Archive for the ‘DPRK Policies’ Category

North Korea’s evaluation of its 2013 economic policy

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

Institute for far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2014-1-3

North Korea concluded that despite international economic sanctions, its economic revitalization policy of 2013 was delivered as planned.

A report on the comprehensive evaluation of North Korean economy was featured in the Choson Sinbo, pro-North Korean newspaper based in Japan, on December 24. It pointed out that although DPRK-US relations worsened and resulted in tougher measures, “it provided the opportunity to mobilize the potential of the national economy.”

It reported that to be ready for a potential war, the farming process at cooperative farms was carried out early from the beginning of the year. In light industry and food industry, “stabilization of people’s lives” was championed as the main slogan in the drive to normalize raw material acquisition and production.

The news also reported, “factories, enterprises and cooperative farms are provided with conditions to conduct independent business activities,” and “economic management method was improved based on the principles that firmly adhere to the socialist economic system and the working mass as the owners of production activities to ensure the roles and responsibilities.”

In other words, the reinforcement of self-supporting system and introduction of a new method of operating a separate garden as a component of cooperative farms resulted in improved production and a 5 to 10 percent increase in the grain harvest per unit against the previous year.

In particular, the news emphasized that “this year is considered as the year of construction,” and boasted the construction of high-rise apartments and various cultural and sports facilities including horse riding tracks and water parks. Especially, Masikryong Ski Resort in Gangwon Province was announced to have gathered national and international attention.

Furthermore, the news recaptured the new policy of parallel “economic construction and nuclear arms development” announced in March 2013 and reported that “despite the hostile forces that concluded that the policy of parallel development was ‘infeasible’, the people are witnessing and feeling the changes taking place in the capital city through the new policy of parallel development that strengthened national defense with reduced cost to fully exert all efforts to rehabilitate the economy.”

In addition, the news also reported on the 13 economic development zones (EDZs) and analyzed that the EDZ policy “laid the foundation for foreign economic development that incorporated the changes in the international situation.”

Meanwhile, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on December 28 that an enlarged meeting for the plenary of the Cabinet was recently opened to discuss the issues of resolving the food crisis through improved agricultural production and new agricultural sector tasks for 2014. This is rare for a Cabinet plenary meeting to be held exclusively to discuss the agricultural issue, as all economic issues are normally handles at this meeting.

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DPRK insists Jang purge will not lead to economic policy change

Sunday, December 15th, 2013

Following Jang’s purge, there has been speculation about what exactly will happen to economic relations between China and the DPRK and with ongoing efforts to introduce economic reform measures in the DPRK. According to the People’s Daily (China):

The execution of the uncle of Pyongyang’s top leader may temporarily affect some cooperation projects with China, but economic ties between the neighbors will remain stable in the long run, analysts say.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s official news agency KCNA reported on Friday that Jang Song-thaek, uncle of supreme leader Kim Jong-un, was executed on Thursday for being a traitor.

Jang was in charge of economic affairs and cooperation with China.

“Following Jang’s execution, the DPRK is likely to review cooperation projects with China,” said Gao Haorong, an expert on DPRK studies at the Xinhua Center for World Affairs Studies, a think tank under Xinhua News Agency.

Jang led delegations to China for negotiations on economic projects, including Hwanggumpyong Island, a special economic zone near Dandong in Liaoning province.

Chen Qi, a professor in international affairs at Tsinghua University, said that after Jang’s execution, China and the DPRK may need some time to rebuild connections to continue cooperation on such projects and to further their economic cooperation.

But Wang Junsheng, a researcher in East Asian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the impact will be short-term and limited.

“Pyongyang needs China to support its economic development, and this offers opportunities for Chinese companies, so both sides want to advance ties,” Wang said.

“Both countries have the will to consolidate their relations, given frequent high-level visits,” he said.

The latest such exchange saw Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Zhang Kunsheng meet a visiting delegate from the DPRK’s Foreign Ministry on Friday.

At a news briefing on Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China hopes and believes that economic relations between the two countries will continue to advance.

Hong said it is in line with the interests of both to develop economic ties. China will further promote economic cooperation with the DPRK.

He described Jang’s execution as “an internal affair” of the DPRK.

In response, the DPRK has started sending signals that Jang’s purge will not lead to any surprises. Eric Talmadge writes for the Associated Press:

The execution Friday of Jang, considered to be North Korea’s second most powerful man and a key architect of the country’s economic policies, should not be taken as a sign that the North will change its economic course or its efforts to lure foreign investment, Yun Yong Sok, a senior official in the State Economic Development Committee, said in an interview with The Associated Press in Pyongyang.

“Even though Jang Song Thaek’s group caused great harm to our economy, there will be no change at all in the economic policy of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” Yun said. “It’s just the same as before.”

Jang’s sudden purge and execution for allegedly trying to overthrow the government has raised questions about how solid the North Korean regime is and whether it will be able to stay the course on policies aimed at raising the country’s standard of living.

The North has shown no willingness to abandon its nuclear weapons program to get out from under international trade sanctions. That makes investment or financing from major international organizations difficult if not impossible.

It also means the success of the zones hinges on China, North Korea’s only major ally, and Jang was seen as a crucial conduit between Pyongyang and Beijing, along with being a supporter of China-backed reforms, such as the zones, to revive the North’s moribund economy.

Jang met with top Chinese officials during their visits to Pyongyang, and in 2012 traveled to China as the head of one of the largest North Korean delegations ever to visit the Chinese capital to discuss construction of the special economic zones, which Beijing hopes will ensure North Korea’s stability.

Yun, however, downplayed Jang’s importance in policymaking and said his removal would instead speed progress on the economic front because he was a threat to the unity of the nation. He said Jang’s execution should not scare away Chinese investment, which is crucial to the success of the zones.

“By eliminating the Jang Song Thaek group, the unity and solidarity of our party and people with our respected marshal at the center has become much stronger, our party has become more determined and the will of our soldiers and people to build a prosperous socialist country has been strengthened,” Yun said. “Our State Economic Development Committee welcomes investment and business from any country to take part in the work of developing our new economic zones.”

Yun said local officials have been tasked with drawing up the plans for the zones in their jurisdictions and are likely to formally submit them for approval to his commission within the next few months.

At the same time, rumors from the South Korean media indicate that North Korean businessmen in China are returning home in large numbers. According to Yonhap (2013-12-14):

North Korean businessmen in China have been summoned back to their country in large numbers in connection with the execution of North Korea’s No. 2 man two days ago, sources familiar with the issue said Saturday.

The businessmen worked out of the northeastern Chinese cities of Shenyang and Dandong to facilitate trade between the two countries and attract Chinese investment in North Korea, according to the sources.

The top North Korean official in charge of promoting economic ties with China is believed to have been Jang Song-thaek, the once-powerful uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

With Jang’s execution on Thursday, however, North Korea appears to be cracking down on those loyal to him by summoning them back to their country, the sources said.

Jang was executed immediately after a special military tribunal found him guilty of treason, according to the North’s state media.

“Large numbers of North Korean businessmen in Shenyang and Dandong have gone home in a hurry this week,” said one source, who declined to be identified.

“Judging from their numbers and the fact that it was so sudden, it doesn’t appear to be related to the second anniversary of (the death of former North Korean leader) Kim Jong-il on Dec. 17,” the source said, referring to the late father of the current leader.

According to another source, Norea Korea plans to summon all of its officials and staff from China in stages.

“The ostensible reason will be to educate them on the government’s policies, but (in fact), those classified as having connections to Jang Song-thaek will never be able to go abroad again and will be purged,” the source said, also requesting anonymity.

On Chinese report insinuated that Jang’s ouster could affect Chinese investment in the Hyesan Youth Copper Mine. According to Shanghai Metals Market:

 North Korea’s Zhang Chengze [Jang Song-thaek]  event might undermine Wanxiang Group’s 500-million-yuan ($81.6 million) investment in Huishan copper mine [Hyesan Youth Copper Mine], according to a report by the business magazine China Entrepreneur.

Back in 2004, Wanxiang Group’s chairman Lu Guanqiu started investing in Huishan copper mine with a joint venture company Sino-Mining International Investment Co. and added up total investments to 560 million yuan over the years, according to the report.

The mine, said to have a copper reserve largest in Asia and located just 10 kilometers from the China-North Korea border, was put into production in 2011. Yet daily operations met with many political hurdles since, the report said.

Zhang Chengze, North Korea’s young leader Kim Jeong-eun’s uncle and close aid with a pro-China view, was executed by Kim earlier this month.

Both the Rason and Hwanggumphyong Special Economic Zones have been brought to a standstill following Jang’s purge. Leaders from both projects have been called back to Pyongyang.

You can read posts related to Jang’s purge here.

Click to read posts on the Economic Development Zones and the new Law on Economic Development Zones.

Read the full story here:
N Korean Official: Purge Won’t Hurt Economic Policy
Associated Press
Eric Talmadge
2013-12-15

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The aim of North Korea’s economic development zone: Regional balanced development and improvement of people’s livelihoods

Friday, December 6th, 2013

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2013-12-06

North Korea is pushing ambitious development of local economic development zones, purportedly with the aim of promoting balanced development of the local economy and improving the lives of ordinary people.

On November 29, 2013, the Choson Sinbo, a pro-North Korean newspaper based in Japan, reported details of North Korea’s proposed 13 economic development zones (EDZs) by province, including the characteristics of the plans, goals, and outlook. It specified that the main objectives of this project are to promote a “balanced local economy development and improve the lives of residents.”

To enhance the effectiveness of the EDZs, each region’s characteristics were incorporated into the development strategy.

The existing Rason and the Hwanggumpyong Special Economic Zones are comprehensive and large in scale, covering production and processing, transport, commerce, and tourism sectors. The local-level EDZs, on the other hand, reflect each area’s local economy and culture and more narrowly focus on local industries.

For example, the EDZ slated for Pukchong in South Hamgyong Province is an agricultural zone; Onsong in North Hamgyong Province is for island tourism; and Waudo in Nampo City is an export processing zone. He one reflects its region’s characteristics.

