Archive for the ‘Political economy’ Category

South Korea, North Korea and Russia discuss railway cooperation

Sunday, July 15th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Trilateral cooperation discussions on the cross-peninsular railway happened in Rason despite Russia’s earlier cancellation:

A group of representatives from South Korea’s presidential panel returned home Sunday after a trip to North Korea, where they discussed possible trilateral economic cooperation involving the two Koreas and Russia, its official said.

The Presidential Committee on Northern Economic Cooperation sent an 11-member team led by committee chairman Song Young-gil to the North’s northeastern border region of Rason. They stayed there for two days from Friday.

The team originally planned to attend a seminar hosted by Russia to discuss trilateral economic cooperation involving the two Koreas and Russia but canceled its participation. Instead it had discussions with North Koreans and Russians on the Rajin-Khasan project and other issues, the official said.

Rason, formerly known as Rajin and Sonbong, was designated as a special economic zone in 1991. The North has sought to develop the zone by drawing outside investment but faced setbacks amid its continued provocations.

The Rajin-Khasan project, in particular, is a logistics project aimed at transporting coal from Russia to the North by using a 54 km-long railway linking Khasan in Russia to the Rajin port of North Korea and then to South Korea by ship.

There have been test operations of the transport route three times, including the latest one in November 2015.

The trilateral cooperation project, however, has been put on hold as South Korea banned maritime transport from the North in early 2016 in the wake of the North’s nuclear and missile provocations.

South Korea and the United States have said that full-fledged economic cooperation with the North should wait until it carries out its promised “complete denuclearization.”

“The Rajin-Khasan project is not subject to U.N. sanctions but to sanctions imposed by the U.S. So we plan to draw up and propose a broad picture and make preparations for joint study until there is progress in denuclearization and discussion begins on lifting those sanctions,” the panel official said.

Article source:
Presidential panel discusses Rajin-Khasan cooperation during trip to N.K.
Yonhap News
2018-07-15

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Reopening Kaesong key to cooperation, says ROK gov’t official

Friday, July 13th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

A South Korean official (albeit one specifically representing the interests of the zone) calls re-opening Kaesong a “first step” towards resumed inter-Korean economic cooperation. Yonhap:

A South Korean official in charge of promoting investments in North Korea’s Kaesong Industrial Complex said Friday that the reopening of the now-suspended industrial park in the North’s border town will be a first step towards resuming inter-Korean economic cooperation.

Addressing a unification symposium in Seoul, Kim Jin-hyang, chairman of the Kaesong Industrial District Foundation, said the operation of the Kaesong complex has to be restarted as quickly as possible.

“Inter-Korean economic cooperation cannot be discussed without the Kaesong Industrial Complex,” said Kim, who doubles as chief of the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee.

The government of former President Park Geun-hye abruptly announced the closure of the Kaesong park on Feb. 10, 2016, in retaliation for the North’s fourth nuclear weapons test and long-range missile launch.

Kim dismissed the abrupt closure of the complex as a “completely failed policy,” saying, “The decision was a grave disaster that shut down peace, economy and security altogether. North Korea was never dealt a blow when the Kaesong park was closed.”

“The Kaesong complex was not a special favor to the North. It was intended to support the South Korean economy stuck in a low-growth trap,” he said.

Kim noted that the Kaesong park is also very symbolic in terms of security and peace, arguing that the mix of about 60,000 South and North Korean workers in a single location can deter tensions and guarantee peace.

He stressed that South Korea should now join Singapore, Russia and China in preparing for large-scale investments in North Korea following its successive summit talks with the United States and South Korea to enhance the peace mood on the Korean Peninsula.

Article source:
Reopening of Kaesong Industrial Complex key to inter-Korean cooperation: official
Yonhap News
2018-07-13

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Fuel prices are dropping in North Korea, and that’s a little odd

Tuesday, July 10th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

As in the rest of the country, gas prices continue to fall in Pyongyang, data from NK Pro shows, but remains much higher than the closest available month of 2017.

At the same time, recent figures from China state that its exports of refined fuel products to North Korea continues to remain well below the ceiling mandated by UN sanctions. Asia Press reports a slight increase of diesel prices in Yanggang and North Hamgyong provinces, but it’s a fairly minor one and the data by NK Pro and Daily NK still represents more data points. So what’s a plausible explanation here?

My best guess is that it’s a combination of increased smuggling, perhaps aided by China’s declining vigilance in enforcing sanctions and restrictions against illicit trade across the border. Gas prices shot up last spring when China decided to drastically cut sales of fuel products to North Korea, citing financial reasons (that North Korea wouldn’t be able to pay), but the decision was very likely influenced by political considerations as well. Now with the multitude of summits between Kim Jong-un and Xi Jinping, and Kim and Trump, China’s willingness to enforce sanctions with the same vigor as it did through the second half of 2017 and the first half of 2018 has likely waned, impacting matters like fuel prices as well. It also seems plausible that fairly small changes in supply could change prices quite drastically, since North Korea already consumes a relatively small amount of gasoline and diesel on the whole.

