BBC journalists staying in “Beverly Hills” of Pyongyang (UPDATED)

May 2nd, 2016

UPDATE 1 (2016-5-11): When this blog post was published, I had assumed that the BBC journalists were in the DPRK to cover the seventh party congress, but they were not. These BBC reporters were covering a trip by three nobel prize winners to PUST and other places in North Korea. A second BBC crew was covering the congress. The BBC crew mentioned in this blog post below was expelled. The second BBC crew covering the congress was not affected. This explains why this crew was kept in different residential quarters than other reporters covering the congress who stayed primarily in the Yanggakdo and Koryo Hotels.

ORIGINAL POST (2016-5-2): A BBC reporter took a picture of “Guesthouse No. 24” in the housing compound supposedly under control of the International Department of the KWP:

Guesthouse-24

This area is in Pothonggang District near the new “General Satellite Control Center” (and the Pyongyang City branch of the Ministry of State Security).

Guesthouse-24-google-earth

The article mentions that other journalists are staying here as well, but it is unclear just who all is there at this time.

Presumably Pyongyang’s hotels are filled with people that western journalists would like to interview for their stories on the historic KWP Congress this week, so this would be a nice, comfortable and isolated place to keep foreign journalists under control.

Anna Fifield reports that journalists covering the congress are being spread across town. Some are in the Yanggakdo Hotel and others are in the Koryo Hotel.

It is still unclear where the local delegates to the conference are being kept. Here is what Rodong Sinmun had to say:

Senior Party, State, Army Officials Visit Lodging Quarters of Participants in WPK Congress

Senior party, state and army officials Tuesday visited the lodging quarters of the participants in the Seventh Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK).

Senior party, state and army officials Kim Yong Nam, Pak Pong Ju, Choe Ryong Hae, Choe Thae Bok, Pak Yong Sik, Yang Hyong Sop, Kwak Pom Gi, O Su Yong, Kim Phyong Hae and Kim Yong Chol and officials of party and armed forces organs visited the lodging quarters to meet the participants.

They referred to the fact that all service personnel and people of the DPRK have waged a dynamic struggle for the final victory in building a thriving socialist nation, registering special events and achievements by leaps and bounds one after another under the guidance of Marshal Kim Jong Un.

They called on all the participants to play a vanguard role in the drive to implement the idea and line of the Party in the future, too, bearing deep in mind the undying exploits the peerlessly great men of Mt. Paektu performed for the founding and development of the Party.

If I had to guess, I would say 4.25 Hotel in Mirim, but who knows at this point.

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North Korea’s food situation: worse, but maybe just back to normal

April 28th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Some days ago, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) sounded the alarm bells on North Korean food production. The drought of last summer, among other factors, has caused North Korea’s food production to drop for the first time since 2010. (Recall that in the past years, both North Korean media outlets and some analysts touted Kim Jong-un’s agricultural reforms — the former claimed that food production was increasing despite the drought. It seems they spoke too soon).

Numbers like this, however, matter little without context. After all, five years is not a very long measurement period. Analysts like Marcus Noland have noted that the years following 2010 were probably exceptionally good. The current downturn might be best contextualized as a return to lower but more normal levels of food production.

How does the latest food production figure look in a larger context? The short answer is: not that bad, even though the downward trend is obviously problematic. Let us take a brief look at North Korean food production figures over the past few years. All following numbers show food production figures in millions of milled cereal equivalent tons:

  • 2008/2009: 3.3
  • 2010/2011: 4.5
  • 2012/2013: 4.9
  • 2013/2014: 5.03
  • 2014/2015: 5.08
  • 2015/2016: 5.06

(Sources for all figures except the 2015/2016 figure can be found here, in a piece I wrote for 38 North late last year. It seems the calculation I made for 2015/2016 was off by 0.01 million tonnes.)

In other words, yes, the latest food production estimate represents a decrease, but it’s not that big. North Korean food production is still far larger than it’s been for most of the 2000s.

It is also interesting to note the striking variation in North Korean government food imports. Marcus Noland and Stephan Haggard wrote in Famine in North Korea that the government downsized food imports as a response to increasing aid flows. Whatever the rationale might be behind the regime’s food import policies, they tend to vary greatly from year to year. In 2012/2013, the country imported almost 400,000 tonnes of cereal. In the mid-2000s, imports were close to one million tonnes, and they dropped to under 300,000 tonnes in 2008/2009.  In 2011/2012, imports climbed to 700,000 tons.