The (North) Korean Association of Economic Development Director Yun Yong Sok, who is in charge of attracting investment from foreign companies, said, “By integrating the unique features of each region, it can benefit the local economy through acquiring necessary technology for the development and also earn foreign currency contributable to improving the lives of the people.”

He also said that “The goods produced in the EDZs will be exported to other countries but at the same time will be able to meet domestic demand,” and “the development of EDZs will center on the border areas adjacent to China and Russia.”

In addition, each province was encouraged to develop plans according to the region’s environment and apply to the People’s Committee in each province. Plans were then sent to the State Economic Development Commission for in-depth deliberations.

North Korea has upgraded the State Economic Development Commission (from its previous designation as the State Economic Development Board) in October 2013 to become a direct mechanism under the Cabinet that oversees the establishment and management of EDZs.

This commission is responsible for developing national strategies relevant to special economic zones such as selection process of provincial EDZ establishment, preparation to state evaluation, modification and supplementation of laws and regulations, and the entire process for implementation.

As predicted by Ri Sun Chol, International Economic Relations Research Director at the Economic Institute in the Academy of Social Sciences, “Once the economic development zones are established in each province, it will greatly expand the breadth of the foreign economic cooperation and will provide a fundamental opportunity to invigorate investment activities.”

The Choson Sinbo reported that while some might take a pessimistic outlook on the new EDZs, the new project is attracting interests from various countries such as Hong Kong and Singapore, and the local and central governments are working closely to promote this project.

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DPRK harvest up 5% for third year, but chronic malnutrition persists

Thursday, November 28th, 2013

“Speical Report: FAO/WFP crop and food security assessment mission to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korean”
Read the full report here (PDF)Previous reports here.

According to the UN WFP/FAO Press Release (on Thanksgiving day!):

ROME/PYONGYANG – A nationwide assessment by two United Nations agencies shows an increase in staple food production in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) for the third year running.

The report, however, notes that although rates of child malnutrition have steadily declined over the past 10 years, rates of stunting caused by malnutrition during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life remain high and micronutrient deficiencies are of particular concern.

The joint Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission to the DPRK by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) visited all nine agricultural provinces in late September and early October around the main annual cereal harvest.

Total food production is estimated at about 5.03 million metric tons (including milled rice) in 2013, which is about a 5 percent increase over the previous year. Despite the improved harvest, the food security situation is still unsatisfactory with 84 percent of households having borderline or poor food consumption.

The mission observed immense logistical challenges for the public food distribution system and expressed concerns about the timeliness and consistency of distributions. Markets and informal mechanisms of bartering and other forms of exchange are believed to be of increasing importance for access to food by families, particularly in urban areas.

“Despite continued improvement in agricultural production, the food system in the DPRK remains highly vulnerable to shocks and serious shortages exist particularly in the production of protein-rich foods,” said Kisan Gunjal, FAO economist and co-leader of the mission. “In the interest of increased protein consumption and to reverse the downward trend of soybean production, the price paid to farmers for soybean should be increased.”

Since 1998, WFP in partnership with the government has produced blended fortified foods and nutritious biscuits for children and pregnant or nursing women. WFP has recommended a shift to a new product – Rice Soya Milk Blend – for children in nurseries to reduce stunting and wasting.

“Improving the diversity and quality of food provided through the child institution system is essential to improving children’s nutrition,” said WFP DPRK Country Director Dierk Stegen. “We want to produce Rice Soya Milk Blend but can only do so if we receive sufficient donor support.”

Despite a small reduction in the area planted, overall crop production in 2013/14 is estimated to increase due to generally favourable weather conditions that resulted in a higher rice crop.

The aggregate production from cooperative farms, plots on sloping land and household gardens estimated by the mission includes the 2013 main season harvest and the forecast for 2014 early season crops. Unusually early and heavy rains in July and early August compromised maize and soybean yields but had little effect on paddy.

The report estimated cereal import requirements at 340,000 metric tons for the 2013/14 marketing year (November/October). Assuming the official import target of 300,000 metric tons of cereals is met, there remains an uncovered food deficit of 40,000 metric tons for the current marketing year.

While this food gap is the narrowest in many years, it needs to be bridged either through additional purchases by the government and/or international support to avoid increased undernourishment during the current marketing year.

To improve food security and nutrition, the report recommends national and international support for sustainable farming practices, better price and market incentives for farmers and improvements in farm mechanization.

In nutrition, the report recommends that efforts should go toward improving dietary diversity and feeding practices for young children and women through strategies such as behavioural change, market reform and encouraging livestock and fish production; strengthening treatment of severe and moderate acute malnutrition; and better hygiene and sanitation practices.

ADDITIONAL INFORATION:

1. Here is a follow up report in 38 North by Randall Ireson.

2. Here is coverage in the Wall Street Journal and Assocaited Press.

3. High-Resolution photographs from DPRK can be downloaded here.

 

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Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and Economic Development Zones

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

UPDATE 1 (2013-11-29): New economic zones are under development at provincial level – development of Sinuiju special zone officially announced (IFES):

North Korea has enacted the Economic Zone Development Act on May 29 this year and explained, “The economic development zones are special economic zones where preferential treatments are guaranteed in accordance with appropriate laws as provided by the state.” It also elucidated that the provincial level SEZs were to be managed differently from the central-level SEZs.

On October 16, the institution in charge of the central-level economic development zones, the General State Economic Development Department, was upgraded to become the State Economic Development Commission, with Kim Ki Sok appointed as the commission’s chairman. Kim served as the vice-chairman of the Joint Investment Committee of Korea. In addition, the Korean Economic Development Association was established as a private organization, with Yun Yong Sok being named as president.

Provincial-level economic development zones will be open to joint venture company or independent investment by a foreign company and 50 years are guaranteed as the cooperation period. Each of the 13 SEZs in each province will be developed incorporating the special characteristics of each region. The total amount of investment permitted in this area will range from 70 million USD to 240 million USD. The provincial-level SEZs will be managed by the Economic Zone Development Bureau.

With the announcement of the names of the 13 SEZs, it is likely the development plans is likely to proceed rather rapidly.

On the other hand, Sinuiju SEZ is reported to be developed as a central-level zone. In 2002, Sinuiju already had received the title as a special administrative region but after the arrest of the Administrative Minister Yang Bin, the development of this area came to a halt.

The plan for Sinuiju SEZ is likely to be developed as state-of-the-art, comprehensive special zone modeled after China’s Shenzhen SEZ.  A Joint Venture Investment Committee and an international group from Hong Kong will hold 50:50 shares and establish a new joint venture company.

Sinuiju is especially located in a geographically advantageous area, adjacent from Dandong City divided by the Amnok (Yalu) River and it is well connected through railway and bridge that connects the two cities. The currently under construction New Yalu River Bridge is also in progress and expected for completion early next year.

ORIGINAL POST (2013-11-21): Until this year, there were four Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in the DPRK: Hwanggumphyong and Wihwado Economic Zones, Kaesong Industrial Zone, Mt. Kumgang Tourist Special Zone, Rason Economic and Trade Zone.

There is also a new “Kaesong Latest Science, Technology Development Zone” under construction.

On November 21, 2013, KCNA reported additional information on the continuing evolution of the DPRK’s Special Economic Zones (특수경제지대) and Economic Development Zones (경제개발구).

KCNA reported again that Sinuiju will be the site of a Special Economic Zone:

DPRK to Set Up Special Economic Zone in Sinuiju

Pyongyang, November 21 (KCNA) — The DPRK decided to set up a special economic zone in some part of Sinuiju, North Phyongan Province.

The sovereignty of the DPRK will be exercised in the zone.

A relevant decree of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK was released on Thursday.

Here is the same article in Korean:

신의주시의 일부 지역에 특수경제지대 내오기로 결정

(평양 11월 21일발 조선중앙통신)조선에서 평안북도 신의주시의 일부 지역에 특수경제지대를 내오기로 하였다.

특수경제지대에는 조선민주주의인민공화국 주권이 행사된다.

이와 관련한 조선민주주의인민공화국 최고인민회의 상임위원회 정령이 21일에 발표되였다.(끝)

Sinuiju has been proposed as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) before. You can read all Sinuiju SAR posts hereHere is the announcement in KCNA from 2002-9-20 announcing the SAR. Ultimately the endeavor was not successful, thought it ultimately led to the creation of the nearby Hwanggumphyong and Wihwado Economic Zones

On the same day that KCNA made this announcement, they also offered more information on the new provincial level “Economic Development Zones (경제개발구). I am unsure of the relationship between “Special Economic Zone” and “Economic Development Zone”.

According to the KCNA article:

The DPRK is to set up economic development zones in provinces.

A decree of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK was released Thursday.

According to the decree, some part of Ojok-ri, Uiju County, North Phyongan Province will come under the jurisdiction of Ryongun-ri. Ryongun-ri will belong to Sinuiju and be called North Phyongan Provincial Amnokgang economic development zone [압록강경제개발구].

Jagang Provincial Manpho economic development zone [자강도 만포경제개발구] will be established in some areas of Mitha-ri (including Poldung Islet) and Phosang-ri, Manpho City, Jagang Province and Jagang Provincial Wiwon industrial development zone [자강도 위원공업개발구] will be set up in areas covering part of Tokam-ri and part of Kosong-ri, Wiwon County.

North Hwanghae Provincial Sinphyong tourist development zone [황해북도 신평관광개발구] will appear in some areas of Phyonghwa-ri, Sinphyong County, North Hwanghae Province and North Hwanghae Provincial Songrim export processing zone [황해북도 송림수출가공구] will be set up in some areas of Sosong-ri, Songrim City.

Kangwon Provincial Hyondong industrial development zone [강원도 현동공업개발구] will be set up in some areas of Hyondong-ri, Wonsan City, Kangwon Province.

