Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

North Korea’s H-Bomb Test: The (Impossible) Economic Context

Thursday, January 7th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Who decides what in Pyongyang? Do fierce political battles rage between hardliners and reformers, where the former group struggles to replace nuclear belligerence with liberal market economics and trade? Whenever a purge or suspicious death occurs in Pyongyang, speculations come alive about potential policy changes by the regime.

It is a fool’s errand to make guesses about how North Korea’s claimed (but unlikely) hydrogen bomb test fits into the speculative dichotomy of modernizers versus conservatives. After all, such simple divisions are rare in the political life of any country. But looking at the test in the context of the past year makes it clear that Pyongyang is pursuing a messy mix of policies that are mutually exclusive.

At the same time as one “hand” of the regime attempts to draw foreign investment, diversify its investor base to include other countries than China, and take its industrial zones from plans to reality, the other “hand” is actively working against economic progress by nuclear tests and diplomatic belligerence. Either the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, or it does, but just doesn’t want it to succeed.

Perhaps this is the way that Byungjin – Kim Jong-un’s strategy of parallel development of nuclear weapons and the economy – was intended to work. (If so, the regime seems to be dedicating much more resources and energy to the nuclear part, while the economic one still mostly consists of words.) In any case, Pyongyang is trying to achieve two goals at the same time, and it isn’t working.

For example, in 2013, the North Korean regime announced the creation of over ten special economic zones, with more added in both 2014 and 2015. Progress has been uneven. Still, the North Korean regime has continuously indicated that the zones are a priority and will continue to be improved. Just in November last year, new regulations were announced for the special economic zones. Visitors and analysts report that elite businesses have been doing better and better in North Korea, and that the economic environment has become increasingly freer.

Whatever the list of Pyongyang’s priorities may look like, January 6th was not a good day for those North Koreans tasked with planning, building and administering the country’s special economic zones and projects. North Korea is already an unlikely destination for most foreign investors. Many low-wage competitors already sit relatively close by the country, such as Vietnam and Cambodia. North Korea’s comparative advantages are really quite few. Things are already difficult and the claimed H-bomb test certainly won’t help.

The international sanctions are just one part of the problem. Even with knowledge of what the current sanctions regime permits investors to do, the test is a stark reminder that legal hurdles will keep being added as nuclear and missile tests continue. This should deter any investor without special connections, political motives or a financial death wish. Not to mention the terrible PR and public criticism that would follow any (at least western) company deciding to invest in North Korea.

And then, there is of course the China factor. Sure, Beijing doesn’t comply with sanctions the way it is obligated to do. Moreover, as the Choson Exchange blog points out, North Korean and Chinese businesses tend to find a way to get around the sanctions. Last but not least, to a large extent, Chinese investment and cooperation with North Korea is a regional issue, with much of it driven by the northeastern border regions that depend on trade and exchange with the country.

But this doesn’t mean that Beijing won’t ever take concrete action felt by Pyongyang. China’s worries about North Korea’s nuclear tests are arguably more warranted than those of any other country. Residents in Yanji, a Chinese city on the North Korean border, even felt tremors from the bomb test, and teachers and students were reportedly evacuated from schools near the border. A trend is only a trend until it is no more. At the very least, events like the nuclear test don’t exactly make Chinese officials more prone to want to facilitate economic cooperation and infrastructure investments for North Korea.

It’s almost painful to think of all those hours spent in the North Korean administration, drawing up plans for new economic development zones and projects, new laws for investments and other institutional changes to improve the economy, only to see their colleagues in another part of government work in the opposite direction. If (and this is a big “if”) there are indeed policy factions in the government, with modernizers and conservatives, the latter have scored a victory on January 6th, at the expense of the former.

UPDATE 2015-01-07: James Pearson and Ju-Min Park at Reuters have done a very interesting overview (with Michael Madden of NK Leadership Watch) of the people behind North Korea’s nuclear program. It’s an important illustration of the fact that interest groups are not just a thing of business, but also of politics and ideas. Read it here.

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Sinuiju-River Amnok Tourist Zone of DPRK opened to visitors

Thursday, December 24th, 2015

Sinuiju-River-Amnok-Tourist-Zone-2015-12-24

Sinuiju-trade-zone-2015-10-cropped

I noticed the construction of this area some time ago and reported it in 38 North last month. Now the North Koreans have told us something about it. According to KCNA (December 22):

Sinuiju-River Amnok Tourist Zone of DPRK Opened to Visitors

The Sinuiju-River Amnok tourist zone in the DPRK was opened to visitors with due ceremony on Sunday.

