North Korea exporting sand, gravel and coal to China from Sinuiju

November 15th, 2016

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

An interesting example of how the transition from state-owned to private enterprise impacts the workings of certain firms. Daily NK:

North Korean ships from Sinuiju, North Pyongan Province are reportedly exporting in excess of 100 tons of sand and gravel into China each day.
“Shipping firms from Sinuiju are earning foreign currency through contracts with private Chinese construction businesses. The North Korean authorities are supporting the operations after receiving orders to finance the export of coal and sand to China. They are also providing wages and food for the workers,” an inside source from North Pyongan Province told Daily NK on November 11.
Additional sources in North Pyongan Province corroborated this information.
The source added that although the city’s shipping industry was originally a state enterprise, that is no longer the case. The industry is now run by private enterprises that deal with the domestic and Chinese markets. When the operations were state owned, there were chronic shortages of capital and sailors were forced to use sub-standard vessels. The regime’s new policy – to let the industry rehabilitate itself through benign neglect – has allowed the businesses to revitalize themselves. By exporting sand across the Yalu River into China, these businesses have earned enough capital to purchase better vessels. A number of enterprises and the associated infrastructure has grown as a result.
“As the volume of sand exported continues to rise, the shipping companies are inducing more service providers and factories to participate in the industry. The Anju Country 105 Sand Factory collects sand from the Chongchon River and transports it by way of the Yalu River to the shipping firms,” the source added.
When asked about the scale of the trade, she noted, “Sinuiju Harbor sees a daily influx of Chinese boats that carry away more than 100 tons of sand and gravel. Because exports are continuing to climb, the shipping firms are using the capital to enter new industries such as coal export.”
The North Korean enterprises see sand as an inexhaustible natural resource, the source explained, adding, “The more we sell, the better quality sand we can bring in. The enterprises are doing quite well for this reason. The factory cadres are accumulating vast sums of money, and continue to look for ways to increase their profits.”
The flourishing business has also improved prospects for workers. Laborers in the sand and gravel collection factories can earn enough money to put food on the table for a family of four – with food provided to them plus approximately 50,000 KPW per month (U.S. 6.14) for extras.
“The authorities are also using the opportunity to generate propaganda about the generosity of ruler Kim Jong Un,” the source asserted.
The revitalization of the sand collection industry is a positive development from the point of view of the authorities, as all Yalu River sand enterprises are first and foremost responsible for the supply of Kim Jong Un’s pet construction projects, such as the Ryomyong Street Project.
“The authorities can simply sit back and relax as they receive money, supplies, and credit for the success of the sand business. This reveals that the solution to North Korea’s problems is freedom of the market,” she added.
As exports continue to increase, the donju (North Korea’s nouveau riche) have expanded the scope of their interests and investments. “First, they purchase a large boat. Next, under the pretense of being a shipping business, they start to branch off into other industries to make more money. The factories give the donju the authority to do the trading and receive 30% of the profits in return,” the source concluded.
Full article:
NK exports 100 tons of sand, gravel, & coal daily from Sinuiju Harbor
Seol Song Ah
Daily NK
2016-11-15
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New Construction and Refurbishment of Factories Producing Consumer Necessities

November 8th, 2016

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

Seemingly taking an interest in the welfare of the public, Kim Jong Un, Chairman of the State Affairs Commission, before his visit to a soap factory, has spent the previous month visiting a medical device factory, spring water bottling facility, a ‘sovereign’ factory, and the Ryugyong Dental Hospital. On October 29, Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that Kim Jong Un also toured the newly constructed Mount Ryongak Soap Factory. Of late, newly constructed or refurbished factories producing consumer necessities have featured prominently in the North Korean media.

According to the KCNA report, Kim Jong Un said while on his inspection tour that “our people must be provided with abundant and happy lives without envy. . . . Continuing to put much energy into areas that help in the creation of the material and technical foundations of industry that contribute to improving the lives of the people, the people must fully benefit from such efforts.” The KCNA report also stated that Kim said “in a few months that felt like just a couple of days ago I was here looking at a construction site, and now a large, modern, impressive facility has been fully built.”

Last June, Kim Jong Un visited the Mount Ryongak Soap factory construction site, gave it its name, and directed that it should be completed by the anniversary of the Worker’s Party foundation (October 10th). In addition, he visited the Mount Ryongak Spring Water Bottling Facility in September and ordered for normalizing increased production standards, delivering spring water produced at the right time, and standardizing and varying the color and shape of glass bottles. It was at the direction of Kim Jong Il that the Mount Ryongak Spring Water Bottling Facility opened in 2007, to supply the people of Pyongyang with water from the mountain, while Kim Jong Un is credited with having it refurbished and modernized.

