Archive for the ‘Energy’ Category

The economy in Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s address: what’s there and what isn’t

Sunday, January 10th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

The supposed hydrogen bomb test has come to dominate the news on North Korea over the past few days, for obvious reasons. Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s Address has naturally ended up in the shadow of the nuclear test, but it is worth going back for a closer look. Overall, it is a speech that appears to contain few major announcements or indications. Perhaps more surprising than what themes are there, are the themes that are absent.

Stephan Haggard pretty much sums up how economic matters are treated in the speech, as they often are in North Korean rhetoric on economics: “As usual, the economic components of the speech rely more on exhortation than any clear policy message, confusing results with the means of achieving them.”

That is, in much of the speech, Kim simply talks about what will be achieved but leaves out how to get thereTake the following paragraph, for example (my emphasis added):

The Cabinet and other state and economic organs should decisively improve their economic planning and guidance. Leading economic officials should fully equip themselves with Party policy, work out plans of the economic work in an innovative way and give a strong push to it on the principle of developing all the sectors at an exponential speed by relying on the inexhaustible creative strength of the working people and by dint of modern science and technology. They should accurately identify the main link in the whole chain of economic development and concentrate efforts on it while revitalizing the overall economy, especially when the conditions are not favourable and many difficulties arise. They should be proactive in organizing and launching the work of establishing on a full scale our style of economic management method which embodies the Juche idea, thus giving full play to its advantages and vitality.

And:

All the sectors of the national economy should set ambitious goals and maintain regular production by tapping every possible internal reserve and potentiality.

Those who are more savvy at reading between the lines and interpreting rhetorical symbolisms can perhaps draw out meaningful signals from quotes such as these. But at face-value, they seem to give little indication of policy changes. Or of any policy at all, for that matter.

What are the areas that Kim hold up as economic priorities, then? Stephan Haggard points out heavy industry as one such theme. It is also the one mentioned first in the speech. Infrastructure and power supply also features fairly prominently (and is mentioned early on), with specific references to several power station construction projects. Kim also mentions IT and the “knowledge-driven economy” (emphasis added):

Our working class, scientists and technicians, true to the instructions of the great leaders, made a big stride in making the metallurgical industry Juche-based, built model, standard factories of the era of the knowledge-driven economy in various parts of the country and put production lines on a modern and IT footing, thus opening a new road of advance for developing the overall economy and improving the people’s standard of living.

Presumably, this is what North Korean media mean when they talk about the H-bomb test as an economic boost: that such capabilities show North Korea’s strength as a knowledge-based economy.

Domestic production capabilities are highlighted all the way through. This theme isn’t new. Kim Jong-un has often emphasized the importance of goods diversity and local production. This lies well in line with the basic economic tenets of the Juche doctrine. Here is one example of how domestic production capacity is highlighted in the speech (emphasis added):

The flames of the campaign to implement the Party’s ideas and defend its policies have unfolded a proud reality of our indigenous plane flying in the sky and our indigenous subway train running under the ground, and rich fish and fruit harvests were gathered, their socialist flavour bringing pleasure to the people.

One theme that features relatively prominently is construction. In one paragraph, Kim even states that “Construction is a yardstick and visual evidence for the strength of a country and the quality of its civilization”, and continues to urge the country to build more:

The construction sector should launch a general offensive to implement the Party’s construction policy and grand plan. By doing so, it should build important production facilities, educational and cultural institutions and dwelling houses on the highest possible level and at the fastest possible speed, so that they serve as standards and models of the times. In this way it can make sure that the great heyday of construction continues without letup.

Perhaps this is an indication that the building boom in Pyongyang of the past few years will continue. Priorities such as this one primarily benefit those political classes that live in Pyongyang. With few exceptions, as far as I’m aware, most other cities have seen little of the construction boom that the capital city has experienced.

There is also a reference to the coal mining industry. On the one hand, it may be interesting because North Korea’s main export destination for coal is China, and these trade flows have been volatile over the years, and there have been signs that North Korea isn’t getting a good deal in this trade. But on the other hand, this may be reading too much into one small reference in the speech (emphasis added):

In order to achieve breakthroughs for a turning point in building an economic giant the electric-power, coal-mining and metallurgical industries and the rail transport sector should advance dynamically in the vanguard of the general offensive.

Later, coal mining appears only in reference to the domestic power supply (emphasis added):

All sectors and all units should wage a vigorous campaign to economize on electricity and make effective use of it. The sector of coal-mining industry should raise the fierce flames of an upsurge in production to ensure enough supply of coal for the thermal power stations and several sectors of the national economy.

