New Czech brewery in Rajin

July 15th, 2014

UPDATE 3 (2014-8-14): Reader Théo Clément sent these pictures of the interior of the beef factory/bar:

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UPDATE 2 (2014-8-6): Here is an interview (in English) on Radio Praha with Martin Kovář about the brewery.

UPDATE 1 (2014-7-15):

Czech-brewery-rajin

Pictured above (Google Earth): The new brewery in Rajin

One of the individuals involved in setting up the brewery gave this interview (in Czech). NK News translated some of it:

Zvu Potez Sales Director Martin Kovar said that North Korean representatives in the Czech Republic contacted his company directly, saying they wanted to open a brewery in the DPRK with Czech expertise.

“We took them to a few Czech microbreweries so they could examine them and know what to expect from them,” he said, “And they chose a type of beer that most of them liked”.

The brewery subsequently opened in December last year, with equipment brought directly to the site in shipping containers from Prague, via the Russian railway line across Siberia from Khasan in Russia to Rajin port.

According to visitors to the Rason area in late 2013, two staff from the Zvu Potez company arrived in Rajin to help set up the site and train three to four locals in how to use and maintain the brewery.

Among the Czech staff was Tomáš Novotný, who worked as Chief Technologist for Zvu Potez in North Korea for six months while the brewery was being set up.

His job, he told NK News in an email, was to give the North Koreans the “know-how” and supervise the production of the first beer, which he said would be brewed primarily for the local market.

The Czechs have now all returned home, he said, and the brewery is under the full direction of the North Koreans.

And according to Radio Free Asia:

North Korea then opened a microbrewery in the Rason Special Economic Zone in late 2013 and equipped it entirely with Czech-made appliances and hardware.

In addition to the equipment, Novotny explained that the ingredients – malt, hop, and yeast – were also imported from the Czech Republic.

In this effort, brewing technologist Novotny stayed in the North for six months, beginning last October, to teach two North Koreans what he knows about beer.

Novotny added, however, he does not know what the North plans to do once they use up the one-year supply of ingredients from his country.

So why is the impoverished country striving to improve the quality of its beer? It may be that better beer means better business.

While beer at the bar in Rason is free for locals, tourists must pay about 70 U.S. cents per pint, according to the North Korea-focused website NK News.

Pyongyang is also encouraging foreign visitors to take a tour of its various microbreweries, including the Rakwon Paradise , the Taedonggang Craft Brewery, and the Yanggakdo Hotel Microbrewery.

The Czech company’s work on the Rason brewery has come to an end, and it does not intend to send more experts unless North Korea places additional orders.

ORIGINAL POST (2013-12-2): An article in Forbes tells us that Rason is getting a new Czech brewery:

Tomas Novotny has been in North Korea two days, and he looks frazzled. It was a long journey from Prague, and standing on the street in downtown Rajin, his government minder by his side, he can already see that doing business in the DPRK’s remote northeast will present an unusual set of challenges.

Novotny is here because of that railway line. A brewing technologist with the Czech firm Zvu Potez, he has come to set up a brewery. All the equipment and materials were transported by train–from Prague to Moscow, through Siberia and onto the branch line of the Trans-Korean main line.

“We’re still building the brewery. Come and see it,” says Novotny. The two containers that brought the Zvu Potez equipment from Prague lie 50 meters from the brewery. It’s a great location by the sea in Rajin’s main park. The business is a joint venture between the Czech firm and the Rason regional government, says Novotny, and will target tourists and foreigners. There are about 300 Western tourists–including Russians–a year and about 20,000 Chinese visitors to the country’s northeast.

“When they’ve finished building,” he says, shouting over the drilling, “I’m going to teach three or four locals how to brew. I hope they can speak English. If they can’t it will be interesting.”

He expects to be in Rason for six months establishing the business, but already he misses home and his young son. “I won’t get to speak to them until I go home at Christmas,” he says.

