Kim Jong-un’s trip to Onchon AFB

May 11th, 2014

Rodong Sinmun has reported:

[Kim Jong-un] visited the operational airfield in the western region together with Ri Sol Ju to guide “the Combat Flight Contest among Air Commanding Officers of the Air and Anti-Air Force of the KPA – 2014″.

This air demonstration took place in Onchon, part of Nampho City.



Pictured above television and satellite images of the same AFB in Onchon.

Sunan Airport in Pyongyang is only about 32 miles (51km) from Onchon AFB, so if flown directly, the route would have just taken a few minutes.


Some of the aircraft used in the show are not normally stored along the AFB runway. They could have been flown in from other airfields or they are stored underground at a nearby underground AFB:


[Note: In an earlier version of this post I named it "Onsong" which was just a stupid mistake and pretty embarrassing. Never blog when you are in a hurry.]


DPRK-Russia personnel exchanges and economic cooperation expand

May 8th, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

North Korea and Russia have been garnering attention lately as closer ties are being formed between the two nations through personnel exchanges and increased economic cooperation. It may even appear as though Russia has begun to edge out China as North Korea’s closest ally.
An event was held in Pyongyang on April 28, 2014 in celebration of Russia’s donation of dozens of fire engines to North Korea, openly showing the close ties between the two nations. In attendance were high-level officials from both countries, including Deputy Prime Minister and Presidential Envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District Yury Trutnev from Russia and Ro Tu Chol, Vice Premier of the Cabinet of the DPRK.
Through this ceremony, it can be seen that Russia is expanding the variety of goods and aid provided to North Korea, which mainly consisted of basic supplies such as food and medicine. In addition to the donation ceremony, many other events showing improved economic cooperation between the two nations were held that day. Such events include the signing of an economic and trade cooperation agreement between the DPRK’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and the Russian Federation’s Amur Regional Government, and the signing of a cooperation agreement between the railway transportation sectors of the DPRK’s Ministry of Railways and Mostovik Scientific and Production Organization, a large Russian corporation specializing in design and construction.
Prior to the ceremony, a delegation from the Russian Center for Energy and Security Studies visited North Korea from April 22 to 28, and another delegation from the Russian state of Sakhalin signed an economic cooperation and trade protocol with North Korea on April 24. The spur in Russian economic cooperation and high-level visits to North Korea seems to have started with Rustam Minnikhanov, President of the Republic of Tatarstan, who ventured to Pyongyang late last March.
The recent development in relations between the Russian Federation and the DPRK is clearly reflected in North Korean state media, which in the month of April published nearly 200 articles mentioning Russia. Meanwhile, articles mentioning China numbered at a mere 120 during the same time period.
On the other hand, the exchanges between China and North Korea are on a downslide. An overview of North Korean media reports last month reveal that except for China’s National Tourism Administration friendship delegation that paid a visit to Pyongyang on April 25, no other exchanges were observed between the two nations last month. The DPRK-China trade volume for the first quarter decreased 2.83 percent to 1.27 billion USD from the previous year.
The fewer exchanges between China and North Korea are believed to have some connection to the purge of Jang Song Thaek which occurred in December 2013. Thus, the rise in recent exchanges between Russia and North Korea can be seen as North Korea’s effort to reduce its dependence on China.
The Kim Jong Un regime continues to emphasize the importance of diversifying trade for the country’s economic development. For Russia, there is a need to expand friendly relations with North Korea to widen Moscow’s political and economic influence on the Korean peninsula and gain access to more ice-free ports like North Korea’s Rajin Port. Moreover, this may be in line with Russia’s strategic effort to seek a breakthrough with the United States and other Western countries on the Ukrainian crisis by strengthening cooperation with North Korea.

NKeconWatch: 38 North has more analysis here.


Rason Port lease confusion explored

May 7th, 2014


Pictured above (Google Earth): A 2013-9-14 satellite image of Rason Piers 1 and 2. Pier 1 (Top) is used by the Chinese. The Royale Star is docked at Pier 2.

When Jang Song-thaek was purged, among the laundry list of offenses he was alleged to have committed against the regime was this:

Jang made no scruple of committing such act of treachery in May last as selling off the land of the Rason economic and trade zone to a foreign country for a period of five decades under the pretext of paying those debts.

