Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

Kim Jong-un’s new private Sinchon runway

Thursday, April 21st, 2016

Sinchon-Runway

Pictured Above (Google Earth):  A 2015-10-26 satellite image of the new runway constructed at the Kim family compound in Sinchon ( 38.350362°, 125.534610°)

I reported in Radio Free Asia this week on Kim Jong-un’s new Sinchon runway. This is the 6th small-craft runway to be built in the Kim Jong-un era and the fifth to be built to service a restricted family compound. We know that this is a Kim family compound because Kenji Fujimoto visited it and took pictures.

The runway is approximately 600m long and was built between January and October of 2015. It appears to be built of concrete, unlike some other runways that appear to be made of asphalt, and there do not appear to be any facilities for sheltering, refueling or repairing any aircraft that land here–indicating that it is not a node in Kim’s transportation network.

Unlike the family compounds in Kangdong and Wonsan, this Sinchon residence has not been featured in any official media, so it is unclear how many times Kim Jong-un has actually visited the place. It is most known for its hot spring pools and saunas.

The compound was already served by dedicated highway linking the compound to the Pyongyang – Kaesong Highway, and there is a train station nearby that has been equipped to receive trains thought to be carrying the former leaders.

The only other noticeable change has been the expansion of the security perimeter on the northern side of the compound.

 

 

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North Korea Establishes Korea Yongpung General Corporation

Monday, April 11th, 2016

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES):

North Korea has recently founded a trading company, ‘Korea Yongpung General Corporation’ (AKA: Korea Yongphung Corporation), which focuses on the shipping industry. On March 28, 2016 North Korean website Naenara introduced the company saying the “newly founded” company “is engaging in and expanding its various trade activities, development and cooperation.” Though the date of the establishment was not revealed, the use of “newly founded” suggests the company’s recent establishment.

According to the website, this new company’s parent is the larger Myohyang Shipping Co. (founded in 1993), and the new company is comprised of multiple companies such as Nos. 1 and 2 Trade Company, Myohyang Shipping Company, an investment trading company, and external economic technology development agencies.

This includes Ryukyung 105 Company and Ryushin Cooperation Company, with other companies and factories such as Ryukyung Condensed Milk, an iron smelt, spring mineral water factory, marine foodstuffs export factory, Taedonggang Construction Company, Myohyang seamen’s academy, Myohyang seamen’s station, and others. It purportedly also has networks of volunteers and stores throughout the country, as well as branches abroad — a foreign economic and technology cooperation agency in Russia and overseas representative agencies in China (Beijing and Dandong) and Singapore.

The new company focuses on such things as operation of freighters and joint venture ships, trading goods, mining, fisheries, construction and technological cooperation abroad, IT development, and development and sale of information technology goods.

In order to run the freighters and joint venture ships, the company recruits captains, chief engineers, navigators, and sailors through the Myohyang seamen’s academy. It is also in the process of developing and modernizing the Sohaeri mine and Toksong ophiolite mine.

In addition, Yongpung Information Technology Exchange Lab is said to be strengthening cooperation with others in information exchange for development of web and mobile programs, development and sale of software programs such as 3D games, and various technologies.

The external economic and technology development agencies are tasked with building international relations in construction, technological cooperation, and architectural ornamentation abroad. They also focus on ship repair and services, inter alia.

The website also introduced the company by saying it “advocates scientific management strategy and corporate strategy based on strong material technological foundation, to expand trading activities in various ways and promote long range ship chartering and joint venture ship operation while also promoting foreign investment of loadstone and ophiolite mining.”

Here is the text from the original Naenara article:

The newly established is expanding its activities for trade, development and cooperation.

Its predecessor is the Myohyang Shipping Company which was inaugurated in 1993. Now it has developed into a mammoth enterprise comprising Trading Companies No. 1 and No. 2, Myohyang Shipping Company, Investment Trading Company and External Economic Technology Development Company. Its business categories include operation of cargo vessels and joint-owned vessels, trade in commodity, mining, fishing, construction abroad, technical cooperation, IT development, production and sale of IT products.

