Archive for the ‘Energy’ Category

Power and water supply in North Korea worsens in winter

Monday, February 19th, 2018

Institute for Far Easter Studies (IFES)

Reportedly, North Korea’s electricity and water supply have sharply deteriorated since mid-January this year.

According to a Seoul-Pyongyang News report on February 8, a Chinese resident in Sinuiju, North Pyongan Province, who is currently visiting China, told Radio Free Asia that the supply of electricity in North Korea began to deteriorate in January and that since the middle of the month the water supply was completely suspended due to the lack of power.

“Even if electricity is not supplied, lighting is possible with solar power, but the problem is that there is no supply of tap water,” the same source said. “People living in high-rise apartments are suffering more than those living in conventional houses,” he added.

People can draw ground water from the well. However, since elevators in high-rise apartments are not functioning due to the power shortage, those residents must carry water on their back while climbing several flights of the stairs.

Until last year, people could buy bottled water that North Korean truck drivers smuggled in from China. But this year even that has become difficult due to the international sanctions. It is said to be difficult to find such bottled water in North Korea ever since the Chinese customs authorities placed a complete ban on smuggling of all goods by truck drivers crossing the border.

In the meantime, even Pyongyang, which often has the best supply of electricity, is said to have faced a substantial cut in power supply in January.

A Chinese resident in Pyongyang who has recently visited China claimed that “except for the central districts in Pyongyang, power is supplied only for two or three hours a day, yet the worst problem is that water supply is suspended as well due to the deteriorating energy conditions.”

“Even if electricity is not supplied, people can cope with many problems using sunlight [solar power], but there is not much they can do to solve the shortage of water for drinking, toilets, and other daily uses. All family members have to focus on resolving the water shortage,” the source added.

Although there are some differences depending on the region, another North Korean source says that in recent months Pyongyang has suffered from more than ten power failures a day.

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Kim Jong-un’s 2018 new year address

Monday, January 1st, 2018

Below I have posted the economic section of Kim Jong-un’s 2018 new year speech in English and Korean:

Comrades,

동지들!

This year we will mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the glorious Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. To mark the 70th anniversary of their state with splendour is of real significance for the great people, who have raised with dignity the status of their socialist country, the greatest patriotic legacy of the great Comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, to that of a strategic state recognized by the world. [Translation note: In the Korean version below, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il are not mentioned by name, only by title]

올해에 우리는 영광스러운 조선민주주의인민공화국창건 일흔돐을 맞이하게 됩니다.위대한 수령님과 위대한 장군님의 최대의 애국유산인 사회주의 우리 국가를 세계가 공인하는 전략국가의 지위에 당당히 올려세운 위대한 인민이 자기 국가의 창건 일흔돐을 성대히 기념하게 되는것은 참으로 의의깊은 일입니다.

We should make constant innovations and continued progress until we win the final victory of the revolution by carrying on the tradition of heroic struggle and collective innovation which adorned the founding and course of development of Juche Korea. A revolutionary general offensive should be launched to achieve fresh victory on all fronts of building a powerful socialist country by taking the historic victory in the building of the DPRK’s nuclear forces as a springboard for fresh progress.

우리는 주체조선의 건국과 발전행로에 빛나는 영웅적투쟁과 집단적혁신의 전통을 이어 혁명의 최후승리를 이룩할 때까지 계속혁신,계속전진해나가야 합니다.공화국핵무력건설에서 이룩한 력사적승리를 새로운 발전의 도약대로 삼고 사회주의강국건설의 모든 전선에서 새로운 승리를 쟁취하기 위한 혁명적인 총공세를 벌려나가야 합니다.

“Let us launch a revolutionary general offensive to achieve fresh victory on all fronts of building a powerful socialist country!” This is the revolutionary slogan we should uphold. All officials, Party members and other working people should launch an all-people general offensive to frustrate the challenges of the hostile forces who are making last-ditch efforts and raise the overall strength of our Republic to a new stage of development as they brought about a great upsurge in socialist construction overcoming all difficulties through the great Chollima upswing after the war.

《혁명적인 총공세로 사회주의강국건설의 모든 전선에서 새로운 승리를 쟁취하자!》 이것이 우리가 들고나가야 할 혁명적구호입니다.모든 일군들과 당원들과 근로자들은 전후 천리마대고조로 난국을 뚫고 사회주의건설에서 일대 앙양을 일으킨것처럼 전인민적인 총공세를 벌려 최후발악하는 적대세력들의 도전을 짓부시고 공화국의 전반적국력을 새로운 발전단계에 올려세워야 합니다.

A breakthrough should be made in reenergizing the overall economic front this year, the third year of implementing the five-year strategy for national economic development.

국가경제발전 5개년전략수행의 세번째 해인 올해에 경제전선전반에서 활성화의 돌파구를 열어제껴야 하겠습니다.

The central task facing socialist economic construction this year is to enhance the independence and Juche character of the national economy and improve the people’s standard of living as required by the revolutionary counter-strategy put forward by the Second Plenary Meeting of the Seventh Central Committee of the Party.

