Archive for the ‘Labor conditions/wages’ Category

Chinese companies requesting more North Korea guest workers

Friday, February 5th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein 

Demand is increasing for North Korean guest workers among Chinese companies in the Sino-Korean border region, reports Joongang Ilbo. The Chinese labor force increasingly migrates to other regions for better wages and working conditions, and one company looking to recruit North Korean employees says one third of their Chinese workers left last year to find better-paying jobs elsewhere:

Companies in three northeastern Chinese provinces are vying to recruit as many North Korean workers as they can to capitalize on cheap labor costs – moves that run counter to the international community’s efforts to impose further economic sanctions on North Korea following the country’s fourth nuclear test early this month.

Chunwoo Textile, a company based in Dandong, Liaoning Province, lost 100 of some 300 workers last year to factories operating in other provinces because wages were much higher there.

China’s northernmost provinces of Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang reputedly offer much cheaper wages for labor-intensive workers compared to other regions.

In Dandong, the average monthly wage stands at 2,843 Chinese yuan ($431.90), much less than the 5,313 yuan offered in Guangdong Province.

In 2012, North Korea and China agreed that 40,000 North Korean workers would come to China on industrial training visas.

Full article:
China seeks more workers from north
Ko Soo-suk and Kang Jin-kyu
Joongang Ilbo
01-27-2016

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Labour regulations in EDZ modified

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016

According to the Pyongyang Times (2016-2-3):

The DPRK has modified its labour regulations for the economic development zones, which were worked out according to a decision of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly on December 12 2013.

According to them, a foreign investment business is encouraged to employ local manpower as much as possible but it may hire foreign management staff, specialists and technicians.

The fixed monthly minimum wage is set by the central agency for the special economic zones guidance in consultation with relevant provincial-level people’s committees and EDZ management agencies.

An employee is supposed to work 8 hours a day or 48 hours a week on average.

A business shall make sure that employees take rests on local holidays and Sundays.

The forms of payment to the employees involve wage, incentives and bonuses.

According to the quality and amount of work, payment should be done correctly and employees who have carried out the same amount of work are to be paid evenly on an equal footing irrespective of gender and age.

The monthly wage is up to a business. In this case, it cannot be set lower than the fixed minimum wage.

While making preparations to start operation, a business may set the salary for employees, apprentices and unskilled hands within the scope of over 70 per cent of the fixed minimum wage.

A business shall pay for its employees’ regular and supplementary leaves in accordance with the number of their days off.

Female staff on maternity leave shall be paid over 60 per cent of the leave allowances.

If a business works an employee while on leave, it shall pay him or her the equivalent of 100 per cent of the wage per day or hour, as well as their leave allowances.

A business shall give supplementary living allowances that account for over 60 per cent of their wages per day or hour to those who are under training or out of work due to the management.

When it works an employee late at night or overtime, the business shall pay him or her 150 per cent of the wage per day or hour.

If the work is done overtime late at night, 200 per cent of the wage per day or hour shall be given to the worker.

If a business works an employee on holidays or Sundays without compensatory days off, it should pay 200 per cent of the wage per day or hour.

The wage is given in cash, and the bonuses and incentives may be paid in the form of notes or goods.

The DPRK citizens and their families in the EDZ are to benefit from the social and cultural policies of the government, namely free education and medical service, social insurance and social security.

If any breach causes damages to the lives, health and properties of a business or employee, it shall be restored to their original state or compensated duly for the damages.

By Cha Myong Chol PT

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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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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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New taxes to kick in for KIC firms

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

According to Yonhap:

South Korean firms operating in North Korea are required to pay a land use fee starting this year, officials here said Wednesday, after a decade of exemption.

The relevant authorities of the two Koreas will soon begin talks on how much more the 120 South Korean companies in the Kaesong Industrial Complex should pay, they added.

Launching the facilities in 2004, the North agreed to exempt the South from a land use fee for a decade. The measure expires this year.

“It’s a kind of tax to be paid once a year,” a Unification Ministry official said. “Thus, the North’s Central Special Development Guidance Bureau and the South’s Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee should begin consultations before long.”

The two sides recently ended months of negotiations on the level of wages for around 53,000 North Korean workers in the Kaesong zone near the inter-Korean border.

