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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 not exactly in Komsan-ri, but it is close enough (approximately 3 km) that I am willing to forgive Ms. Park’s confusion on the matter:

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.

______________

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.

______________

Other books, videos, blogs, etc are here.

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DPRK also acknowledges Shin was in Camp 18 (unintentionally)

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

On October 26, 2014, Uriminzokkiri uploaded two videos to YouTube to discredit human rights activist Shin Dong-hyuk. Video one is here. Video two is here.

Below are some notes I took from the videos (back in October). I shared them with a couple of friends, but never published them. Point number 4 seems most relevant to the news this weekend, that Shin spent time in Camp 18.

1. Shin’s father, Shin Kyong-sop (신경섭?) claims he was born in Ryongbuk-ri, Mundok County: 룡북리, 39.498574°, 125.455410°. However, this ri was made part of Chongnam District. Chongnam District was initially carved out of Mundok County in 1980. In 1998 it was abolished and reincorporated into Mundok County. However, in 1999 Chongnam District was re-established with Ryongbuk-ri and Sin-ri of Mundok County. Either Shin’s father did not know that his home village had been moved into a new jurisdiction [because he has been incarcerated and not updated], or he is reporting that the ri was part of Mundok when he was born (it was). Ryongbuk-ri is appx 67km from Tukjang (as the crow flies), where Shin’s father lives now (according to the videos). More on Tukjang below.

Ryongbuk-ri-DPRK-ATLAS Tukjang-SP-Province

2. The video asserts that Shin was born in 1980 (1:01, in video 1) and that his original name is Shin In-gun (신인근). Shin acknowledged this name, I am unsure about the birth year.

3. Shin claims he is from Oedong-ri (외동리, 39.575453°, 126.071407°) which is inside [officially unacknowledged] Camp 14. (1:37, Video 1). Camp boundaries in yellow.

Oedong-ri-GE

4. Shin’s father claims that they did not live in a political prison camp [Camp 14] (1:52, Video 1), but in Pongchang-ri (봉창리, 39.562650°, 126.077345°). Pongchang-ri is on the opposite side of the Taedong River from Oedong-ri in Camp 14, where Shin claims he is from. Pongchang-ri became part of Pukchang County in February 1984. Before that, Pongchang-ri was officially part of Kaechon County (where Camp 14 is located).

Pongchang-ri-Oedong-ri

However more importantly, Pongchang-ri is inside the former Camp 18. Shin’s father offers a photo he claims is of a six-year-old Shin in Pongchang-ri. The year would be 1986, but Camp 18 was not closed until the 2000s. So revealing that Shin lived in Pongchang-ri as a child is admitting he was in a prison camp (Camp 18)…just not the one he claims to have been from (Camp 14). So now the North Koreans and Shin can at least agree he was in Camp 18.

camp-18-outline-shin

I have posted 2010 KCTV footage of Pongchang-ri (coal mine) here which matches the satellite imagery of the site.

5. Dad says Shin went to primary school in Pongchang and secondary school in Tukjang (2:07, Video 1). But graduated from a different secondary school (“Suwon Secondary School”) and got a job in the “Suwon Pit”.  [How common is it for North Korean schoolchildren to change secondary schools? Under what conditions does this happen?]  Mr. Song Yoon-bok, chief secretary of “No Fence in North Korea,” has told me that the father did not say “Suwon” but rather “Suan,” and Uriminzokkiri misspelled it in English on the videos. “Suan” is a small area of eastern Pongchang-ri, and “Several former Camp 18 survivors now living in Seoul certainly remember the name and location…in Camp 18.” I cannot find this area on any maps, but a defector named Kim Hye-Suk identified it in this publication.

After the Suwon/Suan pit, Shin’s father claims he left home and moved to Puhung Mine in Unsan (2:53, Video 1). However when Shin was 12, (December 1992), Puhung Workers` District was incorporated into Sunchon City. It is still in Sunchon City. So his father is incorrect about the county/city that his son’s mine was in (unless Shin started working there before he was 12).

Puhung-mine-shin

Shin’s father also says that most of Shin’s injuries come from mining accidents (3:23, Video 1). As of 2015-1-17, Shin still maintains his injuries are from torture.

Also, the father does not seem surprised when he is asked about family members being “raped to death” (4:05) [Like he does when he is asked about “reward Marriage”]. I believe that even most North Koreans would have a more visceral reaction to that question. Implies more coaching.