The zone, developed in the shore of the River Amnok jointly by the Korea Myohyangsan Travel Company and the Dandong International Travel Agency of China, has modern all-round service facilities.

Present at its opening ceremony were Ri Ung Chol, deputy director-general of the State General Bureau of Tourism, and other officials concerned of the DPRK and officials concerned and tourists from China.

An inauguration address and a congratulatory speech were made at the ceremony before cutting the tape for the completion of the tourist zone.

Then its participants went round the zone.

Here is some additional information from the Yonhap (2016-1-1):

Chinese media reports said the Chinese travel agency invested 50 million yuan ($7.6 billion) to build the facilities and construction begun in April last year.

The Chinese tourists arrived at the North Korean tourism zone on Wednesday, according to Chinese media reports.

The North Korean city of Sinuiju sits just the opposite of the Chinese border city of Dandong, where about 70 percent of bilateral trade between the allies is being conducted.

About 60,000 Chinese people are estimated to travel to North Korea via Dandong a year, with another 10,000 Chinese making tours to the North a year via Hunchun, according to Chinese industry estimates.

And according to the Choson Ilbo:

North Korea has opened a riverside passport-free, visa-free zone where Chinese tourists can shop duty-free has opened on the shore of the Apnok River in Sinuiju, China News Service reported Wednesday.

Visitors can stay for a day and also enjoy North Korean food and various performances, but they will have no access to the rest of the country.

The tourism zone sits at the point where a recently completed bridge crossing the Apnok River starts. “It was developed jointly by North Korean authorities and a travel agency in Dandong,” the news agency said.

It measures 130,000 sq.m and has cost 50 million yuan since construction began in April. It contains restaurants, duty-free shops, a theater and a cruise boat terminal.

It can accommodate up to 10,000 tourists at a time and a full tour can take up to five hours.

The passport-free rule is a huge departure for North Korea, which normally confiscates the passports of Chinese day visitors until they leave.

Instead they can get a travel pass by simply presenting their ID card. It is in theory issued the same day.

“The zone is an island-like area that has been built after part of the Apnok River shore on the side of Sinuiju was reclaimed,” a source in Dandong said. “It’s impossible for Chinese tourists to enter the North Korean mainland from there because soldiers block the road to Sinuiju.”

See this additional post on the Sinuiju International Economic Zone.

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Ri Ul-sol funeral procession

Monday, November 30th, 2015

For what it is worth, here is the route taken by Ri Ul-sol’s funeral procession:

ri-ul-sol-funeral

It started at the Central Worker’s Hall and ended at the Patriotic Martyr’s Cemetery. The route is approximately 17.5km (10.87 miles).

Michael Madden has info on Ri Ul-sol here, here, here, and here.

 

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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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The (Market) Forces of History in North Korea

Friday, October 30th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

The market is a common topic for debate in history. How did it impact the rise of the anti-slavery movement in the US and the UK? What impact did economic conditions have in the French Revolution? These questions are, and should be, asked in the current debate about North Korea’s socioeconomic development as well.

But despite the hope of many, the market might not simply be a story of growing individualism and disconnect from the power of the state. While such a trend may well be at work, it could also be the other way around.

This was recently illuminated through an interesting story by Reuters. In a visit to Pyongyang, they took a look at how markets and everyday business transaction function in North Korea at the moment. As they note, it is telling that a reporter from an international news agency can make transactions in the open, with a government minder by his side, at the black market rate. Business that previously had to be done in the shadows now happens in the open:

Shoppers openly slapped down large stacks of U.S. dollars at the cashier’s counter. They received change in dollars, Chinese yuan or North Korean won – at the black market rate. The same was true elsewhere in the capital: taxi drivers offered change for fares at black market rates, as did other shops and street stalls that Reuters visited.

The most obvious conclusion is that the state is adapting itself to the bottom-up development of the market. Indeed, this is the way the story is often told. In this narrative, the government is only reacting to developments and has long lost the economic policy initiative.

But one could also see a government that is confident enough to relax the rules. It just isn’t a certain fact that the state and the market are two opposing entities.