올해 사회주의경제건설에서 나서는 중심과업은 당중앙위원회 제7기 제2차전원회의가 제시한 혁명적대응전략의 요구대로 인민경제의 자립성과 주체성을 강화하고 인민생활을 개선향상시키는것입니다.

We should concentrate all efforts on consolidating the independence and Juche character of the national economy.

인민경제의 자립성과 주체성을 강화하는데 총력을 집중하여야 합니다.

The electric-power industry should maintain and reinforce the self-supporting power generation bases, and direct a great deal of efforts to developing new power sources. A dynamic campaign should be conducted to drastically increase thermal power generation, and lower the loss of electric power and increase its production as much as possible by maintaining and reinforcing imperfect generating facilitates. Provinces should build power generation bases to suit their local features and put power generation at the existing medium and small-sized power stations on a normal footing to satisfy the needs of electric power for local industry by themselves. Alternated production should be organized scrupulously throughout the country, and a vigorous struggle waged against the practices of wasting electric power to make effective use of generated electric power.

전력공업부문에서는 자립적동력기지들을 정비보강하고 새로운 동력자원개발에 큰 힘을 넣어야 합니다.화력에 의한 전력생산을 결정적으로 늘이며 불비한 발전설비들을 정비보강하여 전력손실을 줄이고 최대한 증산하기 위한 투쟁을 힘있게 벌려야 합니다.도들에서 자기 지방의 특성에 맞는 전력생산기지들을 일떠세우며 이미 건설된 중소형수력발전소들에서 전력생산을 정상화하여 지방공업부문의 전력을 자체로 보장하도록 하여야 합니다.전국가적인 교차생산조직을 짜고들며 전력랑비현상과의 투쟁을 힘있게 벌려 생산된 전력을 효과적으로 리용하기 위한 된바람을 일으키도록 하여야 합니다.

The metallurgical industry should further improve the Juche-oriented iron- and steel-making technologies, increase the iron production capacity and drastically raise the quality of metallic materials in order to satisfy the needs of the national economy for iron and steel. It is necessary to ensure a preferential, planned and timely supply of electricity, concentrated iron ore, anthracite, lignite, freight wagons, locomotives and funds for the metallurgical industry. By doing so, we can fulfil next year’s iron and steel production plans and make the industry Juche-oriented without fail.

금속공업부문에서는 주체적인 제철,제강기술을 더욱 완성하고 철생산능력을 확장하며 금속재료의 질을 결정적으로 높여 인민경제의 철강재수요를 충족시켜야 합니다.금속공업부문에 필요한 전력,철정광,무연탄,갈탄,화차와 기관차,자금을 다른 부문에 앞세워 계획대로 어김없이 보장하여 다음해 철강재생산목표를 무조건 수행하며 금속공업의 주체화를 기어이 완성하도록 하여야 하겠습니다.

The chemical industry should step up the establishment of the C1 chemical industry, push the projects for catalyst production base and phosphatic fertilizer factory as scheduled, and renovate and perfect the sodium carbonate production line whose starting material is glauberite.

화학공업부문에서 탄소하나화학공업창설을 다그치고 촉매생산기지와 린비료공장건설을 계획대로 추진하며 회망초를 출발원료로 하는 탄산소다생산공정을 개건완비하여야 합니다.

The machine-building industry should modernize the Kumsong Tractor Factory, Sungri Motor Complex and other factories to develop and produce world-level machinery in our style.

기계공업부문에서는 금성뜨락또르공장과 승리자동차련합기업소를 비롯한 기계공장들을 현대화하고 세계적수준의 기계제품들을 우리 식으로 개발생산하여야 합니다.

The coal and mineral production and rail transport sectors should make concerted efforts to make the country’s self-reliant economic foundations prove their effectiveness.

나라의 자립적경제토대가 은을 낼수 있게 석탄과 광물생산,철도수송에서 련대적혁신을 일으켜야 합니다.

Notably, the rail transport sector should make the best use of the existing transport capacity by making transport organization and control more scientific and rational, and maintain discipline and order in the railways as rigid as in the army, so as to ensure an accident-free, on-schedule rail traffic.

특히 철도운수부문에서 수송조직과 지휘를 과학화,합리화하여 현존수송능력을 최대한 효과있게 리용하며 철도에 군대와 같은 강한 규률과 질서를 세워 렬차의 무사고정시운행을 보장하도록 하여야 합니다.

A turn should be brought about this year in improving the people’s standard of living.

올해에 인민생활향상에서 전환을 가져와야 합니다.

Light-industry factories need to transform their equipment and production lines into labour- and electricity-saving ones and produce and supply more diversified and quality consumer goods with domestic raw and other materials, and provinces, cities and counties should develop the local economy in a characteristic way by relying on their own raw material resources.

경공업공장들의 설비와 생산공정을 로력절약형,전기절약형으로 개조하고 국내원료와 자재로 다양하고 질좋은 소비품들을 더 많이 생산공급하며 도,시,군들에서 자체의 원료원천에 의거하여 지방경제를 특색있게 발전시켜야 합니다.