For 2015/2016, FAO projects a gap of need versus production of 694,000 tonnes, but government imports stand at around 300,000 tonnes, a relatively low figure in a historical context. Thus, North Korea is left with an uncovered deficit of 384,000 tonnes. Presumably, this wouldn’t be prohibitively expensive to cover by doubling cereal imports. The economy seems far more healthy today than it was in 2011-2012, and still, it managed to import more than double its planned imports of 2015-2016.

All in all, North Korea’s food production appears to be far from sufficient or stable, but the situation does not appear acute in a historical context. Indeed, one could argue that it’s a matter of policy choices and priorities: the regime could choose to increase imports to offset the decline in production, but its funds are spent elsewhere. And, of course, more efficient agricultural policies overall would make North Korean agriculture and food markets far more resilient to weather variations.

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Taedonggang Beer goes on sale in China

April 28th, 2016

According to the Korea Times:

Taedonggang beer, a state-owned North Korean brand, is available in grocery stores in Dandong and Shenyang, China, according to news reports.

“I noticed billboards promoting Taedonggang beer on a street near Dandong Station, and also newspaper advertisements showing the addresses and phone numbers of retail stores,” a source told Radio Free Asia.

The beer is not yet widely distributed in China. Sources from Shenyang and Dandong said they could find only a few stores selling the beer in Xita Street where many Koreans live and in Korean gift shops.

North Korea’s popular beer costs 20 yuan ($3) a bottle, four times the price of regular brands in Chinese grocery stores.

“The beer has a soft, rich flavor with more alcohol than Chinese beers,” said a Chinese man who tasted Taedonggang beer at a restaurant in Dandong.

“However, the price is too expensive for Chinese citizens to drink regularly.”

Read the full story here:
N. Korean beer sale in China
Korea Times
Lee Jin-a
2015-4-28

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North Korea looking to expand foreign trade, turning to EU and BRICS

April 28th, 2016

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES) 

North Korea is seeking to expand its foreign trade by turning to the EU and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) for cooperation.

In the recently published book Looking at Today’s Choson from 100 Questions and 100 Answers, North Korea emphasized the importance of cooperation with EU and BRICS, saying it will “seek various ways to expand its foreign trade.”

The book noted that with the upcoming Pyongyang International Trade Fair (PITF) in May and September, North Korea is looking for grounds to engage in foreign trade to “further the cooperation with many countries around the world.”

The book also stated that North Korea is engaging in a wide range of international trade such as economic cooperation and looking into cooperative business models with Europe, Southeast Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa as well as with international and regional economic organizations such as the EU and BRICS.

However, seeing as the book does not specify detailed ways in which North Korea will take to cooperate with the EU and BRICS, the plan appears as a mere hope.

While the book admitted the difficulty in building an economically strong country while facing the sanctions imposed by the international community, it emphasized that “it [North Korea] is putting its effort in expanding international trade to directly penetrate the sanctions to build a strong socialist state.”

The book also noted that the diversification of active foreign trade will enable “the expansion of width and depth of distribution through dealing with more countries on various industries on many accounts.” The diversification in this context refers to the people in charge of trade and the methods of trade.

Continuing on the idea of diversification, the book mentioned that “not only does the diversification of foreign trade not contradict itself with the independence of national economic stability, but it actually is an important asset in developing the ability of economic independence and its capability,” meaning that diversification should be a key foundation in building an independent economy.

The book explained that the independence of economy is the enhancement of people’s identity and independence that is linked to the domestication of materials. Therefore, beginning with coke (coal) gasification, Juche-iron, Juche-refractory material production line, Juche-fertilizer, and Juche-textile production line will be completed, for instance.

According to the book, this will be the core foundation in speeding up economic development in association with the domestic materials parring with international market prices to stay in market competition. It also stated that this is “not only a matter of economic efficiency, but also a fierce fight against enemy states in the war of defending socialism.”

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Food prices in North Korea: vegetable prices up, rice prices stable

April 28th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Daily NK reports that vegetable prices have gone up in North Korea’s border regions, due to cold weather and forced mobilization efforts (the 70-day battle). But rice prices remain stable (my emphasis):

The price of vegetables including cabbage and radish has surged around the border regions in North Korea and to a lesser degree, further inland. The sudden spike is believed to be driven by sanctions jitters, unseasonably cold temperatures, and excessive mobilization for the upcoming Party Congress, but is being viewed by some as a temporary upswing, given the continual stability in rice prices and foreign exchange rates. 

