Archive for the ‘Political economy’ Category

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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North Korea’s 7th Party Congress and the economy

Saturday, May 14th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

The 7th Party Congress is over, and it turned out to be an affair focused on personal appointments and formalities rather than concrete policy. This post is an attempt to gather some of the news about the congress, some international but mostly domestic coverage and Kim Jong-un’s speeches, particularly that pertaining to economic matters.

Day 1  (5/6/2016) and before 

The congress opened on Friday May 6th. This is how Rodong Sinmun covered the opening:

The Seventh Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) opened here with splendor Friday.

Kim Jong Un, first secretary of the WPK, was present there.

The congress was attended by delegates with the right to vote and speak elected at the provincial party conferences and officials of party, armed forces and power organs, economic organs, working people’s organizations and those in the fields of science, education, public health, literature and arts and media nominated at the provincial party conferences as observers.

Also present there were congratulatory groups of Koreans in Japan and the General Association of Koreans in China for celebrating the Seventh Congress of the WPK.

Kim Jong Un made an opening address.

He in his address, reflecting the infinite loyalty and ardent reverence of the delegates, Party members, service personnel of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) and all other people across the country, extended the noblest tribute and greatest glory to the great Comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

[…]

The congress sent congratulatory messages to the service personnel of the Korean People’s Army and the Korean People’s Internal Security Forces who performed distinguished feats in defending the party congress and to the working people and officials of the institutions, industrial establishments and cooperative farms who performed brilliant labor feats in the 70-day campaign of loyalty.

The congress approved the following agenda items:

1.Review of the work of the C.C., the WPK.

2.Review of the work of the Central Audit Commission of the WPK.

3.On revising the Rules of the WPK.

4.On electing Kim Jong Un to the top post of the WPK.

5.Election to the central leadership organ of the WPK.

The congress started the discussion on the first agenda item.

Kim Jong Un began the report on the work of the C.C., the WPK.

The presentation of the report will go on at the second day-sitting.

In his opening address to the congress, carried by KCNA, Kim Jong-un highlighted both national prosperity and hardship:

Today we are holding the historic Seventh Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea amid the grand struggle in which the whole Party, the entire army and all the people, filled with iron nerves and confidence to achieve the final victory of the Juche revolution as soon as possible, are making an all-out, general onward march courageously, thwarting all manner of threats and desperate challenges by the imperialists.

[…]

The Seventh Congress of the WPK has been convened at a historic time when the phase of leap forward in implementing the cause of the Juche revolution is being opened up.

The last decades since the Sixth Congress of the WPK were characterized by grim struggle and glorious victory on the part of our Party and people.

During the period under review the situation of our revolution was very grave and complex.

In the unprecedentedly hard times when the world socialist system collapsed and the allied imperialist forces concentrated their anti-socialist offensive on our Republic, our Party and people were compelled to fight against them single-handed.

The imperialists strained the situation constantly for decades to keep our people from living at peace even for a moment and blocked all the pathways to economic development and existence through all manner of blockade, pressure and sanctions.

In the face of harsh and manifold difficulties and ordeals and the hardships and sufferings worse than those during a war, our Party and people were united more firmly around the Central Committee of the WPK, holding the President and the General in high esteem as the centre of unity and leadership, and made strenuous efforts to defend and advance the socialist cause, following only the revolutionary line of Juche put forward by the great leaders as they braved the storm of history without the slightest hesitation or vacillation.

[…]

This year when the Seventh Congress of the WPK is held, our service personnel and people achieved great successes in the first hydrogen bomb test and the launch of earth observation satellite Kwangmyongsong 4 which served as landmarks in the nation’s history spanning 5 000 years, thus raising the dignity and might of Juche Korea to the highest level possible; in high spirits, they conducted a dynamic 70-day campaign of loyalty to perform great feats and make unprecedented labour successes in all fields of socialist construction.

All the service personnel and people throughout the country displayed the spirit of carrying out the policies of the WPK to the death in response to its militant call for launching the 70-day campaign, thereby making the greatest successes and leap forward in all sectors of the national economy and achieving the brilliant result of exceeding the targets of the campaign set by the WPK.

[…]

Kim also spoke about economic achievements, and said that North Korea’s economic plans had been fulfilled ahead of schedule (my emphasis):

During the campaign, the electric-power, coal-mining and metallurgical industries and rail transport sector strove hard for increased output and transport to bring about a surge in production, and many units in different sectors of the national economy including the machine-building, chemical, building-materials and light industries and agriculture raised a strong wind to ensure modernization and domestic production of our style and bring about an upswing in production, thus making the distinguished achievement of carrying out the first half-year and yearly national economic plans ahead of schedule.

Our heroic working class of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, scientists and technicians waged an unyielding struggle on the principle of giving priority to self-development to develop and manufacture new machines and equipment based on local efforts and technology, thereby presenting them as gifts to the Congress of the motherly Party. Others across the country wonderfully completed lots of major construction projects, which will be highly conducive to developing the economy and improving the people’s living standards, in a short span of time before the Congress to send reports of loyalty to the Central Committee of the WPK.