Kim Jong Un also gave on-the-spot guidance at the Mangyongdae Revolutionary History Sovereign Factory. While there he said “I like the fact that we are using our own raw materials and products to make zippers. The Party’s directive to domesticate production has achieved great results.” Completed in December 1979, the factory’s products were praised by Kim Jong Il at the August 1984 Pyongyang Light Industrial Products Exhibit. In addition, KCNA reported that Kim had instructed that the factory be refurbished and modernized.

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Rice prices in North Korea fall due to harvest, imports

November 7th, 2016

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Says the indispensable Daily NK:

Rice prices in some regions of North Korea have reportedly fallen by approximately 1000 KPW over the last few days. The price of rice has generally hovered around 5000 KPW per kilo since Kim Jong Un took power, but recently dropped to 3500 KPW due to an increase in supply from the harvest season and rice imports.
A Daily NK source in North Hwanghae Province reported on November 3 that the price of one kilo of rice was about 4800 KPW in the middle of last month, but has now fallen to 3500 KPW over the last few days.
“People are happy about the price drop,” she said.
“Although rice prices in the markets around the northern regions (North Hamgyong Province, Ryanggang Province) are continuing to average 5000 KPW per kilo, it’s being sold at 3500 KPW per kilo in the rural areas of North and South Hwanghae Provinces. It’s believed that this was caused by a fairly good harvest in the agricultural zones of the provinces of North and South Pyongan and North and South Hwanghae, which was better than last year.”
In North Korea, rice prices fluctuate in accordance with grain production. During the harvest season, prices tend to drop when increasing volumes of rice enter the market, most of which occurs via embezzlement channels set up by officials.
“During the harvest season, officials in charge of the farms embezzle a proportion of the rice for themselves and sell it at the market, which seems to be the reason for the recent decline in rice prices,” the source said.
In addition, public sentiment towards the change in prices also has an impact on prices. Rumors have been spreading among the residents that large volumes of rice will be donated by UN agencies, prompting vendors to try and sell their own product more quickly.
There has also reportedly been an influx of imported rice into the market, further driving up competition.
Addressing this phenomenon, VOA (Voice of America) reported that since the Kim Jong regime came to power, North Korea imported the largest volume of rice from China on record (on monthly basis) in September. According to an analysis of recordings from the Chinese General Administration of Customs by Kwon Tae Jin (director of the Center for Studies on North Korea and Northeast Asia at the GS&J Institute), the volume of Chinese grain imported into North Korea in September reached a total of 18,877 tons.
“Upon seeing the imported rice being sold in the market, local merchants have dropped their prices to try and sell all of their product. The wholesale dealers and vendors in the rice trade all seem a bit confused by the rapid fluctuations in price,” added a source in South Hwanghae Province.
However, this phenomenon may only be a temporary occurrence, as rice prices in other regions remain relatively stable. As the rice influx circulates among the other regions, it is thought that prices will stabilize.
Cho Bong Hyun, the deputy director of IBK Economic Research Institute further commented that, “the regime seems to be distributing large amounts of imported rice to placate the population, but there are issues with the sustainability of this practice. Unless the total volume of incoming rice remains steady, the price declines seen will not be sustained for long.”
Full article:
Rice prices fall to 3500 KPW per kilo due to harvest season and import spike
Seol Song Ah
Daily NK
2016-11-07
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North Korea imports large quantities of rice in September: VOA

November 3rd, 2016

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein 

Via Yonhap:

North Korea imported the largest-ever amount of rice from China on a monthly basis in September since the launch of the Kim Jong-un regime in 2011, in an apparent bid to stabilize prices, a U.S. broadcaster, monitored here, reported Thursday.

North Korea imported 18,477 tons of rice and other grains in September, the Voice of America said, citing an analysis of data from China’s General Administration of Customs by Kwon Tae-jin, director of East Asia research at GS&J Institute in South Korea.

The September figure was about 2.7 times higher than 6,954 tons imported in October and about six times higher than 3,158 tons imported a year ago in September, the broadcaster said.

In particular, the North purchased 16,000 tons of rice from China in September, a monthly high since the start of the Kim Jong-un regime, and higher than the 14,000 tons imported during the first eight months of this year total, the broadcaster said.

