Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

Iron Silk Road: South Korean involvement in Rason (UPDATED 2015)

Thursday, June 4th, 2015

UPDATE 21 (2015-6-4): The DPRK has blocked South Korea’s membership in the Organization for Cooperation between Railways (OSJD). According to Yonhap:

South Korea again failed to join an international organization for railroad cooperation, a prerequisite for building a trans-Asian railway, due to opposition from North Korea, the Seoul government said Thursday.

It was the second time Seoul sought to join the Organization for Cooperation between Railways (OSJD) since 2003 when the country’s first attempt was again thwarted by Pyongyang’s opposition, according to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.

New membership with the OSJD requires a unanimous vote from the organization’s 28 members, including the communist North.

“We were able to secure explicit support of all other members except North Korea, and the organization is now moving to change its membership procedure from a unanimous vote to two-thirds approval from its members, so we are now looking forward to joining the organization at the next chance,” Vice Transportation Minister Yeo Hyung-koo was quoted as saying.

Yeo has been attending the 43rd ministerial talks of the OSJD in Mongolia’s Ulaanbaatar. OSJD currently has 28 members, including China and Russia.

For South Korea, joining the OSJD is a necessary step to link the country’s own railway system to the trans-Siberian and trans-China railways as part of its long-term goal to reach Europe by land, the ministry said.

UPDATE 20 (2015-4-27): The second shipment of coal is in Rason waiting to be shipped to South Korea. According to Yonhap:

The North Korean port city of Rajin has improved its capacity to handle a second shipment of Russian coals, boosting confidence in the joint coal shipment project involving the two Koreas and Russia, Seoul officials said Monday.

About 140,000 tons of Russian coal is expected to be transferred into South Korea on a ship from Rajin after being moved from Russia’s border city of Khasan on a re-connected railway as a second pilot operation for the three-way logistics project. The shipment will be made between April 16 and May 9.

In November, the first shipment carrying 40,500 tons of Russian coal smoothly arrived in South Korea in its pilot operation of the Rajin-Khasan project.

The project came as a symbolic project of three-way cooperation at a time when inter-Korean exchanges have been almost suspended following the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship by the North in 2010.

“Compared with in November, we think that the port’s capacity to load or unload the shipment was improved,” said an official at the Ministry of Unification, asking not to be named.

“Nothing has been decided, but there may be a third pilot operation for the project,” he said. “We expect that talks over a formal contract could come.”

The project involves three South Korean firms — top steelmaker POSCO, shipper Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. and state train operator Korail Corp. They will decide on whether to clinch a formal contract based on the outcome of the pilot operations.

This time the project also includes two power plant operators: Korea East-West Power Co. and Korea Midland Power Corp.

The coal shipment will arrive at three South Korean ports in early May, including the one in Pohang, 374 kilometers southeast of Seoul and a port in Dangjin, 123 kilometers south of the capital.

The Rajin-Khasan project is part of Seoul’s move to realize President Park Geun-hye’s vision for a united Eurasia.

UPDATE 19 (2015-4-16): The Donga Ilbo reports on the second shipment of coal from Rason to South Korea:

A second trial run in a three-party trade project involving Seoul, Pyongyang and Moscow that will transport more than 100,000 tons of soft coal from Russia to three Korean ports is scheduled to start today, the Ministry of Unification said on Wednesday.

The venture, referred to as the Rajin-Khasan logistics project, will run from today to May 9, and use Chinese ships to transfer the consignment, according to a ministry official.

A consortium of three South Korean companies – top steelmaker Posco, the Korea Railroad Corporation (Korail) and ship maker Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. – are involved in the project, which will see the soft coal transported to Rajin, North Korea, from the Russian border city of Khasan on a reconnected 54-kilometer (33-mile) railway before being shipped to South Korea.

The expected shipment will be used for thermal power generators and ironmaking. The consignment is three times the amount of coal that was transported in the pilot round, when some 40,000 tons were transferred to Pohang, North Gyeongsang, in November over the same route.

Power plant operators Korea East-West Power Co. and Korea Midland Power Corp. are also participating in the second trial run.

The Russian coal will be transported via two China-flagged vessels, a 44,000-tonner and a 49,000-tonner, that will sail from the Rajin port down the East Sea and around the Korean Peninsula to three ports. The coal is expected to arrive first in Dangjin Port in Gyeonggi, where it will be used by the Korea East-West Power Co.

More is scheduled to arrive the following day in Gwangyang Port in South Jeolla for use by Posco. Korea Midland Power Corp. will get its delivery on May 9, at the Boryeong Port in South Chungcheong.

An inspection team of 18 government officials and representatives from the three South Korean companies will make a weeklong visit to the North Korean city with Russian railway authorities on Friday for the project.

“Our government completed the procedures needed for this second trial operation, receiving approval to visit North Korea and import the coal,” a Unification Ministry official said on Wednesday. “Pyongyang will, depending on its contract with Russia, receive payment just for the cost of using the North Korean port.”

The companies will then decide on whether to forge a formal contract for the trilateral project based on the outcome of both test runs.

The Rajin-Khasan project is a part of President Park Geun-hye’s Eurasia Initiative first announced in October 2013 as a way to boost the regional economy through free trade and economic cooperation in the Eurasian bloc by reconnecting the railways that link both Koreas, China and Russia.

UPDATE 18 (2015-4-14): South Korea awaits  DPRK approval for second coal shipment. According to Yonhap:

A group of three South Korean firms has been in talks with North Korea and Russia over another pilot operation, during which some 150,000 tons of Russian coal may be shipped to the South between late April and early May, according to the source.

“As North Korea has not given final approval for the second operation, the date and size of the shipment has not been decided,” the source said, requesting anonymity.

The logistics project is seen as a symbol of trilateral cooperation between the two Koreas and Russia at a time when inter-Korean relations remain stagnant.

The project involves three South Korean firms — top steelmaker POSCO, shipper Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. and state train operator Korail Corp. They will decide on whether to clinch a formal contract based on the outcome of the two pilot operations.

The project could help realize South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s vision for a united Eurasia.

UPDATE 17  (2015-4-12):  Second trial shipment of coal announced. According to Yonhap:

A consortium of Seoul firms is expected to run another pilot operation of a key logistics project involving South and North Korea and Russia in late April, a government official said Sunday.

The so-called Rajin-Khasan logistics project is the symbol of trilateral cooperation between the two Koreas and Russia at a time when inter-Korean relations remain stagnant.

In the previous pilot operation, 40,500 tons of Russian coal arrived in South Korea on a ship from the North Korean port city of Rajin in November after being transported from Russia’s border city of Khasan on a re-connected railway.

“The companies are in the process of setting a specific schedule with the North and Russia as they are seeking to run a second operation late this month,” said an official at the unification ministry, asking not to be named.

The logistics project involves three South Korean firms — top steelmaker POSCO, shipper Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. and state train operator Korail Corp. They will decide on whether to clinch a formal contract based on the outcome of the two pilot operations.

The project could help realize South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s vision for a united Eurasia.

In October 2013, Park unveiled her Eurasia initiative that calls for, among other things, infrastructure development and freer trade among Eurasian nations by linking their railways.

South Korea imposed the May 24 punitive sanctions on North Korea in 2010 following Pyongyang’s deadly sinking of the Cheonan warship in March that year.

The move has suspended all trade and exchange programs with the North, apart from a joint factory park project in the North Korean border city of Kaesong. The three-way logistics project also has been regarded as an exception.

Here is coverage in the Donga Ilbo.

UPDATE 16 (2014-12-7): According to Yonhap, KEPCO is mulling participation in the Rajin-Khasan project:

The five KEPCO units, led by Korea Midland Power Corp., are reviewing the economic feasibility of the project. “But it is hard to say we will participate in the project as nothing has yet been decided,” said an official at KEPCO.

Last month, a group of officials from the units, along with government officials, visited the North’s Rajin port to assess the viability of importing Russian coal, industry sources said.

South Korea’s leading steelmaker POSCO, a major shipper Hyundai Merchant Marine Co., and the state-run rail operator Korea Railroad are already taking part.

UPDATE 15 (2014-12-1): Seoul offers support to Rajin-Khasan transport project. According to Yonhap:

The South Korean government vowed full support Monday for the nascent Rajin-Khasan project, saying it would help spur the “Eurasia Initiative” proposed by President Park Geun-hye.

The unification ministry described the logistics program, which is on a test run, as the “starting point” for economic cooperation among the two Koreas and Russia.

“It is meaningful as a project to lay the foundation for realizing the Eurasia Initiative, peace in Northeast Asia and the renovation of our economy,” ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-cheol said at a press briefing.

He was referring to South Korea’s plan to bring Russian coal through the North’s port of Rajin.