Affiliated to the corporation are such companies as Ryugyong Company 105 and Ryusin Joint Venture Company; Ryugyong Chain Filling Station, Reduced Iron Factory, Onchon Spring Factory, Onchon Aquaculture Farm Seafood Exports; Taedonggang Construction Company, Myohyang Crew Training School, Myohyang Crew Transient Station and several other training centres and some commercial outlets in Pyongyang and other places of the country.

The corporations overseas branches are the External Economic Technology Cooperation Agency in Russia and missions in Beijing and Dandong, China, and in Singapore.

The operation of cargo vessels and joint-owned vessels, the main business categories of the corporation, are conducted by captains, chief engineers, navigation officers and other crews, all of whom are graduates from the Myohyang Crew Training School.

With mining as a key business category, the corporation directs great efforts to developing and modernizing Sohaeri Mine and Toksong Serpentinite Mine while paying due concern to inviting investment in these mines from foreign countries.

The promising talents of the Yongphung Information Technology Exchange Company are playing a pivotal role in promoting exchangs and cooperation with other countries in the development and sale of such software such as the wed mobile application and 3D games and technical services for various kinds of hardware.

The External Economic Technology Development Company is promoting exchanges and cooperation with several countries in construction, technical assistance, and architectural decoration and is briskly conducting trade activities including cargo vessel repair and service business.

According to its scientific strategies for business operation and enterprise management and underpinned by its solid material and technological foundations, the corporation is conducting multi-faceted trade activities, encouraging long-term chartering and joint operation of ships, putting emphasis on inviting investment in the magnetic iron ore and serpentinite mines.

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Rason imposes entry fee at Chinese border

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

Rason imposed a RMB10 fee for individuals (more for vehicles) to enter the economic and trade zone in December last year.

Rason-border-charge-2015-12

I have translated the notice and posted here as a PDF.

 

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Currency arbitrage in North Korea

Tuesday, December 1st, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

North Korean state personnel are making good money from currency arbitrage. Daily NK has a story on how security personnel in the country regularly buy foreign currency in border towns where it’s cheaper than in cities like Pyongyang:

Using their authority over screening passengers on the train as a guise, MPS railway personnel in on the scheme actively pursue exchange deals in main border towns such as North Hamgyong Province’s Rason and North Pyongan Province’s Sinuiju. Each day, Pyongyang-based railway cadres pick out four members who are known to be good at nabbing these deals and put two as a team on the Pyongyang-Sinuiju (trains no. 5, 6) and Pyongyang-Duman River (trains no. 7, 8) trains, so they can exchange money, according to the source.   

This one example among many of state personnel benefit from informal economic activity, through their official roles. It often makes little sense to talk about the market versus the state, as if they were two wholly separate entities.

Read the full story:
MPS personnel profiting on exchange rate disparities
Choi Song Min
Daily NK 
12-01-2015

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The political economy of Pyongyang’s new subway cars

Monday, November 30th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein 

The upgrades of Pyongyang seem to continue with no signs of slowing down. Kim Jong-un has made Pyongyang’s massive facelift into one of the hallmarks of his tenure. Not just theme parks have been given attention. Since a few years back, people have spoken of a “building boom” in Pyongyang. Many believe there is a political calculation behind it all: happy capital city elites, happy regime.

In the rest of the country, however, not much is happening. If the regime is betting on being able to keep elites happy by building them nicer things, it is certainly placing a lot of eggs in the same geographical basket. Upgrading Pyongyang might make North Korea look wealthier to visitors and the occasional reporter, but that doesn’t mean that the economy is really on a new track.

The latest in a long line of stark reminders of the vast differences between Pyongyang and the rest of the country is the report that the capital city is getting new subway cars. The iconic ones from East Berlin may come to be retired. Earlier this month, the state newspaper Rodong Sinmun reported that Kim had taken a test ride on a newly manufactured subway car, from Kaeson station (near Pyongyang’s Arch of Triumph) through four different stops.

