Archive for the ‘Political economy’ Category

North Korean state security agents fine Chinese visitors for making phone calls abroad

Thursday, August 9th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Daily NK:

North Korean Ministry of State Security (MSS) agents have been ramping up the issuance of monetary fines for Chinese business people and drivers in the country for various infractions.

“Chinese business people and truck drivers are being fined for taking calls from China while they are in North Korea,” a source in China close to North Korean affairs told Daily NK on August 7. “A surveillance agent stationed near the Wonjong Border Customs Office is stopping vehicles driven by Chinese business people and truckers who are detected receiving calls and issuing them with fines.”

“Chinese tourists have their phones confiscated by travel agencies so they cannot make calls, but business people and truck drivers are under no such restrictions and could previously receive calls from China without issue,” he continued, adding that international calls to China are permitted within a radius of one kilometer of the customs office.

Chinese nationals affected are responding with incredulity at the 1,000 yuan fines for taking calls from China but “they are forced to pay the fine, however, because they depend on good relations with the North Korean authorities to conduct cross-border business.”

MSS agents have long forced North Koreans to pay bribes in exchange for letting them off the hook for making international calls. But these agents are now more pressed than ever to find ways to earn money and it appears that Chinese nationals are now in their crosshairs.

The North Korean government keeps a watchful eye over the activities of its agents, but corruption has such deep roots within the MSS that agents have no qualms with taking advantage of Chinese nationals.

One of the driving forces behind the push to earn more money is the nationwide requirement to pay “loyalty funds,” which is aimed at supporting development of the Wonsan-Kalma marine tourist zone and the Samjiyon area.

On top of their surveillance of cellphone users, MSS agents are also fining Chinese vehicles that carry North Korean passengers.

‘There are cases where Chinese truck drivers take on North Korean passengers to make a little extra cash, but MSS agents are cracking down on this activity and fining the drivers 500 KPW for each male passenger and 1,000 KPW for each female passenger. Chinese drivers are now increasingly ignoring hitchhikers on the road,” a source in North Hamgyong Province added.

“The fines are causing Chinese business people to be more watchful of their activities in North Korea. Some are even questioning whether they should even be doing business in the country.”

Article source:
MSS agents fine Chinese nationals for infractions to earn money
Mun Dong-hui
Daily NK
2018-08-09

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Daily NK interviews a state security agent on sanctions, defectors, and life in North Korea

Wednesday, August 8th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Daily NK:

As changes to the political situation on the Korean Peninsula continue in the wake of the inter-Korean, US-DPRK (abbreviation for North Korea’s formal name) and Sino-DPRK summits, Daily NK recently met with an official from North Korea’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) in China to talk about international sanctions toward North Korea and the inter-Korean relationship. The MSS officer displayed a clear anti-American bias with his own ideological convictions, but also offered some objective evaluations of the North Korean regime.

Following is a transcript of the full interview.

Daily NK (DNK): International sanctions are still in effect for North Korea, as you know.

Ministry of State Security official (MSS): They are hard to accept. I’m not sure whether South Korea is trying to make itself look good in the eyes of Trump as it accepts the continued sanctions against North Korea, but in any case, they [the sanctions] are an irritant. There are many [North Korean] restaurants in China. The sanctions have made it impossible for new workers for these restaurants to enter China, and those who are here must return to North Korea next year.

I can understand [the international community] criticizing North Korea for not living as well as capitalist countries after moving away from socialism and operating in the international market like other countries. However, I’m angry that China, Russia and the South have come together to sanction us and that the US makes us a very poor country by preventing our goods from entering the international market.

If you ask anyone in North Korea – young or old – they will respond that North Korea must fight and drop a nuke on America. I think that Chairman Kim Jong Un got rid of nuclear weapons so that the sanctions would be lifted and our lives would improve, but personally speaking, I think we should drop a nuke on New York or Washington, D.C.

Why are South Koreans so angry about us making intercontinental ballistic missiles? We are seeking peace by destroying our [nuclear] underground facilities, but the US has simply stopped its military exercises. They could restart them again [at any time]. They claim they will get rid of the sanctions eventually but it’s hard to believe that.

DNK: The inter-Korean atmosphere, however, is focused on continuing exchanges and cooperation.