They agreed on a 5-percent increase in minimum wages from US$70.35 a month.

Read the dull story here:
S. Korea to pay ‘tax’ for Kaesong complex
Yonhap
2015-11-4

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Factory owners rent out unused space

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

According to the Daily NK:

Recently in South Pyongan Province, the practice of renting out sections of state-run factories to individual entrepreneurs is taking off. This latest development is further evidence of de facto private enterprise flourishing on the back of state facilities.

“There is a factory that manufactures coal mining equipment located in a building that is now partially rented to a donju [literally ‘money masters,’ or new affluent middle class] who is making shoes there. By renting out the building, the authorities can also make ‘a little extra’, which is a nice benefit for them,” a source in South Pyongan Province reported to Daily NK on October 27.

“‘A little extra’ refers to profits falling outside of enterprise work quotas utilizing state labor and raw materials.”

An additional source in the same province corroborated this news.

She added that the officials in charge of the factory must first make sure that they will be able to sell enough of the extra goods manufactured by the donju on the market to make it worth their while. If they calculate that it will be a profitable good to sell, they go ahead and agree to rent out part of the factory warehouse.

Winter is, without fail, a busy season for shoe markets in North Korea. Demand explodes for cotton wool and fur shoes to prevent frostbite. North Koreans put cotton wool into black or army green cloth to make shoes known as “Tong (a mispronunciation of the word Chinese-derived word in Korean meaning ‘winter’) Shoes”. Fur shoes are boots made of synthetic leather and stuffed with compressed cotton wool or sheep wool.

As North Korea’s primary shoe factories, “Pyongyang Shoe Factory” and “Sinuiju Shoe Factory” receive a quota for the number of shoes they should produce to distribute seasonally, they cannot adjust their production levels to meet actual market demand. This leaves a hole in the market the donju are keen to step in and fill.

What really determines the quality of wool or fur shoes is the sole. The donju buy rubber in the general markets and hire laborers to construct soles from it in, as might be expected, exceedingly unsafe work environments. With no access to safety masks, let alone other protective gear, workers inhale overwhelming quantities of noxious gases in the process.

Nonetheless, workers eager to do the job are never in short supply– those hired for the task are paid who wages 2-3 times that of typical day laborers working for the donju.

Although it is possible to sew the leather outer parts and midsoles of shoes at home, proper equipment is required to produce quality insoles. Rubber is pulverized, reconstituted using a machine, and then mixed with fresh rubber to fabricate insoles. However, a compressor is needed to complete this task, which is where the factories come in.

These days, although it is possible to earn a fair amount of money producing goods at home, “if you’re more ambitious and want to enter into large-scale production you’ll run into an electricity supply problem,” the source noted.

“While it can be said that utilizing the unused space of factories contributes to national production, in the end it’s really the factory’s supply of electricity that proves to be the lure.”

In fact, the first thing donju check when scouting a factory to approach is that the facility has a stable power supply. If all on this front checks out, the donju seek out the cadres in charge and set up a contract stipulating that said entrepreneur pay 30% of his or her profits from the sale of goods produced in the factory as rent.

The factories involved in these deals are typically those associated with the coal mining industry. These enterprises produce the majority of the equipment used in North Korea’s coal mines, and because iron is the most used raw material in the production of the related equipment, such factories receive a larger allotment of electricity than typical light industry factories.

There are, of course, other types of factories receiving steady streams of electricity, but for the time being, they are off limits, according to the source. By way of example, the source explained that because munitions factories harbor a litany of “national secrets, ordinary citizens cannot access them no matter how much money they spend.”

And yet, the fact that North Korea’s donju are now turning their focus towards the production of consumer goods can be interpreted as yet another sign of North Korea’s ever-expanding marketization.

She analyzed these trends as follows: (1) as the relative purchasing power of North Korea increases, demand is increasing as well; (2) markets are developing within North Korea, and state-operated stores are also being rented out and run as de facto private operations; (3), the number of retail outlets selling consumer goods is skyrocketing; (4) the use of ‘servi-cha’ has especially improved the distribution process; and (5) compared to goods directly imported from China, the price competitiveness of local goods has improved as well.

