Satellite (Wisong) Scientists Street Part 2 Announced (sort of)

January 12th, 2018

Kim Jong-un made his first guidance trip of 2018 to the State Academy of Science in Unjong District, Pyongyang, on January 12.

While touring the newly renovated history museum, he was photographed in front of a map that advertised the plan for “Phase 2” of the Wisong Scientists Street (위성과학자거리 2단계배치계화안).

I have outlined the approximate area on Google Earth in red below.

Although housing renovation in Pyongyang started before Kim Jong-un took over from his father, he has touted new housing as one of his signature policy accomplishments. Kim Jong-un launched his leadership with the opening of the renovated eastern end of Mansudae Street (and Changjon Street), then moved onto Unha Scientists Street, Wisong Scientists Street, Mirae Scientists Street, and Ryomyong Street.

Construction on new facilities has noticeably slowed over the last year, though implementation of specific types of construction projects is ongoing nationwide. It will be interesting to see if anything comes of this project in the next couple of years given all that is taking place in the domestic economy (sanctions).

And just to add to the confusion, this same area has also been previously designated for the Unjong Cutting-Edge Technological Development Zone, so it will be interesting to see how that develops as well.

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New ski resort opens in Kanggye, Chagang Province

January 11th, 2018

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES):

A new ski resort opened in Kanggye, the capital of Chagang Province, on January 7, 2108, as reported by the Rodong Sinmun on January 8th. It is said the ski resort will serve as a “base for providing public sports services” for North Korean people.

“The ski resort, built on Mt. Jabuk on the outskirts of Kanggye, is fully provided with facilities for the workers and youth to enjoy sporting activities and rest, including sledge runs, beginner and intermediate slopes, ropeway, surface lift, and medical treatment room,” the North Korean state newspaper said.

“Constructing the resort in line with the country’s reputation as a civilized socialist power, North Korea has created another base for public sports services that will contribute to endow the workers and young students with solid physical strength,” it added.

At the opening ceremony held on January 7th, Kim Jae-ryong, Chairman of the Chagang Provincial Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), called the Kanggye Ski Resort a “monumental creation in the days of the WPK.” In the interest of Chairman Kim Jung Un, he said, the government officials and workers in the province have completed the construction in a short period of time through their own technologies and resources. He also stated that under the “strenuous efforts first” principle, the workers in the province’s machinery industry have built and installed many facilities and equipment such as a surface lift and ropeway.

According to a Rodong Sinmun report in July, the Kanggye Ski Resort, which is built in the Sokjo district of the city, is equipped with ski slopes, sledge runs, restaurants, lodging facilities, cultural and welfare facilities and parking lots. The entrance of the ski slopes are said to be marked with gate posts featuring distinctive designs. There is also a pavilion from which one can view the surrounding landscape.

It is reported that water from a reservoir can be accessed to produce artificial snow in the event of a shortfall of snow. The resort also operates snow groomers. Skiers can take the surface lift get to the beginner slopes or sledge runs. There is ropeway access to the pavilion at the top of the ski slopes, where skiers can get a bird’s eye view of the city of Kanggye.

The Kanggye Ski Resort is North Korea’s second ski resort—the first being the winter resort at Masikryong Pass, which opened in early January 2016. Various North Korean media agencies are actively promoting the new resort, perhaps reflecting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s interest in winter sports.

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N Korean seafood still sold in China

January 8th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Reports NHK:

North Korean seafood is still being sold in China’s northeastern regions despite UN sanctions resolutions banning such trade.

Chinese retailers at a market in Jilin province near the border with the North were advertising “North Korean seafood”, including live crabs.

Market sources say prices for crab smuggled from the North are less than half of those from Russia. Snow crabs were priced at about 18 dollars per kilogram and hairy crabs at around 24 dollars.

Seafood retailers on another street in the province shut down immediately after the UN Security Council adopted the sanctions resolution in August. But some have since reopened.

A shopkeeper said it was initially difficult to obtain North Korean seafood after the sanctions, but he can now purchase it every day. He said the products come from ports in Liaoning Province.

Traders say the seafood is transferred from North Korean fishing boats to Chinese vessels at sea and mainly smuggled into the city of Donggang in Liaoning Province.

The Chinese government insists it has been strictly implementing the sanctions resolution, so there is likely to be renewed attention on whether it will thoroughly crack down on the smuggling.

