Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Food prices in North Korea: vegetable prices up, rice prices stable

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Daily NK reports that vegetable prices have gone up in North Korea’s border regions, due to cold weather and forced mobilization efforts (the 70-day battle). But rice prices remain stable (my emphasis):

The price of vegetables including cabbage and radish has surged around the border regions in North Korea and to a lesser degree, further inland. The sudden spike is believed to be driven by sanctions jitters, unseasonably cold temperatures, and excessive mobilization for the upcoming Party Congress, but is being viewed by some as a temporary upswing, given the continual stability in rice prices and foreign exchange rates. 

“Back in February, cabbage was selling for around 2,500 KPW (per kilogram), but prices have suddenly jumped to 7,000 KPW. That’s more expensive than rice,” a Daily NK source in Ryanggang Province reported on April 25. “Now is usually the time when food supplies are short (because of the barley hump), but it looks like the hike was triggered by more people mixing in dried greens with their rice to conserve their rice supplies, in the belief that the food situation may worsen due to [implications stemming from] the sanctions.”

[…]

“In some areas of Taehongdan County, people are eating so-called ‘radish noodles,’ which are made by coating radish leaves with potato starch,” the source explained.

On a nerdy note, I wonder if the connection between potato starch and Taehongdan is merely accidental. Remember, Taehongdan is the birthplace of Kim Jong-il’s 1998 “Potato Revolution.”

Food prices also seem to be impacted by the blitz-mobilization campaign leading up to the 7th Party Congress (my emphasis):

Conditions in the central inland areas are not much different. Individuals who would normally grow their own vegetables have seen their schedules disrupted by ongoing “70-Day Battle” mobilizations. “Thanks to the continual mobilizations, said by many to be ‘turning their hearts into black lumps of coal’, ahead of the Party Congress, business at the markets has lost its vibrancy and the residents are miserable,” a source in Pyongyang told Daily NK.

Rice prices, meanwhile, remain notably stabile:

Despite these high prices, movements on the rice and foreign currency front have remained relatively stable, leading people to believe the spike in vegetables will be short lived.

“Vegetables are not export items and therefore their prices are determined by domestic supply and demand,” the Pyongyang-based source noted. “However strong the sanctions may be, rice prices have nonetheless remained the same and, under these conditions, not many will choose to eat expensive cabbages over rice,” the source added, suggesting that prices are likely to return to normal as the markets readjust for supply and demand.

Full article here:
Vegetable prices spikes, rice remains stabile 
Daily NK
Kang Mi Jin
2016-04-28

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FAO: North Korean food production falls for the first time since 2010

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

27 April 2016, Rome – North Korea’s total  food production – including cereals, soybeans and potatoes in cereal equivalent – is estimated to have fallen in 2015, the first drop since 2010, and is expected to worsen food security in the country, according to a FAO update issued today.

Last year, total food production in North Korea (officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) is estimated to have been about 5.4 million tonnes compared to 5.9 million tonnes in 2014, marking a 9 percent decrease, the update said.

In particular, production of paddy rice, the country’s main staple, dropped by 26 percent to 1.9 million tonnes, mainly due to poor rains and low availability of water for irrigation.

FAO’s estimate for the country’s cereal import requirements for the 2015/16 marketing year (November-October) amounts to 694,000 tonnes. With 300,000 tonnes expected to be covered by government imports, the uncovered deficit of 394,000 tonnes represents the highest gap since 2011/12, the report said.

The estimates are based on official production figures and analysis by FAO’s Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS) in collaboration with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.

Food security set to deteriorate

Given the tight food supplies in 2015/16, the country’s food security situation is expected to deteriorate from the previous year when most households were already estimated to have poor or borderline food consumption levels.

Crop overview

Besides severely affecting the rice crop, the dry conditions during the 2015 main season, coupled with low irrigation water availability following recurrent dry spells since July 2014, also impacted negatively on the production of maize, the country’s second most important cereal crop. Despite an expansion in plantings, maize output is estimated to have decreased by 3 percent to 2.29 million tonnes in 2015.

The report noted that the output of more drought-resistant soybeans – the most important source of protein in North Korea -increased by 37 percent to 220,000  in 2015.

Similarly, the output of other cereals (sorghum, millet, buckwheat) is put at 156,000 tonnes, almost triple the level of 2014.