In the past, North Korea’s foreign-currency earning enterprises or the donju would go to Zhejiang Province in China or other regions with low labor costs and import large quantities of consumer goods at low prices to distribute within North Korea.

However, these cheap goods fall short of satisfying the market preferences of North Korean citizens today, the source concluded.

Read the full story here:
As factories rent out space, donju move in and set up shop
Daily NK
Seol Song Ah
2015-11-2

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Kim Jong Un pays ‘special incentive’ to entire North Korean people

Monday, October 5th, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

With the 70th anniversary of the Workers’ Party ahead, Kim Jong Un has decided to pay every North Korean soldier and civilian a ‘special incentive’ amounting to 100% of their salary. Unlike past major anniversaries, in which the government paid citizens goods like blankets or wall clocks, this time it is distributing cash. This is seen as a reflection of the deepening marketization in North Korea.

On September 25, 2015, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported, “As the Workers’ Party of Korea reaches its 70th anniversary, all workers, military personnel, and recipients of scholarships, subsidies or pensions will be granted special prize money amounting to 100% of their monthly living expenses.”

Thus, it appears a special incentive will be issued not just to soldiers and working citizens, but to college students, retirees with pensions, and people like the unemployed who receive a basic living subsidy. In short, it will be paid to every adult citizen, excluding those in high school and younger.

This is the first time since the establishment of the regime that North Korean authorities have paid such an incentive to all citizens and soldiers instead of an unspecified large number of individuals.

One similar instance in which North Korea distributed a special incentive to the people was the 1989 World Festival of Youth and Students. In celebration of the results of the ‘200 Day Battle’ to prepare for the festival, the government presented a special incentive to laborers, technicians, college students with scholarships, and office workers such as clerks. However, the army was excluded from this benefit, as well as retirees and the unemployed.

The offering of special prize money to an unspecified large number of people is not unprecedented. However, the extension of this money to soldiers is seen as a new characteristic. While in the past the government has paid special incentives to individuals or entire farms or corporations that exceeded the regime’s economic plans, until now the government has never extended such incentives to all citizens and soldiers.

Kim Jong Un’s decision to distribute this money to every citizen and soldier ahead of the 70th anniversary of the Workers’ Party is viewed as an attempt to gain public support and strengthen internal unity.

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Special bonus to be granted in DPRK

Friday, September 25th, 2015

According to KCNA (2015-9-25):

The Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK decided to give special bonus to the service personnel and people who rendered devoted and loyal services to present the party with labor gifts.

A decree of the Presidium of the SPA on this was made public on Sept. 23.

The decree said special bonus amounting to 100 percent of monthly rated salaries and wages will be bestowed on all the service personnel, working people and those who receive pensions, subsidies and scholarships on the occasion of the 70th founding anniversary of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

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Choco Pies in North Korea (UPDATED)

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

Choco-pie-Pyongyang

Pictured above (Source here): A Choco Pie wrapper in Pyongyang (October 2014)

UPDATE 6 (2015-7-14): The Daily NK reports that the DPRK’s ‘Choco Pie’ knock-off falls far short:

Daily NK has obtained a North Korean snack rolled out to squash demand for a popular South Korean treat that had first become a sensation among factory workers in the inter-Korean industrial complex and spread across the country. Known as ‘Chocolate Danseolgi,’ the snack displays a striking resemblance with the much-loved South Korean ‘Choco Pie’.

The new treat is said to have been produced to cut off fantasies about the capitalist world its workers may harbor.

DNKE_1325_295691_1436859978_i

Starting last month, North Korea has been providing its Kaesong factory workers with ‘Danseolgi’, according to a source who has ties with the North and passed on the new snack to Daily NK on the condition of anonymity. This comes after Pyongyang banned supplies of the famed ‘Choco Pie’ within the industrial complex last year, as they were being sold by the workers on the black market for good returns and gaining greater popularity across the country.

The South Korean ‘Choco Pie’ snack was first introduced to Kaesong workers in 2006. Due to its soaring popularity, many had come to develop a sense of curiosity or fantasies about the South, the source said. Seeing the chocolate cake snack with marshmallow filling win over so much love, Pyongyang set out to create an alternative in the hopes of choking off demand.