The agricultural and fishing fronts should effect an upswing. We should introduce seeds of superior strains, high-yield farming methods and high-performance farm machines on an extensive scale, do farming scientifically and technologically so as to fulfil the cereals production plan without fail, and boost the production of livestock products, fruits, greenhouse vegetables and mushrooms. We should enhance our ship building and repair capacities, launch scientific fishing campaigns, and reenergize aquatic farming.

농업과 수산전선에서 앙양을 일으켜야 하겠습니다.우량종자와 다수확농법,능률적인 농기계들을 대대적으로 받아들이고 농사를 과학기술적으로 지어 알곡생산목표를 반드시 점령하며 축산물과 과일,온실남새와 버섯생산을 늘여야 합니다.배무이와 배수리능력을 높이고 과학적인 어로전을 전개하며 양어와 양식을 활성화하여야 하겠습니다.

This year the service personnel and people should join efforts to complete the construction of the Wonsan-Kalma coastal tourist area in the shortest period of time, push ahead with major construction projects including the renovation of Samjiyon County, the construction of the Tanchon Power Station and the second-stage waterway project of South Hwanghae Province, and channel steady efforts into the construction of houses.

올해에 군민이 힘을 합쳐 원산갈마해안관광지구건설을 최단기간내에 완공하고 삼지연군꾸리기와 단천발전소건설,황해남도물길 2단계 공사를 비롯한 중요대상건설을 다그치며 살림집건설에 계속 힘을 넣어야 합니다.

Building on the success we achieved in the forest restoration campaign, we should properly protect and manage the forests that have already been created, improve the technical conditions of roads, conduct river improvement on a regular basis, and protect environment in a scientific and responsible manner.

산림복구전투성과를 더욱 확대하면서 이미 조성된 산림에 대한 보호관리를 잘하는것과 함께 도로의 기술상태를 개선하고 강하천정리를 정상화하며 환경보호사업을 과학적으로,책임적으로 하여야 합니다.

Every sector and every unit of the national economy should enlist their own technical forces and economic potential to the maximum and launch a dynamic struggle to increase production and practise economy, so as to create a greater amount of material wealth.

인민경제 모든 부문과 단위들에서 자체의 기술력량과 경제적잠재력을 총동원하고 증산절약투쟁을 힘있게 벌려 더 많은 물질적재부를 창조하여야 합니다.

A shortcut to developing the self-sufficient economy is to give precedence to science and technology and make innovations in economic planning and guidance.

자립경제발전의 지름길은 과학기술을 앞세우고 경제작전과 지휘를 혁신하는데 있습니다.

The scientific research sector should solve on a preferential basis the scientific and technological problems arising in establishing Juche-oriented production lines of our own style, ensuring domestic production of raw and other materials and equipment, and perfecting the structure of the self-supporting economy. Every sector and every unit of the national economy should make a contribution to achieving production growth by intensifying the dissemination of science and technology and waging a brisk technological innovation drive.

과학연구부문에서는 우리 식의 주체적인 생산공정들을 확립하고 원료와 자재,설비를 국산화하며 자립적경제구조를 완비하는데서 제기되는 과학기술적문제들을 우선적으로 풀어나가야 합니다.인민경제 모든 부문과 단위들에서 과학기술보급사업을 강화하며 기술혁신운동을 활발히 벌려 생산장성에 이바지하여야 하겠습니다.

The Cabinet and other economic guidance organs should work out a realistic operational plan to carry out the national economic plan for this year and push forward the work for its implementation responsibly and persistently. Positive measures should be taken by the state to ensure that the socialist system of responsible business operation proves its worth in factories, enterprises and cooperative organizations.

내각을 비롯한 경제지도기관들은 올해 인민경제계획을 수행하기 위한 작전안을 현실성있게 세우며 그 집행을 위한 사업을 책임적으로 완강하게 내밀어야 합니다.국가적으로 사회주의기업책임관리제가 공장,기업소,협동단체들에서 실지 은을 낼수 있도록 적극적인 대책을 세워야 합니다.

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Gas prices volatile in Pyongyang as tensions run high

Monday, September 25th, 2017

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

DailyNK reports:

Following the country’s sixth nuclear test on September 3, fuel prices in North Korea have been subject to unusual volatility. The price of fuel soared in April and rose again slightly in September. But it has been reported that gasoline coupons have not been influenced by the price fluctuations, and are being actively traded on the North Korean black markets.
“As fuel prices have been fluctuating, gasoline coupons have become popular items in Pyongyang’s black markets. The merchants who previously bought dozens of coupons have started offering them for sale as the prices began to rise,” a source familiar with North Korean affairs in China told Daily NK on September 20.
And opportunities are ripe for arbitrage:
According to the source, gasoline can be purchased for the same price at the time that the coupon was issued. For example, if a 15 kg gasoline coupon was previously purchased for 30 USD, the same amount of fuel can be obtained even if the price rises suddenly to 35 USD. In this way, the dealers can make a profit by selling the coupon for 32 USD.
“The coupons are especially popular when the gasoline prices are unstable. The merchants are selling the coupons on the black markets as the fuel prices rise,” the source said.
Originally, gasoline coupons were issued from North Korea’s central government organizations and were sold to officials or foreign embassy staff in Pyongyang. But now the foreign currency earning companies are issuing the coupons themselves. The authorities have actively encouraged new strategies to earn foreign currency.
The black market is ever the present factor:
These foreign currency earning companies are said to be profiting from the fluctuating fuel prices, regardless of efforts to limit the sales of coupons.
“If the authorities move to restrict the sales of coupons, the companies will just sell the coupons on the black market. Despite strong sanctions being imposed on fuel, the major companies that are still holding a large amount of fuel become more powerful in times of fuel crisis,” a source in South Pyongan Province explained.
“Even the Pyongyang cadres have no choice but to purchase coupons on the black market.”
Full article here:
Volatile gasoline prices in Pyongyang
Seol Song Ah
Daily NK
2017-09-25
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North Korea’s ICBM-test, Byungjin and the economic logic

