Archive for the ‘Political economy’ Category

The size of North Korea’s market economy, and why it matters

Saturday, December 10th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

The other day, South Korean think-tank KINU (Korean Institute for National Unification) reportedly claimed that North Korea has 404 official markets in total. As Curtis Melvin has already pointed out on twitter, the real number is actually higher, but all this depends on what precise definition you use of markets (institutionalized and government recognized, versus operating in a legal gray zone, et cetera). As this report by the U.S.-Korea Institute laid out last year – also using satellite imagery, like the KINU report does – markets have grown significantly in size since the early 2000s.

The more interesting figures, in my opinion, are KINU’s estimates for what the markets actually generate in terms of income for the government, and how many people they employ. Below, I place these figures in a comparative perspective within the economy as a whole, and discuss the proportional weight of the markets in the North Korean economy. But first, some of the usual caveats:

As with any figures relating to the North Korean economy, a great deal of caution must be exercised in approaching these numbers. It would seem nearly impossible, for example, to accurately calculate the number of people employed by the markets. In theory, this should not be that hard. Using Google Earth, you can measure, with a fair degree of accuracy, the size of the trading grounds, and knowing the rough size of the average market stall in a North Korean market and how many people work in each one, getting a rough number for the amount that they employ should not be impossible. It would be a very rough estimate but arguably that is better than nothing. But in practice, it would still not give the full story of how many people work in the markets, since many people work there part-time, at least according to (possibly outdated) anecdotal evidence.

Moreover, it is important to remember that the market system is not the entire private sector – many other types of exchanges and transactions go on in the North Korean economy, not all recognizable from above, in complexes such as residential buildings and the like, where small business have been known to operate from. So any number for government revenues, it is important to bear in mind, will only be an estimate (again, a very rough one) for the specific type of markets that KINU has recorded. KINU does not seem to have made its report available online yet – perhaps their methodology is laid out clearly enough to answer some of these questions.

What do the numbers tell us?

Still, the numbers are interesting as starting points for a broader analysis of the proportions and size of the North Korean economy. Starting with the number of individuals employed within the market system, KINU puts the number at 1.1 million. This is about 1/25 of the entire population of the country, as derived from the 2008 census. Table 34 (page 187 and onward) gives the total working-age population as approximately 17.37 million. Subtracting the share of the population listed as “studying,” we get around 16.4 million. Further subtracting the share of the population listed as “retired,” which arguably we shouldn’t do since elderly North Koreans are known to be significantly involved in market activities, we get approximately 13.3 million individuals. I do not subtract the share listed as “doing housework” simply because it seems far too unlikely that such a category in North Korea would really be excluded from the market labor force.

Just assuming as a theoretical experiment that KINU’s figures and the census numbers are accurate, we get a 7.5 percent share of people employed in the official market sector. In reality, the share may well lower since many people in the demographic groups subtracted are known to be involved in market activities. Conversely, it may be higher if KINU’s number does not take part-time workers into account or otherwise underestimates the number of market workers. Wheher or not one thinks this to be a high or low number is a matter of perspective. For comparison, the share of the labor force employed in retail trade in the United States was 10.2 in 2014.

Another interesting figure KINU gives is that for government revenue from the markets. Again, this, too, should not be hard to estimate in theory: if you approximate the amount of market stalls through satellite imagery and multiply the amount by the fee paid by each trader to the government, it shouldn’t be impossible to get a rough estimate for how much the trade brings the government. But of course, here, too, complications abound: when looking at markets from above, it is nearly impossible to determine exactly how large the actual trading grounds are, for example, and how much is made up of administrative and storage facilities. Still, an approximate estimate is immensely valuable as a starting point for a broader debate.

According to KINU, the North Korean government collects between $13 and $17 million per day in fees from market traders. Ever since 2003, the North Korean market regime has become increasingly formalized and incorporated into the official economy. This trend has reportedly continued under Kim Jong-un as well, and arguably accelerated during his tenure. This is clearly a wise move from a policy perspective: the government needs the markets and it needs the revenue, and their depiction as a threat to the regime may not be the full story.

