Archive for the ‘Private property’ Category

DPRK food prices unstable as lean season approaches

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 10-04-28-1
2010-04-28

The price of rice in North Korean markets, steadily declining until the end of March, saw an upswing in April. Rising prices indicate early concerns over food shortages expected during the lean crop season of May-June.

Recently, in the Nammun Market of Hyeryeong City (Satellite image here), rice that sold for 300 Won/Kg at the end of March was priced at 500 Won/Kg, and when there were no special rations delivered on the ‘Day of the Sun’, Kim Il Sung’s birthday (April 15), rumors spread that no state rations would be forthcoming, driving market prices up further.

Pyongyang itself was not immune to the rising prices. As rations were handed to Pyongyang residents in March, rice fell to as low as 200 Won/Kg in the Seongyo Market (Satellite image here), but by April 15, it had climbed back to 300 Won/Kg with rumors of upcoming shortages.

In the past, rice prices have fluctuated due to rumors of rations and/or food shortages, but since the latest currency reform, prices have been much more susceptible to people’s emotional concerns. Daily NK has been watching rice prices in Hyeryeong’s Nammun Market since February, and concluded that as rumors of price increases spread, price tags in markets shot up, at which time sellers felt the urge to dump their goods, bringing prices back down.

Immediately following last year’s currency reforms, North Korean authorities ordered the closing of markets. These markets reopened on February 5. Authorities had also dictated that rice be sold for 24 Won/Kg, but the time markets reopened, a ‘compromise plan’ allowed prices to climb to 240 Won/Kg. Within a month (March 7), prices shot up to 1,500 Won, only to crash back down weeks later (April 2) to 300 Won. Such drastic price fluctuations indicate a limited availability of food in the markets. This kind of seesawing prices reflects a lack of trust in authorities. As residents lost faith in North Korean authorities, they tried to sell their holdings, but differences in domestic prices, exchange rates, and black markets meant severe price instability.

From December to January, restrictions on the use of foreign currency, along with a sharp drop-off in rice trading, really drove up prices. However, authorities’ restrictions on foreign currency began to waiver, and this, combined with the launch of investigations into illegal hording of food supplies by businesses and foreign trading companies, led to an influx of rice into markets, bringing prices back down.

Now, with the future of rations in question even in Pyongyang and other major cities, rice prices are again on the rise. With many people predicting that economic conditions and food supplies will be lean in the near future, market prices will likely continue to increase. In North Korea, the price of rice is an important index, reflecting economic stability.

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Hermit economics hobbles Pyongyang

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Aidan Foster-Carter writes in the Financial Times about some poor decision-making coming out of Pyongyang:

Great Leader? Pyongyang’s fawning hagiography not only grates, but is singularly unearned. Even by its own dim lights, North Korea’s decision-making is going from bad to worse.

Last year saw two spectacular own goals. Missile and nuclear tests were a weird way to greet a new US president ready to reach out to old foes. The predictable outcome was condemnation by the United Nations Security Council, plus sanctions on arms exports that are biting.

Domestic policy is just as disastrous. December’s currency “reform” beggars belief. Did Kim Jong-il really fail to grasp that redenomination would not cure inflation, but worsen it? Or that brazenly stealing people’s savings – beyond a paltry minimum, citizens only got 10 per cent of their money back – would finally goad his long-suffering subjects into rioting? Forced to retreat, officials even apologised. One scapegoat was sacked – and possibly shot.

By his own admission, Mr Kim does not do economics. In a speech in 1996, when famine was starting to bite, the Dear Leader whined defensively that his late father, Kim Il-sung, had told him “not to get involved in economic work, but just concentrate on the military and the party”.

That awful advice explains much. Incredibly, North Korea was once richer than the South. In today’s world, this is the contest that counts. “It’s the economy, stupid” is no mere slogan, but a law of social science.

Having taken an early lead, Kim senior threw it all away. He built the world’s fourth largest army, crippling an economy that he refused to reform, viewing liberalisation as betrayal. His own personality cult was and is a literally monumental weight of unproductive spending.

