Kim Il-sung Square gets a [relatively] new look

October 8th, 2012

This is a joint-post with Tad Farrell (

Although North Korean television has yet to profile the recent changes made to the appearance of Kim Il-sung square, we have put the pieces together from a mix of recent tourist photos.

To begin with, the large painting of an austere-looking Kim Il-sung which overlooked the square for decades has been taken down. In addition, the banners featuring the symbol of the Korean Workers’ Party (which flanked the painting of Kim) have been replaced with DPRK national flags.

Top: Removal of Kim Il-sung painting [Before (R), After (L)]
Bottom: Korean Workers Party drape replaced with DPRK flag [Before (R), After(L)]

Kim Il-sung’s image is not absent from the square, however. Newly mounted to the base of the square’s official observation platform are paintings of a now jovial Kim Il-sung joined by a new painting of Kim Jong-il.

Two new portraits replace the previously austere profile of Kim Il-sung

More interestingly, it appears that the square’s paintings of Marx and Lenin have been permanently removed, as first tweeted about by AP’s Jean Lee earlier this summer.

Marx and Lenin no longer adorn the square

Just how long the paintings would remain in the square has been a subject of speculation for years. Beginning in the 1970s Marxism-Leninism was deemphasized in favor of Juche, Kim Il-sung ideology, and Kimilsungism. In 1980 the Workers’ Party’s Sixth Convention formally struck “Marxim-Leninism” from the party charter and amended it to read “The Korean Workers’ Party struggles to practice Kim Il-sung’s ideology”. Finally, as part of the constitutional changes that were announced in 2009, Articles 29 and 40 were amended so they no longer referred to “공산주의” (Communism). The paintings of Marx and Lenin remained through all of this.  It is unclear why now they are no longer appropriate.

UPDATE: Andrei Lankov has written more extensive comments on the DPRK’s treatment of Marxism in  in the Asia Times.



DPRK china trade triples in five years

October 8th, 2012

According to Yonhap (via Korea Herald):

North Korea’s trade with China nearly tripled over the past five years, South Korean government data showed Sunday, underscoring the isolated North’s growing economic reliance on its major ally.

Trade between North Korea and China stood at US$5.63 billion last year, up 284 percent from $1.98 billion in 2007, Seoul’s unification ministry said in a report to the National Assembly.

North Korea’s exports to China almost quadrupled to $2.46 billion in 2011, compared with $580 million in 2007, the data showed. Imports rose to $3.17 billion last year, from $1.39 billion in 2007.

The North’s main export items were coal and iron ore, while primary imports from China were crude oil, gasoline and cargo trucks, it said.

A separate story on the report which also appeared in the Korea Herald featured these additional stats:

China accounted for only 67 percent of the North’s total trading with foreign countries, also including Russia, Thailand and Japan in 2007. But the dependency rate grew to 72.9 percent in 2008 and 82.9 percent in 2010 before hitting 89.1 percent last year, the report showed.

Annual food imports from China stood at 155,000 tons in 2008 and they have steadily grown to reach 380,000 tons for the whole of 2011, it said.

The same story had data on wages in the Kaesong Industrial Zone:

Another ministry audit report also showed that since 2004, South Korea has so far paid a total of $245.7 million in salary to North Korean laborers working in the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a joint inter-Korean industrial project in the North Korean village of Kaesong.

The report showed that a North Korean worker in the industrial zone earns an average $128.3 every month as of the first half of this year.

The average monthly pay stood at $68.1 in 2006 before steadily growing to $109.3 for last year.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s trade with China nearly tripled over past 5 years
Yonhap (via Korea Herald)

N. Korea’s trade with China surges due to U.N. sanctions
Korea Herald


Friday fun: Pyongyang’s new skateboard park under construction?

October 5th, 2012

UPDATE 2: The park is for roller-blading not skateboarding. Kim Jong-un’s visit was reported on KCTV on 2012-11-4. You can see it here.

