Archive for the ‘CNC’ Category

KJI 1st quarter 2011 OSG roundup

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

According to the Daily NK:

Kim Jong Il was less active in the first quarter of 2011 than in the same period of last year, clocking just 35 public appearances in comparison with 41 in 2010.

The news was revealed by the Ministry of Unification this morning, following its periodic analysis of North Korean TV and radio news reports.

Kim’s most regular companion during his first quarter nationwide on-site inspections was the director of the Party’s Light Industry Department, sister Kim Kyung Hee, who was by his side 28 times.

Revealing the statistics, Ministry spokesperson Lee Jong Ju explained, “Although this is less than the 41 cases in the same period last year, when compared to the average number of National Defense Commission Chairman Kim Jong Il’s public appearances in the first quarter since 1999, 21, it can be seen as relatively active.”

The statistics reveal a total of 12 appearances by Kim at sites in the economic sphere, ten appearances at performances by various groups, and nine events involving the military.

“Appearances are focused on the economic sphere at the beginning of most years, which can be seen as an attempt to encourage more results,” Lee also pointed out. 40% of Kim’s total of 161 on-site appearances in 2010 were in the economic sphere, and were concentrated in the first quarter in 2009 as well as 2010.

“Particularly, the fact that Chairman Kim Jong Il is making a talking point out of self-reliant production and the CNC technology of industrial facilities at every industrial location he has visited this year is interesting,” Lee added, noting the oft-drawn link between modern technology and the succession propaganda of Kim Jong Eun.

Behind Kim Kyung Hee on the record of visits came Party Propaganda Secretary Kim Ki Nam (24), Central Military Commission Vice Chairman Kim Jong Eun and Party Administration Secretary Tae Jong Su (22 each), and National Defense Commission Vice Chairman Jang Sung Taek (20).

“North Korea can thus be said to be a place running a system with family at its core,” Lee concluded.

Read the full story here:
Kim Maintains Economic Focus in 1st Quarter
Daily NK
Kim So Yeol


Some new Google Earth discoveries…

Friday, April 8th, 2011

UPDATE 1: Some of these pictures were picked up by RFA, SBS, Choson Ilbo, Money Today (ROK), Donga Ilbo, KBS

(ORIGINAL POST): Google has uploaded some new imagery of the DPRK.  I am still going through it, but here are some highlights:

1. Namhung Youth Chemical Complex (남흥청년화학련합기업소: 39.657983°, 125.697516°) has seen the addition of a anthracite gasification compound.

Image dates are located in the top left corner.

This facility is one of many that is being rebuilt as part of the DPRK’s 2012 Kangsong Taeguk (강성대국) policy. See also here, here, here, here, here.

NTI offers additional information on the complex:

Subordinate to: 5th Machine Industry Bureau (第5機械産業總局), Second Economic Committee (第2經濟委員會) for chemical weapons production, and the Ministry of Chemical Industry (化學工業省) for civilian production

Size: Annual chemical production capacity of approximately 550,000 tons (combined), including 400,000 tons of urea; anticipated (2001) production capacity of 20,000 tons per year for synthetic fibers (e.g., Orlon) and resins

Primary Function: Production of major civilian chemical products including ammonia, ethylene, fertilizers, fibers, and paper; possible production of blood agents (e.g., cyanogen chloride) and blister agents (e.g., mustard)

*Note: This chemical complex is located in an area known as the “Ch’ŏngch’ŏngang/Anju-Kong’ŏpjigu ‘industrial district’ (淸川江/ 安州工業地區).” “Kong’ŏpjigu” means “industrial district,” but it is not a formal administrative unit in North Korea. In this case, its use is analogous to “Silicon Valley” in California. The Ch’ŏngch’ŏngang-Kongŏpjigu district, known as the center of North Korea’s chemical industry, is spread over Kaech’ŏn and Anju, South P’yŏng’an Province, and over Pakch’ŏn-kun, which is adjacent to both Kaech’ŏn and Anju but in North P’yŏng’an Province.

Description: Constructed in 1976, this facility was originally built with French, Japanese, and (West) German equipment. As of 1998, it was the only petrochemical plant in North Korea capable of processing seven different hydrocarbon products, including naphtha and ethylene. Naphtha is brought in from the Sŭngni and Ponghwa chemical factories. New equipment has been brought in (2000) to produce sodium carbonate, and plans in 2001 called for the manufacture of Orlon, polyethylene, propylene resins at a capacity of 20,000 tons per year. The Namhŭng Youth Complex has a French-built polyethylene production facility that uses intermediates of propylene and butane. There is also equipment imported from Japan that is used to produce ethylene, ethylene oxide, and ethylene glycol. This facility obtains its electricity from the Ch’ŏngch’ŏn River Thermoelectric Power Plant, which is about 4km away. Considering the ethylene oxide production capacity, it is plausible that blister agents (such as mustard) or their immediate precursors could be produced here. Otherwise, it is difficult to discern the clear relationship between this plant and ongoing CW activity in North Korea. The 16th Nuclear Chemical Defense Battalion under the Nuclear Chemical Defense Bureau is reportedly billeted here and in reserve status.

2. Juche Academy (39.029590°, 125.612762°) gets spruced up:

The Juche Academy is most well known outside the DPRK as the former employer of Hwang Jang-yop (황장엽), the DPRK’s most senior defector. He passed away on  October 10, 2010. Two North Korean spies were recently found guilty in South Korea for conspiring to assassinate him.

3. New KPA position on NLL in West Sea: In the most recent issue of KPA Journal, Joseph Bermudez provides satellite imagery of a new KPA Navy hovercraft base in Ryongyon County (룡연군: 38.195758°, 124.903548°).  The DPRK also appears to be constructing a new military facility further south in Kangryon County (강령군: 37.6831241°, 125.3428459°)–about 18.5 miles/29.5km west of Yonpyong.  Here is an overview of the site location:

Below I provide a closeup of the facility with some explanation:

Buildings: I have outlined uncompleted buildings in Yellow.  There appear to be two left.  The three completed (or nearly completed) buildings are probably administrative in nature  and are typical of KPA naval bases in the area (see more here).

Surroundings: A new road has been constructed to access the facility. Additionally an opening has been made in the electrified beach defense wall.  It is likely a jetty or dock will be built on the coast where North Korean naval vessels may be kept.

Dimensions: The main facility rectangle is approximatley 186m x 118m (appx  21984 sq. m.)

If any military specialists see this, I would love to hear your thoughts.

4. New Airfield?: It is near Kumsong-ri, Jungsan County, South Pyongan (금송리, 증산군: 39.095128°, 125.441483°).  It appears to be for small aircraft.

