Lankov issues warning on North Korea’s economic reforms

August 13th, 2015

According to Yonhap:

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s reformatory policy is highly likely to spark political instability in the country, a Russian professor said Thursday, stressing the need to prepare for a potential volatile situation there.

“Kim Jong-un’s policy has a high possibility to destabilize North Korea’s local situation, therefore preparations are necessary for a sudden change there,” Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University, said during a forum co-hosted by Yonhap News Agency and the Presidential Committee for Unification Preparation.

Under the reform-seeking young leader, North Korea is less secure than under the previous Kim Jong-il era when the country had experienced no changes, the professor said.

Under the new leadership, North Korea has shown signs of adopting a developmental dictatorship, the professor noted.

Kim is aware that he cannot hold on to his power for the next several decades without a reform.

Kim’s predecessor and father Kim Jong-il was different. In his 60s, he knew that even without the reform, which has the potential of thwarting the regime, his power grip could be sustained until his death, Lankov added.

Even though the North chooses to follow the footsteps of the Chinese economic reform, the reclusive country may have to be careful about opening up the country to the outside world, because after seeing South Korea’s incomparable affluence, North Koreans may become very discontented with the North Korean system, the professor said.

“It will be something tantamount to an act of political suicide,” he noted.

If North Korea happens to succeed in the reform drive, the result will better help the two Koreas peacefully coexist over the long term, he said, adding that it will cut down the costs of unification.

Touching on North Korea’s nuclear ambition, he said the communist country will never even dream of giving up its nuclear arsenal.

“Any reward, any pressure will be of no avail,” because nuclear weapons are irreplaceable means of deterrence and threats for the Kim regime.

The North Korean government knows that Gaddafi is the only leader who gave up nuclear arms in international political history and he was killed, according to the professor.

Read the full story here:
Preparations needed for potential volatile situation in N. Korea: Lankov
Yonhap
2015-8-13

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Sports tourism business active in North Korea

August 13th, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

North Korea’s Choson International Tourism Agency [AKA Korea International Tourism Company (KITC)] is receiving favorable reviews from tourists for its hospitable services and various tourism offerings (mainly sports tourism), the Choson Sinbo reported on August 5, 2015.

According to the Japan-based newspaper, the travel agency is building ties with Asian and European travel agencies and is satisfying the demands of numerous tourists who want to see North Korea’s famous sites in person.

The agency’s vice-president, Choi Dong Un, revealed in a press conference with the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), “We are currently organizing a variety of services, including sports activities like marathons, hiking, golf, bowling, shooting, swimming, skiing, and bicycle tours, as well as opportunities to view domestic and international sporting events.”

In particular, “Tourists enjoy experiencing the customs of the Choson people, such as pounding dduk [Korean rice cake] or making kimchi or noodles,” the newspaper highlighted.

“The travel agency is also actively working with tourists who are interested in investing in tourist attractions or hotel development and tourism infrastructure, helping them meet with the relevant companies and agencies and arranging visits to the site,” the Choson Sinbo added.

The Choson International Tourism Agency was established in January 1997. One of North Korea’s big travel agencies, it is headquartered in Pyongyang’s Mangyongdae District.

Meanwhile, Experience North Korea, an online travel agency based in Shanghai, China, offers tourists the opportunity to participate in the marathon held at North Korea’s Masikryong Ski Resort in Wonsan. Tourists interested in this experience can choose from several tourism packages this year. They can depart from Shanghai on October 2, 2015 and spend either three days and two nights or seven days and six nights in the country; likewise, they can choose a four-day, three-night package that departs from Beijing on the same day.

With statements like, “Discover North Korea’s beauty and breathe its fresh air while running in the slopes of Masikryong Ski Resort,” the company’s website tries to lure tourists. According to the website, four different courses are offered: a 5 km course, 10 km course, half marathon, and full marathon.

The construction of the Masikryong Ski Resort was a project of special interest to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Its doors were opened on January 1, 2014.

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The paradoxes of North Korea’s food situation

August 12th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein 

A lot of things are going on in North Korean agriculture and food production these days. First, there was the drought. I haven’t seen any unequivocal assessments showing with certainty that the damage wasn’t as bad as feared, but both outside and regime sources certainly seem to be indicating this. Then, a few weeks ago, a regime source said that food production had even increased this year, thanks to management reforms in agriculture. And now, international relief agencies are reporting that the nearly yearly flooding has hit the country once again, damaging food production.