6. According to the video, Shin’s parents live in Kalgol-dong No. 146 of Tukjang Workers’ District. 39.577267°, 126.225550°. The North Korean video footage matches satellite imagery of Tukjang Workers’ District, but not of Kalgol-dong (3:20, Video 1). Tukjang Workers’ District lies just outside boundaries of former Camp 18.

 kalgol-146-Uriminzokkiri kalgol-146-GE

7. The neighbor who discusses the alleged murder committed by Shin’s mother and brother seems to know about Shin’s “treasonous activities” in South Korea. How could she (or his father) have any idea what he is up to outside of the country unless they were coached? Also, the North Koreans are claiming that Shin’s mother and brother are guilty of axe murder! This is the second instance of axe murder in the DPRK of which I am aware (the first instance is quite famous).  How many axe murders are there in the DPRK?

8. Shin’s father says he married his second wife in 1996 and Shin was 19 then (8:18, video 1). But if Shin was born in 1980, he should only be 16 (8:26, Video 1). The math on this is pretty easy, so the fact that he got it wrong implies it could have been fabricated. Shin’s father claims the newly-married couple lived with Shin for five years (8:40, Video 1), that would be from 1996 until 2001. Shin should be 16-21 years old during this period, but according to dad’s erroneous age he would be 19-24. This would mean that he moved to Puhung Mine when he was 21 (or 24 by fathers count).

When Shin’s father states that Shin was 19 when they were married, the mother-in-law nods her head in agreement (8:31, Video 1). At 8:40, however, there is a subtle cut in the video. The reason for the cut remains unknown (more coaching?). After the cut, Shin’s step-mother says that they lived with Shin for 3 years (1996-1999). She did not correct the age error. If Shin left their home in 1999, he would have moved to Puhung Mine in 1999 at the age of 19.

The manager at the Puhung Mine claims that Shin arrived in August 2002 (1:54, video 1), so there is a gap here of approximately one year by the father’s data and three years by the step-mother’s data. The mine manager describes Shin as “burly” (4:25). Not a description I would use.

9. The video claims Shin raped 13-year old at Puhung Mine (5:31) in June 2001 (5:45). Shin would be 21 then. This is over a year before he was employed at the Puhung Mine according to the manager. Why was he there? He should have still been living with his parents in Tukjang. Why was he never arrested or tried for the crime?

Other notes:
A. Shin’s uncle is in the video. Has Shin said anything about him?
B. Shin’s father was able to remarry a younger woman? 70 vs 56.
C. Shin’s father has a nice tv and radio. Is this really his home?
D. Finally: The DPRK previously tried to discredit Shin with this written statement. This written statement claims that Shin is from Soksan-ri (now part of Tukjang–the part that matches the video footage above). Soksan-ri is not ever mentioned in these videos by name, and it is not the same area of Tukjang as Kalgol-dong. There is also additional information on crimes committed by Shin’s father which are never address in the videos. This statement also mentions a first border crossing in 2002, after which Shin was sent back to the DPRK.

Hopefully Mr. Harden can get Mr. Shin to address some of these points in a revised publication.

Addendum: For the record, I have met Mr. Shin a couple of times at events in Washington. The extent of my interaction with him has been limited to a couple of handshakes. I have never emailed him, interviewed him, or had an extensive conversation with him.

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Camp 15 update…

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

UPDATE 1 (2015-2-17): HRNK has published a report on Camp 15 that confirms some of the information on this web page and adds more.

ORIGINAL POST (2014-12-9): I do not really focus in human rights issues. The only real exception to this is that I keep up with new satellite imagery of incarceration facilities when pictures are released on services like Google Earth.

In the past couple of years, we have seen interesting developments in the camps. No.’s 18 and 22 were closed, and are being converted into ordinary villages and coal mines. I was also the first to write about the expansion of Camp 14 and Camp 25. There have also been minor changes to Camp 16, and I was able to point out exports from the camp that are possibly used for generating hard currency.

So now we turn our heads to Camp 15, AKA Yodok. This was the most “well known” of the prison camps before Shin Dong-hyok’s book on Camp 14 was published. Yodok was the subject of Kang Chol-hwan’s The Aquariums of Pyongyang, and it even inspired a musical.