South Hamgyong Provincial Hungnam industrial development zone [함경남도 흥남공업개발구] will take its shape in some areas in Haean District, Hamhung City, South Hamgyong Province and South Hamgyong Provincial Pukchong agricultural development zone [함경남도 북청농업개발구] will be created in areas covering part of Mundong-ri, Pudong-ri and Jongsan-ri of Pukchong County.

North Hamgyong Provincial Chongjin economic development zone [함경북도 청진경제개발구] will be set up in areas covering part of Wolpho-ri, Susong-dong and Namsok-ri, Songphyong District, Chongjin City, North Hamgyong Province. North Hamgyong Provincial Orang agricultural development zone [함경북도 어랑농업개발구] will appear in some areas of Ryongjon-ri, Orang County. North Hamgyong Provincial Onsong island tourist development zone [함경북도 온성섬관광개발구] will be formed in some areas of Onsong township, Onsong County.

Ryanggang Provincial Hyesan economic development zone [량강도 혜산경제개발구] will appear in some areas of Sinjang-ri, Hyesan City, Ryanggang Province.

Some areas of Ryongnam-ri, Waudo District, Nampho City will turn into Nampho City Waudo export processing zone [남포시 와우도수출가공구].

The sovereignty of the DPRK will be exercised in the provincial economic development zones.

The Korean version of this article can be found here. The DPRK announced there would be 14 SEZ/Economic Development Zones. With the inclusion of the Sinuiju Special Economic Zone with the KCNA list of 13 economic development zones, you will get 14. However, there are other economic development zones that have been announced that are not included on this list. By my count there are  at least 18. If one is to be in each province, then zones in South Phyongan and South Hwanghae have yet to be announced.

As mentioned before, these economic development zones are supposed to be governed by the Law on Economic Development Zones and the Economic Development Commission/Association.

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Data on the DPRK’s informal economy

Saturday, November 16th, 2013

According to the Choson Ilbo:

The belief that money can buy anything is rife in North Korea. Farmers can buy membership of the Workers Party, the gateway to the elite, from a senior party official for about $300. Factory or company workers or soldiers have to pay about $500 for party membership. College admission can also be bought with a bribe.

“Anybody can buy admission to Pyongyang Medical University for $10,000 and to the law or economics departments of Kim Il-sung University for between $5,000 and $10,000,” said a South Korean government source.

The opportunity to work overseas costs $3,000, plus an extra $1,000 if workers want their stay extended another year.

Currently, a U.S. dollar is worth about 7,000 North Korean won. Would-be defectors pay border guards $40 to cross the Apnok or Duman rivers, and $60 to carry old or feeble people on their back.

Asked about the monthly average household income, 31.7 percent said they earned up to 300,000 North Korean won. Next came up to 100,000 won for 16.6 percent, up to 500,000 won for 13.7 percent, and up to 1 million won for 13.2 percent.

But their official salary for their work is a mere 3,000 to 5,000 won, meaning they earned the rest of their income chiefly in the informal economy.

The most popular means of earning money are small shops or restaurants, cottage industries like making clothes and shoes, and private tutoring and private medical services.

Farmers can earn 60,000 to 80,000 won a month by harvesting 700 kg of beans and corn annually from their allocated field and raising five chickens and a dog.

Recently, a growing number of people are getting into the transportation business by illegally registering vehicles or boats, which are banned from private ownership, in the name of agencies or companies and appropriating their profits.

They also make money from smuggling. Repairing computers or mobile phones has become a popular job as well as repairmen can earn $5 to $10 per job.

Read the full story here:
N.Korea’s Informal Economy Thrives
Choson Ilbo
2013-11-16

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Recent DPRK wage increases / economic management changes

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

UPDATE 3 (2013-11-14): North Korea accelerating economic reforms? Wages and prices to be self-regulated (IFES):

North Korea appears to be pushing for internal economic improvement measures. Chosun Sinbo, the pro-North Korean newspaper in Japan, released an article on November 6 that discussed various performance-enhancing management and operational changes that took place at the Pyongyang Essential Foodstuff Factory this year.

Chosun Sinbo referred to Kim Jong Un’s speech made last March at the plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party about improving economic management and named the recent changes at the food factory as a pilot project for this purpose. The news article added that “There are studies to bring fundamental changes in economic management and specific measures are being made to turn this into a reality.”

The main systemic changes made at the Pyongyang Essential Foodstuff Factory were the increase in autonomy of the company and the enforcement of wage differential based on performance. Based on the principle of cost compensation, prices of products produced with raw materials at the factory may be freely adjusted after consulting with the state.

The news article further explained that “The principle of socialist distribution is a simple system of distributing as much as you earn and the cost of living is determined by labor productivity.”  It also reported that some of the employees’ wages increased. Such news is likely intended to advertise to the outside world about North Korea’s changing domestic economic policies.

The North Korean economic journal Kyongje Yongu has also been increasingly reporting on the principle of distribution based on economic performance. In the recent issue published on October 30, 2013 (issue No. 4), an article titled “The Principle Problem of Properly Implementing the Socialist Labor Wage System” criticized the equalization of product distribution as it decreases the enthusiasm of workers toward production: “The strength and life used during the process of labor must be compensated through the principle of earning the amount of your labor.” The article stressed that wages must increase with production and rationalized the need for such wage increase.

Chosun Sinbo and Kyongje Yongu articles reveal the long-term efforts by the North Korean government in enhancing research about economic improvement measures and expanding projects in various factories, companies, and cooperative farms to implement these measures.

Recently, North Korea launched the State Economic Development Commission and organized a number of international forums on special economic zones.  These can be construed as possible signals toward economic reform, as North Korea continues to make various changes in its internal economic policies.

UPDATE 2 (2013-11-7): Another story of note in the Daily NK ties factory wage increases to the ability of enterprises to negotiate prices with the state:

Choson Sinbo, the regular publication of the pro-North Korea General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon), has published news of a Pyongyang-based food factory being used as a testing ground for independent economic management. The enterprise fixes prices semi-independently in discussion with the state and pays increased wages, the piece, published yesterday, explained.

The publication conveyed, “Pyongyang Essential Foodstuff Factory became a test unit and conducted research in order to enact changes to overall economic management. They are currently implementing these.”

It continued, “Of particular note is the organization of production and economic management based on cost compensation principles and the socialist rules of division. Pyongyang Essential Foodstuff Factory has enacted the measures for themselves and prepared the collateral to allow for expansion and reproduction.”

“This factory has shed the state planning model and sources its own materials, and in discussion with the state it has been able to set its own prices as it sees fit. There is also a measure currently being adopted that provides monthly allowances in consideration of the labor of the employees,” it further emphasized.

However, a high-ranking defector was skeptical when asked about the piece, telling Daily NK, “These factories produce things like soybean paste, soy sauce, salt and side dishes. They have always played the role of distributor to the people, so there is no way that they would be able to just set prices how they wish on these products. It’s likely that the measures focus on work teams making apple and pear beverages, liquor and beer; things that do not relate to improving the lives of the people.”

UPDATE 1 (2013-11-7): The Daily NK follows up on the DPRK’s strategy to bring official wages in line with the price level:

North Korea’s decision to drastically increase the wages of workers in parts of the heavy industrial sector is designed to boost morale and improve productivity, the better to expand the country’s capacity to generate foreign currency income from investments in the exploitation of its mineral resources.

As exclusively reported yesterday by Daily NK, major industrial concerns in North Hamkyung Province such as Kim Chaek Iron and Steel Complex have raised wages by a factor of approximately one hundred, from a derisory 3,000 won per month, around half the market price of a kilo of rice, to 300,000 won. Thus far, 100,000 won of the total has been paid in cash and the remainder in kind in an attempt to head off the very real danger of dramatic price inflation that would result from 100% cash payments.

That such a substantial wage rise was only deemed feasible in enterprises with the potential to export primary or secondary resources for foreign exchange should not come as a surprise. Smaller domestic enterprises don’t have the liquid resources to take such a step. As with the Kaesong Industrial Complex, wages in cash and kind have always been more generous for workers in joint venture enterprises than elsewhere. The latest move reflects an extension of that reality.

At this early stage, experts believe that the measure is designed to create a business model for North Korea not unlike that on show at Kaesong, under which each province can improve its economic performance and attract greater quantities of foreign capital. By actively nurturing those rare businesses that are competitive in the regional environment, the country hopes to raise productivity overall.

A researcher with Industrial Bank of Korea, Cho Bong Hyun told Daily NK, “Raising salaries for enterprises in the minerals sector looks like an inevitable choice, since productivity couldn’t have been expected from light industrial enterprises when the operational level of most of those factories is so low.

Cho continued, “The Kim Jong Eun regime, which is currently concentrating on producing results in the economic sphere, made this decision based on the fact that for some time it has been earning foreign currency quite easily by exporting its mineral resources. They also hope that by raising salaries they can induce greater productive effort, since workers have not wanted to work properly since the public distribution system collapsed [in the 1990s].”

Yoon Deok Ryong, a senior research fellow with the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy added, “Kim Jong Eun has granted this autonomy to firms and raised wages in order to earn foreign currency and firm up his system. He wants to right the economy by discriminating in favor of businesses that are somewhat competitive.”

However, despite cautious enthusiasm for the latest step, the two experts cautioned that unless North Korea moves further in the direction of a market economic system, the measure might not prove effective.

Cho explained, “No matter how tightly the North Korean authorities seek to control economic activity, they will find it almost impossible to stop these wage rises inciting inflation and causing the value of the North Korean Won to nosedive even more. There is also the danger of conflict with between military and Party-Cabinet elements over the management of mineral resource enterprises that can be used to produce military goods.”

Yoon added that workers in enterprises excluded from the latest wage rises will not see the bigger economic picture, and will simply be aggrieved at there being no improvement in their own conditions. “Conflict is unavoidable,” he concluded.

ORIGINAL POST (2013-11-6): According to the Daily NK:

Wage levels for workers in some larger industrial enterprises have risen by a factor of approximately one hundred times, Daily NK has learned. The move, which was put forward as part of the “June 28th Policy” in mid-2012 and is designed to bring wages more into line with market price levels, appears designed to improve the productivity and competitiveness of major industrial concerns.