Another possibility is that Chinese flows of unrefined oil through the pipeline in northwestern North Korea, through Dandong and Sinuiju, have increased. These aren’t monitored in the same way as Chinese sales of refined fuel to North Korea, and as far as I know, could be increased without the international community easily noticing. These oil flows also aren’t part of regular trade between the countries, and should be regarded more as Chinese financial support to North Korea.

My best bet would be on a combination of these two factors, but there’s obviously much we don’t know about the development.

Update 2018-07-15: NK News reports some US government data seeming to hint at what’s been going on. At least 89 hip-to-ship transfers occurred between January and May, in violation of UNSC sanctions:

North Korea likely conducted at least 89 ship-to-ship transfers to illicitly obtain refined petroleum products between January 1 and May 30, U.S. data provided to the United Nations and seen by NK News on Friday claims.

Pyongyang may have illegally imported up to 1,367,628 barrels of refined petroleum as a result of the transfers, upper-end estimates suggested, over double the 500,000 barrels authorized for export to North Korea each year by current UN sanctions.

Consequently, the U.S. recommended that the UN 1718 sanctions committee issue a “public note verbale to all UN Member States to inform them that the DPRK has breached the UNSCR 2397 OP5 refined petroleum product quota for 2018,” and that all countries should “order an immediate halt to all transfers of refined petroleum products to the DPRK.”

Since the May 30 data cut-off, the Japanese government has revealed details surrounding three extra cases of North Korean vessels caught conducting likely ship-to-ship transfers, with two on June 21 and June 22, and one on June 29.

Article source:
N. Korea likely conducted 89 illicit ship-to-ship transfers in 2018: U.S. data
Chad O’Carrol
NK News
2018-07-13

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Protests against market crackdowns in North Korea

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Daily NK reports on increased market crackdowns following the spring summits, in two recent articles:

Under the pretext of eradicating anti-socialist elements, North Korea’s authorities are cracking down on market activity. In reaction, some residents have openly protested the country’s state security officers.

“There was an assessment at the beginning of the month regarding the broad inspections conducted to uncover anti-socialist elements in downtown Hyesan City [located near the border with China]. Residents responded by complaining at the meeting, opposing the censorship in an organized fashion because the order was not being applied equally, and was not carried out very well overall,” a source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK on June 29.

“Residents were saying, ‘Some houses were searched very lightly, while over 10,000 RMB (~1,500 USD) in cash was taken from others.’ ‘Some people were subject to the crackdown, while others were able to evade it.’ People were openly complaining, ‘If you’re going to steal money, take it from everyone equally!’”

“Those who were out of their homes during the crackdown no doubt got the tip off from the Ministry of State Security (political police). As the crackdown approached, they prepared by taking out all the money and products from their homes and disappeared without a trace. Why did those people get special treatment while the rest of us got hit by a bolt of lightning?” she added.

Crackdowns on the marketplace have eased since the beginning of the Kim Jong Un era, leading to a surge in market activity. However, there have been intermittent measures introduced and implemented by the authorities to stunt and stifle these developments. But North Korea’s residents, taking heed from the regime’s propaganda advising them to “pick themselves up by their own bootstraps,” have come to regard commercial activity as an inherent right.

There have been many confrontations with officials from the Ministry of People’s Security (police) in this regard. However, Ministry of State Security officials, tasked with handling the ideological control of the people, were once regarded as “angels of death,” before the marketization period. But now even their power has been sapped by the changing structure of North Korean society, specifically the shifting values brought on by marketization.

“The residents were busy complaining to the Ministry of State Security agents at the crackdown assessment, saying, ‘What power do we have?’ Facing this pressure from the residents, the investigating agents declined to taken intervening measures and instead hurriedly left the room,” a separate source in Ryanggang Province noted.

Many are also upset because Ministry of State Security agents are well known to accept bribes from market traders. As levels of mistrust and anger increase, the situation is reportedly deteriorating.

Asked to describe the current atmosphere, a third Ryanggang-based source said, “Previously, when there was a crackdown coming, people would let each other know. This time, people are warning each other but also accusing each other. Making a living is difficult, and the authorities do nothing but launch investigations and confiscate money, so the people are lashing out.”

The residents are also upset about the regime’s propaganda and the fact that punishments are not being meted out evenly.

