North Korea shows great interest in micro hydropower

November 13th, 2014

According to the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES):

North Korea, which has been focusing its efforts on increasing energy production, is currently paying close attention to micro hydropower systems. Micro hydropower is a type of hydroelectric power system which can effectively harness industrial water and/or hydroelectric resources from water and sewage systems to produce electricity.

A November 2, 2014 article published in the North Korea Workers’ Party’s official newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, reported on the advantages and efficiency of micro hydropower, of which it claims North Korea has implemented and is currently using. The harnessing of industrial and sewer system water was once a mere point of interest for North Korea; but according to the newspaper article, a variety of micro hydropower equipment has since been installed and is currently generating up to 100kW of power for the nation.

The newspaper explained, “Industrial waste water used for cooling or cleaning in factories has a fixed height and pressure, and can be used as a water power resource to produce electricity due to its stable quantity and flow rate. . . . In water and sewage systems, catchment areas and sewage purification plants have freefalling water which can be used as a water power resource, and in air conditioning systems, the circulating cooling water can also be potentially utilized.”

The article also praised micro hydropower systems for their low initial investment cost and operation fees.

According to the Rodong Sinmun, construction costs for the levees used in a hydroelectric power plant can account for over fifty percent of the total construction costs of the system. But, because micro hydropower systems can be installed and connected directly to existing pipes, costs are reduced dramatically, and the low-flow, low-pressure nature of the micro hydropower system allows for additional savings on materials such as waterwheels and generators.

The costs of installing a micro hydropower system may be double that of a diesel-powered generator, but when taking the cost of fuel into account, micro hydropower systems are said to be much more economical in the long term.

The newspaper also reported about one micro hydropower facility which even utilizes the piping and freefalling water from their service-water purifier. According to the article, the system produces enough electricity to power the water purification and also net a 55kW energy surplus.

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Eugene Bell expands TB work in DPRK

November 11th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

A U.S. charity group said Tuesday it has agreed with North Korea to expand its medical aid program in the impoverished nation.

Under the deal, the Washington-based Eugene Bell Foundation will construct three new wards at tuberculosis (TB) treatment centers in Pyongyang.

It is the fruit of a three-week trip to the communist nation by a group of 13 officials from the foundation.

“The number of patients at those treatment centers has grown as the activity of our foundation is increasingly known,” a foundation official said. “Every treatment center suffers a severe lack of wards.”

The foundation has long provided medical humanitarian assistance to North Korea, especially for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis.

In a new program, it is sending 770 million won (US$750,000) worth of TB medication to the North.

Read the full story here:
U.S. charity group to expand medical aid program in N. Korea
Yonhap
2014-11-11

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DPRK to open Tongrim to Chinese/other tourists

November 11th, 2014

New-tongrim-Hotel-2014-10-16

Pictured Above (Google Earth): The new Tongrim Waterfall hotel

UPDATE 2 (2014-11-11): Koryo Tours announces that westerners will be able to visit Tongrim as well:

For anyone looking for an exciting opportunity to travel in one of the least-seen parts of the least-seen nation in the world Koryo Tours is proud to offer the option to visit the city of Sinuiju, and take a drive down to the city of Dongrim – newly open to western tourists after years of our hard work pushing for access.

We have two options available for tours to this area; a day trip from the Chinese border city of Dandong, or an overnight extension to one of our regular DPRK trips as an extension to any tour that leaves the country by train – both on group and independent tours.

These areas were opened to western tourists due to the hard work of Koryo Tours’ staff in negotiating with the local and national authorities in the DPRK for access to these areas – know that if you join one of these trips, or any of our tours, you’re travelling with the company that made it all possible, we’d be glad to have you along with us!

You can now visit Sinuiju, Dongrim, and stay overnight either if you finish your tour in the DPRK by train travelling from Pyongyang up to Sinuiju on the Chinese border – this is a 24 hour extension that offers a great way to see some sites in North Pyongan province; a rarely seen part of North Korea.

UPDATE 1 (2014-10-16): DPRK opens Tongnim-jun to Chinese tourists. According to the Global Times:

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) opened its city of Tongnim-jun to Chinese tourists on Thursday, in the latest sign of the reclusive country developing its tourism sector.

Tongnim-jun is in Sinuiju, an area which borders northeast China’s Liaoning Province.

Under an agreement signed by tourist agencies of the two countries, Chinese group tourists can visit Tongnim-jun for two days from Dandong City in Liaoning.

The Dandong branch of the China International Travel Service has built a four-star hotel in the area with an investment of 30 million yuan (4.88 million US dollars).

Chinese group tourists can visit a number of DPRK cities, including its capital Pyongyang, Rason, Namyang, Chongjin and Mount Kumgang, by bus or by train.

The two countries are considering opening self-drive tours for Chinese tourists from Dandong, according to You Zejun, head of the municipal tourism commission.

The DPRK is working to develop its burgeoning tourism sector. It has approved several new travel programs and simplified entry applications to woo Chinese tourists.