Camp 15 is an enormous facility in Yodok County, South Hamgyong Province. It borders Maengsan County, Nyongwon County and Taehung County in South Phyongan Province. The camp is over 22km from north to south and over 20km from east to west. There are two entrances to the camp. The main entrance is on the south side, just north of kuup-ri (구읍리) and approximately six kilometers from the town of Yodok (요덕). There is a secondary entrance on the north end of the camp on Paek-san that borders with Nyongwon County. According to North Korean sources, there are four villages (리) officially listed within the camp perimeter: Ryongphyong-ri (룡평리),  Phyongjon-ri (평전리), Ripsok-ri (립석리) and Taesuk-ri (대숙리).

HRNK’s Hidden Gulag describes the camp security perimeter this way:

The whole encampment is surrounded by a barbed-wire fence measuring 3 to 4 meters (10 to 13 feet) in height. In some areas there are walls 2 to 3 meters (7 to 10 feet) tall, topped with electrical wire. Along the fence there are watchtowers measuring 7 to 8 meters (23 to 26 feet) in height, set at 1-kilometer (0.62-mile) intervals, and patrolled by 1,000 guards armed with automatic rifles and hand grenades. Additionally, there are teams with guard dogs. Inside the camp, each village has two guards on duty at all times.

 

Yodok-Overview-2014-12-9

Pictured above: The borders of Camp 15, AKA, Yodok.

On November 8, the Daily NK published  a story claiming that the camp had been closed and torn down:

“That political prison camp that used to be in Yodeok County in South Hamkyung has already been broken up. There’s not a trace of it left,” the source, who is with the military in the northerly province, claimed in conversation with Daily NK on the 7th. However, the disbanding of Camp 15 does not seem to have brought liberty for many of its inmates. According to the same source, “The political prisoners who were there have been divided up and moved to camps 14 and 16.”

I have viewed satellite imagery from as recent as October 20, 2014, and based on that evidence, I am unsure of the present status of the camp. Mines have been closed along with Sorimchon District, but guard housing has increased, as have security units. I also saw no change in the security perimeter.

Below is a list of changes with before and after images that can be seen on Google Earth. Although the latest Google Earth imagery is dated 2014-5-5, I did not see anything on imagery from October 20, 2014 that added to this analysis.

1. “Sorimchon District (aka Kumchon-ri)” has mostly been torn down:

Yodok-Sorimchon-2008-12-12

Image Date (Google Earth): 2008-12-12

Yodok-Sorimchon-2014-5-5

Image Date (Google Earth): 2014-5-5

This area was first described (in English) in the second version of HRNK’s Hidden Gulag (See pages: 56, 64, 66, and 68. On Page 69 is a map, and on page 199 is a labeled satellite image).

Sometime between 2008-12-12 and 2014-5-5 most of these buildings were destroyed. The only remaining building is thought to be the Ministry for State Security (MSS, SSD, NSA) office.

2. A building identified by HRNK in 2003 as a “holding cell” in Knup-ri area was torn down and replaced by additional guard housing (this probably happened sometime around 2008-12-12). Hidden Gulag refers to “Knup-ri” but I believe this actually refers to “Kuup-ri”, which is the name of the village that lies just outside the camp’s perimeter:

Yodok-holding-cell-2008-12-12

Image Date (Google Earth): 2008-12-12

Yodok-holding-cell-2014-5-5

Image date (Google Earth): 2014-5-5

But between 2002 and 2008, this area saw a significant increase in guard housing:

HRNK-Knup-guard-housing-2002

Yodok-Knup-guard-housing-2008-12-12

All of this housing remained as of October 20, 2014.

