Archive for the ‘International trade’ Category

How bad is the Kaesong shutdown for the North Korean Economy?

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein 

The Ministry of Unification in Seoul announced today that the industrial park in Kaesong be closed as a form of retaliation for North Korea’s recent rocket launch, alleging that funds from the park have been used to finance the north’s arms buildup. Wall Street Journal (with my emphasis):

A representative of South Korea’s Unification Ministry said that the move to shut down Kaesong was an effort by South Korea, “as a key party, to show leadership in taking part in these moves.”

Kaesong is an important source of income for Pyongyang. The regime received $120 million last year, and a total of $560 million since 2004, in workers’ wages directly from the South Korean side, according to the Unification Ministry. Those payments are made directly to the regime, which is then charged with paying the workers themselves, a system that critics say allows the regime to pocket most of the money.

“It appears that such funds have not been used to pave the way to peace as the international community had hoped, but rather to upgrade its nuclear weapons and long-range missiles,” the Unification Ministry said on Wednesday.

Naturally, this is bad news for the North Korean economy. But how bad exactly?

Here are a few other figures to give some sense of the proportions:

  • The volume of trade between North Korea and China only in the January-May period of last year totalled $1.1 billion, with North Korean exports accounting for $954 million.
  • Between January and November last year, the value of North Korea’s exports to China was $2.28 billion.
  • Textile exports to China from North Korea brought in around $800 million in 2014.
  • North Korean guest workers in China’s border provinces are estimated to be raising between $140-$170 million per year.

In the overall context, it seems like losses from the closure of Kaesong could be potentially bad, but not catastrophic.

UPDATE 1: Here is the full statement from the Ministry of Unification:

Government Statement regarding the Complete Shutdown of the Gaeseong Industrial Complex

North Korea has pushed ahead with the extremely provocative act of launching a long-range missile on the heels of its 4th nuclear test, showing disregard for the repeated warnings of the international community and the suffering of its people.

North Korea’s provocations are a direct challenge to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the international community and its actions are absolutely unacceptable. Notwithstanding international efforts to deter North Korea from developing its nuclear capabilities and long-range missiles,

North Korea has declared that it would follow up on its recent provocations with additional nuclear tests and missile launches, thereby not even showing the slightest intent to forgo the development of its nuclear and missile capabilities.

The status quo is not static, as North Korea’s nuclear capabilities will be upgraded, all but leading to a catastrophic disaster. If left unattended, North Korea’s nuclear and missile development will lead to a fundamental imbalance in and threat to the security landscape of Northeast Asia, not to mention the Korean Peninsula, and the countries of this region will be left with no choice but to take measures to ensure their own survival and shore up their security, and there are concerns that this could eventually even lead to a nuclear domino effect.

Under these grave circumstances, it is clear that the existing approach will not work in discomfiting North Korea’s nuclear and missile development plans. Accordingly, what is in order is a vigorous response together with the international community that, for sure, exacts a price for North Korea’s misguided actions, as well as extraordinary measures that compel North Korea to give up its nuclear capabilities and change its ways.

At a time when the international community is seeking sanctions in the wake of North Korea’s violation of UN Security Council resolutions with its nuclear test and long-range missile launch, there is a need for Korea, as a key party, to show leadership in taking part in these moves.

Over the years, our Government has been working to continue maintaining the Gaeseong Industrial Complex despite North Korea’s repeated provocations and under extreme state of affairs, all with a view to assisting the lives of the North Korean people, providing impetus to lifting up the North Korean economy, and achieving the shared progress for both South and North Korea. We have also made every effort to move the Gaeseong Industrial Complex forward under the position that it should be developed in conformity with international norms.

However, such assistance and the efforts of our Government have ultimately been wrongly harnessed in the service of upgrading North Korea’s nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

To date, the total amount of cash that flowed into North Korea through the Gaeseong Industrial Complex is 616 billion won (560 million dollars), with 132 billion won (120 million dollars) in cash having flowed into North Korea last year alone, and the Government and the private sector have invested a total of 1.019 trillion won. It appears that such funds have not been used to pave the way to peace as the international community had hoped, but rather to upgrade its nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

This tramples on the efforts of the Korean Government and the 124 businesses that have set up shop in the Gaeseong Industrial Complex, and puts at risk the lives and safety of the Korean people.