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Kumgang Resort operational status (UPDATED)

July 14th, 2014

Pictured above (Google Earth): April 2010 satellite imagery of the Kumgang tourist resort

The Kumgang resort was receiving 400,000 visitors per year until in July 2008 it became the scene of a terrible tragedy, the shooting of a South Korean tourist. Following the incident, the South Korean government prohibited its citizens from visiting the resort until the DPRK allowed a joint-Korean investigation of the shooting and made a guarantee of future safety.  The DPRK never agreed to these terms so the park fell idle.

The suspension of the project has cost the DPRK government millions of dollars. In response it has moved to pressure the ROK government to change course and allow the tours to resume. Below I have kept a timeline of the course of these events and their outcomes.

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2014-7-14: The Hankyoreh marks July 11–the 6th anniversary of the day when tours to Mt. Keumgang in North Korea were suspended. 

“As a result of the suspension of tourism to Mt. Keumgang, we have lost nearly 1 trillion won [US$981 million], including the 300 billion won [US$294.32 million] invested in the facilities and an estimated 530 billion won in lost revenue,” the investors said. They urged the governments of North and South Korea to immediately hold working-level talks to resume tourism to Mt. Keumgang and to hold reunions for divided families.

“The position of the government is that the issue of the safety of its citizens must be resolved before it can allow tours to Mt. Keumgang to resume. In addition, given the continuing UN Security Council sanctions in response to North Korea’s nuclear and missile testing, which occurred after tours to Mt. Keumgang were halted, we think that the tours cannot be resumed until the government indicates that doing so would not be in violation of UN sanctions,” said Ministry of Unification spokesperson Kim Ui-do during a regular press briefing on July 11.

2012-11-27: The Hankyoreh reports that North Korea provided a written guarantee for the safety of tourists at Mt. Kumkang during 2010 working level talks with the South Korean government.

2011-9-6: South Korea asks foreigners not to invest in Kumgang saying such investments would violate existing property rights.

2011-9-6: Park Chol-su, head of Daepung International Investment Group, said he wants to discuss with South Korea’s Hyundai Asan how to handle its assets at the North’s Mount Kumgang.

2011-8-31: Chinese tourists arrive in Kumgang on Mangyongbong.

2011-8-30: South Korea calls for international boycott of Kumgangsan resort

2011-8-28: Taephung Investment Group outlines new Kumgang business plan

2011-8-24: Kumgang opened to DPRK and Chinese toursits

2011-8-23: South Korean workers leave Kumgang

2011-8-22: DPRK orders expulsion of remaining South Korean staff, auctioning of assets

2011-8-19: Hyundai officials visit Kumgang amid dispute over fate of company assets

2011-8-6: Steve Parks claims he has signed an MOU with the DPRK government

2011-6-2: “DPRK Law on Special Zone for International Tour of Mt. Kumgang” released. PDF of the statute here.

2011-4-29: SPA designates Kumgang special zone

2011-4-1: DPRK rescinds Hyundai’s Kumgang contract rights

2010-11-15: Kumgang re-fozen

2010-10-31: Family reuniuons were held there in October/November

2010-8-7: DPRK using Kumgagn assets to serve tourists in the North

2010-5-16: Taephung shows Chinese investors Kumgang

2010-5-3: Most South Korean and Chinese employees leave

2010-4-25: The National Defense Commission takes over the properties and puts the Korea Taepung International Investment Group in charge of attracting investors and tourists to the resort.

2010-4-23: Seoul denounces the seizure

2010-4-11: Chinese tourists began arriving at the resort (here and here).

2010-4-11: Employees told to leave/sealed up

2010-4-11:The DPRK “seizes” the Hyundai properties in the Kumgang resort

2010-3-24: Investors worried about losing out

2010-3-18: DPRK threatens to seize Kumgang Resort

2010-3-18: Hyundai-Asan’s chief offers to resign

2010-3-10: DPRK threatens to revoke contracts with South Korean partner, Hyundai-Asan

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North Korea continues studies on market economy, introduces concept of securities in academic journals

July 11th, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2014-7-11

Recently, North Korean academic journals are publishing articles that argue for the promotion of research on the market economy, in preparation for economic exchanges with capitalist countries.