UPDATE 1 : A reader tells me it could also be for roller-blade use. Admittedly I know less about roller-blading than skateboarding so I cannot judge.  We will just have to wait until tourist pictures or KCNA show us otherwise…

ORIGINAL POST: Radio Free Asia’s Korean Service has a story on the construction of Pyongyang’s first skateboard and/or bike park:

Image by “axelivarsson“. See the original photo in Flickr here. See the extra-large photo here.

According to the photographer, this picture was taken on September 9, 2012.

The new park is in East Pyongyang near the Monument to the Party Founding and across the street from the Youth Hall and Golden Lanes Bowling Alley:

I have spent thousands of hours looking at pictures of the DPRK and watching DPRK television.  I have never seen a picture of a North Korean using a skateboard or doing bike tricks…so this is rather surprising.

Earlier this year, some tourists tried to skateboard in Pyongyang with limited success.


Flood aid delivered to the DPRK (UPDATED)

October 5th, 2012

UPDATE 5 (2012-10-15): China is donating USD$1m to the UN World Food Program for use in the DPRK. Accoridng to ReliefWeb:

The Government of China has recently announced a contribution of US$1 million to WFP’s operation in DPR Korea. The donation will be used to assist children and their mothers who are most vulnerable to undernutrition.

In July 2012, WFP started a new operation in DPR Korea, focused on providing nutritional support to women and children most at risk of malnutrition. Much of the food distributed comes in the form of Super Cereal – specialised nutritious foods designed to address vital mineral and vitamin gaps in the regular north Korean diet.

The generous contribution from China will be used to buy around 1550 metric tons of maize, which will be the base ingredient for Super Cereal manufactured in DPR Korea and then distributed for one month to 400,000 children in hospitals, orphanages, and kindergartens. Pregnant and nursing mothers will also receive food rations.

WFP is in urgent need of an additional 30,000 metric tons of maize and 4,000 metric tons of cooking oil to ensure that the most vulnerable women and children in DPR Korea receive the nutritional assistance they need of the coming winter months.

China is an increasingly important donor to WFP, contributing over US$20 million to WFP operations in 2011.

UPDATE 4 (2012-10-5): According to KBS, the South Korean NGO Council for Cooperation with North Korea delivered flour to Pyongyang:

The delivered the 260 million won worth of aid to Gaeseong to help North Korean residents suffering from the natural disasters through the Inter-Korean Transit Office. It plans to deliver an additional 500 tons of flour within this month.

Eleven representatives of the council, which represents 55 domestic humanitarian aid donors to the North, crossed the border to the North to send the flour.

UPDATE 3 (2012-9-24): Radio Free Asia reports (in Korean) that Agape International will be sending 21 tons of baby food to the DPRK.  See the original article here.  See the article in English via Google Translate here.

UPDATE 2 (2012-9-24): Russia just recently forgave the DPRK’s Soviet-era debt and opened a Russian-gauge railway line to Rason, where they lease a pier. Additionally, the Russians are interested in building a gas pipeline that extends to South Korea. They are also providing Food assistance via the UN World Food Program to the DPRK. According to Itar-Tass:

Russia has delivered more than 4,000 tonnes of flour to North Korea, the Emergencies Ministry’s Information Department told Itar-Tass on Monday.

According to the Emergencies Ministry’s representative, the aid to North Korea was rendered in the format of the memorandum of mutual understanding signed between the Russian government and the United Nations’ World Food Program.

“Over 4,100 tonnes of flour were delivered to North Korea by sea. A vessel with another batch of the same weight of flour is planned to be shipped out from the Nakhodka seaport to the North Korean seaport of Chongjin on September 27,” the Information Department said.

UPDATE 1 (2012-9-19): Indonesia will also be sending food assistance through the UN World Food Program. According to the Jakarta Post:

Indonesia will send food aid worth US$2 million in hopes of improving the famine crisis in North Korea, said Coordinating Peoples Welfare Minister Agung Laksono on Wednesday.

“[We] have coordinated with the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) to send aid to the World Food Program (WFP), which will later distribute it to citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” he said in Jakarta as quoted by

Agung also hoped that the humanitarian aid, which was initiated by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, would strengthen diplomatic ties between the two countries.