How can one reconcile all these events?

It may of course be that the earlier assessment published in Tongil Sinbo, with an optimistic forecast of food production, took the coming flooding into account and assumed that food production, overall, would still be up. Crop damage so far seems far smaller than it has been in previous years. 4,000 hectares have been reported as damaged this year, while the equivalent figure in 2013 was 13,300.

It may also be that the Tongil Sinbo claims were premature, but it is difficult to see why a North Korean regime source would claim production increases without taking potential damage from torrential rains into account. After all, they keep on coming year after year. Still, it seems risky to claim success for agricultural production before the August rains. North Korean publication routines are too murky to tell exactly how it is decided what information should be released and when.

It could also be that regions were agricultural reforms have been implemented have seen harvests increase, while others have been hit worse by both the drought and the floods. Reforms have so far been implemented on a local experimental basis and it could be that the success has been so great in localities where they have been tried that production has increased overall, despite both the flooding and the drought.

Hopefully, some of the confusion will clear as more information becomes available about the flooding damage. Natural disasters, after all, tend to increase the information flow from North Korea somewhat through the extended work of relief agencies.

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2015 North Korea floods

August 12th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Just like most summers for the past few years, North Korea has once again been hit by flooding. According to the International Red Cross (IFRC):

The Democratic People’s Republic of  Korea (DPRK) is experiencing flooding associated with seasonal rains, hitting areas like Hwanghae and the south and north Hamgyong provinces since early August. According to the State Committee on Emergency and Disaster Management (SCEDM), the Government of  DPRK and DPRK Red Cross Society, 3,455 people were affected, 21 were reported dead while 9 others remain missing. The floods have damaged or destroyed 968 houses and are expected to worsen in the coming days as the rainy season continues.

So far, the damage seems far smaller than the floods of both 2012 and 2013. For example, the number of people “affected” is reported as 3,455 people and 968 houses have been destroyed (see above quote), but in 2013, about 4,000 families lost their homes and 50,000 people were displaced. The number of deaths is also far smaller than in 2013 (33) and 2012 (169).

The South Korean government is thinking about stepping in. Korea Herald reports:

The Unification Ministry said that the government is reviewing whether to help North Korea cope with the flood.

“We are checking the damage from the flood in North Korea, based on data by the weather agency and international organizations,” Jeong Joon-hee, the ministry’s spokesman, told a regular press briefing.

Jeong said that the government would take into account various factors, including the level of the damage and the North’s reaction before making its decision.

Either the Red Cross and the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) are using different assessment methods, or the counts have been upped in between August 10th and 12th. Of course, it is also possible that more rain has fallen and increased the damage. The OCHA reported in their “Snapshot” document for the period between August 4th and 10th that “over 698 houses” had been destroyed while the Red Cross gave the figure 968.

The UPI also reports on the flooding, citing the OCHA figures:

North Korea is recovering from torrential rains that caused 21 deaths between Aug. 1 and 5, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The OCHA report published Monday said rains and subsequent flooding in South Hwanghae, South Hamgyong and North Hamgyong provinces affected 3,400 people.

The U.N. said 21 have died and nine are still missing. The floods destroyed 690 houses and brought down public infrastructure, including roads, bridges and dams.

Crops also were seriously damaged – 4,000 hectares in total, according to the report.

The U.N. agency said the North Korean Red Cross is closely cooperating with local authorities to assess the scope of the damage. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is working with Pyongyang’s Red Cross to distribute relief aid to seven communities across the three provinces.

Rodong Sinmun also reports on the flood damage today, saying that the previously purged but resurrected Premier Pak Pong-ju has surveyed the flooding damage:

DPRK Premier Pak Pong Ju made a field survey of the flood damage in South Hwanghae Province.

Torrential rain and tsunami hit the province early this month, leaving breakwaters partially destroyed and dwelling houses, roads, railways and bridges inundated and damaged.

Farmland in some areas was inundated and washed away, making it hard to expect any harvest.

Going round several afflicted areas in Haeju City, Pyoksong and Sinwon counties, he learned about the damage there.

The consultative meeting convened on the spot discussed the issue of conducting the work for recovering from damage, directing primary efforts to bringing the living of the people in the afflicted areas to normal.

