DPRK – China Trade in 2015 (UPDATED)

August 11th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s trade with China tumbles this year: KDI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s trade with China dips 13.4 pct in Q1


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

August 10th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

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

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

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

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

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

This is interesting for several reasons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday fun: New stamps and wild speculation…

August 7th, 2015

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

STAMP-2015- Sondgowon-International-Children-Camp

STAMP-Pyongyang-Baby-Home Orphanage

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

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

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

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


Pyongyang Standard Time

August 7th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is coverage in KCNA.

Here are some interesting observations by Martyn Williams.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pyongyang Time Newly Fixed in DPRK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


US marine insurance company fined for North Korea dealings

August 7th, 2015

According to UPI:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Despite sanctions, North Korean ships remain active at sea.

Read the full story here:
New York marine insurance company fined for North Korea dealings
Elizabeth Shim


DPRK refugees in the USA

August 4th, 2015

According to UPI:

The United States is now home to 186 North Korean refugees who first began to arrive in 2006 – two years after the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 was signed into law by President George W. Bush.

The North Korean refugee population in the U.S. is still small and just a fraction of other communities, Voice of America reported on Tuesday.

Major refugee communities in the U.S. include 1,078 Burmese, 879 former nationals of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and 818 Somalis.

In fiscal year 2015 – which began in October 2014 for the State Department – Washington granted asylum to one or more North Koreans per month.

In July, the United States accepted four North Korean refugees, the second highest for the fiscal year.

As refugees North Koreans receive some financial support, including a monthly stipend between $200 and $300 for eight months to cover food and medical expenses, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.

After a year of residence, refugees are eligible for permanent resident status and after five years are permitted to apply for U.S. citizenship.

But the financial support Washington provides North Korean refugees pales in comparison to the support South Korea provides similar defectors.

Seoul’s resettlement dollars awarded to North Koreans have decreased over the years as more North Koreans find their way to the South, but a North Korean defector still qualifies for $5,967 in financial grants, in addition to $11,000 that goes toward long-term housing.

In some cases the U.S. government works with NGOs to resettle the North Koreans, but problems have surfaced in recent years.

In July, The Washington Post reported how a U.S.-based North Korean refugee was deprived of food by his American foster family in Richmond, Va., because they wanted to make their budget stretch.

Joseph Kim, who was then 16, said he found himself hungry in the world’s wealthiest country after years of surviving on weed soup and roasted grasshoppers in North Korea.

Read the full story here:
State Department: 186 North Korean refugees now reside in the United States
Elizabeth Shim


Private finance in the DPRK

August 4th, 2015

According to the Wall Street Journal:

For decades after North Korea’s founding in the 1950s, financial security wasn’t a major concern for its citizens. A communist system provided most daily needs, and for many years living standards outstripped those of South Korea.

Then a devastating famine in the 1990s and a subsequent economic collapse crippled the public distribution system and forced citizens to fend for themselves.

The semimarket economy that emerged has expanded rapidly in recent years, providing a living for up to three-fourths of the country, according to observers, defectors and those with contacts in a state that is largely closed off from the rest of the world. As unauthorized private commerce has bolstered North Koreans’ incomes, an unregulated system of lending and currency exchange has also emerged, they said.

“People are investing and are making money,” says Kim Young-hui, a former North Korean banking official and an analyst on the North Korean economy at KDB Bank in Seoul. Observers such as Ms. Kim, who left North Korea in 2003, say refugees from all provinces have reported private lending activities in their respective hometowns.

There is no reliable study to measure precisely how much money is flowing in and out of the country, observers and defectors say, and North Koreans remain excluded from anything close to a modern financial system. There are no commercial banks and little trust in the state for economic security.

Defectors’ accounts depict a system in which private savings are being funneled into lending to generate a profit, but without any legal framework or guarantee on investments. Scams occurred in the early years but in the last three years, a culture of credit has settled in, says Lim Eul-chul, a professor at Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Seoul who studies the North Korean economy.

“As businesses expand, the importance of credit goes up. Now you are doing business with more than just people you know,” said Mr. Lim, adding that friends or family often guarantee payment.

According to observers and defector accounts, some North Korean lenders and investors are funding seed and fertilizer purchases in return for a cut from the following year’s harvest, or lending money to merchants to import goods that range from apples to Italian luxury goods. They are borrowing and lending with interest, dodging North Korea’s ban on usury. Even state traders are borrowing money from them, some defectors say.

