong and the North Korean city of Sinuiju. North Korean residents send signals to the Chinese on the other side of the river with a red light, to which the Chinese fishing boat responds with a green light. After exchanging signals back and forth, the two parties meet and the deal is finished quickly.

Smuggling along the China-North Korea border has been occurring for quite some time. Besides the smuggling of drugs, which the Chinese government punishes severely, trade products such as food and other daily necessities dear to the North Korean lifestyle have been overlooked for the most part.

Previously, commonly smuggled goods consisted of cooking oil, rice, clothes, and used electronics. However, according to the Huanqiu news, products such as cellphones, PCs, washing machines and refrigerators are also being traded for.

Local sources explained that high ranking “level 1” officials at the provincial and county levels are mainly responsible for ordering these types of products, and that many of the tablet PCs used by high level executives in Pyongyang have been smuggled in through China.

Huanqiu news also introduced another source, who was quoted as saying, “Pyongyang officials are involved in all large scale trade operations along the border. We have connections to high officials in North Korea’s State Security Department, but without them, we cannot do anything.”

Despite the fact that smuggling has been occurring for quite some time, there was a brief slowdown after border security was strengthened immediately following the execution of Jang Song Thaek, former vice chairman of the National Defense Commission in late 2013.

Meanwhile, Huanqiu news also reported that the Third Annual North Korea-China Economic, Trade, Culture and Tourism Expo opened as planned from October 16 – 20 in China’s Dandong province. It was also reported that both legal trade between the two nations and Chinese tourism to North Korea are progressing normally, regardless of recent speculations.

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DPRK reportedly bans unauthorized wireless networks at foreign embassies

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

According to Itar-Tass (Russia):

North Korean authorities have banned foreign diplomatic missions and branches of international humanitarian organizations working in the country from using any kind of wireless communications without government approval, starting from Monday.

The state department regulating radio frequencies said controls extending to satellite and Wi-Fi were in the interests of national security.

Regulations demand that foreign missions immediately dismantle all equipment providing such means of communication or face penalties including a substantial fine, enforced suspension of those systems and their confiscation.

Officials said foreign representations would be allowed to use equipment only after authorization.

A recent report in The Diplomat claimed that the black market price of housing near the Munsu diplomatic compound had gone up as people sought residencies that could access the internet.

Housing prices have skyrocketed in a residential area of Pyongyang where the foreign embassies are located as North Koreans are scrambling to move to that area, expecting to use the embassies’ Wi-Fi, North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity (NKIS) — a Seoul-based think tank — reported on August 6. The world wide web has long been totally banned in North Korea.

NKIS said the phenomenon became apparent in June when North Korean authorities arrested a broker who enriched himself by facilitating the purchase of housing in that area.

A man with the surname Cho helped people living in Pyongyang’s rich districts such as Central District and Potonggang District sell their houses and move in near the foreign embassies, NKIS reported. It is illegal for people to make real estate deals among individuals.

NKIS added that the reason why North Korean people want to move to the area where the foreign embassies are located is that they are able to use the Wi-Fi coming from the embassies. Since some of embassies have very strong Wi-Fi signals and some don’t even have passwords, people living around the embassies are able to access the Internet using the embassies’ Wi-Fi.

NK News received a copy of the official order from the State Radio Regulatory Department:

All the Diplomatic Missions and International Organizations to

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

The State Radio Regulatory Department, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, presents its compliments to all the Diplomatic Missions and International Organizations to the DPRK and has the honour to inform that the signals of regional wireless network, installed and being used without licence, produce some effect upon our surroundings.

Therefore, it is kindly notified that the regional wireless network is abolished here according to Article 18, Chapter 3 of the Law on Radio Regulation, and that the Missions, who would like to use the regional wireless network in future, should seek a consultation with the State Radio Regulatory Department.

It would be appreciated if the Missions could positively co-operate in the current measures taken for the security of the DPRK.