There are two themes that are surprisingly absent. One is agriculture. Agricultural policy is barely present, and when it is, management methods aren’t mentioned. For example:

The agricultural sector should actively adopt superior strains and scientific farming methods, speed up the comprehensive mechanization of the rural economy and take strict measures for each farming process, so as to carry out the cereals production plan without fail.

This is a little surprising, because regime sources have claimed that agricultural production has been boosted during the year, and management reforms with greater incentives for farmers have been touted as the reason. (A close look at the numbers indicates that agricultural production has declined slightly during 2015, moving it towards the average of the 2000s.) If agricultural reforms have indeed been a central tenet of Kim Jong-un’s economic policies, one could at least have expected a reference to these reforms in the speech.

The second theme that is strangely absent is forestry policy. It is only mentioned in one sentence:

The whole Party, the entire army and all the people should buckle down to the campaign to restore the forests of the country.

During the past year, Kim Jong-un has highlighted forestry policy as a key area. He has talked openly and frankly about the role of tree felling in causing floods and subsequent food shortages, and promoted reforestation, albeit not in a way that is likely to work very well. North Korean media has singled out tree nurseries for not doing their job properly. In sum, forestry has been relatively high on the agenda, but the topic still barely made it into the speech.

All in all, from an economic policy standpoint, this year’s New Year’s Address did not contain any major bombshells. The fact that economic issues appear right after the section on the upcoming party congress may be a hint that such issues will be high on the agenda, but then again, it might not mean much at all. Moreover, it is unclear how much can really read into the New Year’s Address for hints about regime policies and priorities. After all, the speech contained virtually no allusions to the H-bomb test that was to come only days later.

Share

Hydrogen bomb project may lead state to squeeze traders, some North Koreans worry

Friday, January 8th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Daily NK today carries a piece where interviewed North Koreans express their annoyance at how the hydrogen bomb test disturbed economic activity, and how it may get worse in the future:

News of the recent test has also angered people, with some openly criticizing the nuclear program and pointing out that money should go into providing for the people instead. “Market vendors don’t care if it’s an atom bomb or a hydrogen bomb. Most of them say they just want to make a lot of money and live a quiet life,” the source said.

A different source in North Pyongan Province reported that most people who watched the announcement out of curiosity were neither surprised nor interested, noting, “But market donju (newly affluent middle class) are worried that having blown up a massive ‘dollar bomb’, Kim Jong Un will now have a gaping hole in his coffers, making things busier for them since they’ll have to offer up more funds.”

“Loyalty funds had swelled because of the greater stability in the markets, so recently there weren’t a lot of purges of donju, but now with all the money that they’ve spent, it looks like donju will be under pressure or persecuted more to make up for the funds that went into the hydrogen bomb test,” he explained.

“After the first three nuclear tests, prominent donju were purged on ‘anti-socialist’ charges and their assets confiscated by the state. The leadership is likely to tighten its grip on donju again to make up for its expenses.”

Read the full article:
Nuclear test draws different set of concerns from North Koreans
Seol Song Ah and Choi Song Min
DailyNK
2016-01-08

Share

Hydrogen bomb test will give economic boost, North Korean state media says

Friday, January 8th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Today’s Rodong Sinmun carries an article hailing the (claimed) hydrogen bomb test as a step towards turning North Korea into an economic powerhouse, UPI reports:

Pyongyang’s state-controlled newspaper Rodong Sinmun published an article Friday that exalted North Korea’s military-first policy, stating, “The first successful hydrogen bomb test forcefully demonstrated the power of self-reliant [North Korea], [now] we must boldly struggle to build an economic powerhouse and to enhance the people’s livelihoods.”

North Korea stated the regime’s nuclear power has the capacity to strike “any strong enemy” and “seize absolute control.”

“A path has opened, where we can devote all our energies into building an economic powerhouse,” Pyongyang said in statement.

Read the full article:
North Korea hails hydrogen bomb test as path to economic power
Elizabeth Shim
UPI
2016-01-08

Share

North Korea’s H-Bomb Test: The (Impossible) Economic Context

Thursday, January 7th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Who decides what in Pyongyang? Do fierce political battles rage between hardliners and reformers, where the former group struggles to replace nuclear belligerence with liberal market economics and trade? Whenever a purge or suspicious death occurs in Pyongyang, speculations come alive about potential policy changes by the regime.