According to a source from North Hamkyung Province, the monthly wage of people working at Musan Iron Mine, Kim Chaek Iron and Steel Complex and Sungjin Steel Mill rose from an average of just 3000-4000 won up to 300,000 won in September and October. In an attempt to forestall the inflation that such a step would otherwise guarantee, 200,000 won of the payment is issued in goods, with just 100,000 won provided in cash.

The source explained to Daily NK on the 5th, “In September the order was handed down in the name of the State Economic Development Commission to Musan, Kim Chaek and Sungjin; it was about guaranteeing independence in terms of production and the authority to set salary levels. At the time most workers did not believe that they were going to be given a wage of 300,000 won, and are really surprised now that they are actually getting it.”

The source went on to assert that the same instructions have been handed down to all provinces, not only North Hamkyung. “Relatively more competitive” industrial enterprises in each province have been selected, he said, and are resetting wages at a higher level.

Explaining the system of payments in kind, the source said, “Because they are concerned about the danger of inflation being created by the wage rises, they give 200,000 won of it in rice, vegetables, side dishes, other necessities, and electronics. Only the remaining 100,000 won is given in cash.” Workers have been told “not to make purchases in public markets since the state is now providing for your daily needs,” although the instruction is not likely to be adhered to.

Predictably, the source revealed that the move has attracted attention from surrounding enterprises. “Workers who had been ‘off sick’ are coming back,” he said, “and workers from other enterprises have been descending on us after hearing that we are getting a lot of wages and other stuff.”

The move appears designed to increase the competitiveness of major industrial enterprises in North Korea, and to improve the attractiveness of joint ventures to companies in China.

At the time of writing, the dramatic wage increase has not generated rice price inflation in public markets in the North Hamkyung Province region. For example, the price of rice in Musan is currently stable at around 5,800 won/kg.

On this, the source concluded, “Because some of the wages have been given in kind, demand in markets will not rise for the time being.” However, he cautioned that later, when workers attempt to buy and sell the products they have received, instability and inflation could result.

Read the full story here:
Wages Rise 100x in Heavy Industry
Daily NK
Lee Sang Yong
2013-11-6

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Chongryon headquarters sold for debts – still under DPRK control

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

Pictured above (Google Earth): The Chongryon headquarters building in Tokyo ( 35.697001°, 139.743435°).

UPDATE 10 (2105-2-11): According to the Japan Times, the Chongryun building is still under control of the DPRK, even after it was sold:

The building and the land it stands on are mortgaged to a Chongryon-affiliated company on whose board sit a former member of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea and a former president of Korea News Service, a North Korean news agency, people familiar with the situation said.

Records show ownership of the building and land was transferred to a real estate firm in Sakata, Yamagata Prefecture, on Jan. 28 from a real estate company in Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture, which place the successful auction bid.

The fact that the property is mortgaged to a Chongryon-affiliated company suggests the organization played a role in shifting ownership to the Sakata real estate firm, people close to Japanese public security authorities said.

The Sakata real estate firm is expected to lease the property to Chongryon so that it can continue using the building, informed sources said.

UPDATE 9 (2015-2-6): According to the South China Morning Post, there is a new fog of suspicion that has set over the former Chongryun headquarters:

A former Chinese diplomat once named as a spy in Japan’s parliament has business links to an obscure firm that has purchased the de facto North Korean embassy in Tokyo.

Wang Xinghu, who was previously stationed at the Chinese embassy but claims to have become a businessman, has set up a consultancy called HKS Japan with Takeharu Inamura, a Japanese national, according to records seen by the South China Morning Post.

It emerged last week that Inamura’s other company, a small warehousing firm that is called Green Forest, paid ¥4.4 billion (HK$290.7 million) to buy Pyongyang’s biggest asset in Japan, the headquarters of the quasi-official Chongryon organisation.

But Green Forest has limited resources and experience in the property sector, and questions are being asked about where the firm acquired the cash.

Chongryon’s imposing headquarters was initially put up for auction in 2012 at the request of the Japanese government’s debt collection agency after the association for North Korean residents of Japan defaulted on debts of more than ¥62 billion.

After two initial attempts to purchase the building fell through – one by a religious group with links to an organised crime gang with North Korean members and the second a shell company based in Mongolia but with no assets and no traceable history – the property was sold last year to Marunaka Holdings, a Japanese construction company.

After paying ¥2.21 billion for the building and demanding that Chongryon vacate it so the plot could be redeveloped, Marunaka suddenly changed its mind and sold the property – for ¥4.4 billion and a swift profit – to Inamura’s company, which is based in rural Yamagata Prefecture, has no history or licence to operate in the real-estate sector. Its annual turnover is a paltry ¥19 million.

In corporate documents, Chongryon is now listed as the mortgagee and will be allowed to remain in the property. The sale took place on January 28.

Phone calls to the offices of both HKS Japan and Green Forest were not answered. Local media have reported that Inamura lives in a small rented apartment in Tokyo’s Nakano district, but the curtains have remained drawn and the lights off since the deal was revealed.

Wang – who was named by Japanese politician Katsuei Hirasawa in the Diet in July 2012 as a Chinese spy – is apparently out of the country. Hirasawa is a former official of the Japanese police whose responsibilities primarily focused on foreign intelligence issues. At the time Hirasawa made his allegations, the Sankei Shimbun reported Wang was a member of to China’s Ministry of State Security.

Chongryon is also refusing to talk to the Post.

A Japanese human rights activist who is demanding that more international pressure be applied to the North Korean regime says he believed China was involved in the transaction.

“Wang cannot fund the Chongryon headquarters deal without the consent and financing of the Chinese government,” claimed Ken Kato, director of Human Rights in Asia and a member of the International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea.

“It is a mystery why China has decided to spend billions of yen to save Chongryon’s face,” he added. “I am sure that China understands that once their involvement in the deal is revealed, it will anger the Japanese public.

“The Chongryon HQ was sold not because of ‘discrimination’ or ‘persecution,’ as they are insisting,” he added. “It was sold because they refused to pay back a debt that Japanese taxpayers were forced to shoulder.”

Kato is indignant North Korea is refusing to honour its debts in Japan despite spending vast sums on nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

There have been several years of friction between China and erstwhile ally North Korea, and if Beijing funded the purchase of the building, it could be a sign that China wants to get the relationship back on track.

Beijing was angered when Pyongyang ignored its pressure to not go ahead with a third underground nuclear test in 2013 and, subsequently, a series of missile test-launches.

Since Beijing got tough on the regime of Kim Jong-un – including halting all supplies of fuel oil – North Korea turned its attentions to Russia and has been busily courting its new ally. Moscow and Pyongyang have agreed to carry out a series of military drills this year, major Russian investment in North Korean infrastructure is under way, and Kim has reportedly accepted an invitation to attend a ceremony marking the end of the second world war in Moscow in May.

UPDATE 8 (2014-11-7): Chongryun has lost its appeal for the forced sale of its Tokyo headquarters. According to a media report:

Chongryun, the association that represents North Korean residents of Japan, is running out of ways to keep its most prized asset after the Supreme Court ruled that the sale of its headquarters to a Japanese real estate developer would go ahead.

The dismissal of the appeal by Chongryun represents “a serious loss of face” for the organisation and the North Korean leadership, according to analysts, and could even serve to weaken links between the regime’s citizens in Japan and their homeland.

“They have not made any official comments yet but it is clear that this will be a major disappointment because it is such a serious loss of face,” Ken Kato, a Tokyo-based human rights activist, said.

“I also hope that North Koreans living in Japan … are able to stand up against the regime. Many of them have relatives in North Korea and they are effectively held as hostages to ensure that the people here send back ‘donations’ that are then spent on developing missiles and nuclear weapons,” Kato said. “I hope they wake up to the reality.”

Representatives of Chongryun could not be contacted but sources said last month that retaining a building that served as an embassy in Japan had been made a priority by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Chongryun leader Ho Jong-man visited North Korea for the first time in eight years in October and, although he was not able to meet him in person, was handed a personal letter from Kim.

One of the instructions in the letter was to secure the continued use of the Chongryun headquarters in Tokyo.

The Supreme Court’s decision makes that target effectively impossible and will not go down well in Pyongyang.

The legal decision is in favour of Marunaka Holdings, which had lodged a bid of 2.21 billion yen (HK$149.5 million) for the building and the prime 2,387 square metre plot that it occupies in Chiyoda Ward.

Moves to sell the building began in March after the government-backed Resolution and Collection called in loans amounting to more than 62 billion yen that it had extended to the residents’ association.

Chongryun initially attempted to sell the property to a Kagoshima-based religious order that would permit the organisation to remain in residence. It was later alleged that the temple had links to underworld groups. The deal fell through when the temple was unable to raise the funds.

The next bidder was a mysterious Mongolian company known as Avar that was using an address in Ulan Bator but had no presence at the building and had never previously purchased a property in Japan.

Analysts believe it was a front for the North Korean government. That transaction was blocked by authorities in Japan for a lack of transparency, triggering a third round of bidding.

UPDATE 7 (2014-4-11): DPRK claims to send funds to Chongryun. According to KCNA:

Kim Jong Un Sends Educational Aid Fund and Stipends to Children of Koreans in Japan

Pyongyang, April 11 (KCNA) — Supreme leader Kim Jong Un sent educational aid fund and stipends amounting to 207.8 million yen to the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan for the democratic national education of children of Koreans in Japan on the occasion of the 102nd birth anniversary of President Kim Il Sung.

The educational aid fund and stipends sent by Generalissimos Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il and Marshal Kim Jong Un in 160 installments total 47,331,150,390 yen.

Since the Mangyongbong-92 is no longer traveling the East Sea/Sea of Japan, I wonder how the funds will be transferred.