MSS: The sanctions must be lifted first for anything to really happen. With the sanctions still in effect, I could accept that President Moon Jae-in is the “trailblazer of the Korean people,” but he continues to look to America for guidance. We could ask South Korea to lift the sanctions, but they just do what America tells them to do. We are a brave people made up of the worker class, who form the basis of the socialist revolution. We have nothing to lose from a war. South Korea would hate to go to war, but the majority of us [North Koreans] would go to war without hesitation.

DNK: Have you ever watched South Korean dramas before?

MSS: Yes, I’ve watched them in secret in China. I have seen defectors on South Korean dramas like ‘Now on my way to meet you’ and ‘Moranbong Club.’ They don’t necessarily lie about everything; they get some things right. It is true life in North Korea is hard and that there are almost no rations from the government. There are some places that only give two-weeks worth of rations and people make up for the lack of food by going into business and cooking corn porridge, and some people even die due to the lack of food.

However, some defectors say that residents just walk by dead bodies on the street. How could that even be possible in a place inhabited by human beings? Even during the Arduous March [widespread famine of the mid-1990s], that wasn’t the case. Soldiers and inminban [neighborhood watch-like units] dug graves to bury the dead. That [walking by dead bodies] wouldn’t have even happened in Korea’s feudal period.

When I asked someone why the defectors lie like that, I was told that they are given money to appear on such TV shows. They received free education and healthcare in North Korea, but now they turn around and spit on their own country. They talk trash about their own country. I can acknowledge that life is tough in North Korea, and that people are hungry and there is no electricity so it’s difficult for factories to operate. But they [defectors] exaggerate too much.

Generally speaking, the women that go to South Korea end up living fairly well and the reality is that people [North Koreans] go to South Korea. However, half of them have committed some type of crime. They have fled because they have the police on their tail. At least half of them are in this situation. They have run away because they have committed a crime like borrowing money from people, and being unable to pay the money back, they have run away before getting caught by the police and being sent to a labor camp.

It is these types of people who come out on TV, crying and telling lies. I would be extremely upset if I lived [in the type of country they are describing]. There are difficulties in North Korea, but real people live there.

DNK: Does the North Korean state still have ironclad control over the country?

MSS: It is still difficult for people to move around freely. Nobody can go from the provinces into Pyongyang. You must have a pass to do that. I hope that the country will soon become like China where you only need a residence card to travel. We have a lot of problems. I hope that these problems will be resolved.

In China, people can send instant messages to those living in Germany or England. North Koreans can take pictures with their cellphones, but cannot use the internet. North Koreans cannot make international calls, either. They couldn’t even dream of it.

The state is worried about the impact of bringing in ‘capitalist-related things’ into the country because they could dampen the people’s ideological stance. I think in some ways the state’s restrictions on foreign things has helped keep North Korea’s ideological stance free of contamination.

Article source:
North Korean state security agent shares thoughts on sanctions, defectors and life in North Korea
Kim Song Il
Daily NK
2018-08-08

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Regime takes two thirds of worker’s salaries for ‘loyalty funds’

Wednesday, August 8th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Daily NK:

As the North Korean authorities shift the financial burden of preparing for the anniversary of North Korea’s establishment on September 9 and the development of the Wonsan-Kalma Marine Tourist Zone, residents are increasingly voicing their complaints over the inherent unfairness of the situation.

“Employees at a joint Sino-North Korean enterprise [name redacted for the safety of the source] located in Rason usually receive 300 yuan (around 50,000 South Korean won) per month, but this month they were only paid 100 yuan,” said a source in North Hamgyong Province on August 6. “Without any prior notice, 200 yuan was taken out of their salaries to be used as funding for regime projects.”

The North Korean authorities have placed great importance on the development of the Wonsan area along with events surrounding the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the nation on September 9. State officials are forcibly taking money from the pockets of ordinary citizens to pay for these projects, according to the source.

“In the past, the state took some money from people’s salaries but never a full two-thirds,” he said. “It’s difficult enough surviving on 200 yuan, so people are very worried about how to survive off a measly 100 yuan.”

One family working at the enterprise typically earns 400 yuan a month but received just 200 yuan this month, he said, explaining that “it’s not enough to even get them through the month […] They have no money saved up and are worried that more money will be taken out of their salaries next month as well.”

