Archive for the ‘Energy’ Category

DPRK-China trade in 2014

Monday, January 26th, 2015

According to Yonhap, DPRK-China trade drops slightly in 2014:

North Korea’s annual trade with its economic lifeline, China, fell 2.4 percent from a year ago in 2014, marking the first decline since 2009, data compiled by South Korea’s government trade agency showed Monday.

North Korea’s trade with China totaled US$6.39 billion last year, compared with $6.54 billion in 2013, according to the data provided by the Beijing unit of South’s Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA).

The annual trade figures between North Korea and China provided a fresh sign that strained political ties between the two nations have affected their economic relations.

At least on paper, there were also no shipments of crude oil from China to North Korea for all of last year.

A South Korean diplomatic source with knowledge of the matter, however, cautioned against reading too much into the official trade figures because China has provided crude oil to North Korea in the form of grant aid and such shipments were not recorded on paper.

Here is coverage in the Daily NK.

I have been unable to locate the KOTRA report, but the Choson Ilbo adds this:

China’s exports to the North were down 3.1 percent on-year and its imports from the North 1.5 percent, the diplomatic source in Beijing said quoting Chinese trade statistics.

Yonhap followed up with this from a Chinese foreign ministry press briefing:

Asked about the official absence of crude oil delivery to North Korea, China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, referred the question to “competent authorities.”

“You mentioned a specific issue concerning trade between China and North Korea. I would like to refer you to competent authorities,” Hua told reporters during a regular press briefing.

“But, I want to highlight that the economic cooperation and trade between China and North Korea are normal,” Hua said.

Yonhap also provided the following information on oil shipments from China to the DPRK:

In previous years, China’s official shipments of crude oil to North Korea had been absent for several months, particularly after the North’s nuclear tests. However, it was extremely unusual that, at least on paper, China sold no crude oil to North Korea for all of last year.

In 2014, China’s exports of petroleum products to North Korea jumped 48.22 percent from a year earlier to US$1.54 million, according to the data based on Chinese trade statistics and compiled by the Beijing unit of South’s Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency.

“Although final statistics show that China’s exports of crude oil to North Korea were counted as ‘zero’ in 2014, experts suggest that the possibility of China’s suspension of crude oil exports to North Korea remains low,” the agency said in a statement.

South Korean diplomatic sources in Beijing have also cautioned against reading too much into the official Chinese trade figures because China has provided crude oil to North Korea in the form of grant aid and such shipments were not recorded on paper.

There has been no clear indication that the 2014 trade figures reflect China’s willingness to use crude oil as leverage to press North Korea to change course in its nuclear ambition.

Yonhap (via Korea Times) also reports that anthracite exports to China are down in 2014:

North Korea’s exports of anthracite to China tumbled nearly 18 percent in 2014 from the previous year, the first annual drop in eight years, data showed Friday.

North Korea exported US$1.13 billion worth of anthracite to China last year, down 17.6 percent from a year earlier, according to data from the Korea International Trade Association.

It was the first on-year decline in North Korea’s anthracite exports to China since 2006.

The volume of anthracite exports also decreased 6.4 percent on-year to 15.43 million tons last year, according to the KITA.

Despite the drop, anthracite accounted for 39.8 percent of North Korea’s total exports to China in 2014.

According to the data, North Korea’s exports of iron ore to China plunged 25.7 percent on-year to $218.6 million last year, the smallest amount since 2010.

For lots more data on the DPRK’s international trade, see also these eight great posts:
1. North Korea-China Trade Update: Coal Retreats, Textiles Surge
2. How Has the Commodity Bust Affected North Korea’s Trade Balance? (Part 1)
3. How Has the Commodity Bust Affected North Korea’s Trade Balance? (Part 2)
4. Nicholas Eberstadt’s “Dependencia, North Korea Style” (I would have gone with “Our Style Dependencia”)
5. NK News on coal shipments in 2014.
6. Radio Free Asia on coal shipments.
7. N. Korea’s smartphone imports from China hit record
8. China’s exports of jet fuel to N. Korea rebounds in 2014

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s 2014 trade with China marks 1st drop in 5 years
Yonhap
2015-1-26

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Ten power plants on Chongchon River under construction to increase power supply to Pyongyang

Friday, December 19th, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

Japan-based pro-North Korea media outlet Choson Sinbo reported on December 11 that ten hydroelectric dams were being constructed along the Chongchon River stretching over a hundred kilometers.

According to the news, Chongchon River (217 km long) is one of the largest rivers in North Korea’s central region, and derives its name from its crystal clear water.

Multi-tiered power plants are being constructed, a project which runs across Jagang, North and South Pyongan Provinces, spanning approximately 77km. The project consists of ten small and medium-sized power plants of varying generating capacity.

The construction of the dams on the Chongchon River began in January 2013 and is considered as a second phase construction following the completion of the Huichon Power Station (in Jagang Province) in April 2012.

Huichon Power Station 1 and 2 were built in the first phase. The ten plants currently under construction can somewhat be considered as Huichon Power Stations No. 3 to 12.