Using the low number of $13 million gives us a figure of $4.7 billion in revenue per year, while the higher figure of $17 million gives $6.2 billion per year. Both the low- and the high-end estimates would put government revenues from market fees at a significantly higher figure than, for example, North Korea’s trade with China. In 2015, for example, North Korea’s exports to China estimated a total of $2.95 billion. The latest sanctions additions are estimated to take off around $700 million from North Korea’s export incomes. It is important to remember that even if they were to accomplish that, which remains doubtful, North Korea still has a domestic economy that matters greatly too. And remember – these are only estimated (estimated!) figures for government revenue from a specific type of market. They do not represent the entire private sector in North Korea.

So, while the role of exports should not be underestimated, it is important to remember that North Korea has a domestic economy of considerable size. Perhaps whatever pressure the sanctions applies on the North Korean economy could serve as an argument for those in the policy bureaucracy pushing for economic reforms that could further let the private economy develop.

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The November 2016 North Korea sanctions: some perspective

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Responding to North Korea’s second nuclear test within one year in September, the United Nations adopted a new sanctions package yesterday, Wednesday November 30th. These are some of the main points:

  • By far, the most significant measure is a “cap” on imports of North Korean coal at $400 million or 7.5 million metric tons in a year, cutting its revenues by about $700 million per year. This is to supplement the current provision that coal can be imported when the proceeds go to livelihood purposes in North Korea, a provision that has proven to be a massive loophole (shocker!).
  • Four more minerals have been added to the sanctions list: copper, nickel, silver and zinc.
  • Exports of statues have been banned, targeting the somewhat peculiar North Korean practice of building statues in various African countries.
  • The resolution also limits the number of staff allowed at North Korean diplomatic missions, and forbids them from opening more than one bank account per person.

So what does this mean for the North Korean economy? Obviously, one shouldn’t speculate too much in advance. As always, China’s enforcement will be the main determinant. Here are some things worth noting:

First, while $400 million cap would certainly be a significant income loss for the North Korean regime, it might not be disastrous. It is worth remembering that North Korean government revenue from minerals exports already fluctuates heavily, since market prices do. Just for a sense of perspective, in 2015, North Korea’s export income stood at about $3 billion, and this was a decrease by 16.4 percent from the preceding year. In 2014, textile exports to China brought in around $800 million. Moreover, the $700 million revenue cut claim does not take into account the extent to which North Korea could make up for the loss through other sectors.

Second, the likelihood of full and consistent Chinese sanctions enforcement remains fairly low at best. Historically, we have seen a pattern where China will increase enforcement during certain time periods, or take single measures that receive a lot of attention (such as the Hongxiang inquiry) but where things return to normal pretty quickly. Case-in-point: the unusually strong sanctions from earlier this year, and the promises of Chinese enforcement, ending with record trade in coal. Obviously the “livelihoods” exemption provided a large enough loophole, particularly after the announcement by the US and ROK that THAAD will be deployed in South Korea. It is difficult to see why this cap would be impossible to circumvent. After all, China is (presumably) responsible for gather the data and for ringing the alarm bells when said cap is reached. (See also Adam Cathcart’s essay on the recent Sino-North Korean rapprochement at Sino-NK).

Third, and relatedly, history tells us that many, many factors other than the international sanctions regime determine Chinese imports of North Korean coal. Domestic demand is arguably far more important as a determinant than sanctions, as evident by the fact that declines in imports of North Korean coal often fluctuate much more with demand than with sanctions.

As always, we can only wait and see, but at the face of it, these new sanctions seem far from revolutionary.

(Update 2016-12-02)

Japan, South Korea and the United States have announced additional, multilateral sanctions independent from those by the U.N. Joshua Stanton over at One Free Korea argues that some of the measures potentially carry some real impact power. For example, they include North Korea’s national carrier Air Koryo. Moreover, they sanction China’s Hongxiang Industrial Development, making it the first time that a single Chinese company is directly targeted by South Korean sanctions. Yonhap:

“We have expanded the number of those subject to sanctions by adding to the list 35 entities and 36 individuals that are playing a critical role in developing weapons of mass destruction and contributing to the North Korean regime’s efforts to secure foreign currency,” Lee Suk-joon, the top official in charge of government policy coordination at the Prime Minister’s Office, told reporters.

Included in the blacklist were Choe Ryong-hae, a vice chairman of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party, and Vice Marshal Hwang Pyong-so, director of the military’s general political bureau, both of whom are regarded as close aides for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The Workers’ Party and the State Affairs Commission were also added along with other entities suspected of supporting the regime’s efforts to export its coal and generate earnings.