Overseas workers are also being forced to contribute part of their salaries to what is referred to as a “loyalty fund.”

“There is money that we have traditionally given to the state each month, but now they have told us we need to give them 2,000 yuan more per month […] Business is difficult these days, which forces us to take money out of our employees’ salaries to pay state officials,” the manager of a North Korean restaurant in China’s Liaoning Province said.

The manager also noted that the authorities were asking for more money to be paid at ever more frequent intervals of time. “Our employees are usually forced to give money [to the loyalty fund] each month, but our employees are up in arms about the amount taken out by the state this month,” the manager said, expressing concern that feelings of discontent among their employees could lead to them running away or even defecting to South Korea.

Full article and source:
Regime takes up to two-thirds of salaries from workers for ‘loyalty funds’
Ha Yoon-ah
Daily NK
2018-08-08

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North Korea exports coal as ‘Russian’ to get around sanctions

Tuesday, August 7th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Reports Radio Free Asia:

In a move aimed at evading U.N. sanctions, North Korea is exporting coal to foreign buyers by sending shipments first to Russian ports, where the coal is falsely labeled as Russian-origin, North Korean sources say.

The export of North Korean coal is strictly banned under international sanctions punishing Pyongyang for its illicit nuclear weapons program, but North Korea has now opened new routes for trade with Russian help, a trade worker in North Pyongan province told RFA’s Korean Service.

“As sanctions on North Korea came into effect a couple of years ago, export routes for coal were blocked,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“So North Korean trading companies have been shipping coal to the ports of Nakhodka and Vladivostok in the southern part of Primorsky Krai, in Russia. North Korean coal is then disguised as having come from Russia and is sent on to other countries under fake documents,” he said.

Loading ports for North Korean coal were formerly at Nampo and Songrim, on North Korea’s west coast close to China, but have now been moved to Chongjin and Wonsan, on the country’s eastern coast close to Russia, he said.

“When North Korean coal arrives at Nakhodka, a Russian company records its time of arrival, the length of the ship’s stay in port, and the amount of coal taken off. They then create false papers including a statement of the coal’s quality,” he said.

With these documents declaring the coal to be of Russian origin, “North Korea now has no problem exporting coal to other countries,” he said.

“The name of the Russian company that my company has been working with is Greenwich, and is located at the port in Nakhodka,” RFA’s source said. “They ask for two dollars per ton to disguise North Korean coal as Russian, and the North Korean trading company pays them right away.”

Still in demand

Also speaking to RFA, a North Korean trade worker based in the Chinese border city of Dandong said that North Korean representatives based in South and North Pyongan provinces collect information on countries needing coal and act as brokers for its export.

“Coal from these western-district mines is very high quality, so there is still a demand for it from other countries even though sanctions are in force,” he said.

A 30 percent deposit from the buying countries is required before the coal begins to move, with 30 percent of the balance due when the coal leaves its Russian port. The remaining 40 percent is then paid when the coal arrives at its final destination, the source said.

“For this three-step payment process, the money is deposited in a “borrowed” Chinese bank account, with the North Korean trading company paying banking fees,” he said.

Some of the coal sent from Russia now goes to South Korea and Japan, RFA’s source said.

“But North Korean company names don’t appear on the shipping papers, so the North Korean trading firms aren’t worried at all,” he said.

Resolve questioned

South Korea’s foreign ministry on Tuesday dismissed allegations that a foreign-flagged ship seen earlier at Nakhodka had delivered North Korean coal to South Korea’s southeastern port of Pohang, claiming the ship’s cargo was of Russian origin, according to an Aug. 7 report by the Yonhap news service.

“Critics here question the left-leaning Moon Jae-in administration’s resolve to curb the transport of North Korean coal,” a source of hard currency for the sanctions-hit Pyongyang regime, Yonhap said.

“But the government has stated that it remains committed to strictly abiding by U.N. mandates despite inter-Korean reconciliation,” Yonhap added.

The United States has meanwhile pointed to what it calls credible reports that Russia is in violation of U.N. sanctions against North Korea, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Aug. 4 urging full compliance with measures aimed at forcing the North to give up its nuclear weapons program.