It is conceivable that this is come sort of training facility.  Other ideas welcome.

5. Orascom’s Koryolink mobile phone towers: I am convinced that the images below are of Koryolink mobile phone towers.  They are identical, new, and popping up all over the country.  Below are just three.

6. Strange Tower: Located in the remote eastern section of Musan County (무산군:  42.173132°, 129.492721°), this tower is one of the more unique in the DPRK.

There appears to be a cable or wires leading from the tower to a remote control facility at the base of the mountain.  I could be wrong about this, so if any readers know better, please let me know.

7. The Changsong Leadership Compound: Finally in high resolution (40.441270°, 125.114379°).

This compound lies on a Yalu River bay just across from China. Kenji Fujimoto stayed here a few times and took pictures.  They still match! I have posted them here, here, here, here, here, and here.


Friday Fun: Socialist haircut, CNC award, and some culture

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Socialist Haircut: Steve Gong has become the first non-North Korean (of whom I am aware) to receive one of the DPRK’s tradmark “socialist haircuts“:

Kim Il-sung Prize: The CNC Instrument Automatic Streamline is the 2011 winner of the prestigious Kim Il-sung prize.


According to KCNA:

Kim Il Sung Prize was awarded to the CNC instrument automatic streamline, according to a decree of the Presidium of the DPRK Supreme People′s Assembly issued Wednesday.

The streamline was newly developed by workers of the Unsan Instrument Factory and technicians of the Ryonha Machine Management Bureau.

Maybe the CNC machine will use the award funds to take the workers out to dinner!

You can learn more about the DPRK’s CNC campaign here.

Previous non-human award winners include: Arirang and the “light comedy,” Echo of Mountain [sic].

Some Culture: Suhang Pavilion, Jongsong Worker’s District (종성로동자구: 42°45’47.78″N, 129°47’40.13″E)

According to KCNA:

Pyongyang, August 3 (KCNA) — Suhang Pavilion which is located in Jongsong workers’ district in Onsong County, North Hamgyong Province, DPRK is valuable architectural heritage permeated with the wisdom and patriotism of the Koreans.

The pavilion is the only three-storied wooden building of loft-form in Korea. It was built as the general’s terrace of the walled town against foreign invaders in the early days of Ri Dynasty.

It is about 14.8 meters high. It dwindles from down to top to give a safe feeling. It, with hip-saddle roof and single eaves with plain pillar supporting device, has pillars arranged in a peculiar way.

The pavilion was used as frontier guard post at ordinary times and as commanding post of battle in a contingency.

It was called Roechon Pavilion at first. Later it was renamed Suhang Pavilion in the meaning that Koreans beat back foreign invaders and captured their boss to bring him to his knees there in 1608. The present building was rebuilt in the latter part of Ri Dynasty.

Today the pavilion, which was repaired as it was after the liberation of the country, serves as a cultural recreation place of the working people.


DPRK focuses on CNC in 2011: Kim Jong-un’s birthday passes quietly

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 11-01-11

On January 7, the Korean Workers’ Party newspaper Rodong Sinmun ran an article introducing the Huichon Ryonha Machine Complex, which manufactures Computer Numerical Control (CNC) systems. The article appeared just before Kim Jong Un’s birthday, and the CNC system appears to be attributed to the youngest son of Kim Jong Il.

The newspaper introduced the machine complex by calling for advancements in the coming year, stating that the CNC system manufacturer “saved our country” and that it was the envy of everyone, catching eyes around the world. The article also proclaimed that “the fatherland” was “growing younger and stronger” with the implementation of vanguard-technology CNC, and that equipment filling a space the size of seven soccer stadiums was set to further the push for industrialization. The reference to ‘growing younger and stronger’ is thought to refer to Kim Jong Un.

In particular, the article stated that North Korea “is not a country that only answers the hardline talk of aggressors with a more hardline response,” and that the North “is not a country that answers the nuclear cudgel of the aggressors as a satellite-launching country or a nuclear country by name alone.” Rather, “the citizens living on this land will answer with vanguard technological breakthroughs” in the face of the economic and technologically dominant aggressors.

North Korea’s satellite launch and nuclear programs were credited to Kim Jong Il in both domestic and international propaganda. The article emphasizing ‘vanguard technological breakthroughs’ is part of a campaign in which the succession system and Kim Jong Un’s reputation are being built on economic and technological development. Increasing propaganda touting CNC technology, in particular, is reflective of the realization of Kim Jong Un’s leadership role.

On one hand, there were no special ceremonies on January 8, the first birthday of Kim Jong Un’s to pass since his official emergence into DPRK politics. In fact, according to the Daily NK, Kim Jong Un’s birthday is not acknowledged in the official calendars issued by Pyongyang at the end of last year.

Last year, North Korea recognized Kim Jong Un’s birthday as a special holiday, with laborers and farm workers all having a day off. Within the Party, the day is known as “the people’s holiday,” and there were internal celebrations attended by Party members. A source within North Korea explained to Daily NK, “with no official promulgation of a successor, it doesn’t make sense to make the Young General’s birthday a holiday.”

While it’s clear that Kim Jong Un will move up through the ranks to take his father’s leadership position, he has to first be officially established within the Party before his birthday can be celebrated on a national level. Furthermore, since the currency reform measures at the end of November, 2009, prices skyrocketed and the lives of the people grew more difficult. With the current atmosphere within North Korea, it would not benefit Kim Jong Un to be cast into the spotlight by politicizing his birthday.

In addition, North Korean authorities have been emphasizing the ‘battle’ for light industrial development and the improvement of the lives of the people through the New Year’s Joint Resolution and other articles in state-run newspapers and media, while the people of North Korea have been gathering in groups to have the joint resolution explained and the key points emphasized. In this situation, it appears authorities decided that public celebration of Kim Jong Un’s birthday would be distracting.


DPRK comments at the International Conference of Asian Political Parties in Phnom Penh

Monday, December 6th, 2010

According to the Daily NK:

In yet another hint as to Kim Jong Eun’s true status, Secretary of the International Department of the Chosun Workers’ Party Kim Young Il pointed to the beginning of the leadership of the successor at a recent conference in Cambodia.

Alongside politicians from 31 Asian states including South Korea, Kim was attending the 6th International Conference of Asian Political Parties in Phnom Penh on December 2nd as the head of the Chosun Workers’ Party delegation. There, according to Rodong Shinmun, Kim used his speech to explain, “At the Workers’ Party Delegates Conference, we appointed respected Comrade General Kim Jong Eun to Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Party.”