“It’s said that all the money and property seized during the investigations is being sent for construction projects in Samjiyon County, but nobody actually believes that. The Ministry of People’s Security conducted ideological evaluations of the residents after the investigation, but the residents are powerless to resist,” the initial source concluded.

North Korea proclaimed that it would launch a war of annihilation against anti-socialist behavior this year, and has strengthened its crackdown on the trade of South Korean cultural content and products that reflect capitalist culture.

Article source:
North Koreans protest unfair market crackdowns
Kim Yoo Jin
Daily NK
2018-07-03

 

And the anti-imperialist struggle goes on, to the detriment of the markets:

Following special orders given to Party cadres, the North Korean authorities have been continually emphasizing the importance of rejecting foreign culture and adhering to socialism. The policy marks a clear divergence from the leadership’s peace offensive on the international stage, and is seen as an effort to crackdown on residents, strengthen internal solidarity, and increase loyalty.

During a telephone call with Daily NK on June 27, an inside source from Ryanggang Province said, “Immediately before the US-North Korea summit on June 12, the authorities gathered the cadres and delivered a lecture to them. It was announced that as the imperialist ideological attack takes place, we need to slam the socialist door of Juche (self-reliance) shut even tighter.”

The lecture distinguished for the first time the type of behavior that denigrates socialism. It was explained in great detail which social phenomenon fell into which category.

For example, the authorities labeled as anti-socialist the practice of dyeing one’s hair and wearing decadent clothing that clouds the socialist spirit. “Inform them not to wear long socks (mesh stockings) with flowers drawn on them, or clothes with English lettering on them,” the source recounted.

“It was emphasized that, if one sells these products in the markets, all of the goods will be confiscated. In particular, women will have to pay a fine of 30 yuan (about US $4.50) if they are caught wearing skirts that ride above the knee.”

Behavior that is considered counter to socialism includes acts like criticizing the Party’s policies and the enjoyment of overseas culture. “Illegal cell phones, illegal TV shows and movies, South Korean movies, radios, South Korean songs, erotic dancing, etc. were noted. If caught associated with any of the above, residents are subject to severe punishment without trial,” a source in North Hamgyong Province said, adding that the same lectures took place in that province.

“Erotic dancing refers to the dance craze spreading around Pyongyang at the moment, which involves copying the moves of South Korean pop stars. It’s also targeted at eradicating the practice of teaching these sorts of dance classes for money.”

Both sources noted that daily emphasis has been placed on expanding the role of Group 109 [a task force dedicated to rooting out the spread of foreign media].

“Through strengthened control over residents, no capitalist elements are being allowed to step even a single foot on this land [North Korea],” the source in Ryanggang Province explained.

Asked about the reaction of the cadres, the North Hamgyong-based source said that “they feel as if they’ve been struck on the back of the head.”

“The cadres are guessing that as the international relations of the country improve, their role will be to ensure that the people remain isolated,” he continued.

“The future looks discouraging – we’ll need to live with our mouth, eyes, and ears closed.”

Article source:
Cadres told to reinforce North Korea’s seal to fight ‘imperialist ideology’
Kim Yoo Jin
Daily NK
2018-07-03

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Kim orders officials to study lessons from China

Monday, July 2nd, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Daily NK reports on both lower fuel prices and a decree by the central authorities for provincial officials to study the lessons Kim learned from his most recent trip to China:

After returning from his visit to China (June 19-20), North Korean Chairman Kim Jong Un summoned all provincial managers in the country to the capital city of Pyongyang. Sources indicate he used the meeting to explain the current status and future direction of strategic relations with China and handed down new orders on agriculture.

“After the leader [Chairman Kim Jong Un] visited China, he called into Pyongyang every provincial Party chairman and People’s Committee chairman. It seems he instructed the central Party cadres to learn from the agricultural scientific achievements that he witnessed in China,” a source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK on June 27.

“Residents are saying that the authorities are showing special interest in agriculture because it’s the most important sector right now. Residents are sharing the thought that if they can only solve the country’s food shortage problem, they will be able to live like other strong nations.”

“Seeing as he visited China three times within a short time frame,” he added, “it’s likely that he spoke about that as well. He probably talked about how China will be useful in the new era that will focus on economic development.”

On his trip to a Chinese agricultural science center, Chairman Kim learned about advanced cultivation methods, with North Korea’s Party-run Rodong Sinmun publication providing detailed reports to the North Korean population. This can be viewed as an acknowledgment of China’s scientific excellence, as well as an effort to promote the normalization of Sino-NK ties to the domestic audience.

Following Chairman Kim’s visits, rumors are circulating among residents that “aid from China” could be in the offing.

“After the Leader’s trip to China this time, the Chinese government said that it had shouldered the burden for international train costs from [the Chinese border city of] Dandong to Pyongyang. The cost of diesel and gasoline has been declining recently, so residents are wondering whether China has been helping out,” a source in North Pyongan Province said.