In the landmark pilot operation, 40,500 tons of Russian coal arrived in the South on a Chinese-flagged ship over the weekend from Rajin. The coal was transported from the Russian town of Khasan to Rajin on a 54-kilometer railway that was re-connected last year.

South Korea’s top steelmaker POSCO began unloading the coal from the ship at its iron mill in Pohang on Monday.

Lim said his government will provide every necessary support for the tripartite project in an effort to achieve the Eurasia Project.

Another ministry official said the South’s consortium, also involving Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. and Korail Corp., is expected to ink a formal contract with Russia next year.

It plans to purchase a stake from RasonKonTrans, a joint venture in charge of the Rajin-Khasan scheme, he told reporters on background.

RasonKonTrans was established in 2008 by Russia’s RZD Trading House and the port of Rajin, with 70 percent controlled by Russia and 30 percent by North Korea.

The South’s consortium is seeking to buy some of Russia’s stake.

“If necessary, I think there could be one more round of pilot operation (before signing the deal),” the official said.

Last year, President Park suggested linking energy and logistics infrastructure in the Far East and Europe.

But Seoul is not yet considering any other measure such as the modernization of the North’s Rajin port, he added.

UPDATE 14 (2014-12-1): Here is coverage of the first coal shipment from the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES):

As South Korean companies have recently been showing interest in the Rajin-Khasan Project currently ongoing between North Korea and Russia, the first ever shipment of 45 thousand tons of Russian coal is set to depart from Rajin harbor (DPRK) on November 28, 2014 and arrive in the South Korean port city of Pohang the following night.

According to the Ministry of Unification, the South Korean delegation will work in conjunction with a Russian railroad construction company while visiting North Korea to do a comprehensive technical inspection of Rajin harbor. The inspection will cover the loading and shipment of coal, entrances and exits for transport ships, railway-to-port connectivity and other complex logistical processes, and will take place from November 24th to the 28th.

Accordingly, a total of 12 representatives from South Korean companies including POSCO, Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. and KORAIL, plus one representative from the Ministry of Unification are slated to take a train from the Russian settlement of Khasan to the North Korean port at Rajin on November 24th. The consortium is visiting North Korea in order to oversee a pilot demonstration of the Rajin-Khasan Project, which will bring coal from Russia into Rajin harbor, where it would then be transported to Pohang harbor in South Korea. This visit is expected to mark the South Korean consortium’s full-fledged participation in the Rajin-Khasan Project.

The pilot project will cover the shipment and transportation of 45 thousand tons of coal mined from the West Siberian region in Russia to the South Korean port of Pohang. After the coal is mined and transported to Rajin, North Korea via railroad, it will be loaded onto a Chinese national freighter (capable of holding 56 thousand tons) which is expected to depart Rajin harbor at 10 A.M. on November 28th and arrive in Pohang the following evening at approximately 10 P.M.

Specifically, this marks the first use of the direct maritime route connecting Rajin harbor to Pohang harbor, which passes over the Northern Limit Line in the East Sea, since the implementation of the May 24 Measures. This direct route, which takes approximately 36 hours, has been calculated to save up to 15 percent in both time and fuel costs. It is expected that this cost-cutting effect would become even greater if the South Korean companies involved in the Rajin-Khasan Project are able to sign into a long-term contract.

The total scale of the pilot project is said to be approximately 4 million USD (approx. 4.45 billion KRW), with around 10 percent of the total being provided by a joint DPRK-Russian corporation known as RasonKon Trans. In relation to this, the Ministry of Unification has stated that the majority of this money is being paid to Russian mining companies, with a small portion being given to North Korea for port dues and other costs, and that there appear to be no problems or abnormalities in this international trade project.

It appears that POSCO, Hyundai Merchant Marine, KORAIL and other South Korean firms have been examining a possible stake in Russian railroad construction companies, and will proceed with establishing a corporate body in Russia to invest in RasonKon Trans. The equity structure of RasonKon Trans currently stands at 7:3, with the Russians holding the larger share. South Korean firms are currently reviewing investing in a stake of the Russian share, and formal contracts are not expected until 2015.

The goal of this pilot project is to test how much supply the project can technically handle, and to use that figure as a base for calculating profitability. The South Korean representatives are planning to hold negotiations with Russia; however, it appears that it will be difficult to conclude these talks within the year. In July, an inspection team was dispatched to Rajin harbor as part of the “Rajin-Khasan Logistics Project,” where they concluded that the port was capable of transporting 4 million tons per year.

The coal mined in West Siberia is transported via the 54 kilometer Rajin-Khasan railroad and takes merely one hour to reach Rajin, where it is then transported to the harbor and distributed to as many as three piers equipped to handle shipment.

UPDATE 13 (2014-11-30): So now that the first trial run is over, what is to stop North Korea from demanding more revenue once the transportation route is formalized? Russia–according to this piece in the Korea Times:

Choi Kyung-soo, a director at the North Korean Resources Institute in Seoul, says that a trilateral partnership tends to be less risky than a bilateral project such as the Gaesong Industrial Complex.

“There is a possibility that the North may try to use the trade route as a means to put pressure on the South when things go badly for them. But I think Russia won’t sit idle if its economic interests are affected,” he said.

Because there is a role that a third party can play, Choi says, the shipment of Siberian coal to South Korea via the North Korean port will be less risky than the Gaesong Project.

UPDATE 12 (2014-11-21): Russia and South Korea launch first pilot project to ship coal via Rason. According to Yonhap:

Under the envisioned program, South Korea’s top steelmaker POSCO will bring in Russian coal via the North Korean port of Rajin. Two other South Korean firms — Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. and Korail Corp. — are joining the project.

“Since it is a normal international commercial trade, it’s my understanding that there is no problem with the U.N. sanctions,” the official told reporters on background.

It is also a “special case” as far as Seoul’s bilateral sanctions on Pyongyang are concerned, he added.

The South maintains the May 24th Measure, effectively blocking all inter-Korean economic projects except for the Kaesong Industrial Complex. The sanctions were imposed for the North’s deadly torpedo attack on a South Korean warship in 2010.

Once the trilateral program is formally launched, he admitted, the North will be able to secure a stable supply of cash.

The three countries are poised for the first test run of the project next week, in which POSCO will import 40,500 tons of coal from a Russian mine in the West Siberian region.

The 54-kilometer railway between the North Korean city of Rajin and Russia’s Khasan will be used and then a Chinese-flagged 56,000-ton ship will carry the coal to the South’s port in Pohang.

The ship is scheduled to depart Rajin on Nov. 27 for about a 36-hour voyage.

If the project proves cost-effective, the South Korean consortium will hold further talks with the Russian side for a formal contract. It would be hard to ink the deal within this year, though, given the time needed for the relevant process, said the official.

POSCO brings in some 2 million tons of Russian coal every year by way of Vladivostok.

The Rajin-Khasan project is expected to cut shipment costs by 10-15 percent in the long term, according to the ministry official.

“But the stability (of its operation) is the key to its success,” he said, citing the possibility of political setbacks amid Pyongyang’s unpredictable behavior.

Meanwhile, a team of 13 South Korean delegates plans to visit Rajin and Khasan next week to monitor the pilot run worth US$4 million. The delegation is composed of a unification ministry official and a dozen related company officials.

The ministry said it approved their trip to the North earlier Friday.

South Korea has an ambition of linking its railway network with that of Europe through North Korea.

Here is coverage in the Korea Times.

The Wall Street Journal also included this information:

Based on current coal prices, the shipment is valued at around $4 million. North Korea is receiving an undisclosed sum, which a Unification Ministry official called “very small.” A spokesman for the Russian Railways said North Korea receives 30% of the usage fee for about 50 kilometers (31 miles) of railroad from the Russian border to Rajin but couldn’t provide details about the payment. A spokesman for Posco declined to comment on the cargo value or the payment structure.

A Unification Ministry official said that since the structure of the deal involves payment via a third country it isn’t subject to Seoul’s sanctions against Pyongyang. The official, who requested customary anonymity, said the exception was also made to promote South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s “Eurasian Initiative,” which aims to link Europe and East Asia with energy and transport networks.

According to the JoongAng Ilbo, the ship was sipposed to depart Rason on Nov 28, but because the loading went smoothly, the vessel left port on Thursday, Nov 27. It arrived in South Korea on the following Saturday.

UPDATE 11 (2014-7-24):  North Korea apparently willing to allow South Korean investment Rason railway project. According to Yonhap:

North Korea is willing to host South Korean firms’ investment in the country’s railway project with Russia, a South Korean government official said Thursday after a recent on-site inspection visit to the North.

A group of 38 government officials and representatives from South Korean rail operator KORAIL, steelmaker POSCO and shipping company Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. returned on Tuesday from their one-week visit to the North’s Rajin port near the country’s northeastern border with Russia.