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

At 3:30PM GMT+9 on Tuesday July 4th, North Korean television announced that the country had successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile earlier in the day. Wall Street Journal:

The missile, identified as the Hwasong-14, was launched at a steep trajectory and flew 933 kilometers (580 miles), reaching an altitude of 2,802 kilometers, according to North Korean state television. The numbers are in line with analyses from U.S., South Korean and Japanese military authorities.

US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, later confirmed that the launched missile was an intercontinental ballistic one.

Here in Seoul, things seemed to continue on as usual, which tends to be the case in this city more than used to its fair share of similar news. The biggest strategic consequence, of course, is that for the US. A successful intercontinental ballistic missile of this sortcould potentially strike anywhere in Alaska.

With the latest launch, North Korea takes one step further along the nuclear side of the Byungjin lineof parallel development of nuclear weapons and the national economy, and arguably, one step back on the economic side of the dual-track policy. In the formulation of the Byungjin line, of course, both are interrelated. Missile launches are often described as evidence of progress in industry and science, ultimately benefitting economic progress. This launch was no exception. From KCNA:s statement yesterday, July 4th 2017 (my emphasis):

The success in the test-fire of inter-continental ballistic rocket Hwasong-14, final gate to rounding off the state nuclear force, at just one go is a powerful manifestation of the invincible state might and the tremendous capability of the self-reliant national defence industry of Juche Korea that has advanced at a remarkably rapid pace under the great Workers’ Party of Korea’s new line on the simultaneous development of the two fronts, and a great auspicious event to be specially recorded in the history of the DPRK which has long craved for powerful defence capabilities.

This launch happened in a context where North Korea is already under sanctions designed to strike at its coal exports, one of its most important sources of income, and where the US has just signaled its resolve to go after North Korea’s financial channels through secondary sanctions of Chinese entities. At the same time, Kim Jong-un’s tenure has very much come to be associated with some economic progress (albeit from a low level, and primarily benefitting the relatively privileged classes), symbolized by projects such as the recently opened Ryomyong street.

It is not yet clear what the consequences will be. The US will likely try to add more sanctions targeted against specific entities and persons that help North Korea evade sanctions, and acquire equipment for its nuclear and missile programs.

The US will probably also call for international sanctions, but as Chad O’Carroll points out, the US may have a hard time getting such measures through in a quick manner given its currently tense relationships with both Moscow and Beijing. The US may also further push Beijing to implement the already existing sanctions against North Korea, but nothing appears to have changed with the claimed ICBM-test that would fundamentally alter China’s strategic calculations in the region. In other words, it continues to regard North Korea as a buffer between itself and US forces in the region, and as a geopolitical asset.

Whatever happens, it is safe to assume that it will not be good news for North Korea’s international ties in diplomacy, trade, finance, you name it. It would be easy to assume that economic progress and nuclear weapons development are mutually exclusive, since the second leads to further international isolation and economic sanctions, and therefore hampers the first.

In reality, that may be true. The North Korean Byungjin narrative, that weapons developmenthelpseconomic progress, is difficult to swallow, especially when one considers the opportunity cost that the weapons programs carry, both in terms of domestic resource dedication and the cost in international isolation.

But there is another way to look at it. Whatever the actual consequences will turn out to be, North Korea is making a strategic calculation that the gains from the test, and from overall nuclear weapons and missiles development, will be greater than the potential costs and downsides. Consider the following two factors:

First, North Korea has made economic progress in the past few years, and particularly since Kim Jong-un came to power, even under years of severe sanctions. North Korea has been under various forms of UN Security Council sanctions since its first nuclear test in 2006. During these years, its economic development has been impacted far more by domestic policy decisions than by international developments.

Again, we are absolutely not talking about any growth miracle, and some probably exaggerate the degree of the wealth increase in North Korea over the past few years. But without a doubt, North Korea is far better off now than it was eleven years ago, and worlds apart from the famine of the 1990s. Food insecurity prevails in North Korea but the country has not seen widespread starvation since the late 1990s, and largely thanks to better economic frameworks (or rather less predatory), and increased space for private production and trade within the economic system, things are looking much better today than in many years.

Just look at this video recently published by the Daily NK, from Chongjin, one of North Korea’s largest cities in its northeast. Is this long-term, sustainable growth that will eventually lead North Koreans to enjoy the same prosperity as their counterparts in South Korea or even China? Probably not. But at least it’s something.