Today, in order to stop funds of the Gaeoseong Industrial Complex from being used to support the development of North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities, and to prevent our businesses from suffering, the Government has decided to completely shut down the Gaeseong Industrial Complex.

We have notified the North Korean authorities of this decision and called on them to extend such cooperation as is rendered necessary by the complete shutdown of the Gaeseong Industrial Complex, including the safe return of our citizens.

The Government will move expeditiously forward with all steps to ensure the safe return of our citizens, and will set up a Government Task Force under the Office for Government Policy Coordination to provide the necessary whole-of-government assistance to our businesses.

We ask for the full understanding of our people that the Government’s complete shutdown of the Gaeseong Industrial Complex is an unavoidable decision, which takes into account the seriousness of the situation on the Korean Peninsula, and we call upon the people to stand with us as we seek to overcome such challenges.

UPDATE 2: Kent Boydston at the Peterson Institute offers this graph, and notes we can expect to see the trend reverse:

DPRK-China-ROK-trade-2015

Full reference to the Wall Street Journal article quoted above:
South Korea, Japan Take Steps to Penalize North Korea
Wall Street Journal 
Jonathan Cheng
02-10-2016

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DPRK – China trade contracts in 2015, but inter-Korean trade increases

Monday, February 1st, 2016

DPRK – China trade is down. According to Yonhap:

North Korea’s trade with China dipped nearly 15 percent last year apparently due to a chilly bilateral relationship between the two neighboring countries, a report showed Sunday.

The North-China trade volume reached US$4.9 billion in the January-November period, down 14.8 percent from $5.76 billion a year earlier, marking the first double-digit on-year drop since 2000, according to a report by state-run think tank Korea Development Institute (KDI).

Pyongyang’s shipments to its neighbor sank 12.3 percent to $2.28 billion over the cited period, while imports from China plunged 16.8 percent to $2.63 billion.

The trade between the allies has risen an average of 22.4 percent between 2000 and 2014. Only in 2009 and 2014 did it shrink on-year.

The KDI report attributed the sharp decline to sluggish raw material exports, as shipments of anthracite coal and iron ore fell 6.3 percent and 68.5 percent, respectively.

“The chilly relationship between Pyongyang and Beijing and a slowdown in the Chinese economy seemed to affect North Korea’s sluggish trade with China,” said the report. “North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s New Year message, which called for using home-made products and rejecting foreign-made ones, also had some influence on the downbeat trend.”

The alliance between Pyongyang and Beijing had been described as being “forged in blood,” since China fought alongside North Korea in the 1950-53 Korean War. China is the only country that provides crude oil to the reclusive North.

But their political relations have become strained since 2013, partly because of the North’s defiant pursuit of nuclear weapons and a series of purges of pro-Chinese officials in North Korea.

For 2016, the KDI report noted that there is a higher possibility that bilateral trade will contract further following Pyongyang’s nuclear tests on Jan. 6, as the global community including the United Nations is set to impose sanctions against the reclusive regime.

“North Korean trade will be dragged down by international economic sanctions sparked by the North’s latest nuclear test in the first half of this year,” the KDI said. ” North Korea-China trade has shrank to some extent, following sanctions by the U.N.”

Output at the Kaesong Industrial Complex is up in 2015. According to the Yonhap (via Korea Herald):

Production of companies at the inter-Korean industrial complex in North Korea exceeded $500 million last year for the first time since its opening in 2004, the government said Sunday.

According to the Unification Ministry, a total of 124 South Korean factories operating in the complex produced $515.49 million worth of goods in the first 11 months of last year, up more than 20 percent from the previous year and the highest yearly output even excluding the December tally.

The figure for the entire year is estimated to reach $560 million, given that their monthly production averaged around $50 million in the year, it said.

“The Gaeseong Industrial Complex managed to grow stably, recording more than a 20 percent increase in total output despite North Korea’s shelling in August across the border and various other incidents in and out of the country,” a ministry official said.

There were 54,763 North Korean workers and 803 South Korean managers at the factories in the industrial park located in the North’s border city of Gaeseong as of November.

Here is additional information in the JoongAng Ilbo.