In particular, Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Development and four of its executives were included on the list, marking the first time that a Chinese firm is facing South Korea’s unilateral sanctions.

The company is under investigation on suspicions that it exported aluminum oxide — a nuclear bomb ingredient — to the North at least twice in recent years. In September, the U.S. blacklisted it along with its owner and other company officials.

With the latest action by Seoul, a total of 79 individuals and 69 entities will be subject to sanctions in connection with the North’s nuclear programs. The government announced a blacklist in March as a follow-up move to the UNSC’s Resolution 2270 adopted in the wake of the North’s fourth nuclear test in January.

Any financial transactions with them will be prohibited, while their assets in South Korea will be frozen. The blacklisted people will also be banned from entering the country, which is seen as a symbolic action given that there are no exchanges between the two Koreas.

Other prohibitive measures include blacklisting the North’s state-owned airline Air Koryo on suspicions that it helps its regime transfer workers abroad, and move cash and other embargoed materials into the isolated country.

The Seoul government has also toughened its maritime sanctions by banning any ships that have traveled to the North within the past one year, an extension from the previous 180 days, from entering South Korean ports.

In addition, a watch list “tailored” to enhance the monitoring on activities related to the North’s submarine-launched ballistic missile capability will be prepared and shared with the international community, it said.

Full article:
S. Korea blacklists scores of N. Koreans, entities linked to nuke, missile program
Yonhap News
2016-12-02

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North Korea exporting sand, gravel and coal to China from Sinuiju

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

An interesting example of how the transition from state-owned to private enterprise impacts the workings of certain firms. Daily NK:

North Korean ships from Sinuiju, North Pyongan Province are reportedly exporting in excess of 100 tons of sand and gravel into China each day.
“Shipping firms from Sinuiju are earning foreign currency through contracts with private Chinese construction businesses. The North Korean authorities are supporting the operations after receiving orders to finance the export of coal and sand to China. They are also providing wages and food for the workers,” an inside source from North Pyongan Province told Daily NK on November 11.
Additional sources in North Pyongan Province corroborated this information.
The source added that although the city’s shipping industry was originally a state enterprise, that is no longer the case. The industry is now run by private enterprises that deal with the domestic and Chinese markets. When the operations were state owned, there were chronic shortages of capital and sailors were forced to use sub-standard vessels. The regime’s new policy – to let the industry rehabilitate itself through benign neglect – has allowed the businesses to revitalize themselves. By exporting sand across the Yalu River into China, these businesses have earned enough capital to purchase better vessels. A number of enterprises and the associated infrastructure has grown as a result.
“As the volume of sand exported continues to rise, the shipping companies are inducing more service providers and factories to participate in the industry. The Anju Country 105 Sand Factory collects sand from the Chongchon River and transports it by way of the Yalu River to the shipping firms,” the source added.
When asked about the scale of the trade, she noted, “Sinuiju Harbor sees a daily influx of Chinese boats that carry away more than 100 tons of sand and gravel. Because exports are continuing to climb, the shipping firms are using the capital to enter new industries such as coal export.”
The North Korean enterprises see sand as an inexhaustible natural resource, the source explained, adding, “The more we sell, the better quality sand we can bring in. The enterprises are doing quite well for this reason. The factory cadres are accumulating vast sums of money, and continue to look for ways to increase their profits.”
The flourishing business has also improved prospects for workers. Laborers in the sand and gravel collection factories can earn enough money to put food on the table for a family of four – with food provided to them plus approximately 50,000 KPW per month (U.S. 6.14) for extras.
“The authorities are also using the opportunity to generate propaganda about the generosity of ruler Kim Jong Un,” the source asserted.
The revitalization of the sand collection industry is a positive development from the point of view of the authorities, as all Yalu River sand enterprises are first and foremost responsible for the supply of Kim Jong Un’s pet construction projects, such as the Ryomyong Street Project.
“The authorities can simply sit back and relax as they receive money, supplies, and credit for the success of the sand business. This reveals that the solution to North Korea’s problems is freedom of the market,” she added.
As exports continue to increase, the donju (North Korea’s nouveau riche) have expanded the scope of their interests and investments. “First, they purchase a large boat. Next, under the pretense of being a shipping business, they start to branch off into other industries to make more money. The factories give the donju the authority to do the trading and receive 30% of the profits in return,” the source concluded.
Full article:
NK exports 100 tons of sand, gravel, & coal daily from Sinuiju Harbor
Seol Song Ah
Daily NK
2016-11-15
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North Korea’s natural resources and the “Five-year Plan”

