Archive for the ‘Political economy’ Category

On the Nov 21st US Treasury Sanctions against North Korea

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

By: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Today, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) announced new sanctions against a number of Chinese and North Korean entities. The sanctions “target third-country persons with long-standing commercial ties to North Korea, as well as the transportation networks that facilitate North Korea’s revenue generation and operations,” said a press statement.

Overall, these additional measures seem designed to clamp down on avenues for North Korea to circumvent current UN sanctions. Among those sanctioned are three Chinese companies that have traded with North Korea in goods that are covered by UN sanctions from this and last year:

OFAC designated Dandong Kehua Economy & Trade Co., Ltd., Dandong Xianghe Trading Co., Ltd., and Dandong Hongda Trade Co. Ltd. pursuant to E.O. 13810.  Between January 1, 2013 and August 31, 2017, these three companies cumulatively exported approximately $650 million worth of goods to North Korea and cumulatively imported more than $100 million worth of goods from North Korea.  These goods have included notebook computers, anthracite coal, iron, iron ore, lead ore, zinc ore, silver ore, lead, and ferrous products.

Also targeted are companies that have traded in goods that are either covered by sanctions, or (it seems) fall under the dual-use category of goods that can be used in nuclear weapons/missile development:

OFAC designated Sun Sidong and his company, Dandong Dongyuan Industrial Co., Ltd. (Dongyuan), pursuant to E.O. 13810.  Sun and Dongyuan were responsible for exporting over $28 million worth of goods to North Korea over several years, including motor vehicles, electrical machinery, radio navigational items, aluminum, iron, pipes, and items associated with nuclear reactors.  Dongyuan has also been associated with front companies for weapons of mass destruction-related North Korean organizations.

The sanctions also target vessels that are suspected of having transferred oil to North Korea via other ships (ship-to-ship transfer) in violation of sanctions (this part contains some pretty impressive pictures):

All in all, these new sanctions appear to try to fill the gaps left by current sanctions. Surely, they will cause added trouble for North Korea. But the problem, to begin with, is that North Korea has historically been good at adapting to new sanction’s frameworks and finding new methods to circumvent them. Only time will tell whether these skills of North Korea still hold up in the current sanctions environment.

Share

Singapore cuts trade ties with North Korea

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Reports Reuters (here in Asahi Shimbun):

Singapore has suspended trade relations with North Korea, the latest of Pyongyang’s major trade partners to cut commercial ties under toughening U.N. sanctions over its weapons program, a customs notice obtained on Thursday showed.

The move comes about two months after the United States imposed North Korea-related sanctions on a number of firms and individuals, including two entities based in Singapore.

“Singapore will prohibit all commercially traded goods from, or to, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK),” the city-state’s customs said in the notice sent to traders and declaring agents last Tuesday, referring to the country by its official name.

The suspension would take effect from Nov. 8, Fauziah A. Sani, head of trade strategy and security for the director-general of customs, said in the notice.

Repeated breach of the new prohibitions is punishable by a fine of up to S$200,000 ($147,341 or 16 million yen) or four times the value of the goods traded, imprisonment of up to three years, or both, it added.

Singapore is North Korea’s seventh largest trading partner. The Philippines, Pyongyang’s fifth biggest trading partner, suspended trade with North Korea in September to comply with a U.N. resolution.

Tension on the Korean Peninsula has escalated as North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, has stepped up the development of weapons in defiance of U.N. sanctions.

North Korea has tested a series of missiles this year, including one that flew over Japan, and conducted its sixth and biggest nuclear test in September.

Pyongyang maintains a diplomatic presence in Singapore, with an embassy in its financial district.

In September, Singapore issued a travel advisory urging citizens to avoid all non-essential travel to North Korea, where it does not have diplomatic representation.

In an interview with National Public Radio in May, Singapore’s minister of foreign affairs, Vivian Balakrishnan, had said the country was not ready to cut all diplomatic ties with North Korea.

In January last year, Singapore-based Chinpo Shipping Company (Private) Ltd. was fined S$180,000 for facilitating a shipment of arms to North Korea in violation of U.N. sanctions.

Article source:
Singapore suspends trade relations with North Korea
Reuters
2017-11-16

Say what you will about the Trump administration’s foreign policy, but they have scored some non-negligible victories lately in isolating North Korea.

Share

Despite chinese sanctions enforcement, goods still crossing North Korea border

Friday, September 29th, 2017

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Yes, the idea of a close North Korea-China friendship is fundamentally flawed and deeply simplified. Yes, China is currently making life very difficult for those among its own citizens who are involved in business with North Korea, and for North Koreans at the other side of the business deals. And yes, China’s enforcement of sanctions against North Korea is hurting the country’s economy and the general public.

But that by no means that all ties have been cut. China’s policy on North Korea and sanctions is not a binary question of either or.

On September 26, 2017, Wall Street Journal reported that coal imports from North Korea, which went down to zero in February this year (at least in terms of what Chinese customs data reported), again went up to levels in August that looks fairly average and regular for the past year or so:

China had suspended purchases of North Korean coal in February, in response to a U.N.-set cap on Pyongyang’s coal trade set last November, part of sanctions to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

Chinese coal imports from its neighbor this year remained below those limits after last month’s shipments.

Chinese customs data released Tuesday shows China accepted about 1.64 million tons of North Korean coal worth some $138.1 million in August, when the U.N. Security Council expanded sanctions to a complete halt on coal shipments and banned Pyongyang from exporting iron, lead and seafood.

China has been the sole importer of North Korean coal. Tuesday’s data shows Pyongyang earned more coal-export income in August than in either January or February, when China imported about $122.5 million and $98.1 million worth of North Korean coal, respectively.

China’s customs agency reported no North Korean coal imports between March and July.

The latest coal shipments preceded a Sept. 5 deadline for U.N. members to implement the August sanctions. Beijing said on Aug. 14 it would comply with those sanctions while continuing to process imports of banned goods until the deadline if those shipments had already reached Chinese territory.

Full article:
Before U.N. Deadline, China Again Buys North Korean Coal
Chun Han Wong
Wall Street Journal
2017-09-26

 

The August 2017 numbers don’t necessarily reflect a drastic change of policy on the side of China. But one can speculate that perhaps now that tensions have lingered at a high pitch for quite some time, letting shipments through prior to the September 5th enforcement deadline is seen as less problematic.

In the trade data, we also see that China’s export of food to North Korea has surged in July. We’re currently in the so-called “lean season” when food is particularly scarce in North Korea, and with economic anxiety following the tensions of the spring and summer, the price instability on the markets has surely made access to food less certain. Wall Street Journal:

China’s agricultural exports to North Korea rose sharply in July and August, amid rising geopolitical tensions and at a time of year when the food supply in the isolated nation is usually at its lowest.

In July and August, China corn exports jumped to a total of 34,964 metric tons, nearly 100 times the levels seen in the year-earlier period. Rice exports increased 79% to 17,875 metric tons, while exports of wheat flour surged more than elevenfold to 8,383 metric tons, according to China’s Customs data.

Full article:
China’s Food Exports to North Korea Surge
Lucy Craymer
Wall Street Journal
2017-09-27

Again, this does not necessarily imply a stark change of policy on the side of China. Rather, it is one indication among many that hopes are naive that Chinese pressure on North Korea would mean a complete cutoff of North Korea by China from the rest of the world. At the end of the day, the same old truth still holds: China desires a degree of social stability in North Korea in order to maintain peace and calm along its border and in the region overall. Food is certainly an important factor in such peace and calm, particularly in the long run.