This phrase had Pyongyang watchers abuzz over whether Chinese contracts in Rason were in any danger of being violated by the North Korean government. Of course it was immediately unclear what enterprise(s) would be affected since we are all unaware of any significant deals reached in May of 2013.

A recent statement by a  North Korean official in the Hong Kong media has, however, raised the issue of contract credibility in the DPRK yet again.

According to Yonhap:

Chinese companies have not leased piers at a port of North Korea’s free trade zone, a Pyongyang official has told Hong Kong media, raising speculation that the shock execution of the North Korean leader’s uncle might have soured business ties with its key ally.

China reportedly agreed to invest about US$3 billion in developing the free trade zone in North Korea’s northern tip of Rason, formerly known as Rajin and Sonbong, in late 2011. The special trade zone sits across the border from China’s northeastern Jilin province.

There have been media reports that Chinese companies have leased two piers at the Rason port, but Kim Chun-il, a division chief of the port’s foreign business bureau, denied such reports during an interview with Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV.

Asked by a Phoenix TV journalist whether China won the right to exclusively use two piers at the port, Kim replied in Korean, “There are no piers that are specially used by the Chinese side.”

“They (Chinese people) have said so, but we have never formally rented out Pier 1 and Pier 2 to them,” Kim said.

The interview was made during a 72-minute special TV program on the Rason trade zone, which was aired on April 19. The program’s video footage can be seen on the website of Phoenix TV.

Kim said that Russia leased the Pier 3 at the port, adding that North Korea plans to modernize the two piers on its own.

The Chinese media did indeed claim at least once (see here) that they were “using” Piers 1 and 2. And Dr. Bernhard Seliger told us back in September 2012 that the Chinese were using the port, although no lease was signed.

However, it is not true that the North Koreans have never announced an agreement on Pier 1 at Rason. I posted an article (back in March of this year) in which Choe Hyon Chol, section chief of the new State economic Development Commission, stated the following:

The Rajin Port, a transit trade port, is the hub of international cargo transit transportation and transport of exports and imports of entrepreneurs who invested in the zone.

The port has assignments to transport marine products for export from the East Sea of Korea and every kind of cargoes from and to northeast area of China and Far East Region of Russia.

The Rajin Port consists of three wharves; wharf No. 1 is designed to be renovated and operated by China Dalian Chuang Li Co., Ltd. and wharf No.3 by Rason International Container Transport J. V. Company to be set up according to the contract with Russian Rail Trade Co., Ltd.

I cannot imagine that a Chinese company is going to renovate and operate the pier without a clear contract. Of course the status of that contract is now called into question. Has the Chinese firm pulled out?  Have the North Koreans canceled the contract? Are North Korean individuals from different agencies just not on the same page? Who knows?

Still no word on Pier No. 2.

Great recent photos of Rason port by Ray Cunningham here.

You can read the Yonhap story here:
N. Korean official says no piers for China at special trade zone


DPRK – Nigeria agreement

May 7th, 2014

According to the Guardian (in Nigeria, not UK):

Nigeria and North Korea have embarked on a multi-focus trade strategy to further deepen the bilateral relations in the various aspects of national development of both countries .

These was contained in the joint communique issued at the end fourth session of the Nigeria -Democratic People’s of Korea (DPRK) two days meeting in Abuja on Tuesday.

The communique said that the two countries recognized the need to further deepen the bilateral relations in the various aspects of national development , especially issues of common interest , and agreed to strengthen and enhance the level of bilateral and multilateral cooperation.

Both countries recognized the relevance of industrial development in nation building and pledged to re-invigorate Economic , Trade , Investment and Industrial cooperation .

The two countries also recognized the role of agriculture and food security to national growth and agreed to expand the scope and scale of cooperation in these areas of Agriculture , Stockbreeding and Fishery sub-sectors.

According to the communiqué, both countries expressed the desire to strengthen programmes and cooperation in the field of Education , and in this context agreed to share achievements and experiences in basic and secondary , vocational and technical , as well as education , and promote cooperation in identified and prioritized fields through exchange of education officials , university professors , guest lecturers, experts and researchers.