Experts opined that the step is designed to stabilize rice prices at a time when the stock has hit its bottom, the broadcaster said.

“This is the time when the harvest is around the corner, and the stock is nearly exhausted,” Kwon said.

Full article:
N. Korea imports rice on large scale in Sept.
Yonhap News
2016-11-03

Discussions such as these are always complicated by the fact that for most regions, private market supply is probably far more important than whatever the PDS supplies.

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Attempts to Introduce Cutting-edge IT

November 2nd, 2016

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

In its column from Pyongyang published on October 24, Chosun Sinbo (a North Korean newspaper in Japan) reports that using North Korean information technology, new attempts have been made starting this year to stimulate collectivistic competition.

The newspaper could not conceal its excitement saying that the aim was the global cutting edge, with efforts being the ‘National Information Technology Results Exhibition’ causing a “sensation.”

According to the report, ‘National Information Technology Results Exhibition 2016’ was held in the Three Revolutions Exhibition Hall, and was entitled “Self-strength First and the Fires of Collectivist Competition, Global Competitiveness.”

The report described the purpose of the exhibit as follows: “the units introducing and extolling the achievements of the country in IT technology and industry, showing the domestically produced, advanced information technology products will cause other units to learn and catch up, stimulating collectivist competition, and driving forward ‘our style of modernization and information technology’.”

A full 260 units displayed 1,000 products at the exhibit.

The newspaper informed readers that “in capitalist countries it is mainly companies that develop, produce and sell information technology products that participate in such exhibits; but in Korea there is a greater range of participants. . . . Beyond IT sector units, committees, ministerial and central institutions, educational and scientific research institutions, factories and other workplaces were all in attendance.”

Certificates and medals were awarded to ‘the top ten IT Companies’ and ‘top ten IT products’.

The newspaper reports that “Korea’s own OS, Red Star 3.0, based on Linux, was also named a ‘Top ten IT product’. . . . Red Star can be seen as a core product in the drive to bring in ‘our form of IT’, and is being widely used across public institutions, with it being popular among students too, who are sensitive to new things.”

Moreover, the newspaper boasted that “the OS, developed by the Red Star Research Institute, is distributed as freeware . . . realizing the push to bring information technology through collective means rather than through an economy of commodities and private ownership.”

The newspaper also expressed the hope that, “collectivist competition, characteristically socialist competition in a country aiming to development and strengthen . . . IT is the area expected to produce the fastest development, with endless leaps and innovations.”

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Push for the Development of IT Industry in North Korea

October 18th, 2016

Institute for Far Eastern studies (IFES)

North Korea is pushing the development of the IT industry. The “2016 National IT Achievements Exhibit” demonstrates the current state of affairs in the industry.

On October 5th, the official organ of the Workers Party of Korea (WPK), Rodong Sinmun, reported in detail of this exhibit. It said, “The exhibit was held under the theme of ‘self-strength-first, collective competition, and global competitiveness’.” In addition, it also reported, “The goal of the exhibit is to introduce and promote the accomplishments of the IT industry and push forward with modernization of IT technology in our own style and hold steadfast to every unit and part of science and technology as our lifeline.”

According to the news, the exhibit displayed 1,000 technical products from 260 units. There were new product presentations, discussions on the usage of products, security industry competition, and cutting-edge product exchange service, which was divided into four areas that included the IT enterprise and information security.

Units with exemplary IT—top ten IT companies, and top ten IT products—were selected based on the technical achievements and economic effectiveness.

At the opening ceremony, the Vice-Chairman of the WPK Central Committee Kim Ki Nam said, “The Party line on the science and technology is fully realized and we seized the global fortresses of cutting-edge technological sectors including IT. Now, many factories and work places of the people’s economy, enterprises have transformed to become a standard of the knowledge economy era.”

He also said, “This exhibit is an important step towards the development of globally competitive IT technology and raised the overall standard of the IT industry.” He also encouraged, “the participants to fully accept the achievements and experiences of leading units.”

Such emphasis on the development of IT can be associated with the recent reports from the Party Central Committee at the 7th Party Congress back in May, and the decision adopted by the Party Congress. According to these documents, a strong science-technology state means “a country that has reached the cutting-edge global standards in science and technology and a country where all sectors including the economy, national defense, and culture rapidly advance through the leading role played by science and technology.”