The Chongryun have seen bad financial news lately:

1. Chongryun headquarters in central Tokyo was recently auctioned off for debts incurred helping the DPRK get through the Arduous March.

2. Chongryon schools are not eligible for some Japanese education subsidies.

UPDATE 6 (2014-3-29): KCNA reports (surprise!) that the DPRK is not happy about the sale of the Chongryun headquarters building. Below are two related articles:

Japanese Authorities Warned of Their Moves to Seize Korean Hall of Chongryon

Pyongyang, March 29 (KCNA) — The Committee for Aiding Overseas Compatriots of Korea made public a statement on Friday denouncing the Japanese authorities for their extremely dangerous moves to stifle the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon) and Koreans in Japan.

On March 24 the Japanese authorities took such fascist action as instigating the Tokyo District Court to make an illegal decision to allow the sale of the land and building of the Korean Hall of Chongryon.

This is a wanton violation of the dignity and existence right of Chongryon and Koreans in Japan and a grave infringement upon the sovereignty of the DPRK, the statement said, adding:

The Japanese authorities are feigning ignorance of the fact, noting that the decision was made by a “judiciary organ” in a bid to evade the blame for seizing the Korean hall. But this is no more than an excuse to cover up their sinister criminal purpose.

It is their sinister political scenario to deprive the Central Standing Committee of Chongryon of the base of its activities and thus weaken the authority of Chongryon, a model of Juche-based overseas Koreans’ movement, and dampen the elated patriotic enthusiasm of Koreans so as to stamp out the movement of Koreans in Japan.

The statement went on:

Now that the Japanese authorities deliberately touched off distrust at a time when confidence-building is required for improving the DPRK-Japan relations more urgently than ever before the DPRK is compelled to take corresponding measures.

If the Japanese authorities persist in their moves to seize the Korean Hall despite the warning of the DPRK, they will be wholly responsible for the consequences to be entailed by them.

Illegal Decision of Tokyo District Court Slammed

Pyongyang, March 29 (KCNA) — The Tokyo District Court made a decision to allow the sale of the land and building of the Korean Hall of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon) under the backstage wire-pulling of the Japanese authorities. The spokesman for the Democratic Lawyers Association of Korea Saturday released a statement disclosing the illegality of the decision.

The statement says:

The illegality of the decision finds its vivid manifestation in that the court selected a disqualified company as a successful bidder by fraud and swindle.

The Tokyo District Court had delayed the announcement of the results of auction of the Korean Hall of Chongryon, which was made in October of 2013. On March 20, it reopened the tenders for it for no reason all of a sudden and made the decision to allow the sale to the Marunaka Holdings Co. Ltd., Japan.

As far as the above-said company is concerned, it had already been disqualified as it underbid others in October last year and took back bid bond from the court.

In particular, it is a precedent of the Japanese courts that in case the relevant court returned the bid bond to a disqualified company it would not make a decision to allow the sale to it.

Therefore, it was a crude violation of the law in every aspect that the court chose the above-said company as a successful bidder.

The illegality of the decision of the Tokyo District Court is also evidenced by the double-dealing attitude of the Resolution and Collection Corporation, a creditor.

When the issue of the Korean Hall presented itself, the Corporation made a hostile and discriminating demand that Chongryon should repay a total amount plus interest though it has settled issues with other debtors in a friendly manner.

But the Corporation kept mum about the decision of the Tokyo District Court to sell the Korean Hall at a price less than half the actual one.

The Japanese authorities has long regarded the Korean Hall of Chongryon on which the flag of the DPRK is fluttering as a thorn in their flesh and run the whole gamut of plots to seize it.

That was why the Tokyo District Court staged an unprecedented farce in disregard of the Japanese law, precedents of the courts and practices of the basic procedures for tenders

The Democratic Lawyers Association of Korea categorically rejects the decision of the Tokyo District Court and declares internally and externally that the illegal decision is invalid, the statement says.

The Japanese authorities had better halt their moves to seize the Korean Hall, though belatedly, if it thinks of its face as a “law-governed state” even a bit and has real intention to improve the relations with the DPRK, the statement concludes.

UPDATE 5 (2014-3-24): A Japanese estate agency has been approved to buy the property. According to  NTD:

A court ruled Monday that a Japanese estate agency could buy the Tokyo property that serves as North Korea’s de facto embassy, after an earlier bid fell through.

The decision from the Tokyo District Court drew an immediate and angry reaction from Chongryon, the organisation that represents North Korean interests in Japan in the absence of diplomatic ties.

“This is an unfair decision. We cannot accept it,” said an organisation spokesman, adding that an appeal would be lodged.

The site — a 2,390-square-metre (25,725-square-feet) plot and 10-storey building occupied by Chongryon — was put up for auction after it was seized by authorities over unpaid debts.

Monday’s ruling gave real estate firm Marunaka Holdings the right to buy the building for 2.21 billion yen ($22 million), after a winning bid from an obscure Mongolia-registered company fell apart.

The Avar Limited Liability Company had won an auction in October with a bid of 5.01 billion yen, beating Marunaka’s offer. But the court disqualified the offer several months later reportedly due to flawed documentation amid questions over whether the firm had links to Pyongyang.

Japanese law bars an organisation forced to sell assets from taking part in an auction of them.

The Japanese firm is planning to remove the North Korean-linked organisation from the property, reports said, but it was unclear if it still planned to go through with the purchase following the judgement.

Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Koreans live in Japan, mostly a legacy of those who emigrated or were forced to move to Japan during its 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean peninsula.

About 10 percent are believed to be affiliated with Chongryon, which charges that the community is persecuted by authorities and harassed by right-wing activists.

UPDATE 4 (2014-1-23): NK News reports that the mysterious Mongolian firm has been blocked from purchasing the former headquarters building.

A Japanese court has blocked a Mongolia-based company’s bid to buy the Tokyo headquarters of the main pro-North Korea organization in Japan, Chongryon.

After months of screening, the Tokyo District Court announced on Thursday that due to purchase irregularities it would not allow the Ulan Bator-based Avar Limited Liability Company to purchase the property, which still serves as the headquarters for Japan’s main pro-North Korea organization.

The Mongolian firm, which had previously won an October 2013 auction for the building with a 5.01 billion yen (U.S. $48 million bid) bid, was rejected by the court because a certificate it submitted to support the purchase appeared to be a color photocopy and did not bear the official seal of the Mongolian government.

“It is a company on paper,” Hideshi Takesada, an expert on regional security at Takushoku University in Tokyo, told NK News on Thursday.

“With the bid tendering highly unlikely to be successful, Chongryon will be able to stay at the headquarters building and use the land. In a sense, the Japanese government is doing a favor for North Korea,” Takesada said. Takesada is a former executive director of the National Institute for Defense Studies in Tokyo, the Japanese Ministry of Defense’s think-tank.

UPDATE 3 (2013-10-22): Apparently funding fell through for the Buddhist group, and the building was put up for sale again. A Mongolian firm stepped forward to buy the building, but this was halted over fears that the new firm was a front for North Korean interests. According to the South China Morning Post:

The Tokyo District Court acted yesterday in response to a petition for an injunction on the sale filed by Ken Kato, director of Human Rights in Asia. Kato’s request pointed out that would-be buyer Avar was registered at an address in Ulan Bator, but the company apparently had no presence there.

When a Japanese television team arrived at the Mongolian address to ask about the purchase of the 10-storey building that is now occupied by Chongryon, the organisation that represents North Korean residents of Japan, and the prime plot it occupies in Chiyoda Ward, they were met by a bemused woman.

She told the TV crew her family had been living in the apartment for seven years and had never heard of Avar.

“I told the court that this was a typical case of money laundering and that the court cannot permit the transaction to go ahead,” Kato told the South China Morning Post. “The address is fake and the registration of the company must therefore be illegal.”

No deadline has been set for the court to make a decision on whether the transaction will go ahead, but Kato is confident any investigation will lead back to the North Korean leader. “Kim Jong-un wants to save face and not lose this property and I’m sure the decision to pay more than the market value is a case of a dictator’s whim,” he said.

The minimum price for bidders for the property was set at 2.13 billion yen (HK$168 million), while a previous deal to buy the building in May for 4.52 billion yen fell through when the buyer, the chief priest of Saifukuji Temple, was unable to raise the funds by the deadline. Kato said it was therefore curious that the latest sale price was 5.01 billion yen.

“The buyer could have got it for a lot less than that and I believe they offered so much in the hope no answers would be asked and the real purchaser could remain anonymous,” he said.

That was always likely to be a vain hope, given the interest in the property, which was put on the market in March by the government-backed Resolution and Collection Corp. in an effort to recoup loans of 62 billion yen that it extended to the residents’ association after the collapse of a number of financial institutions for North Korean residents of Japan.

The involvement of a Mongolian firm also raised eyebrows in Japan, as no Mongolian firm has ever purchased a building in Tokyo and there are very few Mongolian companies with enough cash to carry out such a deal.

As well as the suggestion that Avar is a front company for the North Korean regime, there has also been speculation that the Mongolian government might be involved as part of the burgeoning relationship between the two regimes.

UPDATE 2 (2013-3-27): A Buddhist order on good terms with the Chongryun won the property auction and will allow the Chongryun to remain on the premises.  According to the Japan Times:

The Kagoshima temple offered ¥4.5 billion, the highest among four bidders, to acquire the land and the Chongryon building.

“We will keep the building as it is and make it a base of harmony among ethnic groups in Asia, including North Korea,” said Saifuku Temple leader Ekan Ikeguchi.

“The function of our headquarters will be maintained for the time being, at least,” a Chongryon official said. “We feel relieved.”

The government-backed Resolution and Collection Corp. put the premises out to tender to recoup loans of about ¥62.7 billion it made to Chongryon.

UPDATE 1 (2013-3-13): The Wall Street Journal’s Japan Real Time reports that the auction has finally begun on the Chongryun’s headquarters building in central Tokyo. According to the article:

Bidding has begun for the repossessed central headquarters of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, North Korea’s de-facto embassy in the country. It’s an attempt by the Japanese government to get back some of the ¥62.7 billion owed by the pro-Pyongyang group, also known as Chongryon, and comes as the reclusive regime faces a new round of sanctions and international condemnation following its third nuclear test.