Production of 2016 early season potatoes and minor wheat and barley, to be harvested from June, is forecast at 363 000 tonnes, 21 percent higher than the sharply reduced 2015 level.

Fuel and fertilizer shortages

Today’s update noted that reduced supplies of fertilizer and fuel in 2015 also limited crop production in 2015.

Source:
North Korea’s food production falls for first time since 2010 as water scarcity hits agricultural sector
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
04/27/2016

The full FAO report that the press statement refers to can be found here.

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Kim Jong-un’s Party Congress prep: construction projects

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Kim Jong-un has made at least two announcements recently, as the Korean Worker’s Party heads for its 7th Party Congress in May, about construction projects to be done. One of them is an orphanage in Ryanggang province, Daily NK reports:

Projects underway to promote Kim Jong Un’s legacy as a leader ahead of the 7th Party Congress in May are said to be in full swing across the nation. One such project taking place in Ryanggang Province calls for the full mobilization of residents to build an orphanage as an expression of the leader’s “love for the next generation,” Daily NK has learned.

“Authorities have recently been harassing residents saying that the orphanage under construction next to Kim Jong Suk Teachers’ College in Yonbong-dong needs to be ready for the Marshal’s (Kim Jong Un) inspection by the time of the Party Congress,” a source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK on Thursday. “The provincial party office has been hurrying people along, claiming the construction must be completed before the event.”

Progress was said to be slow during the winter, which was unseasonably cold, but construction efforts are now appearing to ramp up.

The project is being driven by the provincial head secretary and other cadres from the provincial Party and People’s Committee and is being promoted as a means to express loyalty to the leader, who has emphasized his “love for children,” said the source.

She added that cadres associated with the efforts, who have confidently stated that the facility will see completion before the Party Congress, have also been intensifying crackdowns on those seeking to avoid mobilization, out of concern that failure to complete the project on time may lead to issues of accountability.

“Vendors who are busy trying to make a living in the market were often able to get out (of mobilization) with bribes, but even that isn’t easy now,” a separate source in Ryanggang Province explained.

“The price for skipping a day of mobilization is now up to 10 RMB (13,000 KPW) a day per head, so some find it more affordable to just go to the construction site.”

The 13,000 KPW demanded is enough to purchase approximately 2kg of rice based on current prices, which is far from negligible for most members of the public. The higher price tag in effect acts as a tool to turn up the heat on people for mobilization.

The pressure to complete the project before the major political gathering has led to mobilization of students in the afternoons and workers at state-run factory as well.

The near full mobilization also involves specialized colleges, meaning that among the younger generation, stormtroopers (who are working on a railway project in Samjiyon) are seemingly the only group among ordinary residents that are exempt from the orphanage project.

Full article:
Kim Jong Un calls for construction of new orphanage in time for Party Congress
Kang Mi Jin
Daily NK
2016-04-19

IFES at Kyungnam University has also published an analysis of the news about the Ryomyong street project, which Curtis has already written about in this blog. They note that the recent sanctions do not seem to have altered plans for the project. Kim Jong-un’s rhetoric instead highlights the project as a blow against the international community and the US — North Korea will go full steam ahead on its own policies and no outside pressure can hold them back (my emphasis below):

On March 18, the state media Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that Kim Jong Un declared the construction of ‘Ryomyong Street’, which is to be built between Kumsusan Palace of the Sun and the Ryonghung Crossroads in Pyongyang. The street’s name signifies a place where ‘the dawn breaks in the Korean revolution’. Kim also mentioned that the area is to be surrounded by magnificent skyscrapers and multi-level buildings that fit the geographical characteristics surrounding the palace, displaying the Party’s idea of giving importance to science and talents in socialist Korea.
[…]
Along these lines, Kim put emphasis on the policy of securing building materials in constructing the new street and to diversify the size, design and color of decorative objects on the exterior of buildings. He also instructed for the mobilization of ‘soldier-builders’ who previously worked on the construction of Mirae Scientists Street. The construction of the new street shall be carried out with “Mallima speed” during the country’s ‘70-day campaign’ in run-up to the Party Congress scheduled for this upcoming May. The news report also stated that “the party, state, and society should render positive assistance to the construction and the Cabinet, commissions, ministries and national institutions take the lead in this work.”