Pawn shops have opened up under official blessing and people leave anything of value for small loans, they say. Some private-property ownership, such as apartments, has been allowed since 1998, and some lenders independently appraise the value of real-estate properties to collateralize larger loans. A default on a loan can lead to confiscation of goods by the private lenders, they say.

It is impossible to independently verify accounts of private commerce and lending inside the reclusive country. But since taking power at the end of 2011, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has promised to improve living standards and appears to have taken a relatively laissez-faire approach to market activity.

Such activity—from selling toothpaste to buying 3G-enabled smartphones on the street—still isn’t officially allowed in North Korea, but the regime often turns a blind eye to the commerce, some observers say. The regime even appears to be collecting some money from the activity, in the forms of bribes to authorities or fees for securing a market stall, they said.

North Korea observers such as Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, say that between half and three-quarters of North Korea’s household income comes from the private sector. Those who have some money aren’t just lending, they are opening up restaurants, computer stores, karaoke shops or communal bathhouses. Private taxi and delivery services have emerged in recent years.

Those who engage in commerce are reaching consumers and intermediaries more than before, thanks to the recent proliferation of cellphones. Buyers and sellers no longer have to exchange cash in person, they can tell their financiers to settle the bill.

The regime has kept track of these developments and has tried to regulate private wealth, albeit with little success, some observers say.

Trust in the state took a heavy blow following a 2009 currency devaluation that caused a panic over the sudden loss of wealth. The policy damaged the flourishing black market and reinforced the public’s preference for foreign currency. Now, most private deals are in U.S. dollars and Chinese renminbi, observers say.

“In large cities like Chongjin [a port near the northeastern tip of North Korea where China and Russia meet], it’s 100% renminbi,” says one former North Korean farmer, who fled to South Korea in 2013.

A recent attempt by the regime to introduce a degree of personal finance came with the introduction of a card-payment system. Kim Chon Gyun, president of the central bank, told Japan-based newspaper Choson Sinbo in February that North Korea is working to fuel economic development by “smoothly circulating internal capital.”

Mr. Kim said the country was developing an unspecified “new financial product” and was encouraging the use of bank cards in ordinary people’s lives, in a rare public disclosure of economic policy.

Peoples’ accounts vary, but they say North Korea since 2011 has been issuing at least two kinds of chip-bearing plastic cards that allow users to load domestic or foreign currencies. The cards can be used for payment at some stores, and the salaries of some government officials appear to be wired to such accounts, they say. They are being used in provinces as well as in the capital.

But some observers say the system’s adoption among ordinary citizens appears low, and its success is contingent upon conditions such as a guarantee of deposit and the regime’s assurance that the origin of the money won’t face scrutiny.

Read the full story here:
North Korea’s Private Finance: No Banks but Lots of Loans
Jeyup S. Kwaak
Wall Street Journal


Aid to North Korea up by 110 percent in July

August 4th, 2015

According to UPI citing World Food Program sources, aid to North Korea increased by more than 100 percent from June to July of this year:

Food aid to North Korea more than doubled from June to July and over 3,000 tons were distributed to pregnant women and children, according to the World Food Program.

Damian Kean said Monday the July delivery of 3,231 tons of highly nutritional food items for infants and expectant and nursing mothers is this year’s largest, Voice of America reported.

In June, the World Food Program said 1,528 tons of food was sent to North Korea, and aid reached a low in February when only 1,187 tons of food reached the reclusive country.

South Korean news agency Yonhap reported the July food aid package was the biggest in 19 months, but the number of aid recipients decreased from 632,000 to 620,000 between June and July.

The World Food Program’s fundraising goal of $168 million – needed to provide highly nutritional food packages to 1.8 million hungry North Koreans – has only reached half, or $82.9 million, of its target number.

The U.N. organization has postponed the termination of its North Korea food aid program, due to an ongoing drought in the country that is posing risks to the food supply.


Grasshopper markets (메뚜기시장)

August 3rd, 2015

According to Reuters:

From the dark alleys of Pyongyang, the showpiece North Korean capital, tiny specks of torchlight shine carefully into the eyes of passersby, leading to bustling and illegal street markets where traders, usually women, call out “buy, buy!”

The “maeddugi shijang”, or “grasshopper markets,” get their name from the lightning-quick way traders must pack up and hop from place to place to evade authorities in a country making a grudging embrace of free enterprise.

As markets have taken hold in North Korea, the government has sporadically legalized and formalized them, while at the same time imposing new crackdowns, taxes, and bribes, forcing smaller traders back on to the streets where they set up “grasshopper markets” selling goods for cash.