The Huichon Power Stations 1 and 2 have a maximum power generation capacity of 300,000 kilowatts (KW). Stations 3 to 12 are expected to generate about 120,000 KW. Like the Huichon Power Stations No. 1 and No. 2, the new power plants are expected to provide power to Pyongyang City through direct transmission lines. It is expected that this will address the power shortage problem in Pyongyang.

The city, provincial, and central government agencies are overseeing the construction of the power plants and about 14,000 people have been mobilized for this project. The news reported that “young women’s shock brigades” were seen at the construction sites.

The news reported that many slogan banners are posted across the construction sites that read, “Once Determined, Korea (Choson) Will Accomplish!”, “All towards the Creation of Choson Speed”, and “Let Us Take Charge of Pyongyang’s Night lights.”

The Chongchon River power plants are expected to be completed by next October on the occasion of celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

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DPRK building new coal-powered plant in Pyongyang

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

Kangdong-plant-2014-3-20

Pictured above is the new plant. Learn more about it on this new article at 38 North.

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North Korea shows great interest in micro hydropower

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

According to the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES):

North Korea, which has been focusing its efforts on increasing energy production, is currently paying close attention to micro hydropower systems. Micro hydropower is a type of hydroelectric power system which can effectively harness industrial water and/or hydroelectric resources from water and sewage systems to produce electricity.

A November 2, 2014 article published in the North Korea Workers’ Party’s official newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, reported on the advantages and efficiency of micro hydropower, of which it claims North Korea has implemented and is currently using. The harnessing of industrial and sewer system water was once a mere point of interest for North Korea; but according to the newspaper article, a variety of micro hydropower equipment has since been installed and is currently generating up to 100kW of power for the nation.

The newspaper explained, “Industrial waste water used for cooling or cleaning in factories has a fixed height and pressure, and can be used as a water power resource to produce electricity due to its stable quantity and flow rate. . . . In water and sewage systems, catchment areas and sewage purification plants have freefalling water which can be used as a water power resource, and in air conditioning systems, the circulating cooling water can also be potentially utilized.”

The article also praised micro hydropower systems for their low initial investment cost and operation fees.

According to the Rodong Sinmun, construction costs for the levees used in a hydroelectric power plant can account for over fifty percent of the total construction costs of the system. But, because micro hydropower systems can be installed and connected directly to existing pipes, costs are reduced dramatically, and the low-flow, low-pressure nature of the micro hydropower system allows for additional savings on materials such as waterwheels and generators.

The costs of installing a micro hydropower system may be double that of a diesel-powered generator, but when taking the cost of fuel into account, micro hydropower systems are said to be much more economical in the long term.

The newspaper also reported about one micro hydropower facility which even utilizes the piping and freefalling water from their service-water purifier. According to the article, the system produces enough electricity to power the water purification and also net a 55kW energy surplus.

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DPRK oil imports from China in 2014 (UPDATED)

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

UPDATE 8 (2014-11-14): Yonhap speculates on Chinese oil exports to the DPRK:

China appears to be continuing to provide North Korea with crude oil, contrary to its customs data, officials here said Friday.

China exported not a single drop of crude oil to North Korea in the first nine months this year, according to formal data.

If true, it might reflect widespread speculation that the relations between the communist allies have been strained to some extent due to Pyongyang’s repeated provocative acts.

South Korean officials, however, believe China is continuing to send crude oil to North Korea either in hidden trade or in the form of aid.

“Without China’s provision of crude oil, the operation of many of North Korea’s industrial facilities and vehicles would be suspended. But there has been no such indication yet,” an intelligence official said.

Beijing may be deliberately excluding its crude oil shipments to Pyongyang from the customs data in a bid to give the world the impression that it is joining the international community’s efforts to put pressure on it, another government official said.

He dismissed the view that the North has replaced China with Russia as its main source of crude oil imports.

“North Korea has brought in more crude oil from Russia this year, but the total amount is still less than 100,000 tons,” he said.

North Korea used to import an annual average of half a million tons of crude oil from China. (Yonhap)

UPDATE 7 (2014-11-4): According to Yonhap, North Korea’s jet fuel imports from China have begun to rebound this year.

North Korea imported 13,000 tons of jet fuel from China between January and September, a sharp rise from 359 tons in the same period last year, the unification ministry official told reporters.

But the amount is still far short of past tallies: 38,000 tons in the same period of 2011 and 39,000 tons in that of 2012, he noted, citing formal data from China’s customs authorities

UPDATE 6 (2014-8-23): For what it is worth, China recorded zero oil exports to North Korea in July. According to Yonhap:

According to the Chinese data analyzed by the Beijing unit of the Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency, there were no shipments of crude oil from China to North Korea from January to July.

Diplomatic sources with knowledge of the matter cautioned against reading too much into the official trade figures because China has been providing crude oil to North Korea in the form of grant aid and such shipments have not been recorded on paper.

In the first seven months of this year, China’s exports to North Korea rose 1.8 percent from a year ago to US$1.95 billion, while imports fell 4.3 percent to $1.57 billion, according to the data.