Kim also made several further mentions of the results of the Delegates’ Conference. Speaking of Kim Jong Il, he said “Our great leader, Comrade Kim Jong Il continues as General Secretary of the Chosun Workers’ Party…”, but by using the most honorary of terms like “respected”, he appeared also to emphasize the fact that the era of Kim Jong Eun has begun.

Chosun Central News Agency also reported the details of Kim’s speech on December 4th, emphasizing the words, “Every member of the Party and the people, with the great pride and self-respect of having a man of unsurpassed greatness at the highest level of the revolution, celebrated the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Chosun Workers’ Party splendidly last October; a great political festival to be spoken of as a special event in our people’s history.”

Given the context of the Korean used, it appears that the “man of unsurpassed greatness” refers to Kim Jong Eun.

Also, Kim reportedly added, “The nation’s economic power is being strengthened by the creation of Chosun-style iron, textiles and fertilizer, while we have seized control of the foundations of CNC technology; the most advanced CNC-equipped factories are being built constantly.”

Synthesizing these reports coming from Rodong Shinmun and Chosun Central News Agency and based on the fact that a major Party figure participating in an international conference should talk of Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Eun in the same breath suggests the formalization of the Kim Jong Eun succession to power

Especially, Kim Young Il mentioning CNC, which the North Korean authorities are promoting as an amorphous “achievement” of the successor is seen in some quarters as tantamount to an announcement that Kim Jong Eun’s leadership has began. Recently, North Korea has allegedly been encouraging the expansion of CNC technology into most industrial fields.

Kim Yeon Su, a professor at National Defense University in Seoul, explained to The Daily NK, “This is to proclaim to the outside world that Kim Jong Eun has advanced to the successor’s position and that he has begun to lead.”

Professor Kim commented, “During the South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises in the West Sea (November 30th~December 1st), Kim Jong Il went on an on-site inspection without Kim Jong Eun. This is a very exceptional incident and an expression of trust in Kim Jong Eun and confidence, suggesting that the Kim Jong Eun succession leadership system is ready.”

Meanwhile, also during his speech, Kim Young Il repeated existing arguments that the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island was based on the right to self-defense, and asserted that responsibility for it lies with South Korea.

Read the full story here:
“A Man of Unsurpassed Greatness”
Daily NK
Kim So Yeol


Kim Jong-un pushes CNC deployment

Friday, November 19th, 2010

If you are not sure what CNC is, read my previous post here.

According to the Joongang Daily:

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s youngest son is making unofficial rounds to munitions factories in the communist state, encouraging the modernization of technology in the manufacture of weapons and following his father’s footsteps in songun, or “military-first,” politics, according to U.S.-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) on Wednesday.

Kim Jong-un wants all factories to implement computer numerical control (CNC), which enables the automation of machines with computer-assisted technology. CNC has been connected to the young leader-to-be since last year when he was tapped for succession. South Korean government officials have said that the technical term is being used in connection with Kim Jong-un because the technology is new in North Korea – suggesting the rise of a young new leader intent on modernizing military production.

“With news that Kim Jong-un will visit a munitions factory in Chongjin, North Hamgyong, the factory has been busy with movement. He is coming to inspect the CNC of the factory’s production line,” said a well-informed source cited by RFA. The factory, which is in an area of northeastern North Korea located about 50 miles from the Chinese border, is known to produce shells for multiple-launch artillery pieces. It was also mentioned in a recent broadcast by the state’s official television network for its implementation of CNC technology along with other machinery factories, “standing at the cutting-edge of machinery development,” KCTV said.

According to the source, Kim Jong-un is visiting production lines in North Hamgyong and Jagang, and munitions factories were the first to receive orders to implement CNC to “set an example” for the entire country.

The new technology is utilized to develop more weapons, which could easily attack Seoul and the metropolitan area and could put more pressure on the South Korean government.

North Korea has been urging talks with Seoul to resume cross-border tourism while simultaneously trying to hint that it wants to return to the six-party talks on denuclearization.

Kim Jong-un was also reported to have shown a friendly side to those who have cooperated with his CNC implementation plan. Factories that he visited are reportedly being given incentives, such as cooking oil for workers’ families. Kim Jong-un’s visits mirror those of his father’s past field guidance trips to various places in the communist state and indicate he is well on his way to becoming the next North Korean leader. The field guidance trips are usually touted by the North’s official media without exact dates of when the visits actually happened.

Read the full story here:
Kim Jong-un pushing ‘military-first’
JoongAng Daily
Christine Kim


Arirang 2010 begins

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

According to the Associated Press:

North Korea opened this year’s massive dance and gymnastics performance known as the Arirang Festival, turning to propaganda to unite its people amid new U.S. sanctions on the isolated country to squeeze its nuclear program.

Named after a traditional Korean love song, the show typically features thousands of gymnasts in synchronized maneuvers and giant mosaics formed by children turning pieces of colored paper. Versions of the mass games have been staged in 2002, 2005, 2007, 2008, and 2009.

Senior North Korean officials, including Yang Hyong Sop, vice president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, watched the opening performance at Pyongyang’s May Day Stadium on Monday evening, according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency. The festival will run through to Oct. 10.

KCNA said spectators were mesmerized by performers who presented dynamic gymnastic movements, beautiful music, elegant dances, ever-changing background scenes and gorgeous electronic displays.

“It’s very great, really great, fantastic theater here and performing is perfect. That’s one of the best things in North Korea I have seen,” Andreas Heckes, a German tourist told international TV news agency APTN.

The festival came as the United States seeks to cut off North Korea’s illicit moneymaking sources by freezing the assets of those who help the regime fund its nuclear weapons program.

The U.S. measures will pinpoint “illicit and deceptive” activities such as drug trafficking, currency counterfeiting and the banned trade in conventional arms, Robert Einhorn, the State Department’s special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control, said in Seoul on Monday.

Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean affairs at Seoul’s Dongguk University, said the festival is aimed at solidifying the North’s internal unity.

The festival made its debut in 2002 to commemorate the birth of the North’s late founding leader Kim Il Sung, father of the North’s current leader Kim Jong Il.

It has been criticized as a propaganda tool achieved through the rigid and disciplined training of its young performers.

Over the years, the festival has attracted more than 12 million people, including 118,000 foreigners, according to a recent report of the North’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper.

In 2000, Kim Jong Il took visiting then U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to a mass performance that was a precursor to the Arirang show, the highlight of which was a giant mosaic displaying a rocket flying into the sky.

This year’s Mass Games features CNC technology—the first time it has made an appearance.

Photo via NK Leadership Watch.

Previous Mass Games posts here.