The cost of gasoline per kilogram is 9,500 KPW and the cost of diesel is 6,500 KPW in the border town of Sinuiju. Compared to the beginning of the month, these prices represent a reduction of 4,500 KPW per kilogram in the price of gasoline and 1,000 KPW in the price of diesel.

Responding to the falling price of oil, the transportation and distribution sectors are showing signs of increased activity, with “servicha [vehicles used by independent operators to move people and goods for a fee] and other vehicle owners like the donju [North Korea’s new rich class] enjoying the cheaper gas prices,” he added.

As North Korea continues its diplomatic blitz, meeting with the US, South Korea, and China, the expectations of residents are surging.

“Recently, [Kim Jong Un] signed the Panmunjom Declaration with South Korea, then went to China, then held talks with America, known to be the enemy. On the domestic stage, there have been some minor changes, but residents have high expectations. We are holding these high hopes because all of these countries – South Korea, China, and the US – have very strong economies,” the North Pyongan Province-based source explained.

“The younger generation is particularly eager that they might be able to learn about the latest technology and technical skills from South Korea, China, and America. After the summit with the US, market traders have high hopes that the sanctions measures might be reduced.”

Article source:
Kim returns from China with new instructions for local Party leaders
Kang Mi Jin
Daily NK
2018-07-02

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Shockingly, China’s sanctions enforcement on North Korea eases after the summit

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

In perhaps the least surprising news there ever were, reports are now coming in regular intervals that Chinese enforcement of sanctions on North Korea is becoming less and less strict following the summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. Kim’s visit today in Beijing will likely speed up the process, but the Chinese enforcement of the sanctions regime would like have become less vigilant in due course regardless.

You’ll have to excuse the sarcastic tone of the title and content of this post, but this is precisely the sort of development that not just this blog, but a whole host of others too, have predicted all along. Trump’s idea that “maximum pressure” would survive through the summit and general process, regardless of what is decided, was always unfounded. That’s just not how these things work. Chinese enforcement of sanctions on North Korea depend much more on political circumstances in the region than on what sanctions the UNSC decides to level. China was always going to let down its guard once tensions de-escalated. Pressure could certainly get back on if things go back to the way they were earlier in the year, but to count on it as a matter of policy, as if it could be done easily or somehow automatically, is unwise or even naive.

To be sure, we shouldn’t draw any far-reaching conclusions from a small number of scattered news reports. But no one should be surprised if the number of reports continues to grow over the coming weeks, and if, one day in a not too distant future, Chinese customs figures of imports from North Korea also start to point upward.

I’ll be gathering articles on the matter in this post. First out is Radio Free Asia from a few days ago:

China is relaxing customs inspections and allowing restricted goods to flow across its border with North Korea, according to sources, despite making assurances that it will continue to enforce sanctions against the reclusive nation until it fully dismantles its nuclear arsenal.

A trader in China’s Dandong city, located in Liaoning province across the Yalu River from the city of Sinuiju in North Korea, recently told RFA’s Korean Service that inspections on trucks heading across the border to the North “have eased significantly,” and that customs officers who “used to check every single item following x-ray scans” are now searching “only around half of all vehicles.”

“In the past, when a truck driver got caught bringing restricted items on the sanctions list, the truck was impounded for a day and could only pass through the border if a fine was paid,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“These days, those kinds of trucks [smuggling restricted goods] are fined, but can go through customs right away.”

The trader added that as customs officers have become less rigorous about their checks, “North Korean truck drivers are beginning to regularly smuggle items that are not on their manifestos.”

A resident of Dandong, who also asked to remain unnamed, told RFA that the customs process for North Koreans who travel to his city for personal reasons is also “now much easier,” noting that Chinese customs officers used to require them to open their luggage for inspection, “but they can now pass through after a routine x-ray screening.”

“Alcohol and tobacco products are limited to one bottle of alcohol and one carton of cigarettes, but the custom officers don’t make an issue out of having two or three bottles and a couple of cartons of cigarettes,” the source said.

A businessman based in Dandong, who said he exports clothing illicitly assembled in North Korea to Japan and other countries, told RFA that crackdowns on illegal trade between China and North Korea had also been reduced in recent months, making it easier for him to earn a profit.

“I use illegal vessels to send materials into North Korea and bring out processed clothes via the Yalu River, and it has been so much easier for me to operate these days,” he said.

“It always used to take me a long time to transport the clothing, due to China’s tight security along the border area, but now it doesn’t take long at all.”

Sources in Dandong and the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Region, in northeast China’s Jilin province, said that Chinese border guards ended their tight monitoring of smuggling after Kim made a rare visit to Beijing at the end of March and met with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

At that time, North Korea stopped repatriating workers it had based in China to generate foreign currency for the Kim regime, and even dispatched some additional workers to the country, the sources said.