Monday, August 29th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

North Korea’s natural resource and minerals issue runs as a clear thread throughout its economic past and present. On the one hand, they provide immense wealth (not least through export revenues), but on the other hand, the leadership has often been wary of letting their role grow too large. Moreover, it appears that the North Korean leadership, both at various times in history and in recent years, has seen individuals scrambling to amass personal wealth through mineral exports as a danger to state incomes and economic control. Recall that one of the accusations against Jang Song-taek was that he sold off the country’s natural resources to “foreign countries” for cheap.

In a brief from the beginning of the month, IFES analyzes Rodong Sinmun coverage of the role of natural resources in implementing the five-year plan for economic development, the details of which are yet to be revealed:

Kim Jong Un has appealed for all energy to be put into developing underground resources in order to implement the ‘Five Year State Economic Development Strategy’ (unveiled at the 7th Party Congress of the Workers Party of Korea held in May).

In reporting that appeared in Rodong Sinmun on July 13, 2016 it was asserted that “The task of developing and using underground mineral resources effectively to raise self-sufficiency and independence lies in front of party members and workers who are vigorously participating in a 200 day speed battle to make a breakthrough in the implementation of the Five Year State Economic Development Strategy in the country, which is known worldwide for its minerals.”

Self-sufficiency and natural resource dependence have often been highlighted in North Korean economic publications as mutually exclusive. Presumably, Rodong Sinmun advocates that natural resources be used for economic production through fuel and the like, rather than merely for export incomes.

It went on to urge that “with the close collaboration between the state resources development sector and scientific research groups, all resources must be concentrated on prospective and current surveys (surveys that measure mineral reserves) to ensure that the Five Year State Economic Development Strategy succeeds.”

It added, “energy must be put in to find more as yet undeveloped potential sites for development . . . reserves must be secured to ensure that mine production continually rises.”

It also emphasized that “all illegal extraction of underground mineral resources by [production] units, factories and collective organizations for the benefit of their own unit alone must be gotten rid of . . . [and] the role of institutions supervising and controlling underground resources and environmental protection must be strengthened.”

In other words, incomes from mineral extraction should go to the central government, and individuals trying to exploit the expanding opportunities for private business activity to generate personal profits through mineral exports should be kept under control.

Admittedly, the paper also demanded natural tourist attractions be protected: “the staff of supervisory institutions must engrave deeply in their hearts the earnest wish of the Great Leader by not developing Mount Kumgang and Mount Myohyang, regardless of how large the underground mineral deposits are there, and hand down their beautiful scenery and nature to posterity.”

At the aforementioned 7th Party Congress, Kim Jong Un unveiled the ‘Five Year State Economic Development Strategy’, and also set out to revolve energy problems and strengthen the self-sufficiency and independence of the people’s economy.

Full publication here:
Mobilizing “All Energy in Securing Underground Resources” to Implement Development Strategy
Institute for Far Eastern Studies
2016-08-01

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KWP cadres and the donju

Friday, July 8th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Some interesting snippets of practical political economy in North Korea, from DailyNK:

It seems like cadres are quite accustomed to watching each other’s backs like this. I’m curious now if there are any other arrangements that follow this pattern.
Absolutely. Cadres don’t engage in this kind of relationship exclusively with one another. The current trend is for cadres to engage in all-ssam with the donju (North Korea’s rising entrepreneurial class). But North Koreans don’t refer to close relations between ordinary people as all-ssam relationships. That being said, I’d like to explore the all-ssam culture that links cadres and the donju a bit more deeply.
In South Korea we’d call these kind of relations between government officials and business leaders as either unhealthy or flat-out collusion. I’m curious how the all-ssam relationships in North Korea break the standard political mold to create new power sharing arrangements. 
One example of how this relationship gets put into action concerns the state factories. The donju rent this space out from the cadres to make their products. But leasing the space requires more than money. To get the space, it’s also necessary to have a relationship with the managing cadres. The donju in South Pyongan Province have gotten quite cozy with the cadres there. The monthly building rental fee issued to the cadres becomes a form of profit for them.
Although this may seem like an illicit affair, the Party secretary affiliated with the factory knows about this. In fact, the secretary encourages ‘extra earnings’ through official orders. ‘Extra earnings’ refers to any profits made by the state factories that do not come from the use of raw materials and labor for the productions of goods for sale.
Moreover, the donju do not merely contribute some of the profits. They also issue a per diem including living expenses to the manager. This is a voluntary donation, and the manager usually responds by scratching the donju’s back in the form of providing extra factory facilities or making things more convenient for them. For example, in return for a per diem, a factory manager might issue an order to let the donju use a state vehicle to transport products to the market.
Seeing this, the Party secretary began to fear that his authority was becoming eclipsed by that of the managing cadres. He became worried that his title was strictly nominal and that he wielded little actual power. That’s why he began to grab up donju and bring them into all-ssam relationships with him. Those that didn’t enter into the relationship were cast out of his good graces. The more prosperous the donju, the bigger the problem for the cadres.
Full article here:
The complex ties interlinking cadres and the donju
Daily NK
2016-07-08
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Domestic food price dip in North Korea