UPDATE 5 (2014-8-4): The Hankyoreh weighs in on Chinese oil exports to the DPRK:

However, there are also other experts who counter that suspending the supply of crude oil ought not to be read as a sign of deteriorating relations between North Korea and China. They say that, while the statistics read zero, the supply of crude oil is actually continuing. In fact, the price of gasoline and other petroleum products in North Korea remains stable, reports have indicated.

Radio Free Asia reported that gasoline was selling recently for around 10 to 11 won per kilogram at North Korea’s markets, around the same as the 11 won price from 2012. The price of diesel also remained steady at 6 to 7 won, the broadcaster said.

The South Korean government believes that while China may have reduced its crude oil exports, it is continuing to supply North Korea with oil as a form of aid. “China has been supplying North Korea with 500,000 tons in trade, along with a similar amount of free oil. It appears to be providing North Korea with enough crude oil to prevent problems from occurring in North Korean society,” said a senior Ministry of Unification official on condition of anonymity.

But many experts believe that relations between North Korea and China are not in such a bad state that China would shut off the supply of crude oil. “Relations between North Korea and China are not normal, but they should not be seen as especially bad, either. From the viewpoint of a superpower, China appears to be steadily observing North Korea’s behavior, without grief or joy,” said Lee Hui-ok, professor at Sungkyunkwan University.

Indeed, aside from interaction between senior officials, other sectors appear to be operating normally without any major disturbances. Trade between North Korea and China in the first half of the year remained at levels similar to 2013. Chinese exports to the North from January to May of this year were US$1.27 billion, down slightly from US$1.33 billion last year. But a big rebound in June brought the first half figures up to US$1.58 billion, nearly the same as the US$1.59 billion posted last year.

In the area of tourism, China also appeared to be taking a more aggressive attitude in the first half of the year than in 2013, running new tourism programs using bicycles and trains, reports said. In the area of personnel exchange, working-level contact is continuing, despite the lack of meetings between senior officials.

“There are virtually no senior political officials from North Korea visiting China. However, technical and economic officials continue to visit China for inspections and training,” said an official at the South Korean embassy in China, on condition of anonymity.

“It is dangerous to read too much into the temporary fluctuations and the sluggish mood recently affecting relations between North Korea and China. That would be a false diagnosis of their relationship,” said Lee Nam-ju, professor at Sungkonghoe University.

“Since North Korea and China understand each other, it does not appear likely that their relations will be suddenly damaged,” Lee said.

UPDATE 4 (2014-7-14): NK News reports on Chinese petrol exports to the DPRK:

China has increased deliveries of oil products to North Korea during the first five months of 2014 according to the latest Chinese customs data, which also confirms the widely reported halt in crude oil shipments.

However, data from the Chinese General Administration of Customs shows that the oil-products being delivered to North Korea only cover a fraction of the supplies of crude once shipped, with total deliveries falling by over 60 percent.

Experts were unsure over whether this constituted a warning from Beijing in response to North Korea’s regional provocations or whether the slow-down was due to the DPRK’s aging refineries. Crude oil must be refined into petroleum products such as fuel oil, diesel and aviation fuel before being used.

In total, China exported more than 88,000 tons of refined products to the DPRK between January and May 2014, with more than half of the growth caused by spikes in gasoline and kerosene shipments. Gasoline, is primarily used as a fuel for motor vehicles, while kerosene is used to power jet engines and as a heating fuel in North East Asia.

“[This] is somewhat over half of the recorded exports from China to the DPRK in 2010, and somewhat over a quarter of the net petroleum products imports that we estimated for the DPRK from all nations in 2010.  So there may be a real shift in petroleum products exports going on,” David Von Hippel a Senior Associate at the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability told NK News.

Kerosene, used as an aviation fuel, saw the sharpest spike in exports increasing by 5131% when compared to the same period last year. The North Koreans imported more than a hundred thousand barrels, mostly in one bulk shipment in March, amidst news published in early July by Reuters that the DPRK was looking to restart domestic flights.

Gasoline exports also rose by 84% to approximately 280 thousand barrels when compared to the  January – May period in 2013.

DPRK imports of diesel rose to 63,000 barrels and mark the first time China has exported the petroleum product since 2011, although no data is available before this point. The exports remain at a low level however, representing only a few percent of total DPRK yearly usage.

China also upped exports of Butane by 28%, which is used primarily as fuel gas or in gasoline blending. “[Butane] is more likely used as an input to bottled gas (for example, liquefied petroleum gas, LPG), which is, we have heard, increasingly used for cooking in urban households that can afford it in the DPRK.” Von Hippel told NK News.

UPDATE 3 (2014-5-24): This Daily NK article further highlights why we should be skeptical of official reports of the DPRK’s oil imports from China:

Daily NK has confirmed that China is currently supplying oil to North Korea through a pipeline running between the two. Though there have been cases where Beijing has suspended such shipments in response to North Korean intransigence, particularly over nuclear issues, but this has not happened recently.