As the summer moves on, more is sure to follow.

(UPDATE): Here is the report from KCNA (2015-8-12):

Flood Damage in DPRK

Pyongyang, August 12, 2015 19:51 KST (KCNA) — South Hwanghae Province of the DPRK was hit hard by flood.

Early this month, the province witnessed downpour and tidal waves due to the seasonal rainy front that swept over the whole country.

Much rainfall was registered in all parts of the province. In particular, rainfall of 397 millimeters was observed in Pyoksong County between 18:00 of August 4 and 12:00 of August 5, 205 mm in Haeju City, 152 mm in Ongjin County and 125 mm in Sinwon County.

The downpour left more than 10 people dead, hundreds of dwelling houses destroyed and more than 1 000 hectares of arable land inundated or washed away.

Meanwhile, tidal waves left the dykes partially destroyed and roads, railways and bridges inundated or ruined.

At present servicepersons and inhabitants in the afflicted areas are working hard to clear away the flood damage.

(UPDATE): Radio Free Asia (2015-8-14) reports that river barriers ordered built by the government have come to exacerbate the flooding damage:

River barriers that North Korean authorities built to help irrigate crops affected by a recent drought may have contributed to the destruction caused by floods in certain parts of the country, sources inside the isolated nation said.

The barriers constructed by authorities in spring blocked the flow of water through gorges, so that torrential rains which fell in parts of the country at a high elevation in early August overflowed, destroying farmland and houses, said a source in North Hamgyong province, one of the affected areas.

“Despite strong opinions that the barriers to enable irrigation should be eliminated to prevent flood damage, nobody took any action,” he said. “Since the barriers were set up under [North Korean leader] Kim Jong Un’s order, no executive order could bring them down.”

Before the river barriers were built, some North Koreans pointed out that building them could cause greater flood damage, he said, but the warning fell on deaf ears.

The city of Hoeryong in North Hamgying province experienced downpours from late July to early August, and authorities declared Hwadea, Kiljou, and Myongchon counties flood-affected areas, he said.

They also declared the city of Tanchon and Heocheon and Riwon counties in South Hamgyong province flood-affected areas, he said.

The drought damage has become worse because of Kim Jong Un’s inflexible instructions, the source added.

Read the full story here:

North Korean flood Damage Made Worse by River Barriers

Sung-hui Moon

Radio Free Asia

2015-8-14

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Golden Triangle Bank pre-pay cards

August 11th, 2015

Aram Pan visited the new Golden Triangle Bank building (it has recently moved offices) in Rason and took some interesting pictures of the interior.

DPRK-360-golden-triangle-1 DPRK-360-golden-triangle-2

DPRK-360-golden-triangle-3 DPRK-360-golden-triangle-4

However, my favorite is probably the giant pile of new US $100 notes:

GTB-DPRK-360-cash

That looks like $1.8 million to me. When was the last time you saw that much cash sitting on a counter?

Mr. Pan also shows that the Golden Triangle Bank has established a pre-pay card (similar to the Narae Card or the Koryo Bank Card). I say “pre-pay card” (not debit card) because a debit card is linked to a personal account whereas a pre-pay card is drawn from a bank-owned account. I do not suspect that card holders have actually opened personal accounts at these banks but have instead topped off a card that draws from a bank-owned account (In other words, I don’t think it is easy to get your cash back, and the bank earns the float from investing the currency while the card holder carries a positive balance).

GTB-card-DPRK360-2015

Mr. Pan claims to have put RMB25 into his account, which can be spent in the Rason SEZ, but not outside of it.

Here is a closeup of the front and back of the card:

Golden-Triangle-Bank-Debit-card-2015-edited

 

Here is a translation of the card:

GTB-debit-card-translation

“Seon Bong” is how a South Korean translates “Sonbong”.

The card appears to be equipped with an EMV chip. I am not sure how that works.

UPDATE (2015-8-17): The Daily Mail did a follow up piece here.

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DPRK – China Trade in 2015 (UPDATED)

August 11th, 2015

UPDATE 2 (2015-8-17): Marcus Noland weighs in on the H1 2015 KDI report.

UPDATE 1 (2015-8-11): KDI reports that DPRK-China trade continues to fall in 2015. According to Yonhap:

North Korea’s trade with China plunged more than 10 percent in the first five months of 2015 due mainly to a drop in raw material prices, a report showed Tuesday.