Read the full story here:
North Korea begins massive dance performance
Associated Press
Kim Kwang-Tae


CNC – Juche’s industry power

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

For those of you who have recently visited the DPRK or who spend too much time perusing or reading KCNA, you are undoubtedly aware of the DPRK’s recent emphasis on something called “CNC”.  I had no idea what CNC was, so I began collecting as much information as I could find on the net and I have posted it below.

Here is the Wikipedia page for CNC.  For those of you in China, here is what it says:

Numerical control (NC) refers to the automation of machine tools that are operated by abstractly programmed commands encoded on a storage medium, as opposed to manually controlled via handwheels or levers, or mechanically automated via cams alone. The first NC machines were built in the 1940s and ’50s, based on existing tools that were modified with motors that moved the controls to follow points fed into the system on paper tape. These early servomechanisms were rapidly augmented with analog and digital computers, creating the modern computed numerically controlled (CNC) machine tools that have revolutionized the design process.

In modern CNC systems, end-to-end component design is highly automated using CAD/CAM programs. The programs produce a computer file that is interpreted to extract the commands needed to operate a particular machine via a post processor, and then loaded into the CNC machines for production. Since any particular component might require the use of a number of different tools—drills, saws, etc.—modern machines often combine multiple tools into a single “cell”. In other cases, a number of different machines are used with an external controller and human or robotic operators that move the component from machine to machine. In either case, the complex series of steps needed to produce any part is highly automated and produces a part that closely matches the original CAD design.

That description is not nearly as helpful as this video on CNC: Click here (Might not work for readers in China).

The Asia Times ran a story which included a short history of CNC in the DPRK:

The name of the game is CNC – Computer Numerical Control – machine tools that have revolutionized the design process and said to be developed in the DPRK and already exported, for example, to China. Top exponents are the Korea Ryonha Machine Tool Corporation and the Taean Heavy Machine Complex. CNC billboards are all over Pyongyang. Inevitably CNC has its own dedicated patriotic song (no music video yet). Here are the lyrics, as translated by Andray Abrahamian, a doctoral candidate at the University of Ulsan in South Korea:

If you set your heart on anything
We follow the program making the Songun era machine technology’s pride
Our style CNC technology


CNC – Juche industry’s power!
CNC – an example of self-strength and reliance!
Following the General’s leading path
Breakthrough the cutting edge

Arirang! Arirang! The people’s pride is high
Let’s build a science-technology great power
Happiness rolls over us like a wave

So the narrative of building a “socialist paradise” is now being supplanted by the narrative of developing and producing state-of-the-art technology to, as the Pyongyang Times indelibly put it, “improve the people’s living standard on the word level”. This is how the DPRK is mobilizing its people to “open the gate to a thriving nation in 2012”. South Korea, watch out.

By way of luck, I managed to obtain a copy of the DPRK’s CNC song. You can download the MP3 by right clicking here.

UPDATE: A reader did find this DPRK karaoke version of the CNC song complete with lyrics (in Korean).  Watch it here.

UPDATE 2: A reader also sends in this acoustic version of the CNC song (YouTube).

If you are itching to know what the DPRK’s CNC machines look like, here is one display at the Three Revolutions Museum in Pyongyang:

cnc1-thumb.jpg cnc2-thumb.jpg cnc3-thumb.jpg

Click images for larger versions

And here is some CNC propaganda that has appeared around Pyongyang:

cnc-prop-1.jpg cnc-prop-2.jpg cnc-prop-3.jpg cnc-prop-4.jpg

Click images for larger versions

UPDATE: here is an additional photo taken by an anonymous tourist:



UPDATE: Here are some CNC postage stamps:



UPDATE: And CNC made part of the 2010 Mass Games (You Tube at the 1:25 mark). See a photo here.

KCNA has published plenty of news stories about CNC.  You can see them here courtesy of the Stalin Search Engine. CNC was first first mentioned on January 15, 2002 (KCNA) .  One phrase that is frequently mentioned is that thanks to innovations like CNC the DPRK is “Pushing back the frontiers of science”.  Indeed North Korean economic policy seems hell-bent to do just that.  Hopefully we will soon see them change their policies to “push back the frontiers of ignorance”.

CNC machines are produced by the Ryonha Machine [Tool] Factory (KCNA) and they have been widely promoted in the official media (here, here, here, here, and here for example).  It appears also that the Ryonha Machine Tool Factory has partnered up (with someone) to form a JV company which focuses on international trade, the Ryonha Machinery Joint Venture Corporation. Here is a PDF flyer of their products taken from the KFA web page, and some of the items they are selling can be seen here and here.

They Ryonha Machine Joint Venture Company, however, seems to have a history that might scare away many potential customers.  According to the US Treasury Department:

The U.S. Department of the Treasury today designated eight North Korean entities pursuant to Executive Order 13382, an authority aimed at freezing the assets of proliferators of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and their delivery vehicles.  Today’s action prohibits all transactions between the designated entities and any U.S. person and freezes any assets the entities may have under U.S. jurisdiction.

“Proliferators of WMD often rely on front companies to mask their illicit activities and cover their tracks,” said Stuart Levey, the Treasury’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence (TFI).  “Today’s action turns a spotlight on eight firms involved in WMD proliferation out of North Korea.  We will continue to expose and designate these dangerous actors.”

Today’s action builds on President Bush’s issuance of E.O. 13382 on June 29, 2005.  The Order carried with it an annex that designated eight entities – operating in North Korea, Iran, and Syria – for their support of WMD proliferation.  The President at that time also authorized the Secretaries of Treasury and State to designate additional entities and individuals proliferating WMD and the missiles that carry them.

Korea Mining Development Corporation (KOMID), which was designated in the annex of E.O. 13382, is the parent company of two of the Pyongyang-based entities designated today, Hesong Trading Corporation and Tosong Technology Trading Corporation.  These direct associations meet the criteria for designation because the entities are owned or controlled by, or act or purport to act for or on behalf of KOMID.

Korea Ryonbong General Corporation, also named in the annex, is the parent company of the remaining six Pyongyang-based entities designated today.  These entities include Korea Complex Equipment Import Corporation, Korea International Chemical Joint Venture Company, Korea Kwangsong Trading Corporation, Korea Pugang Trading Corporation, Korea Ryongwang Trading Corporation, and Korea Ryonha Machinery Joint Venture Corporation.

As subsidiaries of KOMID and Korea Ryonbong General Corporation, many of these entities have engaged in proliferation-related transactions.

I have been unable to locate the Ryonha Machine Tool Factory on Google Earth. If anyone has any pointers, please let me know.