3. In the Knup-ri guard housing area, a new park or cemetery appears to be under construction:

Yodok-cemetery-2008-12-12

Image Date (Google Earth): 2008-12-12

Yodok-cemetery-2014-5-5

Image Date (Google Earth): 2014-5-5

4. Mining area near Taesuk-ri torn down (TBD if it will be renovated):

Yodok-taesuk1-2008-12-12

Image Date (Google Earth): 2008-12-12

Yodok-Taesuk1-2014-5-5

Image Date (Google Earth): 2014-5-5

Yodok-taesuk2-2008-12-12

Image Date (Google Earth): 2008-12-12

Yodok-taesuk2-2014-5-5

Image Date (Google Earth): 2014-5-5

5. A mine in Ripsok-ri was also torn down (TBD if it will be renovated):

Yodok-ripsok-mine-2008-12-12

Image Date (Google Earth): 2008-12-12

Yodok-ripsok-mine-2014-5-5

Image Date (Google Earth): 2014-5-5

5. Mining activity in Phyongjon-ri has also apparently come to a halt:

Yodok-Phyongjon-mine-2003-10-1

Image Date (Google Earth): 2003-10-1

Yodok-Phyongjon-mine-2014-5-5

Image Date (Google Earth): 2014-5-5

6. The camp initiated a logging site:

Yodok-logging-2003-10-1

Image Date (Google Earth): 2003-10-1

Yodok-logging-2014-5-5

Image Date (Google Earth): 2014-5-5

7. Two new security units have been built:

Yodok-new-security-2008-12-12

Image Date (Google Earth): 2008-12-12

Yodok-new-security-2014-5-5

Image Date (Google Earth): 2014-5-5

Yodok-sec2-2008-12-12

Image Date (Google Earth): 2008-12-12

Yodok-sec2-2014-5-5

Image Date (Google Earth): 2014-5-5

8. A new checkpoint building has been built on the northern perimeter crossing: 

Yodok-border-post-2008-12-12

Image Date (Google Earth): 2008-12-12

Yodok-border-post-2014-5-5

Image Date (Google Earth): 2014-5-5

9. A new facility has been constructed in Knup-ri area that appears to be a new factory:

Yodok-new-building-2008-12-12

Image Date (Google Earth): 2008-12-12

Yodok-new-building-2014-5-5

Image Date (Google Earth): 2014-5-5

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Hungnam Industrial Development Zone to be built in DPRK

Friday, December 5th, 2014

According to KCNA:

The Hungnam Industrial Development Zone will be built in Hamhung City, South Hamgyong Province of the DPRK.

The zone is to be engaged mainly in bonded processing, machine and equipment making and production of chemical goods, building-materials and medicines, according to an official concerned.

It is now drawing attention of foreign governments and investors for its favorable geographical conditions and economic foundations.

In around the area there are harbor and railway station, several power plants and the Songchon River as well as various industrial establishments, including Ryongsong Machine Complex, February 8 Vinalon Complex and Hamhung Wood Processing Factory.

The area is also favorable for tourism as it has Majon bathing beach and Majon Hotel.

A development area for the first stage is 2 square kilometers and the DPRK government plans to encourage various forms of development projects including joint venture between the country’s relevant enterprises and foreign investors.

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Did a forest fire burn down Kim Jong-il’s official birthpalce?

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

UPDATE 1 (2015-1-26): The Milyong Revolutionary site has not appeared on the evening news (to the best of my knowledge) since the fire was reported.

ORIGINAL POST (2014-1023): According to the Daily NK:

A raging wildfire that broke out on October 21st in North Korea’s Samjiyon County, Yangkang Province is said to have burned down former leader Kim Jong Il’s home on Mount Baekdu near Milyong, the alleged birthplace of the late leader, the Daily NK has learned.

“The fire in Samjiyon County has spread to Baekam County putting the country in a state of emergency,” a source in Yangkang Province told the Daily NK on Tuesday. “The Baekdu Milyong home and most of the historic revolutionary landmarks have gone up in flames.”

“The 10th Corps [a military body charged with maintain order and security] in Yangkang Province, the State Security Department, and provincial units of the People’s Safety Ministry are all on high alert,” the source elaborated. “To determine the cause of the fire, cadres from the Central Party have also been dispatched.”

North Korea appears to be trying to wipe out the fire by mobilizing residents in the area. “They started broadcasts from the 20th in downtown Hyesan, and even on the Third Broadcast [fixed cable system to which only North Korean residents are exposed], they’ve been saying that everyone actively must lend a hand to get the fire under control,” the source said. It is not only in Hyesan City, but residents in Bochon [Pochon], Unheung [Unhung], Baekam [Paekam], and Shinpa [Sinpha] Counties that have also been mobilized to combat the wildfire.

“The autumn air is dry and so are the leaves. On top of that the winds are strong, so they haven’t been able to effectively fight the fire,” she went on. “Despite days having passed since the fire broke out, they haven’t been able to tame the flames.”