“Back in February, cabbage was selling for around 2,500 KPW (per kilogram), but prices have suddenly jumped to 7,000 KPW. That’s more expensive than rice,” a Daily NK source in Ryanggang Province reported on April 25. “Now is usually the time when food supplies are short (because of the barley hump), but it looks like the hike was triggered by more people mixing in dried greens with their rice to conserve their rice supplies, in the belief that the food situation may worsen due to [implications stemming from] the sanctions.”

[…]

“In some areas of Taehongdan County, people are eating so-called ‘radish noodles,’ which are made by coating radish leaves with potato starch,” the source explained.

On a nerdy note, I wonder if the connection between potato starch and Taehongdan is merely accidental. Remember, Taehongdan is the birthplace of Kim Jong-il’s 1998 “Potato Revolution.”

Food prices also seem to be impacted by the blitz-mobilization campaign leading up to the 7th Party Congress (my emphasis):

Conditions in the central inland areas are not much different. Individuals who would normally grow their own vegetables have seen their schedules disrupted by ongoing “70-Day Battle” mobilizations. “Thanks to the continual mobilizations, said by many to be ‘turning their hearts into black lumps of coal’, ahead of the Party Congress, business at the markets has lost its vibrancy and the residents are miserable,” a source in Pyongyang told Daily NK.

Rice prices, meanwhile, remain notably stabile:

Despite these high prices, movements on the rice and foreign currency front have remained relatively stable, leading people to believe the spike in vegetables will be short lived.

“Vegetables are not export items and therefore their prices are determined by domestic supply and demand,” the Pyongyang-based source noted. “However strong the sanctions may be, rice prices have nonetheless remained the same and, under these conditions, not many will choose to eat expensive cabbages over rice,” the source added, suggesting that prices are likely to return to normal as the markets readjust for supply and demand.

Full article here:
Vegetable prices spikes, rice remains stabile 
Daily NK
Kang Mi Jin
2016-04-28

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DPRK builds replica Blue House

April 27th, 2016

Blue-house-replica-ROK

The-real-blue-house

Pictured above: (Top) South Korean military image of the replica blue house built in North Korea (Bottom) A Google Earth satellite image of the Blue House in Seoul.

The South Korean military is reporting that the North Koreans have built a replica of the Blue House in “Dewonri/Daiwonri”. According to the Japan Times:

North Korea is preparing to blow apart a replica of South Korea’s presidential Blue House on an artillery range outside Pyongyang, in an apparent propaganda exercise, the South’s military said Wednesday.

An official with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul said the North’s military had been detected building the half-sized replica at the Daiwonri range near the capital earlier this month.

“The North is apparently preparing to showcase a mock attack on the Blue House using the replica as a target,” the official said.

Around 30 artillery pieces, hidden under coverings, have been brought to the range.

“The exercise is believed to be aimed at stirring up hostility against the South, summoning up loyalty (to leader Kim Jong Un) and fueling security concerns in the South,” the official said.

I refer to this area as the “Taewon-ri (대원리) Artillery Range”, and I have previously written about it at NK News here. The Americans call the location “Sungho Dong Military Training Area”.

The South Korean military also released a second photo:

area-near-Taewon-ri

You can see this location on Google Earth at 38.944429°, 125.886490°, however the replica Blue House is too recently built to appear on Google Earth imagery.

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FAO: North Korean food production falls for the first time since 2010

April 27th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

27 April 2016, Rome – North Korea’s total  food production – including cereals, soybeans and potatoes in cereal equivalent – is estimated to have fallen in 2015, the first drop since 2010, and is expected to worsen food security in the country, according to a FAO update issued today.

Last year, total food production in North Korea (officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) is estimated to have been about 5.4 million tonnes compared to 5.9 million tonnes in 2014, marking a 9 percent decrease, the update said.

In particular, production of paddy rice, the country’s main staple, dropped by 26 percent to 1.9 million tonnes, mainly due to poor rains and low availability of water for irrigation.

FAO’s estimate for the country’s cereal import requirements for the 2015/16 marketing year (November-October) amounts to 694,000 tonnes. With 300,000 tonnes expected to be covered by government imports, the uncovered deficit of 394,000 tonnes represents the highest gap since 2011/12, the report said.