Read the full story here:
N Korea’s trade with China contracts in 2015
Yonhap
Kim Boram
2016-1-31

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North Korea’s nuclear test and trade with China: no discernable impacts so far

Tuesday, January 19th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

North Korea’s nuclear tests aren’t usually met with any drastic economic measures from China. So far, the supposed-but-not-really-hydrogen bomb test hasn’t been an exception. According to a piece in Asia Times Online, traders in Dandong have barely noticed any impacts from the latest test. Though fewer North Korean traders appear to be present in Dandong, nothing seems to be greatly out of the ordinary:

According to Initium reporters,  two-way trade in Dandong,  a prefecture-level city China’s  southeastern Liaoning province that sits astride the Chinese-North Korean border, hasn’t been affected. Merchants in the key trade hub told Initium that fewer North Korean merchants had been seen in Dandong recently, but they said this could be tied to a change in procedures with the possibility of a rebound in trade in February.

The piece also contains a look back at what’s happened (and not happened) after North Korea’s previous nuclear tests, though I suspect that isolating the specific causes for any changes in trade is next to impossible:

The North’s second nuke test in 2009 had the gravest impact on bilateral trade. The trade volume decreased by 8.9%. In October of that same year, then Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited the North and crafted a set of bilateral cooperation agreements, including the development of special border zones and the construction of the new cross-border Dandong-Yalu River bridge. These efforts led to the best 2 years for the China-DPRK relationships since the end of the Cold War, with then DPRK leader Kim Jong-il visiting China twice. Trade also surged.

After Kim Jong-il’s death in December 2011, bilateral trade lost some steam. But overall volume remained stable. Good times returned and continued until 2013, when the trade volume between the two countries reached $6.545 billion, which was 77% of the DPRK’s total foreign trade.

Read the full article here:

Weighing data: Will North Korea’s nuke test impact trade with China? 
Qin Xuan
Intium Media (and Asia Times Online)
2016-01-18

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North Korean workers ordered home after Moranbong debacle

Friday, December 18th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

According to Daily NK, North Korean authorities have ordered workers in China home following the cancelled Moranbong Band concert:

Just five days after North Korea canceled Moranbong Band’s Chinese tour and ordered an immediate return of the band back home, the authorities issued an order to all sojourning employees in China, most of whom are employed at trading companies, to report to Pyongyang.

On the 16th, our Daily NK reporter spoke with a source residing in Pyongyang, who informed us that no concrete reason had been given along with the order. And so on the 16th, agricultural workers, forestry workers, traders, and workers affiliated with Mansudae Art Studio boarded a train to return back to North Korea.

This was corroborated by an additional source in the capital.

Our source expressed concern over the drastic measure, wondering if the issue of the Moranbong Band’s canceled tour might be exploding into a bigger issue. “When you call back scores of workers abroad, that’s a pretty big deal,” she pointed out.

One has to wonder whether all workers in China could really have been recalled home, given their substantial numbers. Just to give a sense of the size of this labor force, in 2013 the number of North Korean workers that entered China was around 93,000, according to South Korean statistics. Most likely only a small share was stationed permanently in the country, but even so, recalling each and every one on such short notice sounds like a logistically implausible operation.

Read the full article:
NK orders workers in China back home
Kang Mi Jin
Daily NK
2015-12-18

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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

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Mansudae ODG building Angkor e-museum

Sunday, December 6th, 2015

Angkor-emueum-3

Pictured Above (Google Earth, 2012-10-26): An image of the Angkor E-Museum under construction in Siem Reap Cambodia

UPDATE 6 (2015-12-6): The museum opens! According to the Khmer Times:

After five years of building and delays, the $24 million Angkor Panorama Museum in Siem Reap was opened on Friday by Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, cementing growing ties between the Kingdom and North Korea, especially in Siem Reap.

Mr. Sok An said the 6,000 square meter building reinforced both cultural and economic ties.

The project was signed in 2011, under which North Korea’s Mansudea Overseas Project Group will run the museum with the government under a build-operate-and-transfer operation for 10 years until it is handed over to the Apsara Authority.

In the meantime, profits will be split evenly.

“We did not sell this land. We have a joint committee and we studied the investment project on all fronts before the government approved it. We treat foreign investment equally,” said Mr. Sok An.