“Already people are saying, whether the fire was deliberate or an accident, anyone tied to it will probably be executed,” she said, speculating, “If it’s arson, it will be a huge problem, since it will be seen as treason. Even if that’s not the case, they will be held accountable for not managing a key historic site of the country.”

“Some security officials have said that this incident will not end with simply one or two people being held responsible,” the source alleged. “Even provincial Party members have been staying onsite, eating and sleeping there, to try to put out the fire.”

North Korean state media outlets have yet to report on the fire, but attention is on how or if it will provide coverage of the incident.

I am unable to obtain a recent satellite image of the area, but this one was published in the Donga Ilbo:

Samjiyon-fire-Donga-Ilbo-2014-10-23

This satellite image is fairly low quality, but it does not appear to me that there is a fire at the Milyong Revolutionary site.

Read the full stories here:
Fire Swallows Kim Jong Il’s Landmark Home
Daily NK
Kang Mi Jin
2014-10-23

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American released from North Korea

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

The AP reports that Jeffrey Fowle has been released from the DPRK.

Here is coverage in Reuters, Daily NKThe Guardian.

Secretary of State Kerry says no quid-pro-quo.

Previous stories on the case here.

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Energy supply in the DPRK’s SEZs

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

The Nautilus Institute has published an interesting paper on energy infrastructure in the DPRK’s initial four special economic zones: Rason, Hwanggumphyong, Kaesong, Kaesong, and Kumgang.

Here is the publication information and  a link:

“Supplying Energy Needs for the DPRK’s Special Economic Zones and Special Administrative Regions: Electricity Infrastructure Requirements”
Nautilus Institute
Roger Cavazos & David von Hippel
2014-8-19

Here is the introduction:

The Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (DPRK) uses special economic zones as a mechanism for engaging in commercial activity with other nations without substantially converting its economy to a market model; earning hard currency while reducing some of the social and political risks associated with a broader opening of the DPRK economy. The DPRK recently announced its intent to increase the number of Special Designated Zones, including Special Economic Zones (SEZ) and Special Administrative Regions (SAR) in the country by fourteen.[1] In most cases, these Special Designated Zones (we will use “Special Zone”, or “SZ”,as the generic term in this Working Paper to apply to Special Designated Zones) will require energy supply (and demand) infrastructure that is now missing, or insufficient, at all existing and proposed Special Zone sites. Even though past is not prologue—and the mechanisms for supplying energy needs to new SZs may be different than those used in the past, this paper seeks to briefly describe already existing Special Zones in terms of their present energy requirements. Present requirements provide rough estimates of the energy requirements of the newly proposed zones. Specifically we examine: the Rason Special Economic Zone and Special Administrative Region, the Hwanggumphyong Special Economic Zone, the Wihwado Special Economic Zone, the Kumgang Mountain Tourist Area, and finally, the Kaesong Industrial Zone. These specially designated zones ideally contribute to economic development in North Korea as well as provide economic benefits to the Chinese and Russian provinces bordering North Korea. Chinese plans to resuscitate and/or invigorate the economies of their three Northeast provinces bordering North Korea would certainly be moved forward by trade with a richer North Korea and access to strategic North Korean ports just across the border. Although this paper does not cover Russian plans, the motivations for Russian investments in North Korean SZs are likely similar—the desire to boost the economies of the areas of the Russian Far East that adjoin the DPRK, and to improve access to markets in Asia.

There is a limited but growing amount of information available to understand how these Special Zones are defined by North Korean policy, how they are currently faring in terms of economic performance, and what future zones will likely require in terms of energy usage. There is also a growing body of rules and regulations by which North Korea and China plan to govern these zones. Except for the Kaesong industrial complex, it appears that all these zones are significantly short on the energy infrastructure necessary to supply their modest current demands, let alone any future projected demands. North Korea’s decision to declare several such zones in North Korea’s interior may possibly indicate a desire to stitch together North Korea’s electrical transmission and distribution networks which are currently more a patchwork of regional grids rather than a unified national grid. Previous Special Zones have always been on or near North Korea’s periphery. Because previous zones were located on the DPRK’s frontiers, they were largely able to “plug in” to already developed electricity transmission and distribution systems on the other side of the border (in China, Russia or South Korea). While we present no specific calculations here, the cost to renew the DPRK’s entire transmission and distribution (T&D) system will certainly cost billions to tens of billions of dollars which could consume on the order of 10 percent or more of North Korea’s GDP for 5 to 10 years, assuming, as estimated by Republic of Korea (ROK) sources, that North Korea’s GDP is in the neighborhood of 40 billion dollars. The costs of T&D renewal are thus well beyond anything North Korea is likely to be able to afford to do in the short-term on anything but a piecemeal basis.