“The grasshopper markets form in places near stations, on the roads to the (official) market, and around schools and parks,” said Seol Song Ah, a defector who left North Korea in 2011 and now works with the Daily NK, a Seoul-based website with sources inside North Korea.

“Wherever there are people, there are grasshopper markets.”

The markets are less well-stocked than official shops but offer convenience, carrying items from pots, socks, batteries, and cigarettes to fresh meat, according to residents of Pyongyang and defectors from the isolated country.

The informal, movable markets represent the new, grassroots driven economic reality in a country which is no longer truly collectivized, or communist – a change that began during the devastating famine of the 1990s and has since gained momentum.


Grasshoppers date to the 1980s, when old women started selling sweet potatoes and bean curd by roadsides, according to Seol, and have proliferated in recent years as more people, squeezed by new government regulations on the marketplace, have returned to underground trade.

In recent months, those who trade in the grasshopper markets have become known as “tick merchants” because they are hard to remove, and have therefore had restrictions on them slowly eased as security services struggle to shut them down, according to the Daily NK.

Still, because grasshopper markets are illegal, they are highly sensitive in the authoritarian country. A diplomatic source in Pyongyang who has visited grasshopper markets said he was followed by the “bowibu”, or secret police, down the dark grasshopper alleys.

“Trying to take a photo of a grasshopper market is one of the only times I’ve been seriously apprehended by the secret police,” the diplomatic source said.

A former foreign resident of Pyongyang said he had also never managed to photograph a grasshopper market.

“The one time I tried, the market ladies had vanished in the time it took me to get my camera from my pocket and raise it to take the shot,” the resident said.

“They are used to disappearing very, very quickly”.

Read the full story here:
In North Korean grassroots capitalism, ticks and grasshoppers skip
James Pearson


DPRK emphasizes development of marine resources

July 30th, 2015

According to KCNA:

Development of Marine Resources Spurred in DPRK

The development of marine resources has been pushed forward in a far-sighted way in the DPRK according to a new national strategy for developing marine resources.

The Ministry of Land and Maritime Transport, the Ministry of Fisheries and the State Hydro-meteorological Administration are paying deep attention to marine survey and observation and research into marine resources, while laying sound material and technical bases for them.

Researchers of Kim Il Sung University have made successes in the research into marine energy resources, marine information system and marine environmental protection. They are also pushing ahead with the research into searching for fishing ground on the East and West seas of Korea and the ocean and into aquaculture and marine mineral resources.

The establishment of a latest marine technology park progresses apace.

Kwak Il Hwan, secretary of the DPRK society for marine studies, told KCNA:

It is one of important national policies to protect and develop marine resources.

Students and citizens are encouraged to get more knowledge about the sea through different occasions like the Day of Sea (July 12) and months for maritime physical culture (July and August).

Big efforts have been paid to putting the research into marine resources on a higher scientific basis.

And here is coverage of the report by the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES):

Marine Development Projects Underway in North Korea

North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on July 24, 2015 that marine resource development projects, such as the establishment of an Advanced Marine Technology Development Zone, are currently being pursued in North Korea.

While KCNA reports that the establishment of the Advanced Marine Technology Development Zone is moving along, Choson Marine Association head clerk Kwak Il Hwan adds, “Protecting and increasing marine resources while actively developing and using them is becoming one of the state’s main policies.”

The news agency also revealed, “As a marine space resource, ports will be constructed, navigation channels will be developed, and there were will be tidelands and marine tourist spots; on the west coast it will become a tideland capable of development as well as a wealth of information.” This statement indicates that the Advanced Marine Technology Development Zone will be designated on the west coast.

“A training system for our country’s experts and engineers in the marine sector is in place, and a technological foundation for the development and use of marine resources, including research bases in each field all over the country, has been secured,” KCNA reported.

Along with this, the news agency revealed that in the Ministry of Land and Marine Transport, the Ministry of Fisheries, and the meteorological observatory, they are proceeding with projects like maritime studies, marine observations and research projects, and maintenance reinforcement work through material and technical means.

In addition, Kim Il Sung University is pushing for the effective development and use of marine resources, invigorating the exploration of fisheries, sea farming, a marine ecology and environmental information management system, the exploration of marine mineral resources, and collection research projects on the East and West coast and in ocean waters.

KCNA also revealed that research in areas like marine energy resource development, marine environment protection technology, and a marine information system are achieving results.