On April 10th, Daily NK visited an oil storage and pipeline facility in Dandong. There, our team interviewed Chinese Ministry of Public Security officials guarding the facility, which is owned by a subsidiary of China National Petroleum Corporation, or CNPC.

When asked about oil assistance to North Korea, one of the officers acknowledged, “We are continuously supplying oil (to North Korea),” but “cannot say how much we send each month or how much remains as of now.”

Oil deliveries to be transferred to North Korea are received at this facility from a larger nearby facility, Basan, and then are shipped to a partner storage facility at Baekma in Pihyun Couunty, North Pyongan Province. The pipeline is 11km long.

According to sources, these deliveries are not recorded in Chinese customs data, or in foreign trade statistics. The oil from the pipeline is rather characterized as de facto aid, either in the form of low interest loans or free of charge.

This is why, on April 24th, Korean agency KOTRA released a figure of ‘zero’ for oil exports from China to North Korea for the first quarter of 2014, basing it on Chinese customs data. The data says zero for commercial transfers; however, supplies in the form of aid and assistance may not have stopped at all.

In this regard, a diplomatic source said, “China has the ability to stop the oil supplies whenever they want, but they’ve never done so for a long period of time.” He went on, “Above all, China places as much importance on security as North Korea places on nuclearization, and it doesn’t want to see disorder in the North Korean regime. This explains why China keeps providing this assistance.”

Meanwhile, Chinese trade statistics show that 520,000 tons of oil was exported to North Korea every year from 2009 to 2012. Mostly small North Korean tankers shipped this oil.

UPDATE 2 (2014-5-26): The DPRK officially did not import any oil from China as of April 2014. According to Yonhap:

China sold no crude oil to North Korea in the first four months of this year, data compiled by South Korea’s government trade agency showed Monday, in an unusual four-month absence of oil shipments amid the North’s threats of a nuclear test.

The Beijing unit of the South’s Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) said in a report, citing data from China’s customs authorities, that there were no oil shipments from China to North Korea from January to April this year.

A four-month absence of oil shipments from China to North Korea was also reported in 2009, when the North conducted its second nuclear test.

However, a diplomatic source in Beijing cautioned against reading too much into the official trade figures.

“The Chinese side has provided crude oil to North Korea in the form of grant aid, which is not recorded on paper,” the source said on condition of anonymity.

North Korea also appears to have been trying to diversify its source of oil imports, through countries such as Russia, the source said.

UPDATE 1 (2014-4-24): DPRK official imports from China in Q1 of 2014: zero.

According to Yonhap:

China did not export any crude oil to North Korea in the first three months of this year, data compiled by South Korea’s government trade agency showed Thursday, in an unprecedented three-month absence of oil shipments amid North Korea’s threats of a nuclear test.

Monthly shipments of crude oil from China to North Korea were absent in February, June and July last year, but it was the first time that China apparently stopped exports of crude oil to North Korea for three consecutive months.

The Beijing unit of the South’s Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) said in a report, citing data it collected from China’s customs authorities, that there were no oil shipments from China to North Korea from January to March this year.

“To my knowledge, it is the first time that China did not export crude oil to North Korea for three consecutive months and that would impact the North Korean economy,” a diplomat at the South Korean Embassy in Beijing said on the condition of anonymity.

Also worth highlighting from the report:

China’s total trade with North Korea fell 2.83 percent to US$1.27 billion in the January-March period, compared with the same period a year ago, according to the KOTRA report.

Additional information:

1. DPRK – China trade statistics following the Jang Song-thaek purge.

2. DPRK – China trade at all time high in 2013.

3. DPRK diversifying energy sources.

4. DPRK does not import any oil from China in January 2014.

Read the full Yonhap story here:
China didn’t export crude oil to N. Korea in Q1
Yonhap
2014-4-24

ORIGINAL POST (2014-3-10): DPRK oil imports from China in January 2014: Zero!

According to Yonhap:

North Korea did not import any crude oil from China in January, marking the first absence of monthly deliveries from China in five months, a Seoul government report showed Monday.

It was not immediately clear whether the January absence of crude shipments to North Korea from China was linked to Beijing’s growing frustration with Pyongyang over its nuclear program, but it followed the execution of the once-powerful uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un last December.

Last year, monthly shipments of crude oil from China to North Korea were absent in the months of February, June and July. However, annual shipments of crude oil to North Korea from China rose 11.2 percent on-year to 578,000 tons in 2013.

Read the full story here:
No crude import from China to N. Korea in Jan.: report
Yonhap
2014-3-10

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Russian investment into DPRK railway

Sunday, October 26th, 2014

Most of Russia’s current investment in the DPRK has been limited to Rason: Rason Port, Rason-Russia Railway. But there has been movement in bilateral relations this year.

In March of 2014, the North Koreans and the Russians announced bilateral trade would be conducted in Rubles and they discussed additional economic opportunitiesInter-Korean transportation, gas pipeline, and the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

On October 20, 2014, ITAR TASS reported the following:

Russian construction compnay NPO Mostovik has developed a plan of designing and upgrading railways and ore enriching plants, as well as developing and processing natural resources in North Korea, CEO Vladimir Shishov told PRIME on Monday.