In an article titled “The Fundamentals and Main Stream of Issuing Securities,” the academic journal Political and Legal Research (Vol. 2, 2014; published on June 14) introduced the concept of securities as a financial instrument, explaining in detail the methods of capital financing in a market economy.

The article provides a definition of securities, and explains the purpose of their issuance, methods of increasing capital, and various other concepts related to stocks and securities. The articles’ contents resemble what one would normally find in a university-level business school textbook.

The article quoted Kim Jong Il’s guideline: “In order to engage in international economic exchange, [North Korea] must be familiar with economies of other nations,” and emphasized, “To successfully engage in suitable economic activities with capitalist nations, it is important to fully understand each country’s laws and regulations relating to stocks and securities.”

The article also argued, “Workers in the foreign economy sector must work to clearly grasp economies of capitalist nations and engage in active trade activities with these nations.”

In the same journal, another article entitled “Understanding the Formation of Conflict Resolution System of the World Trade Organization (WTO)” introduced the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) system, the 1986 Uruguay Round negotiations, and criticized the United States for abusing the conflict resolution system to protect its own market.

In this particular article the author stressed, “Problems that may arise in foreign economic relations must be solved in line with our revolutionary interests.” Furthermore, the article explains, “Because problems that arise in international trade are solved through the World Trade Organization, it is important to understand the formation of this system.”

The article continues: “Capitalist nations have abused the WTO’s agreement on low-cost goods from developing countries and are raising non-tariff barriers. . . . [North Korea] must grasp the unprogressive nature of the WTO and its conflict resolution system in order to contribute to the building of a great nation.”

Another article entitled “The General Understanding of Usufructuary Rights as Regulated by Foreign Civil Law” explains the right to use another person’s land or products. According to the author, “The Rights System and its regulation under capitalist civil law must be understood in order to protect national interests when engaging in foreign economic activities.”

Internally, North Korea has been encouraging the study of market economy in order to push ahead with its construction of economic development zones, promotion of foreign tourism industry, and expansion of economic cooperation with foreign countries.

As North Korea’s joint venture operations with foreign companies continue, and as its efforts to develop special economic zones and the tourism industry increase, it appears that North Korea has begun to feel the need to gain a better understanding of the market economy system.

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DPRK imports from Bangladesh in FY 2014

July 11th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

The North spent over US$146,000 to buy medical supplies from Bangladesh in the fiscal year 2014, the Washington-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported, citing trade statistics from the Bangladeshi Export Promotion Bureau.

The figure is more than double the $68,000 tallied in the fiscal year 2013. The country closes its books in June.

The North likely chose Bangladesh as its trading partner because the latter can copy patented drugs and sell them abroad for now as per an international agreement brokered by the World Trade Organization, the Dhaka office of the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency said.

North Korea also bought $163,000 worth of instruments used in radiology from the U.S. in May, trade documents by the U.S. Commerce Development showed earlier this month.

Though it is too early to tell, the RFA speculated that the North’s sudden interest in medical import may be closely related to leader Kim Jong-un’s recent campaign to boast his “love for the people,” a move possibly aimed at assuaging public outrage over a deadly collapse of an apartment building in Pyongyang in May.

The North’s healthcare spending has been among the least in the world, with the World Health Organization estimating that it had put in less than $1 per person in 2006.

Separately, the Swiss government has said it will continue its humanitarian assistance to North Korea for the next two years, the U.S.-based Voice of America reported Friday.