The estimates are based on official production figures and analysis by FAO’s Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS) in collaboration with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.

Food security set to deteriorate

Given the tight food supplies in 2015/16, the country’s food security situation is expected to deteriorate from the previous year when most households were already estimated to have poor or borderline food consumption levels.

Crop overview

Besides severely affecting the rice crop, the dry conditions during the 2015 main season, coupled with low irrigation water availability following recurrent dry spells since July 2014, also impacted negatively on the production of maize, the country’s second most important cereal crop. Despite an expansion in plantings, maize output is estimated to have decreased by 3 percent to 2.29 million tonnes in 2015.

The report noted that the output of more drought-resistant soybeans – the most important source of protein in North Korea -increased by 37 percent to 220,000  in 2015.

Similarly, the output of other cereals (sorghum, millet, buckwheat) is put at 156,000 tonnes, almost triple the level of 2014.

Production of 2016 early season potatoes and minor wheat and barley, to be harvested from June, is forecast at 363 000 tonnes, 21 percent higher than the sharply reduced 2015 level.

Fuel and fertilizer shortages

Today’s update noted that reduced supplies of fertilizer and fuel in 2015 also limited crop production in 2015.

Source:
North Korea’s food production falls for first time since 2010 as water scarcity hits agricultural sector
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
04/27/2016

The full FAO report that the press statement refers to can be found here.

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DPRK – Russia Trade in 2015 (UPDATED)

April 22nd, 2016

UPDATE 1 (2016-4-22): According to the Russian Exports National Information Portal:

In 2015 North Korean-Russian bilateral trade volume decreased by 10% and reached 83.2 million USD compared to 92.2 million USD in 2014.

North Korean exports to Russia fell to 5.7 million USD (by 43%) while imports fell to 77.5 million USD (by 6%) .

Figure 1. 2007-2015 North Korean-Russian bilateral trade turnover, million USD. Source: ITC Trade Map.

DPRK-Russia-trade-2015

North Korean exports to Russia

North Korea primarily exports to Russia the following products:

▪ Fish, crustaceans, molluscs, aquatic invertebrates nes (29%)
▪ Articles of apparel, accessories, not knit or crochet (27%)
▪ Musical instruments, parts and accessories (17%)
▪ Railway, tramway locomotives, rolling stock, equipment (6%)
▪ Manmade filaments (5%)
▪ Electrical, electronic equipment (4%)
▪ Plastics and articles thereof (3%)
▪ Wadding, felt, nonwovens, yarns, twine, cordage, etc (2%)
▪ Rubber and articles thereof (2%)
▪ Machinery, nuclear reactors, boilers, etc (1%)
▪ Cereal, flour, starch, milk preparations and products (1%)
▪ Tanning, dyeing extracts, tannins, derivs,pigments etc (1%)
▪ Milling products, malt, starches, inulin, wheat gluten (1%)

In 2015 the imports of North Korean made products in Russia experienced a significant rise . The imports of man-made filaments rise by 8733%; the imports of railway, tramway locomotives, rolling stock, equipment- by 5283%.

Russian exports to North Korea

In 2015 Russia has exported to North Korea the following products:

▪ Mineral fuels, oils, distillation products, etc (83%)
▪ Wood and articles of wood, wood charcoal (4%)
▪ Cereals (4%)
▪ Milling products, malt, starches, inulin, wheat gluten (3%)
▪ Fish, crustaceans, molluscs, aquatic invertebrates nes (3%)
▪ Pharmaceutical products (1%)

2015 showed a significant rise in Russian exports to North Korea of cereal, flour, starch, milk preparations and products (+706%). At the same time the exports of machinery, nuclear reactors, boilers (-97%) showed a significant fall.

I have posted a PDF of the source web page here.

ORIGINAL POST (2015-6-4): According to Leo Byrne at NK News:

North Korean trade with Russia decreased sharply in the first quarter of 2015, according to data from the ITC Trade Map, despite continued attempts to improve bilateral economic cooperation between the two countries.

Both imports and exports between Russia and North Korea fell in the first four months of 2015 compared to 2014 numbers.

Exports from North Korea to Russia fell from more than $3 million in the fourth quarter of last year to approximately $500,000.

The drop was mostly on the back of a big reduction of machine and clothes exports to Russia. While the latter group also appears to fluctuate based on the season, imports in the first four months of 2015 were also lower than those a year earlier.