It is a fool’s errand to make guesses about how North Korea’s claimed (but unlikely) hydrogen bomb test fits into the speculative dichotomy of modernizers versus conservatives. After all, such simple divisions are rare in the political life of any country. But looking at the test in the context of the past year makes it clear that Pyongyang is pursuing a messy mix of policies that are mutually exclusive.

At the same time as one “hand” of the regime attempts to draw foreign investment, diversify its investor base to include other countries than China, and take its industrial zones from plans to reality, the other “hand” is actively working against economic progress by nuclear tests and diplomatic belligerence. Either the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, or it does, but just doesn’t want it to succeed.

Perhaps this is the way that Byungjin – Kim Jong-un’s strategy of parallel development of nuclear weapons and the economy – was intended to work. (If so, the regime seems to be dedicating much more resources and energy to the nuclear part, while the economic one still mostly consists of words.) In any case, Pyongyang is trying to achieve two goals at the same time, and it isn’t working.

For example, in 2013, the North Korean regime announced the creation of over ten special economic zones, with more added in both 2014 and 2015. Progress has been uneven. Still, the North Korean regime has continuously indicated that the zones are a priority and will continue to be improved. Just in November last year, new regulations were announced for the special economic zones. Visitors and analysts report that elite businesses have been doing better and better in North Korea, and that the economic environment has become increasingly freer.

Whatever the list of Pyongyang’s priorities may look like, January 6th was not a good day for those North Koreans tasked with planning, building and administering the country’s special economic zones and projects. North Korea is already an unlikely destination for most foreign investors. Many low-wage competitors already sit relatively close by the country, such as Vietnam and Cambodia. North Korea’s comparative advantages are really quite few. Things are already difficult and the claimed H-bomb test certainly won’t help.

The international sanctions are just one part of the problem. Even with knowledge of what the current sanctions regime permits investors to do, the test is a stark reminder that legal hurdles will keep being added as nuclear and missile tests continue. This should deter any investor without special connections, political motives or a financial death wish. Not to mention the terrible PR and public criticism that would follow any (at least western) company deciding to invest in North Korea.

And then, there is of course the China factor. Sure, Beijing doesn’t comply with sanctions the way it is obligated to do. Moreover, as the Choson Exchange blog points out, North Korean and Chinese businesses tend to find a way to get around the sanctions. Last but not least, to a large extent, Chinese investment and cooperation with North Korea is a regional issue, with much of it driven by the northeastern border regions that depend on trade and exchange with the country.

But this doesn’t mean that Beijing won’t ever take concrete action felt by Pyongyang. China’s worries about North Korea’s nuclear tests are arguably more warranted than those of any other country. Residents in Yanji, a Chinese city on the North Korean border, even felt tremors from the bomb test, and teachers and students were reportedly evacuated from schools near the border. A trend is only a trend until it is no more. At the very least, events like the nuclear test don’t exactly make Chinese officials more prone to want to facilitate economic cooperation and infrastructure investments for North Korea.

It’s almost painful to think of all those hours spent in the North Korean administration, drawing up plans for new economic development zones and projects, new laws for investments and other institutional changes to improve the economy, only to see their colleagues in another part of government work in the opposite direction. If (and this is a big “if”) there are indeed policy factions in the government, with modernizers and conservatives, the latter have scored a victory on January 6th, at the expense of the former.

UPDATE 2015-01-07: James Pearson and Ju-Min Park at Reuters have done a very interesting overview (with Michael Madden of NK Leadership Watch) of the people behind North Korea’s nuclear program. It’s an important illustration of the fact that interest groups are not just a thing of business, but also of politics and ideas. Read it here.

Share

North Korea’s self-assessment of its economy in 2015

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

The Choson Sinbo, a pro-North Korea newspaper of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, released an article on December 18 that evaluated North Korea in 2015 and commended it for “achieving a remarkable leap that reached 10 years achievement in just one year.”

The newspaper commented that many monumental works had been created in 2015 that changed the country. The newspaper also introduced the recently completed constructions of Mt. Paekdu Hero Youth Power Station, multi-tier power stations on the Chongchon River, Future Science Street, Mangyongdae School Children’s Palace, Pyongyang Nursing Home, Mansudae Fountain Park, and “Mujigae” ferry on the Taedong River.

In addition, the Sonbong region in Rason City which had suffered severe flood damages in August was reported to have achieved great changes in only 30 days, turning the village into a “socialist fairyland.”