Here is a list of factories the DPRK claims to be using CNC technology:

Amnokgang Daily Necessities Factory (KCNA)
Amnokgang Gauge and Instrument General Factory (KCNA)
Cholima Steel Complex (KCNA, Naenara)
Chonma Electrical Machine Plant (KCNA)
Feb 8 Vinalon Complex (KCNA)
Hamhung Wood Processing (KCNA)
Huichon Machine Tool Plant (KCNA)
Kangdong Weak Current Apparatus Factory (KCNA)
Kanggye General Tractor Plant (KCNA) (Underground)
Kanggye Knitted Goods Factory (KCNA)
Kanggye Wine Factory (KCNA)
KimChaek Iron and Steel Complex (KCNA)
Kusong Machine Tool Factory (KCNA)
Kwanmobong Machine Building Plant (KCNA)
October 10 Factory (KCNA)
Pukjung Machine Complex (KCNA)
Pyongyang Cornstarch Factory (KCNA)
Rakwon Machine Complex (KCNA)
Ryongsong Machine Complex (KCNA)
Sinuiju Spinning Machine Factory (KCNA)
Suphung Bearing Factory (KCNA)
Sungri Motor complex (KCNA)
Taean Heavy Machine Complex (KCNA)
Taedonggang Brewery (KCNA)
Tahungsan Machine Plant (KCNA)
Unsan Machine Tool Factory (KCNA)

I know the locations of many of these factories but not all.  If anyone has any information on their coordinates, please let me know.


German Parliamentary delegation visits DPRK

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

Here is the report (PDF).  It is in German, but Stephen Smith (who does English, German, and Romance language translations) produced an English language version for all of us:

It was without a doubt one of the strangest official visits I have ever taken, more like Cuba than anything else.  The same slogans, the same ever-present security services, and the same absurd rules on taking pictures and communicating with the outside world.  Compared to the loose Cubans, the North Koreans have an uncompromising assiduousness and iron resolve.

What I saw in North Korea lies somewhere between between what we were shown by our minders, and the one-sided Western impression of the country as the world’s poorhouse.  Many foreign observers have praised the North Koreans’ high levels of education, along with their will and discipline to see their projects though to completion.  Economic liberalization by the regime and an end to the sanctions would result in a rapid economic recovery.

Although we had little opportunity to speak to North Koreans not pre-selected by the regime, the signs of malnutrition among the rural population and even parts of the urban population of Pyongyang were unmistakable.  Here a comparison with impoverished African living standards would be completely appropriate.  With regards to its sometimes-crumbling infrastructure, however, North Korea is at least at the level of a poor emerging market.  The drive to maintain and modernize the infrastructure – the roads and housing stock, for example – is also unmistakable.

Surveillance in North Korea is all-encompassing: even for North Korean citizens, trips to other provinces are only possible with official authorization.  The landline phone networks of foreigners, the government, and ordinary North Koreans are strictly separated by technical means.  Nobody knows who’s doing the informing, who or what they’re informing on, or who they’re reporting it to.

To a European, the personality cult of the two North Korean leaders, Kim Il-sung and his son Kim Jong-il, seems grotesque.  Upon each visit to factories and state enterprises, attention is called to the number of visits “by the president” or “by the general,” and what “notes and guidelines” they gave.  These can range from instruction on the proper feeding of ostriches, to the more efficient operation of machines, to the proper way to store old books.  Kim Jong-il is said to have tested new varieties of apple trees in his own garden before they were distributed across the country.  The veneration of the founder and “eternal president” of the People’s Republic, Kim Il-sung, who died in the 1990’s, is indeed quite noticeable in rare face-to-face discussions with North Koreans.

Before our trip, tensions between the two Koreas ran high, due to the dispute over the responsibility for the sinking of the South Korean warship “Cheonan” and the deaths of its 46 sailors.  The German Foreign Office didn’t want us to make the trip, but our group considered it important, especially given the circumstances, that relations are not severed.

Our group consisted of representatives of the trip’s organizers, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiffung, Frank Hantke, and Werner Kamppeter; WAZ [trans. note: a German newspaper] senior editor Richard Kiessler; WAZ journalist Jutta Lietsch; August Pradetto, professor of political science at the Helmut-Schmidt Armed Forces University; former MP and federal justice minister Herta Däubler-Gmelin; MP and speaker Johannes Pflug; and myself.

Sunday/Monday, May 23/24, 2010

Departure from Frankfurt.  Most of the other participants have already arrived, for example via China.  Flight to Beijing, arrival on Monday morning, then another trip to Pyongyang.

Upon arrival in the tiny Pyongyang airport we were met by representatives of the North Korean Workers’ Party, and spoke briefly in the main hall of the airport.  We’d like to emphasize that we considered it important to come for a dialogue during this tense time.  We took this opportunity, as well as others in the next few days, to indicate to the North Koreans that a flexible reaction, and not the immediate threat of “total war,” would strengthen their position.

We had to leave our cell phones at the entryway, though they wouldn’t have worked anyway.

We had dinner at the hotel, at the request of our hosts, and the conversation was rather diplomatic, followed by short group meetings.  Johannes Pflug, an Asia expert who has been to North Korean several times, was our spokesman.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Before we left the hotel, Mr. Tong, responsible Western European affairs within the Central Committee of the Korean Workers’ Party, related to us the official position on the Cheonan accident as reported in North Korean newspapers.  The North Koreans indirectly threatened to use their nuclear weapons, and especially intensified their criticism of the expert panel’s findings, stressed North Korea.  Many statements were disputed in detail and they demanded that North Korean experts also be allowed access to the evidence, and that the surviving South Korean sailors be given permission to testify before international experts.

Before our first meeting we visited the house in Mangjongdä where Kim Il-sung was born, a simple peasant house for a cemetery caretaker, which was arranged as a memorial.  From a hill closeby there was an outstanding view of nearby Pyongyang.

Exchange of ideas with Mr. Ri Jong-chol, vice commander of the international division of the Korean Workers’ Party.  At our request he expounded upon his ideas of North Korean’s present situation: “We have designed a new form of synthetic fiber, which could improve our clothing supply,” “We have developed a new chemical fertilizer through anthracite gasification, to raise the level of food production” (because of the sanctions, North Korea suffers from a fertilizer shortage), “In 2009 there will first be 151 days of action during which new houses, hydroelectric dams, and orchards will be created, followed by an additional 100 days” (part of the preparations for 2012, the 100th year anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung), “Reunification as our biggest wish,” “The South Koreans’ current policy towards the North is confrontational,” “We have proposed a US-North Korea peace treaty,” “American policy towards North Korea has again been put in the hands of hardliners because of the desire by American Democrats to win seats in the US Senate.”

Our questions as to why China supported the recent UN sanctions against North Korea and what, specifically, a peace treaty with the USA would include (currently there is only a ceasefire agreement) were not addressed.  In North Korea’s view the Non-Proliferation Treaty is unfair, according to Mr. Ri, for the “atomic threat by the USA still remains.”

