Archive for the ‘International Aid’ Category

Sanctions, and the weakness of North Korean food security

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

While some Pyongyangites started off the week by checking out plasma-screen TV’s at a consumer goods fair, Daily NK published an ominous story that reminds the reader of the dark 1990s. Rumors are now circulating of a starvation death in Hyesan:

An increasing number of North Koreans are suffering from the effects of food insecurity and malnutrition, according to inside sources who spoke with Daily NK. A rumor is circulating in Ryanggang and North Hamgyong provinces that the body of someone who starved to death has been seen near the train station in Hyesan City.
“More than a handful of people have come forward and said that they saw the body of someone who starved to death near the Hyesan train station. The food situation was relatively good for the past few years, so it’s such a shame that we’ve returned to dire circumstances so suddenly,” a source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK.
A source from North Hamgyong Province similarly reported that “a rumor is swirling around the market that a starved body was discovered. There are so many people talking about it that it’s being viewed as a fact.”
The source added that the credibility of the rumors is high, saying, “There was a severe drought at the beginning of the year in North and South Hamgyong provinces and Ryanggang Province. The corn and rice harvest did not meet its targets, amounting to approximately half the volume produced last year.”
Full article:
Food insecurity riles North Korea’s poorest provinces
Kim Chung Yeol
Daily NK
2017-10-18

As crude as it may sound, one cannot draw sharp conclusions from one unconfirmed death by starvation in a North Korean city. But the fact that people think conditions bad enough to believe such rumors to be true says something about the instability of food supply in North Korea right now.

For several years, the supply of food in North Korea has looked remarkably stabile compared to the 1990s. A combination of more freedom for the markets to operate, more leeway for farmers in how they operate, produce and sell their goods (and procure inputs such as fertilizer), larger and more consistent imports from China – these are all factors that have led to better food security overall in North Korea. Market prices have sent a clear message on this.

But perhaps “stabile” was the wrong way to describe food supply. “Consistent” may have been a better way of looking at it. A system is hardly stabile when a combination of relatively usual events for the country – bad weather and changing geopolitical conditions – can shake its core.

As usual with these dynamics, it would be wrong to attribute the changes to one single factor. That is, we cannot say that sanctions –> starvation in some automatic fashion. Rather, several trends have coincided and caused the dire situation:

First, North Korea has experienced a very troubling drought early on in the farming season. As Andy Dinville shows at 38North, using satellite data, weather conditions have been particularly bad this year, significantly harming this year’s harvest.

In any normal year since the early 2000s, when market mechanisms seriously became a routinized part of North Korea’s agricultural economic system, it seems that the effects of a drought could have been offset at least in part by increased imports from China, or other sorts of shifts.

Which brings us to a second factor, namely sanctions and the current tensions, and China’s enforcement of economic pressure on North Korea. Not only does this mean that overall trading conditions are difficult, and that Chinese sellers are wary of trusting that they’ll actually receive payments from North Korean buyers. It also means that goods such as fertilizer for farming are more difficult to acquire. Like the Daily NK article notes:

“Last year, North and South Hamgyong and Ryanggang provinces endured a flood of epic proportions and this year there was a drought, so the agricultural situation in both regions is poor. Additionally, because of the sanctions, it has been harder to procure different kinds of fertilizer necessary for farming, so this has exacerbated the damage.” he continued.
Third, the geopolitical instability naturally makes for a nervous market overall. The price of corn, for example, is up by 47 percent compared to last year. It is important to note that this sort of change in market prices has not been observable during the many instances in the past when international aid organizations have warned of food shortages in North Korea. Hoarding is a natural behavior on any market when actors believe a shortage is looming in the near future. It is a stark sign of the shift in China’s behavior from previous rounds of sanctions that North Korean markets now seem to confirm that China is putting real and heavy economic pressure on the country. The loopholes may still be there but they are much more narrow than usual.
As winter approaches, things aren’t likely to get any easier. Fuel shortages will make heating more difficult and expensive than usual for average North Koreans, particularly as the state soaks up oil and fuel from the market, raising prices further. Things may well get much worse before they get any better.
UPDATE 2017-10-24: 
A reader with extensive experience working on North Korean food security emailed a somewhat skeptical note regarding the food production decrease estimates I cite above. The main point is: even if food production goes down, it may not spell disaster as the past few years harvests have been exceptionally good in comparative perspective. I quote an excerpt here with the reader’s permission:
It really doesn’t look like there is much difference between positive and negative trends, particularly if you just look at the end of August. And his [Dinville] data compares the 2017 harvest with the 2016 harvest, which was probably the best harvest in 30 years. So even if 2017 is a bit lower than 2016, it will still be a relatively stable year and much, much better than 2001. There were no major disasters in the country, as well, aside from the drought and the effects of the flooding from last fall in a few counties in the northeast. My takeaway from his [Dinville’s] data is that there were a few fields (the red “strongly negative” portion) that couldn’t be irrigated sufficiently but we shouldn’t extrapolate to the entire country harvest. Kitchen gardens have also expanded in the country and can help to mitigate a poor harvest, at least for some families.
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FAO warns of worst North Korean drought since 2001

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

FAO sounds the alarm bells yet again this year about drought in North Korea:

20 July 2017, Rome- DPR Korea’scrop production for 2017, including staple rice, maize, potatoes and soybean, has been severely damaged by prolonged dry weather conditions, threatening food security for a large part of its population, according to anew FAO updateprepared in collaboration with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.

