DPRK sets up insurance firm to attract FDI

March 11th, 2012

According to Yonhap:

North Korea has established an investment insurance firm recently in what is believed to be an effort to attract more foreign investment by reducing risks stemming from uncertainties in the communist nation, a source said Sunday.

The North’s firm is expected to purchase reinsurance from an international company, the source said. The system is similar to an insurance measure that South Korea’s government has been operating to compensate its businesspeople for lost investment in the North.

It marks the first time Pyongyang has introduced such an insurance system for foreign investors.

“For foreign investors, this could ease concerns about investment loss risks stemming from uncertainties of North Korea,” said the source familiar with economic affairs in the communist nation. The source said, however, that it is questionable how effective the measure will be in drawing outside investment.

North Korea has long sought to attract foreign investment to revive its broken economy, but with little success because investors stayed away from one of the most closed nations, which is under international sanctions over its pursuit of nuclear and weapons of mass destruction.

The source also said that the word, “reform,” has been used among North Korean bureaucrats, and that this could signal that Pyongyang may announce a set of bold economic reform measures around April’s commemoration of the 100th birthday of late North Korean founder Kim Il-sung.

“Reform” has been considered a taboo word in the North, along with the term, “openness,” because Pyongyang has rejected international calls for it to reform and open up to the outside world as part of a U.S.-led attempt to topple the autocratic regime.

Should Pyongyang take any economic reform measures, they would mark the first such steps since new leader Kim Jong-un took over the isolated nation after his late father Kim Jong-il died of a heart attack in December.

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N. Korea sets up insurance firm to attract more foreign investment
Yonhap
2012-3-11

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DPRK rejects ROK food aid

March 11th, 2012

Following the US – DPRK nuclear / food deal announced at the end of February, the DPRK has decided to reject humanitarian assistance from private South Korean organizations. According to Yonhap:

North Korea has apparently decided not to accept humanitarian aid by South Korea’s private relief agencies that comes with monitoring, aid officials here said Monday.

North Korea has said it will only accept “pure” humanitarian aid from South Korea, in an apparent rejection of aid with strings attached, an aide official said of his recent contact with his North Korean counterpart.

Another South Korean private aid official also made a similar comment. The two spoke on condition of anonymity, citing policy.

The North’s move came as North Korean and U.S. officials held talks in Beijing last week to work out details of 240,000 tons of U.S. food aid reached in their recent nuclear deal.

South Korea has called for monitoring of its food aid to the North to ensure that the aid reaches its intended beneficiaries in the isolated country.

In November, North Korea allowed a South Korean official to travel to the North for a rare monitoring of flour aid by a South Korean private organization.

Last year, South Korean civic groups donated nearly 3,000 tons of flour to North Korea and some of the civic groups sent monitors to the North to try to ensure the transparency of the distribution of their food aid.

Despite the North’s alleged rejection of aid with strings attached, a private aid official said his group plans to send food aid to the North this year.

“We plan to conduct monitoring in an appropriate manner through consultations with North Korea,” the official said. He asked not to be identified, citing policy.

The North has relied on international handouts since the late 1990s when it suffered a massive famine that was estimated to have killed 2 million people.

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N. Korea said to reject S. Korean food aid with strings attached
Yonhap
2012-3-12

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Joint exhibition by the AP and KCNA

March 10th, 2012

UPDATE (2012-3-15): Ironically, we have coverage of the photo exhibit from the Associated Press:

“Daily life is really what I try to focus on when I’m there. … It’s unscripted, it’s candid,” said AP Chief Asia Photographer David Guttenfelder, who took some of the photographs in the show, and who has made who has made many reporting trips to North Korea since 2010.

“For people to see their own life in other people’s lives, I think it has a lot of power to break down barriers.”

“Windows on North Korea: Photographs From the DPRK,” is a joint exhibition by The Associated Press and the state-run Korean Central News Agency, and features a mix of archival and contemporary images.

The show was timed to open before the 100th anniversary of the birth of the nation’s founder, Kim Il Sung, on April 15, and comes two months after the AP expanded its operations in Pyongyang to include writers and photojournalists. The AP became the first international news organization to have a full-time presence in the secretive communist country when it opened a video bureau in 2006.

The photographs “give us rare views of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a nation of great interest to the world, though little known,” said Kathleen Carroll, executive editor of the AP.

North Korea and the United States have never had formal diplomatic relations, and the two nations have experienced tensions over the years, particularly over Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions. North Korea has tested two atomic devices in the past six years.

Tensions had recently eased somewhat. Late last month, the United States and North Korea announced an agreement that calls for Pyongyang to freeze its nuclear activities in exchange for food aid. But a surprise announcement by the North Koreans on Friday that they plan to blast a satellite into space on the back of a long-range rocket could jeopardize that agreement.

The exhibit’s organizers said they hoped the show would help foster better understanding between the two countries.