First, connections to the state still seem to be good for those wanting to trade on the market. For example, according to the surveys conducted by Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland that laid the foundation for Witness to Transformation (2011)party membership is still considered one of the best ways to get ahead in North Korea (or at least it was at the time when the surveys were conducted). A somewhat similar trend can be discerned in survey results presented by Byung-Yeon Kim of Seoul National University at a conference at Johns Hopkins SAIS in late September this year. Kim’s results also indicate that there is a strong positive correlation between party membership and participation in both the formal and informal economy.

Second, the government is making money off of the market. DailyNK recently reported that the fees charged by state authorities for market stalls was raised. They also noted that regulations of the markets seemed to have gotten more detailed over the years. As noted in this report published by the U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS, the space that the government allocates to markets has consistently increased in the past few years. Not only have official markets grown, many of them have also been renovated and given better building structures.

All in all, this paints a picture of a government that controls markets while allowing them more space to function. It is not clear that formerly black market activity happening in the open means that the market is gaining ground at the expense of the state. They may well be moving together. That is good news for those hoping for stability, but bad news for those banking on a market-induced revolution. Despite the hope of many that the market will cause the demise of the regime, the role of the market force in North Korea’s history is far from clear.

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A closer look at Kim Jong-un’s forestry speech

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein 

Vice-premier Choe Yong-gon was reportedly executed because he criticized Kim Jong-un’s reforestation policy initiative. It is interesting to look in more depth at what these policies actually are.

The forestry issue is tightly connected and reinforced both to the lack of food and energy, and to flooding damage. (I have laid out some of these connections in an earlier post.) There can be little doubt that Kim Jong-un is justified in focusing attention to the forestry issue.

The best (and only?) official guide I have seen so far to the policies underlying the reforestation drive of the past few months – which, again, Choe was reportedly executing for criticizing – is a speech delivered by Kim Jong-un to “senior officials of the party, the army and the state economic organs on February 26, Juche 104 (2015).” To understand the reforestation policies and their pitfalls, this speech is an interesting piece of information. Here are a few interesting things to note from the speech:

First, Kim is quite frank about describing the core problem. In the beginning of the speech, he talks openly about how the “arduous march” (the famine of the 1990s) has led people to cut down trees on a large scale across the country. He also mentions the reasons: to “obtain cereals and firewood”, and talks about how this causes landslides and flooding. Perhaps this is part of an overall pattern in recent years where North Korean authorities are less prone to deny the extent of problems and sometimes even exaggerate them, as may have been the case with the drought impact warnings of the early summer.

But it is also interesting to speculate about whether this says something about the way that information is treated in the uppermost echelons of North Korea. Some have claimed that Kim Il-sung might not have been informed of the extent of the country’s economic problems in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and that this might have been the case for Kim Jong-il as well. In this context, the frank way in which Kim Jong-un describes the results of the lack of food and fuel is striking.

Earlier official narratives of the impacts of natural disasters, like those in the mid-1990s, have often blamed the impacts on nature rather than on politics. Kim Jong-un seems to see it the other way around (which of course makes all the sense in the world).

Second, Kim seems to criticize politicized forestry management. In one sentence, he says that trees shouldn’t just be planted on official days and ceremonial “tree-planting days” (my emphasis):

Forest planting should not be done in such a way as planting some trees ceremoniously on tree­-planting days or transplanting fully­ grown trees, as was done in the past. It should be done in the way of raising young trees in large numbers and enlisting all the people in transplanting and cultivating them.

Maybe I am reading too much into this, but this can be read as a criticism of the North Korean practice of honoring various occasions by economic measures, like doling out extra rations on the leader’s birthdays et cetera. At least in forestry, Kim seems to be advocating pragmatism at the expense of ideological rigour. He also gives an anti-formalism shoutout later on, saying that

The plan for forest restoration should not remain in figures or charts on a piece of paper.

Third, Kim indicates that tree-felling will become more severely punished. He calls unauthorized felling of trees an act of “treachery” (my emphasis):

Random felling of trees in mountains must be prohibited. Now some people climb mountains and cut down trees to obtain firewood or timber without permission as they do not care a bit about the country’s forests. Unauthorized felling of trees is tantamount to treachery. All the people on this land should treasure and protect even a blade of grass and a tree of their country.

Later on, he says that

Random felling should be made a serious issue of whatever the unit concerned is and whoever the person concerned is.

This might speak against the sense of pragmatism mentioned above. Of course, people aren’t cutting down trees for fun or to ruin things for the state. It’s part of the coping-behavior that has been developed since the famine, where people do what they can to get by.