It was the three-firm consortium’s second visit to the North, intended to conduct a feasibility study on their plan to join the so-called Rajin-Khasan logistics project, linking the North Korean port city to Russia’s Trans-Siberian railway.

“(The North) basically said they are pleased with South Korean investment and reacted with a hope that this (deal) could help South-North Korean relations advance,” a South Korean government official who joined the recent North Korean tour said on condition of anonymity.

The official said based on the recent on-site inspection, the local business consortium may finalize the review of its plan to join the project, adding that it is likely to strike a deal with the Russian side later this year or early next year.

During their summit meeting in Seoul in November, South Korean President Park Geun-hye and her Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, agreed to help the South Korean firms join the project, which would let them invest indirectly in the North.

The local consortium is reportedly planning to test-run a transportation route within this year to move Russian coal to the North Korean port and then to ship it to South Korea’s eastern port of Pohang.

The official said the North Korean port of Rajin is now fully ready for such coal transportation.

“(Transportation) seemed to be possible at any time,” the official said, referring to the Rajin port’s third pier, which has been completed recently and launched last week. The local consortium is seeking to use the new pier if it enters into the North Korean-Russian project.

The new pier is capable of handling 4 million tons of coal annually, the official added.

Under the bilateral logistics project, North Korea and Russia reopened in November a 54-kilometer stretch of railroad track linking the North Korean port to the eastern border Russian city of Khasan after a five-year renovation.

The South Korean official also said the cross-border railroad was being well operated as of recently.

If the local consortium finally decides to join the project, it reportedly may so do by acquiring half of Russia’s share in the project.

The South Korean government has been promoting South Korean firms’ participation in the logistics project, which it views as closely linked to President Park Guen-hye’s “Eurasian Initiative,” a vision that calls for building more infrastructure and freeing up trade between Eurasian nations to create what could become a large single market rivaling the European Union.

The unification ministry earlier said that a formal deal between the consortium and its Russian counterpart for the project will be signed in the second half of the year.

UPDATE 10 (2014-6-11): According to Russian media:

Russian Minister for Far East Development Alexander Galushka announced plans to extend the Trans-Siberian Railroad into North and South Korea during a Russian-Korean trade meeting in Vladivostok on Thursday.

The expansion program calls for a collaborative railway construction project between Russia, North Korea and South Korea. Russian officials hope the expansion will not only triple the speed at which goods are shipped between Europe and Korea, but also restore peace between North and South Korea, RT.com reports.

“We have agreed to launch trilateral projects between Russia, DPRK and South Korea with a focus on the railroad project,” Galushka said, according to RT.com. “It’s important to extend the Trans-Siberian Railroad to the Korean peninsula. It will service to stabilize and improve the situation on the Korean peninsula as a whole.”

Mechel, Russia’s largest steelmaking company, has agreed to supply the steel required for the first phase of the expansion. South Korea’s Hyundai Construction has been identified as a likely commercial partner in the project.

North Korean officials have been reluctant to participate in any collaborative infrastructure program despite the poor conditions of its rail system. Members of the North Korean government began to express interest in a railway development project last September after Russia re-opened a 33-mile expanse of track to Khasan, the last Russian city before the North Korean border, according to RT.com.

UPDATE 9 (2014-4-29): The Choson Ilbo reports that Ms. Choi has returned from the DPRK:

The Organisation for Co-Operation between Railways (OSJD) has decided to hold two major meetings, the Commission on Freight Traffic in 2015 and Conference of General Directors in 2019, in Seoul.

KORAIL president Choi Yeon-hye made the announcement at Gimpo Airport on Monday after returning from an OSJD meeting in Pyongyang. It is unprecedented for an associate rather than full member to host the conference.

The OSJD is an organization of 27 former and current communist countries, including Russia, China and North Korea.

“We don’t know yet whether the North will attend the meetings in 2015 and 2019, but the participants unanimously decided to hold them here, and the North didn’t oppose it, so we expect them to come,” she added.

The annual conference of general directors alternatively takes place in Asia and Europe, but exceptionally the 2019 meeting will also be held in Asia following the 2018 meeting in Vietnam.

The government here is keen to work with the railway body to link South Korea to Eurasia via North Korea.

Here is coverage in Yonhap.

UPDATE 8 (2014-4-22): The Choson Ilbo reports that the head of Korail has left for the DPRK:

KORAIL president Choi Yeon-hye is appropriately on her way to North Korea by train.

Choi left for Pyongyang on a train from Beijing on Monday afternoon to attend a meeting of the Organisation for Co-Operation between Railways (OSJD), KORAIL said Monday.

The OSJD is an organization of 27 former and current communist countries, including Russia, China and North Korea.

The government approved Choi’s request to visit to the North on Sunday after the North sent her a letter of invitation. She got a visa from the North Korean Embassy in Beijing the same day.

The train runs from Beijing to the North Korean border city of Sinuiju in 24 hours, where she switches trains for the 225 km stretch to Pyongyang.

A KORAIL executive said, “Choi’s visit is the North’s first approval of a South Korean official’s visit” since the South imposed sanctions against North Korea in 2010.

She is the first senior South Korean figure to visit Pyongyang since the inter-Korean summit in 2007.

President Park Geun-hye is keen to connect South Korea to Eurasia by railway, which requires cooperation from the OSJD.

Here is coverage in Yonhap.

UPDATE 7 (2014-4-18): The DPRK has “sort of” invited the head of Korail to a conference in Pyongyang. According to Yonhap:

North Korea has invited the head of South Korea’s rail operator to an international conference to be held in Pyongyang next week, a source with knowledge of the matter said Friday.

However, the North made the invitation verbally, which is preventing Choi Yeon-hye, president and CEO of the Korea Railroad Corp., from formally applying for the trip to Pyongyang, the source said.

The rail conference in Pyongyang, scheduled for April 24-28, is meant to boost international cooperation between railway operators, the source said, adding that it is expected to bring together top rail officials from China, Russia and 25 other member states of the Organization for Cooperation of Railways.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said no decision has been made yet on whether to allow Choi to travel to the North for the conference.

UPDATE 6 (2014-3-29): Russia and North Korea held talks on entry of the Russian firms into the Kaesong Industrial Complex and the railway project. According to Yonhap:

Also on the table in the Pyongyang-Moscow talks was how to boost cooperation among the two Koreas and Russia, with Pyongyang and Moscow making it clear that the two “share mutual interest” in the trilateral cooperative projects, according to the report.

“The (Russian) ministry reaffirmed the countries’ mutual interest in joint projects with South Korea, including international connections for railways, gas pipelines and power lines,” it said, adding that the minister stressed stability on the Korean Peninsula is key to achieving the goal.

Discussions of the project to connect the Trans-Siberian Railway (TSR) with the Trans-Korean Railway (TKR), dubbed the “Iron Silk Road,” have been under way for more than a decade, but geopolitical obstacles have hindered it, particularly given North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

South Korea and Russia have also been in discussions to push for a project to build a gas pipeline linking the two via North Korea.

The next meeting of the bilateral commission is scheduled for June in Russia’s far eastern city of Vladivostok, according to the ministry.

You can read more about the gas pipeline here.

UPDATE 5 (2014-3-24): South Korea to import coal through Rajin by next year. According to Korea IT Times (note-I changed the South Korean “Najin” to the North Korea “Rajin”):

A pilot program to carry coal from the port of Rajin in North Korea to Pohang in the south is expected to bear fruit within the year. A high-ranking official at the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said on March 23, “We have finalized a plan to ship coal between Rajin and Pohang before the year’s end as part of the Eurasia Initiative.”

Once the coal shipment from Siberia arrives in Rajin through the Hasan train station on the Russian side, South Korean ships will move the cargo to POSCO in Pohang from the No. 3 wharf in Rajin.

The ministry official added, “In a visit to Rajin in February we found that the port facility is capable of handling coal load up to 4 million tons a year. We will send a due diligence team again within the first half to find out the depth of the water near the port.”

The pilot coal shipment program is undertaken as part of the Rajin-Hasan railway project. The 54-kilometer railway link is critical to connecting the rail lines in the south to Busan and the trans-Siberian railway to European destination. Earlier in 2000, Russian President Vladimir Putin and then-ruler of North Korea Kim Jong-il agreed to build the line at the cost of US$340 million.

Rajin is a port city located at the northernmost corner of North Korea bordering Russia. The Russian government has since 2010 been working on building berths capable of holding 70,000-ton vessels in Rajin’s No. 3 wharf. The Chinese government is also in talks with North Korean authorities over building container unloading facility as well as expanding the wharves No. 4 to 6. The problem, however, is the Russian side has not found coal mines big enough to supply the volume demanded by Korean companies including POSCO.

UPDATE 4 (2014-3-24): South Korea has joined the Organization for Cooperation Between Railways (OSJD) in Warsaw. According to the Choson Ilbo:

Korea has taken the first step toward connecting its railways to the Eurasian continent. The Korea Railroad Corporation on Sunday said it became an associate member of the Organization for Cooperation Between Railways (OSJD) in Warsaw, Poland.