Rainfall from April to June in key crop producing areas in Democratic People’s Republic of Koreawere well below the long-term average, severely disrupting planting activities and damaging the 2017 main season crops.

“So far, seasonal rainfall in main cereal producing areas have been below the level of 2001, when cereal production dropped to the unprecedented level of only two million tonnes, causing a sharp deterioration in food security conditions of a large part of the population,” said Vincent Martin, FAO Representative in China and DPR Korea.

Food shortages during ongoing lean season

The severe dry spell also affected the 2016/17 early season crops which were harvested in June and include wheat, barley and potatoes. According to FAO’s latest estimates, production of 2017 early season crops has plunged by over 30 percent, from the previous year’s level of 450 000 tonnes to 310 000 tonnes.

Despite the fact that the early season harvest accounts for only 10 percent of the total annual cereal production, these crops are an important source of food during the lean season from May to September.

Concerns over the 2017 main season crops

Although rains in the first half of July provided some relief, they were generally too late to allow normal planting and development of the 2017 main season crops, to be harvested in October-November.

The lack of rain is expected to have a serious impact on main season crops in the major cereal producing areas, including the provinces of South and North Pyongan, South and North Hwanghae and Nampo City, which normally account for close to two-thirds of overall main season cereal production.

With forecasts of reduced production of the 2017 main season crop, the food security situation is expected to further deteriorate during the 2017/18 marketing year and cereal import requirements are likely to increase.

Immediate interventions

“Immediate interventions are needed to support affected farmers and prevent undesirable coping strategies for the most vulnerable, such as reducing daily food intakes,” said Martin. “It is critical now that farmers receive appropriate and timely agricultural assistance, including irrigation equipment and machinery.”

According to the report, it is also essential to immediately start rehabilitating and upgrading irrigation schemes to reduce water losses and increase water availability.

Increased food imports, commercial or through food aid, would be required during the next three months at the peak of the lean season, ensuring adequate food supply for the most vulnerable, including children and elders.

Full article:
DPR Koreas food production hit by the worst drought since 2001
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
2017-07-20

It is worth noting that many question marks exist on the FAO’s overall methodology. I’ve written about some of these issues before, here and here. Surely, market prices appear to be pointing up in North Korea this summer, but not toward any unprecedented levels. I see no reason to doubt what FAO says about weather conditions, but the consequences for North Korea’s food supply are less clearly outlined, especially since WFP and FAO, for political reasons, often are not able to fully take the market sector into account in their assessments.

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Ten million live in food insecurity in North Korea, UN says. But what does that really mean?

Tuesday, May 16th, 2017

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

A new report published by World Food Program and other UN institutions (Food Insecurity Information Network), detailing food insecurity in the world in 2016 as a whole, says the following about the situation in North Korea:

  • 4.4 million (or 17 percent of the North Korean population as a whole) is in “crisis, emergency and [or?] famine”.
  • 5.6 million (or 22 percent of the population) lives in a “stressed” situation when it comes to food.
  • This brings the entirety of the population living in food insecurity to ten million.

North Korea is the only country in all of East Asia with food insecurity, the report says.

It is unclear where the data comes from. According to the report, it could either have come from government sources in North Korean or from the World Food Program, but the report itself does not specify this.

A few things are worth noting. First and most importantly, particularly at a time when news reports abound about the rising middle classes and the new consumption habits of the wealthy, it is crucial to remember that a significant proportion of the North Korean population still live lives far away from the relative luxury of Pyongyang.

Second, though there is no reason whatsoever to doubt that a significant part of the North Korean population lives in severe hardship, harvests do not appear to be declining. On the contrary. According to the WFP’s 2017 needs assessment for North Korea,

“[w]hile official Government harvest data for 2016 has not yet been released, FAO estimates that rice production in 2016 increased by 23 per cent compared to the previous year when there was drought, but remains below the previous three-year average.”

Third, the World Food Program’s methodology for estimating these figures is rather unclear and problematic. For example, in the above-mentioned assessment of North Korean needs and priorities for 2017, released earlier this year, the WFP classifies all those depending on the Public Distribution System (PDS) as “suffering from food insecurity and undernutrition, as well as a lack of access to basic services.”