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) will extend its 2012-2014 Medium-Term Programme, an aid plan aimed at helping North Korea exploit sloping lands for farming purposes and gain better access to clean drinking water, by another couple of years, the report said.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea ramps up import of medical equipment, drugs in past year: RFA
Yonhap
2014-7-11

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Mixed priorities in construction in Hyesan

July 10th, 2014

According to the Daily NK:

Kim Jong Eun recently ordered an education center for orphans in Hyesan to be rebuilt and expanded, Daily NK has learned. The North Korean leader is also said to have personally guaranteed the necessary materials for the project. However, this is fostering discontent within the local construction sector.

“The construction process there has been rapid since the inputs were guaranteed by the Marshal, so they are now in the closing stages,” a source from the Yangkang Province capital reported to Daily NK on the 11th.

The decision to place the state’s strength behind the project has, the inside source said, caused anger in other construction units, since only one of many is receiving inputs of money and materials from Pyongyang, while others are being forced to sustain themselves.

“Other construction projects, including apartments for local people to live in, are being put back,” the source said. “It’s common to see workers messing about and killing time on construction sites. Some houses in the city have been demolished to build apartments, but in some areas that construction hasn’t even started yet.”

According to citywide sources, there are numerous construction projects underway in Hyesan these days, including an indoor stadium, an eatery called Amrokgak, and civilian apartment blocks. However, as the source noted, most are progressing slowly due to chronic supply shortages, while the education center for orphans, which got underway much later than most others, is moving at lightning speed in comparison.

Facilities exist in each province of North Korea to educate parentless children up to the age of 15. The system is divided into four sectors: up to four years of age, four and five years of age, elementary school age (6~9), and middle school age (10~15). Each province has at least one of each type. The facility in Hyesan caters to the latter two age cohorts.

“Clothes and food there are provided by the center,” the source explained, adding that electricity is also more predictable there than in most other parts of the city.

However, she cautioned, “It’s unwise to have complete faith in units receiving special treatment. Even a Pyongyang apartment block collapsed in May, and it was for senior people so they probably used good materials.”

It is not clear why the Kim regime is offering special treatment to this particular site, though it may be because foreigners risk doing harm to North Korea’s public image by photographing them, or simply to bring under control the groups of Kotjebis that tend to linger around the station and marketplaces. Irrespective of either goal, it also allows for propaganda about Kim Jong Eun’s “love for the young,” a core propaganda trope that surrounds all North Korean leaders. Kim Jong Eun has visited a large number of education facilities in the first years of his rule to emphasize his concern for the development of the country’s young generation.

Read the full story here:
Hyesan Orphans Given Special Treatment
Daily NK
2014-7-10

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UK government gives US$660,000 to DPRK in 2013

July 10th, 2014

According to the Daily NK:

The British government donated $660,000 USD in Official Development Assistance (ODA) to North Korea last year, according to a Voice of America (VOA) report released on July 9th.

The report, citing a British government fiscal report, stated that more than half of the total sum, $342,000 USD, was spent by the British Council on English language education programs in Pyongyang. The program has been in place since the beginning of the century, when the two states established formal relations, and was recently extended to 2017.

Outside this sum, $167,000 USD was given to assist the rescue work of the Chosun Red Cross Society, while the British government also facilitated the participation of a North Korean athlete in the International Paralympics, and provided training for North Korean officials.

The British government has, throughout the life of bilateral relations, cleaved to a policy of critical engagement with the Kim regime, which, according to the official London stance, allows for harsh criticism of human rights and other abuses whilst also providing for progress in other areas.

Additional information:

1. Martyn Williams catalogs UK activities in the DPRK over the last few years here.

2. British Council forges new UK/North Korea cultural ties (Press Release on 2014-7-15)

3. Previous posts on the UK here.

Read the full story here:
British Government Gives $660,000 to North Korea
Daily NK
Moon Eun Joo
2014-7-10

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China donates US$1m in food assistance

July 8th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

China donated US$1 million to the World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nations’ food assistance body, to help feed malnourished North Korean children and pregnant women, a U.S. report said Tuesday.

The donation will be used to provide food to around 1.8 million North Korean babies, children and expecting mothers, according to the report by the Washington-based Voice of America.