In order to connect Korean railways from Busan to Europe, it is essential for KORAIL to register to the OSJD, which makes the rules on the Eurasian continent and overseas treaties amongst member states.

This makes a more realistic prospect of a planned “Silk Road” railway connecting the Korean Peninsula to Europe that lies at the core of President Park Geun-hye’s “Eurasia Initiative.”

The initiative, which was announced in October last year, aims to strengthen Eurasian economic cooperation and prompt an opening of North Korea to lay the groundwork for reunification with the South.

The OSJD invited KORAIL to a meeting of the heads of member states’ railways in Pyongyang next month.

UPDATE 3 (2014-3-5): South Korean companies could be operating out of Rason by next year. According to Yonhap:

South Korea may be able to use the North Korean port city of Rason for logistical purposes as early as early next year, the unification ministry said Wednesday.

“The flow of goods through the Rason region may become possible around next spring if things go smoothly,” Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said in a lecture to a group of former lawmakers.

“In early February, South Korean companies paid an on-site visit to the Rason area and if this (cooperation project) goes smoothly, major progress would take place around September this year,” the minister said of Seoul’s push to join the Rajin-Khasan development project between Pyongyang and Moscow.

The project is designed to develop Rajin, the northeastern North Korean port city now reintegrated into Rason, into a logistics center linked to Russia’s Trans-Siberian Railway.

The government is planning to link the North Korean port to two major South Korean southern ports of Pohang and Busan.

UPDATE 2 (2014-2-6): According to the Wall Street Journal:

…Seoul’s Unification Ministry said on Sunday that an 18-strong Southern business team will visit Rajin in North Korea’s northeast, near Russia and China, on Feb. 11-13. Three firms are going: steelmaker Posco; Hyundai Merchant Marine011200.SE -6.55%, a shipper; and state-owned monopoly Korail. The government isn’t sending anyone.

This follows a deal signed during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s one-day visit to Seoul in November. The plan is for the South Korean trio to acquire up to half of Russian Railways’ 70% stake in RasonKonTrans, a $340 million project which last fall, five years late, finished upgrading 54 kilometers of track from Russia’s border at Khasan down to Rajin, Asia’s most northerly all-year ice-free port. Harbor facilities are also to be modernised.

I was skeptical at the time. The companies sounded non-committal, and two big political reefs loomed. Had anyone asked North Korea, whose railways ministry owns the other 30% of RasonKonTrans? And wouldn’t this breach the ban Seoul imposed in 2010 on all trade and investments in North Korea, outside the Kaesong Industrial Complex? The Southern government says no.

This is just an inspection tour, but North Korea appears to have raised no objection – which is interesting, if scarcely consistent. Pyongyang plays politics with family reunions: a sadistic heartbreaker for elderly Koreans yearning to see their long-lost kin, if only once and briefly.

According to Xinhua (2014-2-9):

A group of South Korean company officials will visit the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea ( DPRK) to carry out field study for joining in Rajin-Khasan railway and port development project between Pyongyang and Moscow, South Korea’s unification ministry said on Sunday.

A total of 18 officials from South Korea’s state-run Korea Railroad Corp. (KORAIL), steelmaker POSCO and shipper Hyundai Merchant Marine are scheduled to visit DPRK’s northeastern port city of Rajin from Tuesday to Thursday.

The ministry said they will meet their Russian counterparts in Vladivostok and then departed for the DPRK.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to cooperate in the Russian-led project during their summit in Seoul last November.

The Rajin-Khasan project aims to refurbish DPRK’s Rajin port and a railroad connecting it to the nearby Russian town of Khasan, paving the way for the Trans-Korean Railway and the Trans-Siberian Railroad reaching Europe.

A double-track railway between Rajin and Khasan reopened last September after years of renovation. It is reported that if the trilateral program runs smoothly, the Rajin port will become a logistics center for South Korean and Russian firms.

The project is part of Park’s plan for building the “Silk Road Express” by linking roads and railways running from South Korea to Europe via the DPRK, Russia, China and other Eurasian nations.

According to Yonhap (2014-2-9):

Officials from South Korean companies set to participate in an economic project between Pyongyang and Moscow will visit North Korea this week for an on-site inspection, the government said Sunday.

The unification ministry said 18 officials from three South Korean firms will visit North Korea’s northeastern port of Rajin from Tuesday to Thursday. The companies are state-run Korea Railroad Corp. (KORAIL), top steelmaker POSCO and No. 2 shipper Hyundai Merchant Marine. No government official will join the trip, the ministry said.

Their inspection is part of South Korea’s participation in the Rajin-Khasan development project, the Russian-led rail and port development venture in North Korea.

It’s designed to develop Rajin into a logistics center linked to Russia’s Trans-Siberian Railway. Last September, a double-track railway reopened between Rajin and Khasan, the nearby Russian town, after years of renovation.

In their summit meeting in Seoul last November, South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to help South Korean firms join the Rajin-Khasan project.

Also last year, Park unveiled her plan to expand economic cooperation with Eurasian nations, dubbed the Eurasian Initiative. The policy is built on the idea that exchanges between South Korea and Eurasian nations, in particular Russia, could help induce the reclusive North Korea to open up and alleviate tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Chris Green of the Daily NK has translated an  interview with the executive director of POSCO Corporate Strategic Planning Dept, Jeon Woo-sik, wherein he offered details about the delegation visiting Rason?

Ha Joon-soo, “나진~하산 프로젝트 현장 실사단 내일 방북“ [Rajin-Khasan Project onsite inspection team to visit North Korea tomorrow], KBS News, February 10, 2014.

Q: What is the makeup of the inspection team?

Jeon: There are five people going from POSCO [포스코]: a ports expert, an investment expert, and staff. There are six from Korail [코레일], another five from Hyundai Merchant Marine [현대상선], and two from the inspection company [실사법인], which makes eighteen. Aside from that, twenty staff from Russian Railways [러시아 철도공사] will accompany [the group]. Meetings with the North Korean side will be conducted in English and Russian, so the Russian side will bring interpreters.

Q: What is an “inspection company”?

Jeon: There is the need for personnel to expertly verify accounting and tax documentation, so we incorporated a body [for that].

Q: There will be no [South Korean] government officials with the group?

Jeon: None. This is a purely private undertaking, and it was decided that if government officials were included it could have a negative impact. Therefore, we formed the entire team from the private sector, and the government accepted this position.

Q: What is the team’s schedule?

Jeon: We minimized it as far as possible. Given that experts from each sector will be doing the inspecting, we decided that three days would be sufficient. Today [February 10] they departed for Vladivostok in Russia, and tomorrow morning [February 11] they will set off by special train. After completing the border formalities at Khasan on the Russia-DPRK border, we expect them to arrive in Rajin at around 12. Construction at Rajin Port is currently underway, so they will conduct visual inspections of the state of the port, whether pier construction is being done properly, and what the state of the Rajin-Khasan railway is. It is also expected that they will get additional information from the Russian side.

Q: What was done in advance to facilitate this?

Jeon: We applied for the visit in the middle of January, and document checks took about three weeks. The North Korean government signed off on the visit on February 5, and [the South Korean] government approved it on February 7.

Q: Can you give a concrete breakdown of what the team is going to do?

Jeon: The port and railway inspections will be divided into areas of expertise. More concretely: they will check the state of the rail track bed, the width of the track and the spaces between the rails, as well as signaling systems and stations. In the Russian documentation it says that Pier 3 is 600m long, but this must be verified, along with the depth of the water, whether it freezes in winter, the state of the mobile port cranes, whether it will be possible to use the pier over the long term, its strength, and how much investment is likely needed for dredging. Once that has been done, we’ll be able to roughly assess the investment cost on the Russian side.

Q: Is it right that, according to the Russian side, construction at Pier 3 will be complete at around the end of 2013?

Jeon: Port construction progress is currently at 90 percent. It’s winter now so construction isn’t possible, but it should be 100 percent complete during the next quarter. We’ll check on the construction of the port distribution terminal during these inspections. As it stands, coal from Siberia is what is coming in, so as long as there is storage for coal it is enough.

Q: Why do you need to perform in-situ checks?

Jeon: As you will be aware, the “Rajin-Khasan Project” is a cooperative one between North Korea and Russia. It’s an integrated port and rail freight business, and is worth a total of $340,000,000. Of this, North Korea has invested 30 percent and Russia 70 percent.

However, around half the Russian stake is supposed to be supplied indirectly by this consortium of Korean firms; yet even last November when a MoU was adopted between Russia and Korea, decisions were made based on documents from the Russian side. We have never seen for real how the construction is proceeding. How much should be invested can only be decided once the precise reality has been seen.