The newspaper added that “this year, Choson [North Korea] embarked on the advancement of science and technology and emphasized ideology, weapons, and technology as three pillars for constructing great and powerful socialist nation.” It also stated that “in accordance with the party’s policy to turn all people into science and technology talents, institutions, factories, enterprises, and cooperative farms across the country were equipped with over 2,000 science and technology resource rooms.”

A corn processing plant and a catfish farm were discussed as examples: “Pyongyang corn processing plant has achieved automation, and dust and bacteria-free conditions in the entire production process, from raw material to the packaging stage”; “Pyongyang Catfish Farm established the comprehensive production system that integrated intellectualization, informatization, and magnetization in the factory.”

In particular, the newspaper mentioned North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s onsite field guidance visit to the Pyongyang Catfish Farm where he emphasized the modernization of farm, noting that “the modernization of the catfish plant did not simply bring in power and technology from outside but is based on our independent technology and facilities.”

Moreover, the newspaper said, “This year, measures were devised to improve the dietary level of the people through focusing on advancing livestock, agricultural, and marine products.” It further announced that “Vegetable Science Institute of the Academy of Agricultural Science succeeded in cultivation methods of producing 300 tons per chongbo (1 chongbo = 9,917 square meters) through vigorous research that concentrated on scientification of greenhouse vegetable cultivation.”

In addition, the newspaper added that “scientification” was promoted in other sectors including education, sports, and culture.

Share

Rajin – South Korea water shipment

Monday, December 7th, 2015

According to Yonhap:

Containers carrying bottled water produced near North Korea arrived in South Korea on Monday via a North Korean port as part of a three-way logistics project involving the two Koreas and Russia, government officials said.

Ten containers full of bottled water produced at Erdaobaihe in northeastern China arrived at Busan, South Korea’s southeastern port city, earlier in the day after leaving from the North Korean city of Rajin bordering Russia, officials said.

The mineral water was produced at a factory run by Nongshim, South Korea’s largest noodle maker, in Erdaobaihe, a town close to Mount Baekdu in North Korea, the highest peak on the Korean Peninsula.

The shipment is part of the two Koreas’ third pilot operation of the project, which calls for shipping some 120,000 tons of Russian coal to three South Korean ports from the North Korean port city of Rajin.

The coal, which was transported from Russia’s border city of Khasan on a re-connected railway, arrived in South Korea in late November.

The so-called Rajin-Khasan logistics project is a symbol of three-way cooperation and an exception to Seoul’s punitive sanctions against Pyongyang following the North’s deadly sinking of a South Korean warship in 2010.

In November 2014, the first shipment carrying 40,500 tons of Russian coal arrived in South Korea without incident in the first test run of the project. The second test was conducted in April.

The project is also part of President Park Geun-hye’s vision for a united Eurasia, known as the Eurasia Initiative, which calls for linking energy and logistics infrastructure across Asia and Europe.

Read the full story here:
Containers carrying bottled water arrive in S. Korea via N. Korean port
Yonhap
2015-12-7

Share

Koreas, Russia start third test run for Rason coal shipments

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

According to Yonhap:

South and North Korea kicked off another test operation Tuesday of their joint logistics project to ship Russian coal to the South through a port near the border with Russia, government officials said.

Some 120,000 tons of Russian coal will be delivered to three South Korean ports on a ship from the North Korean port city of Rajin after being transported from Russia’s border city of Khasan on a re-connected railway in the third run of the so-called Rajin-Khasan logistics project. The trilateral project will be carried out until Nov. 30.

It is a symbol of three-way cooperation at a time when inter-Korean exchanges have become stagnant following the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship by the North in 2010.

In November 2014, the first shipment carrying 40,500 tons of Russian coal smoothly arrived in South Korea in the first operation of the project. The second test was conducted in April.

The initiative involves three South Korean firms — top steelmaker POSCO, shipper Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. and state train operator Korail Corp.

A group of some 20 government and company officials are set to cross the border between Russia and North Korea on a bus later in the day after they departed from Vladivostok a day earlier, according to the Unification Ministry.

They will stay in the North’s city till Friday to check the Rajin port’s capacity to handle shipments and to see how smoothly vessels can be berthed there, the ministry said.

The South Korean firms will decide on whether to clinch a formal contract based on the outcome of the pilot operation. It is highly likely that the signing of a formal deal could be delayed into next year.

“It is unclear when the formal contract could be signed,” said a ministry official, asking not to be named.