Article source:
N.Korean seafood still being sold in China
NHK World
2018-01-08

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North Korea reviews the five-year strategy for economic development

January 4th, 2018

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

In an effort to assess the implementation of the five-year strategy for the national economic development in 2017, North Korea had a meeting of the party, state, economic and military executives on December 28, Rodong Sinmun reported on the next day.

At the meeting, Cabinet Premier Pak Pong-ju said, “In his [2017] New Year’s address this year, Kim Jong-un introduced a combative task to give an impetus to the victorious progress of socialism with the great power of self-reliance, and brought about a series of national occasions to celebrate or extra-magnificent events that will remain immortal in the country’s history.” Pak then added that Kim has “passionately led the projects in the economic sector that carried a key importance in the implementation of the five-year strategy for national economic development this year, even when he was so busy personally spearheading the all-out war to complete the development of the country’s nuclear forces.”

At the second plenary session of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea held earlier this year, Pak said, the North Korean leader “presented a revolutionary countermeasure strategy to crumble the enemy’s despicable sanction plots into dust, and provided instrumental guidelines that have enabled us to make victorious progress in building a great socialist power.” He then listed Kim’s achievements in various areas, including the completion of the new residential complex on Ryomyong Street, progress in the development of Samjiyon County, the accomplishments in the machine industry such as the expanded production of cars and tractors, the construction of a livestock farming base in the Sepho area in Kangwon Province, and the increased production in the light industry, textile industry and fruit sector.

In addition, he said, thanks to Kim’s guidance, the North Korean Ministry of Chemical Industry and Ministry of Construction and Building-Materials Industries were able to “develop a firm prospect of the establishment of the C1 chemical industry in the science and technology sector, the Ministry of Land and Marine Transportation was able to develop a pilot system that enabled the comprehensive management and operation of ships, and the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications was able to actively modernize the country’s postal system using its own technology.”

In particular, the premier asserted, the overall material and technical basis of the economic sectors, including the power, metal and chemical industries, has been strengthened this year.

“We should continue to place our top priority in putting our resources into the country’s defense industry and strengthening our self-defense capability,” he added.

Furthermore, “with the great power of our own strenuous efforts and the mighty power of science and technology,” he urged, North Koreans should “boldly make a struggle for increased production, creative struggle and charge for production in all fronts of the people’s economy, to meet the goal in every battle without question and build the material and technological foundations for the implementation of the five-year strategy.”

In fact, due to the intensified sanctions, North Korea has not been able to produce economic results as it had planned in the recent years. Neither was it able to hold the Mallima pioneers conference it had announced early last year.

As international sanctions continue, in 2018 Pyongyang is expected to focus on economic development more than anything else.

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Kim Jong-un’s 2018 new year address

January 1st, 2018

Below I have posted the economic section of Kim Jong-un’s 2018 new year speech in English and Korean:

Comrades,

동지들!

This year we will mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the glorious Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. To mark the 70th anniversary of their state with splendour is of real significance for the great people, who have raised with dignity the status of their socialist country, the greatest patriotic legacy of the great Comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, to that of a strategic state recognized by the world. [Translation note: In the Korean version below, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il are not mentioned by name, only by title]

올해에 우리는 영광스러운 조선민주주의인민공화국창건 일흔돐을 맞이하게 됩니다.위대한 수령님과 위대한 장군님의 최대의 애국유산인 사회주의 우리 국가를 세계가 공인하는 전략국가의 지위에 당당히 올려세운 위대한 인민이 자기 국가의 창건 일흔돐을 성대히 기념하게 되는것은 참으로 의의깊은 일입니다.

We should make constant innovations and continued progress until we win the final victory of the revolution by carrying on the tradition of heroic struggle and collective innovation which adorned the founding and course of development of Juche Korea. A revolutionary general offensive should be launched to achieve fresh victory on all fronts of building a powerful socialist country by taking the historic victory in the building of the DPRK’s nuclear forces as a springboard for fresh progress.

우리는 주체조선의 건국과 발전행로에 빛나는 영웅적투쟁과 집단적혁신의 전통을 이어 혁명의 최후승리를 이룩할 때까지 계속혁신,계속전진해나가야 합니다.공화국핵무력건설에서 이룩한 력사적승리를 새로운 발전의 도약대로 삼고 사회주의강국건설의 모든 전선에서 새로운 승리를 쟁취하기 위한 혁명적인 총공세를 벌려나가야 합니다.