In North Korean terms, a state strong in science and technology not only encompasses IT, nanotechnology, biotech, and nuclear technologies, but also reaches global research standards in fields including machine engineering, metallurgical engineering, thermal engineering, and material engineering, (i.e., major fields of engineering), as well as the basic sciences like mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology. Furthermore, the aim is to produce and launch more working satellites in order to contribute to the construction of a ‘major space power’ with space science and technology capabilities.

In addition, a state strong in science and technology has placed science and technology as the main locomotive behind economic development to resolve essential problems of energy, steel, chemical products and food. Science and technology also plays the leading role in modernizing the economy and IT.

This means through the advancement of science and technology, it is attempting to resolve energy issues through the development of nuclear power and environmentally friendly energy. It also involves the development of technologies like Juche steel production technology (the production of steel that minimizes the use of imported fuel) in order to localize raw material and equipment production that is currently import-dependent as well as achieve modernization of light industry and agricultural production through scientific and industrial methods.

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IFES brief on geological surveys in North Korea

October 6th, 2016

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

On 25th September, North Korean leader and chairman of the State Affairs Commission, Kim Jong Un, issued instructions that survey equipment should be modernized and its production domesticated using the most up-to-date science and technology, in order to decisively improve geological survey work.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the North Korean government’s official newswire agency, reported on 26th September that Kim gave these instructions in a letter he sent to the Nationwide Geological Survey Department Workers Conference held at the People’s Palace of Culture on the previous day. He also stated that “Geological surveys are the core front in constructing an economically strong nation.”

In the letter, Kim emphasized the need “to create a scientific developmental strategy for the Geological Survey Department in line with the demands of constructing an economically strong nation, and this should be executed in a step-by-step fashion. Also, under the state’s unified leadership, order and discipline must be established with respect to the development of underground resources.” He went on to say, “the role and responsibility of resource protection institutions must be raised, while the state’s energy must be put into the physical-scientific protection activities of Geological Survey departments. . . . I look forward to related officials and workers bringing about a decisive improvement in geological survey work, and contribute actively to the construction of an economically strong socialist state.”

At the same time, while on a visit to the Taedong River Syringe Factory, Kim Jong Un instructed that the factory be transformed into a modernized facility.

On 23rd September, KCNA reported on Kim Jong Un’s recent on-the-spot guidance saying: “Located in the suburbs of Pyongyang, the Taedong River Syringe Factory is a large base for the production of medical equipment, having the capacity to produce a variety of syringes.”

Reminiscing, Kim also said that the factory, built in December 2000, “rose during the Arduous March, the Kanghaeng-gun Period, under direct instigation of and energetic leadership of the General [Kim Jong Il]. This was a period the enemy viciously sought to isolate us, and natural disasters meant that everyone was forced to tighten their belts.”

While at the factory, Kim Jong Un instructed that: “not only should the factory normalize a high level of production, but also completely guarantee a high level of product quality, and undertake an energetic struggle to diversify the types of syringe produced. . . . If syringe production is to be systematically raised, and different kinds of syringe and syringe needle for a range of uses are to be produced properly, there is a need to modernize the factory in line with the demands of the knowledge economy era.”

Moreover, Kim emphasized the importance of constructing a combined production system, as well as automation, and sterilization, saying: “it is the intention of the party that the Taedong Syringe Factory will become a model and standard for our country’s medical equipment production facilities by modernizing.”

In 2007, when South Korean medical aid was offered to the North in relation to North-South medical projects, the North Korean side expressed the hope that needed supplies would be given as aid, saying: “syringes, needles and cotton balls are most needed.” They even proposed that the South Korean government aid in the construction of a syringe factory, saying “a syringe is only used once.” It is a noteworthy change that North Korea has now begun producing syringes for itself.

Article source:
‘Geological Surveys’ Are Core Front in Constructing Economically Strong Nation
IFES NK Briefs, Institute for Far Eastern Studies
2016-10-06

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The problem with the Red Cross narrative of North Korea’s floods

October 5th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

I had originally intended to use this post solely to encourage readers to check out this story by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Asia Pacific. But as I was reading through the story, I realized there are several issues with it that need to be pointed out. It offers a comprehensive narrative of this year’s flooding in northern North Korea, which has devastated parts of North Hamgyong province. The photographs add a crucial human dimension to the ghastly figures for the damage. But unfortunately, the IFRC casts blame in all the wrong directions and fails to point out the core of the problem.