North Korea is in a food crisis after its crops and food reserves were damaged by extreme weather.

After receiving news of the support, North Korean Ambassador to Indonesia Ri Jong Ryul cited a Korean proverb that says “a real friend’s quality is shown in the time of hardship.”

ORIGINAL POST (2012-9-20): The DPRK is to receive at least 1,000 tons of flour from two different donors.  These donors are were World Vision and JTS Korea, a Seoul-based Buddhist relief agency. Both gave 500 tons each via different channels. Interestingly, the World Vision assistance crossed the DMZ in trucks from South Korea.  The assistance from JTS was shipped from South Korea to Dandong where it will be exported to the DPRK.

Some coordination might be in order?

See more below.

According to the Associated Press (via Calgary Herald):

North Korea has accepted a shipment of emergency aid from relief agency World Vision to help victims of floods that killed dozens of people and submerged large amounts of farmland.

Twenty trucks carrying 500 tons of flour crossed the border into North Korea on Friday. World Vision says the aid will be sent to children in the North’s central South Phyongan (PYONG-ahn) province.

South Korean civic associations are also sending assistance. According to the Korea Times:

JTS Korea, a Seoul-based Buddhist relief agency, said a freighter carrying 500 tons of flour left the port of Incheon, west of Seoul, and will soon arrive in North Korea via the Chinese port city of Dandong on the border with the North.

The civilian aid for North Koreans was sent after the North was hit by severe floods in recent months, which left hundreds of people killed or missing.

“Our officials plan to visit North Korea in the near future to monitor the distribution of aid,” a JTS Korea official said.

The shipment came after North Korea last week rejected an offer by the South Korean government to donate 10,000 tons of flour, instant noodles and medicine as flood aid.

Officials at Seoul’s Unification Ministry in charge of North Korean affairs said Pyongyang turned down the proposal and openly displayed anger at Seoul’s refusal to give what the North said it needs most — rice and cement.

Read the full stories here:
North Korea accepts emergency aid from World Vision to help flood victims
Associated Press

S. Korean civic group sends flood relief to NK
Korea Times


South Korean lawmaker claims DPRK luxury good imports increasing

October 4th, 2012

According to the Donga Ilbo:

Saenuri Party lawmaker Yoon Sang-hyun, a member of the National Assembly`s foreign affairs, trade and unification committee, released Wednesday an analysis of closed trade data between North Korea and China, saying the North`s imports of luxury goods via Chinese customs reached 446.17 million U.S. dollars in 2010 and 584.82 million dollars last year. The figure was 272.14 million dollars in 2008 and 322.53 million dollars in 2009.

Imports were especially pronounced for high-end cars, TVs, computers, liquor and watches. Inbound shipments of luxury cars and associated components almost doubled to 231.93 million dollars last year from 115.05 million dollars in 2009. Ship exports increased more than 20 times from 17.48 million dollars from 840,000 dollars over the same period.

Artworks and antique imports reached 580,000 dollars last year, more than 10 times the figure of 50,000 dollars in 2009. Perfume, cosmetics and fur saw their inbound shipments double. Among items that saw sharp drops in imports were leather products and musical instruments.

In 2006, the United Nations banned member countries from exporting luxury goods to North Korea under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718, entrusting them to decide on the items. South Korea also designated 13 luxury goods for the export ban in 2009. China has yet to designate its items, and North Korea is growing more dependent on imports from China.

The Daily NK also reported on the story.

Read the full story here:
N.Korea jacks up imports of luxury goods under new leader
Donga Ilbo


DPRK emigration stats

October 4th, 2012

According to the Korea Times (Yonhap):

A total of 295 North Koreans are staying in South Korea’s overseas diplomatic missions worldwide on their way here, government data showed Thursday.

According to the report that Seoul’s foreign ministry submitted to the National Assembly for regular audit, Seoul’s overseas missions are currently protecting 295 North Koreans, who are waiting to be admitted into the South. In general, such defectors stay one to two months in Seoul’s overseas missions, the ministry said.