According to the report, Kim Jong Un also said that “The construction of the street is not merely for formation of a street but serves as a political occasion of clearly showing the spirit of the DPRK standing up and keeping up with the world, despite all sorts of sanctions and pressure by U.S. imperialists and their followers, the appearance of the country advancing to realize the great ideal of the people and truth that the DPRK is able to be well-off in its own way and nothing is impossible for it to do.” The construction of the street appears in part as a means to show off the strength of ‘Songun’ Korea, following in the footsteps of Kim Jong Il’s policy.

Despite the strong sanctions imposed upon the country by the international community, North Korea is striving to achieve some form of economic success. The 70-day campaign has been initiated in the run-up to the Seventh Congress of the Workers’ Party. North Korean media are boasting about the country’s successes on the production front since the campaign’s initiation, saying “under the Juche ideology, people are working hard especially in the fields of electricity, coal, metal, and railroad transportation that they have achieved great success in the [campaign’s] first week.”

Full article here:
North Korea to Construct ‘Ryomyong Street’ Despite Sanctions
Institute for Far Eastern Studies
03-29-2016

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More Friday Fun: Only in North Korea…

Friday, March 25th, 2016

ITEM 1: The PATENTED “Ostar Blood Purifying Health Watch”

Ostar-Blood-watch-2016-3

I don’t buy any watch that does not purify my blood. It is the second most important attribute after accurately telling the time. Who knew that wearing more gaudy jewelry would actually improve your health?!

ITEM 2:  North Korean magicians make handicapped children disappear!

The North Korean Disabled Arts Association put on an impressive performance of music, dancing, and magic. This video marks the first time I had heard of the group or seen its impressive performances. However, I did have to groan, when at the 15:51 mark the North Korean magician put a handicapped girl (in a wheelchair) into a large box only to make her disappear. This is creepy because for much of its history, North Korea has not treated the disabled well (to put it mildly). It’s as if North Korean magicians are carrying out the national policy right there on stage. By the time the “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” performance begins at the 37:40 mark, I thought, “Are there any little people left in Pyongyang?” We know from declassified documents and other sources that they were deported from Pyongyang, and probably sterilized, from very early in the nation’s history.

Still, perhaps the creation of this group, and the public airing of its performances, indicate that a new and more inclusive era has arrived in DPRK society. This may be one of the ways that foreign NGOs have changed North Korean social norms for the better.

ITEM 3: The more things change, the more they stay the same. Kim Jong-un’s 3-D cinema glasses immortalized for posterity.  Another great use of state resources…

KJU-3-D-Glasses

Here is the source.

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Deforestation in North Korea continues, new data shows

Thursday, March 24th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Yesterday I stumbled upon a nice interactive World Bank data map that shows where forests have been lost and gained since the 1990s. Forestry is one of those rare areas where fairly extensive data exists for North Korea. Of course, all data has its faults and flaws, and figures on North Korea should always be taken with a grain of salt. But even if the figures aren’t fully correct to the last decimal, they show an interesting trend.

The World Bank World Development Indicators figures seem to be coming from the Forest and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s Global Forest Resource Assessment, and their latest study of global forestry assets was done just last year (2015). Using these figures, I created a graph showing North Korea’s forestry area (in blue), using South Korea as a baseline comparison.

forestry DPRK ROK smaller

Data source: World Bank World Development Indicators. Graph created by Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein.

Deforestation is far from a new problem in North Korea. What’s interesting is that it appears to continue without signs of abating.

This data stretches all the way to 2015. According to one estimate, North Korean forests shrank by about 17 percent between 1970 and 1990. By the end of 2008, the United Nations estimated that around one third of all forests had been lost in North Korea. If the World Bank data is accurate, it suggests that this trend has continued exponentially, and that the situation has continued to worsen. According to the World Bank data, North Korea lost almost 40 percent of its forests between 1990 and 2015.

As this blog has laid out before, the cycle of problems is well known: people essentially cut down trees as a form of coping behavior in the face of resource scarcity, in order to clear areas for farmland, and to use wood as an energy source. When the annual torrential rains sweep over the Korean peninsula, the lack of trees contributes to soil erosion, spoiling harvests and causing devastation. Kim Jong-un highlighted forestry as an important policy area in 2015. The priority makes a lot of sense, but so far, the solutions don’t seem all that promising.