Last year, after banning ‘Choco Pie’ supplies, the North tried to force South Korean firms to provide its factory workers with a home-grown chocolate double-layered cake snack, and this year in March, it even rolled out a chocolate coated rice cake treat also similar to an existing South Korean product.

Despite these efforts, local goods have failed to take off, as Kaesong workers are already acquainted with tastes from South Korea and are only eating the ‘Danseolgi’ as they have no other choice, according to the source.

The treat is one of the “latest products” put out for Kaesong workers. “It was smuggled out of the country by way of a North Korean trader in the Rason Economic Special Zone who works with Chinese traders,” she explained.

“Currently in the North, the ‘Chocolate Danseolgi’ is being distributed to workers as supplies, and they’re not sold on North Korea’s regular markets,” she asserted. Every last ingredient used to make the snack, from the butter to the chocolate, is imported from China.

Predictably, Kaesong workers invariably far prefer the taste of the original chocolate snack from South Korea, the source said, adding, “North Korea will never be able to produce the South’s Choco Pie.”

One of Daily NK’s reporters who tried out the North Korean ‘Danseolgi’ described the snack as “decidedly lacking in chocolate flavor ” and “being overwhelmingly pungent of butter.” The wrapper claims to include marshmallow in the product, but our taste tester reported any semblance of its texture to be nonexistent and noted that the cake itself is incredibly prone to crumbling.

UPDATE 5 (2015-6-9): DPRK asks that all South Korean food served in the KIC be replaced by North Korean substitutes. According to Voice of America:

North Korea has asked South Korean businesses at the Kaesong industrial complex to replace all foodstuffs given to its workers at the inter-Korean park with North Korea-made products.

A representative of the South Korean businesses, who visited the complex Tuesday, told VOA’s Korean Service that South Korean companies began distributing North Korean substitutes for popular South Korean food supplies to the North Korean workers as early as March. Almost all South Korea-made food products have now been replaced with North Korean products.

Choco Pie, a popular South Korean snack cake, also has been replaced with a similar North Korea-made sweet. The chocolate covered cake with marshmallow filling has become one of the most popular items in the North’s black markets. Other North Korea-made foodstuffs given to the workers include instant noodles with chicken broth and condiments.

In an attempt to keep South Korean foodstuffs from the complex, the North is imposing an additional business tax on the companies for bringing in South Korea-made products. About 50 South Korean businesses supplying food for the complex face bankruptcy, according to representatives of the South Korean businesses.

Some business owners have expressed concern about the quality of North Korean foodstuffs. One representative said some workers are suffering from food poisoning after the switch.

A South Korean official who asked to remain anonymous told VOA the North Korean move is aimed at blocking the flow of South Korean products into the North and earning foreign currency.

South Korean companies have been providing about $60 per month in snacks to each North Korean worker. With approximately 53,000 workers at the complex, Pyongyang can now garner up to $3 million every month from the snack sales.

UPDATE 4 (2014-9-24): According to the Daily NK, workers in the KIC are receiving a different dessert than the Choco Pie now. Also, the Kumunsan Company is producing substitute goods, and they are winning over consumers:

[…] the once popular South Korean snack Choco Pie is seeing a decline in its asking price. In June, Pyongyang demanded that South Korean companies at the industrial complex stop distributing Choco Pies to workers there, as officials had found it problematic that North Korean workers were saving the snacks and selling them in the markets. More recently, the northern workers have been receiving Chaltteok Pie (찰떡) [a chocolate covered rice cake from the South], individually packaged coffee, yulmucha (율무차)[grainy tea made with Job’s Tears], and candy bars.

“In Pyongyang, at the ‘Geumeunsan Trade Company,’ (금운산, Kumunsan Trade Corporation) they have been baking bread for about a year,” the source said, adding, “Of all the different kinds of bread, the most popular are the ones with butter inside, and they are less than 1000 KPW– much cheaper than Choco Pie.”

The trade company is an affiliate of the Military Mobilization Department [Military Manpower Administration in South Korea], which deals with the procurement of military supplies among its many functions. They either directly import the goods or obtain them from military factories in various locations across the country, and oversee the manufacturing of military equipment and machinery.