First, the key passages of the piece:

On August 29 the rains began. They continued for the next two days, swelling the Tumen river as it coursed along the northeast border of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).  The heavy downpour was a consequence of the tail end of Typhoon Lionrock which had collided with a low pressure weather front as it tracked across China.  In just 24 hours up to 300 mm of rain fell over parts of DPRK’s North Hamgyong Province.

Streams of water flowed down barren mountains. They merged in ravines to become raging torrents of water – flash floods – which carved through rural communities in the valleys below, demolishing everything in their path.  The River Tumen also burst its banks, swallowing entire settlements in the dead of night.

The floods are considered to be the worst in decades yet this has been a silent disaster, largely unnoticed outside DPRK.  Hundreds of lives have been lost and the scale of devastation has been immense.

Now, one month on, the full extent of what happened is still emerging. According to the government some 30,000 homes have been damaged, submerged or completely destroyed and 70,000 people rendered homeless.

[…]

For days villages across Musan and Yonson Counties remained cut off as thousands of rescuers were mobilised to the area to repair roads and bridges and remove the earth and rocks deposited by landslides.

In the Sambong Bo area of Musan County,  the water level of the River Tumen had risen by over four metres in a matter of hours. When it broke its banks 500 homes were swept away.  At least 20 other communities further along the river suffered the same fate. It is still not clear how many died.

Reaching the flood-affected area requires a three-day drive from the capital Pyongyang but it only took 24 hours for the DPRK Red Cross to mobilize over 1,000 of its volunteers from the area to respond to the disaster. They supported local authorities in search and rescue efforts and also provided first aid services to the injured. Trained disaster response teams were deployed and within days emergency relief supplies for 28,000 people had been released from the Red Cross regional disaster preparedness stocks which were stored in warehouses in South Hamgyong and Pyongyang.

Items such as tarpaulins, tents and tools to make emergency shelters were distributed to flood-affected families. People also received other essentials such as warm bedding, kitchen sets, water containers and toiletries.

[…]

But there are other vulnerabilities. According to the UN, North Hamgyong Province has some of the highest levels of stunting and wasting among under five children. The Public Distribution System, upon which 78 per cent of the population of the province relies, is well below target levels (300 grams compared to the target of 573 grams) and not sufficiently diverse to cover nutritional requirements.

The floods damaged over 27,000 hectares of arable land. The rice and corn were ready to be harvested but now, many families’ food has been washed away along with crops, livestock and food gardens.

To make matters worse, more than 45 health clinics have been damaged by floodwaters and there is a critical shortage of basic equipment and essential medicines. Water supply to 600,000 people across the province has been disrupted and for clean water, some communities are now dependent on a few hand pumps and dug wells, which are most likely contaminated by the floods.

On 21 September, the IFRC launched a 15.2 million Swiss Francs emergency appeal (USD 15.5 million, Euros 13.9 million) to reach more than 330,000 people affected by the floods.

The appeal aims to provide a variety of emergency assistance over the next 12 months. Emergency water supply will be installed and teams will be mobilised to avert communicable diseases by improving sanitation and promoting good hygiene. Medical supplies will be provided for health teams on the ground and technical support provided to help with the reconstruction of permanent homes.

The appeal will also be used to purchase winterization kits that will help thousands of families through the hardship of the coming months. These include supplies of coal for heating and cooking, toiletries, winter clothes and quilts, basic food stocks and water purification tablets.

But according to Chris Staines international help needs to scale up.

“This is a disaster on a scale that that no-one seems to have acknowledged. When you add up all the threats that people are facing today in DPRK there is a very real risk of a secondary disaster unfolding in the months ahead if we don’t get the help that is needed immediately”.

Full article here:
Suffering in Silence
IFRC Asia
Shorthand Social
2016-09-29

Undoubtedly, this is a tragedy on a scale that is difficult to fathom even with the accompanying pictures of some of the devastation. Readers who wish to donate to the IFRC disaster relief efforts can do so here.

But the narrative lacks a crucial component, namely the government’s responsibility in disaster management and prevention, and the connection between the economic system and North Korea’s recurring floods. Now, readers familiar with the North Korean NGO context will be well aware that this is a sensitive political topic that NGOs and aid organizations are often reluctant to discuss, for good reasons. They depend on maintaining good relations with the North Korean government in order to continue operating in the country, and these relations are sensitive at best.