The state has expanded the scope for what is allowed in other areas, such as private market trade, in order to better align with the reality on the ground. Here, in contrast, Kim seems to suggest that cutting down trees must be punished more harshly, even though the core reasons why people cut down trees to begin with – lack of fuel and food – remain. Implementing harsher punishments would probably be a difficult task for local authorities.

Kim does mention that the fuel problem needs to be solved that that trees should be planted specifically for firewood. But almost in passing: he basically says that the fuel problem should be solved and moves on (I don’t imagine that most North Korean localities have the resources necessary to replace firewood with biogas at the moment):

In order to conserve forest resources, we should solve the people’s problem of fuel. Positive measures should be taken to solve this problem, including creating forests for firewood in every place and increasing the production and supply of coal for the people’s living. There are several units which have solved the fuel problem with biogas, fly ash or ultraanthracite. By actively popularizing their experience, we should ensure that all regions solve the fuel problem on any account by their own effort.

The strategy outlined isn’t all that impressive, and the forestry issue highlights politics as a battle for scarce resources: on the one hand, the state needs to prevent the floods and landslides that keep coming back every summer. On the other hand, people on the ground need a way to access firewood and space to grow food as the state isn’t providing these things. The problem won’t be solved by just saying that everyone should have access to fuel and all will be well. Nevertheless, it’ll be interesting to follow how this all plays out, and how the policies that Kim has outlined will be implemented (or not implemented) on the ground.

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Cost of defection rising (or demand curves slope down)

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

According to Reuters:

It’s much more dangerous, and twice as expensive, to defect from North Korea since Kim Jong Un took power in Pyongyang three and a half years ago, refugees and experts say, and far fewer people are escaping from the repressive and impoverished country.

With barbed-wire fencing erected on both sides of the Tumen River that marks the border with China, more guard posts and closer monitoring of cross-border phone calls, the number of North Koreans coming annually to the South via China has halved since 2011.

Most defections are arranged through brokers, usually Chinese citizens who are ethnically Korean, and their charges have doubled to about $8,000 per person, beyond the reach of most North Koreans – and that gets them only as far as China.

“Intelligence has stepped up monitoring (of phone calls) on border passages, dampening brokers’ activities,” said Han Dong-ho, a research fellow at the government-run Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, who regularly interviews defectors.

“The more dangerous, the more expensive. Many connections with brokers, which North Koreans call ‘lines’, have been lost.”

The crackdown on defections under Kim has come even as his government has eased restrictions on economic activity, resulting in a slight improvement in livelihoods for many, and providing less reason to escape.

The hundreds of miles of barbed wire strung across T-shaped concrete pillars on the banks of the Tumen were put in place in 2012, according to residents on the Chinese side and historical satellite imagery.

On the North Korean side, guard posts, dogs and shabby concrete watch towers dot the banks of the river, where locals said children from both sides once played together on the winter ice.

“Since Kim Jong Un came in, there have been times where local brokers have refused to go to certain areas on the Chinese side because of the increased security risk,” said Sokeel Park of Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), which works with defectors.

There are 27,810 North Koreans resettled in South Korea, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry.

The annual number of defections rose steadily from the late 1990s, according to South Korean government data, when a devastating famine sent desperate North Koreans into China in search of food. It peaked in 2009, when 2,914 North Koreans arrived in the South – the greatest influx since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

But in Kim Jong Un’s first year in power in 2012, just 1,502 North Koreans made it to the South – a 44 percent decrease on the previous year. Last year, the number was 1,396.

Disguises and secret codes
From his smoke-filled office in Seoul, human rights activist and defector middleman Kim Yong-hwa manages secret hideouts in China for North Korean refugees, sending them South Korean clothes for disguise and secret codes to communicate with brokers.

“There are still many people who want to cross over to China and to South Korea, but the reality has changed,” said Kim, who is himself a defector and heads the NK Refugees Human Rights Association of Korea.

Kim connects North Koreans hiding in China with brokers there, asking the defectors to get new mobile phones or wipe their contacts to keep traceable calls to a minimum.

Tighter border controls, however, have significantly increased the risk – and therefore the cost – of defecting.

Kim, who says he has helped thousands of North Koreans flee the country over the last decade, has considered closing his business this year due to his network of willing brokers dwindling to 20 from about 60 in the past.

“They demand advance payments now, given the risks they have in China,” Kim said, adding that he has resources to help only half of the 40 or 50 North Koreans who call him every month.

The overwhelming majority of defectors are female, and come from just two neighboring provinces in the northeast of the country, far from the capital Pyongyang, in an area bordering China where North Koreans considered disloyal under the country’s political class system have traditionally been sent.