In April, a train service from Ji’an City of Jilin Province was launched to link with Pyongyang, Kaesong and Panmunjom in the DPRK, making it the second city after Dandong with such services.

ORIGINAL POST (2013-1-11): According to Sina English:

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said it will open a village famous for a scenic waterfall in the northern part of the country to Chinese tourists from July.

The report by the China News Service said the tourist department of China’s Dandong city government will begin a two-day travel program on the route linking the Chinese city of Dandong to the North’s Donglim County, about 40 kilometers southeast of the border city of Sinuiju.

The news outlet said the Chinese travel department has been operating a one-day Dandong-Sinuiju travel route.
A four-star hotel is under construction as well as other amenities for travelers in the DPRK village in the North Pyongang Province, according to the report.

The village is most famous for its Donglim waterfall, a popular tourism location. The area near the waterfall is also well known for its scenic landscape.

The media report added that when the North opens the route in July, about 100 tourists will likely sign up for the tour program every day, whose two-day itinerary will cost about 1,000 Chinese yuan (US$160.9).

China’s tourist industry estimated that about 10,000 Chinese people visited the North on the Dandong-Sinuiju tour program in 2012.

Read the full story here:
DPRK to open waterfall village to Chinese tourists
Sina English
2013-1-11

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North Koreans working in China (2013 and 2014)

November 11th, 2014

UPDATE 1 (2014-11-11): Yonhap has now published some more realistic numbers of North Koreans working in China:

The number of North Koreans going to China to find work rose an average 20 percent annually in the last three years, reaching a record 93,000 in 2013, a report by a local international traders association said Tuesday.

These North Koreans are usually paid barely more than half what Chinese workers get, according to the findings by the Korea International Trade Association (KITA).

The report said the rate of workers’ increase is more than twice as high as the 9.1 percent in overall rise of migrant workers entering China in the same period.

For 2014, 44,000 North Koreans have arrived in the world’s second largest economy to find jobs, roughly on par with figures from the year before.

KITA said the number of North Korean workers entering China constitutes 47.8 percent of North Koreans visiting the neighboring country as a whole. Last year some 207,000 North Korean nationals entered China, up sharply from 116,000 in 2010.

“The increase seems to be a win-win arrangement for both sides since workers send back money, which is an easy way for the cash-strapped communist country to get hard currency, while China benefits from cheap labor,” the trade association said.

North Korean workers are usually paid 260,000-280,000 won (US$238-256) per month, which is much less than 440,000-530,000 won that businesses pay Chinese citizens.

In particular, KITA said that agreements signed between Pyongyang and Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces and other regional authorities in the North Korea-China border areas in 2012 is effectively fueling the influx of cheap workers.

The agency said South Korean companies, however, that have set up operations in China are barred from using North Korean workers due to opposition from Pyongyang.

“There is a need to get North Korea to lift its ban on allowing its workers who can benefit these firms to be employed by a South Korean company,” a KITA official said. He said in the long term, it may be feasible to use North Korean workers, with their cheap labor costs, to allow South Korean firms to make inroads into China’s domestic consumer market.

Read the full story here:
Influx of N. Korean workers into China jumps 20 pct annually in 3 years
Yonhap
2014-11-11

ORIGINAL POST (2014-10-14): According to Yonhap:

About 7,000 North Koreans are estimated to be working in China’s border cities with the North, bringing hard foreign currency to the cash-strapped regime, a senior South Korean diplomat said Tuesday.

“We have estimated that there are around 2,500 North Korean workers in Dandong and some 4,500 North Korean workers in Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture,” said Shin Bong-sup, consul general at the South Korean Consulate in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang.

Dandong is a Chinese border city where more than 70 percent of bilateral trade between North Korea and China is conducted. Yanbian, home to ethnic Koreans in China, also borders North Korea.

Shin gave the estimated number of North Korean workers in the Chinese border cities during an annual parliamentary audit in Beijing.

This number is much lower than I would have expected. In 2012, Yonhap reported that there were 4,000 North Koreans in Kuwait. Additionally, two stories in 2012 (see here and here) put the number of workers at 20,000-40,000.

However a recent report in the Daily NK indicates that cross-border family visits (which often involve significant business activity) are also on the decline this year.

Read the full Yonhap story here:
About 7,000 N. Koreans work in Chinese border cities: diplomat
Yonhap
2014-10-14

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Rice price falling in DPRK

November 7th, 2014

According to the Daily NK:

Market rice prices have been dropping dramatically in recent days, the Daily NK has learned. Given reports of an unfavorable harvest due an absence of fertilizer and drought conditions early in the season, the news has come as a surprise to many residents. In turn, this has led to customary bouts of speculation and rumor.

“The price of rice has plunged to 4,500 KPW [0.54 USD] per kg in the markets,” a source in Pyongyang told the Daily NK on Thursday. “The harvest is underway and freshly harvested rice is pushing down prices.”

“This year, not only collective farms but also individuals planted a lot of rice,” he elaborated. “It seems like the rice from these private plots is now in the marketplace.”