That said, the way in which the IFRC narrative seems to fault only one party — the international community, for not giving the disaster more attention — is strange, to say the least. For it is not the international community that has created the systemic deficiencies that contribute to making floods a yearly recurring phenomenon. Rain clouds do not gather only over North Korea. Anyone who has spent late summer and fall in South Korea will be familiar with the torrential rains that sweep across the country on the same regular basis that they hit North Korea. And yet, we never hear about human suffering and disasters in South Korea on an even comparable level with those that hit North Korea. Some landslides tend to happen, and sometimes the rains even claim lives. But they do not paralyze whole regions of the country and they do not cause humanitarian disasters on the southern side of the border.

The reasons that North Korea is hit with such particularly great damage from the rains, year after year, largely stem from its economic system. To name only a couple of examples: trees have been felled en masse due to a lack of fuel, causing erosion as not enough trees are left to suck up the rainwater, and the population has had to resort to clearing hills from trees to generate more farmland, particularly during the “Arduous March” of the 1990s. Moreover, in command economies, quotas for both wood and food need to be filled no matter what methods have to be employed — I am unable to find a source for the historical evolution of tree felling in North Korea prior to the 1990s, but most likely, such a logic has also contributed to the barren hillsides around the country. To be fair, Kim Jong-un has focused a great deal of attention on reforestation, which is arguably one of the most important but least noted policy focuses during his tenure. But thus far, not much seems to have happened in practice.

Barren and eroded hillsides in Namyang, North Hamgyong Province, as seen from Tumen City in China, June 2016. On the Chinese side, the equivalent hills are covered with trees. Photograph by Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Barren and eroded hillsides in Namyang, North Hamgyong Province, as seen from Tumen City in China, June 2016. On the Chinese side, the equivalent hills are covered with trees. Photograph by Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

So: on the one hand, the IFRC may well be right that coverage of North Korea’s humanitarian disaster should render more media coverage. But on the other hand the late summer floods are such a regular occurrence that they should hardly count as news anymore. NGOs and aid organizations need to air on the side of political caution in their dealings with the North Korean regime, but their failure to call out the government for not rectifying the problems causing the damage in the first place may well be doing more harm than good in the long run.

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North Korean GDP per capita over $1,000 for the first time ever last year, says Hyundai

October 4th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Someone once said that if anyone ever gives you a number on anything related to the North Korean economy and they include a decimal, you can be sure that they are wrong. This almost certainly holds true for the GDP estimates for North Korea that come out every year.

Earlier this year, South Korea’s Bank of Korea estimated that North Korean GDP had contracted by 1.1%, for the first time since 2010. Now, Hyundai Research Institute claims that nominal GDP per capita in fact went above $1,000, putting North Korea roughly on the same level as South Korea in the mid-1970s. Unless North Korea’s population declined very suddenly and drastically during the last year (which it didn’t, of course), both claims cannot hold true at the same time. I am personally more inclined to believe the directionality (though not necessarily the exact figure) of Hyundai’s estimate:

North Korea’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita surpassed US$1,000 for the first time last year despite heavy sanctions imposed following a series of nuclear and missile tests, a Seoul-based think tank said Thursday.
Hyundai Research Institute estimated North Korea’s nominal GDP per capita at $1,013 in 2015, up from $930 from the previous year, based on its own income analysis model.

The reclusive state’s nominal GDP reached $986 in 1987, but has since declined to around $650 in the early 2000s.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the North produced 4.78 million tons of crops in 2015, a 10.7-percent fall from a year earlier, due to severe drought. The price of rice per 1 kilogram surged 5.6 percent on-year to 5,200 won (US$4.73).

Trade with China was valued at $5.71 billion won last year, down 16.8 percent from 2014, mainly due to a drop in the North’s exports of natural resources to its largest trading partner.

In contrast, inter-Korean trade rose 15.6 percent on-year to $2.71 billion in 2015, the institute said.

The international community’s aid to Pyongyang was tallied at $31.87 million last year, up 12.4 percent from a year ago, but less than 2011’s $97.11 million, it noted.

The research institute evaluated the communist state’s economic power is equivalent to that of South Korea in the mid-1970s.

North Korea’s per-capita GDP lags far behind of other Asian nations, including China ($7,990), Vietnam ($2,088) and Laos ($1,799). It is even below other underdeveloped countries, such as Bangladesh ($1,287) and Myanmar ($1,292), according to the institute.

“North Korea’s current economy is not capable of standing alone,” said Kim Cheon-koo, a researcher at Hyundai Research Institute. “The wide income gap between South and North Koreas is expected to create massive costs for reunification.”

Full article here:
N. Korea’s per-capita GDP tops US$1,000 in 2015: report
Yonhap News
2016-09-29

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Has Camp 18 been re-opened or merged with Camp 14?