Used to milking Moscow and Beijing, in the 1970s North Korea borrowed from western banks – and promptly defaulted. That was not smart; it has had to pay cash up front ever since.

Pyongyang also resorts to less orthodox financing. In 1976 the Nordic nations expelled a dozen North Korean diplomats for trafficking cigarettes and booze. In December a Swedish court jailed two for smuggling cigarettes. More than 100 busts worldwide over 30 years, of everything from ivory and heroin to “supernotes” (fake $100 bills), leave scant doubt that this is policy.

Yet morality aside, it is stupid policy. Pariahs stay poor. North Korea could earn far more by going straight. The Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC), where South Korean businesses employ Northern workers to make a range of goods, shows that co-operation can work. Yet Pyongyang keeps harassing it, imposing arbitrary border restrictions and demanding absurd wage hikes.

Now it threatens to seize $370m (€275m, £247m) of South Korean assets at Mount Kumgang, a tourist zone idle since a southern tourist was shot dead in 2008 and the north refused a proper investigation. Even before that, Pyongyang’s greed in extorting inflated fees from Hyundai ensured that no other chaebol has ventured north. Contrast how China has gained from Taiwanese investment.

In this catalogue of crassness, the nadir came in 1991 when the dying Soviet Union abruptly pulled the plug on its clients. All suffered, but most adapted. Cuba went for tourism; Vietnam tried cautious reform; Mongolia sold minerals. Only North Korea, bizarrely, did nothing – except watch its old system crumble. Gross domestic product plunged by half, and hunger killed up to a million. Now famine again stalks the land. The state cannot provide, yet still it seeks to suppress markets.

All this is as puzzling as it is terrible. China and Vietnam show how Asian communist states can morph towards capitalism and thrive. Kim Jong-il may fear the fate of the Soviet Union if he follows suit. True, his regime has survived – even if many of its people have not. Yet the path he is on is patently a dead end. Mr Kim’s own ill-health, and a belated bid to install his unknown third son as dauphin, only heighten uncertainty. Militant mendicancy over the nuclear issue – demanding to be paid for every tiny step towards a distant disarmament, then backsliding and trying the same trick again – will no longer wash. North Korea has run out of road; the game is finally up.

What now? A soft landing, with Mr Kim embracing peace abroad and reform at home, remains the best outcome. But if he obdurately resists change, we need a plan B. The US and South Korea have contingency plans for the north’s collapse. So does China, separately. Tacit co-ordination is urgent, lest future chaos be compounded by a clash of rival powers – as in the 1890s. Koreans have a rueful proverb: when whales fight, the shrimp’s back is broken.

But Beijing will not let it come to that. China is quietly moving into North Korea, buying up mines and ports. Some in Seoul cry colonialism, but it was they who created this vacuum by short-sightedly ditching the past decade’s “sunshine” policy of patient outreach. President Lee Myung-bak may have gained the Group of 20 chairmanship, but he has lost North Korea.

Nor will Mr Kim nuzzle docile under China’s wing, though his son might. As ever, North Korea will take others’ money and do its own thing. In early 2010 new fake “super-yuan” of high quality, very hard to detect, started appearing in China. They wouldn’t, would they?

Read the full article here:
Hermit economics hobbles Pyongyang
Financial Times
Aidan Foster-Carter
3/30/2010 

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Threat of confiscation is lowering prices?

Monday, March 29th, 2010

According ot the Daily NK:

The current rice price downturn in North Korea has been caused by the fact that wholesalers and individuals dumped rice and corn in bulk onto the market in order to avoid it being confiscated by the authorities, according to sources inside the country.

A source from North Hamkyung Province reported on the 26th that the rice price in Chongjin had dropped even further.

Recently, the authorities reportedly announced that food distribution would be normalized and that grain stored by individuals would be confiscated. Therefore, citizens started releasing their stored food onto the market in order to avoid confiscation, generating oversupply.

The source said on a telephone conversation with the Daily NK on the 26th, “In the Youth Park Market in Shinam-district, Chongjin, rice is now 480 won and corn 210 won per kilo.