Article source:
North Korea Exports Coal as ‘Russian’ in Bid to Beat Sanctions
Hyemin Son
Radio Free Asia
2018-08-07

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The economics of coal trade, sanctions, and rice prices in North Korea

Monday, August 6th, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

This may just be one piece of anecdotal evidence, but it’s interesting to note that sanctions haven’t necessarily leading to coal exports stopping – as we know from the multitude of evidence that North Korean coal ships have still been making their transport rounds – but primarily to drastically slashed prices, and surely to significantly smaller volumes being shipped as well. This reinforces the point that even if trade continues, sanctions put a large premium on trading with North Korea. Importers of North Korean coals, simply put, have to get charged less because of the risk they’re taking, and those exporting North Korea need to be paid more for the endeavor to be worth it.

(UPDATE on August 12th): I realized I may have read the article – the source that Daily NK spoke with appears to be referring to domestic prices for coal, not export prices. Still, since we know that coal is in fact being exported through various evasion methods (albeit in fairly small quantities, perhaps), the point stands.

The article also makes an interesting point about the market prices for rice. It is remarkable how little prices have changed through the past year, when sanctions have been in place and enforced by China to a much greater extent than before. Still, according to this piece, prices aren’t dropping even though people’s incomes in fact are going down significantly, at least in parts of the country. So it may be that prices were already at or close to the “reservation price” for suppliers, i.e., the lowest point at which they’re willing to sell at all. Hard to confirm or check, but it is a plausible partial explanation for the strange dynamics of market prices in North Korea over the past year.

Daily NK:

As coal exports have slowed to a crawl due to international sanctions, North Korea’s coal country of Kaechon, South Pyongan Province, and Kujang County, North Pyongan Province, have been suffering under intense economic difficulties. Most residents in these areas were dependent on the export of coal and are directly feeling the effects of the trade stagnation.

“When coal was being exported, it went for up to 130,000 won (16 US dollars) a ton, but now due to the sanctions the price has fallen to 50,000 won (around 6 US dollars) a ton […] The coal must be sold for workers to get paid. The halt in  exports has even led to someone starving to death,” said Kim Woo Chul (alias, male resident of Kujang County), who was traveling in China on August 1.

“In April or May this year a fifty-year-old man died of starvation,” he said, nothing that while corn is provided by the government in July and August, “it lasts for less than two months.”

Kim also said that rice is being sold in the market but most people in the region can’t afford it. “Food is not scarce in the Kim Jong Un era, but people have no money so they can’t buy it,” he emphasized. Kim also noted that there were many empty food stands at the markets because demand has fallen due to the lack of money.

Another resident from Kaechon, South Pyongan Province, named Ri Sung Rim (alias) added, “There is a lot of rice at the markets, and people would buy it if they had money, but they don’t have money because coal is not being sold anymore […] People who ran private businesses selling coal are having a particularly bad time and are starving because they can’t even make corn porridge.”

She explained that a small amount of corn is given to those actually producing coal by the state, but teams that are not producing anything receive no food rations. “They have nothing to eat so there are even people who are taking their children and leaving the region,” she said.

The two interviewees also talked about the chronic electricity shortages in North Korea. While Pyongyang and other major cities are supplied with a relatively steady supply, the rural areas receive very little. People cannot watch television because of the lack of electricity, which means that many in these areas only recently found out that Kim Jong Un had met with the leaders of South Korea and the US.

“Electricity is only supplied for an hour or less in Pyongsong, while those who are wealthy siphon off electricity from factories or use car batteries,” said Kim. “Some of the wealthier people use car batteries to watch KCNA on television sets, but most cannot afford that.”

“Production teams get electricity, but residents don’t get electricity in their homes […] Car batteries need to be recharged to supply electricity at home, but there are no places to recharge them. People get them recharged if they know someone at the factories, but they are out of luck otherwise,” Ri said.

“I only found out about Chairman Kim Jong Un visiting China when I visited the country […] People need electricity to see the news and, since they can’t, they don’t know what’s going on.”