Presumably, this is derived from the fact that PDS distribution (of grains and staple foods, which is basically all it distributes) fluctuates through the year and is fairly unpredictable. But with the growing prevalence of the markets, it is unclear whether even those who the WFP claim “depend” on the PDS, really get the main portion of their food from the system. Over the past few years, public distribution of food has become an increasingly marginal (though certainly not unimportant) part of the food supply, and assuming that 18 million North Koreans experience food insecurity simply because they are beneficiaries of the public distribution system seems questionable at best. Obviously, the only way to understand food security overall would be to look at sources of food overall, not just one channel of supply.

Fourth, one overall problem with data on food security in North Korea remains the involvement of the North Korean government in the data collection. That is not to say that the North Korean government pushes the food production estimates upward to make itself look more successful. On the contrary, at times it probably exaggerates food needs in order to receive more outside assistance. Rather, the political nature of food, markets and the economic system makes it difficult to get trustworthy assessments of the food situation in the country. Only in one paragraph in its short version of North Korea’s needs estimates for 2017 does the World Food Program even allude to the markets:

In addition to the PDS, households are increasingly reliant on markets for their foods, except cereals. Farmers’ markets are distribution channels for a wide range of foods and basic necessities. In addition to swaps and bartering, markets involve large numbers of small transactions, often led by women.
Markets enable households to sell produce from their kitchen gardens; vegetables, maize and potatoes, as well as some small livestock.

Given the extent to which marketization has prevailed in North Korean society for over close to three decades, language like this seems to conflict with an overwhelming body of information about the centrality of the markets in the system today.

And, of course, there is the elephant in the room: North Korea’s economic system itself. As Amartya Sen famously pointed out, famine and food insecurity does not first and foremost stem from a lack of food overall, but from skewed entitlements. In other words, resources exist, but the problem is who gets them. In North Korea, the regime continues to refuse overarching and fundamental reforms of the economic system. As Fyodor Tertitskiy convincingly argued in a recent piece in NK News, the systemic changes in the North Korean economy of the past few years is most likely the work of bureaucrats within the state hierarchy, rather than a push by Kim Jong-un. In short, there are a lot of things the regime could change about the economy, to improve access to food and diminish food insecurity, but which it does not do.

This makes language like this, also from the WFP’s 2017 needs assessment, so problematic (my emphasis):

There are many complex, intertwined reasons for the high rates of undernutrition in DPRK, including challenges in producing sufficient food. The majority of the country is mountainous, only 17 per cent of land is good for cultivation.
Agriculture also remains dependent on traditional farming methods. Food production is hampered by a lack of agricultural inputs, such as quality seeds, proper fertilizer and equipment. In addition, changing weather patterns have left DPRK vulnerable to droughts and floods, which have affected agricultural production.

Mountains and bad weather are not factors unique to North Korea. Geography is not destiny, and there is no shortage in the world of countries that have overcome difficulties in their natural environment through good policy. One has to understand the difficult spot that the WFP and other UN institutions work in, given North Korea’s politically sensitive and tense context. But one can only hope that the WFP is clearer about pointing out systemic deficiencies in the North Korean economy when they talk to officials behind closed doors, than they are in public statements.

All this said, North Korea is an extremely difficult environment to navigate for international aid organizations. The women and men on the ground certainly do their best to accomplish good things, and make accurate measurements in a challenging environment. But it is important to keep these and other methodological issues in mind before drawing any major conclusions about North Korea’s food situation.

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Rice prices on steady decline

Monday, February 6th, 2017

According to the Daily NK:

Rice prices in North Korea’s markets are reportedly on a downward trend. It was originally expected that the sanctions implemented by the international community would lead to inflation due to trade reductions, but a year after the sanctions were implemented, prices have instead fallen due to the steady development of marketization and active trade with China.

According to recent findings by Daily NK, rice is trading at 4,000 KPW (per kg) in Pyongyang, 3970 KPW in Sinuiju, North Pyongan Province, and 4190 KPW in Hyesan, Ryanggang Province. This represents an approximate 1,000 KPW reduction from a year ago (Pyongyang 5019 KPW, Sinuiju 4970 KPW, Hyesan 4980 KPW).

A source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on January 30, “I know that China donated a large amount of rice after the flood damage in September last year. I also heard that rice farming in North and South and Hwanghae Provinces and South Pyongan Province went well.”

The price of rice in Hoeryong City (North Hamgyong Province), which suffered severe flood damage last year, is at approximately 3,600 KPW. “Rice was about 5,000 KPW in January, but prices have fallen now, so women preparing for the New Year’s holiday were fairly pleased,” she said.

“Rice prices have also been slowly dropping since the end of last year at the Pyongyang markets and reached 4,000 KPW this year. Traders (who purchase products to sell elsewhere) lining up at the market entrance to buy rice coming in from the countryside are saying that the amount of rice circulating in the markets has definitely increased compared to January last year,” a source in South Pyongan Province said.

“Rice prices in most markets in Pyongyang are declining, with more than 70% of rice being imported from China. People usually mix Chinese rice with Korean rice because Chinese rice is too dry (as if it has been in storage for a year), unlike the sticky Korean type.”