“Let us launch a revolutionary general offensive to achieve fresh victory on all fronts of building a powerful socialist country!” This is the revolutionary slogan we should uphold. All officials, Party members and other working people should launch an all-people general offensive to frustrate the challenges of the hostile forces who are making last-ditch efforts and raise the overall strength of our Republic to a new stage of development as they brought about a great upsurge in socialist construction overcoming all difficulties through the great Chollima upswing after the war.

《혁명적인 총공세로 사회주의강국건설의 모든 전선에서 새로운 승리를 쟁취하자!》 이것이 우리가 들고나가야 할 혁명적구호입니다.모든 일군들과 당원들과 근로자들은 전후 천리마대고조로 난국을 뚫고 사회주의건설에서 일대 앙양을 일으킨것처럼 전인민적인 총공세를 벌려 최후발악하는 적대세력들의 도전을 짓부시고 공화국의 전반적국력을 새로운 발전단계에 올려세워야 합니다.

A breakthrough should be made in reenergizing the overall economic front this year, the third year of implementing the five-year strategy for national economic development.

국가경제발전 5개년전략수행의 세번째 해인 올해에 경제전선전반에서 활성화의 돌파구를 열어제껴야 하겠습니다.

The central task facing socialist economic construction this year is to enhance the independence and Juche character of the national economy and improve the people’s standard of living as required by the revolutionary counter-strategy put forward by the Second Plenary Meeting of the Seventh Central Committee of the Party.

올해 사회주의경제건설에서 나서는 중심과업은 당중앙위원회 제7기 제2차전원회의가 제시한 혁명적대응전략의 요구대로 인민경제의 자립성과 주체성을 강화하고 인민생활을 개선향상시키는것입니다.

We should concentrate all efforts on consolidating the independence and Juche character of the national economy.

인민경제의 자립성과 주체성을 강화하는데 총력을 집중하여야 합니다.

The electric-power industry should maintain and reinforce the self-supporting power generation bases, and direct a great deal of efforts to developing new power sources. A dynamic campaign should be conducted to drastically increase thermal power generation, and lower the loss of electric power and increase its production as much as possible by maintaining and reinforcing imperfect generating facilitates. Provinces should build power generation bases to suit their local features and put power generation at the existing medium and small-sized power stations on a normal footing to satisfy the needs of electric power for local industry by themselves. Alternated production should be organized scrupulously throughout the country, and a vigorous struggle waged against the practices of wasting electric power to make effective use of generated electric power.

전력공업부문에서는 자립적동력기지들을 정비보강하고 새로운 동력자원개발에 큰 힘을 넣어야 합니다.화력에 의한 전력생산을 결정적으로 늘이며 불비한 발전설비들을 정비보강하여 전력손실을 줄이고 최대한 증산하기 위한 투쟁을 힘있게 벌려야 합니다.도들에서 자기 지방의 특성에 맞는 전력생산기지들을 일떠세우며 이미 건설된 중소형수력발전소들에서 전력생산을 정상화하여 지방공업부문의 전력을 자체로 보장하도록 하여야 합니다.전국가적인 교차생산조직을 짜고들며 전력랑비현상과의 투쟁을 힘있게 벌려 생산된 전력을 효과적으로 리용하기 위한 된바람을 일으키도록 하여야 합니다.

The metallurgical industry should further improve the Juche-oriented iron- and steel-making technologies, increase the iron production capacity and drastically raise the quality of metallic materials in order to satisfy the needs of the national economy for iron and steel. It is necessary to ensure a preferential, planned and timely supply of electricity, concentrated iron ore, anthracite, lignite, freight wagons, locomotives and funds for the metallurgical industry. By doing so, we can fulfil next year’s iron and steel production plans and make the industry Juche-oriented without fail.

금속공업부문에서는 주체적인 제철,제강기술을 더욱 완성하고 철생산능력을 확장하며 금속재료의 질을 결정적으로 높여 인민경제의 철강재수요를 충족시켜야 합니다.금속공업부문에 필요한 전력,철정광,무연탄,갈탄,화차와 기관차,자금을 다른 부문에 앞세워 계획대로 어김없이 보장하여 다음해 철강재생산목표를 무조건 수행하며 금속공업의 주체화를 기어이 완성하도록 하여야 하겠습니다.