Now, how (or if) North Korea is paying for these imports is less clear…

Share

Market prices in North Korea rise sharply after sanctions and tensions

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Historically, market prices in North Korea (as reported by Daily NK) have tended to remain surprisingly stabile throughout many periods of tension and crisis. At times, while the rest of the world has seemed to be running for the bomb shelters, market prices in North Korea have barely moved, suggesting a lack of belief within North Korea that sanctions will be implemented or that imports will get restricted as a result of the tensions.

This time, it’s different.

While DailyNK’s market price database has not been updated since August 4th, news reports from inside North Korea suggest prices are much higher than they normally would be, as a result of news of added sanctions and an embargo on fuel sales to the country. Corn prices, for example, are reported to be 42 percent higher than what is normal at this time of year. The story here is that news of China’s participation in the sanctions regime give cause for worry on the ground, as is the bad harvest season:

According to inside sources, the cost of one kilogram of rice was about KPW 5,800 at the end of last month in Pyongyang, South Pyongan Province Sinuiju City, and Ryanggang Province Hyesan City. On September 5th, the prices passed the KPW 6,000 mark and have continued to slowly rise. After the North’s nuclear test, gasoline prices rose sharply around the country. Rice and other grains followed suit in due course.
Insiders located in the border regions near China – which have long served as hubs of trade and smuggling – are also sensing the climbing prices. A source from Ryanggang Province explained to Daily NK on September 11, “When we heard about economic sanctions in the past, there were merely slight increases in the cost of rice, but now we are seeing a different kind of effect.”
She continued, “Even though we are currently at the height of the corn harvest season, corn is nonetheless selling for KPW 2,700 per kilogram, [it sold for just KPW 1,900 per kg at the end of August]. Merchants haven’t been overly concerned until now, but now that we see corn prices increasing during the harvest season, it seems clear that the economic situation will continue to deteriorate.”
Witnessing the cost of diesel and gasoline spike upwards, some merchants have predicted that this will cause the price of other products to raise as well, and have therefore responded by reducing the number of products available for sale. By doing so, they hope to be able to sell at a higher price later. This reduced supply, in turn, has itself pushed prices up.
Also, as reports and rumors from the outside world penetrate further into North Korea, more and more people are coming to realize that North Korea’s closest friends, especially China, are meaningfully participating in the sanctions. This information also helps to push prices up.
A poor yield of corn this year is also playing a role. Severe droughts in the spring have hurt bottom line harvests of grains such as corn.
This should not come as a surprise. As external income sources are increasingly getting strangled by Chinese sanctions enforcement, the North Korean economy as a whole is feeling the pinch. Again, this is not at all a strange development. On the contrary, the remarkable resilience of North Korean market prices in past periods of tensions is the really peculiar story. Most likely, past rounds of the same –tensions followed by sanctions followed by tensions followed by eventual deescalation — has lacked a credible belief among North Koreans that China would really tighten the screws enough for the domestic economy to really take a hit.
It is still far too early to say anything about how long China will keep up the pressure, or how well the North Korean economy can adapt by, for example, switching over to fuels that are more abundantly available, such as liquified coal. It’s also important to remember that oil and fuel has never been cheap in North Korea, and that many residents prefer solar panels instead of diesel-powered generators to cover their needs during the frequent power outages in the country. But none of these adaptions are cheap or easy. These things take time and effort, and real costs as well as opportunity costs are likely to be large.
To be sure, the regime very likely expected and planned for this outcome. The increase in gasoline prices over the past few months suggests that the state has been siphoning off fuel from the markets for quite a while, to fill up their own stockpiles. The climb in gas prices is not limited to Pyongyang, but extends to other regions as well. The pattern of nuclear- and missiles tests this year, as many have noted, also seem to be a signal of defiance toward China. Moreover, if regime survival is the ultimate goal of Pyongyang, it’s important to remember that only a few years ago, North Korea’s trade was a third of what it is today, and regime collapse wasn’t exactly on the radar. And again, sanctions pressure from China likely won’t last forever.
But the price trend in late August and early September is a reminder that the North Korean economy, after all, works according to the laws of supply and demand. Unlike at many previous occasions, China is — at least for now — clamping down on trade with North Korea, and its residents are feeling it.
Will sanctions be strongly enforced enough to cripple North Korea’s economy? Probably not. But there is a very wide range of states between crippled and unaffected, and while North Korea’s domestic economy may be very resilient, it is not beyond the reach of international tensions.
Share

The impact of sanctions (2017) on the North Korean economy

Thursday, September 14th, 2017

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

I’ll try to gather some of the many stories on the impact of sanctions on the North Korean economy in this post, starting with the one below from Reuters (with my annotation in brackets, [BKS]):

DANDONG, China (Reuters) – The United Nations may have failed to slow North Korea’s weapons programs, but the country’s economy is already showing signs it is feeling the squeeze from the ongoing clampdown on trade, including a curb on fuel sales by China.

The latest sanctions agreed on Monday by the UN Security Council ban the export of textiles from North Korea, one of its few substantial foreign currency earners. They also capped imports of oil and refined products, without imposing the full ban the United States had sought.

Chinese traders along the border with North Korea and some regular visitors to the isolated country said scarcer and costlier fuel, as well as earlier UN sanctions banning the export of commodities such as seafood and coal, are now taking a toll.

“Our factory in North Korea is about to go bankrupt,” said an ethnically-Korean Chinese businessman in Dandong who sells cars refurbished at a factory in North Korea. He declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the situation.

[My emphasis: Sanctions may target the regime first and foremost, but civilians certainly do not go untouched by them./BKS]

“If they can’t pay us, we’re not going to give them goods for free,” he said, referring to his North Korean customers.

A trader at another auto-related businesses in Dandong said cross-border trade had been hurt over the past few years, which he attributed to sanctions and less access to petrol. Several Chinese traders told Reuters the sanctions had stymied North Korean businesses’ ability to raise hard currency to trade.

“Last month sales were really bad, I only sold a couple of vehicles,” said the Chinese trader who sells new trucks, vans and minibuses to North Korea. “In August last year, I sold tens of vehicles and I thought that was bad.”

On top of the sanctions, some traders said Chinese officials have stepped up efforts to curb smuggling across the border, a key source of fuel in the northern parts of North Korea.

[Question is: for how long will these efforts last? /BKS]

And Chinese bank branches in the northeast have curtailed doing business with North Koreans, according to branch staff [BKS emphasis].

FUEL PRICES SURGE

Still, North Korea has made strides in increasing its economic independence and not all traders or observers agreed the international pressure was having a major economic impact.

Many residents, long accustomed to restrictions and shortages, were most concerned about the risk of already tight fuel supplies being cut further, said Kang Mi-jin, a North Korean defector in Seoul who reports for the Daily NK website.

“If the U.S. were to say they plan to bomb Pyongyang, North Koreans wouldn’t care less. But if China says they are considering slashing oil exports to North Korea because of missile or nuclear tests, North Koreans would absolutely freak out,” she said.

[BKS emphasis.]

Reuters reported in late June that state-run China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) had suspended sales of gasoline and fuel to North Korea over concerns it would not get paid, and Chinese customs data showed that gasoline exports to the North had dropped 97 percent from a year earlier.

Petrol and diesel prices in North Korea surged after the cut and have almost doubled since late last year. In early September, petrol cost an average of $1.73/kg, compared with 97 cents last December, according to data from the defector-run Daily NK.