But reporters from abroad were in Pyongyang a few days before the congress opened and delivered some interesting dispatches. The Washington Post’s Anna Fifield, for example, visited Jangchon Cooperative Farm near Pyongyang on May 4th. Note that no one at the farm seems to have spoken to reporters about Kim Jong-un’s experimental agriculture reforms — if they have been implemented on a large scale, this would seem a good opportunity to express gratitude and pride in them.

The farm, which Kim visited in June, was deemed to be a shining example of progress, given that it is apparently used as a model for other agricultural cooperatives across the country. So reporters were taken down roads bustling with people to the conspicuously deserted complex.

[…]

Apparently, a total of 3,000 people live in this cooperative. But apart from a few people working in greenhouses and a handful more repairing roofs or painting lampposts, almost no one was around. Inside a science building, lab equipment sat like museum pieces.

[…]

What about these garden plots in front of the houses? They were household gardens, the minders said. Never mind that one house had a garden of only cabbages, another of only cucumbers, the next entirely squash.

Agriculture has been one of the areas where there has been significant change in recent years. Kim Jong Un’s regime has changed the quota system to allow farmers to keep between 30 and 60 percent of their crops, either to eat or to sell for profit in the markets. Economic analysts have been watching these changes­ keenly, part of a broader, if tentative, move toward marketization.

Full article:
A model farm – with few farmers – in North Korea 
Washington Post
Anna Fifield
2016-05-04

On the first day, the congress also sent a congratulatory message to “working people and officials” who participated in the 70-day campaign, carried by KCNA:

The 70-day campaign was a great one for consolidating the single-minded unity of the party, army and people of the DPRK as firm as a rock, bringing about a great innovation and leap forward in building a thriving nation, foiling the vicious moves of the hostile forces to put pressure on the DPRK and stifle it and fully demonstrating the dignity and might of the great Paektusan nation, the message said, and went on:

The Central Committee of the WPK together with its Central Military Commission made public joint slogans in order to glorify this year in which its Seventh Congress is to be held as a year of great heyday in building a thriving nation, ardently appealed to all party members to stage the 70-day campaign in the letter to them and clearly indicated the orientation and ways for winning victory in the on-going general advance.

Unprecedented achievements have been made in the above-said campaign thanks to the heroic struggle of the working people and officials who turned out to greet the Seventh Congress of the WPK out of their boundless loyalty and warm patriotism toward the party.

The Seventh Congress of the WPK extended warm congratulations to the working people and officials of the institutions, industrial establishments and co-op farms who creditably fulfilled the tasks before them during the campaign by sharing the thought, will and pace with the party and fully displaying matchless heroism and self-sacrificing spirit.

Day 2 (5/7/2016) 

On the second day of the congress, Kim gave a report on the work of the KWP Central Committee:

The demise of Kim Il Sung was the biggest grief and loss to our party and people and the biggest trial for our revolution.

After the greatest loss to the nation, the imperialists and their followers have reached the height in their political and military pressure, moves for provoking a war and economic blockade. To cap it all, the country was hit by severe natural disasters, bringing untold hardships and trial to the economic construction and people’s living.

When the world was concerned about the fate of the DPRK and when the imperialist reactionaries were foolishly trumpeting about “change in line” and “collapse of social system”, leader Kim Jong Il solemnly declared his iron will to invariably defend and carry to completion the revolutionary cause of Juche started by the President no matter how arduous the road of the revolution might be, and wisely led the revolution and construction only as intended by the President and the way he did.

By carrying forward the cause of the President under the wise guidance of Kim Jong Il, the WPK has firmly maintained the Songun revolutionary line, the path of winning the steady victory of the Korean revolution, and enforced the Songun politics in an all-round way.

[…]

As required by the prevailing situation and the developing revolution, the WPK advanced the strategic line of simultaneously pushing forward the economic construction and the building of nuclear force and worked hard for its implementation.

The WPK organized and waged an all-people general onward movement for building a thriving people’s paradise as planned and desired by the great leaders and thus ushered in the new era of the prosperity of the country.

The entire party and all the people have achieved the single-minded unity of the whole society in which they are united closely around the leader in thinking and purpose and sense of moral obligation. This is the great success and feat achieved by our party during the period under review.

Our party and people dynamically waged the drive to implement the strategic line of socialist economic construction to lay firm material and technical foundations of self-supporting national economy and provide a springboard from which to build an economic giant.

In delivering this report, Kim mentioned (for the first time during the congress) the new 5-year plan (2016-2020) (emphasis added):

In order to successfully build a socialist power under the banner of modeling the whole society on Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism, it is necessary to strengthen the people’s government and enhance its function and role and, at the same time, thoroughly carry out the general line of our party to dynamically conduct the three revolutions–ideological, technical and cultural.