Article source:
Export sanctions lead to hard times for those in coal-producing regions
Ha Yoon-ah
Daily NK
2018-08-06

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WSJ on South Korean firms planning for business opportunities in North Korea

Monday, July 23rd, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein 

WSJ:

After months of rapprochement—including summit meetingsbetween North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and one between Mr. Kim and President Donald Trump —hopes are rising for more open access to North Korea, a country of 25 million people with vast mineral reserves and lots of cheap labor.

Samsung C&T Corp . , the de facto holding company of South Korea’s biggest and best-known conglomerate, created a North Korea task force in May, staffed by an executive and three managers.

Samsung’s construction arm, which has built some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers and is building subway lines in Singapore and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, sees opportunity in the North as economic growth slows in the South.

Full article here:
Companies See Glimmers of Opportunity in North Korea
Jonathan Cheng
Wall Street Journal
2018-07-23

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North Korea’s negative growth in 2017: things look bad, unsurprisingly, but take the numbers with a grain of salt

Friday, July 20th, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Bank of Korea (BOK) has put out their yearly estimate of North Korea’s GDP trends. This year, they estimate that the country’s GDP decreased by 3.5 percent. Off the top of my head, this seems a fairly reasonable estimate, particularly since sanctions were only in force for a minor part of the year (late fall and onward). Some quick thoughts below:

As always, remember: estimate GDP in North Korea is very, very hard. How do you evaluate, for example, the market sector versus the state sector? Given how complicated and partially opaque North Korea’s system for pricing it, how can a GDP figure even be reasonably estimated? That said, BOK has been doing this for many years, and their figures are, for all their faults and flaws, some of the most reasonable estimates among the few that exist. Still, as one of the leading experts in the field once told a class of grad students studying the Korean economy: if someone gives you a figure on the North Korean economy with a specific decimal number, you can be sure that it’s wrong.

Some news outlets have made a big number of the fact that this contraction is the largest for over two decades, according to the BOK numbers. While that is true, the proportions are very different: in 1997, BOK estimates that the economy contracted by 6.5 percent, that is, almost double the contraction of 2017. So we’re not talking about any crisis nearly as significant as the famine of the 1990s.

BOK estimates a drop by 1.3 percent in agricultural and fisheries production. Notably, still, market prices for food have looked completely normal throughout the year, as this blog has noted several times before. It’s unclear how exactly agricultural production is estimated, and what the “sector” here really means – only what goes into the state-side of agricultural production and supply, or the sale of surplus production on the semi-private markets? The latter may very well be underestimated given how tricky it is to asses what share of agricultural production still lies firmly and solely within the state system.

It’s unclear how much of the shortfall in electricity production is compensated for by items like solar panels and other forms of electricity generation increasingly prevalent on the ground. Many have noted the various creative ways in which much of the North Korean population already adapts to the shortfall and unreliability of public supply of electricity.

The estimated trade numbers are very dire but also probably approximately realistic. Though the 37 percent shortfall in exports may be an overestimate given that they (presumably) don’t account for smuggling, it is undeniable that the economy is taking a very large hit from sanctions. People who recently visited the Chinese border speak of very low levels of activity in goods transports and the like. This gives cause for some skepticism toward the reports claiming that Chinese sanctions enforcement has gone much more lax lately: it may well have, but that hardly means the doors are flung open. At the same time, imports went up 1.8 percent. Either China is letting North Korea run a trade deficit which they assume they’ll get back once sanctions are eased, or the regime has much more currency stashed away to pay with the goods for than many have thought. The truth may lie somewhere in the middle there.

 

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NK News on the growing Naegohyang conglomerate

Wednesday, July 18th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

NK News:

It began as a tobacco company, but has since widened its scope to the sporting goods industry, and reportedly became known in the North through a soccer match for the 2010 World Cup at Yanggakdo Stadium in Pyongyang on 6 June 2009, the state-run KCTV reported in a video released in October 2016.

Before the game, according to the narrator, unknown individuals handed out Naegohyang-branded sports t-shirts to spectators at the 30,000-seat Yanggakdo Stadium. On that day, “the t-shirts replaced tickets for the game,” the video said.

Even though state media praised them for their generosity and patriotic spirit, initial coverage appeared reluctant to reveal who they were.

“We could not know who they were,” the narrator said.