The chemical industry should step up the establishment of the C1 chemical industry, push the projects for catalyst production base and phosphatic fertilizer factory as scheduled, and renovate and perfect the sodium carbonate production line whose starting material is glauberite.

화학공업부문에서 탄소하나화학공업창설을 다그치고 촉매생산기지와 린비료공장건설을 계획대로 추진하며 회망초를 출발원료로 하는 탄산소다생산공정을 개건완비하여야 합니다.

The machine-building industry should modernize the Kumsong Tractor Factory, Sungri Motor Complex and other factories to develop and produce world-level machinery in our style.

기계공업부문에서는 금성뜨락또르공장과 승리자동차련합기업소를 비롯한 기계공장들을 현대화하고 세계적수준의 기계제품들을 우리 식으로 개발생산하여야 합니다.

The coal and mineral production and rail transport sectors should make concerted efforts to make the country’s self-reliant economic foundations prove their effectiveness.

나라의 자립적경제토대가 은을 낼수 있게 석탄과 광물생산,철도수송에서 련대적혁신을 일으켜야 합니다.

Notably, the rail transport sector should make the best use of the existing transport capacity by making transport organization and control more scientific and rational, and maintain discipline and order in the railways as rigid as in the army, so as to ensure an accident-free, on-schedule rail traffic.

특히 철도운수부문에서 수송조직과 지휘를 과학화,합리화하여 현존수송능력을 최대한 효과있게 리용하며 철도에 군대와 같은 강한 규률과 질서를 세워 렬차의 무사고정시운행을 보장하도록 하여야 합니다.

A turn should be brought about this year in improving the people’s standard of living.

올해에 인민생활향상에서 전환을 가져와야 합니다.

Light-industry factories need to transform their equipment and production lines into labour- and electricity-saving ones and produce and supply more diversified and quality consumer goods with domestic raw and other materials, and provinces, cities and counties should develop the local economy in a characteristic way by relying on their own raw material resources.

경공업공장들의 설비와 생산공정을 로력절약형,전기절약형으로 개조하고 국내원료와 자재로 다양하고 질좋은 소비품들을 더 많이 생산공급하며 도,시,군들에서 자체의 원료원천에 의거하여 지방경제를 특색있게 발전시켜야 합니다.

The agricultural and fishing fronts should effect an upswing. We should introduce seeds of superior strains, high-yield farming methods and high-performance farm machines on an extensive scale, do farming scientifically and technologically so as to fulfil the cereals production plan without fail, and boost the production of livestock products, fruits, greenhouse vegetables and mushrooms. We should enhance our ship building and repair capacities, launch scientific fishing campaigns, and reenergize aquatic farming.

농업과 수산전선에서 앙양을 일으켜야 하겠습니다.우량종자와 다수확농법,능률적인 농기계들을 대대적으로 받아들이고 농사를 과학기술적으로 지어 알곡생산목표를 반드시 점령하며 축산물과 과일,온실남새와 버섯생산을 늘여야 합니다.배무이와 배수리능력을 높이고 과학적인 어로전을 전개하며 양어와 양식을 활성화하여야 하겠습니다.

This year the service personnel and people should join efforts to complete the construction of the Wonsan-Kalma coastal tourist area in the shortest period of time, push ahead with major construction projects including the renovation of Samjiyon County, the construction of the Tanchon Power Station and the second-stage waterway project of South Hwanghae Province, and channel steady efforts into the construction of houses.

올해에 군민이 힘을 합쳐 원산갈마해안관광지구건설을 최단기간내에 완공하고 삼지연군꾸리기와 단천발전소건설,황해남도물길 2단계 공사를 비롯한 중요대상건설을 다그치며 살림집건설에 계속 힘을 넣어야 합니다.

Building on the success we achieved in the forest restoration campaign, we should properly protect and manage the forests that have already been created, improve the technical conditions of roads, conduct river improvement on a regular basis, and protect environment in a scientific and responsible manner.

산림복구전투성과를 더욱 확대하면서 이미 조성된 산림에 대한 보호관리를 잘하는것과 함께 도로의 기술상태를 개선하고 강하천정리를 정상화하며 환경보호사업을 과학적으로,책임적으로 하여야 합니다.