Second, and relatedly, North Korea likely has a significant amount of channels for trade and various transactions that are not commonly known, but that play highly significant roles for the economy. For example, consider the information that Ri Jong Ho, a former official in North Korea’s Office 39, supplied in a recent interview with Kyodo News. Ri claims that North Korea procures up to 300,000 tons of fuel and various oil products from Russia each year, through dealers based in Singapore. As a point of comparison, a commonly cited figure for crude oil supplies from China is 520,ooo tons per year. Proportionately, then, 300,000 tons is not close to a majority, but still a significant amount for North Korea. While intelligence services or others with access to classified information may have known this already, Ri’s claims, if true (they have not and in all likelihood cannot be fully corroborated),

The point here is that North Korea has gotten so used to going through back channels and unconventional means to acquire highly significant amounts of supplies required for its society to function. It is an economic system where unconventional (and often illicit) channels of trade are not exceptions, but core parts of the economic management toolbox. This is not to argue that sanctions do not or cannot work. Rather, it shows the extent to which unconventional methods are institutionalized within economic management in North Korea.

The North Korean government is no monolith, and there are almost certainly some parts of the governing apparatus that are more and less pleased with the ICBM-test. But in the higher echelons of the leadership, the strategic calculation is probably that even with the added sanctions that are very likely to come, North Korea will be able to continue along roughly the same economic strategies as it has thus far. Perhaps we can call it North Korea’s own “strategic patience”: continuing with patchwork strategies for international economic relations, with little concern for the impact of lack of sustainable growth on people’s livelihoods, while banking on eventual recognition as a nuclear power. Only time will tell whether targeted secondary sanctions will change that calculation.

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Ri Jong Ho, high-level defector and former official in Office 39, says North Korea gets much more oil from Russia than previously known

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

In a fascinating interview by Kyodo News’s Tomotaro Inoue, Ri Jong Ho, a former high-level official in Office 39 of the Korean Worker’s Party, makes several fascinating claims about the supply of fuel to North Korea:

North Korea secures up to 300,000 tons of oil products from Russia each year through Singapore-based dealers, a defector who formerly managed funds for the leadership has told Kyodo News, posing a challenge for the United States as it seeks to isolate Pyongyang.

“North Korea has procured Russia-produced fuel from Singapore brokers and others since the 1990s…It is mostly diesel oil and partly gasoline,” Ri Jong Ho, 59, a former senior official of Office 39 of the Workers’ Party of Korea, said recently in the U.S. capital in his first interview with media under his own name.

Ri also said North Korea relies more on Russia than China for fuel to keep its economy moving, indicating that the U.S. drive for Beijing to restrict oil supplies over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs will only have a limited effect.

“It is a wrong perception that North Korea is completely dependent on China,” he said.

Petroleum products have been shipped to North Korea by tankers leaving Vladivostok and Nakhodka, both in the Russian Far East, with the fuel widely used for cars, ships and trains, helping to support the North’s economy, Ri said.

Other sources familiar with the fuel deals said the petroleum products ending up in North Korea are often purchased by brokers who claim they are destined for China, with the items procured using forged paperwork.

Ri, who defected to South Korea with his family in October 2014, provided details of the activities of Office 39.

The secretive entity, said to have been established by former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in May 1974, is subject to international sanctions as the United States and other Western countries believe it is engaged in illicit economic activities and the management of slush funds for the leadership.

He said North Korea has been trying to reduce its economic reliance on China, Pyongyang’s most important benefactor, since leader Kim Jong Un issued an order to expand trade with Russia and Southeast Asian countries in August 2014.

The order followed Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to South Korea a month earlier, during which he and then South Korean President Park Geun Hye expressed opposition to North Korea’s nuclear weapons development. It was the first time for a Chinese president to visit South Korea before traveling to the North.

Ri said the North Korean leader was “infuriated” by the visit, going so far as to call China an “enemy state,” and began taking measures to boost trade with Russia.

According to Ri, Office 39 has five central groups and systematically acquires foreign currency by sending laborers overseas as well as through gold mining and exports.

“It is an organization that manages the supreme leader’s coffers and the party’s funds to rule the country. It also leads trade activities to earn foreign currency,” Ri said. The office has enormous power as it is directly linked to the leadership and is independent of other government organs, he added.

Ri admitted that Office 39 has evaded U.N. sanctions by asking Chinese and Russian contacts to allow the use of their names for the opening of bank accounts for trade settlement.

The activities of Office 39 require the involvement of hundreds of thousands of people, including those in rural areas who produce items for export. Ri said the bureau is now headed by Chon Il Chun, first vice department director of the party’s Central Committee and a former classmate of Kim Jong Il, the current leader’s father.

A native of Wonsan on North Korea’s east coast, Ri was told to work in Pyongyang by the Central Committee in the mid-1980s. He operated a shipping company at Office 39’s Daehung group and later headed a trade control section in the group between 1998 and 2004.