As of mid-October, a kilo of rice was fetching 6,800 KPW [0.82 USD] in public markets, according to research conducted by the Daily NK in locations across North Korea. Later in the month it fell to 5,000 KPW [0.60 USD], and has now reached the 4,500 KPW [0.54 USD] mark.

“Rice is going for roughly 4,800 KPW [1.80 USD], and the price here continues to fall,” a source based in the isolated border city of Hyesan said. “People have been saying the harvest this year has not been that good, but there’s definitely a lot of rice in the markets now.”

The going rate for corn has also fallen in Hyesan, the source explained, dipping to 1,700 KPW [0.20 USD] in early September. The price of corn usually tracks that of rice.

Meanwhile, in Pyongyang residents eager to determine the cause of the sudden drop have been speculating “that rice from Russia has been brought in,” the source revealed. There have even been hard numbers floated in reference to the rumor. To wit, “The state requested 5,000 tons because of the bad harvest.”

The source in Hyesan explained that, as usual, “grain units” have been officially dispatched to oversee the distribution of the harvested rice, but that bribes are sufficient to keep them from regulating rice sold in markets.

The term “grain unit” refers to 20-30 members of the Worker and Peasant Red Guards, one of North Korea’s large reserve military forces consisting of men between the ages of 17 and 60 and some unmarried women, who set up checkpoints along main transportation routes in order to govern the movement of rice and corn harvested on collective farms and individual farm plots. However, this type of monitoring has long been an ineffective formality due to the prevalence of corruption.

Despite the brief spike surmised to stem from these factors, the fall in rice prices is not expected to last long. “There may be a lot of rice in the markets, but the harvest was bad so the supply will gradually decrease,” the source predicted. “Unless the state actively engages with the issue, prices will gradually climb back up to last month’s level.”

There is also the likelihood that vendors with rice in stock may decide not to bring out their supplies if the price stays low, hoping to stick it out and reap higher profits later. According to the source, “If this were to continue, the prices would continue to climb, potentially making things difficult for residents.”

Rice prices in the North tend to be affected by fluctuations in exchange rates, but more recently they have moved seemingly without regard for currency prices. Currently in Yangkang Province, 1 RMB [0.16 USD] trades for 1,350 KPW, a 50 KPW increase from September, yet the price of rice has actually fallen.

Read teh full story here:
Surprise Rice Price Fall on Harvest News
Daily NK
Lee Sang Yong
2014-11-7

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North Koreans working on Qatar construction projects

November 7th, 2014

According to The Guardian:

In the sprawling construction zone that will eventually become Qatar’s gleaming $45bn (£28bn) Lusail City, where the 2022 World Cup final will be held, four construction sites are said to be using North Korean workers, although there is no suggestion they are involved in building World Cup stadiums.

On one site, North Koreans battled biting desert sands and searing heat to construct a luxury residential tower. They laboured on as day turned to night, long after workers from other nationalities had left the site.

One North Korean worker helping to build the high-rise said: “People like us don’t usually get paid. The money does not come to the person directly. It’s nothing to do with me, it’s the [North Korean recruitment] company’s business.”

A project manager of the lavish development said the workers “don’t have a single rial themselves” and “borrow money from us if they need small things like cigarettes”.

“The descriptions of the conditions North Korean workers endure in Qatar – abuse of vulnerability, withholding of wages and excessive overtime – are highly indicative of state-sponsored trafficking for forced labour,” a modern form of slavery, said Aidan McQuade, the director of Anti-Slavery International.

Sources in Qatar estimate there may be as many as 3,000 North Koreans working on projects across the emirate. They are part of an army of workers the North Korean regime exports around the world to bring in much-needed foreign currency. According to defectors’ groups, there may be as many as 65,000 North Koreans abroad, mainly working in Russia, China, Mongolia and the Middle East.

Kim Joo-il, a former army officer who escaped North Korea in 2005, estimates that the Pyongyang government typically takes 70% of the total salary of workers abroad, and that after all “fees”, notionally for food and accommodation, have been paid, workers will be left with only 10% of their salary.

Two employees of state-run North Korean recruitment firms operating in Qatar admitted that their workers do not receive their salaries in person, but insisted a proportion of their wages are sent back to the workers’ families in North Korea.

A spokesperson from the ministry of labour and social affairs said: “We take all issues around worker payment extremely seriously. There are currently 2,800 North Korean guest workers registered in Qatar and we have no recorded complaints about their payment or treatment. Qatar is determined to continually improve labour conditions for all who work in the country, and will continue to work with NGOs, businesses and other governments to achieve this.”

North Koreans are alleged to have participated in construction of facilities at South Africa’s World Cup as well.

Here are previous posts involving Qatar.

You can read the full story here:
North Koreans working as ‘state-sponsored slaves’ in Qatar
The Guardian
2014-11-7

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Tourism opens in North Phyongan Province’s Chongsu Tourist Development Zone

November 7th, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

The opening ceremony for the Chongsu Tourist Development Zone, an area designated as one of North Korea’s economic development zones (EDZ), took place on October 30, 2014.