And ever since Chinese authorities relaxed their controls on smuggling activities, they added, North Korean organizations tasked with generating foreign currency have begun steadily trafficking sanctions-restricted items into China, including iron, non-ferrous metals, chemicals, and seafood.

Trump-Kim summit

Reports of the reduced inspections follow a historic summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, held on Tuesday in Singapore, during which Trump “committed to provide security guarantees” to the North and Kim had reaffirmed his “firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with his Chinese counterpart State Councilor Wang Yi in Beijing and told reporters after the talks that “China has reaffirmed its commitment to honoring the U.N. Security Council resolutions” for sanctions leveled against the North for repeated ballistic missile and nuclear weapons tests.

After Tuesday’s summit, China had suggested that international sanctions on North Korea could be lifted, but Pompeo on Thursday said Washington had “made very clear that the sanctions and the economic relief that North Korea will receive will only happen after the … complete denuclearization of North Korea.”

Full article and source:
China Relaxes Customs Inspections on Border With North Korea, Despite Sanctions Assurances
Jonhoo Kim
Radio Free Asia
2018-06-15

 

Dong-a Ilbo reports that several Chinese factories near the border, employing North Korean workers, have started operations back up after being forced to a halt due to the sanctions implementation:

More than 10 Chinese factories located in the border area between North Korea and China resumed operation around Tuesday’s U.S.-North Korea summit. The number of dispatched North Korean workers that showed a downward trend this year started increasing from last month. There are concerns that China would break away from coordination for North Korea sanctions before detailed agreements about denuclearization are concluded.

According to multiple diplomatic sources, a clothing company in Dandong, Liaoning, halted operation at the end of last year when the sanctions of the global community were strengthened but started to operate again in the middle of this month. “They hired more than five North Korean workers before resuming its operation,” said one of the sources. Among more than 600 businesses in Dandong trading with North Korea, more than 100 of them stopped operation last year but a lot of them have recently resumed operation or are preparing to do so.

The number of North Korean workers in China increased by 40 to 50 last month compared to early this year, and by more than 100 this month because of more active trade between China and North Korea. The United Nations Security Council resolution 2397, which was adopted in December last year, states that North Korean workers should return home within 24 months. China actively implemented the sanctions and sent an announcement to factories to return North Korean workers until early this year, but it reportedly has not put a pressure to send them back at all recently.

Full article and source:
More than 10 Chinese factories in border area with N. Korea resume operation
Jin-woo Shin
Dong-a Ilbo
2018-06-19

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Does the Trump-Kim summit and declaration mean anything for the North Korean economy?

Tuesday, June 12th, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

The short answer is: no. One of the most notable absences from the US security perspective was that of CVID – complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons. From a North Korean perspective, diplomatic hardliners may be asking: what about sanctions relief? Neither the statement at the end, nor Trump’s press conference, gave any word on sanctions relief. The US has said that such relief will only come when CVID is completed, but to get North Korea to go along, it will likely need to make at least partial concessions along the way.

Sanctions relief may well come sooner than that in practice. No one should be under the illusion that Chinese sanctions enforcement, which has been the real key over the past ten months or so, is about adhering to international norms and UN resolutions. China evaluates whether such enforcement is beneficial to its own interests, and up until the late summer or early fall of last year, the consistent answer was “no”. With Trump’s increased pressure, that changed, as trade statistics have shown, with Chinese imports from North Korea plunging. Now that tensions have eased, China’s assessment may well ease too. We’ve already seen signs that goods as well as North Korean guest workers are once again crossing the border. Surely, China will see the Singapore summit’s very occurrence as a sign that it might be far less risky to let up more on sanctions enforcement. It will be crucial over the coming weeks and months to monitor trade flows, reported as well as unreported ones, over the Sino-Korean border.

For anyone curious about Kim Jong-un’s potential as a reformer in the economic realm, the following story by the Daily NK should be of interest:

The North Korean authorities held a video conference with high-ranking Party cadres ahead of the summit with the U.S. instructing them not to use the terms “reform and opening up.” This appears to be a precautionary measure implemented in response to the heightened expectations of North Korean residents for “greater freedoms” arising from the inter-Korean and U.S.-NK talks.

“In order to prevent ideological wavering that may occur among party executives and residents, the authorities organized a meeting on June 4 with organs directly under the authority of the Central Party Secretariat (Chairperson of the Provincial Party Committee, Chairperson of the Provincial People’s Committee, Director of the Provincial Public Security Bureau, etc.), a source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK on June 10.