Nigeria and DPRK recognized the need for cooperation and exchange of information using modern technology between the public sectors of both countries and promote the private sector in Nigeria , and any other identified fields of common interest.

Speaking at the closing session of the event , the Permanent Secretary , Ministry of Foreign Affairs , Martin Uhomoibhi, noted that Nigeria has been supportive of North Korea in the multilateral setting .

According to him , the relationship between the two countries date back to 38 years ago when the diplomatic relations was established on May 25, 1976.

Commending the participants he said ” let me , at this stage commend the experts and officials of both countries for the zeal , commitment and diligent they have exhibited to ensure a very fruitful and successful 4th session of our joint commission .”

Meanwhile , the two countries agreed that the 5th Session of the joint commission will hold in Pyongyang at a date to be mutually agreed through diplomatic channel.

More in The Diplomat.

Read the full story here:
Nigeria, North Korea partner on bilateral trade, investments
Nigerian Guardian
John Okeke, Abuja


Loopholes in UN sanctions against North Korea

May 6th, 2014

A new article in 38 North by Hugh Griffiths and Lawrence Dermody.

Here is the introduction:

The latest United Nations report on North Korean sanctions has once again highlighted the role of foreign companies in cases of UN sanctions evasion. TheMarch 2014 report by the independent Panel of Experts assigned to monitor sanctions against the DPRK on behalf of the UN noted the widespread involvement of foreign companies.

A new SIPRI study backs up the UN report and goes further, showing that foreign company involvement in North Korean sanctions violations is not new and is more than just a trend-foreign companies and individuals travelling on foreign passports constitute an overwhelming majority of those identified as involved in the violation of both multilateral and unilateral sanctions dating as far back as 2004.While the majority of companies and individuals identified as involved in sanctions violations are either registered abroad or hold foreign passports, the international community continues to overwhelmingly target companies and individuals registered in North Korea. This targeting takes the form of “designations” by which the United Nations and the European Union together with countries such as Australia, Japan and the US order asset freezes on particular companies, as well as trade bans, and slap travel bans on named individuals traveling on North Korean passports.

These dynamics–identified for the first time in the SIPRI study–may have implications for policy-makers seeking to apply new rounds of sanctions on North Korea in response to any fourth nuclear test.

Most firms designated by the UN and the EU as well as Australia, Japan and the United States are North Korean-registered trading companies while virtually no North Korean transportation companies have been designated. In conREAD MOREtrast to trading companies which have few fixed assets and can easily switch name and other forms of corporate identity, transportation companies that utilize aircraft and ships are easier to monitor and track despite name-changes. Given the key role that transportation plays in the logistics of sanctions evasion, the SIPRI study provides a number of recommendations in support of these and other findings….


North Korea food rations for Kim Il-sung birthday

May 6th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

North Korea doled out 420 grams of food to each person per day in April, the same amount as in the previous month, a news report said Tuesday.

Citing the U.N. World Food Program’s office in Pyongyang, the Washington-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that last month’s daily food ration per capita was unchanged from March though the North marked the 102 birthday of Kim Il-sung, founder of the communist country and grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-un.

The founding father died in 1994, and his birthday is one of the most important holidays in North Korea.

The RFA said April’s daily food ration was much lower than the 600 grams recommended by the U.N. agency.

North Korea’s daily food ration, which amounted to 400 grams in January, has been hovering at 402 grams since then.

The Washington-based Voice of America (VOA), meanwhile, said the WFP provided 2,405 tons of food aid to the impoverished country last month.

The food assistance in April was up 50 percent from March and the largest monthly amount this year, but it was much lower than the 4,093 tons provided during the same month a year earlier, the VOA reported.

The WFP has also suspended operations of five out of its seven confectionery factories in North Korea due to a fund shortage, the VOA said.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea rations 420 grams of food to each person in April


Knowledge sharing SEZ conference held

May 2nd, 2014

In September 2013 the DPRK held its first conference on economic development zones under the just announced State Economic Development Commission. Read all about it here.