According to a report on October 31 by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the Chongsu Tourist Development Zone is an EDZ which was developed under the July 23, 2014 decree of the Standing Committee of the DPRK Supreme People’s Assembly, and covers nearly 3,800 hectares in various parts of Pangsan-ri and the Chongsong Workers’ District in Sakju County, North Phyongan Province.

It was reported that the Chongsu Tourist Development Zone was opened through cooperation between North Korea’s North Phyongan Provincial People’s Committee and China’s Liaoning Province, Dandong City People’s Government, and Dandong Overseas Travel Co. Ltd.

In an interview with the KCNA, Kwak Jin Ho, director of the North Phyongan Provincial People’s Committee’s Department for Economic Zone Development, said about the development prospects of the Chongsu tourist zone: “This area will be developed into a tourist zone equipped with modern tourism and service facilities while also highlighting the distinct characteristics of Korean folklore.”

Director Kwak also stated, “The zone’s infrastructure, public facilities and tourist service facilities will all be built to meet modern standards. Currently there are plans to construct factories for special product manufacturing, as well as areas for livestock, orchards and fisheries. With these targets, there are also plans for a cultural recreation district, Korean folk village, general services area, Korean folk hotel, as well as processing plants for spring water, fruits, wild greens and kimchi.”

In addition, Director Kwak said in the interview, “The hillsides will be transformed into orchards to create a tourist destination filled with scarlet and white peaches and other high quality fruit trees.” With regards to visiting the area, Director Kwak stated, “Due to the geographical location of the tourist zone being along the border, tours are generally half-day or one-day trips.”

It was also noted that the Chongsu and Youlgol Revolutionary Historic Sites will be included among visitor destinations, and that there are plans to include the Chongsong Bridge, which was used in the Korean War, and other Pangsan-ri locations as tourist destinations.

With regards to the tourist development zone, the KCNA expressed its anticipation, saying, “When it begins, tourism will attract many tourists to this zone and will therefore form an international tourism link between Chongsu and Dandong, China.”

Here is coverage in KCNA (2014-11-1):

Chongsu Tourist Zone Opens in DPRK

Pyongyang, November 1 (KCNA) — A ceremony took place on Thursday to open the Chongsu Tourist Zone in the DPRK to visitors.

The Chongsu Tourist Zone is an economic zone to be developed under the July 23, Juche 103 (2014), decree of the Presidium of the DPRK Supreme People’s Assembly, which covers some parts of Pangsan-ri and Chongsong Workers’ District in Sakju County, North Phyongan Province. Its total area is more than 3 800 hectares.

The work for opening the zone has been pushed ahead under the cooperation between DPRK’s North Phyongan Provincial People’s Committee and China’s Liaoning Province, Dandong City People’s Government and Dandong Overseas Travel Co. Ltd.

According to Kwak Jin Ho, director of the Economic Zone Development Department of the North Phyongan Provincial People’s Committee, the zone will turn into a tourist development zone equipped with modern facilities.
Its development project includes the construction of tourist service establishments and supply bases such as cultural recreation district, Korean folk village, folk hotel and production bases for specialties, livestock and marine products and fruits. Hillocks of the zone will be changed into orchards of high-yielding fruit trees as a tourist destination.

Half-day or one-day tour is mainly encouraged in the zone while its development going on as it is located in a frontier. The tourist destinations will include Chongsu and Youlgol revolutionary sites associated with activities of Kim Hyong Jik, an indomitable revolutionary fighter, and Chongsong Bridge used during the 1950-1953 Korean War.
The tourism in the zone will provide an international tourist link between Chongsu and Dandong, China.

Here is video coverage:

Here is coverage in the Pyongyang Times:

An inaugural ceremony was held on October 30 at Pangsan wharf to signal the start of tour of the Chongsu Tourism Development Zone in Sakju County, North Phyongan Province.

The participants got aboard a pleasure boat and went up the Amnok River enjoying sightseeing.

The Chongsu Tourism Development Zone was set up by a decree of the Presidium of the DPRK Supreme People’s Assembly on July 23 2014, and it covers part of Pangsan-ri and Chongsong workers’ district in Sakju County.

The zone faces part of Dandong, Liaoning Province, China on the other side of the Amnok River.

It is spread over some 3 800 hectares, with 1 413 hectares in Pangsan-ri and 2 330 hectares in Chongsong district.

It is to be developed with much emphasis on the Korean folk taste and equipped with latest service facilities for tourists.

The project includes building of infrastructure, public amenities, service facilities and bases for processing specialities, animal husbandry, and fruit and fish farming.

Major objects to be developed are amusement district, folk village, service district, folk inn, spring water factory and other establishments for processing fruit, wild edible greens and kimchi.

A variety of good fruit tree species will be planted on hills to add to the green scenery of the zone.

Tour of sites will be conducted in parallel with development of the zone.

A tour spans half or one full day, given that the zone borders China.

On the list of the tourist sites are the Chongsu and Youlgol revolutionary sites associated with activities of Kim Hyong Jik, an outstanding leader of Korea’s anti-Japanese national liberation movement, the broken Chongsong bridge which had been used by Chinese People’s Volunteers when they entered the Korean front during the Fatherland Liberation War (June 1950 – July 1953), the seat of Pangsan-ri, historical relics from the period of the feudal Joson dynasty in the Chongsong workers’ district.