VOA (Voice of America) reported on January 26 that North Korea’s total rice imports from China amounted to 4.2 million tons last year (2016), a 2.4-fold increase over the previous year (2015). This statistic was put forward by Kwon Tae Jin, Director of East Asia Research at the GS&J Institute, citing an analysis of data published by China’s General Administration of Customs.

Sources within North Korea have consistently pointed out that revitalized market activities have played a role. “In the past (Kim Jong Il’s time), rice prices increased whenever the regime cracked down on market activities, but people are now able to do business without many restrictions. In the current situation, it’s unlikely that the price will suddenly jump,” a source in Ryanggang Province said.

Market stability has been a hallmark of Kim Jong Un’s rule and is thought to be reducing backlash from the general public as their quality of life improves.

However, the ongoing decline in rice prices is likely to lead to livelihood instability for farmers. If rice prices fall while the prices of other commodities (Chinese imports) remain the same, issues are likely to arise.

“The prices of commodities other than rice have mostly increased. As a result, a growing number of farmers are worrying that they will be unable to survive on farming alone,'” the Ryanggang-based source said.

Read the full story here:
Rice prices on steady decline
Daily NK
Kang Mi Jin
2017-2-6

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UNSC adopts new DPRK sanctions: UNSC Resolution 2270

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016

UPDATE 7 (2016-3-24): The Daily NK reports that DPRK coal shipments are sitting in limbo outside of Chinese ports.

UPDATE 6 (2016-3-18): NPR discusses China’s interest in enforcing new sanctions:

Beijing has begun instructing Chinese banks, ports and shipping and trading companies doing business with North Korea to implement the U.N. resolution to the letter.

Adam Szubin, the Treasury Department’s acting undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, tells NPR that China is taking this very seriously.

“I know from my meetings here in Beijing that my counterparts have very much taken the resolution to heart,” he says.

Szubin, who visited Beijing this week, says the new sanctions will hit hard enough to change Pyongyang’s “decision-making calculus.”

The new U.N. resolution is not just “adding a few new companies to a sanctions list or a few new North Korean officials,” Szubin says. Instead, it targets “every major aspect of North Korea’s access to international shipping, international banking [and] international trade to develop revenues for its missile and illicit nuclear programs.”

Although China appears committed, the sanctions put it in a tough spot.

First, says People’s University international relations expert Cheng Xiaohe, some Chinese companies are going to take a hit to their bottom line. China-North Korea trade was worth $6.86 billion in 2014.

“At the same time as we protect our national security interests, we must be prepared to sacrifice some of our own economic interests in order to accurately target North Korea with sanctions,” he says.

Cheng says the U.S. has its work cut out for it, collecting intelligence on the hundreds of Chinese firms doing business with North Korea, and on North Korean firms adept at concealing their business dealings behind fronts and shells.

And if Chinese firms are found to be violating the U.N. resolution, Cheng points out, they could themselves face sanctions.

“This could create new frictions between the U.S. and China,” he warns. “I hope that the U.S. will think carefully before it uses this big stick to crack down on Chinese firms.”

Cheng notes that China continues to supply North Korea with crude oil as humanitarian assistance. The sanctions allow this, even if North Korea may be able to refine some of the oil for military uses.

China says neither a humanitarian crisis nor regime collapse are acceptable outcomes for North Korea. But Zhang Liangui, a veteran North Korea watcher at China’s Central Party School in Beijing, says that at the end of the day, China cannot save North Korea from its fate.

“If North Korea is going to collapse,” he says, “no external force can prop it up. Frankly speaking, whether it collapses or continues to develop will mainly depend on its own domestic and foreign policies.”

UPDATE 5 (2016-3-15): According to UPI, the Philippines has searched a second DPRK ship.

UPDATE 4 (2016 3-10): Sanctioned North Korean ship, Gold Star 3, was turned away from Hong Kong port. According to Yonhap (via Korea Times):

Hong Kong has banned a North Korean freighter, which is blacklisted by new U.N. sanctions over the North’s latest nuclear test and rocket launch, from berthing at its port, a source with knowledge of the matter said Thursday.

The North Korean freighter Gold Star 3 arrived at the Hong Kong port on Wednesday to get fuel and supplies for its crew, but Hong Kong authorities did not allow the ship to dock at the port, the source said on the condition of anonymity.

The ship is among 31 vessels operated by a North Korean shipping company, Ocean Maritime Management, which is hit by the new U.N. sanctions.

For now, the ship is said to be staying in international waters, according to the source.

Media reports have said the Chinese port of Rizhao in the eastern Shandong province also barred another North Korean ship from docking at the port.

China has said it will “earnestly” implement the new U.N. sanctions, but the sanctions should not affect the well-being and humanitarian needs of North Korean people.

Still, China is unlikely to put crippling sanctions on North Korea because a sudden collapse of the regime could spark a refugee crisis at its border and lead to a pro-U.S., democratic Korea on its doorstep, analysts say.