The State Radio Regulatory Department, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, avails itself of this opportunity to renew to all the Diplomatic Missions and International Organizations to the DPRK the assurances of its highest consideration.

The State Radio
Regulatory
Department,

Democratic People’s
Republic of Korea

Pyongyang
August 13,
2014

Appendix

Article 18, Chapter 3 of the DPRK Law on Radio Regulation; The institution, enterprise, organization and citizen who would like to form or use the wireless communication network and satellite communication network here should seek the licence from the Radio Regulatory body.

Article 61, Chapter 4 of the enforcement regulations for the DPRK Law on Radio Regulation; In case of having violated this rules and regulations relative to the application of the Law on Radio Regulation, a fine amounting up to 1,500,000 Wons will be imposed , or such punishment as interrupting the operation or forfeiting the equipment will be inflicted according to the circumstances.

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Competition rises among factories and department stores in North Korea: Delivery services now available

Friday, September 5th, 2014

Institute for Far Easter Studies (IFES)
2014-9-4

It appears that some factories and department stores in North Korea have begun to implement a delivery service in response to customer demand. This new customer-oriented service seems to have arisen out of the Kim Jong Un regime’s goal of increasing autonomy and competition among businesses.

According to the newest issue of “Choguk” [Joguk] (“Motherland”, September 2014), a media outlet associated with the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, North Korea’s representative state-run department store Pyongyang Department Store No. 1 has been making efforts to diversify the services offered to its customers. The article specifically revealed a personal delivery service, saying, “Salespersons have responded to the public’s requests and have begun to deliver ordered products to sell directly to customers at their doorsteps.”

Salespersons from Pyongyang Department Store No. 1 have also been travelling to power plants, mining sites, textile mills, farms and other worksites to sell products directly to workers and farmers. Other businesses, such as the Potong River Shoe Factory, have also been diversifying customer services. For example, employees now visit customers’ homes to measure shoe size and satisfy other requests they may have when placing an order for shoes.

The Daedong River Passenger Transport Company in Pyongyang is currently offering a taxi dispatching service to customers who call in and request a pickup. Similar to the workings of South Korea’s taxi service, North Koreans may simply dial “186” to be connected to the closest dispatch office, which then sends out a taxi to pick up the customer.

On the other hand, North Korea has recognized the problem of the low-quality products and poor construction work and has emphasized that efforts must be made to remedy these areas. In the most recent issue of the quarterly academic journal, Kyongje Yongu [Economic Research] (2014, Issue 3), one article points out problems in the poor quality of North Korean-made products and construction, saying, “Neglect in quality growth is an outdated attitude.”

Specifically, the article mentions the problem of promising completion of construction according to deadlines: “Technical regulations and construction methods are disregarded when projects are rushed to be finished by their completion date, which is often decided in advance to coincide with a holiday or anniversary.

Currently, North Korea has undertaken large-scale construction operations to finish the Kim Chaek University of Technology’s faculty apartments, the Pyongyang Orphanage and Nursery, the North Pyongan Chongchon River Power Plant and other projects spanning various fields. The goal is to complete these projects concurrently with the anniversary of the foundation of the Worker’s Party of Korea (October 10).

At construction sites around North Korea, it appears that all available resources are being mobilized to engage in a so-called “speed battle” with these construction deadlines. The side effect of this huge emphasis on speed has resulted in many instances of poor construction, like the collapse of the 23-floor apartment building in Pyongyang’s Ansan-1-dong back in May.

The article also points out, “Despite attempting to work toward self-sustainability, there are events where lower quality, alternative products are being used below the material requirements that are leading to lowered quality work.” Furthermore, the article emphasizes, “Production and circulation of faulty products or products which cause harm to the health or lifestyle of the people must be stopped.”

It has also been reported that corruption is taking place at factories and construction sites, with party officials or intermediary managers amassing riches by siphoning off materials and pocketing the money. This leads to further problems in product quality and defectiveness.