The start of tour of the zone will help forge an international tourist link between Chongsu and Dandong and promote regional tourism and economic development.

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DPRK oil imports from China in 2014 (UPDATED)

November 4th, 2014

UPDATE 8 (2014-11-14): Yonhap speculates on Chinese oil exports to the DPRK:

China appears to be continuing to provide North Korea with crude oil, contrary to its customs data, officials here said Friday.

China exported not a single drop of crude oil to North Korea in the first nine months this year, according to formal data.

If true, it might reflect widespread speculation that the relations between the communist allies have been strained to some extent due to Pyongyang’s repeated provocative acts.

South Korean officials, however, believe China is continuing to send crude oil to North Korea either in hidden trade or in the form of aid.

“Without China’s provision of crude oil, the operation of many of North Korea’s industrial facilities and vehicles would be suspended. But there has been no such indication yet,” an intelligence official said.

Beijing may be deliberately excluding its crude oil shipments to Pyongyang from the customs data in a bid to give the world the impression that it is joining the international community’s efforts to put pressure on it, another government official said.

He dismissed the view that the North has replaced China with Russia as its main source of crude oil imports.

“North Korea has brought in more crude oil from Russia this year, but the total amount is still less than 100,000 tons,” he said.

North Korea used to import an annual average of half a million tons of crude oil from China. (Yonhap)

UPDATE 7 (2014-11-4): According to Yonhap, North Korea’s jet fuel imports from China have begun to rebound this year.

North Korea imported 13,000 tons of jet fuel from China between January and September, a sharp rise from 359 tons in the same period last year, the unification ministry official told reporters.

But the amount is still far short of past tallies: 38,000 tons in the same period of 2011 and 39,000 tons in that of 2012, he noted, citing formal data from China’s customs authorities

UPDATE 6 (2014-8-23): For what it is worth, China recorded zero oil exports to North Korea in July. According to Yonhap:

According to the Chinese data analyzed by the Beijing unit of the Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency, there were no shipments of crude oil from China to North Korea from January to July.

Diplomatic sources with knowledge of the matter cautioned against reading too much into the official trade figures because China has been providing crude oil to North Korea in the form of grant aid and such shipments have not been recorded on paper.

In the first seven months of this year, China’s exports to North Korea rose 1.8 percent from a year ago to US$1.95 billion, while imports fell 4.3 percent to $1.57 billion, according to the data.

UPDATE 5 (2014-8-4): The Hankyoreh weighs in on Chinese oil exports to the DPRK:

However, there are also other experts who counter that suspending the supply of crude oil ought not to be read as a sign of deteriorating relations between North Korea and China. They say that, while the statistics read zero, the supply of crude oil is actually continuing. In fact, the price of gasoline and other petroleum products in North Korea remains stable, reports have indicated.

Radio Free Asia reported that gasoline was selling recently for around 10 to 11 won per kilogram at North Korea’s markets, around the same as the 11 won price from 2012. The price of diesel also remained steady at 6 to 7 won, the broadcaster said.

The South Korean government believes that while China may have reduced its crude oil exports, it is continuing to supply North Korea with oil as a form of aid. “China has been supplying North Korea with 500,000 tons in trade, along with a similar amount of free oil. It appears to be providing North Korea with enough crude oil to prevent problems from occurring in North Korean society,” said a senior Ministry of Unification official on condition of anonymity.

But many experts believe that relations between North Korea and China are not in such a bad state that China would shut off the supply of crude oil. “Relations between North Korea and China are not normal, but they should not be seen as especially bad, either. From the viewpoint of a superpower, China appears to be steadily observing North Korea’s behavior, without grief or joy,” said Lee Hui-ok, professor at Sungkyunkwan University.

Indeed, aside from interaction between senior officials, other sectors appear to be operating normally without any major disturbances. Trade between North Korea and China in the first half of the year remained at levels similar to 2013. Chinese exports to the North from January to May of this year were US$1.27 billion, down slightly from US$1.33 billion last year. But a big rebound in June brought the first half figures up to US$1.58 billion, nearly the same as the US$1.59 billion posted last year.

In the area of tourism, China also appeared to be taking a more aggressive attitude in the first half of the year than in 2013, running new tourism programs using bicycles and trains, reports said. In the area of personnel exchange, working-level contact is continuing, despite the lack of meetings between senior officials.

“There are virtually no senior political officials from North Korea visiting China. However, technical and economic officials continue to visit China for inspections and training,” said an official at the South Korean embassy in China, on condition of anonymity.

“It is dangerous to read too much into the temporary fluctuations and the sluggish mood recently affecting relations between North Korea and China. That would be a false diagnosis of their relationship,” said Lee Nam-ju, professor at Sungkonghoe University.

“Since North Korea and China understand each other, it does not appear likely that their relations will be suddenly damaged,” Lee said.