“These are two interconnected and quite complex processes. But the NPO has lots of experience in designing, and we will promote our experience and technologies in this region,” Shishov said.

About 7,000 kilometers of North Korean railways require modernization, and 3,500 kilometers of them must be modernized urgently.

North Korea “has a large industrial and economic potential, the realization of which requires solving infrastructural problems.” Without the development of railways and roads and electrification, “it is impossible to solve the whole range of tasks, connected with the development of North Korea’s economy,” he said.

KCNA followed up on October 23:

Talks Held between DPRK Minister of External Economic Relations and Minister of Development of Far East of Russia

Pyongyang, October 23 (KCNA) — Talks between Minister of External Economic Relations Ri Ryong Nam who doubles as chairman of the DPRK side to the Inter-Governmental Committee for Cooperation in Trade, Economy, Science and Technology between the DPRK and Russia and Minister of Development of Far East of Russia Alexandr Galushka who doubles as chairman of the Russian side to the committee were held here on Thursday.

Present there from the DPRK side were Ju Jae Dok, vice-minister of Railways, and officials concerned and from the opposite side were the party of the minister of Development of Far East, Alexandr Timonin, Russian ambassador to the DPRK, and a staff member of his embassy.

Discussed at the talks were the issues of boosting the economic and trade cooperation between the two countries.

And on October 26:

Delegation of Ministry of Railways Back Home

Pyongyang, October 26 (KCNA) — The delegation of the Ministry of Railways led by Minister Jon Kil Su returned home Sunday after taking part in an international seminar held in Sochi, Russia.

However, while North Korea’s foreign minister and railway minister were in Russia, the North Koreans and Russians held a ground-breaking ceremony to announce the rebuilding of the Jaedong-Kangdong-Nampho railway line. According to KCNA:

A ground-breaking ceremony of rebuilding the section of Jaedong-Kangdong-Nampho railway stations took place at East Pyongyang Railway Station Tuesday.

Present there were Minister of External Economic Relations Ri Ryong Nam who doubles as chairman of the DPRK side to the Inter-Governmental Committee for Cooperation in Trade, Economy, Science and Technology between the DPRK and Russia, officials concerned and working people in the city.

Also on hand were Minister of Development of Far East of Russia Alexandr Galushka who doubles as chairman of the Russian side to the Inter-Governmental Committee for Cooperation in Trade, Economy, Science and Technology between the DPRK and Russia, and his party, Alexandr Timonin, Russian ambassador to the DPRK, staff members of his embassy and foreign diplomatic envoys here.

Oleg Shishov, director general of the Russian Bridzh Group, and Won Phil Jong, senior vice-minister of Railways of the DPRK, made speeches at the ceremony.

They said that they were pleased that the ceremony of weighty significance in economic development between the two countries was being held in Pyongyang this year marking the 66th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the DPRK and Russia.

The project for remodeling railways, the first stage of realizing the large-scale cooperation project which is in line with the common development and interests of the peoples of the two countries, marked an important occasion in developing economic cooperation between the two countries, they noted.

Alexandr Galushka and Ri Ryong Nam made congratulatory speeches.

They said that Marshal Kim Jong Un is paying deep attention to boosting the bilateral friendly relations.

The relations of economic cooperation between the two countries are growing stronger with each passing day, they said, hoping for bigger successes in the work to develop the bilateral cooperative relations in the future, too.

A reception was given that day.

According to supplementary information in Yonhap:

A Russian broadcaster earlier reported that Pyongyang and Moscow signed a US$25 billion deal to modernize a combined 3,500-kilometer stretch of railways in North Korea. If confirmed, it would cover 60-70 percent of the North’s railways.

Russia Beyond the Headlines reports the following information:

The implementation of the Russian-North Korean project Pobeda (Victory) will make it possible for North Korea to start exporting metallurgical coal in 2015, one of the participants in the project, LLC NPO Mostovik CEO Oleg Shishov believes.

“We’re already discussing this with the North Korean government, that everything will go to [third countries], and they agree. The volume is tens of millions of tonnes at the initial stage, and then we’ll see. Let’s take the first step,” Shishov told reporters.

He said the North Korea stands out by its almost complete absence of sulfur. “This is a very important indicator for metallurgical production, particularly for production of high quality steels,” Shishov said.

“Mining is already underway there, only with such methods that little is being mined. the methods are very inefficient, unproductive. Modern mining equipment will be delivered there and this will increase production manifold. The reserves there are huge,” Shishov said.

He did not specify who would be investing in the development of North Korean coal fields or the countries that would be importing the coal.

Russia and North Korea are now beginning to implement the Pobeda project, which calls for the development of mineral resources and comprehensive reconstruction of North Korea’s railway network. A number of Russian companies are participating in the project, including Mostovik. The other participants have not been named.

Here is a Google Earth image of the proposed train route:

Jaenam-Nampho-Railway-GE

The total length of this route is approximately 175km.