UPDATE 3 (2016-3-6): North Korea ship impounded in Philippines. According to Yonhap:

A North Korean ship impounded in the Philippines last week was registered as being from Sierra Leone via a practice called flag of convenience, South Korea said Sunday.

Flag of convenience is a business practice of registering a merchant ship to a country other than its origin for the purposes of avoiding taxes and other regulations.

The Philippines seized the North Korean ship Jin Teng on Saturday, becoming the first country to enforce sanctions on the reclusive country since the United Nations Security Council passed a more comprehensive resolution last week.

Resolution 2270 subjects 31 ships belonging to North Korea’s Wonyang Shipping Corp. to an asset freeze and sanctions.

Despite being Sierra Leone-flagged, the Jin Teng was seized because the sanctions are imposed via the ship’s International Maritime Organization (IMO) number, not its country of origin, a South Korean official said.

Nine other ships on the list are registered as being from countries other than North Korea, including Tanzania and Cambodia, the official added.

Here is coverage in Xinhua.

UPDATE 2 (2016-3-4): Analysis of the sanctions by the European Council on Foreign Relations:

The case of sanctions against North Korea – where earlier resolutions were already adopted in 2006, 2009 and 2013 – provides a useful window into their efficiency and limits. All the more so because the debate on this latest round of sanctions has been long and hard (it has been nearly two months since the DPRK’s nuclear test of 6 January). As noted by ECFR’s Mathieu Duchâtel earlier this week, China and Russia have taken a big step towards tightening the noose around Pyongyang – by accepting to place limits on its external revenue, in areas that go much beyond the illicit activities directly targeted by the resolution. They have agreed to a ban on the export of coal, iron ore, rare earth and other minerals, as well as gold, and also to inspection of North Korean cargoes in other ports. The sanctions include North Korean diplomatic offices that harbour entities otherwise targeted by sanctions. All of these developments have the potential to be game changers. The fact that China – which received 90 percent of North Korea’s foreign trade given earlier sanctions – has agreed to the sanctions, certainly gives some indication of how vast the chasm between the Chinese and North Korean leadership is growing.

But more questions arise as a result of these sanctions, and on three different levels. Firstly, what are the limits of the resolution, secondly, how will it be implemented, and thirdly, what has been conceded or left out in order to secure this result at the United Nations Security Council.

The limits of these sanctions can be uncovered in the wording of the resolution itself. Almost all new sanctions can be overridden if the trade is being made for “humanitarian” or “livelihood purposes”. These exceptions only apply if they do not generate “revenue”, which would seem to reserve the provision of bona fide food or medical assistance. Alas, the resolution’s language appears to be contradictory in places. Point b of article 28 exempts trades which are “exclusively for livelihood purposes and unrelated to generating revenue for the DPRK’s nuclear or ballistic programs or other activities prohibited”. This clearly leaves the door open to other revenue streams. It is not clear whether the resolution will target North Korea’s export of indentured labour – not only in Russia, but in Poland and reportedly in Lithuania and Slovakia too. In these places there are North Korean workers remitting over 70 percent of their wages to the state – which leaves them with just $120 a month for living.

This loophole, along with the exclusion of oil imports from sanctions, has all the hallmarks of being imposed by China. There are many others too, such as the exclusion of coal re-exported from the port of Rason – a transit center for Mongolian coal towards Russia. Aviation fuel cannot be sold to North Korea but its planes can be fueled elsewhere on a return journey. North Korean financial institutions and firms elsewhere are subject to sanctions, with trade banned, but foreign firms already present in North Korea are not.

More important than these concerns is the undefined nature of “inspections” in foreign ports. In this respect, the US sanctions go much further by imposing checks on third parties. It will be interesting to see if the European Union, a champion of the “smart power” of sanctions, follows suit. Some, for example the French, who still suffer from the heavy fines imposed by the US on BNP Paribas because of its actions in Sudan, may beg to differ. In any case, the practical difficulties of checking, for example, on China’s immense export and re-export volume preclude an efficient implementation. What happens in Dandong, China’s notoriously opaque harbor that processes North Korea’s trade, is key. US sanctions will create moral hazard for traders, which is altogether a desirable but insufficient goal.

Which leads us to a third observation. The resolution has left a wide gamut of sanctions open to interpretation. In practice, these interpretations will be dictated by China, North Korea’s chief intermediary with the outside world. In some aspects, the resolution hands the key to North Korea’s economic fate to China, even if one might believe that North Korean diplomats are experts at circumventing restrictions, and creatively exploiting loopholes in “easy” third countries. After all, who will be checking the “humanitarian” nature of its relations with Namibia?

UPDATE 1 (2016-3-2):  Chinese banks halt transfer of yuan currency to N. Korean banks. According to Yonhap:

Chinese banks in the northern border city of Dandong have suspended the transfer of the yuan currency to North Korean banks, Chinese financial sector officials told Yonhap News Agency on Wednesday.

The move comes as the U.N. Security Council is set to vote on new sanctions against North Korea’s fourth nuclear test and rocket launch this year.