Q: What will happen once the inspection has been completed?

Jeon: We need to know the results of the inspection before we can decide that. Investment sums will be decided within this calendar year.

Q: So, when can we expect boats loaded with coal to come from Rajin down to Pohang and Busan [in South Korea]?

Jeon: Russian Far East ports are at saturation point dealing with Russia’s natural resources. The best thing would be for the freight headed for South Korea to be taken out and sent through Rajin instead. However, for a South Korean vessel to come and go from Rajin Port requires an authorization process. This part is linked to the 5.24 Measures[1], meaning that it would become possible more rapidly if the 5.24 Measures were lifted.

According to the Hankyoreh (2014-2-11):

Explaining that the Rajin-Hasan Project is a “special case” that is going ahead despite the May 24 measures, Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said that North Korea would have to take meaningful steps before the May 24 measures could be revoked.

During a plenary session at the National Assembly on Feb. 10 on issues related to diplomacy, unification, and national defense, the minister said that the May 24 punitive measures against North Korea would not be lifted until the North took action showing its remorse for the sinking of the Cheonan warship.

The May 24 measures, instituted after the Cheonan was sunk in 2010, constitute a complete ban on economic activity, exchange, and cooperation with North Korea.

But when asked about the Rajin-Hasan project, in which POSCO, Korail, and other South Korean companies have recently received permission to invest, Ryoo said that the project is moving ahead because it has particular significance for South Korea’s national interest regarding relations with Russia. If the project makes progress in the future and material starts to move, Ryoo predicted, various discussions will take place. That is to say, South Korea is moving forward with the Rajin-Hasan project as an exception to the May 24 measures.

On Monday, South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won also said that the Rajin-Hasan issue is a special case.

“What happened to the principles that President Park Geun-hye was talking about?” complained one businessman involved in economic cooperation with North Korea. “If you’re going to relax the restrictions, you should relax them for everyone. It‘s not fair just to relax them for large companies,” the businessman said on condition of anonymity.

Read the full stories here:
North Korea’s Rajin as Rotterdam? A Little Less Crazy Now
Wall Street Journal
Aidan Foster-Carter
2014-2-6

S. Korean firm officials to visit DPRK for Rajin-Khasan joint project
Xinhua
2014-2-9

S. Korean corporate officials to visit N. Korea as part of Pyongyang-Moscow venture
Yonhap
2014-2-9

Rajin-Hasan Project going ahead as a “special case”
Hankyoreh
Choi Hyun-june
2014-2-11

UPDATE 1 (2014-1-16): South Korea launches task force on railway and other projects. According to Yonhap:

South Korea is set to launch a task force on economic cooperation projects with North Korea and Russia, including a long-discussed plan for a trilateral rail link, Seoul officials said Thursday.

The move is the first follow-up step after President Park Geun-hye announced late last year her plan to expand economic cooperation with Eurasian countries for more trade opportunities.

Called the Eurasian Initiative, the policy is centered on the idea that exchanges between South Korea and Eurasian nations, especially Russia, will help induce an opening up in the reclusive North, which lies in between, thus allaying the long-running military and diplomatic tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

The task force, tentatively named the Trilateral South, North Korea, Russia Cooperation Task Force, will be launched as soon as February under the wing of the foreign ministry’s Europe division, according to the officials.

Under the task force, about five government officials will be charged with reviewing the feasibilities of various economic project ideas among the three nations, including much-discussed plans to link a railroad, gas and oil pipes, and electrical grids between South Korea and Russia through North Korea, according to them.

“All the issues concerning the trilateral cooperation among South and North Korea, and Russia can be subject to the task force’s reviews,” a foreign ministry official said. “Specific details about the projects will be known after the task force goes into operations.”

Discussions of the project to connect the Trans-Siberian Railway (TSR) with the Trans-Korean Railway (TKR), dubbed the “Iron Silk Road,” have been under way for more than a decade, but geopolitical obstacles have hindered it, particularly given North Korea’s nuclear and missile ambitions.

In a summit meeting held in Seoul last November, South Korean President Park and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a memorandum of understanding to help South Korean companies join the Rajin-Khasan development project in North Korea, the Pyongyang-Moscow project to link their railways for better logistics.

ORIGINAL POST (2013-11-13): The Russians and South Koreans recently discussed and signed a MOU on investment in the Rajin-Russia railway link and port. According to Yonhap:

South Korea agreed Wednesday to take part in a Russian-led rail and port development project in North Korea that could help reduce tensions with Pyongyang and open up a new logistics link between East Asia and Europe in line with President Park Geun-hye’s “Eurasian initiative.”

The memorandum of understanding was the most tangible outcome from Park’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It calls for steel giant POSCO, Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. and Korea Railroad Corp. to participate in the Rajin-Khasan development project.

The project was designed to develop North Korea’s ice-free northeastern port of Rajin into a logistics hub connected to Russia’s Trans Siberian Railway. In September, a 54-kilometer, double-track rail link reopened between Rajin and the nearby Russian town of Khasan after years of renovation.

Once the project to modernize the port of Rajin is completed, the rail-connected port can be used as a hub for sending cargo by rail from East Asia to as far as Europe. South Korean firms can also ship exports first to Rajin and transport them elsewhere via Russian railways.

North Korea and Russia launched the US$340 million project in 2008.

“The two sides agreed to encourage the rail and port cooperation project that companies of the two sides are pushing for so that it can move smoothly forward,” said a joint statement issued after the summit.

The project fits into Park’s “Eurasian initiative,” which calls for binding Eurasian nations closely together by linking roads and railways to realize what she called the “Silk Road Express” running from South Korea to Europe via North Korea, Russia and China.

Wednesday’s agreement was seen as a first step toward the ambitious vision.

“We, the two leaders, agreed to combine South Korea’s policy of strengthening Eurasian cooperation and Russia’s policy of highly regarding the Asia-Pacific region to realize our mutual potential at the maximum level and move relations between the two countries forward,” Park said during a joint press conference.

“South Korea and Russia will join hands to build a new Eurasian era for the future,” she said.

The Korean consortium plans to buy a stake in RasonKonTrans, the Russian-North Korean joint venture carrying out the rail and port renovation project. A final decision on the planned purchase will be made after a due diligence study in the first half of next year, officials said.

State monopoly Russian Railways has a 70 percent stake in the joint venture, with the North holding the remaining 30 percent. News reports have said that the Korean consortium plans to buy about half the Russian stake.

The purchase could be in conflict with Seoul’s ban on new investments in North Korea, though it is an indirect investment via Russia. The ban is part of sanctions Seoul imposed on Pyongyang after the North torpedoed and sank a South Korean warship near their Yellow Sea border in 2010.

The project could pave the way for similar indirect investments in the North and help reduce tensions on the divided peninsula. Inter-Korean relations, which had shown signs of a thaw following months of high tensions, chilled again after Pyongyang unilaterally canceled reunions for separated families in September.

Putin arrived in South Korea from Vietnam earlier Wednesday on a one-day visit for his second summit with Park. They first met in September on the sidelines of a Group of 20 major economies meeting in Russia’s second-largest city of Saint Petersburg.

In Wednesday’s summit, the two leaders also signed an MOU to enhance cooperation in shipbuilding. Officials said the deal laid the groundwork for South Korea to win orders of at least 13 liquefied natural gas tankers from Russia on the condition of technology transfer.

Also discussed was a long-discussed project to link railways of the two countries via North Korea and through to Europe. The two sides signed an MOU on rail cooperation and agreed to study the project as a long-term venture. The rail project has been talked about for many years, but little headway has been made due to security tensions.

Other projects the two sides agreed to cooperate on as long-term ventures included building a natural gas pipeline linking Russia and South Korea via the North and developing Arctic shipping routes to reduce shipping distances and time between Asia and Europe.

In total, the summit produced 17 cooperation agreement, including a visa-exemption pact calling for allowing Koreans and Russians to visit each other’s nation without a visa for up to 60 days, as well as an accord to set up cultural centers in each other’s nation.

Other topics for the meeting included regional and global security issues, such as the North Korean nuclear standoff. Russia is a member of the six-party talks aimed at ending Pyongyang’s nuclear program and is also one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

“The two sides confirmed they cannot accept Pyongyang’s policy of building independent nuclear and missile capabilities … and stressed that North Korea cannot have the status of a nuclear state,” the joint statement said.

They also emphasized the North should abide by international denuclearization obligations and commitments, and agreed to work together to create the right conditions for restarting the long-stalled six-party talks on ending Pyongyang’s nuclear program, the statement said.

In an apparent swipe at Japan, the statement said that the sides shared a concern that the strong cooperation potential in Northeast Asia has not been realized due to obstacles created by recent “retrograde acts and words on history.”

Putin’s visit to Seoul is the first by a leader from the four major powers that also includes the United States, Japan and China since Park came into office. The Russian president is also the sixth foreign leader to visit South Korea under the Park administration.