The obvious interpretation of the image is that the railway renovations will be used to facilitate coal exports. Jaenam Station exclusively serves the Sinchang Youth Coal Mine under the Sunchon Area Youth Coal Mine Complex Enterprise. Additoinally, the area surrounding Jaenam Station is doimated by coal mines. The Kangdong Station is not in the town of Kangdong, but just to the east where it services the Kangdong Area Coal Mine Complex Enterprise. Coal in these areas will supposedly be carried more efficiently to the port of Nampho where a coal terminal already exists.

Nampho-coal-port

If indeed this is the primary purpose of the project, then the obvious loser will be China (on multiple fronts). Currently Chinese state-owned mining companies are the only serious investors in North Korea’s extraction industries. Because of their unique relationship with and proximity to the DPRK, they are able to purchase coal and other resources at a bargain price (monopsony). North Korea can only strengthen its bargaining position with these companies by finding other buyers of its produce. Russia’s investment could help them accomplish this goal.

However there are two domestically-related uses that renovation of this railway route could facilitate.

The first is domestic steel production. Russian sources highlight the importance of sulfur-free coal for the production of steel, and this railway line passes directly by the Chollima Steel Mill, one of the largest smelters in the country. Increased steel production has long been a goal of North Korea’s economic policymakers going back to the “heavy-industry” days of the 1950s. With a renovated railway track that connects the correct kind of coal with Chollima Steel Mill, the DPRK may be able to produce more steel for both domestic use or for export.

A second potential domestic use could be the increase in energy supply to Pyongyang. As I highlighted in 38 North, the DPRK is constructing a new coal power plant in Kangdong. This new power plant, as well as the Pyongyang and East Pyongyang Thermal Power Plants lie along the Jaenam-Nampho line. Increased coal supplies to these mills could have significant impact on power supply in Pyongyang.

Are there any other potential uses? Maybe, but these are more difficult to see right now and may only become evident at a later date. After examining the composition of facilities along the track between Pyongyang and Jaenam, I cannot identify any other specific industries that may benefit, other than potential military factories that lie along the route. These, of course, are worth of examination, but I am not the most qualified to carry that out.

On November 6, 38 North Published this article on DPRK-Russia relations.

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Electricity consumption in the summer

Friday, August 8th, 2014

According to the Daily NK:

“The authorities began to provide us with about five hours of electricity per day when the rainy season came; but they also began to take usage charges on it,” a source in the region told Daily NK on August 7th. “It resulted in verbal clashes between residents and the officers dispatched by the Urban Management Office to gather the fees.”

According to sources inside North Korea, the summer rainy season usually brings improved electricity provision: from 1-2hrs per day up to as much as 4-5hrs, as the country’s key hydroelectric turbines are able to operate at a higher capacity. Consumption is charged at a subsidized sum, approximately 80-100 KPW per month; although families with television sets, VCRs or DVD players, fans, rice cookers, etc. pay a surcharge of 100 KPW per device.

Though pleased with the boost in supply, residents are resentful at calls from the revenue collectors. The “we gave it to you, and now you should pay” approach of the authorities is annoying for people who are accustomed to getting by without power the majority of the time.

At the same time, electricity supplies to enterprises and households in North Korea often depend upon bribery; one must give to the local department that oversees the supply in order to get more of the power. The homes of key Party officials are themselves bribed into overlooking this with an unrestricted supply.

Moreover, even in periods where electricity is not going to residential homes, it is possible to bribe the Land Management Office or local enterprises for power, but this is something that only private businesspersons and affluent families are likely to do. A middleman system has emerged, where residents who are able may pay third parties to get a larger share.

The source explained that it all means you can easily pick out the districts where Chosun Workers’ Party officials reside, as they are the ones with well-lit apartments. “The annoyance you feel when you’ve gone through your life without much electricity and you watch them use it late into the night is indescribable,” she said.

“We have no use for electricity in the middle of the night, either, and find it irksome when the lights suddenly come on,” she also added.  “They don’t think about the people who are having a hard time surviving, and while they are trading the nation’s electricity supply, only the wealth of officials and the donju is growing; and only they can use it,” the source pointed out.

And yet, “The paradox is that without this system, the nation would probably be devoid of any kind of electricity provision at all,” she concluded. “Transformers are on sale in the market [at 150,000 KPW average, with larger models costing up to 1,500,000 KPW] but even the cheapest ones are beyond the lower classes.”

Read the full story here:
More Electricity Leads to Growing Aggravation
Daily NK
Seol Song Ah
2014-8-8

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DPRK -china trade dips slightly in H1 2014

Monday, August 4th, 2014

According to the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES):

Grain Imports Decrease, Rare-Earth Mineral Exports Increase in the First Half of 2014

It has been reported that Chinese grain imports in North Korea have fallen drastically in the first half of 2014. According to the Korean Foreign Trade Association (KFTA), Chinese exports of grain to North Korea totaled 58,387 tons in the first half of 2014, totaling a mere 47 percent of the grain exported in the first half of the previous year (124,228 tons).