Kim, of course, gave a few words of wisdom: he praised the performance of the car, approving both of the speed and the breaks. He went on to say that the new train car felt safe, and fulfilled all the demands of public transportation. With “our Juche capacity (주체적력량) and scientific technology, we can manufacture everything.”

These things may of course hold propaganda value. Pyongyang as the heart of the revolution has been a longstanding theme in the propaganda, and North Korea is hardly the only country in the world where the capital city holds a higher standard than other places. Still, one should not mistake new subway cars or other infrastructure upgrades for signs of profound economic improvement. While new subway cars are manufactured in Pyongyang, aid organizations have continued to warn of a food deficit.

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Fall 2015 price reports

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

According to the Daily NK:

Recently in Yanggang Province, as both Kimjang and the harvest season draw to a close, the price of vegetables and rice has gone down, and with winter right around the corner, fuel prices have begun to rise.

“As we enter in November, the price of vegetables and rice are falling, and with the end of the Kimjang season and the beginning of rice threshing, market prices are fluctuating wildly,” a source in Yanggang Province reported to Daily NK on November 16th. “Families, preparing for winter now that Kimjang (making of kimchi for the season) is over, are using servi-cha for business regularly and the price of oil is also rising accordingly.”

An additional source in the same province corroborated this news.

At the height of Kimjang season in mid-October, cabbage was trading at 1,950 KPW (0.23 USD) per 1 kg, but by the end of October it had dropped to 1,500 KPW (0.17 USD), and now it has dropped further still to reach 900 KPW (0.10 USD) per 1 kg. Rice has also dropped from 5,200 KPW (0.60 USD) to 4,700 KPW (0.55 USD) per kilogram.

As North Korea moves to wrap up its fiscal year, residents who failed to complete their assigned tasks must make payments to fulfill their duty. Those without the money hand over part of the harvest from tending their personal plots to market sellers for cash and turn that in instead. The flood of harvested goods at the markets has thus driven down prices.

Our source tells us that in mid-October, using Hyesan City as the standard, petrol was trading at 6,000 KPW (0.70 USD) per kilogram and diesel fuel at 4,000 KPW (0.47 USD) per kilogram. But since the beginning of November the prices increased to 7,000 KPW (0.81 USD) for petrol and 4,500 KPW (0.52 USD) per kilogram for diesel. In mid-November prices have increased to 7,300 KPW (0.85 USD) per kilogram for petrol and 5,250 KPW (0.61 USD) per kilogram for diesel.

As the icy winter draws closer, hot foods are selling particularly well and the price of potato noodles, corn noodles, and others are more expensive compared to last year. Last year a small bowl of noodles was 1,000 KPW (0.12 USD) while a large bowl cost 6,000 KPW (0.70 USD); this year, small bowls of noodles are selling better than large bowls at a cost of 1,500 KPW (0.17 USD).

Read the full story here:
Veg, rice prices fall on back of ‘kimjang’
Daily NK
Kang Mi Jin
2015-11-17

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Koreas, Russia start third test run for Rason coal shipments

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

According to Yonhap:

South and North Korea kicked off another test operation Tuesday of their joint logistics project to ship Russian coal to the South through a port near the border with Russia, government officials said.

Some 120,000 tons of Russian coal will be delivered to three South Korean ports on a ship from the North Korean port city of Rajin after being transported from Russia’s border city of Khasan on a re-connected railway in the third run of the so-called Rajin-Khasan logistics project. The trilateral project will be carried out until Nov. 30.

It is a symbol of three-way cooperation at a time when inter-Korean exchanges have become stagnant following the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship by the North in 2010.

In November 2014, the first shipment carrying 40,500 tons of Russian coal smoothly arrived in South Korea in the first operation of the project. The second test was conducted in April.

The initiative involves three South Korean firms — top steelmaker POSCO, shipper Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. and state train operator Korail Corp.