“The cost of living has gone up, the price of petrol has risen and there are fewer cars on the streets,” a foreign resident of the North Korean capital told Reuters. The only thing that had become cheaper was coal, he said, after China banned North Korean coal imports earlier this year.

Some of the scarcity of oil products and higher prices may have been caused by hoarding in anticipation of a clampdown on supply.

[Hoarding does seem like a likely culprit judging from the price trend from late spring this year. Basically, none of the current measures are ones that North Korea likely didn’t expect. /BKS]

North Korea canceled an air show scheduled for this month in the coastal city of Wonsan, citing “current geopolitical circumstances”. Several Chinese traders said they believed it was because the military is saving aviation fuel.

The new UN resolution imposes a ban on condensates and natural gas liquids, a cap of 2 million barrels a year on refined petroleum products, and a cap on crude oil exports to North Korea at current levels.

OIL NOT BOMBS

North Korea uses far less crude than during its industrial heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. After cut-price supplies from China and the Soviet Union ended following the Cold War, consumption dropped from 76,000 barrels per day in 1991 to an estimated 15,000 last year, according to the EIA.

[Oil consumption is already relatively low — key point. /BKS]

The use of small-scale solar has become widespread in the North, with many apartment balconies dotted with panels providing power for cooking and lighting.

China has not disclosed crude exports to North Korea for several years but industry sources say it supplies about 520,000 tonnes of crude a year to North Korea through an aging pipeline.

The pipeline already operates at the minimum level for which the waxy crude from China’s Daqing oil fields can flow without clogging, according to a senior oil industry source.

Chun Yung-woo, a former South Korean envoy on the North Korean nuclear issue, said the North could endure for a year or two without oil imports.

North Koreans are so used to living in harsh economic conditions that they would just get by for at least one year even if the oil ban is adopted, rationing the existing stockpile among top elites at a minimum level and replacing cars, tractors, equipment with cow wagons, human labor etc,” he said.

“They would also manage to produce oil from whatever resources are available, whether it be coal, trees or plants.”

Full article:

As North Korea girds for latest sanctions, economy already feels the squeeze
Sue-Lin Wong
Reuters
2017-09-13

This last point is extremely important: the weakness of the North Korean economy is also its strength. It is still highly underdeveloped and also resilient because so much of it functions on ad-hoc, creative solutions. That’s not to say that current sanctions (if fully enforced — a big “if”) may come to hurt the economy and society if pressure is continued over a longer stretch of time, but they’re unlikely to be completely crippling right away.

(UPDATE 2017-09-26): Added below is some Daily NK coverage from last week on consequences inside North Korea and for North Koreans of the current economic pressure. On September 13th, they reported that large numbers of North Korean workers returning home from China had been spotted at the Dandong railway station:

Daily NK has received photos of North Korean workers waiting to board trains home at Dandong’s railway station (Liaoning Province) on the morning of September 4. They were reportedly working at a cold storage facility in China but having failed to have their contracts extended, have had no choice but to return home.

“Every day, groups of North Korean workers are returning to their country via Dandong railway station due to the sanctions. The Chinese factory owners used to prefer North Korean workers because of the cheaper wages, but now they are employing Chinese workers even though their wages are higher,” a source familiar with North Korean affairs in China told Daily NK.

North Korean trading companies were previously using a system to dispatch workers to overseas factories for three to five year intervals, with an extension of the contracts or the signing of new ones upon expiration of the original contract. Officially, the companies are required to recall workers whose contracts have ended and dispatch new workers, but many workers have been extending their stays in exchange for bribes given to the company managers.

The Chinese factories benefit from a cheap labor force, so the extensions were easily accepted in the past.

However, these factories have recently ceased extending labor contracts and issuing new ones with North Korean trading companies following the adoption of new UNSC sanctions.

Daily NK previously reported that a large number of Chinese factories announced that they will no longer extend labor contracts for North Korean workers due to the sanctions.

As a result, the North Korean authorities are keen to find alternative routes to earn foreign currency and have instructed some workers to look for other ways to earn foreign currency rather than return home after their period of dispatch.

Daily NK also reported that at least some North Korean workers in Dandong (Liaoning Province) have managed to find work at nearby restaurants and hotels.

North Korean workers are often repatriated after an extended period of overseas dispatch, as the regime considers them more likely to learn about the external world and attempt defection. But as the regime has become desperate in its attempts to earn foreign currency, it has started encouraging these workers to extend their stays.

Full article:
Dandong railway station packed with North Korean workers returning home
Kim Ga Young
Daily NK
2017-09-13

Gas prices in North Korea have been skyrocketing for several months, and the rate of the increase has gone up during the current crisis, Daily NK reports:

At the beginning of this month, gasoline prices in North Korea’s capital city of Pyongyang began to sharply rise. Now, oil prices in other regions of the country have started climbing as well. This news was ascertained and delivered to Daily NK on September 7 by inside informants on the ground in North Korea.
After the UN Security Council adopted another round of international sanctions against North Korea (Resolution 2371) on August 5, there were no major price fluctuations. However, oil prices did start to rise in certain regions after the North conducted its sixth nuclear test earlier this month.
According to the inside sources, one kilogram of gasoline rose from KPW 18,000 in Pyongyang at the beginning of September to KPW 23,000 on September 7th. Diesel prices also exceeded the KPW 12,000 mark.
Up until the fourth week of August, diesel was selling for KPW 12,800 per kilogram in Pyongyang. The cost of diesel actually fell in August. At the beginning of the month, it sold for about KPW 15,100.  But then it started to climb again towards the end of the month, jumping to KPW 14,100 at the end of the month, and then surpassing KPW 20,000 within a week after that.
Asked about these quickly elevating prices during a phone conversation with Daily NK  a source in Pyongyang said, “Gasoline prices started to rise at the end of August to KPW 18,000, and then jumped up to KPW 20,000 at the beginning of September. As a result of this increase, motorbikes disappeared from the streets of Pyongyang. The presence of taxis and cars is down by at least half. The streets are totally empty.”
“Some autobike drivers are concerned because the gas price jump will make it harder for them to make a living transporting people and goods,” the source added. “The possibility is large that related industries will also be hurt by the price increase.”
There are signs that the gasoline price increase is also affecting areas far from the capital city, such as Hyesan City, Ryanggang Province. A source from that region said, “The cost of gasoline in Hyesan increased to KPW 21,600 per kilogram.” As recently as the third week of August, the price was at a mere KPW 12,050. Towards the end of the month, it climbed to KPW 14,400, and then kept climbing in September.
The source added, “Gas prices are also rising in rural areas of the country. Some areas feature gas prices approaching the price in Hyesan, and others have surpassed that. Merchants are baffled because the price dipped and then rose suddenly.”
Full article:
Gas prices in North Korea jump on rumors of possible embargo
Kang Mi Jin and Kim Ga Young
Daily NK
2017-09-15

(UPDATE 2017-09-18): Anna Fifield reports in the Washington Post on the textile exports ban and its impact on North Korea’s female population in particular:

There are few areas in the North Korean economy, outside its nuclear weapons program, that could be called booming. But the garment industry has been one of them.

Over the past few years, North Korea has been sending increasing numbers of seamstresses to China to sew clothes for international buyers, and it also has been encouraging the expansion of the garment industry at home.

There are factories around the country producing suits, dresses and children’s clothes — almost all of which are labeled “Made in China.”