Employees of the Dandong branch offices of China’s top four state-owned banks, including Agricultural Bank of China and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, as well as six commercial banks such as China Merchants Bank, told Yonhap that the suspension came after “orders” from their headquarters.

Since North Korea’s third nuclear test in 2013, the Dandong branches of the Chinese banks have halted the transfer of U.S. dollars to North Korean banks.

An employee of the Dandong branch of the Agricultural Bank of China said the order came down after North Korea’s fourth nuclear test in January.

Dandong is a border city between North Korea and China and a main conduit of bilateral trade between the two neighboring countries.

ORIGINAL POST (2016-3-2): According to the Washington Post:

The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted harsh sanctions Wednesday against North Korea, imposing some of the strongest measures ever used to pressure Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

The new sanctions come two months after North Korea tested what it claimed was a hydrogen bomb and a month after it conducted what was widely described as a banned missile test under the guise of launching a satellite into space. But U.S. officials began drafting the measures three years ago, soon after North Korea conducted a previous nuclear test, in order to move swiftly the next time it happened. Negotiations to win China’s support began two days after North Korea’s January nuclear test, its fourth in a decade.

The resolution is far more sweeping than existing sanctions requiring a link to proliferation activities. That precondition has been removed, in effect erasing the presumption of innocence.

It mandates cargo inspections for all goods going in and out of North Korea by land, sea or air, chokes off supplies of most aviation fuel for its armed forces, and bans the sale of all small arms and conventional weapons to Pyongyang. It also prohibits transactions that raise hard cash for North Korea through sales of its natural resources.

The resolution doubles the blacklist of people and institutions already sanctioned and requires countries to expel North Korean diplomats involved in any sanctioned activities.

One provision was designed to prevent Pyongyang from sending taekwondo instructors to train foreign police forces. Another bars North Koreans from specialized training at any school or research center in the world if the learning can advance Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

President Obama welcomed the sanctions as a firm and appropriate response to North Korea’s attempts to develop weapons of mass destruction.

“Today, the international community, speaking with one voice, has sent Pyongyang a simple message: North Korea must abandon these dangerous programs and choose a better path for its people,” he said.

As soon as the sanctions were released, the Treasury Department and the State Department updated their blacklists of people and entities tied to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the official name for North Korea, and its proliferation programs. The designation freezes their U.S. assets and bars Americans from doing business with them.

The U.N. sanctions, which target the country’s elites and avoid “adverse humanitarian consequences” for civilians, aim to accomplish what worked with less onerous sanctions on Iran by pushing the impoverished nation to quit pumping money into its nuclear program.

“The chronic suffering of the people of North Korea is the direct result of the choices made by the DPRK government, a government that has consistently prioritized its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs over providing for the most basic needs of its own people,” said Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

“The North Korean government would rather grow its nuclear weapons program than grow its own children,” she added.

The resolution was presented by the United States with the support of China, a sharp reversal, given Beijing’s longtime support of its neighbor. Although the United States has long had an embargo on trade with North Korea, China has provided food and fuel and has been a key trading partner. In recent years, living conditions in North Korea have improved, thanks in large part to China.

In the past, China has been unwilling to tighten the screws on Pyongyang, in part out of concern for what an imploding, unstable North Korea might mean for China’s own border. But recently North Korea has continued testing new weapons and missiles, disregarding China’s warnings and personal envoys.

After North Korea on Jan. 6 detonated a new device — calling it a hydrogen bomb, although most experts say it was a smaller nuclear device — China’s ambassador to six-party talks, Wu Dawei, went to Pyongyang to urge restraint. Instead, North Korea announced while he was there that it would test a missile.

China’s about-face suggests it has started to realize that doing nothing would impose growing political costs internationally — the possibility of a greater U.S. presence in the region and weaker relations with South Korea, which Beijing has been cultivating.

“I expect there’s been a delayed recognition in China to the political price China was paying, with South Korea in particular, for its equivocation or outright silence about how to respond to North Korea and North Korea actions,” said Jonathan Pollack, a specialist on East Asian politics and security at the Brookings Institution.

During a visit to Washington last month, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi hinted at the strains in policy toward North Korea.

“On the one hand, we’re saying to the international community . . . that the normal exchanges, especially those affecting the livelihoods of the North Korean people, should not be adversely affected,” he said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “On the other hand, in order to uphold the international nuclear nonproliferation regime for the sake of denuclearization, our exchanges will be affected to some extent.”

But some analysts question the depth of China’s commitment to the latest round of sanctions.

“The real question going forward is whether China will enforce the new measures,” said Victor Cha, a professor at Georgetown University. “My guess is that China will squeeze for a little bit, but not too hard, while the U.S. will want China to squeeze harder and for a longer period of time.”

Sung-Yoon Lee, a Korean studies professor at Tufts University, said the U.N. sanctions, even if violated in the future, will become increasingly meaningful if ordinary citizens in North Korea are adversely affected.