More than 2,000 North Koreans have settled in the South over the past five years, with 2,081 coming here in 2008, 2,401 in 2010 and 2,706 last year, according to the data. As of July this year, 915 North Koreans had arrived here, it showed.

Previous stories on this topic here. 2011 emigration stories here. 2012 emigration stories here.

Read the full story here:
Some 300 NK defectors stay in S. Korea’s overseas missions: data
Yonhap (Korea Tiems)


DPRK elderly population to double in next 40 years

October 4th, 2012

According to the Daily NK:

The UN believes that North Korea’s elderly population will double in the next 40 years, casting an economic shadow over the country’s future.

The United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) revealed over the weekend that 13% of the population of the country, approximately 3.32 million, is currently over 60, but that it believes this will double to 23% of the population, 6.12 million, by 2050.

Meanwhile, the number of people over 80 will increase by more than 2.5 times, UNFPA believes.

At the same time, UNICEF announced last April that North Korea’s young population will greatly reduce, with just 3 million people in their teens by 2050, a reduction of 24% over today’s number.

Northeast Asia has the fastest-aging population in the world; more than 30% of the world’s population over 65 is said to be living in the Northeast Asian region encompassing South Korea, North Korea, China, Japan and Russia.

You can read and analyze the DPRK census data here and here.

Read the full story here:
North Korea’s Population Ageing Fast
Daily NK
Kim Tae-hong


Kim Jong-il’s model of the DPRK economy

October 4th, 2012

Writing in the Daily NK, John Cha offers a brief model of the North Korean economy as envisioned by Kim Jong-il:

According to our former teacher Hwang Jang Yop, the economic model that is in place now is a brainchild created by [Kim Jong-il] based solely on his greed for power and control.

In the mid 1970s, [Kim Jong-il], then a young understudy to the throne, devised a three-tiered economy: the Party; the military; and third, the general masses. These units are separate, independent and don’t interact with each other.

The Party economy is operated and managed by the Chosun Workers’ Party. It consists of the most lucrative enterprises in mining, shiitake mushrooms, light manufacturing, fisheries, and other industries that produce foreign currency. Kim the 2nd kept his hand in the Party economy and amassed his personal fortune, which he used to reward his loyal followers, through it. As a result, Party elites enjoy the ‘life of Riley’; the best food, housing, clothing and education for their children. They are able to accumulate wealth.

The military economy consists of production and the sale of arms and munitions, as well as heavy construction projects like roads, railroads, tunnels and power plants. The military sector manages these enterprises, generates its own revenue and feeds a huge army. Military elites do fine as well. They live in fine houses, drive nice cars and so on.

Finally, the general public ends up with whatever is left over. There is no trickling down of any sort. Average workers and farmers scrap for what’s left and barely manage to subsist on their own with no help forthcoming from the Party or the military. The latest typhoons and floods shrank their food supply to a dangerous level, and people worry about the second coming of the famine, not to mention perennial shortages of fuel and electricity.

This anecdote is third hand by its own admission, but if true it is an interesting insight into the mental model under which the former North Korean leader was making policy decisions. I wonder what economic models, if any, have been taught to the new leader.

You can read the full article here:
Who Can Kill the 3-Tiered Economy?
Daily NK
John Cha


Russia-Korea gas pipeline compendium

October 4th, 2012

UPDATE 43 (2015-6-17): Gazprom official claims pipeline not feasible. According to NK News:

The deputy CEO of Russia’s Gazprom told reporters that connecting South Korea to Russian gas supplies is economically attractive but politically infeasible on Tuesday.

The long-gestating pipeline project would extend through the DPRK and provide natural gas to energy-hungry South Korea.

But Alexander Medvedev, speaking from a press conference in Moscow yesterday, said the project was too difficult in the current climate.

“The level of communications, the level of cooperation is not that which would make it possible to speak of advancing to the feasibility study stage, let alone implementing a project to supply gas via North Korea.”

Despite the political hurdles, the project is still interesting from an economic standpoint.

“From the economic standpoint, this would probably be the most efficient option for supplying gas to Korea … There is demand for pipeline gas,” Medvedev added.