Sunday, June 12th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

North Korea’s domestic market prices have been behaving somewhat counterintuitively as of late. Harvest declined last year (or at least so the FAO claimed), and given the latest round of sanctions, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to expect some hoarding and anxiety on the markets, out of anticipation that China may come to control cross-border trade and smuggling more tightly.

Not so, Daily NK reports:

Despite the lean season, referred to domestically as the “barley hump,” during which grains typically get pricier in North Korea, prices are instead on a downward trend, Daily NK has learned.

Daily NK’s sources within the country believe relaxed restrictions on marketplace activity under the Kim Jong Un regime has helped create a balance in the supply and demand of food by way of imports, narrowing the range of price swings even when the local supply dips during the “barley hump.”

“People were quite worried about the economic sanctions from China but are now relieved to see that rice prices have not changed much,” a source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK, She reported that in her region, rice, which had been selling at 5,000 KPW (a kilogram) until just a few days ago, had dropped to 4,500 KPW; corn, which fetched 1,200 KPW, slid to 1,000 KPW; and pork prices fell about 1,000 KPW to 11,100 KPW.

“More vendors now import rice, corn, etc. from China, so there’s more than enough to go around even after making up for the shortfall in local supply during the barely hump,” she added, explaining that the dip in rice prices is in large part due to the upcoming harvest of early potatoes and barley, as vendors look to offload their supplies.

Overall, it appears, judging from the stability of market prices, that both formal and informal market mechanisms in North Korea function well enough to make up for shortfalls in production.

Full article:
Dip in prices help residents surmount ‘barley hump’ 
Kang Mi Jin
Daily NK
2016-06-12

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Kim Jong-un and North Korean machinery industry

Monday, May 30th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Kim Jong-un has showed quite a bit of interest in the machinery industry as of late. Moreover, Rodong Sinmun has been touting the increased use of (domestically manufactured, I believe) machinery in agriculture in its reporting on the harvest campaign. And as IFES reports in its latest NK brief, the pattern continues (assuming it is a pattern and not just a series of coincidences…). Notice also the emphasis on domestic production. North Korea’s domestic market and manufacturing sector has made pretty significant strides in the past few years, so Kim’s words (highlighted below) may not just be the same old Juche talk of past generations:

Kim visited Machine Factory run by Ho Chol Yong on May 19th and ordered to complete the modernization of the plant by the ruling Party’s founding anniversary in October.

Since his first visit 10 years ago, he has provided field guidance to this factory in 2013 and 2014.

Kim toured an exhibition of machinery and equipment on May 13, emphasizing the need to eradicate the ‘disease of imports.’

On display at the exhibition was unit machinery equipment manufactured during the most recent “70 days speed battle.”

He sat inside the new 80 horsepower tractor developed by Kumsong Tractor plant and expressed his satisfaction over the fact that “[we have] a machine manufactured by our own efforts and with our own technology.”

In addition, he examined the agricultural equipment including seed drills and ordered to “enhance modernization of the agricultural plants and production process in order to produce more efficient farming equipment and parts by increasing the level of mechanization in agricultural industry by 60 to 70 percent.”

“For the mechanical products at the exhibit, self-reliance must come first, self-reliance is our way of life,” Kim stressed. He also emphasized the need to “eradicate the disease of imports.”

Kim Jong Un also said “we should continue to reinforce our Juche-based capacity based on our own ability, technology and resources and continue the pursuit of revolutionary self-determination-first policy,” and added, “the only thing we can believe in is our own self strength.”