“The fact the U.N. is involved will lend greater legitimacy to the effort to sanction North Korea and enable others, like Japan and Europe, to shoulder some of the blame if there are negative repercussions from sanctions, so the blame doesn’t just fall on the shoulders of the United States,” he said.

Preparatory work on the sanctions began in early 2013, immediately after the Security Council passed a sanctions resolution in response to North Korea’s third nuclear test, according to a State Department official who spoke about the sensitive negotiations on the condition of anonymity. U.S. officials concluded that incrementally ratcheting up sanctions was insufficient and that more restrictive measures were needed, the official said.

As technical experts from many government agencies met to share ideas, a contingency draft of sanctions was repeatedly updated to be ready for a fourth nuclear test by North Korea.

On Jan. 8, two days after North Korea announced the fourth test, diplomats from the U.S. mission to the United Nations presented a draft to the Chinese mission. There was little response during January as China studied the proposed sanctions, which dropped requirements to prove proliferation links, as China had insisted on previously.

China did not change its position during a Jan. 27 visit to Beijing by Secretary of State John F. Kerry or during a Feb. 5 phone call that Obama placed to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

But after the Feb. 7 missile test, the State Department official said, the Chinese came around to the U.S. point of view. Throughout much of February, U.S. and Chinese diplomats met several times a day to discuss provisions that had to be approved by Beijing, the official said.

“At 8 or 9 at night, diplomats at the U.S. mission would schlep to the Chinese mission,” the State Department official said. Then they would meet again the next day after Beijing had worked through the provisions overnight.

After a tentative agreement was reached early last week, U.S. officials had hoped for a quick adoption by the Security Council. But there were delays while Russia studied the sanctions to gauge their impact. Russia transports coal over a short stretch of railroad in North Korea to a port, and Moscow wanted reassurances it would not be banned, the official said.

In recent days, North Korea has boasted that more sanctions would not hurt. Now China, South Korea, Japan and the United States are awaiting its reaction. Early Thursday, hours after the sanctions were approved, the North fired short-range projectiles into the sea, South Korea’s Defense Ministry said.

“We’ve seen its reckless and unpredictable acts for years,” Power said. “We’ve seen threats directed at the continental United States and the Republic of Korea. We’ve seen cyberattacks on American companies costing hundreds of millions of dollars. We do not expect a change of behavior overnight.”

Read the full story here:
U.N. adopts sweeping new sanctions on North Korea
Washington Post
Carol Morello and Steven Mufson
2016-3-2

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Russian food donation to North Korea

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

The World Food Program (WFP) has announced that Russia has donated 4 million dollars worth of wheat to feed particularly vulnerable populations in North Korea. According to the WFP, the amount will contribute to feeding about 620,000 people for four months. I’ve pasted the WFP press statement below, but interested readers should also check out the Facebook post of the Russian Embassy in Pyongyang, which has pictures of the delivery ceremony. WFP’s statement:

PYONGYANG – A ship carrying wheat donated by the Russian Federation successfully delivered its cargo in the port of Nampo today. The wheat will help the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to meet the nutritional needs of more than 620,000 children and women for a period of four months.

“Russia takes an active part in WFP’s operations in general, and in particular in its activities in DPRK. We highly appreciate WFP’s efforts aimed at providing aid to the most vulnerable strata of the country’s population, including children and pregnant and nursing women. We know that the Koreans feel deep gratitude because of this timely and valuable help. We consider it important that Russian flour and wheat are used to produce nutritious cereals and biscuits in local factories,” said Alexander Matsegora, Russian Ambassador to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

The wheat will be used in locally-produced fortified biscuits and “cereal milk blend” – a specially designed flour fortified with essential micronutrients, which is used to make pancakes or bread.

“I would like to thank the Russian Government for this generous donation and its continued commitment. The Russian contribution is timely following a poor harvest after last year’s drought and comes at the end of the cold and harsh winter. WFP’s assistance is crucial to ensure young children grow into healthy adults by giving them the nutritious food they need,” said Darlene Tymo, WFP’s Representative and Country Director in DPRK.

The wheat was procured by WFP thanks to a contribution of USD 4 million from the Russian Federation. In the last five years, Russia has donated a total of USD 22 million to WFP in DPRK.

Almost a third of children under five in DPRK do not have enough diversity in their diet and are short for their age – a condition known as stunting. If children miss out on crucial vitamins and minerals in the first few years of their lives, it can affect long-term development and growth. WFP’s nutrition assistance helps to provide vital nutrients to children, as well as to pregnant and nursing mothers.

Full statement here:
Russian Contribution Support WFP Nutrition Assistance In DPRK
World Food Program
03-01-2016

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UN releases emergency funds to North Korea

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein 

From a press statement today by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA):

UN EMERGENCY FUND RELEASES US$ 8 MILLION TO ASSIST MOST VULNERABLE WOMEN AND CHILDREN IN DPRK

(Bangkok, 2 February 2016)

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on 29 January 2016 released US$ 8 million from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) for severely underfunded aid operations in the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK). These funds will enable life-saving assistance for more than 2.2 million people most vulnerable and at risk of malnutrition.