On May 2, 2014, KCNA announced a second conference:

Knowledge Sharing on SEZs in DPRK Held

Pyongyang, May 2 (KCNA) — There took place at Yanggakdo International Hotel on Friday knowledge sharing on SEZs in the DPRK hosted by the Korea Economic Development Association [AKA State Economic Development Commission/Association].

It was attended by Ri Chol Sok, vice-chairman of the association, and its other officials and experts and teachers and researchers at scientific and educational institutions and officials concerned.

Also present there were Kyung-Ae Park, professor at University of British Columbia, Canada, prestigious experts on special economic zones from China, India, Canada, Philippines and the U.S. and foreign diplomatic envoys and representatives of international bodies here and foreign embassy officials.

Ri Chol Sok and Kyung-Ae Park made speeches.

The speakers congratulated those participants on the successful holding of the event and mentioned the importance of the exchange of each other’s experience and cooperation in developing special economic zones and managing and operating them.

They said that the event would help to broaden experts’ vision and expand the development work and also contribute to promoting the international exchange and cooperation.

Then followed speeches.

Introduced at the event were the present situation in some economic development zones of the DPRK and their prospect and policies of preferential treatment and the master plan for Wonsan-Kumgangsan area.

The results of researches and opinions were exchanged and the BOT widely applied to investment and cooperation and the experience gained by various countries in doing so were discussed.

The event marked an occasion in contributing to turning economic development zones of the DPRK into world-level economic cooperation zones by introducing the advanced experience gained in special economic zones according to the specific conditions of the country.

Uriminzokkiri posted this video of Kyung-Ae Park and Yun Yong-sok:

Here is a loose translation of the video:

Q) What were your initial thoughts on the SEZ’s?
A) It is important to differentiate the North’s SEZ’s from those of other countries to make them attractive to investors. For tourism SEZ’s, many experts have recommended minimizing environmental degradation to promote sustainability. 신평 관광개발구 (신평 tourism SEZ) is a good example where sustainable development can help attract tourists who wish to relax and enjoy the environment.

Q) You teach Poli Sci at UBC, how did you get interested in SEZ’s?
A) Faculty exchanges among economics and management experts are often more profitable than academic discussions on political science. Naturally, those who participated in the exchange programs were talking about SEZ’s more often than any other topics.

Q) What are your thoughts on the prospects of the North’s SEZ’s ?
A) I was impressed how the entire country is putting an effort into SEZ projects. This is a very positive aspect, but we need to think about making these SEZ’s more attractive than SEZ’s of other countries.

Here is another translation:

Dr. Park: The key issue of establishing economic development zones (EDZs) is how to make ‘our’ zones distinctive from other countries. In the tourism industry, for example, it has been suggested that simply constructing new buildings, hotels, and condominiums does not offer any competitive advantage because others have been doing the same way. Instead, a better way is to ask ourselves what makes our zones unique so that they could attract people and investment. For North Korea, it is indeed the beauty of the wilderness and untouched nature that makes the country remarkable.

While teaching political science in University of British Columbia, I’ve come to realize that the South-North exchange should first take place in the area where both have mutual interests and the outcome can be mutually beneficial. Exchanges among the political scientists will unlikely be productive; so instead, we have been inviting numerous North Korean professors of economics and business, including those from Kim Il-Sung University, Wonsan University of Economics, and Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies. And this year we are extending our invitation for the fourth time.

Yet, compared to the number of North Korean experts coming to Canada, not many scholars have visited the North from our end as part of an exchange program. While we were considering ways to facilitate an academic exchange at a greater level, we were lucky to get in touch with Korea Economic Development Association (KEDA; aka Chosun Economic Development Committee). We had a meeting on special economic zones last October […] and this was a follow-up meeting after the successful outcome of the first one. Canada-DPRK Knowledge Partnership Program (KPP) organized the event, and KEDA co-hosted the meeting.

Many experts have suggested that more study is needed to make North Korean economic zones distinctive, unique, and attractive. The critical issue remains as to how to attract foreign capital and investment. Despite many challenges North Korea may confront, we believe that passion and diligence of North Koreans will prove fruitful.