Unlike men, who tend to have obligations to the state and workplace, North Korean women often have more flexibility and are freer to trade, smuggle, or secretly flee. Women accounted for a record-high 83 percent of the 292 defections to South Korea in the first three months of 2015.

Those who make the illegal crossing risk being shot, or repatriated and possibly tortured, according to a United Nations report last year.

But beyond the danger of getting caught at the border, an improvement in living conditions in some parts of North Korea may affect anyone’s resolve to leave the country. Economically, North Korea has changed since the famine years of the nineties, and a burgeoning market economy means food is easily obtained.

“All things being equal, an improving economy in North Korea, especially in the northeast provinces, would also lead to a decline in defector numbers,” said Park of LiNK.

But a gradual improvement in living standards cannot account for the 44 percent drop in defections under Kim Jong Un, Park said, pointing to the ramped-up border security.

“Compared to 10 years ago the primary motivation for defection has gone from food, to freedom,” he said.

Read the full story here:
It now costs $8,000 per person to defect from North Korea
Reuters
Ju-min Park and James Pearson
2015-5-21

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Dandong businesses propose lowering trade duties

Monday, March 30th, 2015

According to Yonhap:

Chinese firms have proposed establishing a non-tariff trade market with North Korea where cheap goods can be traded without tariffs between the two nations, according to the Chinese border city of Dandong on Monday.

The proposal was made by representatives of Chinese firms in Dandong on Thursday when they met with a North Korean trade delegation, led by Pak Ung-sik, director of the North’s Korean International Exhibition Corporation, according to a statement posted on the Chinese city’s website.

More than 70 percent of bilateral trade between North Korea and China is conducted through Dandong.

Pak reacted positively to the proposal, saying he would relay it to the relevant North Korean authorities and hopes to hold more discussions over the proposal, according to the statement.

Another Chinese border city, Tumen, in the northeastern Jilin province, opened a non-tariff trade market with North Korea in 2010, but the market was quickly suspended as North Korea banned civilians from participating in it due to concerns over the spread of banned materials that may enrage the North’s leadership.

At that time, Tumen had pledged not to impose tariffs on the trade of goods worth less than 8,000 yuan (US$1,287) per person.

China’s is the economic lifeline of North Korea, but their political ties remain strained over the North’s defiant pursuit of nuclear ambitions.

North Korea’s annual trade with China fell 2.4 percent from a year ago in 2014, marking the first decline since 2009, according to data compiled by the Beijing unit of the South’s Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA).

The North’s trade with China totaled US$6.39 billion last year, compared with $6.54 billion in 2013, the data showed.

Read the full story here:
Chinese firms propose non-tariff trade of cheap goods with N. Korea
Yonhap
2015-3-30

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Friday fun: My first Yeon-mi Park post…

Friday, March 20th, 2015

Though Yeon-mi Park is arguably one of the most well-known North Korean defectors these days, for numerous reasons I have not devoted much of my time to her work. I was also surprised when Uriminzokkiri released two videos discredit Ms. Park (Video one in three parts is here. Video two is here). Maybe someday the North Koreans will catch onto the fact that these videos actually raise the status/profile of those they are trying to vilify, but in the meantime we can have some fun with them.

Ms. Park is the third North Korean defector (of whom I am aware) about which the DPRK has made these sorts of films. She now joins company with Shin Dong-hyuk and and Ma Yong-hae, though doubtless there are more.

The second video attacking Ms. Park was interesting to me due to the use of geography to try and discredit her story. So I thought I would write about what the video claims and examine whether its assertions hold up to some basic scrutiny. As was the case with the videos attacking Mr. Shin, the North Koreans appear to unintentionally verify some Ms. Park’s claims. So let’s begin.

The video states at the 3:33 mark:

In one of her lies, Park said that about eight kilometers from Hyesan in Ryanggang Province there is a “Juche Rock” in a peak of a mountain called “Kot-dong-ji (?)” in Komsan-ri (검산리). She said if you look down from that mountain peak you can see Pongsu-ri (봉수리) of Pochon County and [the] Amnok River. She said she took that route to escape.

Juche-rock-Hyesan-Uriminzokkiri

But in fact there is a highway from Hyesan to Pochon County and just on its left side there is a small rock called “Juche Rock.” And if you look down from there the opposite side is Changbai  County of Jilin Province, China.