Every sector and every unit of the national economy should enlist their own technical forces and economic potential to the maximum and launch a dynamic struggle to increase production and practise economy, so as to create a greater amount of material wealth.

인민경제 모든 부문과 단위들에서 자체의 기술력량과 경제적잠재력을 총동원하고 증산절약투쟁을 힘있게 벌려 더 많은 물질적재부를 창조하여야 합니다.

A shortcut to developing the self-sufficient economy is to give precedence to science and technology and make innovations in economic planning and guidance.

자립경제발전의 지름길은 과학기술을 앞세우고 경제작전과 지휘를 혁신하는데 있습니다.

The scientific research sector should solve on a preferential basis the scientific and technological problems arising in establishing Juche-oriented production lines of our own style, ensuring domestic production of raw and other materials and equipment, and perfecting the structure of the self-supporting economy. Every sector and every unit of the national economy should make a contribution to achieving production growth by intensifying the dissemination of science and technology and waging a brisk technological innovation drive.

과학연구부문에서는 우리 식의 주체적인 생산공정들을 확립하고 원료와 자재,설비를 국산화하며 자립적경제구조를 완비하는데서 제기되는 과학기술적문제들을 우선적으로 풀어나가야 합니다.인민경제 모든 부문과 단위들에서 과학기술보급사업을 강화하며 기술혁신운동을 활발히 벌려 생산장성에 이바지하여야 하겠습니다.

The Cabinet and other economic guidance organs should work out a realistic operational plan to carry out the national economic plan for this year and push forward the work for its implementation responsibly and persistently. Positive measures should be taken by the state to ensure that the socialist system of responsible business operation proves its worth in factories, enterprises and cooperative organizations.

내각을 비롯한 경제지도기관들은 올해 인민경제계획을 수행하기 위한 작전안을 현실성있게 세우며 그 집행을 위한 사업을 책임적으로 완강하게 내밀어야 합니다.국가적으로 사회주의기업책임관리제가 공장,기업소,협동단체들에서 실지 은을 낼수 있도록 적극적인 대책을 세워야 합니다.

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Kangnam Economic Development Park Announced

December 23rd, 2017

I am on Christmas holiday, but took a quick minute to write this blog post about North Korea’s newest Special Economic Zone.

According to KCNA (2017-12-23):

SPA Presidium Decides to Establish Kangnam Economic Development Park

Pyongyang, December 23 (KCNA) — The Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea decided to establish Kangnam Economic Development Park in several parts of Koup-ri, Kangnam County of Pyongyang.

The DPRK is to exercise sovereignty over Kangnam Economic Development Park.

A decree on the decision of the SPA Presidium was promulgated on Thursday.

North Korea announced fourteen new SEZs in 2013, seven new SEZs in 2014, and 3 new SEZs in 2015. None were announced in 2016. This is the first SEZ to be announced in 2017, and it was announced just a day after UNSC voted to tighten sanctions on the country.

Although the article does not give many specifics, I believe this project aspires to be a manufacturing/ processing/ shipping hub built on the Taedong River. But we will learn more later, no doubt.

See Google Earth image of the area below:

Koup-ri has over 4km of waterfront property along the Taedong River and a partially completed port at  38.876443°, 125.572246°.

It also has a new fish farm constructed sometime after September 2015:

North Korea and SEZs:

My impression is that to date North Korea had scaled back expectations on their many SEZs to focus on Rason Economic and Trade Zone and Wonsan-Mt. Kumgang International Tourist Park (neither of which are expected to see much growth owing to international sanctions measures, North Korea’s corrupt business environment, poor infrastructure, and poor human human rights record). A few other SEZs have seen some construction progress or are occasionally mentioned in the official media, but have seen little progress (nothing to make up for losses at the Kaesong Industrial Zone). These include the Hwanggumphyong and Wihwado Economic Zone (Management Commitee Building constructed), the Sinuiju International Economic Park (Chinese Tourist Zone constructed), the Kangryong International Model Green Park (advertised in official media), the Unjong Hi-Tech Development Park (advertised in official media), and the Mubong Special Park for International Tourism (new border crossing and limited construction).

Seeing this announcement was a surprise to me.

More later. Happy holidays.

 

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The December 2017 sanctions on North Korea: business as usual?