Sports t-shirts were given out again to waves of spectators in 2015 when North Korea played Uzbekistan at Kim Il Sung stadium, with locals seen wearing the company-branded t-shirts and caps.

Full article here:
Naegohyang: a North Korean company branches out
Tia Han
NK News
2018-07-18

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Kim Jong-un and deforestation

Monday, July 16th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Kim Jong-un is clearly aware of, and engaged in, the forestry issue, which not least his visits in July show. North Korea’s forestry situation is dire and has vast environmental and economic consequences. He gave an interesting speech on it in 2015. Here’s a recent article by Daily NK on the role of the forestry issue, and what can reasonably be done:

Citizens of poorer countries typically focus their energy on subsistence agriculture in order to survive. In North Korea, this focus has widely occurred at the expense of environmental issues, with many in the country viewing environmentalism as a “luxury.”

However, there will likely be an increase in environmental awareness when the economy improves through reforms and opening. Increases in personal income levels will allow the population to pay more attention to and seek ways to address environmental issues.

North Korea has experienced severe environmental destruction over the past 70 years. Widespread logging has left barren vistas throughout the country, exemplifying the poor state of North Korea’s natural environment and serving as a stark reminder of the economic, technological and societal factors at play.

The Korea Forest Research Institute (KFRI) in South Korea has published satellite images showing the extent of North Korea’s environmental destruction. According to the data, forests once covered 9,160,000 hectares of North Korean territory, with 2,840,000 hectares of this forest area now destroyed. This means that 32% of North Korea’s total forest area has been wiped out, an area 46 times the size of the city of Seoul.

The regime has paid very little attention to environmental conservation and as a result the country frequently suffers massive loss of human life due to landslides and other natural disasters.

Recently, however, there are signs that the North Korean government is paying more attention to the fate of its forests. In early July, Kim Jong Un, during an on-site visit to a reed branch farm in North Pyongan Province and the Sinuiju Chemical Textile Factory, which produces paper and textiles with reeds, located around Sinuiju, commented on the insufficient supply of paper and called for support for paper companies making paper out of reeds (as opposed to wood).

North Korea’s paper industry is almost completely dependent on using pulp, which is made out of wood. Pulp is made by mixing water with wood sourced from coniferous trees. Pulp contains lignin and other elements which makes it relatively practical during the manufacturing process, but because it can easily change color it cannot be used for high-quality paper. Instead, it is commonly used for newspapers.

The Rodong Sinmun and other state propaganda materials are almost all made out of paper produced from pulp.

North Korea created the 121 Cooperative Enterprise under the management of the Korean Workers’ Party’s Financial Administration Department to produce paper for the Rodong Sinmun. This enterprise operates a network of tree harvesting companies based throughout the country that fell thousands of trees each year.

The trees are then transported from forests near the Amnok River, Chongchun River and Duman River to Kilju, Sinuiju and Anju where they are made into pulp and finally turned into paper for newspapers at the 121 Paper Factory in Anju, South Pyongan Province. Most of the wood harvested each year in North Korea is used for newspapers or other government projects and amounts to significant volumes.

The destruction of the country’s forests has increased annually and most of it is due to the activities of the North Korean government.

North Korea has recently paid more attention to the preservation of its natural environment, and a welcome sign is that the country is making more paper out of reeds than wood. However, the country lacks the technical ability to assess its own environmental issues and has not put in place the proper systems to take advantage of production methods that are cleaner and more efficient.

North Korea has long had notional policies to protect its environment. The country’s environmental protection agency was made independent from the Ministry of Security in the late 1980s and became the “Ministry of Land and Environment Protection.” In April 1998, as the rest of the government shrank in size due to the economic crisis, this ministry was expanded and turned into a full government ministry. The ministry was instrumental in helping environmental protection and management practices become more systematic through the establishment of forestry administration offices, nurseries, and forest monitoring centers under each of the country’s provincial governments.

These organizations designated a period of mass mobilization each spring and fall for citizens to plant trees and conduct activities related to the prevention of landslides and mudslides. Ironically, however, North Korea’s forests have been degraded even further despite these efforts. This is largely due to the fact that the government still relies heavily on wood products.

North Korea’s policy of self-sufficiency in the economic sphere has continued to raise the country’s dependence on wood and led to accelerating deforestation throughout the country, which in turn leads to greater destruction arising from natural disasters.