China has previously donated the same amount of money for WFP’s North Korean assistance program last December.

Since the beginning of 2014, WFP has collected $49 million in donations for North Korean food assistance from countries such as Switzerland, Australia and Canada.

The amount accounts for only 35 percent of what WFP needs to accomplish their food aid programs for North Korea in the first half of this year.

Read the full story here:
China donates US$1 mln to help feed N. Korean children
Yonhap
2014-7-8

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DPRK-Russia ties expanding

July 3rd, 2014

According to Yonhap:

Cross-border trade between North Korea and Russia jumped 37 percent to US$104 million in 2013 from the $76 million recorded in the previous year, according to a report by Lee Yong-hwa, a researcher at the private think tank Hyundai Research Institute.

“The North is believed to have forged deeper relations with Russia in an effort to revitalize its economy and prevent it from becoming excessively dependent on China,” Lee said in the report.

The researcher said the two countries’ economic cooperation is forecast to grow further going forward as the North’s attempts to revitalize its moribund economy coincide with Russia’s bid to develop its Far Eastern regions.

According to the report, the portion of trade between North Korea and Far Eastern Russia out of the two nations’ total trade volume surged to 23.1 percent in 2013 from the 10 percent tallied in 2009, indicating that Russia’s Far East development policies have added to the overall bilateral trade expansion.

The socialist country has also tightened relations with Russia in other business areas including transportation and logistics as well as in the energy industry, the report added.

China was the biggest trading partner for North Korea last year with their bilateral trade volume reaching $6.54 billion, according to data from the Korea International Trade Association (KITA).

But trade between the two Koreas fell to its lowest level in eight years in 2013 due to their strained relations. Inter-Korean trade reached $1.15 billion last year, down a whopping 41.9 percent from the previous year’s $1.98 billion, the data showed.

Read the full story here:
Russia-N. Korea economic ties expanding: report
Yonhap
2014-7-3

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Aid to DPRK drops in H1 2014

July 2nd, 2014

According to Yonhap:

International humanitarian assistance to North Korea tumbled nearly 50 percent in the first half of this year from a year earlier, a U.S. radio report said Wednesday.

Citing the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Washington-based Voice of America said North Korea received US$19.6 million of humanitarian aid in the January-June period, down 45 percent from the same period last year.

The report, however, gave no reason for the on-year plunge.

Six countries offered aid to the impoverished country during the six-month period, down from 10 a year earlier.

Switzerland led the pack with $3.82 million, followed by Sweden and Canada. No data was available on aid from Australia, Germany, Italy and Ireland, which provided assistance to the communist country last year, the report said.

Over 65 percent of the aid has been allocated to improve food security and nutrition in the country, it added.

So far this year, the U.N. has extended $6.49 million in the Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF) to five of its agencies working in the communist state. The CERF is a type of pooled funds managed by the OCHA to assist humanitarian operations in any country experiencing acute or large, on-going crises.

Read the full story here:
Humanitarian aid to N. Korea nearly halves in H1: report
Yonhap
2014-7-2

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Farewell Choco Pie?

July 1st, 2014

News media reports claim that the DPRK has banned the use/possession of Choco Pies in the Kaesong Industial Complex.

According to the Washington Post:

By some estimates, as many as 2.5 million Choco Pies were traded monthly — though it’s unclear who exactly was so assiduously following Choco Pie markets.

Regardless of its volume, the trade will now surely be shrinking.

According to recent reports in the South Korean press, North Korean authorities have now banned the South Korean-produced Choco Pie at the Kaesong Industrial Complex following a lengthy crackdown on the chocolate treat that has made it scarce in Pyongyang.

Before, workers could pocket as many as 20 pies every night of work. But now, South Korean factory staff said they’ll instead get sausages, instant noodles, powdered coffee or chocolate bars as a bonus.

You can read the full story here.

More information here and here.

Previous posts on the Kaesong Industrial Complex here.

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