“We need more tourist products such as this to attract visitors to Cambodia. The museum… is another tourism attraction that features, through the painting [mural] inside the museum, how our Khmer ancestors went about their daily activities during Angkorian time,” he said at the opening ceremony attended by an estimated 1,000 people, including South and North Koreans.

The project caused concern with South Korea, fearing it could be used for propaganda in the province, which is the country’s biggest tourist attraction. The Angkor Wat temple complex was listed for protection by the UN cultural organization UNESCO in 1992.

The new museumincludes work from 63 North Korean artists.

North Korean ambassador Hong Ki Chol told the crowd: “It was well built in a picturesque place, surrounded by Angkor temples – the pride of Khmers. We are proud that this museum was built to show Cambodian culture in the prestigious era of Angkor.”

“I am confident the museum will make a positive contribution to giving a comprehensive understanding of ideas about all the Angkor temples and promote tourism,” he said.

Cambodia received 4.5 million tourists last year, a 20 percent increase on the previous year and accounting for about 16 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. The Kingdom is targeting 8 million tourists by 2020.

“We want to see tourists stay longer in Cambodia,” said Mr. Sok An, who is also chairman of the Apsara Authority. ”The longer they stay, the more it benefits our people and the economy.”

UPDATE 5 (2014-6-14): The museum is still not open. According to an article in the Phnom Penh Post:

Siem Reap is home to North Korea’s first overseas museum, a $15 million tribute to Angkor set in a Khmer-style building which is not yet open to the public.

Although construction began in August 2011, the doors have still not opened and the car park has not been built.

The operations manager, who gave his name only as Kim, said the museum would open in three or four months, and blamed the delay on the unfinished car park and ticketing booth.

But sources within the South Korean community say the slow progress is due to the plan to build an information centre about the temples, which has caused a rift with the Apsara authority, which manages the complex.

UPDATE 4 (2104-1-20): It is January 2014, and the Museum still has not opened. A recent visitor, however, offers images of the museum and some details. According to the article:

The Grand Panorama Museum is a gift to cement the “glorious friendship between Korea and Cambodia”, says a young translator from Pyongyang, capital of the hermit state.

The building site is still strictly off-limits as I visit but, despite the secrecy, the man in charge relents and provides a short tour.

The museum is right next to the new ticket booths for the temple complex. The avowed aim is to take visitors back to the heyday of Khmer culture, which flourished in Angkor between the 12th and 15th centuries.

The museum’s interpretation is not so much scholarly as glitzy, with otherworldly music and coloured lights. It also showcases the North Korean style of ultra-realist painting. A huge face of the Buddha looms at the entrance.

“A true-scale copy of the stone-hewn figures at the Bayon Temple,” says the building chief. The giant painting looks remarkably like a photograph. “Exactly,” beams the official. “But it’s not a photograph – it’s Korean art.”

The big Buddha is a product of the Mansudae art factory in Pyongyang, which employs a thousand artists turning out paintings in oil, acrylic and watercolours in the “social realist” style. Abstraction is not allowed.

The panorama is viewed from a platform in the centre of a circular room. The entire wall is a single vast picture, 13 metres tall and 130 long. It depicts the many temples and everyday scenes from the 12th-century Khmer era – or at least daily life as imagined by North Korean artists.

The official word is that all the scenes were painted “following consultations with Cambodian historians”, the site supervisor is anxious to point out. The finished product is strong on battles, with lots of bloodshed.

“We have a panoramic museum like this in Pyongyang too,” says the supervisor. Is it about ancient Korean history? “No, it’s about the Americans’ war.”

The illusion of being at the centre of the Khmer empire is extended by all manner of fake walls, cannons and plastic trees between the raised platform and the panorama wall. The models carefully match the objects visible in the painted panorama.

“We will have wind and fog-making machines so that the trees will rustle,” says the young translator.

The museum also offers scale models of the sprawling temple complex and a 3D theatre where films depicting temple construction will be screened.

North Korean art is on sale in the foyer, along with cute souvenir dolls dressed in what the North Koreans say is the authentic Khmer national costume.

One huge oil painting in the shop is definitely not for sale. It depicts a snow-covered landscape in Korea’s mountains with a little hut in the foreground highlighted by a shaft of sunlight.