North Korea’s outbound shipments to its neighbor sank 10.3 percent on-year to US$954 million in the January-May period, while imports plunged 14.3 percent to $1.09 billion, according to the report by the Korea Development Institute (KDI).

“Bilateral trade was down 12.5 percent compared to the year before with exports of anthracite coal and iron ore affecting overall numbers,” KDI said. “Compared to the year before, when trade fell 4.8 percent, this year’s drop is more pronounced.”

The think tank based its assessment on data provided by the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations and the Korea International Trade Association.

North Korea’s exports of coal to China declined 1.6 percent in dollar terms, with the number for iron ore nosediving 70.3 percent.

Falling exports and a subsequent drop in earnings were probably felt by Pyongyang, which will have to consider other means of generating hard currency.

Compared to 2013, when the North’s exports of coal reached its peak, this year’s numbers represent a 24.6 percent drop.

“The contraction is noteworthy because the North actually diversified the places it shipped coal to in China,” the KDI said.

In regards to iron ore, exports declined, both in terms of volume and prices, with the weakening of China’s steel industry directly impacting trade. Exports stood at 600,000 tons, down from 1.11 million tons, with the value standing at $22.96 million.

The KDI said Pyongyang’s No. 1 import item from its neighbor was filament yarn, followed by cargo trucks and petroleum products. Imports of yarn and petroleum products were down, while shipments of cargo trucks rose.

In bold above I have highlighted what appears to be bad news for North Korean coal exporters. I was surprised to see this because an earlier report by Bloomberg indicated that North Korean coal exports to China had increased by 25% this year (over 2014).  However, it is worth pointing out that the Bloomberg report focuses on the actual quantity of coal crossing the border and KDI  reports on the value of the coal crossing the border. The only way both reports can be true is if the North Koreans are again taking lower prices from the Chinese for their coal compared to their international competitors. Another explanation for the conflicting reports could arise if there was a significant difference between Chinese customs data (Bloomberg) and that used by the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations and the Korea International Trade Association (KDI). I don’t have enough experience with these data sets to know how consistent they are.

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein offers a link to the report here (in Korean only).

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s trade with China tumbles this year: KDI
Yonhap
2015-8-11

ORIGINAL POST (2015-4-26): Yonhap reports that DPRK – China trade has fallen in the first quarter of 2015:

Trade between North Korea and China, its economic lifeline, slipped 13.4 percent on-year in the first three months of this year amid frayed bilateral ties, data showed Sunday.

Bilateral trade volume fell to US$1.1 billion in the January-March period, compared with $1.27 billion for the same period last year, the Beijing unit of South’s Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) said, citing Chinese customs data.

China is North Korea’s top economic benefactor, but its political ties with Pyongyang have been strained since the North’s third nuclear test in February 2013.

No crude oil was officially sent to North Korea from China for all of last year.

China’s shipments of crude oil to North Korea were also absent during the first quarter of this year.

South Korean diplomatic sources in Beijing, however, have cautioned against reading too much into the official Chinese trade figures because China has provided crude oil to North Korea in the form of grant aid in the past and such shipments were not recorded on paper.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s trade with China dips 13.4 pct in Q1
Yonhap
2015-4-26

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The drought that didn’t matter, North Korea says – thanks to agricultural reform?

August 10th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

During the past few months, the World Food Program (WFP) has made reoccurring pleas for increased food assistance to North Korea to alleviate the food shortages expected from a severe summer drought. The North Korean government made similar statements and claimed that the drought was the worst one to occur in 100 years. Aid to the country was subsequently increased from the originally planned level, due to the drought. But now, one North Korean official is saying that food production ended up increasing, after all, thanks to agricultural reforms.

A recent brief by the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University (IFES) cites a July issue of Tongil Sinbo, a North Korean state-run weekly newspaper. There, Chi Myong Su, director of the Agricultural Research Institute of the Academy of Agricultural Sciences in the country, says that

“the effectiveness of field management system (pojon) from cooperative farm production unit system (bunjo) is noticeable and succeeded in increasing grain production despite the adverse weather conditions.”