It is imperative to carry through the five-year strategy for the state economic development from 2016 to 2020.

Kim had a busy second day, and also delivered a review of the KWP’s work (also carried by KCNA):

As required by the prevailing situation and the developing revolution, the WPK advanced the strategic line of simultaneously pushing forward the economic construction and the building of nuclear force and worked hard for its implementation.

[…]

A big stride has been made in the economic and cultural construction.

Raw materials, fuel and power bases of the self-supporting economy have been reinforced and Juche-based production processes introduced into core fields and the structure of industrial sectors further improved.

Is Kim perhaps alluding to changes in agricultural management in the following section? (my emphasis):

 A successful innovation was witnessed in the development of communications service and production processes, technical equipment and operation means have been further modernized in various fields including transport and building-materials industry.

A high-pitched campaign for bringing about a radical turn in seed selection, potato farming, double cropping and scientific farming was waged in the field of agriculture to provide a guarantee for increasing grain production.

Modern stock-breeding bases, fish farms, vegetable greenhouses, mushroom farms and vast thriving orchards were built across the country.

In fisheries a campaign for carrying out the Party’s idea of creating a new history of sea of gold has been waged to make a breakthrough in the development of the fishing industry.

Technical updating and the work for ensuring the local supply of raw and other materials has been positively conducted in factories and enterprises in the field of light industry to ensure increased production and supply of quality consumer goods for people.

Many monumental edifices representing the era of the Workers’ Party to which the Juche-oriented architectural idea was applied were built to lay a solid foundation for socialist economic construction and improvement of the people’s living standards.

Able scientists and technicians grew in number while the material and technical foundation for the scientific researches was consolidated despite economic hardship, bringing about radical development of the science and technology.

Fresh progress was made in the education as required by the IT era with the enforcement of the universal 12-year compulsory education and the establishment of the remote education system.

In another speech, Kim “set forth tasks for completing [the] socialist cause.” KCNA published the speech the same day it was given, and Kim does mention some goals connected to economic matters. This is, to my knowledge, the first statement where Kim actually elaborates somewhat on the five-year plan (my emphasis added):

We should attach importance to talents and attain the goal of turning all people into scientific and technological talents.

It is necessary to lay a firm material and technological foundation of the state and bring about a turn in improving the people’s living standard.

It is necessary to work out a phased strategy for the development of the national economy in a scientific and realistic way and carry out it without fail.

As an immediate task we should thoroughly carry out the five-year strategy for the state economic development from 2016 to 2020.

Note that Kim mentions “external economic relations” before any other matters when discussing the priorities of the five-year plan:

It is necessary to expand and develop external economic relations.

One could speculate whether the following pronouncement alludes to the enterprise management changes under Kim Jong-un — the true meaning of the statement seems to hinge on how one interprets “responsible”:

We should conduct the state unified guidance and strategic management of the economic work in a responsible manner.

The two statements above are the only ones that directly concern economic policy. They are fairly vague, but Kim’s expansions of special economic zones and management reforms come to mind.

Other parts of the speech are not necessarily interesting because of their connection to the economy. This is presumably a reference to the problem of people illegally watching foreign movies and tv-series (my emphasis):

We should usher in an overall efflorescence in the socialist literature and arts.

It is necessary to shatter the imperialist ideological and cultural poisoning and strictly preserve our socialist culture and lifestyle.

We should establish strong moral discipline throughout the society.

It is necessary to further increase the might of the politico-ideological power and military power.

We should more firmly cement the harmonious whole of the party and the popular masses.

We should detect and shatter all moves of the enemies to destabilize our socialism in good time and firmly defend our ideology and social system, class position and single-minded unity.

During the second day, Kim continued his review of the KWP’s work in another speech, and was no stranger to recognizing North Korea’s problems. In affirming North Korea’s “independence,” Kim struck a familiar chord and repeated a suspicion against foreign “aid” that both his grandfather and father often spoke of (my emphasis):

He noted that in the period under review, a radical change was made in the world political structure and correlation of forces and the international circumstances of the Korean revolution remained very complicated.

[…]

For global independence, it is important for each country and nation to maintain their sovereignty, holding aloft the banner of independence against imperialism.

The core of the struggle against imperialism is to frustrate the moves of the U.S. and its followers for aggression and war and defend the global peace and security.

Underscoring the need to conduct a vigorous struggle to get the aggressive military blocs, the root of military confrontation and war, dissolved and the military bases for aggression removed from other countries and thus build a new peaceful world, he continued:

All countries and nations aspiring after independence should never harbor any expectation and illusion about the imperialists’ cunning double-dealing tactics and hypocritical “aid”, but preserve the Juche character and national identity.

The progressive mankind of the world should vigorously struggle for international justice, irrespective of differences in political view, religious belief and economic and cultural development.