Exports from Russia to North Korea account for the largest share of trade between the two countries, and also fell in the first quarter.

Overall, Russian exports fell by nearly 20 percent so far in 2015, compared to last quarter of 2014. At $17 million, the figure was 70 percent of that in the same period last year.

North Korea’s lower imports from Russia were mainly due to a large decrease in food imports.

Throughout the last six months of 2014, the DPRK imported more than $12 million in cereals from Russia, but these imports appeared to cease in 2015.

The overall numbers dropped despite an uptick in North Korean imports of Russian coal.

The figures continue a trend of decreasing trade between the two countries. From 2013 to 2014 trade values also fell, but were not as low as the most recent 2015 figures.

The news comes despite a flurry of diplomatic and political exchanges between the two countries geared towards increasing economic cooperation and trade, with Russia setting a target of $1 billion in trade by 2020.

Read the full story here:
Russia, North Korea trade drops in Q1 [2015]
NK News
Leo Byrne
2105-6-4

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Kim Jong-un’s new private Sinchon runway

April 21st, 2016

Sinchon-Runway

Pictured Above (Google Earth):  A 2015-10-26 satellite image of the new runway constructed at the Kim family compound in Sinchon ( 38.350362°, 125.534610°)

I reported in Radio Free Asia this week on Kim Jong-un’s new Sinchon runway. This is the 6th small-craft runway to be built in the Kim Jong-un era and the fifth to be built to service a restricted family compound. We know that this is a Kim family compound because Kenji Fujimoto visited it and took pictures.

The runway is approximately 600m long and was built between January and October of 2015. It appears to be built of concrete, unlike some other runways that appear to be made of asphalt, and there do not appear to be any facilities for sheltering, refueling or repairing any aircraft that land here–indicating that it is not a node in Kim’s transportation network.

Unlike the family compounds in Kangdong and Wonsan, this Sinchon residence has not been featured in any official media, so it is unclear how many times Kim Jong-un has actually visited the place. It is most known for its hot spring pools and saunas.

The compound was already served by dedicated highway linking the compound to the Pyongyang – Kaesong Highway, and there is a train station nearby that has been equipped to receive trains thought to be carrying the former leaders.

The only other noticeable change has been the expansion of the security perimeter on the northern side of the compound.

 

 

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Pyongyang’s ‘Mirae Shop’ opens, showing Kim Jong Un’s emphasis on science and talents

April 21st, 2016

Mirae-shop-2015-8-6

Pictured above: The Mirae Shop (R) and Mirae Health Complex (L)

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

Mirae Shop’ (literally ‘future shop’) has reopened, showing the importance and privilege being placed on developing science and talented people in the Kim Jong Un era. The store is located along the banks of the Pothong River in Pyongyang. On April 12, state media outlet Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that “since the store’s reopening in early April, it has been packed with scientists, engineers and people coming in every day.”

Mirae Shop was first opened in 2012 and recently moved to its current location. The store’s architecture portrays rockets and earth-like pillars holding up the roof. The store sells domestically produced goods such as home appliances, cosmetics, daily necessities, and food.

The name of the shop was chosen to by Kim Jong Un to commemorate the late Kim Jong Il’s visit to the store in January 2012. He ordered during on-site instruction last March to “open the store as soon as possible to let not only scientists and engineers but everyone to come and shop as much as they please.”

Prior to the construction of the store, Kim Jong Il himself took charge of the store’s site, architectural design, construction, construction materials, and products guarantee policy and on December 15, 2011, just before his death, he ordered for “the store to be used by scientists and engineers.”

Mirae Shop opened initially in 2012 in Pyongyang to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth. It was opened for scientists and engineers to shop. KNCA also introduced the store and explained how the name was chosen by Kim Jong Un. The report also underscored how development of science and technology is the key factor in the country’s prosperity.

According to KCNA, this store has a variety of popular products from home appliances to groceries and has a wide range of customer services such as personal tailoring, watch/clock repairs, elevators wide enough to accommodate shopping carts, and fountain drinks served in the lounge.

The store is used mainly by the employees and researchers from Kim Il Sung University and Kim Chaek University of Technology and scientists from the National Academy of Science.

I have also written about the Mirae Shop and Health Complex in Radio Free Asia.

Here are some photos and information posted to Naenara.

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