The article cited by IFES highlights the smaller work-team structure as key to the success of the reforms. Also, it almost outright states that greater economic incentives were the main factor (although they call it “enthusiasm” and “patriotism”):

“Despite the adverse weather conditions last year, the high grain yield was possible due to implementation of scientific farming methods and field management system to increase enthusiasm of farmers,” and “based on this experience, many cooperative farms across the country will expand subworkteam management system to field management system.”

This is interesting for several reasons.

First, the agricultural reforms seem increasingly pronounced. Though other reforms were reportedly backtracked earlier this year, the government seems eager to claim success for the road travelled in agriculture.

I have written elsewhere that the data doesn’t necessarily support a claim that reforms are working. There is still reason to be skeptical – after all, a North Korean government official claiming that his government’s policies are working is not surprising – but even the claim itself is interesting.

Second, the statement raises questions about monitoring and data gathering capacities, both of the regime and relief organizations in Pyongyang. Again, just a few months ago, alarm bells were ringing about a potential food shortage, and now, a regime official claims that food production has increased. What was the basis of the WFP and regime claims that a food shortage was imminent a few months ago, and what has changed since those claims were made?

Another recent IFES brief also deals with North Korean press reports about the agricultural reforms. It quotes a Rodong Sinmun article from earlier in the summer that brings up some adjustment problems that farmers have had, such as learning how to properly use fertilizers. The most interesting part in my opinion is the following:

The newspaper stressed that “when all farmers claim ownership of their field and subworkteam, one can create innovation in the farming operations.”

Thus, it seems like Pyongyang wants to encourage experimentation and diversity in production methods. This would be a potentially important step towards more efficient agriculture. Perhaps it is part of a pattern. Provinces have reportedly gotten significant leeway in setting up their respective special economic development zones, which could also be a way to encourage experimentation in policies and management methods.

According to the Tongil Sinbo article, reforms are set to expand further in the country given the alleged success. Perhaps it won’t be too long before we can learn more about them through assessments by multilateral organizations like WFP.

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Friday fun: New stamps and wild speculation…

August 7th, 2015

Kim Jong-un has committed significant construction resources to improving the lives of children (particularly orphans) in the DPRK. Now you can share Kim Jong-un’s love of the children (sarcasm) with the people you know by collecting and sending stamps of the Songdowon International Children’s Camp and the new Pyongyang Baby Home and Orphanage:

STAMP-2015- Sondgowon-International-Children-Camp

STAMP-Pyongyang-Baby-Home Orphanage

Although the stamps are meant for foreign collectors, they are denominated as KPW 30. If the cost of a first class letter in the DPRK is 30 won, that translates into appx $.30 at the official rate and $.00375 at the black market rate (nearly 1/3 of a US penny).

But the Pyongyang Baby Home stamp booklet shows four stamps on a post card, so maybe the official price of sending a postcard is KPW120, or $1.20 at the official rate and $.015 at the black market rate. That seems a bit more reasonable, but it is still probably likely that, as in the USA, mail delivery is a drain on the government’s budget (subsidized activity). I wonder how hard it is to raise postal rates in the DPRK?

Luckily the Ministry of Post and Telecommunication (체신성) does not have to rely on the cabinet for its complete budget. There is always the international stamp-collecting market…and a small venture known as KoryoLink.

I also doubt that any of the money generated from the sale of these stamps actually goes to supporting the budgets of the Pyongyang Baby Home and Orphanage and Songdowon International Children’s Camp, but you never know.

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Pyongyang Standard Time

August 7th, 2015

UPDATE 3 (2015-8-20): Pyongyang Time reportedly causing confusion along inter-Korean border. According to the Korea Times:

North Korea’s new standard time is making it difficult for some South Korean firms operating in the Gaeseong Industrial Complex (GIC) to transport their goods on time to their customers in the South, officials here said Thursday.

The two Koreas have been missing hotline calls from each other since Saturday when the North’s regime unilaterally pronounced its new standard time by turning their clocks back 30 minutes behind the time zone in the South.

“The 30-minute time difference is making us late in transporting our goods produced at the GIC to our customers although we’re working under a schedule as usual,” a manager at a garment manufacturer in Seoul said, declining to be named.

The firm is one of 124 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that hire some 53,000 North Koreans at the inter-Korean industrial park in Gaeseong. The border city is about 53 kilometers northwest of Seoul.