In the early afternoon we had a discussion with the leader of the European section of the Foreign Ministry, Mr. Kim Chun-guk, followed by a visit to the monument to the Juche ideology of Kim Il-sung, which differs from Marxist ideology in that it places a strong emphasis on national autonomy.  A focus of the discussion was the tension surrounding the sinking of the Cheonan.  The North Koreans put forth the same arguments as on Monday morning, and we criticize the immediate threats of war by North Korea, and encourage a political rather than military solution.  The conversation turns to the poor relationship with Japan, North Korea being accused of never having revealed the fate of Japanese citizens kidnapped in the ’70s and ’80s.  The accusation was rebuffed, notwithstanding the admissions of kidnapping in the 1990s.  The North Koreans say that they freed all the surviving abductees, and that Japan has yet to apologize for the “death, kidnapping, and forced prostitution” during the 1910-1945 colonial occupation.

Later in the afternoon we had a discussion with the chairman of the Korean-German parliamentary friendship group, Mr. Ri Jong-hyok, who studied in East Germany in the 1960s and was a classmate of Kim Jong-il.  During this discussion it was worth paying special attention to the nuances in his answers, despite his evasiveness in answering our questions.  He expressed fear that because of the tensions, the Special Economic Zone, supported jointly by North and South Korea, may no longer be tenable.  We interpreted this as suggesting that the North Korean leadership has not yet decided on a specific reaction to further South Korean sanctions.  The tensions surrounding the sinking of the Cheonan played the biggest role in our discussion, in addition to North Korea’s energy supply.  At the end we gave him a list of eleven names of German citizens who are children of North Korean exchange students in East Germany in the ’50s and ’60s, and who are seeking contact with their fathers and half-siblings.

In the evening, there was a banquet at the German embassy.  The German ambassador would soon be sent from North Korea (diplomatic relations since 2001) to Guatemala.  The German embassy lies on the ground floor of the former East German embassy, which it currently shares with the British and Norwegian embassies.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

In the morning we paid a visit to a glass factory constructed by the Chinese and a Yellow Sea lock built in the 1980s, which included an 8-kilometer long dam, which turned a lagoon into a freshwater lake.  The glass factory built in 2005 is of the highest technical standard.  According to the factory leadership, 50% of the production is for the domestic market, with the other 50% destined for China.  One thousand employees build not only window glass, but also stained glass, plate glass, bulletproof glass, and glass doors.  One branch builds bottles and blenders with the cooperation of the German firm Tekal.  They are especially proud of their CNC machines, with which all sorts of glass jewelry and various pre-cut parts can be built.  The introduction of CNC in North Korean firms is part of the current modernization campaign by Kim Jong-il.

On the way to the Yellow Sea lock we noticed the poor overall supply situation.  But more specifically we noticed that, after the two typhoons in the 1990s hit, peasants have cut down trees for their own private use, and have planted crops on the steep hills.  These fields yield few crops, but have totally eroded the soil.  Only 16% of North Korea’s acreage is provisioned for agriculture.

At the Yellow Sea lock we were also met by a pretty, young girl, dressed in quasi-traditional costume.  Ultimately this turned out to be standard operating procedure; young girls are trained specifically for this job.  Each enterprise has a large mural of Kim Il-sung and/or Kim Jong-il in the entryway – a large stone tablet (30 meters on one side) with laudatory verses and a room dedicated to the history of the enterprise, with special attention paid to visits by North Korean leaders.

The Yellow Sea lock was built by 30,000 workers in 1981-86 in order to prevent the encroachment of saltwater fifty kilometers up the river to Pyongyang, and thus to ensure safe drinking water for agriculture, residential use, and industry.  The enormous dam is broken into three lock chambers, allowing ships of up to 50,000 gross registered tons to pass through.  Despite the seven meter tidal range, the dam only generates enough electricity to power the lock.

There are many people out in the rice fields since the planting season is just beginning, and the office workers must regularly help.  Many soldiers can also be seen in the fields, and incidentally at road and housing construction sites as well.  In contrast, over the next few days there were barely any armed soldiers to be seen; no signs could be seen of a general mobilization, as many Westerners assumed would occur after the Cheonan incident.  In the West it is known that the North Korean army employs 1.3 million of the country’s 24 million citizens.  Not known, however, is the fact that the army must to a large extent finance itself, mostly working domestically in agriculture and building projects, and therefore is not constantly under arms.

The mobilization of North Korean troops, presumed by South Korea, is nowhere to be seen, and in addition hardly anybody among the population or in government expects a war due to the Korean crisis.

Outside of Pyongyang there are barely any cars on the enormous eight-lane arterial highways.  The traffic in Pyongyang itself has, however, definitely increased.  In terms of mass transit there is a subway, surface trams (constructed similarly to East German trams, because of the earlier COMECON bond), buses, and trolley buses (in horrible condition).  The populace, however, covers considerable distances by bicycle and by foot.  Women are apparently forbidden by Kim Jong-il from riding bicycles, as he once witnessed a woman in a bicycle accident, though there seemed to be no lack of women in the streets.

At lunchtime we had a discussion with the Swedish ambassador, which was, at his request, off the record.

After lunch we visited the Pyongyang textile factory and the ostrich farm on the airport road.  Here we heard a typical history lesson, this time including the story of why Kim Il-sung is called “father”: as he visited workers and heard from them that their fathers couldn’t visit them, Kim is supposed to have said that he would be the father to all Koreans.  Otherwise stated: those who in our country look to the Bible for metaphors, allegories, and quotes would in North Korea look to the country’s founder, Kim Il-sung.

Nine thousand workers (mostly women, aged 17 to 55) worked in the textile factory, which was shown to us by the party secretary in charge.  This stands in contrast to the history lesson given at the start, where it was suggested that an earlier “heroine of work” is still working at age 70.  They answered my query by stating that the female workers themselves choose when they’d like to retire, at which point free general healthcare is provided by the state.

The fabrics produced used to be exported, but the factory came to a standstill in the ’90s, and now only serves the domestic market.  Exports should resume in 2011, after further production increases.  Those looms which we could see were thoroughly modern, though the condition of the machines in other rooms remains an open question.  The party secretaries of the concern are depicted in photos as being on equal footing as the director.  A third of the seamstresses in the factory are party members, who must apply and prove their worth to be chosen.

There are very few small traders on the streets, hawking snacks, drinks, or – as we saw once – popsicles.  Refrigeration is, however, a huge problem in North Korea, due to a lack of cooling units and unreliable and inadequate power supplies.