“My expectation is that this will be the first step in some peaceful reconciliation, and in a few years there will be trade, cultural exchange and tourists from each country coming to (the) other,” said Donald Rubin, who co-founded The 8th Floor gallery hosting the exhibit.

Images on display included a 1953 KCNA photograph showing residents helping to rebuild Pyongyang’s central district after the Korean War, AP photos documenting visits by such prominent foreigners as Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright, as well as everyday scenes ranging from sunbathers at the beach to shoppers inside a modern department store.

“It is our hope that this exhibition would give exhibition-goers visual understanding of the people, customs, culture and history of the DPRK, thereby helping to deepen mutual understanding and improve the bilateral relations,” Kim Chang Gwang, KCNA’s senior vice president, said in an address at the show’s opening.

“In this exhibit, we are offered two perspectives of the DPRK — as viewed by her native daughters and sons from KCNA and by AP journalists visiting to chronicle news and daily life there. We can appreciate the different styles and techniques and points of view,” Carroll said. “These photographs also show us that different people can find common ground.”

The show also includes images taken by KCNA journalists who participated in a joint workshop in October led by AP instructors. It runs from March 15 to April 13 at The 8th Floor gallery, which was established to promote cultural and philanthropic initiatives.

The AP, an independent news cooperative founded in New York and owned by its U.S. newspaper membership, has operations in more than 100 countries and employs nearly 2,500 journalists across the world in 300 locations.

ORIGINAL POST (2012-3-10): According to Yonhap:

A group of North Korean journalists left for the United States Saturday to attend a photo exhibition set to open next week, marking the centenary of the birth of the North’s late founding leader, Kim Il-sung, the country’s media said.

The North’s delegation, led by Kim Chang-gwang, vice director of the Korean Central News Agency, will attend the opening ceremony of the photo exhibition scheduled for March 15, the news agency said in a report.

The photo exhibition, to be jointly organized with The Associated Press, is scheduled to run until April 13, two days before the late leader’s 100th birthday, the American news agency said in its Web site.

The photo exhibition is part of joint programs being pushed by the KCNA to promote its nascent relations with the U.S. news agency. The AP opened a bureau in Pyongyang in January, the first international news agency with a full-time presence in the reclusive country to dispatch texts, photos and video.

The KCNA said the New York exhibition will showcase photos archived by two news agencies, including the North’s late founding leader and his deceased son Kim Jong-il who died of heart failure in December last year, as well as people and life in the communist state.

Additional information:

1. Here is the coverage of the KCNA delegation’s departure from Pyongyang reported by KCNA.

2. Here is the web page of the exhibit.

3. Extensive comments and additional information at OFK.

4. Foreign Policy writes about the conditions under which the aP operated in the DPRK.

5. How the AP selected its North Korea reporter

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DPRK nuclear negotiator meets US academics

March 8th, 2012

According to the AFP:

North Korea’s main nuclear negotiator on Wednesday held talks with US academics in New York as part of a private visit amid new hopes of disarmament progress after the isolated state agreed to freeze its weapons program.

Ri Yong-Ho, a vice foreign minister and chief envoy to international nuclear talks, held talks with the academics at a New York hotel.

The talks were part of a forum organized by Syracuse University which South Korea’s nuclear envoy Lim Sung-Nam was also to attend. No details on the talks have been given.

It was not immediately known, however, whether Ri would go to Syracuse in New York state or what other meetings he would have. Ri has been the North Korean lead negotiator at six nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, which have been suspended since April 2009.

His three-day visit, however, comes after a breakthrough agreement that will provide US food aid to the North in exchange for the suspension of its nuclear program.

North Korea and the United States are discussing the delivery of 240,000 tons of food aid after Pyongyang agreed to freeze nuclear and missile tests and its uranium enrichment program.

The Hankyoreh offers more information.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea nuclear negotiator meets US academics
AFP
2012-3-8

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Workers’ Party conference scheduled for April: A turning point for building a powerful nation

March 7th, 2012

Pictured above (Rodong Sinmun): New propaganda to build awareness of the upcoming KWP conference.

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES) (2012-3-7):

North Korea announced the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) Conference would be held in mid-April. Regarding the conference, Rodong Sinmun released an editorial on February 29.

The newspaper editorial titled, “DPRK to Greet WPK Conference with High Political Enthusiasm” commented, “the Party conference is of particular significance in the party development and accomplishment of the Juche revolution as it will open at a historic juncture when a new century of Kim Il Sung’s Korea starts.”

The editorial goes on to elaborate on the significance of the party conference:

The WPK has marked a new historic turning point in its development.

Kim Jong Un is standing at the head of the WPK and revolution.

Under his guidance the Korean revolution is making more dynamic advances and registering signal achievements in the efforts to build a thriving nation.