September 30th, 2016

The consensus among North Korea watchers (myself included) was that Camp 18 had been closed sometime in the late 2000s (between 2006 and 2011) [UPDATE: Camp 18 may have been moved to Tongrim-ri in neighboring Kaechon. I first wrote about the new prison camp here, though I did not know it was the remnants of Camp 18]. The coal mine located inside the camp, the Pongchang District Coal Mine (봉창지구탄광), was even featured on North Korean television on 2011-1-3,  2012-2-27, and 2012-10-20.

Recent satellite imagery of the camp featured on Google Earth (2016-3-30), however, indicates that a new prison camp has been opened on the site of the former prison sometime between 2013 and 2015. If a new prison camp has been been opened, it’s name and administrative classification remain a mystery, though I post some evidence and speculation below for your consideration….

New Security Perimeter
A new security perimeter has been built around the former Camp 18, and it is not built along the same path as the old Camp 18 security perimeter.

new-camp-18-security-perimeter-2016-3-30

Pictured Above (Google Earth): The outlines of the new prison camp security perimeter (in yellow) and various historical security perimeters associated with Camp 18 (in black)

The difference between the security perimeter of the old Camp 18 and the new prison camp can be most clearly seen along the eastern and norther edges of the camp. Camp 18 had a security perimeter along the norther border, and remnants of it still remain, but the new prison camp does not yet appear to have a northern border (other than the Taedong River).

The new security perimeter appears to be composed of two barbed-wire fences held up by concrete posts.

new-camp-barbed-fense-2016-3-30

The new security perimeter has five new guard posts along the mountain ridge and two new security checkpoints, one at each of the two transit points. The eastern security checkpoint appears to be the main entrance. The southern mountainous checkpoint appears to be for delivery of coal to the “famous” 2.8 Jikdong Youth Coal Mine Mine (2.8직동 청년 탄광) located outside the security perimeter.

guard-post-2016-3-30

Pictured Above (Google Earth: 2016-3-30): Security perimeter of prison camp (yellow line), five guard posts (yellow points), two transit checkpoints (red points), roads in/out of the camp (blue lines)

Here is a closeup of the new guard post at  39.546986°, 126.018297°. It was built between 2013-10-1 and 2015-4-4. You can also see the barbed wire perimeter running next to it.

new-guard-post

There is also a guard post on the bridge that links the area with Camp 14, but this checkpoint appears to be a remnant of the former Camp 18.

camp-18-rail-guard-post-2016-3-30

New Guard Barracks?

There also appears to be six facilities (four that are new) that could serve as guard barracks scattered around the camp.

new-camp-18-guard-facilities

The guard facilities/barracks are located here: 1.  39.536004°, 126.051207° 2.  39.521812°, 126.079342° 3.  39.579655°, 126.080485° 4.  39.593158°, 126.115249° 5.  39.576379°, 126.131835°

The five facilities are very similar in construction. Here is a closeup of the facility that lies at the main entrance to the new prison camp:

main-checkpoint-18-2016-3-30

Housing Razed

A substantial amount of housing was razed in the camp between 2013 and 2016, which would support the idea that “innocent” people were moved out of the camp perimeter (possibly to eastern neighboring Myonghak Coal Mine (명학탄광) or Tukjang Youth Coal Mine (득장청년탄관) which have both seen substantial housing growth starting in 2011). It is possible that once the “innocents” were moved to the neighboring coal mines,  the Pongchang Coal Mine in the former Camp 18 could return to the exclusive use of prison labor.

housing-razed-camp-18-2016-3-30

In image above areas where houses were destroyed are outlined in red.

Below are images from neighboring Myonghak Coal Mine (명학탄광) which saw a housing boom starting in 2011. Were these people being removed from former Camp 18?

myonghak-coal-mine-2011

By 2014, this new housing construction appeared to be complete.

myonghak-mine-2014-2016

The Myonghak Coal Mine also received a new market in the period after camp 18 was closed ( 39.576284°, 126.171663°):

 myonghak-market-2011-5-23 myonghak-market-2013-10-1 myonghak-market-2016-3-30

Pictures dated (L-R): 2011-5-23, 2013-10-1, 2016-3-30

The Tukjang Mine also received a new market:  39.577375°, 126.209774°

The Pongchang Coal Mine received a market when Camp 18 was closed, but it has been torn down with the arrival of the new camp. You can see remnants of the market here: 39.564626°, 126.075621°.