Due to the issues of poor construction and product quality, the article points out, “There are many areas in our material economic life that fall behind the global trend,” but “if the quality of products and buildings are improved, the need to consider products from other countries will wane.”

In order to solve these problems, the article suggests implementing product standardization and specialization and encourages research in industrial design.

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Chinese Koreans and cross border trade

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

According to the Daily NK:

The Hwagyo, North Korea’s community of overseas Chinese, are seeing their value rise in response to demand for assistance transporting cross-border freight for local traders hamstrung by their proscribed freedom of movement, according to a source inside North Korea. The local traders refer to the process as “renting a passport”.

The source in North Pyongan Province reported to Daily NK on July 28th, “Pyongyang Hwagyo are catering to the tastes of middle-class consumers in the city’s markets by taking orders from individuals or by bringing in goods on the behalf of traders.

“The measles outbreak prevented Pyongyang hwagyo in Pyongyang from taking the cross-border train, but recently that ban was lifted so they can come and go from Dandong again.” The measles travel ban was put in place during June in Yongcheon and Sinuiju, but was withdrawn on July 15th.

Hwagyo are treated as citizens in North Korea, carrying the same identification cards as all other residents; however, they are also able to hold Chinese passports, which allows for greater mobility and autonomy than other North Koreans. That is the reason for the high demand; North Korean traders and wholesalers employ them to ensure that their supplies arrive from China.

“Although there are a lot of hwagyo from Sinuiju and elsewhere in Dandong, Pyongyang hwagyo are the ones who get hired the most because the train ends in Pyongyang; This makes it easier to get the goods into circulation, and the procedures there are not as stringent,” the source reported. “This has caused their value to rise.”

“The hwagyo either use their own money to get products to sell in Pyongyang markets directly, or they use money from traders and take 5% of the total upon delivery,” she said. “They take commission for transferring goods from the cross-border trains to merchants in Pyongyang markets.”

“Merchants used to collaborate with train operators coming in from Dandong to bring goods into Sinuiju. However, more are seeking out the hwagyo instead, because it’s cheaper,” the source said.

There is a stipulated limit of 300kg of cargo per person on the train between Dandong and Pyongyang. Excess luggage is possible, but only up to 50kg, and this is charged at 1.50 RMB per kg, according to the source. The ticket for the 5hr 30min ride is 300 RMB, and this must also be factored into the overall freight transit cost.

The train departs at 10:00 daily. Once it arrives in Pyongyang at around 15:30, passengers and freight are subjected to customs procedures, followed by immigration inspections. “Not a single person can leave the train until everyone goes through immigration and officers check their passports and travel visas,” the source recalled.

“Because the staff in Sinuiji Customs House are tough about inspections and are sure to take at least one thing, it’s safer and cheaper to transport goods via the cross-border train,” the source said, concluding, “How funny it is that this place prevents North Korean citizens from moving around freely and ends up making hwagyo richer.”

Read the full story here:
Hwagyo Step in to Dominate Border Trade
Daily NK
Seol Song Ah
2014-07-29

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On the availability of Chinese and North Korean rice

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

According to the Daily NK:

As volumes of rice bought and sold in North Korea continue to rise, stores operated by foreign-currency earning entities and market vendors are entering into greater competition for customers, inside sources in North Korea report.

“Goods including rice, beans and flour are flowing in steadily from China,” a source from North Pyongan Province explained. “In the olden days the arrival of July would have meant the worst conditions for rice, but this year there have been no big shifts and prices have stayed stable.”

A second source in North Hamkyung Province corroborated the state of affairs, saying,  “Every day a number of freight trucks loaded with rice come in through the customs house at Hyesan, and there’s the smuggled stuff, too.”

“It used to be the norm for rice to retail in the jangmadang [market]Stores only traded it wholesale,” the North Pyongan Province source went on. “But now stores are retailing it, too. Any time rice comes in through customs, buyers are there lining up to take it.”