That should all theoretically come to an end now, after the U.N. Security Council unanimously decided last week to prohibit North Korea from exporting labor and textiles, adding to existing sanctions on coal, iron ore and seafood.

“Today’s resolution bans all textile exports,” Nikki Haley, the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations, said Monday when the resolution passed. “That’s an almost $800 million hit to its revenue.”

North Korea exported about $725 million worth of clothing last year, according to South Korea’s trade-promotion agency, making it a significant source of income for the cash-strapped country.

Adding textiles to the sanctions list means that more than 90 percent of North Korea’s publicly reported exports last year are now banned, Haley said. Coal, iron ore and seafood exports were prohibited in a previous resolution.

While diplomats have been describing the ban as being on “textiles,” economists say it should more accurately be called a “garment” ban. North Korea does not export bolts of fabric but instead produces labor-intensive articles of clothing.

“When you make simple clothes like T-shirts, the machinery is important. The labor is not so important. So it makes no sense to do things like this in North Korea,” said Paul Tjia, a Dutch consultant who helps businesses operate in North Korea, especially in the garment industry.

“But for garments that require a lot of manual work, like bras or winter sports clothes, it makes a lot of sense to make those in North Korea, because the price-to-quality ratio is very attractive,” said Tjia, who most recently went to Pyongyang in May.

[…]

Although China supported the new U.N. resolution, its implementation of previous sanctions has been spotty at best, analysts say.

But if Beijing is serious about stopping North Korea’s exports of apparel and workers to sew garments in Chinese factories, it would have a significant impact on the North’s economy, said Marcus Noland of the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“The reason that this is important is not only because apparel exports are a significant number, but because it’s the one non-resource area that’s really growing,” Noland said, differentiating apparel exports from mineral exports such as coal and iron ore. “So it’s not just the static number that’s important. It’s the fact that this sector was emerging as an area of comparative advantage.”

[…]

Previously, governments had stressed that the sanctions were targeting the regime and were aimed at cutting off its access to the money or equipment it needed for its nuclear weapons program.

This effort to shut down North Korea’s garment industry is one that will have wide-reaching ramifications across North Korean society.

“Assuming that the ban is enforced, it will have a huge impact,” said Abrahamian, who visited North Korean garment factories several times while working for Choson Exchange, an NGO focused on business training for North Koreans.

“Tens of thousands, possibly even hundreds of thousands, of North Koreans are employed in this industry, and 98 percent of them are women. That’s the demographic that’s clearly going to suffer as a result of this,” he said.

Full article:
Ban on North Korean clothing exports will hurt women the most, experts say
Anna Fifield
Washington Post
2017-09-17

A few days after the sanctions were adopted that limit oil exports to North Korea, Daily NK interviewed a North Korean merchant working in China, who said he was basically out of work:

Mr. A: In broad strokes, I’d say at least 80% of us North Korean merchants in Dandong were stomping our feet and complaining that we have no work now as soon as the new sanctions were released. Joint ventures with Chinese firms are blocked, bank accounts are blocked, and use of North Korean laborers is limited. These were all important sources of money for us. There is no work left for us to do.
DNK: And the work that you were doing has effectively gone down the drain? 
Mr. A: Yes. Recently, some of the projects that we have been proposing to the Chinese side have been rejected.
DNK: This happened to you personally?
Mr. A: I have mostly earned money by acting as an intermediary connecting North Korean and Chinese merchants. I charged a commission for playing this role. But if demand decreases for this service, there’s nothing I can do. I also used to take the profits I earned to purchase things that North Koreans need, such as materials, but now that has also become quite difficult to do.
The fall harvest is approaching in North Korea, which means that threshers and other agro materials are needed, but because of these sanctions, the work has dried up and I can’t buy them. I think this will have an effect on the size of the fall harvest.
Full article:
Reacting to sanctions, N. Korean merchant in China: ‘We have no work’
Kim Chung Yeol
Daily NK
2017-09-18

Bloomberg wrote last week (2017-09-15) on the smuggling of fishery products in the wake of the sanctions on these goods:

In the fishing grounds where the Yalu River opens up to the Yellow Sea, Chinese and North Korean trawlers intermingle as they search for crabs, conch and yellow clams.

Drifting among them are Chinese boats called “mother ships” that act as floating middlemen, offering dollars, renminbi and even goods like cigarettes for the latest catch, according to traders who have been aboard the vessels. One of them, who called himself Mr. Du, said the seafood is then taken ashore to China and sold in wholesale markets, where it all gets mixed together.

The practice is just one form of smuggling along China’s 1,350-kilometer (840-mile) border with North Korea, roughly the distance from Paris to Rome. Locals use boats, cars, trucks and several rail lines to carry everything from diesel fuel to silkworms to cell phones back and forth across the Yalu.

[…]

For China, implementing sanctions is a tricky balance. It wants North Korea to stop doing anything that leads the U.S. to bolster regional defenses that could also be used against China. At the same time, authorities have long feared that a collapse of the regime in Pyongyang could destabilize China’s northeastern region and bring U.S. troops to the banks of the Yalu.

[…]

hile the latest penalties will take effect from Oct. 1, a ban on North Korean seafood passed a month ago — taking away roughly $300 million in revenue each year — came fully into force only on Sept. 5. Interviews along the border last week with dozens of traders, wholesalers, smugglers, former local officials and foreign diplomats showed that fresh North Korean seafood was still available even as China visibly stepped up enforcement.

China’s border with North Korea stretches from the industrial town of Dandong north to the town of Hunchun, near where the countries converge with Russia. Along the route, police and military have increased patrols and set up checkpoints to inspect vehicles.

Foreign affairs offices for the Dandong and Hunchun city governments didn’t respond to faxes seeking comment on efforts to stop smuggling. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing on Friday that China was opposed to North Korean violations of sanctions and would continue to strictly implement UN resolutions.

In Hunchun, dozens of seafood wholesalers had closed after the earlier sanctions took effect. Chinese authorities seized shipments of North Korean squid at the border, according to Shi Haiyan, a shopkeeper at Quanhe Port, which sits on a river linked with the Sea of Japan.

“The sanctions are strict now — seafood can’t come through at all,” the 34-year-old said last week.

Even so, restaurants in Hunchun were still selling North Korean crabs and conch. The goods are harder to find but still available, according to a shop owner who asked to be identified only by his family name, Lyu.

The situation was similar in Dandong, the biggest Chinese city along the border and the center of the country’s trade with Kim’s regime. Dandong is home to a pipeline that regularly supplies oil to North Korea — a crucial supply source that was exempted from the new sanctions.

The city of 2.4 million people has several bridges that cross the Yalu, one of which is inoperable because North Korea hasn’t built a road linking to it. Another one bombed out during the Korean War attracted Chinese tourists singing Communist songs about defeating America.

Hundreds of cars and trucks traverse the main Friendship Bridge each day, including many North Korean drivers looking to fill up with petrol. Getting across has become harder after the latest round of sanctions came into effect, according to Wang Lisheng, 64, a former county official from nearby Hekou village who used to trade metals with North Korea.

At Dong Sheng, Dandong’s main seafood market, four traders said last week they could still source the city’s signature yellow clams from North Korea even though supplies had dropped. Ha Wei, 38, said the price of dried clams had risen 20 percent to 30 yuan ($4.6) per half kilogram (1.1 pound) since the sanctions took effect.

Still Demand

About 40 kilometers away at the Yellow Sea Seafood Products Market, a larger complex where hundreds of workers sift through freshly unloaded seafood that is then shipped throughout China, multiple traders told Bloomberg they also were still able to procure goods from North Korea.