The project is also part of President Park Geun-hye’s vision for a united Eurasia, known as the Eurasia initiative, which calls for linking energy and logistics infrastructure across Asia and Europe.

The project is regarded as an exception to South Korea’s punitive sanctions on the North, which has suspended almost all trade and exchange programs, apart from a joint factory park project in the North’s border city of Kaesong.

Read the full story here:
Koreas, Russia start third test run for logistics project
Yonhap
2015-11-17

Share

Some Huichon Power Stations go operational on Chongchon River

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

Huichon-power-station-8

Pictured Above (Google Earth): Huichon Power Station No. 9, site of the opening ceremony

According to Rodong Sinmun (2015-11-9):

Multi-tier power stations on the River Chongchon went operational.

The stations are the labor gifts the Korean people presented to the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) with loyalty.

The 10 multi-tier power stations in the 80 km-long section of the River Chongchon would contribute to the building of an economic power and improvement of people’s living standard.

An inaugural ceremony of the power stations was held at Huichon Power Station No. 9 on November 17.

Present there were leading officials of the party and state, the ministers of electric power industry, metal industry, railways, construction and building-materials industry, electronics industry and machine-building industry, the president of the State Academy of Sciences, the chief secretaries of the provincial committees of the WPK, officials and members of shock brigades who took part in the construction of the power stations and others.

A congratulatory message from the Central Committee of the WPK to the builders, officials and helpers who performed shinning labor feats in building the power stations was conveyed by Pak Pong Ju, member of the Political Bureau of the C.C., the WPK and premier of the DPRK Cabinet.

O Su Yong, member of the Political Bureau and secretary of the C.C., the WPK, said in his inaugural speech that the completion of the 10 multi-tier power stations on the River Chongchon in a short span of time as monumental structures in the era of Marshal Kim Jong Un is of great significance in demonstrating the rapid development of Songun Korea.

The speaker called upon the builders of power stations on the River Chongchon to demonstrate their heroic stamina once again in the all-out drive for presenting a labor gift to the 7th Congress of the WPK with loyalty.

UPDATE: Note that the article does not claim that ALL of the hydro power plants on the Chongchon River are operational. In the March 2016 Korea pictorial magazine, did a feature on Huichon Power Stations Nos. 3, 4, 8, 9, and 11. 1 and 2 were previously constructed. There are construction sites available on Google Earth for plants 5,6,7, and 10, but I am not sure about specific names for each. I am also unsure if the Hyangsan Army-People Youth Power Station near Hyangsan is being renamed and included in the Chongchon River plants.

Share

DPRK’s domestic sales of wind turbines

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

According to the Pyongyang Times:

New type of wind turbines go on sale

A new type of small wind turbines made by the Aeguk Magnet Factory attract an increasing number of customers.

The new turbine with its blades spiral and conical in shape proves to be more advantageous than the three-blade propeller turbine.

Its utilization rate of wind is over two times as high as that of the three-bladed turbine, so it can be set up everywhere—both seaside and inland where the wind blows above two metres per second. And it can also be installed on top of public buildings and on the balconies of multi-storey flats.

With its blades relatively short, the turbine requires only one third of the previous area for installation and generates little noise and vibration.

All parts of the turbine are domestically made including the essential permanent magnet, and the cost is at least 75 per cent lesser despite better stability, said Kim Chol Song, manager of the factory.

Just a few months after the turbines went on sale, the products find growing demands in Haeju of South Hwanghae Province, Phyongwon of South Phyongan Province and other plain areas.

The factory has established a technical process for turbines with a capacity of 100-300W, which are widely thought to cost much less than solar panels in production.

Read the full story here:
New type of wind turbines go on sale
Pyongyang Times
2015-10-28

Share

China slowdown hits North Korea’s exports

Thursday, October 8th, 2015

Alastair Gale writes in the Wall Street Journal:

China’s economic slowdown and a plunge in coal prices are depriving North Korea of critical foreign currency, threatening to stir discontent among the small, elite class that the nation’s mercurial dictator relies on for support.

The drain on income comes as North Korea continues to plow its limited resources into its armed forces. On Saturday, the isolated state is set to hold a military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of its ruling party. It has also declared plans to launch satellites, seen by the U.S. and others as a way to test ballistic missile technology.

The value of North Korean exports to China, by far Pyongyang’s biggest trade partner, fell 9.8% through August from the year-earlier period, Chinese data show, accelerating from a 2.4% decline last year.