The Daehung group earns revenue through farm exports and shipping operations, among other means. With exclusive rights to trade “matsutake” mushrooms and snow crabs, it was actively shipping those products to Japan before Tokyo imposed a total ban on trade with the North about 10 years ago.

The four other central groups are Kumgang, which dominates gold export activities, Daesong, involved in the shipment of processed products and intermediate trade overseas, Daesong Bank, in charge of the office’s banking operations, and a group dispatching workers to other countries.

Asked about the possibility that the foreign currency earned by North Korea is being used for its nuclear and missile development programs, Ri only said, “It is up to the supreme leader how to use the funds.”

North Korea receives 500,000 tons of crude oil each year through a pipeline from China, resulting in around 70,000 to 100,000 tons of gasoline and about 100,000 tons of diesel oil after refining, but the oil products are exclusively used by the North Korean army and are not good enough for cars that carry the elite, Ri said.

He also said crude oil purchased from other countries is refined by foreign companies based in China, leading to the importation into North Korea of an additional 50,000 to 100,000 tons of gasoline.

Full article here:

N. Korea procuring Russian fuel via Singapore dealers: defector

Tomotaro Inoue

Kyodo News

 

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CNPC suspends fuel exports to North Korea

Wednesday, June 28th, 2017

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

In late June, Reuters reported that the Chinese state-owned enterprise, China National Petroleum Corporation, had suspended its exports of fuel to North Korea, ostensibly because of concerns that North Korean buyers would not be able to pay:

China National Petroleum Corp has suspended sales of fuel to North Korea over concerns the state-owned oil company won’t get paid, as pressure mounts on Pyongyang to rein in its nuclear and missile programmes, three sources told Reuters.

It’s unclear how long the suspension will last. A prolonged cut would threaten critical supplies of fuel and force North Korea to find alternatives to its main supplier of diesel and gasoline, as scrutiny of China’s close commercial ties with its increasingly isolated neighbour intensifies.

CNPC and the Ministry of Commerce did not respond to requests for comment. North Korea’s embassy in Beijing declined to comment.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang, asked about the sale suspension and whether the Chinese government put pressure on CNPC to make this decision, said: “I do not understand this situation you are talking about” and declined to elaborate.

A source with direct knowledge of the matter said CNPC decided to put fuel sales on hold “over the last month or two” and described it as a “commercial decision”.

“It’s no longer worth the risks,” said the source. Chinese and international banks are stepping up compliance checks on companies dealing with countries on the U.S. sanctions list, such as North Korea, he said.

The North Korean agents who mostly buy the diesel and gasoline have been unable recently to pay for the supplies — CNPC normally requires upfront payments, the source said.

Reuters was unable to determine if the agents have started facing credit problems with Chinese and international banks worried about sanctions compliance issues.

Two other sources briefed about CNPC’s decision confirmed the suspension of diesel sales, but did not know directly about the gasoline move. The three people declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter and are not authorised to speak to the media.

PRICES SURGE IN NORTH

Last year, China shipped just over 96,000 tonnes of gasoline and almost 45,000 tonnes of diesel worth a combined $64 million to North Korea, where it is used across the economy from fishermen and farmers to truckers and the military.[O/CHINA4]

Most of that was sold by CNPC, which has grown over the past two decades to dominate China’s energy trade with Pyongyang.

Data for May released on Friday showed China supplied significantly lower volumes of diesel and gasoline compared with a month earlier, although monthly tonnages can vary widely. June data will be released in late July.

Fuel prices in North Korea, meanwhile, have sharply risen in recent months, suggesting a tightening in supply.

A Reuters analysis of data collected by Daily NK showed the price of gasoline sold by private dealers in Pyongyang and the northern border cities of Sinuiju and Hyesanhad hit $1.46 per kg on June 21, up almost 50 percent from April 21. Until then, they had remained relatively stable since late last year.

Diesel prices averaged $1.20 per kg as of June 21, more than double over the same period, according to Daily NK,a website run by defectors who collect prices via phone calls with North Korean fuel traders.

Full article:
Exclusive: China’s CNPC suspends fuel sales to North Korea as risks mount – sources
Chen Aizhu
Reuters
2017-06-28

This does not seem to imply that the CNPC altogether halted crude oil deliveries to North Korea, only deliveries of fuel purchased on a commercial basis. And usually, the first follow-up question to ask in reaction to news of China halting deliveries of supplies X, or the imports of good Y, is “for how long”?

These deliveries may of course have happened on other contracts, but NK Pro reports continued North Korean oil tanker presence in Chinese oil terminals in both May and June.

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Chinese imports of North Korean coal down since February ban, data says

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Reuters reported today on the most recent figures on China-North Korean trade. They show that coal imports have declined, to the lowest level in three years, according to Reuters. It must be remembered that coal trade (in volume terms, not necessarily in USD-numbers) has climbed for several years in a row since 2010, so a relative decline does not mean catastrophically low levels. Also, of course, Chinese customs data should be taken with a huge grain of salt.

Reuters:

The world’s second-largest economy bought goods worth $99.3 million in April from North Korea, the lowest monthly tally since at least June 2014, according to Chinese customs data. Previous data was not available.