The source said, “The Army security apparatus has been confiscating food stored by foreign currency earning organizations. It is a part of the implementation of their plan to lower food prices to state-designated levels.”

One North Korean resident told The Daily NK last week, “Prices have been fluctuating since the redenomination, but now a notice has been handed down from the Cabinet saying that prices will be stabilized by April 1. It says the Cabinet will deal with this confusion in the people’s economy.”

The source added, “In inspections by the Prosecutors Department of the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces and Defense Security Command, foreign currency earning apparatus affiliated with military units stationed in Chongjin and another five organizations were revealed to be storing around 260 tons of grains, which was confiscated. Around 90 tons of grain stored by the No. 9 Division was also taken and managers were interrogated by the inspections group.”

With the downturn in food prices, the exchange rate in Chongjin also went down to 690 won to the dollar.

Confiscation Threat Spurs Grain Market Flood
Daily NK
Jin Hyuk Su
3/29/2010

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The urban dimension of the North Korean economy: A speculative analysis

Sunday, August 9th, 2009

Chapter 11 of North Korea in the World Economy
Bertrand Renauld

(NKeconWatch: the whole paper is worth reading in full.  Below is the introduction.  Here is a link to the chapter in Google Books.

Introduction:

This chapter explores the urban dimension of the North Korean economy. Few areas of economic management of centrally planned economies have met with such widespread dissatisfaction and broad popular support for reforms as housing and urban development. This dissatisfaction arises from the peculiar systemic features of the “socialist city.” Since the early 1990s we have been able to study the economics of this type of city based on data from cities of the former Soviet Union, Central Europe, and also China and Vietnam. Of course, no such access to information exists today in North Korea.

As a starting point, I ask only one question: based on the body of knowledge that we have gained from other centrally planned economies (CPE), what are the systemic features of the North Korean urban economy that we expect to find? By so doing, the chapter applies to North Korean cities the method of “rigorous speculation” used earlier by Noland et al. (2000a) on North Korean macroeconomic and trade performance. According to Noland and his colleagues, “rigorous speculation” is the incorporation of fragmentary information into a consistent analytical framework that can clarify alternative scenarios regarding current economic conditions in North Korea. The results can then suggest suitable reforms to stimulate the economy.

Using a medical analogy, the focus is how the “personal history and diagnosis” of the North Korean urban system should be conducted some day. The analysis should not be misconstrued or misused: it is not offered as an actual diagnosis of the North Korean urban system. Rather, using our body of knowledge of the anatomy and physiology of the “socialist city,” it speculates about what we should expect to find in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) urban system. This “pre-diagnosis” relies on the limited yet often revealing information available on the North Korean urban system and its patterns of investment. We also can narrow the range of uncertainty about the structure of the North Korean urban system by means of international comparisons. For instance, should we expect the North Korea system of cities to have more in common with the Soviet cities of Russia than with Chinese or Vietnamese cities, both in terms of time paths of development and of institutional arrangements?

The paper contains many interesting facts and data that help us understand just how different centrally planned/socialist cities are when compared with market-based cities.  The paper also spells out some interesting implications for North Korea’s urban residents (the majority of the country’s population) once the transition from a socialist to a market-based infrastructure begins. 

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North Korea’s transformation: A legal perspective

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

The Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES) published an interesting paper (with the above title) on legal reform in the DPRK.  Below are some highlights.  Links to the entire paper at the bottom.

As citizens have been left without state provisions for subsistence since the state did not have the material resources to supply the people through its central rationing system, the vast majority of individuals and organizations had to support themselves. Legitimizing commercial and market activity and expanding the scope of private ownership were a part of this effort. One of the most important laws reflecting this transformation is the Damage Compensation Law (sonhae bosang-beop), which is the North Korean version of a general torts law. This law holds an individual or any legal entity liable for its tort when damage is inflicted. Monetary compensation is the rule, while restoration is allowed when possible.