“We still have North Korean goods but much less in the last week after sanctions,” said Xu E, 44, a conch trader.

Mr. Du, who described how smugglers bring North Korean seafood into China, has been running goods across the China-North Korea border for the past 20 years. He’s been detained in North Korea several times, including once when he was fed only carrots for three days before being released.

In the 1990s, he said, border smugglers regularly dealt everything from coal to diesel to North Korean brides. He avoided trading guns, drugs or people — things that could earn him a prison sentence instead of a fine. Despite the risk of violating sanctions, he said, the easy money will continue to attract smugglers on the border.

“As long as there’s demand, smugglers will keep coming,” Du said. “No matter how hard Beijing tries.”

Full article:
Smuggled North Korea Clams Show China’s Struggle to Stop Kim
Bloomberg News
2017-09-15

 

(UPDATE 2017-09-19):

DailyNK has published several stories in the past few days on the dire impact that sanctions and tensions are having on the economy. News of sanctions implementation by China, it seems, are impacting North Korean market prices in dire ways:

This upsurge in prices began to occur before the United Nations unanimously passed its latest round of sanctions. Security Council Resolution 2375 – which passed on September 11 – contains some of the strictest provisions yet, including a ban on importing North Korean textiles and a restriction of exports to North Korea to just 30% of current levels. However, since the cost of goods increased prior to the UN’s adoption of 2375, analysts are wondering what lies behind the jump.
According to inside sources, the cost of one kilogram of rice was about KPW 5,800 at the end of last month in Pyongyang, South Pyongan Province Sinuiju City, and Ryanggang Province Hyesan City. On September 5th, the prices passed the KPW 6,000 mark and have continued to slowly rise. After the North’s nuclear test, gasoline prices rose sharply around the country. Rice and other grains followed suit in due course.
Insiders located in the border regions near China – which have long served as hubs of trade and smuggling – are also sensing the climbing prices. A source from Ryanggang Province explained to Daily NK on September 11, “When we heard about economic sanctions in the past, there were merely slight increases in the cost of rice, but now we are seeing a different kind of effect.”
She continued, “Even though we are currently at the height of the corn harvest season, corn is nonetheless selling for KPW 2,700 per kilogram, [it sold for just KPW 1,900 per kg at the end of August]. Merchants haven’t been overly concerned until now, but now that we see corn prices increasing during the harvest season, it seems clear that the economic situation will continue to deteriorate.”
Witnessing the cost of diesel and gasoline spike upwards, some merchants have predicted that this will cause the price of other products to raise as well, and have therefore responded by reducing the number of products available for sale. By doing so, they hope to be able to sell at a higher price later. This reduced supply, in turn, has itself pushed prices up.
Also, as reports and rumors from the outside world penetrate further into North Korea, more and more people are coming to realize that North Korea’s closest friends, especially China, are meaningfully participating in the sanctions. This information also helps to push prices up.
A poor yield of corn this year is also playing a role. Severe droughts in the spring have hurt bottom line harvests of grains such as corn.
North Korean traders are doing their utmost to maintain contact with the outside world so they can ascertain information about how the international situation will affect their livelihood. The source explained, “Residents who trade with Chinese merchants are trembling with fear because they are worried that the goods they deal in will become restricted or the prices will rise.”
The residents are especially concerned because prices are rising for both food products and other daily necessities.
In a telephone call with Daily NK on September 10, a source from Kangwon Province said, “Spring water was selling for KPW 500-600, but it’s risen by about KPW 500. At this time of year, a portion of tofu on the expensive end would sell for KPW 1,100, but now it’s going for KPW 1,300.”
It is also possible that the gasoline price rise is partially due to an effort by the authorities to restrict supply in order to ration. Kim Jong Un, sensing an impending reduction in trade and gasoline supply, might have begun to store up food and oil in military and private warehouses–behavior that would certainly block up market-based distribution networks.
Full article:

What explains the recent rise in the cost of goods in North Korea?
Kang Mi Jin
Daily NK
2017-09-19

 

Daily NK continues to cover the volatile gasoline prices in North Korea, reporting some consequences for the market for gas coupons:

“As fuel prices have been fluctuating, gasoline coupons have become popular items in Pyongyang’s black markets. The merchants who previously bought dozens of coupons have started offering them for sale as the prices began to rise,” a source familiar with North Korean affairs in China told Daily NK on September 20.
According to the source, gasoline can be purchased for the same price at the time that the coupon was issued. For example, if a 15 kg gasoline coupon was previously purchased for 30 USD, the same amount of fuel can be obtained even if the price rises suddenly to 35 USD. In this way, the dealers can make a profit by selling the coupon for 32 USD.
“The coupons are especially popular when the gasoline prices are unstable. The merchants are selling the coupons on the black markets as the fuel prices rise,” the source said.
Originally, gasoline coupons were issued from North Korea’s central government organizations and were sold to officials or foreign embassy staff in Pyongyang. But now the foreign currency earning companies are issuing the coupons themselves. The authorities have actively encouraged new strategies to earn foreign currency.
These foreign currency earning companies are said to be profiting from the fluctuating fuel prices, regardless of efforts to limit the sales of coupons.
“If the authorities move to restrict the sales of coupons, the companies will just sell the coupons on the black market. Despite strong sanctions being imposed on fuel, the major companies that are still holding a large amount of fuel become more powerful in times of fuel crisis,” a source in South Pyongan Province explained.
“Even the Pyongyang cadres have no choice but to purchase coupons on the black market.”
For these reasons, she said, most of the gasoline coupons are often valued at their equivalent in USD.
“Recently, people have been able to use the gasoline coupons for their USD value at restaurants and stores. They can even exchange the coupons for money. It has become a common practice to provide gasoline coupons to officials in Pyongyang as a bribe,” she concluded.
Full article:
Volatile gasoline prices in Pyongyang
Seol Song Ah
Daily NK
2017-09-25
Share

Draft UN sanctions resolution against North Korea includes oil sales ban

Thursday, September 7th, 2017

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Several news outlets have reported that a draft UNSC-resolution that the United States intends to propose includes a ban on member states on selling oil to North Korea, and on purchasing textiles from the country. Wall Street Journal:

If adopted, the resolution would significantly escalate political and diplomatic pressure on Pyongyang as it continues to defy U.N. resolutions with its nuclear and ballistic-missile tests.

The U.S. circulated a draft of the resolution, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, to all 15 members of the Security Council, and diplomats said they expect a vote on Sept. 11. Negotiations for a consensus have expanded from talks between the U.S. and China to all members of the council, diplomats said.

[…]

The resolution faces hurdles in winning the backing of China and Russia. Both veto-holding countries are allies of North Korea and have said they don’t favor sanctions that would cripple the economy to the brink of collapse, or contribute to the suffering of civilians. Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that cutting off oil exports to North Korea would violate humanitarian norms.

[…]

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi criticized North Korea’s most recent nuclear test on Thursday, saying Beijing approved of “further action” by the Security Council in response, according to a statement posted on the ministry’s website.

Mr. Wang said China was “firmly opposed” to the Sunday test and urged North Korea to cease “obstinately walking its own path,” the statement said. It didn’t elaborate on what type of U.N. action China would support, but quoted Mr. Wang as saying any measures needed to be aimed at reopening dialogue.

[…]

Under the resolution, member states and their citizens and vessels would be prohibited from exporting to North Korea all crude oil, refined petroleum products and liquefied natural gas.