Built in 1986, the 10-story office building has two basement floors and is situated on a 2,390 square-meter piece of land in a prime location in central Tokyo. The Tokyo District Court said in its assessment of the building that some portions of it showed signs of age-related deterioration as well as damage incurred during the massive 2011 earthquake that shook northeastern Japan.

Analysts say that as the auctioneer’s hammer falls, so falls the fortunes of the once-influential group.

“Losing its central headquarters is symbolic of Chongryon’s decline,” said Hajime Izumi, Professor of International Relations at Shizuoka University. “While the organization will survive, I expect it to face increasing difficulty maintaining itself,” he said.

Founded in 1955 as an organization representing the pro-North Korean members of Japan’s ethnic Korean minority, Chongryon has been responsible for pumping out North Korean propaganda and has been operating banks, a newspaper and numerous schools for Korean residents in Japan.

The group has also been a reliable source of hard cash for Pyongyang, with members sending back a large portion of revenue accumulated through numerous “pachinko” gambling parlors and real-estate businesses operated across the nation.

But Yoshifu Arita, an upper house lawmaker in Japan’s parliament, said the organization faced severe head-winds in 2002 when the late Kim Jong Il admitted during a meeting with then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi that North Korean agents had kidnapped Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s.

“This led to a massive public backlash toward North Korea as well the organization,” he said. “It led to many disillusioned members leaving Chongryon as pressure on them mounted.”

Chongryong’s debt stems from a network of credit unions for pro-North Korean residents of Japan that collapsed and had to be bailed out by the government-backed Resolution and Collection Corporation in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The debt has been transferred to Chongryon, which has been sued by the RCC for repayment.

A 72-year-old South Korean businessman living in Kobe, who used to be affiliated with Chongryon, added that the younger generation of Koreans in Japan also felt less of a link and patriotism toward Pyongyang. And with Japan’s long economic malaise following the burst of its debt bubble in the early 1990s, “pro-Pyongyang supporters don’t have the cash or the will to lend a hand to the organization, even when its headquarters are about to be sold off,” added the businessman, who asked not to be identified.

Bids for the building, which began Tuesday, will be accepted through March 19. The winner of the auction, which Chongryon cannot participate in, is expected to be decided on March 29.

ORIGINAL POST (2012-7-26): The Atlantic has a great piece on recent developments with the General Association of Koreans in Japan (Chongryong or Chosen Soren):

In late June, a Japanese court ordered Chongryon, a business, education, and banking organization formally representing pro-North Korean members of Japan’s ethnic Korean minority, to auction off its ten-story office building in downtown Tokyo, effectively ending its mission of bringing money into North Korea and pushing propaganda out. The group’s problems are essentially financial: Chongryon owes the Japanese government nearly $750 million for a late-90s emergency bailout that rescued the group’s network of credit unions, which were rapidly de-capitalized because of remittances to North Korea during the country’s devastating mid-90s famine, an economic and humanitarian catastrophe that killed up to 2 million people.

As with just about anything regarding North Korea, even the surface-level truth belies deeper and darker realities. If it weren’t for the chronic economic crisis and resulting famine that gripped North Korea in the 1990s, as well as a rising anti-North Korean strain in Japanese politics, then the criminal enterprises, communal bonds, and official connections that made Chongryon such a formidable political and cultural organization may well have remained intact. It took economic collapse, regional crisis, and domestic political upheaval to bring Chongryon to its knees.

North Korea has no official embassy in Japan, so the Pyongyang-linked Chongryon acts as an unofficial representative of a government that has kidnapped Japanese citizens and fired long-range missiles in the island nation’s direction. It runs banks, a newspaper, dozens of schools, and a university named after Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s “eternal leader” and the current despot’s grandfather. In the 1980s, Chongryon’s business and criminal enterprises, which included off-book pachinko parlors, pubs, prostitution rings, and real estate, reportedly produced over a billion dollars a year in revenue — much of which, according to Michael J. Green of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, was sent back to Pyongyang. As late as 1990, its banking system was capitalized to the tune of $25 billion.

Because North Korea has few exports and is under severe international sanctions, unofficial currency-gathering enterprises like this one can be crucial. And the group also serves as a propaganda outlet, pushing out the DPRK party line to ethnic Koreans. It would be unimaginable for North Korea to own a K-Street high-rise, and South Korea officially bans any expression of support for its northern neighbor. But Japan has allowed its enemy’s outpost to remain, and even thrive.

The full story is well worth reading here.

Here are previous posts on the Chongryon including a post from 2010 when the Japanese Supreme Court ruled that the headquarters could be seized.

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DPRK Economic Development Commission

Friday, September 6th, 2013

UPDATE 5 (2013-10-31): North Korea Opens Fourteen Special Economic Zones Nationwide (IFES):

North Korea announced that it has opened fourteen special economic zones (SEZs) in various provinces this year.

The Rodong Sinmun, official newspaper of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) covered the news about the Pyongyang International Conference on Special Economic Trade Zone held from October 16 to 17, 2013. This conference was convened by the Korean Economic Development Commission.

According to the newspaper, a law professor from Kim Il Sung University, Dr. Kang Jong Nam, presented at the conference and said, “There are four well-known special economic zones in our country: the Rason Economic and Trade Zone, Hwanggumpyong and Wiwha Islands Economic Zones, Kaesong Industrial Complex, and Mount Kumgang International Tourism Zone. But from this year, fourteen new economic zones were established.” However, details on where these fourteen new SEZs are located were not disclosed.

Kang added, “To meet the growing demands for development, operation and management of new economic development zones, increasing legal measures are being taken to reinforce the development with establishment of new laws or amendment of existing laws.”

North Korean leader and Chairman of the National Defence Commission Kim Jong Un made a statement at the WPK Central Committee meeting in early March, saying that economic development zones be established in each province, taking into consideration the special characteristics of each region.

Experts confirmed that North Korea has officially announced its plans to develop Wonsan and Chilbosan as tourism zones this year. SEZ development of Kangryong District in Southern Hwanghae Province began from last July.

In addition, the Korean Central News Agency announced on October 17 that ‘Kaesong High-Tech Industrial Park’ will be jointly developed by North Korea and foreign consortium, and this is likely to be one of the new fourteen SEZs built this year.

North Korea is actively hosting international forums targeted to attract foreign investment into the country, with experts from Canada, Malaysia, the United States and other foreign countries attending.

The Rodong Sinmun also quoted Director Choe Hyon Chol of the Korean Association of Economic Development: “It is crucial to educate and train experts to work in the economic zones and this will be the next step for the development of SEZs.” He also said that “We are willing to participate in various functions such as international forums, investment briefings, and exhibitions to encourage more international investment and cooperation.”

Meanwhile, on October 21 the KCNA reported on the extended cabinet plenary meeting. At the meeting, reports were given on the performance of the third quarter of the national economic plan and measures to successfully implement the plans for the fourth quarter. The central agenda for the last quarter is increasing production of coal and steel products and improving agricultural and light industries to resolve the shortage of food and consumer goods for the people. In addition, improvement in education, health services, and sports sectors were named as imperative areas to recover the country’s status as a powerful socialist nation. Specific tasks and strategies of the fourth quarter were presented at the meeting for the implementation of the national budget.

UPDATE 4 (2013-10-31): Rodong Sinmun follows up on the Economic Development Commissions’ conference on Special Economic Zones:

On Oct. 16 KCNA reported that the Pyongyang International Conference on Special Economic Zone (SEZ) development opened. Many foreign sources conveyed the news, each with their own comments.

Economic experts from without were not many in number, but each of the attendants was a specialist who had either been involved in successful development of SEZ in Asia and the rest of the world or rich in relevant research experience.

Among the organizers of the conference was Prof. Kyung Ae Park, director of the Center for Korean Research, University of British Columbia, who played a big role in inviting experienced specialists and scholars to the conference.

The first foreign speaker on the first item on the agenda was professor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Exchanged at the conference were experience on SEZ development in Vietnam, Malaysia, India and many other Asian countries.

Economists and specialists from Canada and the U.S. also spoke at the conference.

Many speakers expressed their unusual feeling of having the opportunity of academic exchange on SEZ development in the city of Pyongyang.

Impressions on Pyongyang were in some points common to all. They said in one voice that Pyongyang, the capital of the DPRK, is beautiful and peaceful, and that Korean economists and specialists were very sincere and enthusiastic in their attitude to the SEZ development.

All the attendants of the conference, both from within and without, expressed thanks to the Korean Economic Development Society, the sponsor, and Kyung Ae Park, organizer, of the conference, which was conducive to seeking a new way of economic development that suits the needs of the 21st century.

UPDATE 3 (2013-10-24): North Korea Launches New Economic Development Organizations (IFES, 2013-10-24)

North Korea announced that it had installed the State Economic Development Commission to oversee the national economic development.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on October 16 that preamble to raise the existing General Bureau for State Economic Development to State Economic Development Commission was adopted at the recent Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly. Details for appointment of officials and function of the commissionareyet to be announced.

The bureau was established in 2011 to design and carry out the 10-year plan for the development of the national economy. The elevation of this institution from bureau to commissioncan be interpreted as increasing emphasis on economic development.

In particular, the State Economic Development Commissionis likely to serve as the control tower, overseeing the development of special economic zones and the 10-year economic plan.

The KCNA also reported on the establishment of a non-state organization called the Korean Economic Development Association. As the news explained, this organization was installed for the purpose of “attracting interests of economic, business, and academic communities from abroad in special economic zones (SEZs)” and “to promote SEZs to companies and organizations of other countries to draw investments for development in these areas.”

The association is expected to organize and provide support services to foreign investors and coordinate debates, conferences, exhibitions, economic information exchanges, and provide advisory services, in accordance with government mandates and investment agreements. Essentially, the association’s chief focus is to attract foreign investments into SEZs and provide various services to assist their activities in the economic zones.