It is sometimes difficult to understand how the North Korean regime conceives of the logic behind Byungjin (parallel development of nuclear weapons and the economy), but the following passage gives a hint — with nuclear weapons, the country will be in a stronger position to negotiate its standing in all other areas as well:

Since it retained the status of a full-fledged independent power, a nuclear power, the DPRK will develop its external relations in conformity with the status.

Day 3 (5/8/2016)

On the third day, one of the main statements concerned the work of the auditing commission of the KWP. If one were to speculate, it may not be completely far-fetched to connect this emphasis on internal financial control with the anti-corruption drive launched earlier this year. This is what the designated rapporteur had to say about the work of the commission:

The reporter said the Party Central Auditing Commission confirmed that the party finance has properly performed its mission and duty and all financial activities have been conducted correctly on the principle of the party in the period under review on the basis of the audit data and reports of the review of the work of the auditing commissions submitted to the provincial party conferences.

He underlined the need to steadily improve the party’s financial management as required by the new era of the Juche revolution.

Kim Jong-un made a concluding review on the last day of the congress, also carried by KCNA (emphasis added):

It is necessary to continue to carry out the party’s strategic line of simultaneously pushing forward the economic construction and the building of nuclear force [byungjin].

This strategic line is the most revolutionary and scientific one reflecting the lawful requirements of building a thriving socialist nation and the specific conditions of our country.

Byungjin was also front and center in the decision adopted on the review of the Party by the congress (also carried by KCNA) (emphasis added):

We will consolidate the position of the political and military power and fly the flag of victory on the eminence of the scientific and technological power, an economic giant and a highly civilized nation.

We will take the general line of socialist construction and the principle of self-development as the constant strategic line, win a great victory in building a thriving socialist nation and successfully realize the historic cause of modeling the whole society on Kimilsungism and Kimjongilism.

We will make a new leap forward in the development of the country’s science and technology, open up an era prospering with science and bring about a revolutionary turn in socialist construction in a short span of time.

We will work out the phased strategy for the national economic development in a scientific and realistic manner and carry it out without fail and carry through the five-year strategy for the state economic development from 2016 to 2020 for the present.

We will accelerate the building of a highly civilized socialist country and thus bring up all the people to be able men for the socialist construction with profound knowledge and cultural attainments, and provide them with conditions and environment for leading a wealthy and a highly civilized life to their heart’s content.

International media was not allowed in to witness the congress proceedings for most of the event, but that probably made for more interesting dispatches anyway. Reuters noted the increasing prevalence of electric bikes in Pyongyang:

While pedal-powered bikes still predominate on Pyongyang’s wide avenues, the electric bike trend began in the last year, locals and foreign residents of the North Korean capital said.

On Saturday, a Reuters journalist covering the congress saw six of the bikes in the space of 10 minutes.

“You can carry luggage,” said Kim Chol Jin, a computer science student at Kim Chaek University of Technology, who was riding his electric bike along Mirae Scientists Street.

“My wife bought me this to help shorten my commute,” he told Reuters journalists, who were accompanied by a government guide.

The proliferation of electric bicycles follows another recent local consumer trend: a surge in residential usage of LED light bulbs and solar panels, to get around the country’s chronic electricity shortage.

A bike made by a Chinese company called Anqi was for sale this week in Pyongyang’s Kwangbok Department Store for 2.62 million won – around $330 at the unofficial exchange rate of 8,000 won to the dollar. While that is well beyond the reach of the average North Korean, an expanding gray market economy has given rise to a growing consumer class known as “donju”, or “masters of money”.

Full article:
Power to the people: electric bikes take off in North Korea
Reuters
James Pearson
2016-05-08

Day four (5/9/2016) 

The 7th Party Congress concluded with a statement calling for a “general offensive toward complete victory of socialism,” also carried by KCNA (emphasis added):

It stressed that the main idea of the decision made at the 7th Congress of the WPK is to arouse the entire party, the whole country, the entire army and all the people again to the struggle for winning the final victory in the building of a thriving socialist nation as soon as possible [a rather ambiguous timeline, to say the least…] and thus make them wage a general offensive in the period up to the 8th Congress.

The 7th WPK Congress called upon all the servicepersons, youths and other people to launch a Mallima speed campaign of rapid progress and innovation for the implementation of its decision in every sector and unit, the appeal said, adding:

The entire party, the whole country and all the servicepersons and civilians should dash toward the high eminence of a thriving nation at the speed of Mallima.

And if anyone ever thought that the core characteristics of North Korea’s political system were ambiguous:

Never tolerate but mercilessly squash any element contrary to the idea and intention of the respected Comrade Kim Jong Un and any slightest act of breaking our single-minded unity and backbiting at our Party’s policies.

Science and technology were prevalent themes in much of the rhetoric from the congress:

Let us build an economic and highly-civilized power by dint of science and technology and thus make the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, our beloved motherland, the envy of the whole world.