A group of some 20 government and company officials are set to cross the border between Russia and North Korea on a bus later in the day after they departed from Vladivostok a day earlier, according to the Unification Ministry.

They will stay in the North’s city till Friday to check the Rajin port’s capacity to handle shipments and to see how smoothly vessels can be berthed there, the ministry said.

The South Korean firms will decide on whether to clinch a formal contract based on the outcome of the pilot operation. It is highly likely that the signing of a formal deal could be delayed into next year.

“It is unclear when the formal contract could be signed,” said a ministry official, asking not to be named.

The project is also part of President Park Geun-hye’s vision for a united Eurasia, known as the Eurasia initiative, which calls for linking energy and logistics infrastructure across Asia and Europe.

The project is regarded as an exception to South Korea’s punitive sanctions on the North, which has suspended almost all trade and exchange programs, apart from a joint factory park project in the North’s border city of Kaesong.

Read the full story here:
Koreas, Russia start third test run for logistics project
Yonhap
2015-11-17

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New trolley-bus route in Pyongyang

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

According to Rodong Sinmun (2015-10-29):

Trolley buses will run between Pyongyang Railway Station and Sci-Tech Complex via newly-built Mirae Scientists Street.

The traffic section covers 11.7 kilometers and its trial operation was successfully made some days ago.

From scores of years ago, trolley buses have been running in various sections of Pyongyang City, which help prevent pollution and fully ensure convenience for the citizens.

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Dandong bridge accident

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

Dandong-bridge-accident-1 Dandong-bridge-accident-2

Photos from Daily NK

UPDATE 3 (2015-10-26): NK News reports that the bridge was also closed to road traffic in the last week of October for additional repairs.

UPDATE 2 (2015-10-6): Sino-NK Friendship Bridge to open with new regulations. According to the Daily NK:

The Sino-Korea Friendship Bridge has reopened after receiving maintenance for wear and tear that caused a truck accident and an ensuing shutdown of the bridge late last month, Daily NK has learned.

“The transport of cargo was halted because of the truck accident, which was the first to occur in seven decades since the bridge was built, but they’ve resumed transport starting today,” a source in North Pyongan Province told Daily NK on Monday. “They completed three days of work on the bridge, and all cargo trucks are traveling through, but they’ve limited the weight of the truck and cargo to 15 tons to prevent recurrences.”

This news was corroborated via a second source in the same province.

Following a request from the customs office in China’s Dandong, the two sides agreed to abolish the system of allowing cargo to pass according to respective decisions that had created room for passage of overloaded trucks. Instead, authorities will cap the weight of the vehicle and cargo combined at a total of 15 tons.

There are no exceptions at this time, he said; if a vehicle fails to comply with the limit regulations, no access will be permitted.

“Until now, 20 to 30 tons had commonly been the minimum loaded, and often cargo would be much heavier,” the source explained. “Especially more recently, the loads sometimes reached up to 40 to 50 tons due to overloading because of mineral exports that were done in 30-ton containers.”

The bridge is acutely susceptible to damage, he added, noting that North Korea has been overloading trucks with coal, and minerals such as gold, copper, silver, magnetite, molybdenum, and other minerals to earn in foreign currency and secure ‘loyalty funds’ for the leadership since the 1990s.

Mineral exports have reportedly seen a dramatic surge this year, explained by state efforts to reap in capital for Party Foundation Day preparations. However, no attending measures were implemented to control the pervasive practice of overburdening vehicles.

“We (the North) will face a sense of urgency to push out as many minerals as we can to get our hands on more money and import goods, but now with the restrictions on cargo volume now, traders will be swamped,” the source predicted, adding that the number of trucks on the road is also likely to jump significantly.

A flagrant disregard for concern over safety measures is entirely to blame for the accident, he lamented, noting that traders focus all their energies and concerns on raking in ‘loyalty funds’ above all else. While the need for weight regulations was irrefutable, the source surmised that the sudden modification will soon prove to be a double-edged sword.

Going forward, accidents will, presumably, decrease, but disgruntlement from traders faced with bringing in massive loads of supplies into the country leading up to the October 10 celebration is certain to peak, he concluded.