The ostrich farm, whose animals are used for meat, has been around since 1998 and has gradually increased its population to 10,000 animals over the span of one year.  The meat was until recently exported, but now, on the advice of Kim Jong-il, serves only the domestic market.  Because of transportation and refrigeration issues, the animals are slaughtered when restaurants or businesses request them, on the order of about 20-30 per day, each animal yielding about 100 kg of meat.  It must be noted that meat is not part of the average Korean’s diet, but rather goes largely to restaurants which serve foreigners and better-off North Koreans.

Five hundred people work in the ostrich farm, the processing factory, and in feed production.  The ostriches can survive temperatures as low as -10 degrees in the harsh Korean winter, but any lower and they must be moved inside.

A side note: North Korea is a very clean country.  Not only because people barely have anything to throw away, but also because it doesn’t occur to anybody to throw away trash (not even plastic bags, which one sees everywhere in the countryside of other developing countries).

At the end of the day we visited NOSOTEK, a joint venture software firm.  Founded by the German programmer Volker Eloesser in 1970, the firm mostly develops cell phone and Flash games, but also ports video games for consoles.  The customers usually don’t want there to be any references to North Korea in the games, some of which are well known.  Thirty five people work for the firm in Pyongyang, ten are on loan from other firms, and there are ten more at the Chinese branch.

The idea came to Mr. Eloesser during a visit as a member of a delegation in 2005, and by the end of 2007 the firm was founded.  While the education of programers and graphic designers in North Korea is top rate, he had to introduce quality assurance, teamwork, and entrepreneurial thinking.

Because of North Korea’s internet restrictions, he only has access in his private home.  He must bring his business data with him to work every morning, and take it back home every night.  From his personal phone (part of the foreigner network) he cannot reach any of his Korean colleagues directly.  Since as a foreigner he is forbidden from using phones intended for Koreans, he must, in case of an emergency, go to, for example, a restaurant and ask a Korean to call his colleague and pass along the message.

Despite all of this, Mr. Eloesser is very happy with his decision to found a North Korean firm.  He works pragmatically around the everyday problems of North Korea.  He gets by okay because the the North Koreans know that he wants neither to denigrate the leadership nor start a counterrevolution, but rather just to run the company.  We agree to have dinner the following day.

In the evening we had a meeting with Kathi Zellweger from the Swiss development agency, which has been in North Korea since 1993.  They have implemented programs dealing with biological pest control, crop rotation, government control of the hillsides, rehabilitation of river power plants, and building of educational capacity.

A side anecdote: When Mrs. Zellweger was accompanied on a trip by a Hong Kong hair stylist, North Korean acquaintances of Mrs. Zellweger wanted haircuts like Angela Merkel.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The next morning we had a meeting with Mrs. Hong Son-ok, vice chairperson of the Union for Cultural Connections Abroad.  In addition to a general cultural exchange, we and the ambassador encouraged the willingness of the North Koreans to allow an exchange of North Korean cultural treasures in Germany, including the world-famous Chinese lacquered baskets found in Pyongyang in 1931.  Because they are seen as un-Korean, these lie in the museum’s storage facility and are presently not on display in Pyongyang.  We told them how proud we are of our Roman heritage.

Our suggestion of sending a scholar to Helmut-Schmidt University was received with reservations, as was our wish for more journalist visas, for example for the film festival at the end of the year.  She said that they hadn’t had good experiences with journalists.  Johannes Pflug calls attention to our different understand of media relations and suggested that the next parliamentary group issue more visas to journalists.

After this we took a trip to the Museum of National Friendship, a good 120 kilometers north of Pyongyang.  Here, among the wondrous mountainside, gifts given to Kim Il-sung (128,000) and Kim Jong-il (65,000) are on display in monumental buildings with corridors and rooms dug deep into the mountain.  At various points we guessed that there is more hidden in the mountain than just the museum.

The gifts were at times awe-inspiring, such as the 9.5 ton block of jade.  There are many gifts from the former GDR, as well as from the SED and the LDPD, which merged with the FDP.  Kim Il-sung was depicted as a wax figure in a special room with a birch tree landscape, artificial wind, and music.

There were a few things that suggested to us a parallel society.  Gifts given by small, unimportant countries and international organizations that we didn’t recognize were among the collection.  Among German newspapers, only the “Rote Fahne,” the central organ of the KPD (which has fewer than 200 members), has written positively about Kim Jong-il.

Afterwards they took us through a narrow, hilly, picturesque tributary valley, where they had a barbecue prepared.  This was followed by a visit to the 700-year-old Pohyon Temple, where 800-year-old books were on display.  The temple also has significant to the Workers’ Party of Korea: Kim Il-sung saw himself as following in the tradition of its abbot, who was the leader of the national resistance against a 1359 Japanese invasion.

We then took a detour to the Pyongyang football stadium and spoke with young footballers about their role models, hopes, and assessment for the World Cup.  Ballack and Zidane were named as role models, and the kids wanted only to play in a World Cup.  Their goal for North Korea in South Africa was eighth place.

Later came dinner, where we met once again with the German businessman Volker Eloesser, who told us about his experiences in North Korea.

The next morning we visited the Kim Won-gyun College of Music, named after the composer who wrote the national anthem and the Kim Il-sung song, among others.  Eight hundred students, more than half of whom were women, were being trained in singing, composition, western musical instruments, and traditional Korean music.  Founded in 1949, the school got a new campus of 50,000 square meters, with classrooms, demonstration rooms, music halls, and dorms.  Everything is of the highest level and is still in top shape.

Our visit is thoroughly organized, with many high quality demonstrations.  Ms. Berg, an envoy at the German embassy, told us that North Korean kindergartens place a heavy emphasis on singing and dancing.

Shortly after 10 o’clock we met with the speaker of the People’s Assembly, Mr. Choe Thae-bok, a member of the highest governing body, who studied in Germany [trans. note: doesn’t indicate East or West] at the end of the ’50s.  The discussion themes were the same as in other conversations (Cheonan, visas for journalists, exchanges by North Koreans to Germany).  Mr. Choe is more open and sophisticated in his answers – an important talk that allows for some interpretation of current debate in North Korea.

In the early afternoon we visited an orchard in bloom.  With modern cultivars, the 700 hectares produce apples for the city’s population.  The first crop was just produced last year.  Housing for all 700 workers is under construction, with some already ready.  1,200 bees are responsible for pollination, and the plantation has a drip irrigation system.  The capacity should end up yielding over 35,000 tons of apples per year.

As part of the agricultural policy there is a pig farm, a chicken farm, a fish pond, and a turtle hatchery in the neighborhood, in order to use the excrement as fertilizer.  Pests (wasps, dragonflies) are managed both biologically and with pesticides.