The news reported the first project of the association was the organization of the “Pyongyang International Conference on Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Development,” held at the Yanggakdo International Hotel. The conference brought together economic experts from North Korea, the United States, Canada, India, and Malaysia. The association’s contact information (phone and fax numbers;email address)were also released.

The launch of a non-state organization for the promotion of SEZs is a first for North Korea. This is considered as a follow-up measure to the Law on Economic Development Zones, which was enacted in June 2013.

UPDATE 2 (2013-10-23): Rodong Sinmun follows up on the Economic Development Commissions’ conference on Special Economic Zones and reports that there will be 14 Economic Development Zones:

An International Conference on Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Development was held in Pyongyang, the beautiful capital of Juche Korea on Oct. 16 and 17 under the sponsorship of the Korea Economic Development Association. It proceeded in an amicable atmosphere with the participation of competent economic professors and experts of Canada, Malaysia, U.S., Vietnam, India and China, economists and researchers of the Korea Economic Development Association, Kim Il Sung University, University of National Economics, Wonsan Jong Jun Thaek University of Economics and Academy of Social Sciences and officials of various fields who were striving to develop regional economy in Rason City and other areas.

The conference heard first the speeches of Vice-chairman of Korea Economic Development Association Ri Chol Sok and Prof. Kyung Ae Park from University of British Columbia, who was the organizer of the conference. It discussed 6 themes. The matter of primary concern at the conference was the actual situation and prospect of special economic zone development in the DPRK and the legal system related to it. Officials of the Korea Economic Development Association and professors of Kim Il Sung University spoke of this matter.

Thanks to the measures of the DPRK government, Rason Economic Trade Zone, Hwanggumphyong-Wihwado Economic Zone, Kaesong Industrial Zone and Mt. Kumgang International Tourist Special Zone have already been created and this year witnessed the establishment of 14 economic development zones. In conformity with this, legal measures for development, management and operation of the special economic zones were newly taken and the existing laws are being revised and supplemented.

At the session held on the theme “Next Steps for DPRK Economic Zones” held prior to the closing ceremony, Choe Hyon Chol, director of the Korea Economic Development Association, explicated the prospects for development of the special economic zones in our country and hoped for broad and positive international cooperation.

The Pyongyang International Conference on Special Economic Zone Development held under tense situation was an important occasion showing the peace-loving stand and policy of the WPK and DPRK which are concentrating efforts on the development of economy and improvement of people’s living standard.

Here is coverage of this report in Yonhap.

UPDATE 1 (2013-10-17): In September, IFES reported the creation of the DPRK’s Economic Development Commission” (See original post below). It appears that KCNA has finally announced its creation. According to KCNA in two different articles:

General Bureau for State Economic Development Renamed

Pyongyang, October 16 (KCNA) — The DPRK decided to rename the General Bureau for State Economic Development the State Economic Development Commission.

A decree of the Presidium of the DPRK Supreme People’s Assembly was promulgated on Wednesday in this regard.

And…

Economic Development Association Organized in DPRK

Pyongyang, October 16 (KCNA) — The Economic Development Association was organized in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

As a non-governmental organization, it helps foreign businesses and entities to get a better knowledge of special economic zones in the DPRK and to make investments in them.

It is also working to assist business activities of foreign investors in the zones.

As part of its first work, it hosted the Pyongyang International Conference on Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Development in Pyongyang starting from Wednesday, attended by economists from Canada, Malaysia and the United States.

The details to contact with the association are as follows:
Tel: 00850-2-381-5912
Fax: 00850-2-381-5889
E-mail Address: sgbed@star-co.net.kp

Here is the Korean version of the articles:

국가경제개발총국을 국가경제개발위원회로 하기로 결정

(평양 10월 16일발 조선중앙통신)조선에서 국가경제개발총국을 국가경제개발위원회로 하기로 결정하였다.

이와 관련한 조선민주주의인민공화국 최고인민회의 상임위원회 정령이 16일 발표되였다.(끝)

조선경제개발협회 조직

(평양 10월 16일발 조선중앙통신)조선경제개발협회가 조직되여 자기 활동을 시작하였다.

협회는 다른 나라의 기업들과 단체들이 조선의 특수경제지대들에 대하여 잘 알게 하고 그 진출을 협력해주는 민간급단체이다.

조선의 특수경제지대개발에 도움이 되는 투자토론회, 상담회, 전시회, 경제정보교류, 자문봉사, 정부의 위임에 따르는 투자합의, 투자가들의 기업활동방조 등 다양한 봉사를 제공하고있다.

협회는 앞으로 조선의 특수경제지대개발에 관심을 가지거나 투자에 참가하는 여러 나라 경제계와 기업계, 학계의 광범한 인사들의 리익을 도모하기 위해 자기의 역할을 끊임없이 높여나가게 된다.

조선경제개발협회는 첫 사업으로서 카나다와 말레이시아, 미국을 비롯한 여러 나라의 경제전문가들을 초청하여 16일부터 특수경제지대개발에 관한 평양국제토론회를 주최하고있다.

협회는 전화 00850-2-381-5912와 확스 00850-2-381-5889, 전자우편 sgbed@star-co.net.kp로 기업, 단체들과 련계하고있다.(끝)

I am unsure of the difference between the “Economic Development Commission” and the “Economic Development Association”, but they appear to be the same organization. The same name difference is apparent in the Korean articles as well: 조선국가경제개발총국, 조선경제개발협회. I also assume this is the same “Economic Development Commission” reported by IFES in September and posted below.

The first high profile event of the Korea Economic Development Association/Commission was an event: The Pyongyang International Conference on Special Economic Zone (특수경제지대, SEZ) Development. Below are articles on the event:

KCNA (2013-10-16):

International Conference on SEZ Development Opens in DPRK

The International Conference on Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Development opened at the Yanggakdo International Hotel in Pyongyang on Wednesday, with economists from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Canada and other countries in attendance.

In this regard, KCNA met Ri Chol Sok, vice-president of the Korea Economic Development Association.
Ri said:

The conference takes place at a time when the DPRK is paying deep attention to developing special economic zones in local areas, as the Rason Economic and Trade Zone.

The conference deals with present-day situation and prospect of the special economic zones in the DPRK and its laws for SEZs, characteristics of special economic and exports processing zones in China and Vietnam as well as the experiences gained in developing them.

It also introduces the roles the zones play in the economic development in each country.

The DPRK has constituted a series of laws for ensuring free business activities in the zones.

Meanwhile, the country is making efforts to improve economic management methods, while consolidating the socialist economic system.

This conference will mark a good occasion in promoting international exchange and cooperation and in developing the economy of the country.

Xinhua:

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) said Wednesday it would establish special economic zones open to investment from “any country.”

Ri Chol Sik, deputy head of the Korea Economic Development Association (KEDA), told the first international conference on Special Economic Zone (SEZ) development here that the DPRK was preparing to open many SEZs at provincial level, with legal protection and preferential policy already set up.

“Policies and regulatory environment and their implementation are critical to the success of SEZs,” said Bradley Babson, chair of the DPRK Economic Forum at the U.S.-Korea Institute at John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

A DPRK professor with Kim IL Sung University told Xinhua the seminar was “a great opportunity for our people to learn from other countries’ successful experience on SEZs.”

The seminar, sponsored by KEDA and co-hosted by Park Kyung Ae, director of the Canada-DPRK Knowledge Partnership Program (KPP) at the University of British Columbia, Canada, was attended by DPRK scholars and officials and dozens of foreign economic specialists from countries such as the United States, Canada, China, Vietnam, India, and Malaysia.

Park told Xinhua it was a chance to exchange ideas and promote cooperation between DPRK and the outside world. She has been engaging for years in a KPP academic exchange program, which sends DPRK professors to study and do research in Canada.

KEDA, a newly formed non-government organization, aims to support activities by foreign businesses and scholars interested in the country’s special zones, said KCNA, DPRK’s official news agency.

The non-governmental association, the first of its kind in DPRK, arranges meetings, supports business activities and offers information and consulting to prospective investors.

Also on Wednesday, the National Economic Development General Bureau was renamed the National Economic Development Committee, KCNA said.

And from KCNA on 2013-10-17:

Ri Chol Sok, vice-president of the Korean Economic Development Association (KEDA), said in his closing address at the Pyongyang International Conference on Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Development that other countries’ experience would be helpful to the DPRK seeking to create economic development zones in its localities.

The conference was held at the Yanggakdo International Hotel on October 16-17, with the attendance of KEDA officials, professors of Kim Il Sung University, University of National Economy, Academy of Social Sciences and other related institutions and economists of the DPRK and experts of academic and economic circles of different countries, including University of British Columbia in Canada, Chinese University of Hong Kong, University of Delhi in India, Planning & Economic Research in Malaysia and University of Wisconsin in the United States.

It focused on such matters as the features of SEZ planning and the study of its examples, management and investment in SEZ and development course of SEZ.

Its participants presented papers on experience and lessons of some countries and valuable propositions and exchanged their views on the prospect of SEZ development in the DPRK and international cooperation in this respect.

Professor Pak Kyong Ae of University of British Columbia in Canada recalled that the conference was conducive to establishing and putting into practice the strategy of comprehensive economic development including the creation of SEZs.

The professor hoped that the good ties forged between the participants through the conference would lead to continuous exchange.

And from Xinhua (2013-10-17):

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is hosting an international conference to explore ways of developing its economy. Earlier this year, the country announced a new law governing new economic zones.

A sign of new climate in economic development, thirteen foreign academics and experts from countries including the US, Canada, India, China, Malaysia and Vietnam gathered in Pyongyang on Wednesday for an international economic conference.

They joined about 60 economists from the Kim Il Sung University, the Academy of Social Sciences, and other local institutions.

The conference comes as economic zones are starting to be created all over the country. On June 5th, the DPRK’s state news agency KCNA announced a new law governing special economic zones. Foreigners can now invest in the new economic zones with preferential conditions for land-use, employment and tax.