During the Seventh Party Congress, Kim Jong Un said that the machinery industry is the touchstone of economic and technological development. He also directed to introduce a state-of-the-art equipment system and modernize a production line by updating existing equipment for maximum capacity in the machinery sector.

Kim Jong Un has visited 10 different machinery factories this year alone, placing considerable attention on making improvements to advance and modernize this industry.

Source:
Kim Jong Un Showing Special Attention to Improving Machinery Industry
Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2016-05-31

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New loyalty campaign in North Korea, to boost the 5-year plan

Saturday, May 28th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Just as one mass campaign ended (the “70-day battle”), another one begins. This time, it’s a 200-day campaign to boost the economy and fulfill the 5-year plan. Perhaps a grim premonition of what is to come as the 5-year plan is implemented further. Yonhap:

North Korea kicked off a new loyalty campaign to get people to work more as part of its five-year economic program announced at its seventh ruling party congress, state controlled media said Sunday.

According to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), a meeting of ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), government, economic and military officials was held Thursday through Saturday, where participants agreed to launch the “200-day campaign of loyalty” that can bolster growth.

The announcement comes on the back of Pyongyang concluding its “70-day campaign of loyalty” program just before the start of the rare congress that took place early this month. That campaign ran from mid-February to May 2.

The new effort is being pursued as the United Nations sanctions take bite, and the country finds itself more and more isolated from the outside world. The global body slapped its toughest sanctions to date on the reclusive country for its fourth nuclear test in January and the firing off of a long-range missile the following month.

The KCNA said that leading members at last week’s gathering in Pyongyang concurred on the need to join forces to bring about the successful conclusion of the new campaign in accordance with the guidance put forth by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Kim outlined his new five-year economic growth plan running from this year to 2020 and called on North Koreans to meet the growth goals.

Article source:
N. Korea kicks off new loyalty campaign to prop up economy
Yonhap News 
2016-05-29

Here is a statement from the Pyongyang Times (2016-5-30):

Joint conference takes measures for five-year economic development strategy, declares 200-day campaign

A joint conference of Party, government and military officials was held between May 26 and 28 in Pyongyang to discuss the ways to implement the tasks set forth at the Seventh Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

It was attended by senior officials Pak Pong Ju, Choe Thae Bok, Pak Yong Sik, O Su Yong, Kwak Pom Gi, Ri Man Gon and Jo Yon Jun and other officials from Party and military organs, the Cabinet, working people’s organizations, ministries, national agencies, local Party and government organs and major industrial establishments.

The joint conference, the first of its kind in the history of the WPK, discussed scientific and realistic ways to carry through the national five-year strategy for economic development put forward at the Seventh WPK Congress and important measures to achieve the grand objective for building a socialist power by inspiring all the service personnel and people to the campaign to create the Mallima speed.

Premier Pak Pong Ju, member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee, delivered a report.

He said the Party, army and people are faced with the important and honourable task of accomplishing the cause of a socialist power as early as possible when the independent ideal and desire of the people are being translated into reality in an all-round way under the banner of Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism.

In the five-year period, he noted, we should resolve the energy problem, put the vanguard sectors and key economic industries on a normal track and increase agricultural and light industrial production by adhering to the Party’s new line of simultaneously promoting the two fronts, thereby radically improving the people’s standards of living.

Specifying the targets for implementing the five-year strategy by major indices, he pointed to the issues to be settled in all sectors of an economic giant building, including the concentration on easing power shortage, the master key in economic development and improved livelihood of the people.

To thoroughly implement the important tasks set forth at the Seventh Party Congress, he pointed out, it is imperative to enhance the state’s function as the organizer of the economy and establish a Korean-style economic management method embodying the Juche idea in an all-round way.

“Officials of the Cabinet, ministries and national agencies should work out phased plans for implementing the economic development strategy in a realistic manner on the basis of the Party’s line and policy, arrange economic work scrupulously and make persistent efforts to carry them through,” he stressed.

“Economic work should be planned and directed in such a way as to concentrate efforts on the main link and activate the economy as a whole. All sectors and all units have to establish strict discipline and order whereby they place all economic work under the control of the Cabinet and work according to its unified planning and direction in line with the requirements of the Cabinet-responsibility system and Cabinet-centred system.