On our journey across the country it struck us that there were newly built houses almost everywhere along the route we took.  Whether this applies to the whole country I cannot say, though it was confirmed by other observers.

At four we visited a copper cable factory in the middle of Pyongyang, founded in 1959, with over 1300 employees.  It manufactures everything from basic wires to high-voltage submarine cables, as well as plugs for export and plastic utensils made from the PVC remains of the insulation.

Our two journalists did not accompany us because they were invited to a “press” conference for the diplomatic corps, where North Korea expresses its opinion on the Cheonan sinking for the first time.

Shortly after five we visited the last of the projects, but one which is encouraging for the future of the country: on the outskirts of Pyongyang there were fifteen vegetable greenhouses constructed by Welthungerhilfe [trans. note: an NGO funded largely by Germany, the EU, and the UN].  Thanks to Pyongyang’s good sunlight (39th degree of latitude, corresponding to Sicily), various vegetables can be harvested without heating for ten months out of the year.  The output per hectare is 200 tons of vegetables, many times that of traditional rice cultivation.

As much of the harvest will be sold as covers its cost, with the rest given free of charge to schoolchildren and kindergartners to prevent malnutrition.

The harvest can begin as early as one year after building a greenhouse, which is a good option for a country with little arable land.  The plants lay in a nutrient solution rather than in the earth.  The project leader praised the North Koreans for their knowledge and dedication.

Small greenhouses for balconies and gardens are also being developed, and at 300-800 euros they are very affordable.

In the evening we were seen off with a communal meal with our escorts, interpreters, and drivers.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Return trip to Germany, again via Beijing.


Waiting for an [economic] miracle

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Andrei Lankov writes in the Korea Times:

Kim Jong-il’s recent visit to China was somewhat unusual: instead of going straight to Beijing, Kim visited a number of sites which are associated with China’s economic development.

He went first to the port city of Dalian and spent time there inspecting the harbor and hi-tech centers located nearby (including even a semi-conductor plant operated by Intel). While in Beijing, he continued such visits.

Had this happened a few years ago, we would expect a wave of optimistic speculation: such interest in modern technology would have been interpreted as a sure indicator of North Korea’s readiness to launch Chinese-style reforms. This time, it seems that even the optimists have become tired of making prophecies which never come true.

Nonetheless, the trip once again demonstrated a peculiar feature which the North Korean regime shares with the now-extinct Leninist regimes of Eastern Europe. The Pyongyang leaders have an almost religious belief in the miraculous power of modern technology.

They hope that all their problems can be easily and quickly fixed once a proper technology is found and applied (of course, application has to be done by state). However, the social dimensions of the economic problems are ignored.

It sounds very non-Marxist: after all, the founding fathers of Communism explicitly stated that it is the social structure and property relations, not technology, which determines the economic productivity. But their supposed disciples would never agree that the economic woes of the Communist countries were brought by the less than perfect social system.

This unwillingness is understandable: social change might become dangerous for those who are in power. Therefore they have a vested interest in presenting their system as perfect.

So, if there are problems, those problems should have an easy technocratic decision ― and the only force which can find and introduce such decision is, of course, the regime in power.

When in the early 1950s the Soviet agricultural industry was clearly in trouble, Stalin decided to do something about it. His solution was a program of planting forest strips which would decrease soil erosion.

Stalin was also much interested in the grotesque promises of Trofim Lysenko, a notorious charlatan who was talking about “educating” plants into yielding greater harvest.

Lysenko also enjoyed the support of Khrushchev, Stalin’s successor. Khrushchev’s pet technology was corn production, and insisted that the nationwide switch to this wonder plant would miraculously raise productivity.

However, corn, being a Mesoamerican plant, did not grow well near the polar circle, and plants did not show any sickness of being susceptible to `education’. Russia, once a major exporter of grain, became an increasingly voracious importer of food.

Of course, the problems of the Soviet agriculture were caused not by the insufficient attention paid to corn production. It was the social problems that made the Soviet agricultural system so inefficient: farmers, being badly paid employees of the government-run farms, had no reason to work diligently.

When they toiled the small patches of their own land, which they were legally allowed, they showed a remarkable level of productivity. But this was not what the Soviet government was willing to see.

It was Mao’s China, though, which produced the weirdest examples of belief in wonder technologies. It reached its height during the Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s.

Mao wanted small furnaces to be built everywhere: during the Great Leap even schools and farms were required to make their own steel in the backyard furnaces. Predictably, the home-made steel was useless because of the low quality.

Simultaneously, Mao told the farmers to use “close cropping.” Seeds were sown far more densely than normal on the “politically correct” assumption that “seeds of the same class would not compete with each other” (of course, crops were ruined).

The farmers were also ordered to plough two meters deep, since this would “encourage plants to develop extensive root systems.” The result was famine which killed between 20 and 30 million people. However, it seems that Mao and his henchmen never abandoned their belief in miraculous technologies.

North Korea is no different. Its leaders also are firm believers in the power of technology, if this technology is carefully selected by the state and introduced by its agents. Kim Il-sung, being a son of a farming family, paid special attention to the agriculture.

Among other things, he was a great enthusiast for terrace fields. He wanted to transform the barren hills of North Korea into rice-producing areas, and kept reminding his officials that no efforts should be spared to do so.

Predictably, the result was a disaster: in the 1990s terrace fields were washed away by floods while the few remaining became unusable since a large electric pump would be necessary to provide those high-rise fields with water.

Kim Jong-il shares the belief in wonders, but in his case the major hope is modern industrial technology, preferably related to computers (an approach clearly influenced by gadgetry).

The Dear Leader reputedly said that it was a great folly not to study computers, and most of his technological initiatives are clearly related to IT.

Since last year, for example, the Pyongyang streets have been covered with posters which tell about wonders of the CNC technology (in an unusual twist, the English acronym is used). CNC stands for “computer numerically controlled” technology and, to put it simply, describes computer-controlled industrial equipment.

It is remarkable that the present author heard the same slogans many decades ago, in the 1970s. Indeed, the Soviet leaders also had much hope about the CNC and worked hard to introduce it as a cure for the Soviet economy ― with the predictable lack of success.

Therefore, not much should be read from Kim Jong-il’s visit to Intel. He might dream of computer-operated giant plants, but he lives under severe political constraints, and these constraints ensure that North Korea will remain a very inhospitable environment for high technology (apart from some ultra-cool gadgetry for the chosen few, of course).

This might be changed only if the system itself will be changed, but this is clearly not what Kim wants.

Read the full story below:
Waiting for a miracle
Korea Times
Andrei Lankov