“Stores” run under the auspices of foreign-currency earning entities began to spring up Pyongyang and other major cities toward the end of 2006. They were given formal permission to sell rice and corn alongside manufactured goods, thus in effect ending the state’s official dominance of domestic grain circulation.

The rice sold in markets comes from two sources: China, and domestic farms.  Stores mostly sell rice originating in China, whereas market vendors tend to purvey rice from a variety of sources, sources say. The ratio of Chinese to North Korean rice sold in public markets is roughly 6:4.

Lower socio-economic groups and restaurants catering to the general public tend toward Chinese rice, which is plentiful and cheap but considered insufficiently glutinous. On the other hand, affluent groups are the main purchasers of rice grown in North Korea. The stickiness of the product is higher, but so is the price: roughly 500 KPW more per kilo than Chinese varieties.

“First to attract customers, and then to turn them into regular visitors, both shops and markets are competing on price and service,” one source explained. “The stores sell their rice for 100 or 200 KPW less than the jangmadang, but customers there cannot negotiate, and the seller never throws anything in for free.”

However, this appears to be changing. According to the source, stores have now begun to grant greater price autonomy to shop officials, allowing for haggling over price and other forms of value-added.

“Customers can negotiate prices and get home or business delivery if they purchase more than 100kg,” one source reported. “It’s just like in the market now. Shops have started providing extra services, and delivery men, eager as they are to earn money, have started crowding outside storefronts waiting for customers where once they would have waited on the road.”

Read the full story here:
Price War as Stores Take on Nimble Vendors
Daily NK
Seol Song Ah
2014-7-22

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De facto marketization of North Korean health care

Friday, July 18th, 2014

Eun Jeong Soh, post-doctoral fellow at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, has written an interesting article in the East Asia Forum on the innovative practices that have developed in the DPRK’s health care system. According to the article:

In contrast to a number of incremental changes toward marketisation — which the government inevitably adopted — Pyongyang has emphasised its intention to maintain completely free and socialised health and education sectors. As a result, despite lacking the resources to provide for the country’s over 700 hospitals and over 6000 clinics, privatisation and decentralisation in the health care sector has been minimal. There have been reports of privately owned and financed pharmacies in the streets of major cities and in a number of hospitals. Nevertheless, health workers are generally reluctant to seek outside resources directly and autonomously for fear of getting into trouble.

Under this peculiar context, informal health care practices — such as informal payments, a black market for medicines and home-practicing doctors — have developed. In a study conducted by the United States Institute of Peace, 90 per cent of respondents admitted to having made informal payments to doctors and that purchasing medications on the black market was common. Interviews with defectors resettling in Seoul confirm this trend. People have learned to treat themselves at home using antibiotics, glass syringes bought from the black market and herbal or traditional medicines. Doctors and pharmacists have created informal referral networks based on a sense of mutual trust in each other’s expertise and competence.

Another noticeable phenomenon is the emergence of home-practicing doctors. Patients have come to prefer private house doctors — out of both convenience and trust — over hospitals where one has to bring everything from medicines to meals. Such practices are illegal but not uncommon. Even in the old days, given the close doctor-patient relationship fostered by the North Korean-style free health care system, people in emergency situations visited doctors’ homes.

Read the full story here:
Behind North Korea’s hospital curtain
East Asia Forum
Eun Jeong Soh, ANU
2014-7-18

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DPRK reportedly seeks to stem flow of price data

Monday, March 17th, 2014

According to the Daily NK:

In an unprecedented move, the North Korean authorities have warned residents in border areas that sharing information on market prices with the outside world will result in harsh punishment.

A Daily NK source located in North Hamkyung Province reported on the 14th, “Recently lectures at People’s Units have emphasized that the Republic’s secrets are being leaked to the outside via phone conversations. We were threatened that if anyone was caught in the act of calling someone outside of the country they would be sent to a prison camp.”

“It was said that ‘impure elements’ are planning to bring about the collapse of socialism in our style from the inside out,” the source recalled.