Despite gaps in our knowledge of how Special Zones in the DPRK have formed and operate or will operate, there is a substantial amount of information available from English, Chinese and Korean-language sources describing the basic plans for investment and the businesses that North Korean, Chinese, and in some cases Russian partners hope to develop in some Special Economic Zones. What is missing from the plans for which information is available, however, are detailedplans for building the energy infrastructure required to support the amount of economic activity (in factories, ports, hotels, workers quarters, and other elements of the SZs) envisioned. The electricity infrastructure required to support the economic plans is modest by most industrial standards. The existing infrastructure in most of the SZs, however, is grossly inadequate, and thus will require significant international investment to allow the SZs to operate as planned.

Investing in SZ infrastructure is likely to be more complex than a typical industrial investment. Sources of investment funds for SZ infrastructure could include businesses from a number of nations, and/or government or multilateral funds. Each potential lender/investor will have its own criteria for deciding on whether a given investment is reasonable or too risky. In theory, involving a number of different actors from different nations in DPRK SZ infrastructure investments would help to diversify the risk borne by any given company or nation, and to create a broader constituency for working with North Koreans using business practices that comply with international law and standards. In part, a broader constituency of coordinated investors could also help to discourage the “rent-seeking” by officials that is often a part of projects in the DPRK (and in many other countries). Because the amount of infrastructure-building required is high, there is significant potential for illegal rent-seeking, that is, for example, for DPRK authorities to inflate the price of “surveys” or permits, or the cost of securing import rights for equipment needed for the SZs, in order to gain personally from the transaction.

Working conditions in SZs will be another area of concern for investors and for foreign firms seeking to operate facilities in new or existing SZs. Anecdotal reports suggest that industrial facilities in general in the DPRK tend to operate with limited evident concern for worker safety. In the absence of pressure from investing companies, it is also likely that working conditions will remain poor and dangerous, as there does not appear to be a significant set of DPRK regulations related to industrial safety. Nor, for that matter, does there appear to be a well-established and well-funded government body dedicated to establishing, monitoring and enforcing industrial safety regulations.

This paper describes several of the Special Zones now operating in or in the advanced planning process in the DPRK, together with what is known about plans for their development. For each, it provides a description of the likely energy requirements, based on what can be determined regarding planned activities at each site, and examines adjoining energy infrastructure to identify probable degrees of energy shortfalls that foreign investors, working with DPRK counterparts, will need to overcome. Some of issues and policies that policymakers inside and outside of the DPRK will need to consider in order to arrange for the financing and construction of the requisite infrastructure to operate the SZs.

You can download the PDF here.

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Koryolink subscriptions hit 2.4 million

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

Martyn Williams reports that KoryoLink subscriptions have hit 2.4 million.

You can read previous posts on the DPRK’s mobile phone network here.

Kevin Stahler ranks North Korea’s cell phone market penetration here.

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DPRK announces six more economic development zones

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

According to KCNA:

Economic Development Zones to Be Set up in Provinces of DPRK

Pyongyang, July 23, 2014 17:50 KST (KCNA) — It was decided in the DPRK to establish economic development zones in some areas of Pyongyang, South Hwanghae Province, Nampho City, South and North Phyongan provinces.

Unjong cutting-edge technological development zone will be set up in some areas of Wisong-dong, Kwahak 1-dong and Kwahak 2-dong, Paesan-dong and Ulmil-dong in Unjong District, Pyongyang.

Kangryong international green model zone will be set up in some areas of Kangryong township in Kangryong County, South Hwanghae Province.

Jindo export processing zone will appear in some areas of Jindo-dong and Hwado-ri, Waudo District, Nampho City.

Chongnam industrial development zone will be set up in some areas of Ryongbuk-ri, Chongnam District, South Phyongan Province. Sukchon agricultural development zone will appear in some areas of Unjong-ri, Sukchon County and Chongsu tourist development zone in some areas of Chongsong Workers’ District and Pangsan-ri, Sakju County, North Phyongan Province.

The sovereignty of the DPRK would be exercised in the economic development zones in provinces.