“This meeting was conducted via online video conference, hosted by the first vice director of the Organization and Guidance Department of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea. The participants were provincial heads and secretaries across major organs, including Party and People’s Committees and the Ministry of State Security; however, the Ministry of People’s Security was not called upon to participate.”

According to the source, at the meeting, the first vice director said that the talks with the U.S. were planned out of necessity.

“He said that we shouldn’t mention reform and opening up from now on and that North Korea will never follow that path,” he explained.

“He told us to just follow our General’s (Kim Jong Un) orders and that the demolition of the Punggye-ri site does not mean we are giving up our nuclear weapons, but that it is the final step in the completion of our General’s nuclear strategy. He said that we shut down the Punggye-ri site because we have to get rid of unnecessary things.”

A source in South Pyongan Province informed Daily NK on June 10, “In a recent high-level executive meeting, there was mention that there will be absolutely no reform or opening up. We have decided not to use these terms.’”

Meanwhile, according to a separate source in Ryanggang Province, the participants of the meeting took part using computers in their own private offices. “In North Korea, there is an intranet called ‘Cheongbong Maeari (Blue Peak Echo)’, whose use by ordinary residents can be grounds for arrest, but can be used freely by party-level agency executives inside the agencies,” the source explained.

In North Korea, where internet use is restricted, it is also known that a nationwide intranet operated by the government called ‘Kwangmyong’ is commonly used. However, it is presumed that there is a separate intranet used only by party executives and government officials.

“After the announcement on the Central Committee’s video conference was made, a Provincial Party plenary meeting was held the next day. The chairperson of the Provincial Party Committee also gathered key officials in the province and urgently passed on the message of the meeting and told them to stay focused and speak and act according to our General’s plans, especially in times like this,” the additional Ryanggang Province-based source said.

“The Chairperson emphasized that regardless of how the talks go, things are going well according to our General’s plans and we should stand together more closely by our General. This video conference seems to be intended to provide assurance that North Korea will not be pushed around by the United States and to prevent unrest and confusion among party executives.”

Article source:
North Korea convenes meeting ahead of talks with U.S. to prohibit use of the terms ‘reform and opening’
Daily NK
2018-06-12

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South Korean companies gearing up to rush north

Sunday, June 10th, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

These days, it seems that scarcely no South Korean company isn’t looking north. Hopes are high that with a diplomatic opening – if this time is different, which we really don’t know – North Korea will be open for business. And aside from some Chinese companies and entities, no other have the know-how and language skills to make investments in North Korea profitable. Indeed, those that have happened have largely been in the realm of “adventure capital”, that is, high risks with the potential of high rewards. It seems that relatively few have reached the latter.

Many South Korean businesses will likely ask that the government underwrite potential investments, given the vast political risk. Moon’s government doesn’t seem completely adverse to this, despite the questions it raises about moral hazard and market fairness.

Looking at the types of investments that companies are talking about, it is hardly a given that they will – if they happen – have a positive, broad impact on the North Korean system and society. See below for the sorts of investments being talked about:

SM Group said it has set up a task force to check the country’s mineral resources, particularly in iron ore. The group said its ownership of South Korea’s sole operational iron ore mine effectively gives it an edge over others in terms of processing know-how and facilities it has on hand.

North Korea’s iron ore deposits are estimated at 50 billion tons worth some 213 trillion won (US$197.7 billion).

Besides resources, companies such as Keangnam Enterprises Co. and Dong Ah Construction Industrial have said they are moving to secure a foothold in the North’s building business once all sanctions are lifted.

Dong Ah said its past experience as a builder for the defunct Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization that moved to build a light water reactor for Pyongyang could help it win future orders, especially in power infrastructure work areas.

Keangnam said that its participation in Seoul’s Official Development Assistance program for emerging economies will make it easier for it to engage in similar projects in the North if conditions permit.

SM Line Corp said it wants to ship North Korean resources using the country’s cheap labor and explore the opening of new shipping routes and related shore infrastructure.

“Work in the North will be a win-win development for all sides, and this is the reason why the company is looking into the matter,” a source at the shipping line said.

Besides medium-size companies, the large conglomerate Lotte said it has set up a team that can expand business ties not only with North Korea but also Russia and China.

Meanwhile, there has been growing interest by local companies who want to set up operations at Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea, which has been shuttered following the North’s nuclear and long-range missile provocations.

Dong-a Publishing said it wanted to take advantage of the low labor costs to set up business in Kaesong.

The company said due to the labor intensive work in the publishing field it makes sense to move its plant to the North.

Related to such moves, a business group representing South Korean firms that had operated factories in Kaesong said recently that upwards of 20 companies a day have called to make inquiries about opening new factories in the special economic zone.