Under the socialist system, where the state is responsible for the provision of a citizen’s livelihood, tort law was of little use. Even in the case of death, one’s family would not suffer economically since the state provided sustenance rations. However, with the collapse of the public distribution system, the North Korean authorities could no longer maintain their socialist system. Since an individual now has to rely on his or her own devices, the loss of the employment, for example, directly inflicts a financial burden on the individual or family. Therefore, damage to property or person should be compensated for by the responsible party. Therefore, the new damage compensation law acts as a new mechanism for the protection of private property, and strengthens individual responsibility for negligent acts that inflict damage on others.

and…

Relaxation of law and order, along with the laxity of organizational control due to economic difficulties, changed individual attitudes toward government authorities and organizations in which these individuals were members. Individuals became more independent from the state and its organizations, since both the state and more directly engaged organizations lost important means of control over individuals in society due to the lack of resources and the inability to provide basic necessities to the people.

Under these circumstances, individual victims had no appropriate method to seek compensation for damage through an official dispute resolution process. This has led to an environment in which self-remedy has become the rule, rather than the exception. Although new criminal law punishes those who have used force in asserting their rights, there is no effective means of dispute resolution outside of taking advantage of officials willing to look the other way in exchange for favors, or hiring thugs to more directly resolve disagreements. Citizens can buy justice through bribes, and law enforcement officials are especially helpful in these endeavors when their palms are greased. This is much more economical as well as effective than bringing a case to the relevant official agency, which is generally incapable of resolving problems and instead further exploits the situation.

On courts and lawyers…

For example, the most prominent role of the court in North Korea, where other types of lawsuit are very unusual, was to handle divorce settlements, since divorce through simple agreement of the two parties was not allowed. Ordinary citizens went so far as to perceive settlement of divorce to be the most important role of the court. Criminal cases were also unusual. Political crime is handled through a non-judicial process, while many deviances are resolved through unofficial processes within more local organizations. The role of the court in resolving disputes was negligible, aside from divorce. Since the role of law enforcement agencies is to protect the state and secure the socialist system, the most important qualification for them is not legal expertise, but rather, loyalty and devotion to the North Korean ideology and system.

On the other hand, the Lawyer’s Act of 1993 prescribes the required qualifications of a lawyer. Those who are eligible to work as lawyers are those who are certified legal professionals, those who have working experience of no less than 5 years in legal affairs, or those who have a professional license in a certain area and have passed the bar examination after a short-term course in legal education. This qualification for working as a lawyer signifies that the state wants to equip the judicial system with legal professionals. Although there is no explicit professional qualification for a judge or prosecutor, we may assume that legal professionals have been elected or recruited in practice. This trend is likely to be reinforced as these social changes continue to unfold.

New provisions were also introduced to reinforce the judicial system. For example, interference with a law enforcement official’s performance of duties is now a punishable offence ; Threatening a witness or exacting revenge has been criminalized ; Non-execution of judgment will now be punished. Although the introduction of these provisions was an expression of the government’s effort to bring in a more effective judicial system, it would not be an easy task under the vague status of transformation. The state is very cautious and reluctant to undertake bold or fundamental changes due to concerns about political instability. Therefore, it takes time for various coherent mechanisms to fully support a market system.

You can download the entire paper in PDF format here.

You can read it on the IFES web page here.

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North Korea – last in economic freedom in 2009

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

The purpose of these types of indexes is to put pressure on world governments to improve their economic policies.  Unfortunately, the DPRK has come in last place for as long as I have been paying attention….

From the 2009 Index of Economic Freedom:

econ-freedom2009.JPG

North Korea’s economic freedom score is 2, making its economy the least free in the 2009 Index. North Korea is ranked 41st out of 41 countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

North Korea does not score well in any single area of economic freedom, although it does score some minimal points in investment freedom and property rights. The Communist Party controls and commands almost every aspect of economic activity. Since the early 1990s, North Korea has replaced the doctrine of Marxism’Leninism with the late Kim Il-Sung’s juche (self-reliance) as the official state ideology. Yet the country’s impoverished population is heavily dependent on government subsidies in housing and food rations even though the state-run rationing system has deteriorated significantly in recent years.