Yonhap also published this related but separate report:

The ministry, in charge of all inter-Korean relations, said plans by a South Korean consortium to buy a stake in RasonKonTrans, the Russian-North Korean joint venture, can strengthen ties between South Korea and Russia and create greater opportunities for all sides. The project, first launched in 2008, cost Pyongyang and Moscow US$340 million.

It said the memorandum of understanding, signed on the sidelines of summit meeting between South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier in the day, did not mean Seoul was abandoning its so-called May 24 blanket ban that prohibits all economic and personnel exchanges with the North.

The ban has been in place since 2010, after Seoul accused Pyongyang of sinking one of its warships near the sea border in the Yellow Sea. Seoul at present only permits humanitarian assistance exempt from the sanctions rule.

“This project is special, and efforts will be made to assist visits by South Koreans who have to go to the North to carry out due diligence,” said a ministry official who declined to be identified.

He added that while an investment does conflict to some extent with Seoul’s ban, it is slightly different, since companies will be buying stakes in the Russian company.

“It will be an indirect form of investment and not the direct kind that has been banned so far,” the source said. However, he conceded the move marks the first time that investments into a North Korean project have been authorized.

South Korean businessmen from steelmaker POSCO, Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. and Korea Railroad Corp. are expected to go on fact-finding missions to Rajin and check the rail line linking the port city with the Russian town of Khasan.

Under the project, aimed at utilizing North Korea’s ice-free port, Russia aims to transform Rajin into a logistics base linked to its Trans Siberian Railway (TSR). If the project makes headway, Rajin can be used by South Korean companies to send cargo by rail to Europe using the TSR.

On the controversy that may arise from “bending” the rules, the ministry official said the government is willing to review other indirect forms of investments involving other countries if proposed.

“If a proposal is submitted, it will be judged in terms of the nature of the project, the effect it will have on cross-border relations and North Korean attitude,” he stressed.

Additional Information:
1. Read more about the Russia-Rajin rail link here.

2. Read more about the Russia – South Korea gas pipeline here.

3. Read previous posts on the Rason SEZ here.

Read the full stories here:
S. Korea to participate in Russian-led rail, port development project in N. Korea
Yonhap
Chang Jae-soon
2013-11-13

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Russia – DPRK looking to build road border crossing

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

According to RBTH:

North Korea and the Russian Far East will be connected by a pontoon bridge, under a wider road transport agreement signed between the two countries last week, Minister for the Development of the Russian Far East, Alexander Galushka said.

Russia has already commenced working on the project documentation for the construction the bridge at the Khasan border crossing point Khasan in the Primorye Territory the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East said Monday.

At the moment, a railway bridge over the Tyumen River is the only surface transport connection between the neighbours.

Read the full story here:
North Korea and the Russian Far East to be connected by a pontoon bridge
RBTH
2015-5-6

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Construction of new Wonsan Airport continued through winter

Friday, May 1st, 2015

New Google Earth imagery shows continued development of the new civilian airport in Wonsan. The airport is presumably intended to support the Wonsan-Mt. Kumgang International Tourist Zone.

2015-3-26 (Google Earth)

Wonsan-Airport-2015-3-26

2015-2-10 (Google Earth)

Wonsan-Airport-2015-2-10

2014-12-25 (Google Earth)

Wonsan-Airport-2014-12-25

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How to run a “private” bus company in the DPRK

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

According to the Daily NK:

More independent transportation companies, run by the donju, or new affluent middle-class, are springing up in North Korea’s main transit hubs and driving up fares.

“There is a growing number of bus and truck companies operating not only in Pyongyang but nationwide,” a source from North Hamkyung Province told Daily NK last Friday. “People are buying buses or trucks and then paying the state a certain fee to open up transportation companies authorized by the central authorities.”

She explained that those members of the donju with significant amounts of money establish contacts with central bodies and win over the right to operate. “The ‘Pyongyang Transit and Trade Company’ and the ‘General Bureau of Transportation,’ which fall under the Cabinet, write up permits for individual donju and are authorizing the operations in exchange for a certain amount of the profits,” she said, adding that each region has bus companies that come from those two Pyongyang-based offices, creating a de facto public-private collaborative operation.

The donju, by importing second-hand buses from China for 3,000 to 4,000 USD, are overtly raking in profits and revolutionizing bus transportation in North Korea; personal bus transportation was only available in two to three cities in the early 2000s, including Pyongyang, but now it has spread nationwide. According to the source, some companies own anywhere from dozens to hundreds of buses.

“The fare between Chongjin and Musan used to be 8,000 KPW [1 USD] until just two years ago, but now it has jumped to 50,000 KPW [6.25 USD]. The bus that runs between Chongjin and Kim Chaek is currently 80,000 KPW [10 USD] – ten times the original price,” she noted. “Donju are raising the fares to whatever they want depending on the oil prices and exchange rate with the Chinese yuan.”

In the North’s main cities, state-run trams, trolleys, and long-distance buses do operate, but the vehicles are old and the companies beset by economic difficulties. The number of donju-run companies, however, is increasing by the day, leaving the state no choice but to accept their money and grant them license to operate.

“People are happy that there are more options for transportation but there are a lot of complaints about the expensive fares,” the source said. “Some say it’s not unusual for such companies to be operating in the way they do considering the dilapidated condition of state companies, but in the end it’s the regular people who bear the brunt of it all.”

Additional posts on the DPRK’s bus networks here.

Read the full story here:
Transportation Options Taking Off
Daily NK
Choi Song Min
2015-04-01

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Railways Profit on “donju” cash

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

According to the Daily NK:

The North Korean railway system, a popular form of public transportation, is the latest mechanism through which the authorities are raking in profits. Railway officials are charging more than 100 times the regular state price for tickets on the most popular routes– a move specifically targeting the donju [new affluent middle class] and their money.

“Following orders handed down from the Ministry of Railways, diesel engines started towing train cars at the beginning this year, allowing the trains to run on time,“ a source in North Hamkyung Province reported to Daily NK on March 4th. “Previously it was hard to operate the 23~24 trains, which run between Pyongyang and Chongjin, due to shortages of electricity. However, this problem was solved by utilizing diesel engines that replaced the electric trains.”

He went on to explain that diesel engines, free from reliance on electricity, allow trains to depart and arrive on time despite shortages in power. Needless to say, this reliable option is extremely popular, particularly among those reliant on them to do business, which the railways are using to their advantage by charging exorbitant fees for their services.

“A limited number of tickets for these trains are sold in the official railway offices for 1,300 KPW [10 RMB] to regular customers. But it’s all a facade. Behind the scenes, dozens of women are being mobilized to sell tickets for 100 times the actual price,” he said. “It’s already difficult enough for most travelers to purchase tickets for a train bound for Chongjin from Pyongyang, and now the only real option is to get them on the black market, where the cost is exponentially higher.”

In this burgeoning black market arena, ticket prices have skyrocketed 100 RMB [135,000 KPW] and make up 80% of total sales; only 20% of ticket sales take place at official train station ticketing offices. Areas surrounding the stations are filled with female brokers selling tickets, who, according to the source, constantly holler out, “Get your ticket for the express train—100 RMB!”

For the donju, trains serve as an integral part of their business operations–and time is money. “Trains other than the Pyongyang-Chongjin train take more than fifteen days to travel 800 km,” the source explained. “Late last month, it took a 9~10 train from Pyongyang bound for Musan twenty days to arrive at its destination.”

The 7~8 train, which runs from Pyongyang to the Tumen River, was originally an international express bound to Russia, while the 9~10 train transported civil servants to various locations for international business trips. The 23~24 train, however, is the most widely used train in modern North Korea, designated specifically for business purposes since the proliferation of market activity at the start of the 21st century.

Read the full story here:
Railways Profit on Donju Cash
Daily NK
Choi Song Min
2015-3-5

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The 2015 UNSC Panel of Experts report published

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

The report is dated February 23, 2015 and you can download the PDF here.

Andrea Berger commented on the report in this article at 38 North.

Media coverage of the report has focused on two aspects: 1. North Korea has changed the name of the ships in its commercial fleet to avoid sanctions enforcement. 2. North Korean spies managed to infiltrate the UN World Food Program and UNESCO.

Here is Reuters on the report:

Exclusive: Sanctioned North Korea shipping firm still active, renamed ships – U.N. panel

A U.N.-blacklisted North Korean shipping company has renamed most of its vessels in a bid to disguise their origin and continues its illicit shipments in violation of United Nations sanctions, according to a U.N. experts report seen by Reuters on Wednesday.

The U.N. Security Council’s Panel of Experts on North Korea, which monitors implementation of sanctions on Pyongyang, also said in the 76-page report that North Korea “continued to defy Security Council resolutions by persisting with its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.”