“We were also told that market prices were a state secret. Such a thing has never been raised in a People’s Unit lecture before, and the people are dumbfounded that the price of rice, pork and corn can be considered a secret of that magnitude.”

“Others are making more cynical remarks,” the source continued. “They say, ‘We’re the worst off in the world, and since we don’t get paid we can’t buy expensive rice. This is a national embarrassment for them and all they want to do is hide it. That’s why market prices are a state secret as well.'”

Furthermore, “Many ordinary people are of the opinion that the cadres [should be targeted] as they know better than anybody else about state secrets. Smugglers, too, are now concerned for their livelihoods as it is necessary for them to discuss pricing issues with their counterparts in China.”

The flow of information in and out of the country has long been restricted by the Kim regime out of fears of a challenge to their unitary rule.

Others assess that these latest measures indicate the North’s sensitivity over recent criticism leveled against the regime in the South Korean media, an act that the North deems an “insult to the Highest Dignity.”

Read the full story here:
Regime Classifies Market Prices as “State Secret”
Daily NK
Kang Mi Jin
2014-3-17

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Bus transportation popular in DPRK

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Phyongsong-bus-station-2013-5-3

Pictured above (Google Earth): Phyongsong Bus Station (2013-5-3)

According to the Daily NK:

Not only are North Korean people able to buy and sell goods in markets using hard currency these days; US Dollars or Chinese Renminbi are also in use for the ubiquitous “servi-cha,” one of North Korea’s few reliable means of mass transit.

A source from North Hamkyung Province told Daily NK on the 11th, “Trains only run about once a week, and you’d be a fool if you believed that they would run on time. Demand has risen thanks to this state of affairs, so people are making good money from running servi-cha.”

“If you want to ride a servi-cha you can’t use Chosun currency, you have to use Chinese or American money,” the source went on to claim. “You can get anywhere in the country that you want for 200 Yuan.”

The source said that people in Hyesan opt to travel by servi-cha in part because the journey can take up to a week by train but only takes a day by servi-cha. The route from Pyongsung to Chongjin costs 100 Yuan, and a similar amount is required for the trip from the North Hamkyung Province county of Kilju to the border near Hyesan.

According to the source, the price of North Korean gasoline is currently 11 Yuan per kg, approximately two to three Yuan cheaper than the Chinese equivalent. Diesel trades at 6 Yuan. The source said, “There is no problem running a vehicle these days because there are fuel traders selling cheap North Korean gas alongside every road in the country that buses use.”

Many owners of servi-cha have purchased buses rather than utilizing trucks, as they used to do. Owners offer a portion of their income to local government agencies and enterprises, in effect forming the North Korean equivalent of a Chinese “red hat enterprise.”

These privately run buses are clean and popular, and the business itself is seen by operators as an easy way to earn good money. The servi-cha are mainly new vehicles from China or second-hand ones from Japan, and the average cost is in the vicinity of 12,000 USD (though size and type of vehicle both vary). A well run business can earn 3000 USD per month.

In theory, if a traveller wishes to visit a different region, prior to travel he or she must obtain a certificate authorizing the visit. The 2nd Department of his or her Provincial People’s Committee ordinarily issues these permits; however, corruption among Party officials means that these can also be bought illicitly.

According to the source, servi-cha owners deliver regular bribes to senior security service officials running No. 10 Checkpoints, which are in place on every major thoroughfare connecting regions for the purpose of checking transit papers. These payments ensure rapid transit for customers.

Read the full story here:
Servi-Cha Professionalizing for Kim Jong Eun Era
Daily NK
Seol Song Ah
2014-03-13

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DPRK as e-waste conduit

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

According to Bloomberg:

How did North Korea become the conduit by which thousands of tons of old junk moved from the developed world into China’s bustling e-waste recycling industry?