North Korea would also be banned from selling or transferring textiles, including fabrics and apparel products and member states prohibited from procuring textiles originating from North Korea.

Individuals targeted under the proposed asset and travel freeze include: Hwang Pyong So, vice chairman of the State Affairs Commission; Kim Ki Nam, director of the Workers’ Party of Korea Propaganda and Agitation Department, which controls all media; his Vice Director Kim Yo Jong; and Pak Yong Sik, a member of the Workers’ Party of Korea Central Military Commission.

Seven key government institutions that help prop up the North Korean regime and its control of the public are blacklisted in the resolution. They include the Central Military Commission, the army and propaganda and state-media ministries.

The list of sanctioned entities would also be expanded to Air Koryo, North Korea’s national airline, which the resolution says is implicated for carrying illicit military equipment.

The resolution also would authorize all member states to inspect North Korean cargo vessels on high seas and report the details of the ship and the inspection to the U.N. sanctions committee.

As well, member states would be prohibited from hiring or paying North Korean nationals working in their countries unless approved in advance by the sanctions committee on a case-by-case basis. The resolution stipulates that workers can be expelled back to North Korea if they are remitting funds to the government.

Full article:
U.N. Resolution Proposed by U.S. Would Sanction Kim, Cut Oil Supplies
Farnaz Fassihi
Wall Street Journal
2017-09-07

An oil embargo would likely carry a significant impact on North Korean society and its economy overall. True, there are probably larger-scale unofficial channels than we really know of for North Korea’s oil and fuel imports, and the flow through these channels is likely underestimated in the most commonly cited numbers for North Korean oil and fuel consumption and imports. But still, even though sanctions are never foolproof and often contain massive holes, they often create severe additional obstacles for acquiring the sanctioned products. Particularly when it comes to oil and other basic essentials, the military and higher echelons of the state and Party likely have their own channels for acquiring what they need. They’ll always be first in the hierarchy, as we’ve seen during the gasoline price hike of the spring likely caused at least partially by hoarding by the state, in anticipating difficulties ahead.

On textiles, a great deal of textile products are already exported under Chinese labels even when they’re manufactured in North Korea. It’s unclear how an embargo would impact that side of the exports.

The vessel inspections mandate also raises questions. Several North Korean ships already sail under other countries’ flags. It is unclear to me whether this mandate would include only North Korea-flagged vessels, in which case it should be pretty easy for North Korea to sidestep, or if it would also include ships that are known to be of North Korean origin but registered in other countries. (I am by no means an expert on the technicalities of shipping registries, so anyone who has better knowledge on how this would work, please do get in touch).

In any case, Putin has already come out publicly against an oil embargo, and it seems highly unlikely that China would ever go along with one. China is unlikely to support any sanctions that could seriously de-stabilize North Korea or really cause severe, long-term damage to the North Korean economy. An oil embargo, if properly enforced, surely would do the latter. So whether this ever becomes really is an open question. Perhaps the US will use China’s potential refusal to go along with an oil embargo as leverage for expanded secondary sanctions against Chinese entities trading with North Korea.

Anyway, as has been the case for the past few months on all things North Korea, more to follow…

Share

UN security council adopts sanctions banning imports of wide range of North Korean goods

Saturday, August 5th, 2017

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein:

On Saturday August 5th, the United Nations Security Council approved a resolution banning member states from importing North Korean export goods such as minerals and seafood products, and from hiring North Korean laborers. Wall Street Journal:

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley praised the councils solidarity, saying more days like this one were needed at the United Nations. She also personally thanked China for helping move the resolution from talk to action. The U.S., which had drafted and put forward the resolution, negotiated for more than a month with China over the text and final measures targeting Pyongyang.

This resolution is the single largest economic sanctions package ever leveled against the North Korean regime, said Ms. Haley, adding the council had put the country and its leadership on notice and what happens next is up to North Korea.

President Donald Trumpsaid on Twitter, The United Nations Security Council just voted 15-0 to sanction North Korea. China and Russia voted with us. Very big financial impact!

Both China and Russia urged a return to talks with North Korea and told the Security Council that the U.S. must abandonits military exercises with South Koreaand dismantlethe missile-defense system in South Korea known as Thaadbecause North Korea perceived that as a threat and it undermined the security of the region.

We stress that additional restrictions cannot be an end to themselves, they need to be a tool to engage in dialogue, said Russias new ambassador to the U.N., Vassily Nebenzia.

The nine-page resolution steps up trade restrictions with Pyongyang by aiming to cut off a third of its $3 billion annual export revenue. It bans North Korea from trading coal, iron, lead, iron and lead ore, and seafood.

The resolution also prohibits countries from hiring North Korean laborers and bans countries from entering or investing into new joint ventures with Pyongyang.

Diplomats and sanctions experts have long warned that export revenues, even remittances from foreign workers, are cycled back to North Koreas military and nuclear programs.

A Security Council diplomat offered this estimate on North Koreas foreign revenue earnings in 2017: $295 million from seafood; $251 million from iron and iron ore, and $400 million from coal trade.

North Koreans work in China, Russia and the Arab countries in the Persian Gulf in a variety of businesses ranging from factories to restaurants and nightclubs and are estimated to send home several billion dollars in revenue, a large portion of which the government claims, according to U.N. sanctions experts.

The new resolution restricts North Koreas technology trade and tightens enforcement of sanctions on North Korean vessels by banning violators from entering ports around the world.

Under the resolution, North Koreas Foreign Trade Bank, which handles foreign exchange, will be added the U.N.s sanctions list that freezes the assets of targeted entities.

It remains to be seen whether the new sanctions will deter North Koreas pursuit of advanced ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons or bring its leader Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table.

North Koreas economy has managed to stay afloat largely because China, its main trade partner, and Russia and some African nations havent fully enforced existing U.N. sanctions. The U.S. Treasury in June sanctioned Chinese entitiesprimarily banks and shipping companiesand individuals for violating sanctions and conducting trade that contributed to North Koreas military and nuclear program.

Chinas Ambassador Liu Jieyi said his country denounced unilateral sanctions by the U.S. and said action against North Korea must be through the U.N. mechanism. Mr. Liu told the council he welcomed the U.S. position that it wasntseeking regime change in North Korea.

China has always been firmly opposed to chaos and conflict in the [Korean] peninsula, Mr. Liu said.

Although China and Russia have pushed for a resumption of the six-party talks with North Korea, disagreement remains on how to bring Washington and Pyongyang to the table. China and Russia have called for a freeze-for-freeze plan under which North Korea would halt any more military or nuclear action and the U.S. would end its military exercises with South Korea.

Full article here:
North Korea Hit by $1 Billion Sanctions After Missile
Farnaz Fassihi
Wall Street Journal
2017-08-5

 

The UN summary of the resolution reads as follows:

The Security Council today further strengthened its sanctions regime against the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, condemning in the strongest terms that countrys ballistic missile launches and reaffirming its decision that Pyongyang shall abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programmes in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner.

Unanimously adopting resolution2371(2017) under Article41, ChapterVII of the United Nations Charter, the 15-nation Council decided that the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea shall not supply, sell or transfer coal, iron, iron ore, seafood, lead and lead ore to other countries.

Expressing concern that Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea nationals working abroad were generating foreign export earnings to support the countrys nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, it also decided that all Member States shall not increase the total number of work authorizations for such persons in their jurisdictions, unless approved by the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution1718(2006).