North Korea devotes a disproportionately large share of GDP to military spending, further exacerbating the country’s already poor economic situation. Normal foreign trade is minimal, with China and South Korea being the most important trading partners. Trade with India is increasing. No courts are independent of political interference, and private property (particularly land) is strictly regulated by the state. Corruption is rampant but hard to distinguish from regular economic activity in a system in which arbitrary government control is the norm.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is one of the world’s most oppressed and closed societies, and its Communist rulers have repressed basic human rights and nationalized all industry since the country’s founding in 1948. In the 1990s, floods and droughts exacerbated systemic shortcomings and led to severe famine and millions of civilian deaths. North Korea’s economy is mainly supported by international aid and trade with its major trading partners, China and South Korea.

Business Freedom
0.0
The overall freedom to start, operate, and close a business is extremely restricted by North Korea’s national regulatory environment. The state regulates the economy heavily through central planning. Economic reforms implemented in 2002 allegedly brought some changes at the enterprise and industrial levels, but entrepreneurial activity is virtually impossible.

Trade Freedom
0.0
The government controls all imports and exports, and formal trade is minimal. North Korean trade statistics are limited and compiled from trading partners’ data. Most trade is de facto aid, mainly from North Korea’s two main trading partners, China and South Korea. Non-tariff barriers are significant. Inter-Korean trade remains constrained by North Korea’s unwillingness to implement needed reform. Given the minimal level of trade, a score of zero was assigned.

Fiscal Freedom
0.0
No data on income or corporate tax rates are available because no effective tax system is in place. The government plans and manages almost every part of the economy. Given the absence of published official macroeconomic data, such figures as are available with respect to North Korea’s government expenditures are suspect and outdated.

Government Size
0.0
The government owns virtually all property and sets production levels for most products, and state-owned industries account for nearly all GDP. The state directs all significant economic activity. Large military spending further drains scarce resources.

Monetary Freedom
0.0
Price and wage reforms introduced in July 2002 consisted of reducing government subsidies and telling producers to charge prices that more closely reflect costs. Without matching supply-side measures to boost output, the result has been rampant inflation for many staple goods. Because of the ongoing crisis in agriculture, the government has banned sales of grain at markets and returned to rationing. A score of zero was assigned.

Investment Freedom
10.0
North Korea generally does not welcome foreign investment. A small number of projects may be approved by top levels of government; however, the scale of these investments is also small. Numerous countries employ sanctions against North Korea, and ongoing political and security concerns make investment extremely hazardous. Internal laws do not allow for international dispute arbitration. One attempt to open the economy to foreigners was North Korea’s first special economic zone, located at the remote Rajin-Sonbong site in the Northeast. Wage rates in the special zone are unrealistically high because the state controls the labor supply and insists on taking a share of wages. More recent special zones at Mt. Kumgang and Kaesong are more enticing. Aside from these few economic zones where investment is approved on a case-by-case basis, foreign investment is prohibited.

Financial Freedom
0.0
North Korea is a command-and-control economy with virtually no functioning financial sector. Access to financing is very limited and constrained by the country’s failed economy. The central bank also serves as a commercial bank and had more than 200 local branches in 2007. The government provides most funding for industries and takes a percentage from enterprises. Foreign aid agencies have set up microcredit schemes to lend to farmers and small businesses. A rumored overhaul of the financial system to permit firms to borrow from banks instead of receiving state-directed capital has not materialized. Because of debts dating back to the 1970s, most foreign banks will not enter North Korea.

Property Rights
5.0
Property rights are not guaranteed. Almost all property, including nearly all real property, belongs to the state, and the judiciary is not independent. The government even controls all chattel property (domestically produced goods as well as all imports and exports).

Freedom From Corruption
5.0
After the mid-1990s economic collapse and subsequent famines, North Korea developed an immense informal market, especially in agricultural goods. Informal trading with China in currency and goods is active. There are many indicators of corruption in the government and security forces. Military and government officials reportedly divert food aid from international donors and demand bribes before distributing it.