Immortality Tower Removed

The “immortality tower” that is present in the vast majority of villages, factory complexes, and mining complexes has been removed. The monument was torn down sometime after 2013-10-1. I am not sure what this means.

immortality-tower-removed-before

immmortality-tower-removed-after

Although all prison camps have an immortality tower next to the MSS administrative buildings, they are not found in remote parts of the prison camps. When Camp 22 was closed, we could see immortality towers being built in parts of the camp that were being converted to normal villages (because they did not have them, and most other normal villages did). Perhaps a new tower will be built next to the headquarters building in due time so that the new camp will in this respect be identical to all the others.

Another possible explanation for the tower’s removal is that it is being “updated” to include fidelity to Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung, as many other towers have been.

Kim Il-sung Monument Removed

The main administrative area featured a single Kim Il-sung monument as of 2011-8-19. By 2013-10-1 the camp appeared to have the new Kim Il-sung/Kim Jong-il double monuments which have become popular in the Kim Jong-un era. However, by 2016-3-30, both monuments have been removed.

 

Did Camp 18 merge with Camp 14?

Pictured below is the ferry that goes between Camp 14 and former Camp 18.  It was built sometime between 2007 and 2011 (sorry, not much imagery here). Coordinates:   39.589340°, 126.077555°.

camp-14-ferry

The fact that a ferry appears to be operational between the two prison camps, coupled with the observation that the new camp has no northern perimeter (and that they have always been connected by railway and temporary road), supports the hypothesis that the Camp 18 area may have been taken over by Camp 14. The history of the relationship between Camp 14 and Camp 18 is complicated, but there is also some historical precedent.

Wrapping up

If this is a new prison camp, and I believe the evidence shows this is plausible, it will be the second in the Kim Jong-un era. I spotted the first new prison facility of the Kim Jong-un era (which later turned out to be the relocated Camp 18) in January 2013 on the north west side of Camp 14.

Let the debate begin…

ADDENDUM: The Ponchang Area Coal Mine (봉창지구탄광), the name of the coal mine in Camp 18 has only been featured in KCNA twice. I post the articles below (via KCNA watch):

Lives Devoted to Prosperity of Motherland

Pyongyang, December 10 [2009] (KCNA) — In the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea there are many people devoting their clear conscience and even lives to the prosperity of the country.

Ri Yong, a heading workteam leader of the Pongchang Area Coal Mine, devoted his life to the coal production.

Working at the mine for nearly three decades as a heading worker and a heading workteam leader, he, together with his men, had procured thousands of tools and accessories needed to overfulfil the workteam’s heading plan every year.

He had dedicated his all to coal output, encouraging his men to do their part as coal miners to increase the production. That is why he, though dead, is still remembered by people.

Among such patriotic coal miners as Ri Yong are Jo Nam Sik and Kang Kye Jin of the Kangso Coal Mine.

Jo rescued fellow colliers when a pit was collapsing in last June, while Kang was an official of the mine with a 30-odd years long career of pitman.

Ri Jin Guk, a worker of the Sunchon Plastic Daily Necessities Factory, kept his machine going until the last moment of his life, giving a pattern of life devoted to the country.

Sonu Pong Nam, a hewer of the Ryongnam Coal Mine, Sin Kum Nam, a farmer of the Ryongok Co-op Farm in Yomju County, Kim Ho Sok, a worker of the Kosan Essential Foodstuff Factory and Ri Jang Gun, a member of the Revolutionary Battle Site Management Office at the secret camp of Mt. Paektu are also known as patriots who lived for the prosperity of the socialist motherland.

Their true life and working manner recorded in the history of the building of a great, prosperous and powerful nation inspire the Korean people to work miracles in the efforts to bring about a new revolutionary upsurge.
Coal Miners Do Not Stop Working in Collapsed Pit for 19 Hours

Pyongyang, August 27 [2013] (KCNA) — Some days ago, the 3rd-shift group under the 6th pit of the Pongchang Area Coal Mine in the DPRK was doing preparatory works for next shift after fulfilling its daily quota at 102 percent.

At that time, hundreds of meters of pit ceiling fell down, affected by earth pressure, leaving the pit entrance closed.

The miners could come out of the pit through an air tunnel. But they did not stop mining coal.

They turned out scores of tonnes of coal for 19 hours until the entrance reopened.

Their devoted efforts were prompted by a strong sense of patriotism to contribute to the country’s prosperity even a bit.

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