Through the text, the Council decided that States shall prohibit the opening of new joint ventures or cooperative entities with the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea entities and individuals, or expand existing joint ventures through additional investments. In addition, it decided that Pyongyang shall not deploy or use chemical weapons and urgently called for it to accede to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and Their Destruction.

Also through the resolution, the Council named nine individuals and four entities to be subject to a travel ban and asset freeze already in place, as well as to request that the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) issue special notices with respect to designated individuals.

In addition, it reaffirmed that its provisions were not intended to have adverse humanitarian consequences for the civilian population of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, and that the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution1718 (2006), on a case-by-case basis, exempt from sanctions those activities that would facilitate the work of international and non?governmental organizations engaged in assistance and relief activities for civilian benefit.

Furthermore, through the text, the Council called for the resumption of the Six-Party Talks between China, Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, Japan, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation and the United States towards the goal of a verifiable and peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Speaking after the resolutions adoption, the representative of the United States said the Council had put the Democratic Peoples Republic of Koreas dictator on notice by increasing the penalty of its ballistic missile activity to a whole new level. All Member States must do more to put more pressure on that country, she said, adding that the United States would take defensive measures to protect itself and its allies, including through joint military exercises.

Chinas representative said that, while todays resolution had imposed further sanctions, it did not intend to negatively impact such non-military goods as food and humanitarian aid. Calling on all parties to implement the resolutions provisions fully and earnestly, he recalled that China and the Russian Federation on 4July had put forward a road map to resolve the issue through two parallel tracks denuclearization and the establishment of a peace mechanism. Recalling that the United States had recently indicated that it was not pushing for regime change or for the Korean Peninsulas reunification, he said an escalation of military activities would be detrimental to all countries of the region.

Japans delegate said the sheer number and frequency of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Koreas nuclear and ballistic missile tests show how unprecedented and unacceptable these provocations are. Not only was the quantity outrageous, but the qualitative advancements were alarming. Noting that todays resolution would reduce the Democratic Peoples Republic of Koreas revenue by approximately $1billion, he said all Member States must demonstrate renewed commitment to implement the Councils decisions.

The Russian Federations representative, while calling on the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea to end its banned programmes, said progress would be difficult so long as it perceived a direct threat to its security. Emphasizing that military misadventures risked creating a disaster, he said sanctions must be a tool for engaging Pyongyang in constructive talks rather than to seek the countrys economic asphyxiation.

The Republic of Koreas delegate said that Pyongyangs missile provocations on 4and 28July, together with its nuclear programme, posed a grave threat to international peace and security. Indeed, such reckless acts of defiance should be met with stronger measures, he said, adding that additional sanctions contained in resolution2371(2017) would significantly cut off the inflow of hard currency that would otherwise have been diverted to illicit weapons programmes.

Full article:
Security Council Toughens Sanctions Against Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea,Unanimously Adopting Resolution 2371 (2017)
United Nations Meetings Coverage
2017-08-05

Share

North Korea’s economy grew by almost 4 percent in 2017, says BOK

Friday, July 21st, 2017

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Yonhap reports:

The estimated expansion of the gross domestic product (GDP) represents a sharp turnaround from 2015 when the economy of one of the world’s most isolated countries shrank 1.1 percent due mainly to a drought.

Last year’s growth is the highest since 1999 when North Korea’s economy expanded 6.1 percent, according to the Bank of Korea (BOK).

North Korea’s economy expanded 1.2 percent on average between 2012 and 2016, a sign that its economy is mired in low growth.

There are no indications that the North’s economy has suddenly improved since late 2011 when North Korean leader Kim Jong-un took power on the sudden death of his father and long-time leader Kim Jong-il, an official said.

“North Korea’s economic structure is very fragile and is not really set up for high growth,” the official spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The BOK estimated North Korea’s gross national income (GNI) stood at 36.4 trillion won (US$32.4 billion) in 2016. South Korea’s per-capita GNI stood at 31.98 million won, which is 22.1 times larger than the North’s 1.46 million won.

Related to last year’s growth, the central bank said North Korea’s mining industry grew 8.4 percent, the highest since 1999 when it expanded 14.2 percent.

North Korea’s trade volume came to $6.55 in 2016, up 4.6 percent from a year earlier, the BOK said. The increase came despite tightened U.N. sanctions imposed on North Korea over its repeated nuclear tests and its long-range rocket launches.

The sanctions call for, among other things, a ban on the country’s exports of coal and other mineral resources to cut off North Korea’s access to hard currency.

Still, the provision will not apply if transactions are determined to be exclusively for livelihood purposes and unrelated to generating revenue for North Korea’s nuclear or ballistic missile programs or other activities prohibited by previous U.N. resolutions.

China accounts for nearly 90 percent of North Korea’s foreign trade, and mineral resources are a key part of their bilateral trade.

Full article:

N. Korea’s economy grew 3.9 pct in 2016: BOK

Yonhap News

2017-07-21

Share

Washington Post interviews Ri Jong Ho

Friday, July 14th, 2017

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

A little over a week after theKyodo News interview, Washington Post has also talked to Ri Jong Ho, the former official from Bureau 39 who now lives in Washington DC. The main takeaway from the interview I think, from an economic point of view, is just how far the North Korean economy has gone in its adaptation to its international environment. Rigidity through flexibility, one could call it:

We were never in pain or hurting in our trade business because of the sanctions. Instead, we conducted our first nuclear test in 2006, Ri said in an interview near Tysons Corner.

The 59-year-old, whose job had been to raise money for the North Korean regime, and his family live in Northern Virginia, having defected to South Korea at the end of 2014 and moved to the United States last year.

I used to be sanctioned, as a North Korean who led trade at the front line, but I never felt any pain from the sanctions. The sanctions were perfunctory, Ri said.

He described being able to send millions of U.S. dollars to North Korea simply by handing a bag of cash to the captain of a ship leaving from the Chinese port city of Dalian, where he was based, to the North Korean port of Nampo, or by giving it to someone to take on the train across the border.

In first the nine months of 2014 he defected in October that year Ri said he sent about $10 million to Pyongyang this way.

[…]

Unless China, Russia and the United States cooperate fully to sanction North Korea, it will be impossible to hurt them, Ri said.

Chinas interest in North Korea is well known, butRussias rolein supporting the former Soviet client stateis often overlooked.Amid calls for China to limit oil exports to North Korea, Russia has dramatically increased the amount of oil it has sent some reports suggest exports have quadrupled to North Korea this year.

North Koreas financial networks, moreover, are intentionally murky. The U.S. Treasury has sanctioned more and more North Koreans and North Korean companies by name to try to cut them off from the American financial system, but few, if any, have any exposure to the United States.

For this reason, Ris insights are widely sought after in Washington, where successive administrations have been trying to find North Koreas pressure points.

[…]

Ri said he worked as president of a shipping companyand was chairman of Korea Kumgang Group, a company that formed a venture with Sam Pa, a Chinese businessman, to start a taxi company in Pyongyang.Ri suppled a photo of him and Pa aboard a jet to Pyongyang.

He was awarded the title hero of labor in 2002 for his efforts, and said he lived the good life in Pyongyang, with a color TV and a car. I was very loyal to Kim Jong Il, so I was rewarded by him, he said. I was rich.

His last position was running the Dalian branch of Daeheung, a trading company involved in shipping, coal and seafood exports, and oil imports.The company was given targets to meet in terms of profits, he said, declining to go into details.