This whole paragraph is one sentence:

Let us put the nation’s industry and agriculture on a modern, scientific and IT basis our own way and at the earliest date with our technology, efforts and resources and thus raise the level of the national economy to that of the most developed countries under the banner of self-development-first principle for turning everything of the country into wealth of socialism hard to find in other parts of the world, making the latest science and technology our possessions and creating everything with our materials.

Byungjin again:

Let all the people implement more thoroughly and steadily the Party’s line of simultaneously developing the two fronts, each holding arms in one hand and a hammer or a sickle in the other.

The cooperative farm that Washington Post visited got a special shot-out:

Let us raise the level of every factory and farm to that of the January 18 General Machinery Plant and the Jangchon Vegetable Co-op Farm and build every structure into such spectacular edifice as the Sci-Tech Complex and Mirae Scientists Street.

Beyond the congress

How much did this all cost the North Korean state? A Korea University scholar has attempted a calculation, as reported by Yonhap, and lands at a figure of more than $200 million, placing policy choices such as not increasing imports to close the gap between food need and availability, for example:

North Korea probably spent more than US$200 million on the just-ended ruling party congress, which will further burden the already impoverished country, a local scholar who keeps track of developments in the reclusive country said Friday.

Korea University’s Nam Sung-wook made the claim in an analysis of the four daylong Seventh Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) that ended Monday. He described the rare convention as a “political show.”

[…]

n the assessment, the academic argued the communist country spent at least the amount he estimated in the past six months for the “self coronation” of leader Kim Jong-un.

He said the move’s sole aim seems to be the consolidation of the hereditary power succession. The current leader inherited the country after the sudden death of his father in late 2011, while the late Kim Jong-il took over after his own father, the North’s founder Kim Il-sung, died in July 1994.

“Ultimately, the huge amount of money spent will result in a greater burden for North Koreans,” he said.

[…]

In another paper, professor Yang Moon-soo of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul said the Pyongyang regime will likely pursue a market-friendly economic policy for the time being.

Cho Bong-hyun, a researcher at the state-run Industrial Bank of Korea (IBK), on the other hand, said the five-year economic development plan issued by Kim Jong-un at the party congress will turn out to be a failure and will eventually come to haunt the regime down the road.

Full article:
N. Korea spends over $200 mln on Workers’ Party congress: scholar
Yonhap News
2016-05-13

This blog looks forward to closely following the implementation of the five-year plan!

UPDATE 1: The National Committee on North Korea has posted all of Kim Jong-un’s speeches.

UPDATE 2: Bob Carlin writes about his thoughts on the congress in 38 North.

UPDATE 3: Ruediger Frank writes about the economic aspects of the congress here. Here is the speech (PDF) to which Dr. Frank refers.

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New Party Central Auditing Commission inaugurated

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016

New-central-auditing-commission

According to the Pyongyang Times (2016-5-10):

The First Plenary Session of the 7th Central Auditing Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea was held on May 9.

The event was attended by the members of the Party Central Auditing Commission who have been elected at the Seventh WPK Congress.

There was an election of the chairman and vice-chairman of the Party Central Auditing Commission.

Choe Sung Ho was elected chairman with Pak Myong Sun as his deputy.

According to the Ministry of Unification, the Party Central Auditing Commission, as its name suggests, inspects the party’s financial management.

This is interesting because this story originated in KCNA, though no pictures were released. However, the KCNA story was picked up by the Pyongyang Times, and this second version does contain pictures indicating that Kim Jong-un ran the meeting (See pictures at the top), even though he is not mentioned in the text of the article.

I am not sure of the meeting room location or where the Auditing Commission is physically located, but the meeting did not take place in Conference Hall No. 1 next to the Central Committee Building, Kim Jong-un’s official office.

Kim’s meeting at the Auditing Commission has not been reported in the Rodong Sinmun, the KWP newspaper, to the best of my knowledge.

The cheap and fast analysis suggests that as this is Kim Jong-un’s first committee meeting following the party congress, he is making a priority of understanding/controlling party finances in an effort to be a more assertive party leader (he was just named party chairman after all). Following a thorough party audit, Kim will be in a better position to allocate party financial rents to key supporters as well as to critically engage other cadres over party operations.

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Why agricultural reform may appear on the Worker’s Party Congress agenda, and why it might not

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

At this time of writing, the 7th Party Congress of the Korean Worker’s Party is only one day away. In the runup to the congress, as is natural, there has been much speculation about what the congress content will actually be. Most analyses seems to believe that personal and institutional decisions will be at the center, but there have also been speculations that policy proclamations may be made in areas such as agriculture.

This post is not an attempt at forecasting, an often fruitless endeavor.  Rather than predictions, this post offers a few reasons why agricultural reform may be on the agenda for the congress in some shape or form, and a few reasons to believe the opposite.