North Korea is under United Nations sanctions because of its nuclear tests and missile launches. In addition to arms, Pyongyang is banned from importing and exporting nuclear and missile technology and is not allowed to import luxury goods.

The experts’ report also said the sanctions have not curbed food or humanitarian aid to the impoverished hermit state, but it recommended that the U.N. spell out which items for such use are exempt.

The council last July blacklisted shipping company Ocean Maritime Management Company (OMM) for arranging an illegal shipment on the Chong Chon Gang ship, which was seized in Panama and found to be carrying arms, including two MiG-21 jet fighters, hidden under thousands of tonnes of Cuban sugar.

“Following the designation of OMM … (North) Korea acted in order to evade sanctions by changing the registration and ownership of vessels controlled by the company,” the report said.

“Thus far, 13 of the 14 vessels controlled by OMM have been renamed, their ownership transferred to other single ship owner companies (with names derived from the ship’s new names) and vessel management transferred to two main companies,” it added.

The report said OMM worked with individuals and entities based in countries such as Brazil, China, Egypt, Greece, Japan, Malaysia, Peru, Russia, Singapore and Thailand.

The panel recommended that the council’s sanctions committee blacklist 34 OMM entities (shell companies), including Chongchongang Shipping Co, Amnokgang Shipping and Biryugang Shipping. It also recommended sanctioning OMM Vice President Choe Chol Ho, Chongchongang Shipping President Kim Ryong Chol and three Chongchongang directors.

It said that North Korean diplomats, officials and trade representatives played key roles in illegal weapons and missile deals. They often were involved in illegal funds transfers.

The panel also said North Korean intelligence agents aided the movement of money believed to be linked to weapons transactions.

The report said agents of the Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB), North Korea’s main intelligence agency, had worked at international organizations and were using those positions to support activities aimed at skirting sanctions.

It cited as an example the French government’s decision to freeze assets of Kim Yong Nam, an RGB officer working under cover as an employee at UNESCO, the U.N. cultural and scientific organization in Paris, and his son and daughter. His son Kim Su Gwang, also an RGB officer, was working at the U.N. World Food Program.

The panel said Kim Young Nam’s daughter, Kim Su Gyong of the Korean United Development Bank, “was engaged in financial activities under false pretences in order to conceal the involvement of her country.”

The panel also opened its first inquiry into the use of drones. Between October 2013 and March 2014, South Korea found wreckage of three drones it determined were from North Korea and had been spying on military facilities.

The Security Council has banned the supply, sale or transfer of complete armed or surveillance drones with a range of at least 300 km (186 miles). The panel said it was unclear if the recovered drones were acquired abroad or made in North Korea.

EXEMPTIONS

The experts found “no incidents where bans imposed by the (U.N.) resolutions directly resulted in shortages of foodstuffs or other humanitarian aid.”

“National legislative or procedural steps taken by (U.N.) member states or private sector industry have been reported as prohibiting or delaying the passage of certain goods to (North Korea),” the report said. “It is sometimes difficult to distinguish these measures from United Nations sanctions.”

The U.N. Security Council says the sanctions are not intended to harm North Korean civilians, but there is no exemption mechanism. For that reason, the experts recommended that exemptions be proposed “provided that such items are confirmed to be solely for food, agricultural, medical or other humanitarian purposes.”

North Korea has said the sanctions are illegal and aimed at toppling the country’s reclusive government. A U.N. inquiry last year reported systematic torture, starvation and killings by the country’s leaders that are comparable to Nazi-era atrocities.

In the Associated Press:

UN: North Korean company renames ships to evade sanctions

A North Korean shipping company that famously tried to hide fighter jets under a cargo of sugar later sought to evade U.N. sanctions by renaming most of its vessels, a new report says.

The effort by Pyongyang-headquartered Ocean Maritime Management Company, Ltd. is detailed in the report by a panel of experts that monitors sanctions on North Korea. The report, obtained by The Associated Press, makes clear the challenge of keeping banned arms and luxury goods from a nuclear-armed country with a history of using front companies to duck detection.

The U.N. Security Council holds consultations Thursday on the report, which also says North Korea’s government persists with its nuclear and missile programs in defiance of council resolutions.

North Korea’s mission to the U.N. did not respond to a request for comment.

The council last year imposed sanctions on OMM after Panama in 2013 seized a ship it operated that carried undeclared military equipment from Cuba. Panamanian authorities found two Cuban fighter jets, missiles and live munitions beneath the Chong Chon Gang’s cargo of sugar.

The council’s sanctions committee said that violated a U.N. arms embargo imposed in response to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. At the time, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said that imposing a global asset freeze on OMM meant that the company would no longer be able to operate internationally.

But the new report says that in the months after the sanctions were imposed, 13 of the 14 ships controlled by OMM changed their owners and managers, “effectively erasing” the company from a database kept by the International Maritime Organization. Twelve of the ships “reportedly stayed, visited or were sighted near ports in foreign countries,” and none were frozen by member states as the panel of experts recommends.

The new report explores the shipping company’s global reach, using people and entities operating in at least 10 countries: Brazil, China, Egypt, Greece, Japan, Malaysia, Peru, Russia, Singapore and Thailand. The report recommends updating the sanctions list with 34 OMM entities and says all 14 vessels should be subject to sanctions.

No interdictions of the kind that Panama made in 2013 were reported in the period between Feb. 8 of last year and Feb. 5 of this year. But the new report warns that the panel of experts sees no evidence that North Korea “intends to cease prohibited activities.”

The report also says diplomats, officials and trade representatives of North Korea continue to “play key roles in facilitating the trade of prohibited items, including arms and related materiel and ballistic missile-related items.”

The panel of experts warns that some U.N. member states still are not implementing the council resolutions that are meant to keep North Korea from further violations.

North Korea also faces an embargo on luxury goods, but the report found that it managed to bring in luxury goods from multiple countries, including with the help of its diplomatic missions. Some items were for the country’s Masik Pass luxury ski report, which opened in 2013. China told the panel of experts that the ski lift equipment it provided was acceptable because “skiing is a popular sport for people” and that ski items are not specifically prohibited.

In another case, a yacht seen alongside leader Kim Jong Un in 2013 was sourced by the panel of experts to a British manufacturer, Princess Yachts International, which the panel said did not reply to a request for more information.

The panel also said it has opened its first investigation into a case involving North Korean drones after the wreckage of three drones was found in South Korea in late 2013 and 2014. The report says the drones had been used for reconnaissance over South Korean military facilities and that the drones contained components “sourced from at least six foreign countries.”

North Korea protests that the U.N. sanctions are harmful to its citizens, but the report says it has found no incidents where they “directly resulted in shortages of … humanitarian aid.” It does recommend that the sanctions committee propose exemptions for purely food, medical or other humanitarian needs.

Here is more in the Telegraph.

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Kim Jong-un’s new runway

Friday, January 16th, 2015

Satellite imagery of the east coast of Korea dated 2014-7-4 has recently been uploaded to Google Earth. Among the more noticeable items is that Kim Jong-un had a new runway built at his family compound in Wonsan right next to his private train station.

 Wonsan-runway-2014-3-17

Wonsan-runway-2014-7-4

In the top picture you can see a small helipad (where Dennis Rodman landed) which was torn down to make way for a runway,  approximately 560m in length. The new runway should be able to accommodate small aircraft and helicopters. Although Kim Jong-il favored trains, the North Korean media has shown Kim Jong-un traveling by car, boat (military and yacht), and plane (even sort of flying one).

Last summer Kim’s guidance tour schedule seemed to suggest he was spending much of the time in Wonsan. With a runway like this, he will presumably be able to get around the country more easily from his “summer home”. Maybe in future satellite imagery we will get a view of his personal craft on the runway!

This was picked up by Radio Free Asia.

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DPRK taxi data

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

An article in Yonhap (sourced by Xinhua) offers some interesting data on taxis in Pyongyang. Here are some select quotes:

But in Pyongyang, capital of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), a strict odd-even ban has been imposed on most taxis since April.

The rule is simple: taxis with an odd end number on license plates are allowed to travel on odd-numbered days only and those with an even end number are able to drive on even-numbered days.

The reason for introducing the license plate restriction for taxis remains unknown.

The odd-even rationing policy, however, is not applicable for all cabs, taxi drivers told Xinhua.

About 150 taxis operated by Air Koryo, the national flag carrier and the country’s only airline, are not subject to this regulation.

“We are the only taxi firm not asked to follow the ban,” said a cab driver under Air Koryo who gave his surname as Kim. “This is thanks to the special care given by our respectable marshal.”

And how may taxis are there?

Official figures showed more than 1,500 taxis had been running in the capital city by the end of 2013.

Who makes the taxis?