China’s most heavily exported grain product to North Korea is flour, which made up 68.8 percent (40,142 tons) of all total grain exports for the first half of 2014. China also exported 13,831 tons of rice and 3,420 tons of corn to North Korea. Corn exports did not even reach twenty percent of the amount exported at the same time last year (17,655 tons).

It is postulated that China’s sharp decrease in grain exports to North Korea is due to the souring relations between the two nations in 2014. Another theory is that the decrease in exports could be due to North Korea’s recent increase in agricultural productivity over previous years.

In the first half of 2014 China exported 109,531 tons of fertilizer to North Korea, 21.3 percent less than the amount exported during the same timeframe last year (139,161 tons). In the first three months of 2014, North Korea aggressively imported Chinese fertilizer at a rate of twenty thousand tons over its monthly average. However, this decreased markedly in the months of April, May and June.

Meanwhile, North Korea has been exporting large quantities of rare-earth resources (which are used in manufacturing high-tech products) to China over the last few months. Reportedly, in May of 2014, North Korea exported 550,000 dollars’ worth of rare-earth ore to China. This figure more than doubled the following month, reaching 1.33 million USD in June.

This comes as a bit of a surprise, as North Korean rare-earth resource exports to China had come to a standstill after the first round of exports (totaling 24.7 thousand USD) in January 2013. Suddenly, after fifteen months, North Korea has exported 1.88 million USD worth of rare-earth ore (approx. 1.93 billion KRW, 62.66 thousand kilograms) over the last two months.

Since 2011, North Korea has in fact been exporting rare-earth carbonate mixtures to China; however total exports of these products have only reached 170 thousand USD over the last three and a half years.

North Korea has been placing attention on these underground rare-earth resources, of which the nation reportedly has ample quantities of in various deposits around the country. Recently, much effort has been put into surveying for deposits of these so-called “vitamins of the 21st century’s high-tech industry.” In 2013 a company for the development of rare-earth materials in North Pyongan Province was established with the cooperation of the international private equity firm “SRE Minerals.”

In July 2011, the Choson Sinbo, a news affiliate of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, reported in an interview with top executives from the National Resources Development Council that rare-earth resource deposits in North Korea total approximately 20 million tons. The drastic increase seen in rare-earth resource exports can be attributed to North Korea’s attempt to diversify its resource exports. In other words, the DPRK is investing in rare-earth material exports in order to reduce its dependency on other leading mineral exports such as anthracite, iron ore, and lead.

Exports of anthracite to China decreased by 23 percent in the first half of 2014 (compared to last year), totaling approximately 571 million USD. Iron ore exports, North Korea’s second leading resource export, reached approximately 121 million USD in the same time period – a drop of 5 percent when compared to the same time period last year.

According to the Korea Herald (Yonhap):

North Korea’s trade with its economic lifeline China fell 2.1 percent on year to US$2.89 billion in the first six months of this year, data compiled by South Korea’s government trade agency showed Monday, in another sign that strained political ties between the two nations have affected their economic relations.

During the six-month period, North Korea’s exports to China declined 3.9 percent to $1.31 billion and imports slipped 0.6 percent to $1.58 billion, according to the data provided by the Beijing unit of South’s Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA).

There were no shipments of crude oil from China to North Korea from January to June, the data showed.

“Despite the six-month absence of oil shipments, the scale of North Korea’s decline in imports is minimal,” the source said on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, North Korea’s exports of rare earth to China jumped 153.7 percent on year during the January-June period, the data showed, without providing the value of the exports.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s trade with China falls 2.1 pct in H1
Korea Herald (Yonhap)
2014-08-04

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DPRK increases exports of rare earths to China

Sunday, July 27th, 2014

According to the Korea Times:

North Korea has increased its rare earth exports to China amid worries within the international community that its mineral exports could weaken the effect of sanctions imposed on the reclusive state.

The cash-strapped communist country exported goods to the value of $550,000 and $1.33 million in May and June, respectively, according to the Korea International Trade Association (KITA).

Last January, the North exported elements worth nearly $25,000 to China for the first time and continued them this year. The country has an estimated 20 million tons of rare earth elements.

The North’s resources exploitation have stirred speculation that the impoverished state may further diversify mineral exports to China, where it has previously mostly exported anthracitic and iron ore.

The KITA report identified the changing trend in North Korea’s earnings from mineral exports.

In the first half of this year, earnings from anthracitic and iron ore exports decreased 23 percent and 5 percent, respectively.

These earning deficits were compensated for by exports of rare earth elements. There has been a sharp increase in global demand over the last recent decade because several high-tech devices, including smartphones, and other high technology devices use them in core components. Rare earth elements are a group of 17 elements on the periodic table referred to by the US Department of Energy as “technology metals” because of their use and application.

The communist country relies heavily on mineral exports as a major source of hard currency after international sanctions were imposed on the Pyongyang regime for its continuing missile launches and testing of nuclear weapons.

Natural resources account for 73 percent of North Korea’s bilateral trade with China in 2012. The North exports 11 million tons of anthracitic to China annually.