“Relevant sectors and units should establish Korean-style economic management methods as required by developing reality, while factories, enterprises and cooperative organizations have to map out business strategies and conduct business activities on their own initiatives and in a creative manner in keeping with the requirements of the socialist system of enterprises managing themselves on their own responsibility, thereby putting production on track and expanding and developing it.”

As part of the joint conference, meetings were held by each economic sector.

The meetings discussed the tasks to be tackled by each sector and unit, presenting lots of innovative and creative ideas.

As he wound up the joint conference, the Premier said that it fully discussed scientific and realistic measures and ways to implement the tasks of the Congress, stressing that all the participants came to have firm confidence and optimism through the conference that they could well attain the targets of the five-year strategy.

He called on all officials to plan and command economic work of their sectors and units in a three-dimensional way and at lightning speed and carry out the tasks of the Congress at the risk of their lives as the standard-bearers of their ranks and buglers of advance, thereby fulfilling their honourable mission as commanding officials in the glorious era of Kim Jong Un.

At the conference, a 200-day campaign of loyalty was declared for making a breakthrough in the implementation of the five-year strategy.

On the other hand, a meeting of members of Party guidance teams for the 200-day campaign was held on May 28, where the significance of the campaign was mentioned and steps related to the campaign were emphasized.

Read out at the meeting were the names of members of the central and provincial headquarters of the Party guidance teams and those who would be dispatched.

Speakers expressed their resolve to keep up the heightened spirit of having brought about great victory in the 70-day campaign so as to win triumphs uninterruptedly from the outset of the new campaign, thereby making a tangible contribution to demonstrating once again the mettle and stamina of Juche Korea rushing forward towards a socialist power.

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North Korean economic history snippet: Kim Il-sung on the food supply system, 1962

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Despite the rise of the markets in post-1990s North Korea, the public distribution system (PDS) retains an important function in supplying grain inside the country.

However, in the early 1960s, Kim Il-sung considered doing away with the official system for food distribution (식량공급제도). It is not clear how firmly such ideas were considered, but in a speech in Pyongyang in 1962 – or so his collected works from 2000 claim – Kim said he thought of abolishing it in favor of letting people purchase food freely.

Interestingly, in this speech, Kim cites relatively pragmatic reasons for sticking with central distribution of food. The issue, Kim says, would be that big families would fare comparatively worse if they had to depend on cash income for their food purchases. If food was bought and sold freely, a difference in living standards would arise (생활수준에서 차이가 생기게 됩니다).

Source: Kim Il-sung, Ch’ŏnjib (전집), vol. 29. Pyongyang, Korean Workers’ Party Publishing House, 2000.

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Rice planting campaign underway in North Korea

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Earlier this month, the North Korean government launched a rice-planting campaign, mobilizing citizens for agricultural work. Rodong Sinmun has written about this campaign a few times during May. On the 13th, Rodong dedicated almost a full page to rice plantation, calling for a “breakthrough”. The article contains some language on agricultural organization: for example, it cites an agricultural organization [기술전습회] that urges farmers to be creative in their farming methods and adapt to their separate conditions.

While this might sound like an argument for less central state control, provincial independence has been a hallmark of the Juche system for decades. Kim Jong-il said similar things during the famine years. The issue, of course, is that as long as inputs, land use, production targets and other variables remain centrally planned, local creativity can only go so far.

The article does, however, contain some interesting claims. For example, one senior official (Ri Kyong-rok) is quoted as saying that water conditions are twice as good as last year. Moreover, the article also claims that fertilizer is more abundantly available than last year. Perhaps this is all true (a big perhaps), but if so, it would go against the past year’s trend of worsening conditions for agricultural overall.

On May 16th, Rodong again carried a long piece on the rice planting campaign, calling for every citizen’s participation and hard work, based on scientific methods.

Mass campaigns such as this one can obviously not be fully understand only through North Korean publications. Yesterday, Daily NK carried a piece about how campaigns such as this one play out on the ground, with market trade becoming more restricted as the government strives to ensure that everyone dutifully participates in rice planting:

The mobilization, which commenced on May 15, will remain in effect until June 15, a source from South Pyongan Province told Daily NK. Of most concern to residents is the fact that for the duration of the mass mobilization, official general markets will operate only three hours daily– from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.–and business-related travel be strictly limited.

This news was corroborated by sources in North and South Hwanghae Provinces, North Pyongan Province, and North and South Hamgyong Provinces.