The relevant decree of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly was promulgated on Wednesday.

By my count, this brings the total number of special economic zones and economic development zones to 25. Little visible progress has been made on the zones announced in 2013, though things seem to be happening in Pyongyang. Also, South Phyongan Province now has Economic Development Zones. It had been omitted from previous lists.

Yonhap also reports:

Jin Qiangyi, a professor of Korean studies at Yanbian University, told the state-run China Daily that the move by North Korea is apparently aimed at breathing new life into its moribund economy.

“Many Chinese companies still feel daunted by doing business in the country because there is no clear policy to guarantee investors’ interests,” the newspaper quoted Jin as saying.

However, another Chinese expert, Li Tianguo, a researcher at the National Institute of International Strategy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, was less pessimistic.

Li told the newspaper that the new zones will “have great attraction to Chinese enterprise and bring good opportunities, in particular for businesses with border trade and processing production.”

China’s direct investment into North Korea jumped to US$109.46 million in 2012 from $5.86 million in 2009, the newspaper reported, citing what it called a “2012 Statistical Bulletin of China’s Outward Foreign Direct Investment.”

Here is analysis by the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES):

North Korea Declares Six Additional Economic Development Zones

On July 23, 2014, the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) announced the designation of six additional economic development zones (EDZs) throughout various provinces in North Korea. The announcement, which states, “It was decided in the DPRK to establish economic development zones in some areas of Pyongyang, South Hwanghae Province, Nampo City, South and North Pyongan Provinces,” and that this decree was promulgated by the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA).

It was announced that North Korea will push forward with the Unjong Cutting-Edge Technological Development Zone in the areas of Wisong, Kwahak 1 and 2, Paesan and Ulmil, located in the Unjong District of Pyongyang. Furthermore, it appears that the Kangryong International Green Model Zone will be established in Kangryong County in South Hwanghae Province. According to the investment propositions revealed in November 2013, the “International Green Model Zone” will focus on the development of organic farming and greenhouse technology, wind and water power technology, and the development of services such as golf courses and hotels.

The Chongnam Industrial Development Zone will be set up in Chongnam District in South Pyongan Province, Sukchon Agricultural Development Zone will be established in various areas in Unjong in Sukchon County, and the Chongsu Tourist Development Zone will cover the areas of the Chongsong Workers’ District and Pangsan, Sakju County in North Pyongan Province. It has also been reported that North Korea will push forward with the Jindo Export Processing Zone in Jindo and Hwado, located in the Waudo District of Nampo City. Following the announcement of thirteen new economic development zones in November last year, including the Amrok (Yalu) River EDZ, Sinpyeong Tourism Development Zone, the Manpo EDZ and Wiwon Industrial Development Zone, the newly announced six additional zones brings the total number of economic development zones in North Korea to nineteen.

It was also reported by the KCNA on the same day that the Sinuiju Special Economic Zone in Sinuiju, North Pyongan Province, will be renamed to the Sinuiju International Economic Zone. Through this renaming, it can be assumed that North Korea is intending to reinitiate development in the stagnating zone, which has been in the development process since first being designated as a special economic zone in 2002.

On the other hand, the Wonsan Kalma Peninsula in North Korea’s Kangwondo Province, renowned for its beautiful scenery, has been garnering attention due to a recent push for the construction of large-scale accommodation, recreation and industrial facilities. Over 1,400 ha plot of land along the Kalma Peninsula is expected to be divided up into several areas, including hotels and accommodations, conference and exhibit fairgrounds, an athletics stadium, economic development area, and a commerce service area.

In order to respond to the increase in tourists visiting the Wonsan area, North Korea is preparing to increase the area’s hotel and lodging capacity by ten times, maxing out at a total capacity of eleven thousand people. Furthermore, plans have been drawn up calling for the construction of a passenger wharf which can transport up to twenty-five thousand people per day to the waterfront. The beach area will also be developed, allowing for up to ten thousand beachgoers at one time.

In the Dunam Mountain area of Kalma Peninsula, theaters, golf courses, an underwater hotel, and tourist accommodations will be built together with industrial complexes for science, industry and agricultural research and development. It is also predicted that North Korea will also develop several of the small islands off the coast of the Kalma Peninsula into tourist attractions.

I have all of the economic Development Zones mapped out on Google Earth.

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