Now a vast majority of the taxi cabs are BYD (a Chinese automaker) automobiles with the name of taxi firms printed on both sides of the cars. Atop the car body is fixed a board that reads “TAXI” in both Korean and English.

What are the rates?

Jumping into the cab and traveling within two km costs two U.S. dollars. For each kilometer you travel beyond that distance, 0.56 dollars get added to the fare. U.S. dollars, euros, renminbi and even DPRK wons are all accepted.

Taximeters are not fitted in most cars; even there is a taximeter on the front, the driver tends not to activate the machine unless you insist. It seems customary to negotiate with the driver about the fare, and also there are certain fares for several fixed routes.

With an extra fee of two or three dollars, you can book a taxi cab in advance by dialing drivers’ personal phone numbers. But foreign visitors have no access to the service at the moment because SIM cards sold to foreigners can not connect to natives’ mobile phones.

Read the full story here:
Feature: Pyongyang imposes odd-even ban on most taxis
Yonhap
2014-12-4

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Air Koryo timetable

Monday, November 17th, 2014

From October 28, 2014-March 28, 2015:

Air-koryo-schedule-2014-2015

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Russian investment into DPRK railway

Sunday, October 26th, 2014

Most of Russia’s current investment in the DPRK has been limited to Rason: Rason Port, Rason-Russia Railway. But there has been movement in bilateral relations this year.

In March of 2014, the North Koreans and the Russians announced bilateral trade would be conducted in Rubles and they discussed additional economic opportunitiesInter-Korean transportation, gas pipeline, and the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

On October 20, 2014, ITAR TASS reported the following:

Russian construction compnay NPO Mostovik has developed a plan of designing and upgrading railways and ore enriching plants, as well as developing and processing natural resources in North Korea, CEO Vladimir Shishov told PRIME on Monday.

“These are two interconnected and quite complex processes. But the NPO has lots of experience in designing, and we will promote our experience and technologies in this region,” Shishov said.

About 7,000 kilometers of North Korean railways require modernization, and 3,500 kilometers of them must be modernized urgently.

North Korea “has a large industrial and economic potential, the realization of which requires solving infrastructural problems.” Without the development of railways and roads and electrification, “it is impossible to solve the whole range of tasks, connected with the development of North Korea’s economy,” he said.

KCNA followed up on October 23:

Talks Held between DPRK Minister of External Economic Relations and Minister of Development of Far East of Russia

Pyongyang, October 23 (KCNA) — Talks between Minister of External Economic Relations Ri Ryong Nam who doubles as chairman of the DPRK side to the Inter-Governmental Committee for Cooperation in Trade, Economy, Science and Technology between the DPRK and Russia and Minister of Development of Far East of Russia Alexandr Galushka who doubles as chairman of the Russian side to the committee were held here on Thursday.

Present there from the DPRK side were Ju Jae Dok, vice-minister of Railways, and officials concerned and from the opposite side were the party of the minister of Development of Far East, Alexandr Timonin, Russian ambassador to the DPRK, and a staff member of his embassy.

Discussed at the talks were the issues of boosting the economic and trade cooperation between the two countries.

And on October 26:

Delegation of Ministry of Railways Back Home

Pyongyang, October 26 (KCNA) — The delegation of the Ministry of Railways led by Minister Jon Kil Su returned home Sunday after taking part in an international seminar held in Sochi, Russia.

However, while North Korea’s foreign minister and railway minister were in Russia, the North Koreans and Russians held a ground-breaking ceremony to announce the rebuilding of the Jaedong-Kangdong-Nampho railway line. According to KCNA:

A ground-breaking ceremony of rebuilding the section of Jaedong-Kangdong-Nampho railway stations took place at East Pyongyang Railway Station Tuesday.

Present there were Minister of External Economic Relations Ri Ryong Nam who doubles as chairman of the DPRK side to the Inter-Governmental Committee for Cooperation in Trade, Economy, Science and Technology between the DPRK and Russia, officials concerned and working people in the city.

Also on hand were Minister of Development of Far East of Russia Alexandr Galushka who doubles as chairman of the Russian side to the Inter-Governmental Committee for Cooperation in Trade, Economy, Science and Technology between the DPRK and Russia, and his party, Alexandr Timonin, Russian ambassador to the DPRK, staff members of his embassy and foreign diplomatic envoys here.

Oleg Shishov, director general of the Russian Bridzh Group, and Won Phil Jong, senior vice-minister of Railways of the DPRK, made speeches at the ceremony.

They said that they were pleased that the ceremony of weighty significance in economic development between the two countries was being held in Pyongyang this year marking the 66th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the DPRK and Russia.

The project for remodeling railways, the first stage of realizing the large-scale cooperation project which is in line with the common development and interests of the peoples of the two countries, marked an important occasion in developing economic cooperation between the two countries, they noted.

Alexandr Galushka and Ri Ryong Nam made congratulatory speeches.

They said that Marshal Kim Jong Un is paying deep attention to boosting the bilateral friendly relations.

The relations of economic cooperation between the two countries are growing stronger with each passing day, they said, hoping for bigger successes in the work to develop the bilateral cooperative relations in the future, too.

A reception was given that day.

According to supplementary information in Yonhap:

A Russian broadcaster earlier reported that Pyongyang and Moscow signed a US$25 billion deal to modernize a combined 3,500-kilometer stretch of railways in North Korea. If confirmed, it would cover 60-70 percent of the North’s railways.

Russia Beyond the Headlines reports the following information:

The implementation of the Russian-North Korean project Pobeda (Victory) will make it possible for North Korea to start exporting metallurgical coal in 2015, one of the participants in the project, LLC NPO Mostovik CEO Oleg Shishov believes.

“We’re already discussing this with the North Korean government, that everything will go to [third countries], and they agree. The volume is tens of millions of tonnes at the initial stage, and then we’ll see. Let’s take the first step,” Shishov told reporters.

He said the North Korea stands out by its almost complete absence of sulfur. “This is a very important indicator for metallurgical production, particularly for production of high quality steels,” Shishov said.

“Mining is already underway there, only with such methods that little is being mined. the methods are very inefficient, unproductive. Modern mining equipment will be delivered there and this will increase production manifold. The reserves there are huge,” Shishov said.

He did not specify who would be investing in the development of North Korean coal fields or the countries that would be importing the coal.

Russia and North Korea are now beginning to implement the Pobeda project, which calls for the development of mineral resources and comprehensive reconstruction of North Korea’s railway network. A number of Russian companies are participating in the project, including Mostovik. The other participants have not been named.

Here is a Google Earth image of the proposed train route:

Jaenam-Nampho-Railway-GE

The total length of this route is approximately 175km.

Here is the proposed route relative to other railway lines in the area:

Railway-line-vs-whole-railway

The obvious interpretation of the image is that the railway renovations will be used to facilitate coal exports. Jaenam Station exclusively serves the Sinchang Youth Coal Mine under the Sunchon Area Youth Coal Mine Complex Enterprise. Additoinally, the area surrounding Jaenam Station is doimated by coal mines. The Kangdong Station is not in the town of Kangdong, but just to the east where it services the Kangdong Area Coal Mine Complex Enterprise. Coal in these areas will supposedly be carried more efficiently to the port of Nampho where a coal terminal already exists.

Nampho-coal-port

If indeed this is the primary purpose of the project, then the obvious loser will be China (on multiple fronts). Currently Chinese state-owned mining companies are the only serious investors in North Korea’s extraction industries. Because of their unique relationship with and proximity to the DPRK, they are able to purchase coal and other resources at a bargain price (monopsony). North Korea can only strengthen its bargaining position with these companies by finding other buyers of its produce. Russia’s investment could help them accomplish this goal.

However there are two domestically-related uses that renovation of this railway route could facilitate.

The first is domestic steel production. Russian sources highlight the importance of sulfur-free coal for the production of steel, and this railway line passes directly by the Chollima Steel Mill, one of the largest smelters in the country. Increased steel production has long been a goal of North Korea’s economic policymakers going back to the “heavy-industry” days of the 1950s. With a renovated railway track that connects the correct kind of coal with Chollima Steel Mill, the DPRK may be able to produce more steel for both domestic use or for export.

A second potential domestic use could be the increase in energy supply to Pyongyang. As I highlighted in 38 North, the DPRK is constructing a new coal power plant in Kangdong. This new power plant, as well as the Pyongyang and East Pyongyang Thermal Power Plants lie along the Jaenam-Nampho line. Increased coal supplies to these mills could have significant impact on power supply in Pyongyang.

Are there any other potential uses? Maybe, but these are more difficult to see right now and may only become evident at a later date. After examining the composition of facilities along the track between Pyongyang and Jaenam, I cannot identify any other specific industries that may benefit, other than potential military factories that lie along the route. These, of course, are worth of examination, but I am not the most qualified to carry that out.

On November 6, 38 North Published this article on DPRK-Russia relations.

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