“That is the birthplace of our Great Leader,” the supervisor says reverently. “The picture is here on loan.” The late North Korean founding father Kim Il-sung is revered like a god.

The article offers some pictures as well:

Angkor-emuseum-1

Angkor-emuseum-2

UPDATE 3 (2013-1-8): NK News explains some of the features the museum will contain and reports that it will open in April 2013.

UPDATE 2 (2011-11-26): Accoridng to AKP (Cambodia):

Cambodia has allowed the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to build a cultural information centre (or welcome centre) in Siem Reap, the home of Angkor, as part of the government’s effort to attract more tourists, according to the Press and Quick Reaction Unit of the Council of Ministers.

In a meeting on Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister H.E. Dr. Sok An told the North Korean Ambassador H.E. Ri In Sok that Cambodia’s Apsara Authority is working with North Korean experts to build the centre, which will serve as a welcome centre for tourists who want information about Cambodia’s Angkorian history.

Officials of the Apsara Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap are working with 60 Korean experts and concerned institutions to ensure that the building design will feature the cultural values of both Cambodia and Korea.

The building, 70 metres in diameter and 124 metres in height, will be decorated with artistic works and drawings. Korean officials say that the world’s biggest artistic drawing will be displayed at the centre.

Dr. Sok An, who is also Minister in Charge of the Office of the Council of Ministers, told the ambassador that the centre will represent not only the image of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea but also the good bilateral relations of the two Asian nations.

The outgoing North Korean Ambassador Ri In Sok, who is leaving Cambodia on Nov. 26 after a four-year term, told Dr. Sok An that North Korea wants unification with South Korea as soon as possible.

The ambassador was grateful to the deputy prime minister and the Royal Government of Cambodia as a whole for facilitating his diplomatic mission in Cambodia.

“I am pleased with the bilateral cooperation. I am pleased with the tremendous progress made by Cambodia over the past years,” said Ambassador Ri In Sok in the meeting.

The ambassador said the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea continues its good relations with the Royal Government of Cambodia thanks to the diplomatic legacy of the relations between His Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk, now retired, and the late Kim Il-Sung, leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Additional information:

1. Voice of America also picked up this story

2. NK Leadership Watch also covered the story.

3. The Mansudae Overseas Development Group (MODG) is also building/has already built an e-museum in Siem REap. Learn more here.

4. Here are previous posts on the DPRK and Cambodia.

UPDATE 1 (2011-8-3): Construction is underway on the project.  According to the Global Post:

A wall of royal blue sheet metal obscures the North Koreans’ operation from public view. When I approached the entrance, a man in a fedora and a tank top rushed over to slam the gate shut. A furtive look inside revealed fewer than a dozen scrawny workers and a scrub grass field still void of much construction.

Though local reports vary, North Korea will be paid between $10 and $17 million for some sort of monument or museum near the temples. The head of Cambodia’s culture ministry, Khem Sarith, confirmed construction of an “e-museum” but could not confirm the cost.

Nor could he explain why a country that offers its citizens scant electricity should win an “electronic museum” contract, especially after its monuments abroad have drawn both condemnation and ridicule.

The full story is well worth reading here:
North Korea propaganda unit builds monuments abroad
Global Post
Patrick Winn
2011-8-3

ORIGINAL POST (2010-4-27): According to the AFP (Via the Straits Times in Singapore):

A controlversial North Korean construction company is in talks to build an ‘e-museum’ of Cambodia’s famed Angkor temples, a senior official said on Monday.

Mansudae Overseas Projects wants to build a museum close to the temple complex that will feature a computer-generated simulation of the ancient monuments, Cambodian Culture Ministry secretary of state Khem Sarith told AFP.

‘They have plans to build an electronic museum detailing the history of Angkor Wat temples,’ he said, adding he supported the plans after discussions last week with a company delegation and North Korean ambassador Ri In Sok.

Previous work by the North Korean company building major monuments in African countries has been criticised for lack of transparency. Its 49-metre bronze Monument for the African Renaissance has caused outrage in Senegal over the sale of government land to finance the project and the president’s plan to keep 35 per cent of any profit it generates.

Mr Khem Sarith said the so-called e-museum would be ‘good for tourists to view the temples and then select the one that they want to see’. Studies and more discussion were still needed before construction could start on the digitally-rendered overview, Khem Sarith said. He said he would meet again with officials from the company in June to discuss the project further.