December 23rd, 2017

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Many of the steps in the additional sanctions added by the UN Security Council resolution 2379 on December 22nd, 2017, were expected. Targeting oil and petroleum, export incomes, as well as revenues from foreign workers, are all natural steps if the international community wants to pressure North Korea. It’s still rather unclear what the end-goal is, but if sanctions are intended to make things more difficult for the North Korean economy, they can certainly have an impact to that end. These are the main points:

  • Exports of refined petroleum products will be capped at 500,000 barrels per year.
  • Crude oil transfers will be limited to 4 million barrels/year.
  • Within two years, UN member states are to have expelled all North Korean workers and managers.

When analyzing how this will impact North Korea, there are two sides to the story. On the one hand, as with all sanctions against North Korea, China (and to some extent, Russia) would likely not have agreed to them if they had believed that they created a real risk of severe social instability in North Korea that would risk spilling over its own borders. At the same time, it seems like the US intention is to create economic difficulties so severe that the North Korean regime will crack and agree to negotiate the existence of its nuclear deterrent, at least according to the official, outward line. These two objectives appear to be mutually exclusive in the long run.

Moreover, China and Russia appear to have extracted some significant concessions in negotiating the resolution. North Korean workers are to be expelled no later than within two years, which is not an insignificant time frame. Perhaps by then, things will have changed enough for sanctions to be renegotiated. The cap of 4 million barrels is close to what China is commonly estimated to be transferring in terms of crude oil per year to North Korea (3.64 million). So North Korea will hardly be fully starved of oil. Fuel has never been in abundant supply in the country.

Last but not least, smuggling routes are already well-established. Recall Ri Jong-ho’s claims that North Korea buys 300,000 tonnes of fuel products from Russia each year through brokers abroad, largely under the radar. Such transfers are not impossible, but very difficult, to track and stop. Both Russia and China can claim with some truth that they cannot control all sanctions breaches by entities within its borders, particularly enterprises who aren’t all too law-abiding in normal times. Particularly given the poor state of relations between the US and Russia, and the US and China, it is unlikely that either of the two countries will dedicated significant resources to fully track and prevent sanctions breaches, beyond normal procedure. Also, North Korea has been under various forms of sanctions since at least 2006, and even before that, was never an integrated part of established and open world trade. They’ve existed under harsh conditions long enough to learn and adapt their strategies.

On the other hand, North Korea is not immune to sanctions pressure. No country is. Even if smuggling and other ways of getting around sanctions can compensate for some of the losses, transaction costs likely increase. In other words, those who still choose to sell items like fuel to North Korea now have space to demand a higher mark-up for the additional risk. There are also presumably added transaction costs liquefying coal to generate oil.

The government has the resources and the know-how to largely get what they need, but North Korean businesses at the mid- or lower levels will find it much more difficult to keep up with the added costs and effort needed. This is has been true for each sanctions round through this year and last.

Ordinary North Koreans have been impacted by sanctions for long — this did not start with the sanctions that target goods such as oil and fuel. The opportunity cost of what could have been without them was still present. Of course, one can reasonably argue that the fault lies with the regime, for continuing its development of nuclear weapons and missiles, and not with the international community. But that sanctions would somehow not effect North Korean society while hitting against the regime seems implausible.

Lastly, we can note that both exchange rates and rice prices on North Korean markets have decreased over the past few weeks. There may be additional stress present among some spheres of society, but it seems like no major sense of crisis is at hand.

 

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US asks China to cease all oil shipments to North Korea

November 29th, 2017

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

In response to yesterday’s missile test, Trump has asked Xi Jinping to cease all oil shipments to North Korea from China. “All” presumably includes the crude oil that China ships, in unknown but presumably large amounts, via the pipeline that runs from Northeast China through Dandong and to the Ponghwa refinery in Sinuiju in North Korea’s northeast.

It seems unlikely that China would fully cease shipments of oil to North Korea, especially over a longer term period. Should oil shortages get serious to the degree that vital industries, agriculture and other sectors cannot function properly, China would eventually grow concerned over social instability in North Korea that would risk spilling over its own borders.