Geumeunsan Trade Company maintains branches in multiple areas, including Rasun and Cheongjin, and the office in Pyongyang imports ingredients such as flour, sugar, and cooking oil directly from China. According to the source, the raw material prices are cheaper than in the  North’s markets, and the products taste good, allowing it to monopolize the confectionery market there.

“The company has brought in foreign equipment and technology, putting it ahead of the South’s Choco Pie in price and taste,” he said, concluding, “This is why with the introduction of these different breads in Pyongyang, the price of Choco Pie [from the South] has dropped to 500 KPW from 1,200 KPW.”

See also this story in Radio Free Asia.

Read the full story here:
Kaesong Goods Fetch Highest Market Prices
Daily NK
Seol Song Ah
2014-9-24

UPDATE 3 (2014-7-1): Media reports claim that the DPRK has banned the use/possession of Choco Pies in the Kaesong Industrial Complex. According to the Washington Post:

By some estimates, as many as 2.5 million Choco Pies were traded monthly — though it’s unclear who exactly was so assiduously following Choco Pie markets.

Regardless of its volume, the trade will now surely be shrinking.

According to recent reports in the South Korean press, North Korean authorities have now banned the South Korean-produced Choco Pie at the Kaesong Industrial Complex following a lengthy crackdown on the chocolate treat that has made it scarce in Pyongyang.

Before, workers could pocket as many as 20 pies every night of work. But now, South Korean factory staff said they’ll instead get sausages, instant noodles, powdered coffee or chocolate bars as a bonus.

More information here and here.

UPDATE 2 (2013-9-20): Is the DPRK manufacturing a counterfeit Choc Pie? According to the Daily NK:

Ryongsong-foodstuff-factory-2013-11-21

Pictured Above: Ryongsong Foodstuff Factory, Ryongsong District, Pyongyang (Google Earth)

The price of a North Korean own-brand “Choco Pie” fell to just 500 won in domestic markets following news that the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) was to reopen, Daily NK has learned. The local version of the chocolate snack, which is made by Orion in South Korea, had previously risen to 3000 won on the back of the protracted KIC closure.

A source in Pyongyang reported to Daily NK on the 19th, “Sometime around May, Yongseong [Ryongsong] Foodstuff Factory in Pyongyang started selling ‘Choco Pies’ in the markets. People hadn’t seen a Choco Pie since Kaesong stopped, so their reaction was really something.”

“People were surprised because the packets said ‘Choco Pie’ and ‘Choco Rice Cake’ [a similar product with a glutinous rice center], and they couldn’t tell the difference between them and those from the ‘neighborhood below’ [South Korea] unless they checked closely,” the source went on. “Sure, people could tell they weren’t the real thing as soon as they ate them, but they were still pretty satisfied.”

According to the source, after South Korean Choco Pies disappeared from North Korean markets following the closure of the KIC, domestic traders started looking into importing the original South Korean and similar Chinese versions of the popular treat. However, the cost and difficulty of doing so meant that very few ended up crossing the border.

Therefore, attention turned to domestic production. The source explained, “Production volumes were low at first, and the state tried to control the flow of the product into the markets. They were 500 won a piece at the end of the first month; but that had risen to 3000 won by the end of last month. But the price sank back down upon news of the KIC re-start.”

“As soon as Choco Pies stopped coming out of the KIC, Yeongsong Foodstuffs Factory moved quickly and must have made quite a bit of money,” he guessed. “They were trying to imitate the South Korean pies but the product was way too sweet, which is partly why the price collapsed on the news of Kaesong.”

Only 60% (32,000) of the pre-closure North Korean workforce (53,000) returned to work when the KIC re-opened for a “trial run” on September 16th. At the same time, South Korean businesses, many facing financial difficulties after five months of nonproductive shutdown, have reportedly reduced the quantity of Choco Pies and other snacks previously distributed to workers. It is unclear what effect these circumstances could have on the price of goods flowing out of the KIC over the longer term.

Read the full story here:
NK Choco Pie Price Falls on KIC News
Daily NK
2013-9-20

UPDATE 1 (2011-10-31): According to the Daily NK, North Korean management in the Complex requested back in August that South Korean businesses stop offering ‘Choco-pies’ (a South Korean snack) to North Korean workers and give them cash instead.