In addition, alcohol sales in restaurants will be banned for the ordinance’s duration; service establishments including barbers, hair salons, and public bathhouses are permitted to operate, but only after 5 p.m.

All central agencies, state-run factories, social organizations, universities, and high schools are busy gearing up for the mass mobilization. To ensure their compliance, streets are plastered with “farm assistance-battle” posters, and vehicles outfitted with loudspeakers move through neighborhoods from early morning hours, blaring propaganda songs to keep up the pressure; local officials wielding megaphones follow suit on foot, calling on everyone from “homemakers, the elderly, and middle school students to commute to farms nearby and work,” the source said.

“The streets are lined with Ministry of People’s Security personnel [MPS], carrying out orders to step up surveillance and crackdowns to maximize support [for the mobilization]. In parallel, prosecutors and other agents from the judicial system patrol state-run companies and residential areas to check up on the mobilization numbers. If firms fall short of the quotas, company managers face punitive measures, which can include, among other things, imprisonment for up to ten days.”

The heightened control and fear tactics, he added, are to hedge against possible public outrage from a populace forced to participate in successive mobilizations, which hamper market business and thereby severely undermine their livelihood.

Full article:
Rice-planting mobilization order handed down
Choi Song Min
Daily NK
2016-05-22

 

Daily NK also discussed the campaign with So Jae Pyong, secretary general for the Association of North Korean Defectors:

We saw an article emphasizing grain production on page five of the 13th issue of the Rodong Sinmun entitled, “This Year’s Uphill Battle for Grain” and then again on the front page on the 16th issue, “Band Together for the Rice-Planting Battle.” It would appear that North Korea is still dealing with their chronic grain underproduction. What seems to be the problem?

The main problem is that even the farmers themselves are suffering from hunger and are therefore turning their attention away from their official farm duties and working private secret farms on the side. This is because they till the earth tirelessly all year long on their official farms only to have their produce taken away for the military and State rations. They are only met with poverty and starvation based on this system so it’s easy to see their lack of drive to work hard for more production. Based on this, they have no other choice but to have an almost forced production system on the collective farms. The government needs to implement some kind of policy to improve the quality of the lives of these farmers but that just simply isn’t the case. Farmers have zero interest in the production of their crops because of this system. They’re really only focused on their separate, private crops. I think the only way to alleviate the hunger and poverty that citizens are suffering from is to completely do away with this type of quota system.

Full article:
Hearts and minds remain at the ‘jangmadang’ despite propaganda push
Unification Media Group
Daily NK
2015-05-22

 

(UPDATE 2016-02-24): 

Daily NK reports some discontent with rice planting campaign, with complaints about how it interferes with Kim Jong-un’s own policies of raising science and technology in education:

“The students in our province have been sent to agricultural regions such as Koksan County and Yonsan County. During the ‘70-Day Battle,’ the students were forced to plant seeds and pull up weeds. Now, as the students head off to the farms again, they are sardonically spouting off lines about how they are farmers rather than students,” a source in North Hwanghae Province reported to Daily NK on May 20.

“The students have remarked that being pressed into forced labor during the ‘70-Day Battle,’ and now for the ‘Rice-Planting Battle’ is just as laborious and difficult as risking your life on an actual battlefield. They justifiably point out, ‘If these kind of ‘battles’ continue to arise, when are we supposed to study?’“

Since rising to power, Kim Jong Un has frequently underscored the importance of education, describing universities as the “platform for launching the future of the nation, one of the main pillars of society, and the training ground for leaders.” He has also continued to point out that it is important to focus on experiential learning and on-the-job-training in order to elevate the quality of the nation’s education and produce illustrious students with technical knowledge.

However, the record shows a different tale. Students have spent a considerable amount of time being mobilized to work on idolization construction sites and farms. This has severely crippled their educational experience. Consequently, students have become upset that their instruction hours have not been protected and that they are being exploited for their labor.

Added a separate source in South Hwanghae Province, “University students have spent more time working on the farm than they have spent studying for their classes or learning about science/technology. Under such circumstances, students naturally complain that it is difficult to imagine how these universities will be able to fulfill Kim Jong Un’s order to create illustrious students with technological capabilities.”

Full article:
Complaints mounting among university students sent to farms for labor
Daily NK
Kim Chae Hwan
2015-05-23

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