Chinese tourism in Namyang, DPRK

May 2nd, 2014


Pictured above: Tumen China (left), Namyang, DPRK (Right)

UPDATE: On May 23, 2014 China announced it is upgrading the transportation infrastructure connecting to Namyang.

According to Xinhua:

A border city in northeast China launched Friday bicycle tours to the neighboring Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) as tourism to the country booms.

Thirty-five Chinese tourists joined the first self-drive travel by bicycle from Tumen City, Jilin Province, to DPRK’s Namyang city, said organizers. The tourists spent three hours in the DPRK.

The bicycle tour is inexpensive and only needs simple procedures, said an official of the Tumen Tourism Bureau. He said the route is expected to attract more tourists to the DPRK.

Excursions by train from Tumen to the DPRK’s Chilbosan resumed on Wednesday. The tourist train was launched in April 2012, but was later suspended.

Tumen has highway and railway service to the DPRK.

Xinhua also posted this story which offers more context:

Tourism to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is booming in northeast China border cities on the back of multiple travel schemes aimed at boosting the regional economy.

On Friday, Zhao Xin beamed with joy as he joined the first group of cyclists from Tumen City, Jilin Province, to DPRK’s Namyang city.

Tumen, under the jurisdiction of Yanbian, a Korean autonomous prefecture in Jilin, is separated from DPRK by the Tumen River. The cross-border city is linked with DPRK by highways and railways.

Amid high spirits, Zhao, a travel agent from Yanbian, was among thirty-five Chinese tourists in the DPRK, visiting the Namyang Railway Station, Kim Il-sun’ s statue, and enjoying local delicacies in a famous downtown street during a one-day visit.

“The city is quite unique and full of energy,” Zhao told Xinhua, hoping that more DPRK cities would join the list of the travel-by-bicycle initiative so that he could enjoy more sightseeing as well as the local gastronomical culture.

For Chen Boyi, taking a train is a splendid choice to tour the neighboring country. Chen said that her excursion during the Workers’ Day holiday helped unravel some mysteries of DPRK.

“Namyang is very clean and the local people warm-hearted,” Chen, 21, said.

Excursions by train from Tumen to the DPRK’s Chilbosan resumed two days before the bicycle tour program. The tourist train was launched in April 2012, but was later suspended.

The train and bicycle tours are the latest effort to ramp up the cross-border tourism.

In April, the city of Ji’an, Jilin, launched regular tourist trains to Pyongyang, Kaesong and Panmunjom in the DPRK, making it the second city after Dandong in the neighboring Liaoning Province with such services.

In 2013, Tumen city simplified applications for non-local visitors, allowing them to enter the DPRK on the same day they arrive in Tumen.

Meanwhile, the DPRK has opened several cities for group tours from China, including Rason, Namyang, Chongjin and the Mount Kumgang.

The schemes have powered the past few years of tourism boom. About 10,000 tourists from Yanbian alone visit the DPRK annually.

With a variety of travel means, it will be more convenient to visit the DPRK, said Ji Run, a tourist who has just wrapped a visit to the country.

“I would like to come back in the future,” he said.

Yonhap also reports:

North Korea and China have simplified border-crossing procedures for Chinese tourists traveling to the North, China’s state media reported Monday, in another sign that Pyongyang is eager to boost tourism income.

The move allows Chinese people who take tours from China’s border cities in Jilin and Liaoning provinces to get a “travel pass” to North Korea within 24 hours, compared with the previous two days, the state-run China Daily reported.

The report did not elaborate when the simplified procedures took effect, but North Korea started a new one-day tour program last week by opening its border to bicycle tourists from China for the first time.

The newspaper carried a photo of Chinese tourists entering North Korea by taking bicycles from the northeastern city of Tumen in Jilin province to the North Korean border city of Onsong.

Last week, China resumed train operations on a route from Tumen to the North’s northeastern port city of Chongjin, after a year of renovation, the report said.

Zhang Weidong, an official at a Chinese travel agency responsible for the train travel, told the newspaper that more than 2,000 tourists used the train in 2012 before the renovation.

“The number is estimated to rise to 7,000 this year,” Zhang said.

The four-day train trip to North Korea costs about 1,900 yuan (US$304), the report said.