Labor Freedom
0.0
As the main source of employment, the state determines wages. Since the 2002 economic reforms, factory managers have had limited autonomy to set wages and offer incentives, but highly restrictive government regulations hinder any employment and productivity growth.

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North Korea’s real estate black market

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

Some great qualitative information on the DPRK’s underground real estate market from Radio Free Asia:

Central authorities are investigating the practice in all of North Korea’s major cities and have confiscated the homes of “dozens” of local officials in the city of Chongjin, one well-informed source who asked not to be named said.

Private ownership or sale of homes is forbidden by the North Korean state, which assigns dwellings to its citizens based on its own determination of need.

“Most government officials build their residences in the North Korean equivalent of suburbs, in areas that are close to the city but still have a rural flavor,” the source, a Chinese merchant who does business in North Korea, said.

“They sell them when they retire.”

“If someone sells a 50-pyong (1,800-square foot) house in such an upscale neighborhood, he can then buy a house that is three or four times bigger in a different area,” the merchant said.

Party and state officials receive permits and order state-run construction companies to build homes in suburban areas near the sea, the merchant said.

He added that the value of real estate privately sold in North Korean port cities is now appreciating at twice the rate of real estate sold elsewhere in the country.

High-quality materials, including expensive appliances and wallpaper, are often used in the building of officials’ homes, according to a North Korean defector originally from Chongjin but now living in South Korea.

“Small but elegant” patios are sometimes also included, he said.

To justify the construction and occupancy of a larger space, local officials build multi-unit structures and fill them with relatives or people of more modest means, the defector said. 

When the officials retire, they pay the other occupants to move and then sell the entire structure.

North Korean authorities have now sent “task forces” to each of North Korea’s major cities to investigate real estate deals by local officials, the border merchant said, adding that a 40-member group was recently sent to Chongjin, where the homes of dozens of officials were seized.

An official in the city’s Songpyong Ward has reportedly been demoted and reassigned to a more backward part of the country, and fines equal to the actual value of transactions have been imposed on citizens who bought or sold homes.

Some thoughts:
1. IFES reported that private real estate transactions were quite common last september.

2. This report, combined with previous accounts, indicates that, although illegal, the DPRK’s real estate market is quite rational.  Construction quality and location influence housing prices.  According to the Daily NK, the qality of the chairman of the neighborhood people’s committee also influences the price.

3. Could the effort to crack down on these transactions be part of the plans to achieve a “Strong and prosperous nation” by 2012?

Read more here:
North Korean Economy Watch: real estate posts

North Korea’s Black-Market Housing
Radio Free Asia
Jung Young
1/23/2009

Private sector real estate activity booming in the DPRK
Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 08-9-4-1
9/4/2008

Who Is the Chairperson of the People’s Unit?
Daily NK
Moon Sung Hwee
8/18/2008

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Number of North Koreans in the Kaesong Industiral Zone increases

Sunday, December 14th, 2008

Quoting from the article:

North Korea has increased the number of its nationals working at a Seoul-funded industrial estate in the communist state since tighter border controls were introduced, data showed Sunday.

Statistics from South Korea’s unification ministry show North Korean workers numbered 37,168 in Kaesong, the estate just north of the border, on Friday, up from 36,618 on November 31.

On December 1 North Korea imposed stricter border controls and expelled hundreds of South Koreans from Kaesong amid strained cross-border ties, leading to fears in Seoul that Kaesong will eventually be closed down.

“The latest statistics show North Korea will not shut down Kaesong but thoroughly protect business there,” Kim Yong-Hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Seoul’s Dongguk University, told AFP.

“The North is saying tighter border controls are targeting the Seoul government, not private businesses there, in a dual-track policy on the South.”