UPDATE 4 (2014-7-14): NK News reports on Chinese petrol exports to the DPRK:

China has increased deliveries of oil products to North Korea during the first five months of 2014 according to the latest Chinese customs data, which also confirms the widely reported halt in crude oil shipments.

However, data from the Chinese General Administration of Customs shows that the oil-products being delivered to North Korea only cover a fraction of the supplies of crude once shipped, with total deliveries falling by over 60 percent.

Experts were unsure over whether this constituted a warning from Beijing in response to North Korea’s regional provocations or whether the slow-down was due to the DPRK’s aging refineries. Crude oil must be refined into petroleum products such as fuel oil, diesel and aviation fuel before being used.

In total, China exported more than 88,000 tons of refined products to the DPRK between January and May 2014, with more than half of the growth caused by spikes in gasoline and kerosene shipments. Gasoline, is primarily used as a fuel for motor vehicles, while kerosene is used to power jet engines and as a heating fuel in North East Asia.

“[This] is somewhat over half of the recorded exports from China to the DPRK in 2010, and somewhat over a quarter of the net petroleum products imports that we estimated for the DPRK from all nations in 2010.  So there may be a real shift in petroleum products exports going on,” David Von Hippel a Senior Associate at the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability told NK News.

Kerosene, used as an aviation fuel, saw the sharpest spike in exports increasing by 5131% when compared to the same period last year. The North Koreans imported more than a hundred thousand barrels, mostly in one bulk shipment in March, amidst news published in early July by Reuters that the DPRK was looking to restart domestic flights.

Gasoline exports also rose by 84% to approximately 280 thousand barrels when compared to the  January – May period in 2013.

DPRK imports of diesel rose to 63,000 barrels and mark the first time China has exported the petroleum product since 2011, although no data is available before this point. The exports remain at a low level however, representing only a few percent of total DPRK yearly usage.

China also upped exports of Butane by 28%, which is used primarily as fuel gas or in gasoline blending. “[Butane] is more likely used as an input to bottled gas (for example, liquefied petroleum gas, LPG), which is, we have heard, increasingly used for cooking in urban households that can afford it in the DPRK.” Von Hippel told NK News.

UPDATE 3 (2014-5-24): This Daily NK article further highlights why we should be skeptical of official reports of the DPRK’s oil imports from China:

Daily NK has confirmed that China is currently supplying oil to North Korea through a pipeline running between the two. Though there have been cases where Beijing has suspended such shipments in response to North Korean intransigence, particularly over nuclear issues, but this has not happened recently.

On April 10th, Daily NK visited an oil storage and pipeline facility in Dandong. There, our team interviewed Chinese Ministry of Public Security officials guarding the facility, which is owned by a subsidiary of China National Petroleum Corporation, or CNPC.

When asked about oil assistance to North Korea, one of the officers acknowledged, “We are continuously supplying oil (to North Korea),” but “cannot say how much we send each month or how much remains as of now.”

Oil deliveries to be transferred to North Korea are received at this facility from a larger nearby facility, Basan, and then are shipped to a partner storage facility at Baekma in Pihyun Couunty, North Pyongan Province. The pipeline is 11km long.

According to sources, these deliveries are not recorded in Chinese customs data, or in foreign trade statistics. The oil from the pipeline is rather characterized as de facto aid, either in the form of low interest loans or free of charge.

This is why, on April 24th, Korean agency KOTRA released a figure of ‘zero’ for oil exports from China to North Korea for the first quarter of 2014, basing it on Chinese customs data. The data says zero for commercial transfers; however, supplies in the form of aid and assistance may not have stopped at all.

In this regard, a diplomatic source said, “China has the ability to stop the oil supplies whenever they want, but they’ve never done so for a long period of time.” He went on, “Above all, China places as much importance on security as North Korea places on nuclearization, and it doesn’t want to see disorder in the North Korean regime. This explains why China keeps providing this assistance.”

Meanwhile, Chinese trade statistics show that 520,000 tons of oil was exported to North Korea every year from 2009 to 2012. Mostly small North Korean tankers shipped this oil.

UPDATE 2 (2014-5-26): The DPRK officially did not import any oil from China as of April 2014. According to Yonhap:

China sold no crude oil to North Korea in the first four months of this year, data compiled by South Korea’s government trade agency showed Monday, in an unusual four-month absence of oil shipments amid the North’s threats of a nuclear test.

The Beijing unit of the South’s Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) said in a report, citing data from China’s customs authorities, that there were no oil shipments from China to North Korea from January to April this year.

A four-month absence of oil shipments from China to North Korea was also reported in 2009, when the North conducted its second nuclear test.

However, a diplomatic source in Beijing cautioned against reading too much into the official trade figures.

“The Chinese side has provided crude oil to North Korea in the form of grant aid, which is not recorded on paper,” the source said on condition of anonymity.

North Korea also appears to have been trying to diversify its source of oil imports, through countries such as Russia, the source said.

UPDATE 1 (2014-4-24): DPRK official imports from China in Q1 of 2014: zero.