North Korea is one of the world’s most secretive and isolated nations, but since last year, Pyongyang has stepped up efforts to attract foreign tourists, including offering more international and domestic flights.

Read the full stories here:
Chinese city launches bicycle tours to DPRK

N. Korea, China simplify border-crossing for Chinese tourists


DPRK trade with Hong Kong in 2013

May 1st, 2014

According to Yonhap:

North Korea increased imports of vehicles and alcoholic beverages from Hong Kong in 2013, despite an overall drop in bilateral trade, a South Korean report showed Thursday.

The trade representative office for Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) in Hong Kong said Pyongyang spent US$4.36 million to buy vehicles, up 27.5 percent from the year before, a large number of them with over 3-liter engine and seating capacity for more than 10 people.

Cars were the second-largest single product imported by North Korea from Hong Kong after electronic components, the office said.

“The cars were made in other countries and shipped through Hong Kong,” it said.

North Korean imports of alcoholic beverages shot up 51.3 percent last year from 2012, with whiskey and vodka making up the bulk of products shipped. Though liquor products only accounted for 1.4 percent of goods shipped from the former British colony to Pyongyang, its annual growth rate surpassed that of all others last year.

This trend continued into 2014, with North Korea’s purchase of alcoholic beverages soaring 758.8 percent in January and February vis-a-vis the previous year, according to the KOTRA office.

The latest report showed that two-way trade dropped 57.2 percent on-year to $26.99 million, with Hong Kong’s exports falling 53.7 percent. It said no crude oil, grain and fertilizers were shipped to the North.

Imports from North Korea nosedived 87.9 percent to $770,000.

The report showed that in the first two months of this year, Hong Kong’s exports to North Korea was down 67.9 percent on-year, while imports fell 63 percent.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea increases car, liquor imports from Hong Kong in 2013: report


The 17th Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair sees sharp rise in applicants

April 30th, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

A large increase in the number of new companies that registered for the 17th Spring International Trade Fair has been reported in a recent Choson Sinbo article. The fair will run from May 12-15, 2014 and be held at the New Technology & Innovation Hall at Pyongyang’s Three Revolution Exhibition.
According to the April 22nd article by the Japan-based pro-North Korean news outlet, the number of countries expected to participate rose from 12 to 14, and the total number of registered companies more than doubled compared to the previous exhibition, from 140 to 290.
A large variety of new products and technology are expected to be revealed at the upcoming exhibition, such as new machinery and developments in metalworking, electricity, mining, construction, farming and food processing. Other products and technological innovations in energy conservation, environmental protection, transportation and communication are also expected to be revealed at the exhibition.
The North Korean media reported that contrary to the negative assessments reported in the western media, foreign economists are actually highly anticipating the rapid growth of the North Korean economy. In an interview, a representative for the Korean International Exhibition Corporation was quoted as saying, “Even amidst economic sanctions imposed by America and its followers, our nation’s economic construction is moving forward with speed.” It was also reported that foreign participants and observers of past exhibitions are relaying this fact to the outside world, which steered the expanding size of the fair.

In addition, North Korean state media boasted the reason for the exhibition’s rise in popularity was due to the increase in domestic product quality, which has led to an expected increase in not only the number of participating countries and companies but also the number of expected visitors to the fair.
The Pyongyang International Trade Fair was held for the first time in 1989 with the hopes of establishing friendly economic relations with other countries, and to specifically promote the exchange of goods and technology. In addition, North Korea opened the fair in order to break into new international markets and attract foreign investment. The second International Trade Fair was held three years later in 1992, and has been held annually since the year 2000.
The host of the exhibition, the Korean International Exhibition Corporation, oversees the introduction of new companies and products; offers consultation on trade, commerce, investments and joint-venture policies; promotes the exchange of goods and technology, new market openings and foreign investments; and works together with participating companies to facilitate international trade.
The Pyongyang International Trade Fair is North Korea’s largest trade exhibition, and is held twice a year in the spring and fall with the goals of attracting foreign capital and finding new export opportunities. In relation to this event, the 10th Pyongyang Fall International Trade Fair will run from September 22-25, and will be accepting applications until August 5.