Why agricultural reform may show up…

The first thing to note is that the North Koreans themselves rarely (or never) use the term “reform” to describe economic policy changes. If such changes are announced, they will probably be called “improvements” or simply “changes”. In any case, the arguably strongest reason to believe that liberalizing policy changes may appear on the congress agenda is that they seem to be working, at least from the perspective of the North Korean government.

Recall that last summer, North Korean press touted the efficiency of the small work-team structures and similar management policy changes in agriculture. Contrary to recent reports about reduced harvests due to the drought, North Korean media claimed that harvests were going up. Earlier, in 2012, journalists were invited to farms to hear farmers themselves speak about the policy changes, a clear indication that the regime was comfortably and formally toying with the rules. At least for some farmers: it is very possible that the reforms were rolled out on a trial-basis, and that they later got stuck in the bureaucratic mills or were deemed too radical. In sum, North Korean media outlets themselves have touted the reforms as successful, and though media reports do not amount to official policy proclamations, they are often good indicators for what’s going on behind the scenes.

…and why it might not.

On the other hand, agriculture has been conspicuously absent from several major publications and proclamations about policy priorities and successes over the past year. For example, agriculture only showed up once in the slogans the regime published earlier this year, while industry received several central shout-outs. Reforms or policy changes in agriculture were not mentioned at all. There are also reasons to doubt that agricultural reforms really did have a strong impact on harvests in 2015 — the increase in harvest output began earlier than state media started mentioning reforms.

Moreover, reports on economic output which the regime published only a few days ago only mentioned agriculture almost in passing. The reports only spoke about how farmers had diligently met their quotas for gathering fertilizer, and did not mention policy changes:

Farming preparations were brisk on the agricultural front, resulting in a 1.7 and 2.8 times growth in the securing of hukposan and microbial fertilizers and an over 1.3 times increase in the acreage of field carpeted with humus soil.

[…]

The production of homemade fertilizers and their transport, tractor overhauling and maintenance and other farming preparations are nearing completion thanks to the devoted drive of agricultural workers across the country.

[…]

Such successes are reported from railway, agricultural and other industrial sectors.

It’s socialist economics as usual, in other words: people work hard according to the planned quotas, and fulfill them because the state told them to do so. Moreover, the Washington Post’s report on Wednesday from a collective farm near Pyongyang did not mention any talk of policy changes in agriculture.

None of this sounds like the propaganda buildup one would expect in the weeks before a grand policy announcement. At least we won’t have to wait too long before we know.

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Kim Jong-un’s Party Congress prep: construction projects

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Kim Jong-un has made at least two announcements recently, as the Korean Worker’s Party heads for its 7th Party Congress in May, about construction projects to be done. One of them is an orphanage in Ryanggang province, Daily NK reports:

Projects underway to promote Kim Jong Un’s legacy as a leader ahead of the 7th Party Congress in May are said to be in full swing across the nation. One such project taking place in Ryanggang Province calls for the full mobilization of residents to build an orphanage as an expression of the leader’s “love for the next generation,” Daily NK has learned.

“Authorities have recently been harassing residents saying that the orphanage under construction next to Kim Jong Suk Teachers’ College in Yonbong-dong needs to be ready for the Marshal’s (Kim Jong Un) inspection by the time of the Party Congress,” a source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK on Thursday. “The provincial party office has been hurrying people along, claiming the construction must be completed before the event.”

Progress was said to be slow during the winter, which was unseasonably cold, but construction efforts are now appearing to ramp up.

The project is being driven by the provincial head secretary and other cadres from the provincial Party and People’s Committee and is being promoted as a means to express loyalty to the leader, who has emphasized his “love for children,” said the source.

She added that cadres associated with the efforts, who have confidently stated that the facility will see completion before the Party Congress, have also been intensifying crackdowns on those seeking to avoid mobilization, out of concern that failure to complete the project on time may lead to issues of accountability.

“Vendors who are busy trying to make a living in the market were often able to get out (of mobilization) with bribes, but even that isn’t easy now,” a separate source in Ryanggang Province explained.

“The price for skipping a day of mobilization is now up to 10 RMB (13,000 KPW) a day per head, so some find it more affordable to just go to the construction site.”

The 13,000 KPW demanded is enough to purchase approximately 2kg of rice based on current prices, which is far from negligible for most members of the public. The higher price tag in effect acts as a tool to turn up the heat on people for mobilization.

The pressure to complete the project before the major political gathering has led to mobilization of students in the afternoons and workers at state-run factory as well.

The near full mobilization also involves specialized colleges, meaning that among the younger generation, stormtroopers (who are working on a railway project in Samjiyon) are seemingly the only group among ordinary residents that are exempt from the orphanage project.