Mountainous areas and those near rivers suffer the most from deforestation. Areas without trees can experience massive mudslides, even after only receiving light rainfall.

Daily NK sources recently reported that significant loss of human life and destruction of property occurred during a landslide following rainfall near a dam construction site in North Pyongan Province. The sources said that deforestation that had occurred near the construction site was to blame.

The construction of power plants and roads typically leads to the complete deforestation of mountains nearby. The state is unable to provide the wood required for construction, and so construction workers must find a way to handle the lack of materials themselves. They have little choice but to cut down trees near the construction site.

North Korea is now focusing on the construction of massive dams as a way to increase its energy supply. This construction is leading to the deforestation of nearby forest areas.

Deforestation enacts a heavy toll on North Korea’s economy and its population is becoming more concerned about its effects. Many complain that the deforestation is damaging their own ability to lead happy lives.

North Korea is faced with a whole slew of issues: lack of energy for its citizens; the lack of economic power to deal with its environmental problems; and a planned economy that has only hampered economic development. The country must, however, implement more environmentally-friendly economic policies before further damage occurs.

The North Korean government must address the social, technological, economic and market-related factors that drive deforestation. They must also be open to assistance from abroad so that their attempts to prevent further deforestation and protect existing forests are successful.

Article source:
Kim Jong Un wants to stop deforestation, but can he?
Jo Hyon
Daily NK
2018-07-16

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Crackdowns in North Korea continue against “anti-socialist elements”

Monday, July 16th, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

The wave of crackdowns against “anti-socialist” activity in North Korea following the spring of summitry continues. The latest report by Daily NK (below) focuses on crackdowns against those breaking the economic rules in fishing villages. This all highlights a central problem with North Korea’s often ad-hoc marketization process: much of the space the state grants for economic activity beyond its reach, it can quickly take away whenever it sees fit:

While there are signs that the ‘anti-socialist’ crackdown by the North Korean authorities has slowed in recent days, sources have reported that crackdowns are still occurring in the fishing communities of North Hamgyong Province.

“There was a crackdown on a fishing company in Hamgyong Province that owned more fishing boats than it had registered with the state,” said a source in North Hamgyong Province on July 11.

“The boats that were registered with the state sent the required amount of fish to the government, while the catch from the unregistered boats was sent somewhere else. The company is getting punished for this.”

An inspection revealed that the fishing company had only 30 ships registered, but was actually operating more than 300 small fishing boats.

“The authorities are angry because they confirmed the number of unregistered fishing boats across North Hamgyong Province to be around 2,300,” said a separate source in North Hamgyong Province. “The authorities confiscated all of the unregistered boats and handed them over to the province’s major fishing enterprise. The state also ordered that all the fishing boat captains are to be replaced.”

There are still crackdowns on illegal activities in places that the authorities have designated as “problem areas.” The crackdown on the unregistered fishing boats has led to anger from fishermen in the towns.

The article also gives a clue to one of the sources of the so-called “ghost ships” that arrived on Japanese shores over the past year or so:

Locals are complaining that it is difficult for their small boats to fulfill the harvest quotas set by the government set and that the state is only focused on meeting those quotas with registered boats. Fishing boat operators contend that they risk their lives to earn a living and are being treated unfairly by the state.

“We have to catch seven tons of squid or sailfin sandfish during the harvest seasons, but we can’t catch even half of that in our small boats […] The state is calculating that the large number of unregistered boats means that fishing companies are fishing a lot and making a significant amount of money, but in fact fishing with such small boats means that we cannot catch much at all,” the second source quoted one captain as saying.

This source also stated that the crackdown has led to the firing of several fishing boat captains. “[The captains] just stare out to sea and are at a loss for what to do,” he said.

“They receive no rations from the state and are just eking out an existence. The crackdown has led to the collapse of the base of the fishing industry in the region.”

The initial source also said that captains that had purchased their own boats are unable to get any financial return on them.

“Many of them are complaining that nothing they do helps them make a living and are unsure how they will survive,” he said.

Article source:
North Korean authorities continue crackdowns in fishing villages
Ha Yoon Ah
Daily NK
2018-07-16

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