As with any smuggling story, the tale starts with a prohibition. In this case, Chinese laws and regulations prohibit e-waste — most commonly understood as old, non-working electronics like laptops, monitors and mobile phones — from being imported into the country. The reasons are several, including a government interest in keeping used foreign goods from competing against new ones, and environmental concerns about how some of those goods are recycled. Nevertheless, China’s national-level environmental and customs authorities have long struggled to maintain those prohibitions against local ports and authorities — especially in south China — who view e-waste recycling as a good source of jobs, tax revenue, and used components to drive local industry. Of the several conduits through which e-waste has traditionally been smuggled, the most common and long-standing was over the Hong Kong-China border.

That all changed in February 2013 when — for reasons that are still unclear — Beijing announced “Green Fence,” a high-level crackdown on the import of prohibited waste and recycling exports, including old electronics. Nonetheless, here and there, imported old electronics still turned up in Chinese recycling facilities (I personally saw them).

The likely means, as described in state media after the North Korea bust, was convoluted. A Hong Kong “gang” allegedly received containers of used electronics from abroad. They arranged for them to be placed them on smaller ships bound for a “country in Northeast Asia.” The culprit’s identity is clear from the awkward phrasing. Criticism of North Korea in the Chinese press is exceedingly rare and -– needless to say — connecting the country to an e-waste smuggling ring qualifies as criticism. Were the country Japan, or even South Korea, it would have been named.

In fact, North Korea has long been rumored to be an e-waste recycling center. Since January 2008 a Chinese company based in Liaoning Province along the border has advertised for scrap to feed its e-waste recycling operations in North Korea itself. The facilities are located, according to the ad, in the port of Nanpo, and “take advantage of North Korea’s environmental policies and inexpensive labor resources.” There, the ad promises, prohibited e-waste can be dismantled and transformed into a product acceptable for export to China.

The smuggling ring was allegedly doing something similar, although its “transformed” e-waste clearly did not meet environmental standards. In North Korea the bulky e-waste was dismantled (steel cases would be removed from old desktop PCs, for example), segregated into marketable components like computer chips for re-use, and then sent to Dandong, a Chinese city and port on the Yalu River, directly across from North Korea. From there, the goods were trucked south, to recycling and re-use centers in Guangdong Province, a straight-line distance of roughly 1,800 miles.

Read the full story here:
Did North Korea Recycle Your Laptop?
Bloomberg
Adam Minter
2014-3-6

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More measurement of the importance of markets in the DPRK: residential and public sector energy consumption

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

According to Yonhap (via the Korea Herald):

A fuel ration system in North Korea seems to have been dismantled due to a chronic fuel shortage, a report said Monday.

The report by the state-run Korea Energy Economics Institute (KEEI) said a majority of households in North Korea secure their fuel for heating and cooking on the black market or by themselves, hinting that the country’s fuel ration system might have been scrapped.

The report was made on the basis of data compiled from a poll of 350 North Korean defectors who fled the country after 2011.

According to the report, 51.1 percent of the North’s households bought their heating and cooking fuel on the market, with 42 percent gathering their fuel, such as firewood, by themselves.

Only 6.8 percent of them were provided with fuel for heating and cooking through the country’s fuel ration channel.

The energy consumption of a North Korean household was estimated at 0.291 tons of oil equivalent (TOE) as of 2011. The TOE is a unit of energy which is equivalent to the amount of energy released by burning one ton of crude oil.

The consumption of energy gaining from coal briquettes accounted for 36.8 percent of the total, reaching 0.107 TOE, followed by wood with 0.069 TOE, electricity with 0.038 TOE, oil products with 0.025 TOE and propane gas with 0.023 TOE.

The energy consumption for heating took up 50.9 percent of the total, amounting to 0.148 TOE.

The KEEI said a program for fuel aid to North Korea should be mapped out on the basis of exact data on the energy consumption in the North’s private sector.

You can download the full report here in Korean (PDF). Here is the web page for the Korea Energy Economics Institute.

Read the full story here:
Fuel ration seems to have been dismantled in N. Korea: report
Yonhap
2014-2-3

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