According to Yonhap:

China did not export any crude oil to North Korea in the first three months of this year, data compiled by South Korea’s government trade agency showed Thursday, in an unprecedented three-month absence of oil shipments amid North Korea’s threats of a nuclear test.

Monthly shipments of crude oil from China to North Korea were absent in February, June and July last year, but it was the first time that China apparently stopped exports of crude oil to North Korea for three consecutive months.

The Beijing unit of the South’s Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) said in a report, citing data it collected from China’s customs authorities, that there were no oil shipments from China to North Korea from January to March this year.

“To my knowledge, it is the first time that China did not export crude oil to North Korea for three consecutive months and that would impact the North Korean economy,” a diplomat at the South Korean Embassy in Beijing said on the condition of anonymity.

Also worth highlighting from the report:

China’s total trade with North Korea fell 2.83 percent to US$1.27 billion in the January-March period, compared with the same period a year ago, according to the KOTRA report.

Additional information:

1. DPRK – China trade statistics following the Jang Song-thaek purge.

2. DPRK – China trade at all time high in 2013.

3. DPRK diversifying energy sources.

4. DPRK does not import any oil from China in January 2014.

Read the full Yonhap story here:
China didn’t export crude oil to N. Korea in Q1
Yonhap
2014-4-24

ORIGINAL POST (2014-3-10): DPRK oil imports from China in January 2014: Zero!

According to Yonhap:

North Korea did not import any crude oil from China in January, marking the first absence of monthly deliveries from China in five months, a Seoul government report showed Monday.

It was not immediately clear whether the January absence of crude shipments to North Korea from China was linked to Beijing’s growing frustration with Pyongyang over its nuclear program, but it followed the execution of the once-powerful uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un last December.

Last year, monthly shipments of crude oil from China to North Korea were absent in the months of February, June and July. However, annual shipments of crude oil to North Korea from China rose 11.2 percent on-year to 578,000 tons in 2013.

Read the full story here:
No crude import from China to N. Korea in Jan.: report
Yonhap
2014-3-10

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“Securing economic profit,” fundamental to economic management

October 31st, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

North Korea recently announced that the legitimacy and vitality of the “Economic Management in Our Style” policy has been clearly proven at many factories and business, and that ‘socialist principles’ and the ‘securing economic profit’ based on objective economic laws are the fundamental demands which must be adhered to in economic management.

On October 22, 2014, the Rodong Sinmun published an independently written article entitled, “The Fundamental Demands of Establishing Economic Management in Our Style,” which stated, “In a socialist society where the means of production are socially owned and where the economy develops according to the guiding plans of the country, the problem of how the economy is lead and managed carries an especially important meaning.”

The article first mentions, “With relation to means of production, socialist ownership is the foundation of a socialist economy, and a socialist economy is developed through collective labor.” The article continues, emphasizing, “Adhering to socialist principles in an economic enterprise means to support and hold fast to socialist ownership and to thoroughly realize the principles of collectivism.”

More specifically, the article stated, “In terms of economic leadership and management, we must adhere to and support socialist ownership, put national and societal gains above all else while also securing as much profit as possible for producers.” It continues, “The entire process of production and management must become one which fosters the spirit of collectivism in workers and laborers and which elevates the public’s willpower and creativity so that they may fulfill their roles and feel ownership responsibility.”

The article also mentioned, “Economic guidance and management must coincide with objective economic laws and scientific logic in order to guarantee the highest amount of real economic profit.” This was pointed out as another one of the fundamental demands of the “Economic Management in Our Style” policy.

With regards to economic law, the article says, “Objective economic laws affect a socialist economy, and the process of satisfying those demands is equal to ‘economic construction’ or an ‘economic development process’.” The article continues, “In order to guarantee real economic profits, economic laws and related economic spaces must be put to use effectively. Such economic laws include the law of value, the law of distribution through labor, and the law of planned, balanced development of the people’s economy through economic leadership, management, production and economic activities.

Moreover, the article specifically emphasized production relations with scientific technology. “In terms of economic guidance and company management, efforts first must be made to advance scientific technology, and all processes and factors relating to production and management must be made scientific. All businesses should actively pursue research and development in new technology and progress towards becoming a company where scientific technology and production are integrated – a technology-intensive business.” It also argues that today’s rapid economic development spurs further development in scientific technology, which occurs through the processes of wide acceptance in production and the active realization of technological guidance in production.

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New satellite imagery of Pyongyang (2014-9-21)

October 31st, 2014

Google has offered some beautiful new satellite imagery of the Pyongyang area dated September 21, 2014. The imagery shows the Pyongyang region remains an area undergoing tremendous transformation that has taken place over the last decade. Below I have highlighted some of the more interesting changes that have appeared in the last few months.