According to the company, it has shipped products from the GIC via trucks every day at 11:50 a.m. This is one of the daily time slots set by the two Koreas for the South Koreans to enter or exit the joint industrial complex.

“The problem is that it’s 12:20 p.m. in South Korea. And we’ve seen that the 30-minute time difference can cause a significant delay in delivering the goods to our sub-contractors in Gyeonggi Province and those in the outer regions,” the manager said.

He added his company, which only operates factories in Gaeseong, may re-open a plant in the South, which was closed in 2004 when the GIC opened, if the government fails to settle the time-related issues.

“We decided to close our plant in the South to capitalize on cheap labor of skilled North Korean workers. Now is time to give a second thought,” the manager said.

Some other firms said the so-called “Pyongyang Time” does not have any impact on their business.

“We ship all components to assemble paragliders to our inventory in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province and we don’t see any difference before and after Pyongyang Time,” said a staff at Gin Gliders.

A public relations official for Good People, an underwear manufacturer, said only 2 percent of the firm’s products are from the GIC while the rest are made in Jeonju and Cambodia.

“We used to make 30 percent of our products at the GIC, but not any longer since 2013,” said the official, who has asked not to be named.

The operation hours of the Seoul-Pyongyang hotline have been from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays since 1992 when the two enemies set up the direct communication system using non-dial phones across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)

The Ministry of Unification said the North Koreans have not been picking their hotline phone set up at their side of Panmumjeom, the inter-Korean truce village at the DMZ, until 9:30 a.m. from Monday.

The unification ministry also said North Koreans have asked its officials to stay at Panmunjeom until 4:30 p.m. instead of pulling out at 4 p.m.

“We still begin work at 9 a.m. and call it a day at 4 p.m. in accordance with the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)+9 time zone,” a ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

“And we obviously wouldn’t know how North Koreans will handle things in case of emergencies after our officials left for home.”

UPDATE 2 (2015-8-15): Pyongyang Standard Time has launched. According to Yonhap:

North Korea set itself a new time zone Saturday in a move expected to complicate relations with South Korea.

North Korea’s time zone is now 30 minutes behind that of the South.

“The Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK decided to set the standard time of the Republic with 127 degrees 30 minutes east longitude as a standard and to apply it from August 15,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said in a dispatch, referring to the country’s rubberstamp parliament.

DPRK is the acronym of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

North Korea marked the start of the new time zone by ringing the Pyongyang Bell at the Pyongyang Astronomical Observatory at the stroke of midnight, according to KCNA.

“At the same time, all industrial establishments, trains and ships across the country sounded sirens and whistles,” it said. “Service personnel of the Korean People’s Army on their duties of defending the country, scientists working on satellites to explore a new area of conquering space and all other people of the country set their clock and watches according to Pyongyang time amid excitement and delight at the national event.”

On Aug. 7, North Korea announced it would turn back its clocks by 30 minutes to rid itself of the legacy of Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of Korea.

South Korean officials have expressed concern the move will complicate inter-Korean affairs, particularly movements in and out of the joint industrial complex in North Korea’s border city of Kaesong.

It could also create confusion in messages exchanged between their militaries.

Here is coverage in KCNA.

Here are some interesting observations by Martyn Williams.

UPDATE 1 (2015-8-12): And the inter-Korean trash-talking over the new time zone has begun. According to the Yonahp:

North Korea slammed President Park Geun-hye Wednesday for condemning the North’s decision to push back its standard time by 30 minutes, saying that her remarks are “unpardonable.”

Park expressed deep regret Monday over Pyongyang’s unilateral move to push its clocks back a half-hour starting Liberation Day, which falls on Saturday. The North claimed that the move is aimed at removing what it called the vestige of Japan’s colonial rule.

Currently, the two Koreas use identical standard time, set under Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

The North blamed Park for commenting on its decision, saying that what she said is an “unpardonable and politically motivated provocation.”

“All countries have their own standard time. It is the universally accepted practice in the world for each country to fix its own standard time as it is a matter pertaining to the sovereignty of an independent country,” said a spokesman for the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea.

North Korea claimed its decision to fix the new standard time reflects its “firm faith and will” to make Japan pay for what North Korea called its “hideous crimes.”

The Unification Ministry has said that the North’s move is feared to deepen differences between the two Koreas and to run counter to efforts to promote inter-Korean cooperation and prepare for a peaceful unification.