Despite the numerous roadblocks, the deputy CEO of the world’s largest gas producer remained hopeful that political changes could move the project forward.

“The opportunity remains all the same, but it depends on a resolution of the political issues between the DPRK and the Republic of Korea. There are certain positive signals, but there are negative signals too,” Medvedev said at the press conference.

Post 42 (2014-6-18): According to Leonid Petrov, “Russian GAZPROM postpones Trans-Korean gas pipeline construction project ‘due to unstable political situation in South Korea'”. Here is the source (in Russian).

Post 41 (2014-3-29): According to Yonhap, the Russians and the North Koreans held talks on a number of issues including the Kaesong Industrial Complex, Iron Silk Road, and the gas pipeline.  No information on the pipeline was made public.

Post 40 (2013-11-13): The Russians and South Koreans most recently discussed the Russia – South Korea gas pipeline at a presidential meeting in Seoul. No decisions were made. Read more here.

Post 39 (2012-10-4): The Choson Ilbo reports that the pipeline talks are delayed because DPRK is asking for transit rates above the international norm:

A South Korean government source said talks have dragged on because the North is demanding a transit fee that is two to three times more than international rates.

Based on a method of calculation used by Ukraine — about $2 per 1,000 cubic meters of natural gas for 1 km of pipeline — a reasonable fee would be about US$150 million a year given the estimated amount of gas South Korea would import from Russia and the 700-800 km of the gas pipeline running through the North. But the North reportedly demanded $300-500 million a year.

“It’s likely that the North asked for such a high price in the first place to gain the upper hand in future talks,” the source added. “There have been no full-fledged talks yet. At the moment, Pyongyang, Seoul and Moscow are just trying to read each other’s minds.”

Post 38 (2012-2-27): The Daily NK reports on details being discussed in the pipeline talks:

The Republic of Korea Ambassador to Russia, former chief nuclear negotiator Wi Sung Lac, says there has been progress on a gas pipeline connecting Russia, North Korea and South Korea.

“At the moment it is at the stage of enterprises discussing commercial conditions, and I am aware that there has been progress. North Korea and Russia are also discussing issues of transit and transit fees via working-level consultations,” he explained to reporters on a visit to Seoul today.

Wi would not be drawn on what kind of progress has been achieved, saying, “It’s about commercial details and so is hard to explain, but it appears there has been progress on supply quantities and supply conditions.”

Post 37 (2012-2-20): Gazprom reports “progress” in talks with North Korean government. According to Bloomberg:

OAO Gazprom, Russia’s natural gas exporter, said it made progress in talks to supply Korea Gas Corp. (036460) through a pipeline across North Korea, the Moscow-based company said today in an e-mailed statement.

Gazprom and Kogas, as the Korean company is called, plan to meet again in Moscow next month to continue talks, Gazprom said.

Read the rest of this entry »


New Kim Jong-il statue at MSS/SSD headquarters

October 3rd, 2012

KCNA ran the following headline on 2012-10-2: “Statue of Generalissimo Kim Jong Il Erected at KPA Unit [10215]“.

According to Ken Gause, KPA Unit 10215 is the military cover designation of the 국가안전보위부 — the Ministry of State Security (MSS) [a.k.a. State Security Department (SSD), National Security Agency (NSA), State Political Security Department (SPSD)].

Checking the Google Earth imagery, we can in fact see the statue under construction at the MSS headquarters in front of the General Bureau Building.

Pictured above (Google Earth:  39.074311°, 125.767690°): Tarps covering the newly unveiled Kim Jong-il statue. Image date: 2012-6-20.

You can see a video of the unveiling on North Korean television below. This is the first time, of which I am aware, that the MSS headquarters has been shown on television:

(UPDATE) NK Leadership Watch also covered the unveiling and provides additional information.

In related news, the Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung statues on Mansu Hill have been covered up for renovations. In his latest at 38 North, Ruediger Frank also publishes a photo.

All images of the Kims are produced by the Mansudae Art Studio in Phyongchon District, Pyongyang.