Should China cut off crude oil shipments, it would mean that North Korea’s ability to acquire oil and fuel products is severely limited. Sanctions cap the amount that UN member states can ship to the country, and gasoline prices have risen to very high levels during the year. Oil imports through channels that go unnoticed in international trade records are probably much bigger than often estimated. Recall Ri Jong-ho’s famed estimate that North Korea purchases 300,000 tons of oil products each year from Russia. Overall, it is not entirely unfeasible that Russia could grow as a source of North Korean oil imports in the future. North Korea also has some capacity to transform domestically sourced coal products into synthetic liquid fuel.

The drastically increased fuel prices in North Korea during the year also suggest that the state may have been grabbing much of what fuel has been available for its own needs, likely to store for military and other uses, suggesting that North Korean strategists have long seen an oil embargo on the horizon. After all, the markets only exist at the mercy of the state, and will always come secondary. Therefore, we don’t know whether military and state storage might currently be larger than estimated in normal times.

At the end of the day, however, should crude oil flows from China be cut off entirely, there’s no denying it would be problematic for North Korea. Though China is unlikely to entirely cut off all crude oil shipments for a prolonged, long-term period, much pain can be caused in the meantime.

For more on this, I wrote about North Korea’s connections to, and reliance on, China in matters such as infrastructure, energy, and telecommunications earlier this year in IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review.

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On the December Dandong-Sinuiju bridge closing

November 24th, 2017

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Yesterday, Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun reported that the Dandong-Sinuiju bridge will be closed during the coming weeks. The bridge is to be closed for ten days. Ostensibly for repairs, they said China was also closing the bridge for political reasons.

Should the bridge be closed for any longer period of time, that would be very problematic for North Korea (and for traders on the Chinese side, too). Around 70 percent of trade between the two countries is estimated to go through this connection point. Given North Korea’s poor infrastructure, re-routing goods transports through other parts of the country would likely be difficult.

But the closing most likely is not a measure taken to punish North Korea or the like, despite the current context. First, as many travellers going across the bridge attest to, repairs are in dire need. Second, the end of the year typically sees a lull in goods flows across the border anyway. Transport volumes are cyclical and no one point in the year is fully representative for the rest. Third, simply closing up the bridge would seem like an odd blanket-type measure, and should China want to punish North Korea, there are certainly much more efficient ways of doing so.

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On the Nov 21st US Treasury Sanctions against North Korea

November 21st, 2017

By: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Today, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) announced new sanctions against a number of Chinese and North Korean entities. The sanctions “target third-country persons with long-standing commercial ties to North Korea, as well as the transportation networks that facilitate North Korea’s revenue generation and operations,” said a press statement.

Overall, these additional measures seem designed to clamp down on avenues for North Korea to circumvent current UN sanctions. Among those sanctioned are three Chinese companies that have traded with North Korea in goods that are covered by UN sanctions from this and last year:

OFAC designated Dandong Kehua Economy & Trade Co., Ltd., Dandong Xianghe Trading Co., Ltd., and Dandong Hongda Trade Co. Ltd. pursuant to E.O. 13810.  Between January 1, 2013 and August 31, 2017, these three companies cumulatively exported approximately $650 million worth of goods to North Korea and cumulatively imported more than $100 million worth of goods from North Korea.  These goods have included notebook computers, anthracite coal, iron, iron ore, lead ore, zinc ore, silver ore, lead, and ferrous products.

Also targeted are companies that have traded in goods that are either covered by sanctions, or (it seems) fall under the dual-use category of goods that can be used in nuclear weapons/missile development:

OFAC designated Sun Sidong and his company, Dandong Dongyuan Industrial Co., Ltd. (Dongyuan), pursuant to E.O. 13810.  Sun and Dongyuan were responsible for exporting over $28 million worth of goods to North Korea over several years, including motor vehicles, electrical machinery, radio navigational items, aluminum, iron, pipes, and items associated with nuclear reactors.  Dongyuan has also been associated with front companies for weapons of mass destruction-related North Korean organizations.

The sanctions also target vessels that are suspected of having transferred oil to North Korea via other ships (ship-to-ship transfer) in violation of sanctions (this part contains some pretty impressive pictures):

All in all, these new sanctions appear to try to fill the gaps left by current sanctions. Surely, they will cause added trouble for North Korea. But the problem, to begin with, is that North Korea has historically been good at adapting to new sanction’s frameworks and finding new methods to circumvent them. Only time will tell whether these skills of North Korea still hold up in the current sanctions environment.

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