Full article:
Kim Jong Un calls for construction of new orphanage in time for Party Congress
Kang Mi Jin
Daily NK
2016-04-19

IFES at Kyungnam University has also published an analysis of the news about the Ryomyong street project, which Curtis has already written about in this blog. They note that the recent sanctions do not seem to have altered plans for the project. Kim Jong-un’s rhetoric instead highlights the project as a blow against the international community and the US — North Korea will go full steam ahead on its own policies and no outside pressure can hold them back (my emphasis below):

On March 18, the state media Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that Kim Jong Un declared the construction of ‘Ryomyong Street’, which is to be built between Kumsusan Palace of the Sun and the Ryonghung Crossroads in Pyongyang. The street’s name signifies a place where ‘the dawn breaks in the Korean revolution’. Kim also mentioned that the area is to be surrounded by magnificent skyscrapers and multi-level buildings that fit the geographical characteristics surrounding the palace, displaying the Party’s idea of giving importance to science and talents in socialist Korea.
[…]
Along these lines, Kim put emphasis on the policy of securing building materials in constructing the new street and to diversify the size, design and color of decorative objects on the exterior of buildings. He also instructed for the mobilization of ‘soldier-builders’ who previously worked on the construction of Mirae Scientists Street. The construction of the new street shall be carried out with “Mallima speed” during the country’s ‘70-day campaign’ in run-up to the Party Congress scheduled for this upcoming May. The news report also stated that “the party, state, and society should render positive assistance to the construction and the Cabinet, commissions, ministries and national institutions take the lead in this work.”

According to the report, Kim Jong Un also said that “The construction of the street is not merely for formation of a street but serves as a political occasion of clearly showing the spirit of the DPRK standing up and keeping up with the world, despite all sorts of sanctions and pressure by U.S. imperialists and their followers, the appearance of the country advancing to realize the great ideal of the people and truth that the DPRK is able to be well-off in its own way and nothing is impossible for it to do.” The construction of the street appears in part as a means to show off the strength of ‘Songun’ Korea, following in the footsteps of Kim Jong Il’s policy.

Despite the strong sanctions imposed upon the country by the international community, North Korea is striving to achieve some form of economic success. The 70-day campaign has been initiated in the run-up to the Seventh Congress of the Workers’ Party. North Korean media are boasting about the country’s successes on the production front since the campaign’s initiation, saying “under the Juche ideology, people are working hard especially in the fields of electricity, coal, metal, and railroad transportation that they have achieved great success in the [campaign’s] first week.”

Full article here:
North Korea to Construct ‘Ryomyong Street’ Despite Sanctions
Institute for Far Eastern Studies
03-29-2016

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North Korean state takes over foreign currency stores

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Donju life might not always be what it is cracked up to be. Radio Free Asia reminds us that regardless of how well North Korea’s upper-middle class traders might be doing, the economic framework is still highly arbitrary:

North Korean hard currency shops providing foreign products for sale to the country’s wealthier citizens may soon see a full government takeover of its supply chains, leading to a drop in the quality and hike in the price of hard-to-obtain goods, North Korean sources say.

The stores, which require payment in Chinese yuan or U.S. dollars, have operated in recent years in Pyongyang and other large cities under the management of private businessmen who pay large portions of their profits to the central government.

Government-run trading firms are now poised to take over the purchase and pricing of products sold in the lucrative stores, though, a source in China’s Dandong city, just across the Yalu river from North Korea, told RFA’s Korean Service.

Until now, shop managers have gone to China themselves to bring back products—including clothing, cosmetics, and furniture—or sale in their stores, RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“If this system of supply changes, not only will store managers be prevented from going to China, but no use will be made of their marketing and management skills,” the source said.

Once the new system is implemented, stores will have to submit a list of needed products to their city’s local trading firm, which will then make the purchases from China itself, the source said.

“There are doubts that [the government] will be able to supply needed products on time, though, and the change in quality and price of the items may lead to conflicts between store managers and the trading organizations handling product supply,” he said.

Profit grab seen

Separately, a source in the capital Pyongyang said no official statement announcing the change has yet been made.

“But there is a high possibility the new system will be established after the [ruling Korean Workers’ Party] convention in May,” he said.

If put in place, the move may be aimed partly at further reducing the profits earned by store managers, who already pay most of what they earn to the government of the reclusive, U.N.-sanctioned state, the source in Pyongyang said.

“North Korea’s foreign currency situation is urgent now,” the source said.

“From now on, the managers of foreign-currency shops will receive only a small salary, as they did in the past,” he said.

“Sales will drop, though, and the management will experience difficulties,” he said.

Full article here:
North Korean ‘Foreign Currency’ Stores Face State Takeover
Jonhoo Kim
Radio Free Asia
04-19-2016

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North Korea’s natural resource risks: Kim Jong-il’s own take

Thursday, April 14th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

As North Korea debates and experiments in economic strategies, it’s always interesting to go back and look at older debates of a similar nature. While reading vol. 14 of Kim Jong-il’s Collected Works (Sonjib) I stumbled upon an interesting speech attributed to Kim from 1995.* Whether it was foresight or just common logic of political economy, Kim actually warned of the risks of North Korea becoming a mere natural resource exporter to other countries, without reaping the full benefits of trade. Recall that one of the charges against Jang Song-taek was selling out the country’s natural resources for his own benefit. The issue itself, of course, is much older.