ORIGINAL POST (2009-5-20): Donald Kirk has a must-read article in today’s Asia Times on the subtle ways that the Kaesong Industrial Zone is undermining Pyongyang’s control over the North Korean people.  He points out that the DPRK’s verbal attacks on South Korea, combined with demands for new land, labor, and road use contracts in the Kaesong complex, are an attempt to blame South Korea when Kim Jong-il finally closes the project.

Quoting from the article:

Think Choco Pie, the thick wafer-like confection, all pastry and cream, served in the Kaesong Industrial Complex as a daily dessert for the 40,000 North Koreans who toil for 100 South Korean companies with factories in the complex.

“North Koreans love Choco Pie,” said Ha Tae-keung, president of NK Open Radio, which beams two hours of news daily into North Korea from its base in Seoul. “It’s an invasion of the stomach.”

North Korean workers, and the friends and family members for whom they save their daily treats, may salivate over Choco Pie, but it’s giving a severe stomach ache to senior officials fearful of the infiltration of South Korean culture in all corners of their Hermit Kingdom.

Choco Pie – along with other favorite South Korean cakes and candies as well as instant coffee – has come to symbolize the image of the capitalist South as a multi-tentacle beast that may be impossible to digest.

For Kim Jong-il, suffering from diabetes, recovering from a stroke and hoping to survive a few more years while grooming his neophyte youngest son, in his mid-20s, to succeed him, the best way to deal with the Kaesong complex, 60 kilometers north of Seoul and just above the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas, may be to spit it out.

It’s for this reason, said Ha, that North Korea has precipitously scrapped the agreements under which South Korean companies operate in the complex, built and managed by Hyundai Asan, an offshoot of the sprawling South Korean Hyundai empire.

“He’s come to see Kaesong as a burden rather than an asset, and is inclined to shut it down,” said Ha.

While the Kim Jong il government focuses its attention on cultural infiltration from the South, there appears to be little it is doing, or can do, about cultural infiltration from China–the DPRK’s most significant trading and political partner to the north:

When it comes to South Korean cultural infiltration, however, North Korea has far more to fear from the entry of goods from China than from the Kaesong complex. South Korean DVDs and CDs, even soft-core porn movies made in the South, are now distributed surreptitiously throughout North Korea. Electronic gadgetry, MP3 and MP4 players, TV sets, radios and rice cookers, also shipped via China, are also available for those with the money to pay for them.

Read the full article here:
Pyongyang chokes on sweet capitalism
Asia Times
Donald Kirk
5/21/2009

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North Korean workers in the Middle East

Friday, July 3rd, 2015

According to the Choson Ilbo:

North Korea used civilian passenger planes to transport hard currency seized from expat laborers in the Middle East following the closure of its overseas banks for violating international law.

Sources said since prosecutors in Kuwait ordered the closure of the local branch of North Korea’s Trade Bank on charges of money laundering and illicit transfers, the North has used twice-monthly Air Koryo flights to Kuwait to ferry seized wages back to the North.

There are 50,000 to 60,000 North Korean laborers in 16 countries. In Kuwait, there have been some 4,000 since 1995, toiling at construction sites and receiving around W1 million a month (US$1=W1,123), of which the regime confiscates 70 to 80 percent.

The workers send the remainder back to their families in the North and often survive by begging or taking on overtime and extra menial jobs.

Around 2,000 North Koreans work in the United Arab Emirates and 1,800 in Qatar.

Sources said the bank’s Kuwait branch has sent back more than US$1 billion to North Korea over the last 20 years confiscated from laborers.

The bank has been blacklisted by the U.S. government for funding the development of weapons of mass destruction, and the local branch had been under investigation by Kuwaiti authorities over the last two years. Kuwaiti prosecutors seized around $1 million from the branch on suspicion of money laundering.

According to sources, North Korea has filed a lawsuit in order to recover the seized money.

One source said officials from companies supplying North Korean workers now board Air Koryo planes with suitcases stuffed with cash, while laborers are sending back money to their families through ordinary passengers.

“Air Koryo has become a new channel used to transport tens of millions of dollars of money to the Workers Party,” which runs the bank, the source said.

Read the full story here:
N.Korea Uses Civilian Airliners to Haul Hard Currency
Choson Ilbo
2015-7-3

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