Yonpung-dong-Uriminzokkiri

On the far other side of [the] Amok River, you can see not the Pongsu-ri of Pochon County but Yonpung-dong, Hyesan City.  So how on earth did she manage to find a mountain here in the region which she is said to have crossed at the risk of her life?

The video was indeed filmed in Hyesan, but unfortunately for the North Koreans, when I combine (a) data in the video with (b) administrative data published in North Korea with (c) satellite imagery, I get results that verify claims made by Ms. Park (as described in the video).

Here is a Google Earth satellite image  of the area described in the video (where Ms. Park is alleged to have crossed the Amnok River):

Juche-rock-hyesan-2015-3-20

To begin with, “Juche Rock” (41.449298°, 128.247329°) can clearly be seen on top of a mountain in Hyesan, Ryanggang province. I am not sure why the North Koreans wanted to bother disproving the existence of a mountain–especially if they are going to record a video from the top of it.

Secondly, “Juche Rock” is on the outer border of Komsan-ri:

Komsan-ri-Hyesan-2015-3-20

Thirdly, later in the video (6:16), the North Koreans identify a house they claim was Ms. Park’s in Sinhung-dong, Hyesan City. Here is a satellite picture of that house (Marked in yellow: 41.397725°, 128.171969°):

Park-house-sinhung-2015-3-20

I have no idea if the Park family actually lived here, but this house is exactly 8.48 km from “Juche Rock”. It’s a bit further on foot. So again, the satellite data is confirming what the video asserts Ms. Park claimed.

Finally, the point about the village to the north of “Juche Rock” being Yonpung-dong, Hyesan City, not  Pongsu-ri of Pochon County, was the most difficult to for me to untangle. This confusion stemmed from two causes. The first was because Ms. Park is technically wrong about “Pongsu-ri” being the next village north of Juche Rock. The second source of confusion is because the North Koreans recently changed the border between Hyesan City and Pochon County and have apparently done some renaming in the process.

I have three maps (published in North Korea) that identify ‘Yonpung-dong, Hyesan City’ as ‘Hwajon-ri (화전리), Pochon County.’ You can see the area for yourself on Google Earth at  41.460212°, 128.231495°. Apparently sometime recently (I don’t know when), the North Koreans shifted the border of Hyesan City further north into Pochon County. At this time I suspect that Hwajon-ri was renamed Yonpung-dong. The only evidence that I have of the border change is a blurry map that the North Koreans produced to show the location of Hyesan’s new economic development zone. It shows the Hyesan border has moved north from its original location, however even it retains the name “Hwajon-ri.” The only source I have that the area has been renamed “Yonpung-dong” is this Uriminzokkiri video. But all of this certainly took place after Ms. Park had left the DPRK.

Here are approximate before and after pictures of the Hyesan – Pochon border changes:

2Hyesan-old-2015-3-20

Hyesan-new-2015-3-20

To Ms. Park’s credit, however, there is an area just north of Yonpung-dong/Hwajon-ri called ‘Pongsu’ (봉수). It is not a ‘ri’, but it used to have a train station with the same name. The train station has since been torn down, but that may be the reason she remembers the area as “Pongsu.”

Pongsu-Station

So to recap: The North Koreans published a video in which they called Ms. Park a liar (among other things) and used geography to prove that she had mislead people. The geographic points they raise in the video, however, tend to support comments Ms. Park is alleged to have made.

There is a separate question as to whether Ms. Park made the claims referenced in the video, and to that I have no idea. As I mentioned, I have not paid particular attention to her story.

However, I am delighted that digging into this video has taught me that the border between Hyesan and Pochon has changed.

There are other claims in the video that I don’t want to address because, frankly, I am not qualified–and it is Friday.

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Two new books out on North Korea…

Thursday, March 19th, 2015

Two new books are out on North Korea. Together they “book-end” North Korea’s history. One takes place in the beginning. The other takes place in current times. Info and links below.

North Korea Confidential: Private Markets, Fashion Trends, Prison Camps, Dissenters and Defectors
By Daniel Tudor and James Pearson

North-Korea-Confidential

You can learn more about the book and order it from Amazon.com.

I have read bits of this book and found it very interesting.

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The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot: The True Story of the Tyrant Who Created North Korea and The Young Lieutenant Who Stole His Way to Freedom
By Blaine Harden

Leader-and-pilot

You can learn more about this book and order it at amazon.com.

Media coverage of the book here and here.

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Other books, videos, blogs, etc are here.

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