The 12th century Angkor Wat temple complex is Cambodia’s main tourist attraction. It is located in the northwestern province of Siem Reap, where the ancient Khmer empire built some 1,000 temples spread over 160 square kilometres.

I have pretty extensive list of Mansudae Overseas Development Group projects from across the planet.  If you are aware of a North Korean built project in your country, please let me know.

(Thanks to a reader)

Read the full story here:
‘e-museum’ of Angkor temples
AFP (Straits Times)
4/26/2010
John Cosgrove

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DPRK food imports from China down

Tuesday, December 1st, 2015

According to UPI:

North Korea drastically reduced grain imports from China in 2015, and a South Korean analyst said the decrease is a sign North Korea’s food situation could be improving.

Kwon Tae-jin, director of East Asia research at GS&J Institute in South Korea, said grain imports were down 71 percent between January and October 2015, Voice of America reported.

South Korean newspaper Segye Ilbo reported Kwon used data from China’s customs authorities – which indicated imports of Chinese corn, rice, flour and soybeans had fallen to 42,000 tons, down from 144,000 tons in 2014.

Soybeans, or legumes, were the only category of grain imports that did not register a decrease, tripling in volume to 5,640 tons in 2015. Wheat flour imports dropped 80 percent, but it was unclear why some imports were more in demand than others.

The value of total grain imports was down 72 percent from the prior year, to $2.04 million, according to Kwon.

Imports of fertilizer used to grow crops also were down 41 percent between January and October, a trend that shadowed overall China-North Korea trade and investment activities, which have declined for two consecutive years, VOA reported.

China is North Korea’s No. 1 trading partner, but Pyongyang has been working to move away from economic dependency.

Kwon said that inside North Korea grain prices are very stable, and the food supply situation is not bad, judging by the numbers.

“This year [North Korea] did not need to import much grain, or receive a lot of support from the international community, in order to stabilize food prices,” Kwon said.

The South Korean analyst said the stable prices could be a sign the North Korean market has confidence in the regime in Pyongyang. The drop in demand for imported grain also indicates the supply situation is quite stable in North Korea.

Kwon said that North Korea’s dry spell in 2015 could have had a negative impact on the country’s harvest, but overall the situation is “probably not as dire as many fear.”

The researcher said the market also prices in future uncertainty into grain value, and stable prices indicate buyers are less concerned about future scarcity.

Here is similar coverage in NK News.

Read the full story here:
North Korea imports of Chinese grain decline 70 percent
Elizabeth Shim
UPI
2015-12-1

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DPRK doctors earn hard currency abroad

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015

According to the Joong Ang Ilbo:

North Korea is making $15 million a year from deploying 1,250 doctors and nurses in 26 nations where they perform illegal medical practices such as abortions and injections of illegal substance, South Korea’s intelligence agency reported Tuesday.

Some 1,170 North Korean medical staff are working in Africa, according to lawmakers Lee Cheol-woo of the ruling Saenuri Party and Shin Kyoung-min of the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy. They were briefed by the National Intelligence Service (NIS) on Tuesday as members of a parliamentary intelligence committee. The NIS reported that North Korean doctors are engaged in illegal medical practices with a focus on earning foreign exchange. They also sell dubious medical products.

The NIS said the North was accused of bribing local officials to keep their illegal activities going. Citing a report by a local newspaper in Tanzania published on Feb. 21, the NIS said North Korea was caught trading sexual enhancer products, or aphrodisiacs, that contained mercury 185 times higher than international standards.

Dispatching medical operatives overseas appears to be part of Pyongyang’s long-running effort to earn foreign currency. The intelligence agency also reported that North Korea, which it said was accelerating its exports of labor, is earning $230 million a year on average from 58,000 workers in 50 different countries overseas. Pyongyang is also reportedly planning to export 3,000 new workers to labor in the fields of construction, medical and IT industries.

North Koreans sent abroad also work in logging, mining, construction and agriculture.

The two lawmakers also quotes the NIS as reporting a sense of disappointment among North Koreans after Pyongyang failed to deliver on its promise to improve people’s living conditions to mark the anniversary of the 70th foundation of the Workers’ Party. The Communist state is also suffering from an acute shortage of electricity, according to a NIS report.