The time differences could cause some logistical problems, such as the timetables at a joint industrial park in the North Korean city of Kaesong.

Seoul said that South Korea’s choice of the present time zone is based on practical benefits, such as daylight savings, rather than colonial history.

ORIGINAL POST (2015-8-7): According to KCNA:

Pyongyang Time Newly Fixed in DPRK

The DPRK decided to fix a new standard time on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation.

A relevant decree promulgated by the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK on Wednesday noted as follows:

It was on August 15 when President Kim Il Sung, benefactor of national resurrection and peerless patriot, crushed the brigandish Japanese imperialists by making long journeys of anti-Japanese bloody battles and liberated Korea. It was the day of historical significance as it put an end to the history of national sufferings and brought about a radical turn in carving out the destiny of the country and its people.

The wicked Japanese imperialists committed such unpardonable crimes as depriving Korea of even its standard time while mercilessly trampling down its land with 5 000 year-long history and culture and pursuing the unheard-of policy of obliterating the Korean nation.

It is the firm faith and will of the DPRK’s service personnel and people to force the Japanese imperialists to pay for the monstrous crimes committed by them for a century, firmly defend the national sovereignty and demonstrate for eternity the dignity and might of the great Paektusan nation shining with the immortal august names of Kim Il Sung and leader Kim Jong Il.

The Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK made the following decision reflecting the unshakable faith and will of the service personnel and people on the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation:

Firstly, the time at 127 degrees 30 minutes east longitude or 30 minutes later than the present one shall be fixed as the standard time of the DPRK and called Pyongyang time.

Secondly, Pyongyang time shall be applied from Aug. 15, Juche 104 (2015).

Thirdly, the DPRK Cabinet and relevant organs shall take practical steps to carry out this decree.

The media has jumped all over this, so there is not much more to say. But here are my $.02:

NK is a very nationalist society, and the only country as vilified as the US is Japan. August 15 is not celebrated in NK as the end of WWII, but as the victory over Japanese colonialism (brought by Kim Il-sung, not allied forces)

The Kim Jong-un regime has placed a lot of significance on symbolism: Kim resembling his grandfather, building orphanages and water parks to show he cares about the people, etc. So moving the clock back a half-hour is an interesting move. High symbolic value (carrying out the revolution started by his grandfather), but it will not fundamentally deal with the key problems the regime is facing domestically and internationally.

It will also be something that North Korea can prod the south with: “You are still on Colonial time, not Korean time.” South Korea had also reverted to pre-colonial “Korea time” in 1954, but switched back to Japan time in 1961 under Park Chung-Hee (the current president’s father) who received aid from Japan was a US allly.

North Korea has been holding talks with the Japanese in recent years, but little progress has been made. Could this announcement signal that they are done trying with Japan?

As for implementation, this should not be too difficult. North Korea is a small country with a highly urbanized population. The government already controls what time people get out of bed in the morning with loud speakers and patriotic music. Since nothing in the DPRK is automated, there is not any computer code that needs to be adjusted. Finally, infrastructure in North Korea is so unreliable that being on time is not as big a deal there as it is in South Korea or other developed countries.

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US marine insurance company fined for North Korea dealings

August 7th, 2015

According to UPI:

A New York marine insurance firm has agreed to pay fines for violating U.S. sanctions against North Korea, Cuba and Iran.

Insurance provider The Navigators Group, Inc. admitted the company provided North Korea vessels with marine insurance, according to a statement from the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control on Thursday.

OFAC said Navigators had committed a total of 48 violations: The firm was found in violation of North Korea sanctions including Executive Order No. 13466 and various sanctions against Iran, Cuba and Sudan.

The firm has agreed to pay a reduced fine of $271,000 — down from an initial penalty of $750,000. Of the $750,000 amount, $570,000 was a fine for North Korea sanctions violations.

OFAC said the penalty was reduced after Navigators voluntarily disclosed information of its violations and cooperated with investigators.

Navigators earned $1.1 million in insurance premiums between 2008 and 2011 from 24 individual policies for North Korea vessels.

Between 2009 and 2010, the firm delivered $12,000 in payouts.

Despite sanctions, North Korean ships remain active at sea.

Read the full story here:
New York marine insurance company fined for North Korea dealings
UPI
Elizabeth Shim
2015-8-7

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