That compares with $114.6 million in March and $167.7 million a year earlier.

A fifth of the April total was iron ore imports, which hit 285,000 tonnes, their highest since August 2014. That was up 10 percent from a month earlier and 2-1/2 times higher than a year earlier.

[…]

Cho Bong-hyun, who heads research on North Korea’s economy at IBK Bank in Seoul, said China’s imports from North Korea were likely to continue to decline due to Pyongyang’s repeated missile tests and the suspension of coal shipments to China.

“This won’t be disastrous for North Korea, but it will obviously hurt North Korea because it tends to export goods to China worth around $3 billion per year,” he said.

The value of imports from North Korea has fallen month-on-month since December, the data showed.

CHINESE SALES DOWN AS WELL

China’s exports to North Korea eased to $288.2 million in April, down 12 percent from March. Exports for the first four months of the year were up 32 percent at $1 billion.

Diesel shipments to North Korea in April more than halved from March to 2,606 tonnes and gasoline sales dropped 6 percent to 13,496 tonnes. North Korea gets most of its oil needs from China.

Crude oil exports from China to North Korea have not been disclosed by customs for several years, but sources have put it at about 520,000 tonnes a year.

Cutting off oil to North Korea for an extended period would be a crippling measure that analysts have said they don’t expect China would take.

[…]

Data released later on Tuesday showed China did not take any North Korean coal in April for a second straight month, after Beijing’s ban of such imports following repeated missile tests by Pyongyang.

China imported 1.53 million tonnes of coal worth $72.3 million from North Korea in April 2016.

Full article:
China’s imports from North Korea sink as coal ban bites
Josephine Mason
Reuters
2017-03-23

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North Korea-China trade grew by almost 40 percent in the first quarter of 2017

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

ReportsNew York Times:

China released the first-quarter trade data just days after President Trump urged its leader,Xi Jinping, to clamp down on trade with North Korea. The two leaders met atMr. Trumps Mar-a-Lago resortin Florida last week.

With signs indicating that North Korea could be planning a nuclear or missile test as early as Saturday, a United States Navy strike group led by the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson is steaming toward the Korean Peninsula in a show of force. But the Trump administration has indicated that economic pressure particularly imposed by China, with which North Korea conducts almost 90 percent of its trade is its preferred form of deterrence.

[…]

The data released on Thursday showed that Chinas trade with North Korea grew 37.4 percent in the first quarter of this year from the period in 2016. Chinese exports surged 54.5 percent, and imports increased 18.4 percent, the General Administration of Customs said at a news conference in Beijing.

China buys iron ore, zinc and other minerals from North Korea, as well as growing amounts of seafood and garments manufactured in the Norths well-equipped textile factories. China reported that its imports of North Korean iron were up 270 percent in January and February compared with the period in 2016.

But imports of coal dropped 51.6 percent in the first three months of 2017 compared with the first quarter of last year, said Huang Songping, a spokesman for the customs agency. Coal has been the biggest hard-currency earner among North Koreas fairly limited menu of exports.

[…]

After the United Nations sanctions were announced, some economists said it was still possible for Chinese businesses to import coal on an off-the-books basis, using transactions that would not be recorded by customs officials.

But since mid-February, Chinese coal traders have said that their business has virtually vanished. Its over, said a coal trader who operates from Dandong, a city on Chinas northeastern border that functions as the main center of business with North Korea. The trader spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared reprisals from the city authorities.

Full article:

China Says Its Trade With North Korea Has Increased
Jane Perlez and Yufan Huang
2017-04-13

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Still too early to tell on Chinese imports of North Korean coal

Monday, March 27th, 2017

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

It is still far too early to say anything of certainty or substance on Chinese compliance on the UN resolution cap of $400 million on coal imports from North Korea. A few figures have come out over the past week that are of interest on the issue. Altogether, the statistics suggest that two parallel processes are at play. While China certainly seems to have imposed the coal ban at least in part to comply with the UN-mandated $400 million import cap, it also continues to shift its consumption to domestic coal in the face of a drive to draw down on coal consumption altogether.

As UPI reports, one angle is that China instituted the ban to pre-emptively ensure compliance with the cap, knowing that deliveries early in 2017 would come close:

The official, who spoke to local news service Newsis on the condition of anonymity, said a Chinese decision announced Feb. 18 to suspend all North Korean coal imports included an accounting of “excess” North Korean coal that was delivered to China in late 2016, according to the report.

“China is of the mind to carry over the excess of December [imports] to this year’s upper limit,” the official said.

Resolution 2321 also bans North Korea sales of copper, nickel, silver, zinc and even statues.

China agreed to play a key role in the agreement. All exports of North Korea coal would not exceed $400 million per annum or 7.5 million tons yearly.

In 2017, China has so far imported about $126 million of coal in January and $100 million in February.

While the total number of coal imported appears to be well below the annual quota, when the December data is included China reaches the upper limit of coal restrictions, the South Korean official said.