Article source:
S. Korean mid-tier companies interested in biz opportunities in N. Korea
Yonhap News
2018-06-10

Much of what’s being talked about, in other words, is extraction of natural resources. Sure, this would be done with North Korean labor, but even though the domestic economy could get an upswing through these sorts of operations, North Korea wouldn’t necessarily reap the full potential benefits of its mineral assets, which could be sold for much higher prices if they were locally refined and processed. This is likely something that the North Korean leadership is very well-aware of, and Kim Jong-un talked about it in speeches in the 1990s. But given the need for hard currency, they may not see that they have much of a choice in the matter.

Other companies want to get in on the cheap labor. That’s all fine and good for the companies and the potential prospective North Korean employees, but factories of this sort can be set up pretty easily without sourcing raw materials locally, and with few connections with overall North Korean society.

In other words, if these investments come to see the light of day (again, a big “if”), it’s not a given that it’ll be in any way transformative for the North Korean economy. We have seen much of this before, and we know from Kaesong that the state is indeed both capable and willing to contain economic development to specific areas, keeping it separated and in check from broader North Korean society.

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The calm throughout the storm: North Korean market prices in May 2018

Thursday, May 31st, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Daily NK just released their market price index for May 29th. With that, we get a pretty clear picture of the market situation for the full month of May.

So, what’s new? Not much, and that is newsworthy in its own right. Throughout the period of so-called “maximum pressure” in economic sanctions pushed by the Trump administration, North Korean market prices have, save for some months of a shaky diesel market, remained remarkably stabile. This trend continued in May.

Overall, average rice prices for May, in three North Korean cities, was 5041 won per kg. The average USD-exchange rate for the same period was 8061 won for $1. For a simple point of comparison, the average three-city rice price for late April 2017 was 4900 won/kg, and for USD, 8057 won/$1. For early June, rice cost 5228/kg, and for USD, 8026 won/$1. That prices are climbing is fully natural given that we’re approaching the so-called “lean season”, when North Korea is at the furthest point from the last harvest, and closest to the coming one.

How these relatively stabile prices are maintained is still very much a mystery. I maintain that if “maximum pressure” was truly all-encompassing, it would be very unlikely for at least foreign currency prices not to be impacted. The government may be keeping market prices stabile by adding to the supply of food and foreign exchange from their own coffers, and in the case of the foreign exchange rate, by contracting the supply of won by drawing down on credit supply to state enterprises, for example. But news of economic management at this scale would likely have been reported by at least one of the many outlets that regularly publish economic news from North Korea sourced from people inside the country. As things stand right now, there’s much we don’t know, but if the North Korean economy is truly in a crisis mode, market prices aren’t reflecting such a state of affairs.

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North Korean laws and regulations for consumer needs

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

An interesting column in the Daily NK reflects on changes in the North Korean system both to protect consumers, and boost domestic consumer goods production. The author, Na Jung Won, sources some of these insights from North Korean academic journals, pointing out that one article going back as far as to 2012 studies the insights into marketing strategy from the “Boston Consulting Group Matrix”, which I found pretty interesting, and one might wonder whether Choson Exchange has played a role in bringing this particular insight into the country. Overall, North Korean journals tend to often include references to theoretical models that are sometimes unexpected, given the largely closed-off nature of academia and research there.

Here’s the column:

Research has found that the North Korean economy has been growing continuously since the start of the Kim Jong Un era, despite economic sanctions and pressure from the international community. One can thus conclude that the North is able to maintain effective domestic growth while to some extent avoiding the effects of such outside variables. But in order to understand this economic growth, it is important to take a closer look at the North’s particular style of business administration.
Changing business law in North Korea
There have been two revisions or additions to North Korea’s business law since Kim Jong Un came to power – one enacted on November 5, 2013, and the other on May 21, 2015 – changing official business justifications and definitions, organizational principles, and management principles that are beginning to be reflected on the ground in the country.
Chapter 1 Article 4 of the business law covering management principles states, “In precisely laying out the nation’s management strategy and business strategy, ‘the administration of socialist business responsibility’ shall be carried out, and management activities must be carried out with socialism as the most fundamental underlying principle.” Chapter 4 is titled ‘Business Management,’ while Chapter 29 covers the same topic. Chapter 30 covers business strategy and the foundation for related business rights over socialist ownership, spelling out the management activities that must be carried out in realizing business development.
The entire system of financial management is governed under these business strategies, including item prices, sales, and salary standards. There is also a system for business capital, which spells out rights to earnings for companies, the unemployment payment system, and how companies can acquire loans from a commerce bank. Sales and pricing rights and restrictions are placed on products, contract requirements for distribution, sales, and trade in other products are described, and rules are laid out for how buyers can return problematic or poor-quality products which were misrepresented under the purchasing contract.
Trends in North Korean business administration research
North Korea is positioning its businesses and factories to increase their capabilities and follow global technological trends under its latest ‘five-year strategy for national economic development,’ revealing a shift in concern toward enacting effective changes to the previous, more centrally-planned economic strategy.
Research by Kim Kyung Ok for Economic Study No. 174 (2017-1) states: “Expanding production and planning rights for businesses must include contracts, and ordering contracts which are made under consideration of state central planning and quota fulfillment. Businesses are not permitted to unilaterally cancel contracts without justification, and consultations must be made between the parties to the contract over any changes or cancellations. The results are reviewed by the relevant organs and the agreed-upon production plan must be carried out under strict rules.” In other words, a system has been established to ensure that production contracts are carried out properly.
It implies that order contract fulfillment is extremely important even for ordinary businesses. Research by Rim Yong Chan for Economic Study No. 154 (2012-1) states that companies must follow contracts for producing and delivering products to the letter. Cha Jong Kyung writes for Economic Study No. 162 (2014-1) that agreements between factories and businesses must be made under a registered contract stipulating set rules for prices and collateral to ensure each party’s claim to profits. Rules for contracts for production materials, delivery, and other aspects of the process all help establish emerging new responsibilities for all parties involved.
North Korea is also increasing research into financial concepts such as credit and non-cash money, hoping to reap the benefits of development through credit and move towards creating new capital in addition to simply saving money. The idea is that diversifying credit-based transaction types will improve consumers’ purchasing power and economic activity as a whole.
Marketing has also been the subject of research in North Korea. Economic Study No. 156 (2012-3) by Pak Chun Gwang points to differing payment abilities and demands from residents in different areas and in different seasons of the year, as well as how the growing demands in material culture are affecting available products and services. In other words, matching resident needs and demand for products will have to be carried out according to regional and seasonal ‘targeting’ and ‘positioning.’ In additional research utilizing the principles of product lifecycle (PLC) management and the ‘Boston Consulting Group Matrix’ (typically referred to as the BCG Matrix), concepts of ‘cost leadership’ and ‘differentiation’ in international business management are discussed.
Effects of changing business administration
Various approaches to business management are practiced in workplaces across North Korea. After repairing the Gold Cup Food Processing Plant (est. 2006) in 2015, the previously low-volume operation increased from producing 360 products in less than 10 categories to over 600 products in close to 30 categories in November 2017.
A ‘New Products Expo’ starting in August 2017 was used to showcase the country’s domestic products, promoting the customer’s needs as the most important aspect. President of the beverage industry group Rim Song Chol said in an interview, “We are looking to the global market as we produce new products, but we are communicating with and listening to our customers as our number-one concern in informing the products we make,” implying that customer demand for a product is the most important factor in their process.
Producers are saying they will halt production for items that do not sell very well in the markets. The use of information management systems in the manufacturing process is also being promoted as helping producers make decisions over materials or whether or not to continue production, where unsuccessful new products are discontinued.
The Kim Jong Suk Pyongyang Textile Mill has also apparently shifted production to fabric for business suits after an increase in customer demand, running a synthetic fabric factory in Pyongyang to create a variety of suit material options according to specific orders. Competition in this market is heating up due in part to the use of synthetic fabric recycling for the suits. ‘Tetoron’ synthetic fabric production at the Kim Jong Suk Pyongyang Textile Mill is thus steadily rising, and customers such as the North’s official female marching band were able to demand custom colors and styles for their uniforms.
Product distribution companies are also changing to meet the needs of customers, with a lively and competitive market of service providers working to gain a leg up on their competitors. The Kwangbok Area Shopping Center, formerly the Kwangbok Department Store (est. 1991 and renovated in 2011), became a place where domestic products were sold under customer-responsive profit principles. In order to increase the variety of available products, government-affiliated domestic producers such as clothing and foodstuff factories are in the midst of improving capabilities and product quality. To attract more customers and increase sales, lighting fixtures are being improved in the shops and displays appear brighter and more modern. The third floor of the shopping center includes a buffet-style restaurant with over 400 menu items. Shops also offer loyalty cards to encourage repeat visits and offer rewards.
The Pyongyang Department Store No. 1 (est. 1982, Jung-gu district) is a top competitor of the Kwangbok Area Shopping Center. There, shops order directly from production companies, and it has become known among consumers in the capital as a place selling all the latest and most popular items. Aiming to become a ‘Shopping Center for the People’s Desires,’ this department store is also focusing on customers’ needs. Shops have instituted a system to track customer reactions and the popularity of items through sales records. These are just some of the latest signs of increasing attention being paid to customer demand in North Korea.
Source:
North Korean business developments reflect focus on ‘customer needs’
Na Jung Won
Daily NK
2018-05-01
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