Yonhap coverage:

North Korea exported rare-earth elements worth $1.87 million to China from May to June, resuming outbound shipments of the crucial industrial minerals to its key ally and economic benefactor in 15 months, data showed Sunday.

North Korea shipped rare-earth minerals worth $550,000 and $1.32 million to China in May and June, respectively, which amounted to a total of 62,662 kilograms, according to the Korea International Trade Association based in Seoul.

The communist regime first exported rare-earth metals worth $24,700 to China in January 2013 and had stopped selling them until recently.

Separately, Pyongyang has sold carbonate-containing rare-earth compounds to China since 2011, but the size of outbound shipments is small, with the total amount is estimated at about $170,000 over a period of three and a half years.

The impoverished nation is known to have large reserves of rare-earth minerals, which are crucial ingredients used in many tech products as well as the military and medical sectors.

The latest move comes as the North has stepped up developing rare-earth deposits to support its moribund economy.

Last year, the North’s state-owned Korea Natural Resources Trading Corporation signed a 25-year deal with British Islands-based private equity firm SRE Minerals Limited to mine deposits in Jongju, northwest of the capital, Pyongyang.

Experts said the recent surge in North Korea’s rare-earth shipments may be part of its attempts to diversify sources of mineral exports, which account about half of its total exports.

The North’s export of anthracite coal fell 23 percent in the first half of this year to $571.2 million from a year ago, while ironstone declined 5 percent to $120 million in the cited period, according to trade data.

“The rare-earth minerals sold to China were valued at $30 per kilogram, and they were considered to be processed iron concentrates or oxidized substances,” said Choi Kyung-soo, chief of the Seoul-based North Korea Resource Institute. “It could be seen as an attempt to diversify items of mineral resource exports, but it remains to be seen whether the North will start exporting large volumes of rare-earth minerals.”

Read the full stories here:
Rare earth elements boost NK income
Korea Times
Kang Hyun-kyung
2014-7-27

N. Korea exports US$1.8 mln worth of rare earth to China in May-June
Yonhap
2014-7-27

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North Korea encourages completion of large-scale projects to coincide with 2015 Party Foundation Day

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2014-6-12

North Korea is attempting to complete the construction of a large scale stockbreeding base and a power plant as symbols of “self-rehabilitation” by October 10, 2015 to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK). Adorned with these economic achievements, next year’s Party Foundation Day will seek to inspire confidence in the North Korean people and strengthen the foundation of the Kim Jong Un regime.

The Choson Sinbo, a news affiliate of the pro-North Korean General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, published an article on June 2, 2014 which introduces the Sepho County area of Kangwon Province and the current situation of construction at the stockbreeding complex, reporting that “all construction is planned to be completed by next year’s Party Foundation Day.” Sepho Tableland Construction Company, which began construction of the Sepho County stockbreeding complex toward the end of 2012, is a national company propagandized by Kim Jong Un as the “Great Plan for the Transformation of Nature.”

The construction of the North Pyongan Chongchon River Power Plant, another one of North Korea’s large scale projects, began in January 2013 and is also projected to be finished by next year’s anniversary. Secretary of the Worker’s Party of Korea Kim Ki Nam was quoted at an April 10, 2014 Pyongyang mass rally, saying, “We must magnificently complete the Chongchon River Power Plant and Sepho County Stockbreeding Base by the Party’s 70th anniversary as a proud gift to our motherland.”

The Chongchon River Power Plant and the Sepho Tableland have been chosen as the two main tasks to be completed in celebration of next year’s anniversary of the foundation of the WPK. The news outlet of the Worker’s Party, the Rodong Sinmun, pointed out in a May 11, 2014 article that the Chongchon River Power Plant will help alleviate the nation’s electricity shortage and stand as a symbol for the nation’s “self-rehabilitation spirit.”

In the past, North Korea has revealed new buildings and symbolic structures before and after major anniversaries in order to brighten the public mood; however, the Kim Jong Un regime’s decision to undertake two large-scale construction projects and finish them both by the anniversary date is worthy of attention.

North Korea is expected to raise their agricultural production goals based on the successful completion of the Sepho Tableland and Chongchon River Power Plant. In his letter to the National Conference of Agricultural Subworkteam Leaders in February 2014, Kim Jong Un stated, “From the year 2015, when we will greet the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea, [the agricultural sector] must hit higher grain production targets.”

Coinciding with the projected agricultural increase, the Choson Sinbo reported that production of livestock will also increase with the completion of the Sepho Tableland: “Annual meat production is expected to increase in stages, from five thousand tons in 2017 to ten thousand tons annually by the year 2020.” Provided that these two large-scale projects can be completed according to plan and produce successful results, it is expected that Kim Jong Un’s position within the Party will be strengthened considerably.

As much as the Sepho Tableland and Chongchon River Power Plant give confidence to the North Korean people that their food shortage problem is being solved, it is also assumed that Kim Jong Un will use the success of these projects in order to begin a legacy of his own “achievements.”

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