Full article:
Report: China suspended North Korea coal imports to not exceed quota
Elizabeth Shim
2017-03-23
United Press International

Bloomberg reports the same figures, but give an added context. It is not only coal imports to China from North Korea that have fallen. Those from Australia and Mongolia have dropped, too:

China’s imports of North Korea anthracite coal in February fell 18.7 percent from a year ago to the lowest since January 2015, after a ban on imports as a result of the reclusive nation’s missile program. Imports of anthracite coal, a hard coal with a high energy content used in steel mills, dropped to 1.23 million tonnes in February from 1.45 million tonnes in January, data from the General Administration of Customs released on Thursday.

Waning shipments from North Korea follows Beijing’s decision in late February to ban coal imports entirely after Pyongyang tested an intermediate-range ballistic missile in a direct challenge to international efforts to stabilise the Korean peninsula.

The ban has also sent steel mills who use anthracite as a feed stock to find alternatives in the domestic market. Chinese anthracite prices gained more than 50 yuan($7.26) per tonne to around 780 yuan($113.26) in February, data provided by China Sublime Information Group showed. Imports from China’s top supplier Australia <COA-AUCN-IMP> in February plunged 29 percent from January to 5.16 million tonnes, the lowest since May. Still, Australian imports were 16.8 percent higher than a year ago, the data showed. The decline adds to speculation that China is trying to control coal imports to aid the country’s efforts to reduce overcapacity at domestic mines.

The head of China’s quality supervision agency vowed to crack down on low-quality coal import. Traders in southern Chinese ports also reported cases of cargoes delayed due to customs checks. Coal shipments from Mongolia <COA-MNCN-IMP> tumbled 37 percent from January to 1.97 million tonnes, though it more than doubled from the same period last year.

Full article:
China’s North Korean coal imports drop to two-year low on ban
Reuters
2017-03-23

In other words, it is not only imports of North Korean coal that have dropped. Imports from other countries have fallen too. The “import ban” and fall in imports, rather than being linked by direct causation, may stem from a combination of factors that were already at play. Any conclusions that “China is putting the squeeze on North Korea” or the like are still premature.

On a different note regarding China-North Korea-trade, NK Economy Watch editor Curtis Melvin notes on Radio Free Asia that the Nampo port oil terminal has been upgraded. Perhaps a sign of long-term expectations on the North Korean side of long-run trade ties with China…

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China says it is suspending imports of North Korean coal for the rest of the year

Saturday, February 18th, 2017

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

In yet another so-called “strong signal”, China’s commerce ministry said on Saturday it won’t be importing any more coal from North Korea for the rest of the year. Remember, that coal that was already basically supposed to not be imported after last year’s sanctions (save for that generating revenue for humanitarian purposes). And the imports of which was already supposed to be capped at a low monetary limit. And so on and so forth.

Of course, as a usual caveat this time could be different but whether or not this decision will be enforced, and how strictly, remains to be seen, to put it mildly. China has other concerns in its relationship with the Korean peninsula and North Korea than signalling its commitment to the international community. Moreover, as I have written before, there are many factors that impact Chinese imports of North Korean coal than central government decisions. Domestic demand is one, and has probably played a greater role than diplomatic considerations over the past few years.

Other than the missile launch, one could suspect this is also a signal against the killing of Kim Jong-nam, who lived under Chinese protection.

Yonhap:

China’s commerce ministry said Saturday it will suspend the import of North Korean coal, apparently in response to the latest provocations made by Pyongyang.

Beijing’s Ministry of Commerce said the decision, which comes into effect on Sunday, is in line with the United Nation’s sanction against North Korea. The suspension will be valid through Dec. 31, the ministry added.

“As coal takes up a significant portion of Pyongyang’s trade with China, the decision is anticipated to have a significant impact on North Korea,” an expert on China said.

Coal is estimated to take up 40 percent of North Korea’s exports to China.

China had banned imports of coal from North Korea in April last year, but had been making exceptions for those intended for household use, which led to criticism over the regulation’s effectiveness.

North Korea fired a new intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) called the Pukguksong-2 on Sunday from an air base in the country’s northwestern province toward waters off its east coast.

Full article:
China suspends imports of N.Korean coal
Yonhap News
2017-02-18

(Update 02-19-2017): an analysis from Choson Exchange:

When the UN Security Council imposed the cap on coal trade, China was left with the question of how such a cap could be implemented. Would there be an auction system for quotas? Is it able to track forward contracts or does it only know belatedly the level of coal trade after import figures come out? This problem came to the fore last year when the Chinese were unable to meet their commitments regarding the import cap as they wrestled with these problems.

China has generally chosen to ensure adequate flexibility in the wording of UNSC sanctions to give it wiggle room, rather than outright violating those rulings. Allowing a coal cap to pass at the UNSC indicates their willingness to adhere to the ruling. In imposing a ban for 2017, China probably took into account rapidly rising coal prices and a probable rush by companies to frontload sales ahead of the cap to predict that the coal cap would be breached far earlier in the year. Rather than risk a violation of the coal cap limit, China is proactively clamping down on trade.

Domestic concerns might also play a part. China is restricting domestic production of coal. Between domestic producers and North Korean ones, China obviously prefers the former.

Full article:
Why China imposed a ban on North Korean coal imports
Choson Exchange blog
2017-02-19

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