North Korea celebrated a “Tree Planting Day” about three weeks ago, and the Russian embassy in Pyongyang participated in the celebrations. Their pictures (see this link for their Facebook album) give an interesting snapshot of how it might look across the country as the regime’s tree planting drive unfolds:

A North Korean forestry official (?) giving instructions about tree planting. Photo credits: Russian embassy in Pyongyang.

A North Korean forestry official (?) giving instructions about tree planting. Photo credits: Russian embassy in Pyongyang.

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The Russian ambassador and a young North Korean planting a tree together. Photo credits: Russian embassy in Pyongyang.

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Young North Korean men in Red Cross (적십자) vests lining up for tree planting. Photo credits: Russian embassy in Pyongyang.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Young North Koreans listening to tree planting instructions. Photo credits: Russian embassy in Pyongyang.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Instructions for how to plant and tend to trees. Photo credits: Russian embassy in Pyongyang.

Instructions for how to plant and tend to trees. Photo credits: Russian embassy in Pyongyang.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Anniversary of State Planning and statistic organs observed

Saturday, March 5th, 2016

State-plannin-commission-2015-8-6

Pictured Above (Google Earth): State Planning Commission

KCNA reports on the anniversary of the State planning Commission:

A national meeting was held at the Central Youth Hall Saturday to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of state planning and statistic organs.

President Kim Il Sung was very busy building new democratic Korea after its liberation but founded the first central planning and statistic organ on March 6, Juche 35 (1946) on the basis of feats and experience gained in the flames of the anti-Japanese revolutionary struggle.

The establishment of the central planning and statistic organ helped start a new history of planned economy, a new history of popular statistics which could put overall economic development of the country under control in a uniform way and develop it at a rapid tempo.

Under the wise leadership of the President, the socialist system of planning and statistic work was established, ranks of officials were built and the material and technical foundation was consolidated. As a result, the socialist planning and statistics have performed their mission and role as a powerful weapon for the revolution and construction.

It would be nice to know how busy these guys still are.

The DPRK ceased publishing economic performance statistics (Net Material Product-NMP tables) in 1965, and the last state budget  was announced for FY 2001 (21,570,800,000 won), but no budget numbers have been reported since, only percentage increases in relevant areas. Today, the DPRK releases economic data only on rare occasions, but aside from the lack of availability, there are numerous other problems with using the DPRK’s economic data to obtain credible insight into the North Korean economy.

I post DPRK economic statistics sources here.

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Some recent North Korean stamps

Monday, February 15th, 2016

A North Korea watcher just sent me some recent North Korean stamps that I thought I would share.

World Wildlife Foundation (Birds): The WWF is probably not receiving any donations from the use of their logo on these stamps…

WWF_BM

Pyongyang Standard Time: In August 2015, North Korea created it’s own time zone.

DPRK-Standard-Time

Let’s plant more trees: North Korea has devoted considerable public resources towards reforestation. Tree farms under the government and  military are popping up all over the country.

trees-stamp

Recent accomplishments: I am sure there is more to this one, but I have not had it translated yet

Accomplishmentsstamp

North Korean currency: In 2009 the DPRK renominated the currency. Between then and 2012, the value of the currency relative to the US$ fell from 100KPW to nearly 9,000 in January 2013. They currency has remained stable at about 8,000KPW/1US$ since then.

5wonstamp 10wonstamp

50wonstamp 100wonstamp

200wonstamp 500wonstamp

1000wonstamp 2000wonstamp

5000wonstamp

 

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Science and technology to strengthen the ‘self-development first’ principle

Monday, February 15th, 2016

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

Recently, Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpiece for the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) released a commentary entitled, “Strengthening Self-Reliance through Science and Technology” to elaborate on the term, ‘self-development-first’ principle mentioned in this year’s New Year’s speech.

The ‘self-development first’ policy was discussed in an editorial titled, “Self-Development Is a Powerful Weapon of Building a Powerful Socialist Nation,” which appeared in the January 27, 2016 edition of the newspaper.

Previously, Kim Jong Un stated, “The principle of giving priority to self-development should be maintained in building a thriving socialist country,” and referred to ‘self-development-first principle’ to signify the power to strengthen oneself where “self-development alone is the road to sustaining the dignity of our country and our nation and to paving a broad avenue for the revolution and construction.”