Read the full article here:
Number of NKoreans increased at Seoul-funded estate
AFP
12/14/2008

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Little sunshine on this cloudy day

Monday, November 24th, 2008

Last week, North Korean Economy Watch reported Pyongyang’s irrational economic policy threats which could end the flow of millions of South Korean dollars into North Korean coffers.  I use the word “irrational” because government policies are typically designed to increase revenues to the treasury (or to coalition / constituent members), not scare them away.  Today, however, North Korea reaffirmed its commitment to closing the border with South Korea on December 1, though with some qualifications:

1. The North Koreans will end “the train to nowhere(c) NKeconWatch. This is puzzling because of all the inter-Korean projects, this one is the least “contaminating.” The South Korean government pays the North Korean government to send an empty train across the border each day.  Why jeopardize this easy money?

2. The North Koreans will end the Kaesong day tours.  This will not be good for Hyundai Asan (HA), which is already suffering losses from the idle Kumgangsan resort.  On the plus side for HA, since this project merely bussed people around Kaesong, they will not be leaving much fixed capital on the northern side of the DMZ.  Still, it is strange that the North Koreans would seek to end this program.  Although it is slightly “contaminating” in that hundreds of South Koreans are shuffled through Kaesong every day, the North’s citizens are generally isolated from their wealthy neighbors. Additionally, I estimate that this program has grossed the North Koreans nearly USD$10 million since it was launched nearly a year ago. This is not an insignificant amount of money to the DPRK.

3. The ultimate fate of the Kaesong Industrial Zone remains uncertain.  Although the North Koreans have threatened to “selectively expel” up to half of the South Koreans in the facility, some managers remain optimistic:

“(The North) never said it would halt production or expel staff related to the production process. So even in the worst case of operating with only half of the staff, we think there won’t be any problem in production,” said Lee Eun-suk, an official at Shinwon Corp, which has clothing factories at Kaesong. (Reuters, via the Washington Post)

Unless North Korea’s policy makers are terminating the flow of economic rents into the country to curb the power of some particular official or interest group, there are not many instances where these actions could be considered shrewd.  Adding to the confusion, most analysts presume that the majority of the South’s construction and wage fees are distributed to the small cohort of high-ranking North Korean policy makers who ostensibly signed off on the projects in the first place.  So why would they now decide to end their own direct funding?

These policy decisions, moreover, will likely affect the North Koreans in ways they do not yet seem to anticipate, particularly when it comes to attracting private foreign direct investment (which is desperately needed).  Private investors will not be attracted to a business environment where the rules of the game are prone to changing every few months.  Investment entrepreneurs will not risk the appropriation of large scale fixed assets.  International aid and official foreign direct investment will probably go on as usual as these tasks have more to do with political decisions than economic.

So what is going on?  That is the million dollar question, and speculation in this case is not worth all that much.  The Daily NK, however, claims to have interviewed an “official” from Pyongyang who discussed recent developments in the Kaesong Industrial Zone.  His claim is that the North Koreans made the decision to close the Kaesong Zone for internal political reasons:

Q. What is the reason that North Korea is trying to suspend the business in the Kaesong Industrial Complex?

A. In fact, the story about the suspension of the Kaesong Complex has emanated from Pyongyang since this fall, but it had been decided as an instruction of the Party in Pyongyang late last year.

It is hard to say conclusively what is happening in Kaesong, because there are so many complicated things at work. People from the Party in Pyongyang say that the Kaesong Complex and tourism should fall into disuse and the Mt. Geumgang tourism site should be left alone. Whether or not the Kaesong Complex is thrown away is only up to our economy condition and also the General (Kim Jong Il)’s decision.

Q. Do you mean that instructions on the Kaesong Complex have already been decided internally by the Party?

A.Yes, you can say that. This was because at the beginning, they started it on in the precondition of switching workers once a year, but now they know that switching workers every year is impossible.

Additionally, rumors on South Chosun have been constantly circulating among workers and their families, so illusion of the South have now become uncontrollable among the people. The authorities cannot overlook this situation.

From the Party’s view, each worker in Mt. Geumgang and Kaesong is like a poster advertising capitalism. Due to them, our socialist system could be cracked.

