According to Yonhap:
North Korea imported an unusually massive amount of silver from China in January, possibly in relation to leader Kim Jong-un’s birthday that month, sources and China’s customs office said Thursday.
Data from China’s customs office showed that North Korea imported 661.71 kilograms of Chinese silver for US$653,128 in January.
The monthly import is unusually enormous given that the North took in only $77,593 worth of precious metal and other jewels for the whole of 2012. The corresponding amount for 2011 was $57,000.
Before January this year, the North had hardly spent more than $10,000 on monthly imports of such goods, according to the data.
Given the leader’s birthday on Jan. 8, North Korea watchers said the massive amount of imported silver may have been used to produce silverware souvenirs to celebrate the leader’s birthday.
“It’s difficult to assume the exact purpose of the silver imports,” a source said. Given that late leader Kim Jong-il used to bring in foreign brand luxury sedans and expensive watches to treat the country’s top echelon on major holidays, the bulk of silver imported in January may have been used for similar purposes, the source said.
Backing this assumption, the customs data also showed that the North imported an unusually large amount of costume jewelry worth $10,447 in the same month.
A reader points out this Daily NK story hypothesizing that the silver could have been used in batteries:
As such, there are suspicions that the recent North Korean decision to import more than 600kg of silver through China was done to facilitate the production of batteries for submersible production.
A North Korean military source told Daily NK on the 4th, “The [North Korean] Navy has been producing submersibles at every shipyard on their east and west coasts ever since the attack on the Cheonan in 2010.”
According to the inside source, prior to the Cheonan sinking such vessels were produced at one shipyard, the disguised ‘Bongdae Boiler Factory’ in Sinpo, South Hamkyung Province, at a rate of five per year. However, following the sinking of the Cheonan that rate went up four times to 16 per year, as the vessels started being produced across multiple shipyards including Yongampo, Chongjin and Rajin.
The source explained, “The reason why the North Korean authorities are increasing production of this kind of submersible that can fire torpedoes is to maximize their underwater attack capacity. The subs can take 12 to 15 soldiers yet still sink destroyers weighing thousands of tons with their twin torpedoes.”
“The engines noise on the submersibles is very quiet, making them able to approach their targets underwater in secret, while it is impossible to trace crimes such as the Cheonan incident,” the source went on, adding that during North Korean military training exercises they also emphasize the essential nature of the subs.
The rising production is pushing up demand for batteries, the source then went on to add, saying that this required the bulk production of both silver and zinc. “All the silver produced in North Korea is supplied to the shipyards,” he claimed.
The source admitted to being confused, therefore, at North Korea’s recent decision to import 660kg of silver from China, declaring, “There is lots of silver being produced in North Korea, so it’s hard to say why they are importing it from China…I suppose it may have been just that more batteries were being produced so they needed more silver.”
Read the full stories here:
N. Korea imports massive amount of Chinese silver in Jan.: data
NK Producing More Silvery Subs