On Choe Ryong-hae, secretary of the Workers’ Party who has vanished from the public view for nearly a month, was sent to a rural agricultural cooperative for “revolutionary re-education,” the NIS reported, citing a classified source of information.

The agency said Choe was removed from power partly to take responsibility for a partial collapse of a power plant in Yanggang Province.

Read the full story here:
Pyongyang’s flying doctors pull in $15M a year: NIS
Joong Ang Ilbo
Kang Jin-Kyu
2015-11-25

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Tumen Triangle tribulations: The unfulfilled promise of Chinese, Russian and North Korean cooperation

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

Andray Abrahamian has published a report with the US-Korea Institute on developments in the Tumen Triangle.

Here is the report description:

The Tumen Triangle region-where North Korea, China and Russia meet-is, in many ways, the story of regional integration being held back by the political concerns of Pyongyang, Beijing and Moscow. There are long-term forces at work here, such as Moscow’s concerns over Chinese dominance in the sparsely populated Russian Far East. This legacy of mistrust frames cross-border interactions and despite recent warm relations, major cross-border cooperation remains limited.

In this USKI Special Report, Andray Abrahamian, Director of Research at Choson Exchange examines historical legacies, contemporary relations and shifting strategic priorities between the three countries. The report then focuses trade and investment in the Tumen Triangle region, particularly how the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture and Primorsky Krai interact with and affect Rason Special City, the center of the Rason Special Economic Zone.

You can download the report here (PDF).

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Camp 16 imagery update

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

UPDATE 1 (2015-11-18): There was some follow-up media coverage of this work that claimed Camp 16 is about half the size of Pyongyang. This is not the case. Here are the actual statistics comparing the geographical sizes of Camp 16 and Pyongyang [Measures are approximate using Google Earth measuring tools]:

Pyongyang has 230 mile (371km ) perimeter and area of 679 sq miles (1758 sq km).
Camp 16 has 72 mile (115 km) perimeter and area of 212 sq miles (548 sq km).

So Camp 16 is approximately 31% the current size of Pyongyang. If we included Sungho, Sangwon, and Junghwa, which were moved into North Hwanghae Province, the percentage would drop even further.

ORIGINAL POST (2015-11-12): I previously wrote about Camp 16 in Myonggan here (2013-7-19). Now Google Earth has updated the imagery of Camp 15 with satellite pictures dated 2015-11-2 and 2015-10-15. I reported some of the changes in this RFA report this week, but here they are again…

1. New small hydro power plant. The North Koreans built a dam, drainage canal and small power station near one of the camp’s production facilities:

 Camp-power-station-16-2013-10-3 Camp-16-power-station-2015-10-15

Here is a close up of the plant and a nearby factory that appears to be operational:

Camp-16-2015-10-15-power-plant-factory

2. New housing and possibly a sports field. A new apartment block was built in the camp. It appears to be nearly 160m in length and is composed of just a couple of stories. The building behind it that is probably for livestock. The picture also reveals what appears to be a sports field of some kind next to the housing. The image is not very clear, so this could be something else, but I am not sure what.

Camp-16-New-Housing-2013-10-3 Camp-16-New-Housing-2015-10-15

Here is a closeup of the “sports field”. If you have a better idea what this is, please let me know.

Camp-16-sports-field-close-up

3. New fish farm. The fish farm is small, just over 1,100 sq meters surface area.

Camp-16-fish-farm-2013-10-3 camp-16-fish-farm-2015-10-15

4. Housing Razed. Just north of the fish farm some buildings, which could be small homes or workshops, appear to have been razed:

Camp-16-Housing-razed-2013-10-3 Camp-16-housing-razed-2015-10-15

5. Evidence of continued mining and logging. Below we can see evidence of mining activity since 2013.

Camp-16-mine-activity-2013-10-3 camp-16-mine-activity-2015-10-15

Here are piles of felled trees which indicate the mine also exports lumber:

Camp-16-lumber-2015-11-2

If the minerals that are mined and the lumber that is harvested are exported for hard currency, the transaction would likely involve a trade company under the control of the Ministry of State Security (MSS,  SSD, NSA), however, I am not privy to the details of those transactions.

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