Adding to the pressure on Pyongyang is China’s attempt to scale back its bloated steel industry, the main customer for North Korea’s biggest export product, coal.

The scenario leaves North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, vulnerable. North Korea depends on China to buy most of its exports, but ties between the longtime allies have become strained over North Korea’s nuclear brinkmanship. To boost exports, Pyongyang has little option but to turn to its only other significant trade partner, South Korea.

All of this means Mr. Kim has less foreign currency to underwrite the lifestyles of the North Korean elite whose support is essential to maintaining his grip on power.

“Raising living standards for the North Korean apparatchik class is extraordinarily dependent on trade with China in a single commodity,” said Marcus Noland, executive vice president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a Washington research group. “A slowdown in revenues will create discontent.”

The depth of possible repercussions is hard to gauge because of North Korea’s opaque economy and political system. There are no clear outward signs of government instability, and prices of daily necessities such as rice—often an indicator of economic shocks—remain steady, said Nicholas Eberstadt, a political economist at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank.

North Korea continues to press ahead with infrastructure projects, such as the recent opening of a new international airport terminal near Pyongyang. The emergence of semiprivate businesses such as taxi companies in recent years has provided the state with fresh sources of income, said Go Myung-hyun, an expert on North Korea at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, a Seoul-based think tank.

And China’s ban starting this year on highly polluting types of coal somewhat shields North Korea’s coal exports from a fall in demand because they are mostly high-quality anthracite, a type that produces little smoke.

Still, the fall in trade revenue increases the challenge for Mr. Kim, who has said economic development is a top policy priority despite his reluctance to embrace Chinese-style economic reforms, such as privatizing state businesses. In 2012, Mr. Kim said in a speech that citizens should “not have to tighten their belts again,” and North Korea’s state media frequently tout the construction of apartment buildings and leisure facilities as examples of progress.

Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, says the regime has been trying to reduce its dependence on China, which now absorbs as much as 90% of Pyongyang’s exports, compared with around 50% in the early 2000s, according to the Korean International Trade Association in Seoul. The value of those exports last year was $2.9 billion, Chinese customs data show.

One sign of that concern came in late 2013 when Mr. Kim executed his own uncle, Jang Song Thaek, an official who was widely seen as a proponent of closer trade links with Beijing. State media blamed Mr. Jang for “selling off precious resources of the country at cheap prices.”

Pyongyang’s diplomats have traveled extensively around the world over the past year, including a rare foreign ministry visit to India in April. Still, many nations remain wary of boosting trade links as North Korea continues a nuclear standoff with the U.S. and other nations.

Last year, North Korea and Russia signed an ambitious economic development agreement, but while Pyongyang and Moscow have warmed politically—reflecting shared hostility toward the U.S.—few economists see much potential for significant growth in bilateral trade; North Korea’s exports to Russia totaling just $10 million in 2014.

U.S. and South Korean diplomats say that greater international scrutiny has crimped another North Korean revenue stream: illicit arms and drugs.

Many economists say South Korea is the North’s only near-term option to offset declining trade income from China and may have motivated Pyongyang in August to reach an accord to end a confrontation after the two sides exchanged artillery fire.

“South Korea is the one potentially interested partner that could provide a significant boost to North Korea’s economy,” said Troy Stangarone, senior director for congressional affairs and trade at the Korea Economic Institute in Washington.

The South imposed economic sanctions on the North in 2010, blocking most bilateral trade, in response to the sinking of a warship that killed 46 sailors. Trade has since edged up and Seoul says it is willing to discuss increasing economic cooperation if progress is made in other areas, such as reuniting families separated by the Korean War.

Lee Jong-kyu, a research fellow at the Korea Development Institute in Sejong, South Korea, said the North may also seek new revenue by ramping up its exports of manual laborers to places such as Russia and the Middle East, try to boost tourism or build up light industry. North Korea also has tried to reboot plans for foreign investment in special economic zones—with little success, say foreign officials.

Ultimately, while Chinese diplomats express frustration with the regime in North Korea, it is unlikely that Beijing would allow its volatile neighbor to become destabilized by a fall in trade and spark a humanitarian disaster on its doorstep, observers say.

“If Beijing is a generous uncle, this will not prove to be a perilous problem because uncle will send more allowance,” Mr. Eberstadt said.

Read the full story here:
Cash Crunch Hits North Korea’s Elite
Wall Street Journal
Alastair Gale
2015-10-8

Share