In the speech, given to an audience of Central Committee functionaries, Kim attacks cadres that have a faulty understanding of foreign trade under socialism, and think only about how their own “units” (단위) can make foreign currency profits (p. 8). He also emphasizes the need to calculate all the costs involved with foreign trade, including production costs at home, to calculate actual profit.

The most interesting part, in my opinion, however, is where Kim gets to the natural resource question. Kim states that natural resources shouldn’t just be sold to other countries, but processed (가공) domestically to the greatest extent possible (p. 10). He says that “now, capitalists are buying natural resources at a cheap price from our country, processing them and selling them to a higher price.”

Kim complains that it’s a grave crime that capitalists are pocketing their own wallets by selling off North Korea’s own resources by processing them, and that North Korea could become mere suppliers to monopoly capitalism if it doesn’t start processing their natural resources itself. He also states that those who just sell off natural resources without processing are just like slaves to foreign countries.

Kim also warns people about thinking that foreign currency can be earned “for free.” “The imperialists and capitalists never give anything to anyone for free,” Kim states, and says that if capitalists say they have anything to give, it is because they have their own desires” (p. 11).

This speech is a reminder that North Korea has grappled with how to handle its natural resources for a long time, and it suggests that controversies abounded in the 1990s as well.

*These works are sometimes edited after the fact, sometimes several times over, but this edition is from 2000, published by the Worker’s Party Publisher (N’odongd’ang chulpan’sa). All translations are my own, and if anyone has any corrections to offer, please get in touch.

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Kim Jong-un’s mother’s grave (Ko Yong-hui)

Friday, April 8th, 2016

I reported this in Radio Free Asia last week….

It has never been announced in the North Korean media, but Kim Jong-un has “quietly” built a grave for his mother, Ko Yong-hui, on Mt. Taesong.

Ko-grave-2016-4-8

Pictured above (Google Earth): The grave of Kim Jong-un’s mother, Ko Yong-hui.

The site where the grave was built was cleared of a few small buildings by May 2012 (Kim Jong-il died in December 2011).  Construction appears to have been completed by October 2012.

Although the grave is on Mt. Taesong, it does not appear to be a revolutionary site. It is not featured on a nearby map of revolutionary sites on Mt. Taesong, and North Koreans are not being brought to it by the bus load (very little traffic in fact). Kim jong-un may have visited the grave unofficially, but never as a public ritual. The only foreigner I have spoken to who has visited the site saw only one guard on duty. So maybe someday years from now it is intended to be a revolutionary site, but not for now.

Back in 2010, Michael Madden posted this picture of Ms. Ko’s birthplace in Osaka, Japan. I was able to locate it on Google Earth at these coordinates:  34.663147°, 135.531080°

Ko-birthplace

Ko’s father (Kim Jong-un’s maternal grandfather) was buried on Jeju-do in South Korea, but the family had his grave moved to an undisclosed location to prevent it from attracting crowds. It is highly unlikely that Kim Jong-un will ever visit this grave.

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Chinese local governments formally notified of sanctions against North Korea

Monday, March 21st, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

I’m not sure if this is anything out of the ordinary or if this is the formal routine every time sanctions have been passed. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting development. If sanctions against North Korea are ever to hit the economy where it hurts, Chinese local governments are perhaps the most important implementers since much (or most) of North Korea’s external trade occurs with them. Korea Herald:

China has notified its local governments on how to implement new U.N. sanctions on North Korea, including specific measures on imports from North Korea, a diplomatic source with knowledge of the matter said Monday.

Kim Hong-kyun, South Korea’s chief nuclear envoy, held talks with his Chinese counterpart, Wu Dawei, last Friday as the two nations vowed to fully implement the new U.N. sanctions against North Korea’s fourth nuclear test and rocket launch.

During the talks, Wu told Kim that China has been “in the process of implementing the new U.N. resolution on North Korea,” said the source, who attended the Friday meeting.

“The Chinese side also believes that strong sanctions are needed to show its sincerity on denuclearization,” the source said.

Earlier this month, the U.N. Security Council levied tougher sanctions against North Korea’s fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6 and the Feb. 7 launch of a long-range rocket, both of which violated previous U.N. resolutions.

The new U.N. sanctions require countries to limit or ban imports of North Korean coal, iron ore and other mineral resources if the proceeds are used for the North’s nuclear and missile programs.

One of the potential loopholes is a provision that allows North Korea to continue exports of coal and iron ore if such transactions are for “livelihood purposes.”

Full article here:
China notifies local gov’ts of new U.N. sanctions on N. Korea
Yonhap News/Korea Herald
2016-03-21

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