The DPRK has experimented with special economic zones for years. In the early 1990s, the DPRK set-up the Rason Special Economic Zone in the far northeast, but it made little progress until recently being reinvented as a joint project with China.

Another DPRK-China joint economic development project on the border between the two countries at Hwang-gum-pyong is still at a much earlier stage of development.

The joint industrial zone with South Korea at Kaesong has not long reopened after a months-long shutdown earlier this year due to tensions on the peninsula.

The new law on special economic zones is one of a number of signs that the DPRK may be seeking to speed up its economy.

Here is coverage in Yonhap (2013-10-16):

North Korea has established a private organization to develop special economic zones, its media said Wednesday, following toughened business sanctions slapped on the communist country for its nuclear weapons test earlier in the year.

The organization, dubbed the Korean economic development federation, aims to support activities of foreign businesses and scholars interested in the special zones in North Korea, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

The regime’s news wire added that the organization will arrange meetings, support business activities and offer consulting and information to prospective investors.

As part of its first official activity, the federation arranged an international conference attended by United States, Canadian and Malay economists that kicked off earlier in the day in Pyongyang, the KCNA said.

North Korea observers said that the creation of a civilian entity to manage a handful of special zones is a first for the communist country and that it follows the revision of related laws in late May aimed at fueling growth and attracting more foreign investors.

“The federation seems to be a copy of similar private sector organizations in capitalist countries and shows the importance placed on pulling off economic growth by the Kim Jong-un government,” said Lim Eul-chul, a research professor at Kyungnam University in South Korea.

Other experts said with the toughened sanctions from the United Nations, the North may be seeking to circumvent the existing business and trade restriction by creating a private body.

Here is coverage in the Daily NK:

According to an October 16th report by Chinese news agency Xinhua’s correspondent in Pyongyang, Yoon Yong Suk, who is in charge of the Chosun Economic Development Committee, recently spoke at the “Pyongyang International Symposium on Special Economic Zone Development,” held at the Yanggakdo Hotel. He said, “We are actively preparing to establish special economic zones in all provinces and introduce foreign capital.” Chosun Economic Development Committee is a “non-state” institution established for the purpose of developing special economic zones.

He explained, “At the Central Committee meeting last March, it was decided that special economic zones should be established in each province, and tourist areas, too, in order to invigorate the tourist industry, and bring about greater diversity in international trade. Currently, each province is moving forward with the establishment of development zones and the task of attracting foreign currency, in accordance with the plan.”

“It is the consistent policy of our country to develop the Rason Special Economic Zone, the Hwangguempyeong and Wihwa Island areas, Mt. Geumgang International Tourist Area, and economic development zones in each province,” he added. “We will find practical and logic means by which to expand economic, trade and scientific exchanges, as well as enhance understanding, exchanges and contacts with governments, private industry, and private groups.”

On October 1st, Daily NK reported that economic officials in provincial areas of North Korea had been ordered to formulate plans for the designation of two candidate cities for development, and that legal and systemic modifications were being investigated, in order to try and ensure interest from foreign capital.

According to Daily NK’s information, the profit derived from joint ventures would be shared 50-50; owever, foreign companies would only have to cover the cost of land use and wages.

Naenara, one of the DPRK’s official web portals, has also posted lots of content on the meeting. See here, here, here, here, here, and here. I have compiled all these articles into this PDF.

Read full story here:
N. Korea sets up civilian body for special economic zones
Yonhap
2013-10-16

ORIGINAL POST (2013-9-6): On May 29, the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly promulgated the “DPRK Law on Economic Development Zones“. Now it appears they have named a body to administer the law. According to the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES):

DPRK Economic Development Committee launched: Special economic and tourism zones to be named (IFES)

In the wake of normalizing the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) agreement, North Korea has announced that it had installed the Economic Development Committee and named special economic and tourism zones, as well as newly appointed officials in charge. In the near future, North Korea has plans to announce specific special economic zones in Sinuiju, Nampo, and Haeju, along with tourism zones in Mount Baekdu, Wonsan, and Chilbosan. The head and director-level executives for the Economic Development Committee are likely to be appointed from the Joint Venture Investment Committee. The head of the Tourism Development is reported to be the former director of Korea Tourism Administration.

Meanwhile, North Korea has released the preamble of the economic development law adopted at the recent Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly held on May 29. As inter-Korean relations are progressing with the plans of restarting the Kaesong Industrial Complex and the reunion of separated families moving forward, North Korea’s economic development law is drawing attention once again.

In principle, the selection process for the special economic zones must possess these following elements: Area must 1) be in a favorable location for foreign economic cooperation and exchanges; 2) contribute to the economic and science and technology development; 3) be at a fixed distance from the residential areas; and 4) be at a location that does not intrude in the state protected areas (Article 11). This can be interpreted as the North’s effort to segregate the existing residential areas with the special economic zone similar to the Kaesong Industrial Complex so as to minimize the political and social impact of these zones.

The newly confirmed information for the new Economic Development Law is the list of development activities. “Investors from other countries are permitted to develop economic zones either alone or in collaboration after obtaining state approval (Article 20).” Evidently, North Korean institutions and enterprises may also develop economic zones after receiving approval from the state.

In addition, the law granted comprehensive property rights to the development companies. It states that “Companies have the right to sell, re-lease, bequeath, or transfer the ownership of the buildings and land lease” and “the selling or re-lease price shall be determined by the development company” (Article 29).

As for recruitment of workers, there is a provision that states “our country’s labor force must be given preferential consideration” (Article 41), and “the minimum wage for the employees of the Economic Development Zone shall be determined by central guidance organization of special economic zone” (Article 42). This poses some concern as the employee wage at the Economic Development Zone could be compared to that of the KIC, which could lead to wage disputes after the KIC begins to implement its internationalization process.

Another noteworthy change is the currencies permitted at the zone: “currency for circulation and payment must be Korean Won (KPW) or other specified currency” (Article 46), suggesting that other currencies such as the US dollar and euro will be allowed.

Furthermore, the Act specifies that “Companies in the economic development zone will decide on the commodity and service prices, and all the prices in the Economic Development Zone between institutions, enterprises and organizations shall be determined by the international market price based on agreement of all the parties” (Article 43). This suggests that the products produced in the zone may be traded domestically in North Korea.

In this Act, corporate income tax rate was set at 14 percent of profits and “Economic Development companies that operate for more than 10 years will be considered for a tax cut or exemption from the corporate income tax.” Article 58 grants “communication guarantees” for the usage of mail, telephone, and fax services, but did not include the use of the Internet.

Posts on the DPRK Law on Economic Development Zones can be found here.

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North Korea enthusiastically promoting tourism industry to attract foreign investments

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2013-8-29

The Korean Central News Agency reported on August 24 that a tourism briefing session was held in Pyongyang for the purpose of attracting foreign investment.

The state-run Korea International Travel Company (KITC) opened a briefing session at the Yanggakdo International Hotel to explain the preferential treatment for foreign investments. Officials from various embassies, along with Chinese, English, and German travel agency representatives were present at the briefing session.

Cho Song Gyu, president of Korea International Travel Company, said that “tourism districts will be operated as special tourism zone and all management activities such as customs, tax, communication, and investment protection will be guaranteed in accordance with the special zone law and international standards.” It was said that investments of foreign owned enterprises and joint venture companies are to be given priority.

President Cho added, “There are plans to invite foreign experts to improve other special tourism zones such as Wonsan and Mount Chilbo districts.”

North Korea recently disclosed plans of developing mountains Baektu, Kumgang, and Chilbo, with plans of constructing ski resorts in these areas.

In addition, North Korea’s tourism policy is rapidly changing and significant ease on restrictions can be observed on foreign tourists. Unlike in the past, tourists are now allowed to travel to North Korea at any time of the year, with fewer date restrictions.

Meanwhile, North Korea’s economic journal is attracting attention as it argues for the diversification of foreign investment. This call for diversification might reflect a North Korean concern about China’s growing investment in North Korea’s resource sector.

In the current issue of Kyongje Yongu (Economic Research, July 30 issue), North Korea’s quarterly economic journal, it was stated that “Foreign companies in our country are heavily concentrated in joint ventures with domestic companies in the collection industries and their main interest is in developing natural resources.”

The article analyzed that investments by foreign companies are largely concentrated in natural resources development, as they are trying to secure raw materials necessary for production activities. In addition, the article called for improvements in the method and diversification of foreign investment as it stressed that without any intervention, the situation could lead to negative results.

Most of the foreign investment in North Korea is known to be from China. Last year, gold mining companies and Chinese enterprises signed joint venture agreements one after another, displaying Chinese companies’ growing interest in North Korean mines.

Here is the story from KCNA:

Tourism-related Explanation Session Held in DPRK

Pyongyang, August 24 (KCNA) — A tourism-related explanation session, sponsored by the International Travel Company of the DPRK, took place at the Yanggakdo International Hotel here Saturday.

Present at the session on invitation were staff members of foreign embassies in DPRK and representatives of travel companies from China, Britain, Germany and other countries.

Addressing the session, Jo Song Gyu, head of the International Travel Company of the DPRK, referred to the development of tourism in the DPRK and its policy on tourism.

Mts. Paektu, Kumgang and Chilbo, Wonsan City and other scenic spots and areas in the country have turned into recreation grounds and tourist resorts and a brisk drive is being conducted to further develop them, he noted.

The tourist resorts will be run in the form of special zone for tourism and all the management activities such as passage through boundaries, customs, taxes, communications and investment protection will go by the DPRK’s relevant law on special zones as well as the international rules, Jo said.

He further said that businesspersons and investors of any countries and regions interested in tourism of DPRK would be welcomed and preference be given to private and joint-venture and collaboration businesses.

He also mentioned a plan to invite foreign experts needed for the development and management of the tourist resorts in various parts of the country including Wonsan City and Mt. Chilbo.

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