1. The nearly completed Wisong (Satellite) Scientist Street (위성과학자거리) in Unjong District, Pyongyang: 39.231244°, 125.870377°

Wisong-Scientist-Street-competed-2014-9-21

The Satellite Scientist Street is in Unjong District next to the State Academy of Sciences and inside the newly-announced Unjong Cutting-Edge Technological Development Zone. The area is approximately 900m x 360m and consists of 24 residential blocks (each seven stories, appx 13m x 80m) of alternating green and yellow. There are also approximately eight parks (of one kind or another), nursery, kindergarten, primary school, junior secondary school, standard North Korean retail outlets, hospital, polyclinic, health complex, greenhouses and vegetable gardens. Also constructed nearby is the new Natural Energy Institute of the State Academy of Sciences and a new Paesomjon train station.

After being out of public view for over a month this fall, Kim Jong-un made a notable appearance here on October 14. It was completed and opened on the 17th. Officially the compound is for scientists at the State Academy of Sciences.

2. Pyongyang Baby Home and Orphanage (평양육아원,애육원): 39.042442°, 125.794987°

Pyongyang-Baby-Home-Orphanage-2014-9-21

This new orphanage in Pyongyang is by far the country’s largest and nicest. It sits on a plot of land approximately 110m x 250m. Kim Jong-un visited the completed facility on October 27.

During the construction, many visitors to Pyongyang were unaware of the location of this project (I know because I asked). This is because it lies secluded behind exclusive leadership residencies (Undok Housing Complex and and United Front Department Housing) in northern Taedonggang District.

location-of-orpanage-2014-10-31

3. New luxury restaurant boat on Taedong River: 39.014252°, 125.755015°

Leisure-boat-2014-9-21

A large restaurant boat is under construction on the banks of the Taedong River in central Pyongyang. Not much is known about this boat yet, but it is approximately 118 meters long–nearly twice the length of the largest restaurant boat in the DPRK, the Taedonggang Restaurant Boat. The investors in this project must have high expectations. It will be interesting to see if these boats will all be managed by the same organization, and whether the Pyongyang consumer economy can support two such operations.

NK News was the first to report on this boat back on September 11. You can see a photo of the ship here.

4. Progress made on Mansudae Underground Convenience Store (만수대 지하편의상점): 39.026505°, 125.749284°

Mansudae-Underground-Convenience-Store-2014-9-21

 

A Koryo Tours delegation in March of 2013 was the first to report that the Hakdanggol Fountain Park had been torn down to make way for a new facility in the heart of the central district.  The DPRK has yet to announce much information related to the project, but tourist photos indicate it will be an underground shopping center below a park.

Mansudae-underground-convenience-store-vision

5. Progress made on high-rise shopping center near Tongil Market: 38.982815°, 125.733247°

Tongil-shopping-highrise-2014-9-21

Situated just north of Pyongyang’s most popular market (for foreigners), the Tongil Street Market, and just south of the failed investment project KKG Avenue, this large high-rise construction project continues to make progress. The building appears to have an “H” shaped base approximately 110m x 70m. This project is likely being supported by foreign investors, however we do not know who they are or anything substantive about this project.

6.  Progress made on East Pyongyang Shopping Mall (동평양지구 상업거리): 39.030246°, 125.775913°

east-pyongyang-shopping-mall-2014-9-21

The groundbreaking ceremony for this project was held on January 16th, 2014, but little substantive work had been done as late as April. The construction site is approximately 270m x 110m and was unoccupied as far back as 2000. When launched, this shopping center was under the auspices of the State Economic Development Commission (SEDC–the same organization responsible for the nation’s new economic development zones) and a Chinese consortium named “Great China International Group”. Since the launch, the  SEDC, Ministry of Foreign Trade, and the Joint Venture Investment Corporation (JVIC) have been merged into the Ministry of External Economic Affairs (Not to be confused with the External Economic Affairs Commission which was dissolved in the late 1990s).

7. Closure of east Pyongyang tram depot and removal of tracks

FORMER-East-PY-tram-2014-9-21

According to new satellite imagery, one of Pyongyang’s tram lines has been removed. The tracks, which were inlaid into the road, seem to have been completely pulled up and the roads repaved. The tram depot remains in eastern Pyongyang, but it can be easily be re-purposed to serve as storage or manufacturing needs in the future.

East-PY-Tram-depot-2014-1-27 East-PY-Tram-depot-2014-9-21

It will be interesting to see if this has any effect on the Sadong Market which lies directly next to the former tram depot. It would have been relatively easy for customer to travel to the market with such convenient public transport, but will people make the effort when the commute becomes more complicated?

UPDATE: Reader Gag Halfrunt sent in the following helpful information:

Judging by this map from Transphoto.ru the closed tram line is the eastern portion of line 1. Line 1 has another depot at the western terminus in Mangyongdae, which is still open in the latest Google satellite photo.s.

Indeed there’s a note on Transphoto.ru saying the line will be converted to a trolleybus line. Translated by Google, it says:

Tram line 1 of route to the east of the city Songsin and depot at the end of the line are closed. The tram is expected to be replaced by trolley. This line was the only one in the city where the tram followed by the middle of the carriageway and not along the roadside, which is not the North Korean standards. Previously the line had already been shortened to Sintra area-Dong, before the bridge, on the east bank of the river Tedogan, before you reach the town center . Tram Pyongyang also begins to experience significant deficits with operational rolling stock.

 

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