UPDATE 1 (2015-10-1): According to the Daily NK:

The Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge, connecting China’s Dandong and North Korea’s Sinuiju, has been shut down after damage sustained over a protracted period of time caused a truck to flip over. However, with only a number of days left until the Korean Workers’ Party foundation celebration, traffic was temporarily resumed on September 30th, Daily NK has learned.

“Today (September 30th) they resumed traffic just for one day so that North Korean traders can bring in supplies for the event after a truck crashed because of the damage on Monday,” a source from North Pyongan Province told Daily NK.

An additional source in the same province corroborated this news.

Officials have banned entry from October 1 to 4 so that they can restore the bridge, but facing urgent preparation for the Party’s 70th Foundation Day festivities, they put down steel plates as a temporary fix to get truck loads of supplies through, the source explained.

“The accident has thrown customs offices on either side of the border into mad panic,” she added. “Cadres from both customs services surveyed the site of the accident and put things into motion, so construction work is now underway.”

Starting at 8 p.m. on the day of the accident, train services were up and running, but the battered roads with deep crevices were covered with makeshift steel plates by North Korean workers, allowing vehicles that had entered Sinuiju to return to Dandong. Reconstruction work is currently being carried out by Chinese workers, according to the source.

The source speculated that the project would be finalized by October 5, opening up the bridge for a massive trade of goods, leading up to the Party celebration, which falls on the 10th.

ORIGINAL POST (2015-9-29): According to UPI:

A 72-year-old railroad bridge connecting North Korea and China was closed after a crash involving multiple trucks occurred on the North Korea side of the span on Monday.

The Yalu River Bridge, also known as the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge, was blocked after three or four Chinese trucks rolled at a portion of the bridge that had sunk between 13 and 22 feet, South Korean news network YTN reported.

The bridge has a lane for road vehicles and another for a pair of railway tracks. Trains traveling from China into North Korea were temporarily suspended, but service was resumed after the tracks were repaired, an unidentified source told YTN on Monday.

Another source told South Korean outlet CBS No Cut News the heavy trucks headed for Sinuiju overturned, fell and collided into the adjacent railway tracks, and the accident occurred between 10 and 11 a.m. Vehicular traffic was closed for the rest of the day, and more than 100 trucks from China waiting to enter North Korea were halted, the source said.

The number of casualties was not disclosed.

The bridge, completed in 1943, accounts for 70 percent of commercial traffic between China and North Korea, and the railroad runs from Sinuiju to Beijing.

China remains North Korea’s No. 1 trading partner, and North Korea imports more than it exports to Asia’s largest economy. Pyongyang’s trade dependence on China runs as high as 90.1 percent, according to South Korean government statistics [which exclude South Korean trade with the DPRK].

Read the full story here:
Truck accident on sinking North Korea bridge suspends traffic
UPI
2015-9-29

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China – DPRK open new shipping route

Friday, September 25th, 2015

According to Xinhua:

A bulk cargo and container shipping route between China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has been put into operation, focusing on coal import from DPRK and grocery export from China, authorities said on Friday.

The route, linking Longkou port of east China’s Shandong Peninsula to Nampo port of western DPRK was the first scheduled shipping line for bulk cargo and container between the two countries. It is serviced by seven ships, which complete one circuit of the ports every ten days, according to Longkou Port Group.

The route was jointly established by Longkou Port Group, Liaoning Hongxiang Industrial Group and a shipping company in DPRK in a bid to promote international trade under China’s “Belt and Road” initiative.

Located at the Bohai Sea coast and built in 1914, Longkou port handled 75.07 million tonnes of cargo and 550,000 TEU of containers last year.

“The opening of the route can help improve the service function of the port and is of great significance for the port’s transformation and upgrading,” said Zhang Haijun, general manager of Longkou Port Group.

Read the full story here:
Bulk cargo and container shipping route links China, DPRK
Xinhua
2015-9-25

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