The DPRK was one of nine countries to receive such grants within the overall $100 million allocation to underfunded emergencies. Undernutrition is a fundamental cause of maternal and child death and disease: in DPRK, chronic malnutrition (stunting) among under-five children is at 27.9 per cent, while 4 per cent of under-five children are acutely malnourished (wasting).

Around 70 per cent of the population, or 18 million people, are considered food insecure. Food production in the country is hampered by a lack of agricultural inputs and is highly vulnerable to shocks, particularly natural disasters. Due to drought in 2015, 11 per cent of the main harvest was lost.

Health service delivery, including reproductive health, remains inadequate, with many areas of the country not equipped with the facilities, equipment or medicines to meet people’s basic health needs. Under-five children and low-birth-weight newborns are vulnerable to life-threatening diseases, such as pneumonia and diarrhoea if they do not receive proper treatment or basic food, vitamins and micronutrients.

Full press statement available here.

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South Korean in DPRK increases in 2015

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

According to Yonhap:

The number of South Koreans who visited North Korea almost quadrupled this year from a year earlier as Seoul has encouraged more civic groups to spur exchanges with the North, a government report showed Tuesday.

The number of South Koreans visiting the North reached 2,035 this year, compared with 552 a year earlier or up 269 percent from the previous year, according to a report by the Unification Ministry.

The tally did not include those who moved in and out of a joint industrial park in the North’s border city of Kaesong.

The government said in May that it will encourage more civic groups to increase their exchanges with North Korea to mark the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule.

The two Koreas’ August deal to ease military tension also has given a boost to efforts to promote civilian inter-Korean exchanges.

Seoul has imposed punitive sanctions on North Korea banning massive state aid and trade since May 2010 to punish the North for sinking a South Korean warship. But it has encouraged civilians to increase humanitarian assistance to the North.

As part of the August deal, the two Koreas held reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War at Mount Kumgang in the North in late October.

In October alone, a total of 880 South Koreans visited North Korea, compared with 816 in January 2010, according to the report. The October tally was the largest monthly reading since 2009, it added.

Other major civilian exchange events included a joint project to excavate the site of Manwoldae, a Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) palace in Kaesong, and football games held between the two Koreas’ labor groups in October.

Read the full story here:
S. Korean visitors to N.K. nearly quadruple this year: report
Yonhap
2015-12-29

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Korean-American Sharing Movement donates to the DPRK

Monday, December 28th, 2015

According to the Baptist Standard:

A Korean Texas Baptist minister delivered two tons of noodles, 10 solar panels, two diesel generators and other supplies to a hospital in North Korea between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Yoo Yoon, director of the Korean-American Sharing Movement of Dallas, also took 350 pairs of winter socks, two freezers, six pairs of tractor tires and three sewing machines to three schools for orphans in Kwangwon province.

Yoon has traveled to North Korea more than two-dozen times in the last 20 years, including four trips in 2015. He typically delivers corn and wheat noodles to schools, orphanages and hospitals. Donors have included Texas Baptist Men and several Baptist General Convention of Texas-affiliated churches, and Baylor Scott & White Health has contributed medical equipment.

In September, the North Korean government denied Yoon permission to distribute food to orphans, due to a change in policy. However, he provided food for the hospital on his most recent trip, and he brought other supplies to the medical center and the schools for orphans.

“I have learned to adjust myself to whatever circumstances through 20 years of North Korea missions,” said Yoon, former Korean field consultant with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

In September 2014, his daughter, Sara Yoon, an ophthalmologist, examined patients and consulted with doctors at the hospital in Wonsan City. On the most recent trip to North Korea, her father delivered batteries and bulbs for scopes and other equipment she purchased for the hospital’s ophthalmology department. He also distributed Christmas presents at the hospital.

“The Lord led me to tell them what Christmas is,” Yoon recalled. “So, I handed out 62 Christmas gifts to 62 people, letting them know it is a season of accepting a gift, since God sent his Son to forgive our sins.”

Read the full story here:
Texas Baptist delivers food and equipment to North Korean hospital
Baptist Standard
Ken Camp
2015-12-28

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North Korea’s “Epic Economic Fail” in International Perspective

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015

A new report by Nicholas Eberstadt has been published by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. According to the summary:

This report brings to the table new research on the dimensions of economic failure in modern North Korea, offers a quantitative view of how nations develop in our modern world, and where North Korea’s awful slide downward fits within this global tableau; offers admittedly approximate long term estimates of overall net resource transfers to the DPRK, including estimates of net transfers from the major state benefactors; and some indications about the interplay between concessionary resource transfers from abroad and the DPRK’s domestic economic performance. It concludes with some observations about the implications of these findings

You can download a PDF of the report here.

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An affiliate of 38 North