As I know, at least 20 affiliates with Kaesong Complex came into questioning for advertising South Chosun and capitalism.

There was a thorough reshuffling in the Party last year. There is nobody who talks about Kaesong or Mt. Geumgang.

Q. Can North Korea ignore the abundant dollars from Kaesong in practice?

A. Frankly speaking, we have relied on it due to money. Even right now, if South Korea treats things like the Mt. Geumgang shooting accident flexibly and starts the tours again, everything is okay. The money we want does not need to come only from South Korea. There are Yuan, Rubles and dollars as well. They are all the same.

Although our economy is so terrible, we will not establish the national vision only targeted on making money. You should bear this point in mind.

Thoughts and opinions apprecaited. 

Read more here:
There Is an Internal Reason for the Bluff on Kaesong
Daily NK
Jung Kwon Ho
11/16/2008

Kaesong Staff to Be Expelled
Daily NK
Kim So Yeol
11/24/2008

Kaesong Tour and Trains are Suspended
Daily NK
Jeong Jae Sung
11/24/2008

North Korea to Halt Cross-Border Rail Service, Tours
Bloomberg
Heejin Koo
11/24/2008

North Korea prepares to shut border with South
Reuters (via Washington Post)
Jonathan Thatcher
11/24/2008

N. Korea Stiffens Diplomatic Stance
New York Times
Choe Sang-hun
11/24/2008

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North Korean authorities order markets to open every ten days, from 2009

Friday, November 21st, 2008

Daily NK
Jeong Jae Sung
11/21/2008

The North Korean authorities have been on the move to strengthen recent market regulation policies.

The 6th edition of “NK In & Out,” a recently released newsletter by the Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights (NKnet, Representative Han Gi Hong), relayed an order decreed by the North Korean authorities for the operation of markets every 10 days (on the 1st, 11th, and 21st of the month) starting next year, and introduced as an example some Pyongyang-based markets that only open once a month (on the 10th of every month) starting from last month.

According to the newsletter, an inside source in Yangkang Province reported, “The news of the ‘10-day market system’ starting next year emerged from lectures for government officials.”

A source from Shinuiju also said, “From November, the market maintenance office guards have been relaying the news of the conversion of permanent markets into markets that will operate much less frequently to the civilians.”

A North Hamkyung source said, “At a recent meeting of the People’s Unit, I heard that a new market management policy will come into effect starting next year. However, this is nothing new; all it is saying is that the jangmadang will be eliminated and converted into farmers’ markets, starting next year.”

The sources then pointed out that while the resistance of North Korean citizens will be strong, the possibility of actual policy implementation is deemed low.

The sources unanimously declared, “Similar news of the conversion of markets to the 10-day system or farmers’ markets began to circulate widely at the beginning of the year, but it was not carried out. If the jangmadang are converted into farmers’ markets right now, a riot will result.”

They also retorted, and expressed skepticism regarding the regulation of the market itself, “Most of the products that are circulated in the markets are connected to officials, so they will not actively step forward to regulate the markets and forsake their own gains.”

The “NK In & Out” newsletter relayed that irregular trends have not yet taken place in the markets in North Korea’s major regions. One Chinese trader who visited Dandong, China on the 10th said, “Markets are operating as normal, daily, in Pyongyang, Eunsan, Pyongsung, and Shinuiju.”

He added, “Among the rumors I have heard recently, there was one that private trade itself would be strictly prohibited from November 10th, but this news has been circulating for a while, so people are uncertain whether this will actually happen either.”

The newsletter released a rumor that graffiti and flyers saying “Topple Kim Jong Il” were seen on the morning of the September 9th National Foundation Day among North Korean citizens.

With regard to this, a Shinuiju source stated, “According to stories from merchants who have recently come from Pyongyang, the graffiti could be found near Chungsung Bridge on Unification Street in Pyongyang on September 9th. Flyers were passed out in the markets.”

He added, “The flyers also said, ‘What is socialism?’ ‘How can officials eat well while people starve?’ and ‘Let’s end the Kim Jong Il era’.”

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