In addition, ‘self-development’ was emphasized as a principle that protected and highlighted ‘socialism of our-way.’ The newspaper further elaborated that in order to promote economic development and improve the livelihoods of the people ‘self-development-first principle’ must be upheld. Moreover, it stressed that powerful nations should not be worshipped and becoming import-dependent must be avoided. In other words, the antonym for ‘self-development’ was ‘worship of big nations’ and ‘import-dependent.’

In last year’s new year’s speech, Kim Jong Un used the term ‘import disease’ to refer to ‘import-dependence’ as he stressed, “All the factories and enterprises should wage a dynamic struggle to get rid of the proclivity to import and ensure the domestic production of raw and other materials and equipment, while sprucing themselves up by taking their cue from the model units put forward by the Party.”

In this regard, North Korea boasted on specific technological achievements such as subway trains as well as “Juche-based metallurgical industry and model and standard factories of the era of the knowledge-driven economy in various parts of the country . . . opening a new road of advance for developing the overall economy and improving the people’s standard of living.”

North Korea’s emphasis on ‘self-dependence’ is seen as a way to make a breakthrough in a difficult situation with international economic sanctions enforced to make up for ‘lacking’ and ‘inadequate’ resources from the outside world.

The newspaper particularly stressed, “self-development principle is based on science and technology and is an impetus to achieve economic revival.” It added, “Self-development principle inevitably calls for emphasis on science and technology. Self-development can be developed more powerfully and in rapid speed only with the backing of modern science and technology which can serve as the basis to achieve the prosperity of the nation to make a new leap in the construction of a strong nation.”

Ultimately, the editorial explained ‘self-development-first principle’ in the current stage is implemented through promotion of science and technology, which is seen as the key to solve the immediate tasks of achieving economic development and improvement of people’s standard of living.

Kim Jong Un’s announcement of ‘self-development-first principle’ and Rodong Sinmun’s elaboration of the principle in this recent editorial, in conjunction with the calls for science and technology development, reflects and exemplifies what North Korea’s current stance and methodology is in constructing its economy and nation.

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Slogans on ‘self-development-first’ principle emulate Kim Il Sung era slogans

Monday, January 18th, 2016

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

From early on, Kim Jong Un has attempted to strengthen his political power through emulating his grandfather, Kim Il Sung. Recently political slogans from Kim Il Sung era are reappearing.

North Korea’s propaganda website Uriminzokkirir (based in China) claimed in an article entitled “Great Victory Based on Self-Development-First Principle” (posted on January 12) that “the revolutionary spirit of self-reliance through the revolutionary historical course has sublimated into powerful policy of self-development-first principle of today that produced miraculous and dazzling reality surprising the entire world.”

In his New Year speech, Kim Jong Un used the expression “self-development-first principle” for the first time. This slogan is reminiscent of the Kim Il Sung era slogan “self-reliance.”

According to Tongil Sinbo, North Korea’s state-run weekly publication based in Japan, “self-development (jagangryok) refers to the power to empower oneself through his own strength,” and added, “the great Kim Il Sung has created our republic to be a model nation, recognized as a powerful state of self-reliance.”

Kim Jong Un’s new year’s speech emphasized the spirit of ‘self-development-first policy’: “The principle of giving priority to self-development should be maintained in building a thriving socialist country. Worship of big countries and dependence on foreign forces is the road to national ruin; self-development alone is the road to sustaining the dignity of our country and our nation and to paving a broad avenue for the revolution and construction. With affection, trust, dignity and pride in everything of our own, we should achieve the great cause of building a thriving nation and realize the people’s beautiful dreams and ideals without fail by our own efforts, technology and resources.”

Kim Il Sung, in his lifetime coined the term “jaryokgaengsaeng” or “self-reliance” to signify “self-reliance in economy” and stressed that “to build an independent national economy signifies the creation of a nation that can live on its own, a self-sufficient nation.” Kim Il Sung’s “jaryokgaengsaeng” (“self-reliance”) and Kim Jong Un’s “jagangryok” (“self-development first”) are in essence parallel terms.

Since taking the helm of leadership, Kim Jong Un has emulated the appearance of his grandfather Kim Il Sung, including his gait, clothing, and style, in order to draw loyalty from his people.

Not surprisingly, North Korean media has used the term “self-development-first principle” on a daily basis since it was first iterated in Kim Jong Un’s new year’s speech.

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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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