Butin 2014,Ri grewincreasinglydisillusioned afterKim Jong Un suddenly denounced his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, as a traitor for all ages and had him executed at the end of 2013.

Jang had been leading economic cooperation efforts with China, and dozens of people who worked for him were also purged at the time, Ri said. He worried that his family would be next. They escaped to South Korea before moving to the United States, where his two children, now in their 20s, plan to go to college.

[…]

Ri said North Korea has repeatedly found ways to circumvent whatever sanctions are imposed on it.

North Korea is a 100 percent state enterprise, so these companies just change their names the day after theyre sanctioned, he said. That way the company continues, but with a different name than the one on the sanctions list.

Ris Chinese counterparts werent bothered, either, he said.

My partners in China also want to make a profit, so they don’t care much about sanctions, he said. When the Chinese government orders them to stop, they stop for a few days and then start up again.

Growing impatient with Beijing, Washington is increasingly targeting Chinese companies that help North Koreawith what are called secondary sanctions.At the end of last month, the Trump administration blacklisted the Bank of Dandong, located on the border between the two countries, for its dealings with North Korea.

But without knowing how to really hurt North Korea and teaming up to do it, it will be impossible to change Pyongyangs calculus on the nuclear program, Ri said.

Full article:

He ran North Koreas secret moneymaking operation. Now he lives in Virginia.
Anna Fifield
Washington Post
2017-07-13
Share

North Korea’s ICBM-test, Byungjin and the economic logic

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

At 3:30PM GMT+9 on Tuesday July 4th, North Korean television announced that the country had successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile earlier in the day. Wall Street Journal:

The missile, identified as the Hwasong-14, was launched at a steep trajectory and flew 933 kilometers (580 miles), reaching an altitude of 2,802 kilometers, according to North Korean state television. The numbers are in line with analyses from U.S., South Korean and Japanese military authorities.

US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, later confirmed that the launched missile was an intercontinental ballistic one.

Here in Seoul, things seemed to continue on as usual, which tends to be the case in this city more than used to its fair share of similar news. The biggest strategic consequence, of course, is that for the US. A successful intercontinental ballistic missile of this sortcould potentially strike anywhere in Alaska.

With the latest launch, North Korea takes one step further along the nuclear side of the Byungjin lineof parallel development of nuclear weapons and the national economy, and arguably, one step back on the economic side of the dual-track policy. In the formulation of the Byungjin line, of course, both are interrelated. Missile launches are often described as evidence of progress in industry and science, ultimately benefitting economic progress. This launch was no exception. From KCNA:s statement yesterday, July 4th 2017 (my emphasis):

The success in the test-fire of inter-continental ballistic rocket Hwasong-14, final gate to rounding off the state nuclear force, at just one go is a powerful manifestation of the invincible state might and the tremendous capability of the self-reliant national defence industry of Juche Korea that has advanced at a remarkably rapid pace under the great Workers’ Party of Korea’s new line on the simultaneous development of the two fronts, and a great auspicious event to be specially recorded in the history of the DPRK which has long craved for powerful defence capabilities.

This launch happened in a context where North Korea is already under sanctions designed to strike at its coal exports, one of its most important sources of income, and where the US has just signaled its resolve to go after North Korea’s financial channels through secondary sanctions of Chinese entities. At the same time, Kim Jong-un’s tenure has very much come to be associated with some economic progress (albeit from a low level, and primarily benefitting the relatively privileged classes), symbolized by projects such as the recently opened Ryomyong street.

It is not yet clear what the consequences will be. The US will likely try to add more sanctions targeted against specific entities and persons that help North Korea evade sanctions, and acquire equipment for its nuclear and missile programs.

The US will probably also call for international sanctions, but as Chad O’Carroll points out, the US may have a hard time getting such measures through in a quick manner given its currently tense relationships with both Moscow and Beijing. The US may also further push Beijing to implement the already existing sanctions against North Korea, but nothing appears to have changed with the claimed ICBM-test that would fundamentally alter China’s strategic calculations in the region. In other words, it continues to regard North Korea as a buffer between itself and US forces in the region, and as a geopolitical asset.

Whatever happens, it is safe to assume that it will not be good news for North Korea’s international ties in diplomacy, trade, finance, you name it. It would be easy to assume that economic progress and nuclear weapons development are mutually exclusive, since the second leads to further international isolation and economic sanctions, and therefore hampers the first.

In reality, that may be true. The North Korean Byungjin narrative, that weapons developmenthelpseconomic progress, is difficult to swallow, especially when one considers the opportunity cost that the weapons programs carry, both in terms of domestic resource dedication and the cost in international isolation.

But there is another way to look at it. Whatever the actual consequences will turn out to be, North Korea is making a strategic calculation that the gains from the test, and from overall nuclear weapons and missiles development, will be greater than the potential costs and downsides. Consider the following two factors:

First, North Korea has made economic progress in the past few years, and particularly since Kim Jong-un came to power, even under years of severe sanctions. North Korea has been under various forms of UN Security Council sanctions since its first nuclear test in 2006. During these years, its economic development has been impacted far more by domestic policy decisions than by international developments.

Again, we are absolutely not talking about any growth miracle, and some probably exaggerate the degree of the wealth increase in North Korea over the past few years. But without a doubt, North Korea is far better off now than it was eleven years ago, and worlds apart from the famine of the 1990s. Food insecurity prevails in North Korea but the country has not seen widespread starvation since the late 1990s, and largely thanks to better economic frameworks (or rather less predatory), and increased space for private production and trade within the economic system, things are looking much better today than in many years.

Just look at this video recently published by the Daily NK, from Chongjin, one of North Korea’s largest cities in its northeast. Is this long-term, sustainable growth that will eventually lead North Koreans to enjoy the same prosperity as their counterparts in South Korea or even China? Probably not. But at least it’s something.

Second, and relatedly, North Korea likely has a significant amount of channels for trade and various transactions that are not commonly known, but that play highly significant roles for the economy. For example, consider the information that Ri Jong Ho, a former official in North Korea’s Office 39, supplied in a recent interview with Kyodo News. Ri claims that North Korea procures up to 300,000 tons of fuel and various oil products from Russia each year, through dealers based in Singapore. As a point of comparison, a commonly cited figure for crude oil supplies from China is 520,ooo tons per year. Proportionately, then, 300,000 tons is not close to a majority, but still a significant amount for North Korea. While intelligence services or others with access to classified information may have known this already, Ri’s claims, if true (they have not and in all likelihood cannot be fully corroborated),

The point here is that North Korea has gotten so used to going through back channels and unconventional means to acquire highly significant amounts of supplies required for its society to function. It is an economic system where unconventional (and often illicit) channels of trade are not exceptions, but core parts of the economic management toolbox. This is not to argue that sanctions do not or cannot work. Rather, it shows the extent to which unconventional methods are institutionalized within economic management in North Korea.

The North Korean government is no monolith, and there are almost certainly some parts of the governing apparatus that are more and less pleased with the ICBM-test. But in the higher echelons of the leadership, the strategic calculation is probably that even with the added sanctions that are very likely to come, North Korea will be able to continue along roughly the same economic strategies as it has thus far. Perhaps we can call it North Korea’s own “strategic patience”: continuing with patchwork strategies for international economic relations, with little concern for the impact of lack of sustainable growth on people’s livelihoods, while banking on eventual recognition as a nuclear power. Only time will tell whether targeted secondary sanctions will change that calculation.

Share

An affiliate of 38 North