The party and revolution have a rosier prospect as the bloodline of Mt. Paektu is given steady continuity generation after generation and the center of the leadership and unity remains unshakable.

With Kim Jong Un at the helm of the WPK, it is shedding its rays as a steel-strong party with the greatest dynamism, a revolutionary one with a strong sense of organization and firm unity and principle and as a great mother party genuinely serving the people, deeply rooted among them.

It is the immense pride that the revolutionary comrades-in-arms of Songun are united closer around the Central Committee of the WPK, sharing thought and intention with Kim Jong Un and keeping pace with him.

The forthcoming conference of the WPK will offer an opportunity of increasing its position and role as a powerful political staff for the Songun revolution, steadfast in monolithic ideology and leadership.

The newspaper highlighted the keywords for the upcoming conference will be Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un and the party.

The news also emphasized that teachings of Kim Jong Il, his ideology and achievements will be upheld as the sole principle of the party. In addition, the editorial articulated songun politics will be continued as a way to advance the defense industry with Kim Jong Un as the head of the Central Committee of the WPK.

Lastly, the editorial reiterated “under the leadership of the party, revolution and miracle can be created to improve the lives of the people and to complete the construction of powerful nation.”

The Daily NK also reports that security in Pyongyang has already been tightened.

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Noland on DPRK statistics

March 7th, 2012

Marcus Noland wrote a fantastic primer in Foreign Policy on North Korean statistics. Most of the article can be found below:

Last month, the South Korean news agency Yonhap ran a story about a report from a major South Korean think tank stating that North Korea’s GDP grew 4.7 percent in 2011. That think tank, the Hyundai Research Institute, used a combination of United Nations infant mortality data for 198 countries over the 2000-2008 period and North Korean crop data to estimate annual North Korean per capita income. While infant mortality and food availability correlate with income, one cannot meaningfully estimate year-to-year income changes with these two pieces of information alone.

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A North Korean Corleone

March 7th, 2012

Sheena Chestnut Greitens writes in the New York Times:

What kind of deal do you make with a 20-something who just inherited not only a country, but also the mantle of one of the world’s most sophisticated crime families? When Kim Jong-un, who is thought to be 28 or 29, became North Korea’s leader in December after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, he became the de facto head of a mafia state.

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Seoul eases export restrictions to Kaesong

March 6th, 2012

According to Yonhap:

The Unification Ministry said Tuesday it will allow South Korean companies to bring new equipment into their factories at a joint industrial complex in North Korea in an easing of sanctions on the communist nation.

Seoul has banned the establishment of new factories or expanding investment in the industrial complex under economic sanctions slapped on the North in May 2010 in response to its torpedoing of the South Korean warship Cheonan in the Yellow Sea that killed 46 men aboard.

The ministry’s decision, effective from this week, is a follow-up measure after a group of eight ruling and opposition lawmakers last month visited the border city of Kaesong to meet with South Korean company officials and help work out problems with operating factories there.

More than 50,000 North Koreans work for 123 South Korean firms operating in the industrial zone to produce clothes, utensils, watches and other goods. The project serves as a key legitimate cash cow for the impoverished communist country.

According to a survey conducted by the ministry of the 123 firms after the parliamentary delegation’s visit, 15 firms wanted to move 803 pieces of equipment worth 4 billion won (US$3.5 million) out of the complex.

Thirty-two companies had plans to remodel the current factories or facilities, the survey showed.

The ministry is also considering expanding bus routes for North Korean workers to help employers hire more workers living farther away from the complex, officials noted.

Read the full story here:
Seoul eases limits on factories, equipment in Kaesong complex
Yonhap
2012-3-6

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KWP forms 4.15 gift preparation committees

March 5th, 2012

According to the Daily NK:

The North Korean authorities have ordered the formation of ‘Day of the Sun Gift Preparation Committees’ at the provincial Party level and subordinate ‘Day of the Sun Gift Subcommittees’ at the city and county scale, Daily NK has learned.

A Yangkang [Ryanggang] Province source who spoke with Daily NK on the 6th explained, “The ‘Day of the Sun Gift Preparation Committee’ was formed at the start of this month by the provincial Party Committee to prepare for the Suryeong’s birthday, and groups of areas were banded together to form the ‘Day of the Sun Gift Subcommittees’.”

“There was no distribution for February 16th,” the source recalled. “Possibly because the central Party received reports of popular discontent about this and asked some searching questions of provincial cadres, now they are running around trying to get ready for April 15th holiday distribution.”

“Enterprise traders are mostly bringing in soy bean oil, soap and towels via Chinese customs. They are printing ‘Day of the Sun 100th Anniversary’ on the towels,” he added.

The formation of the committees has also reportedly had a noticeable influence on levels of public expectation of the April 15th festivities, representing as it does the first time that ‘Gift Preparation Committees’ have been formed since they disappeared without a trace in the mid 1990s.

“They are already saying that each household is going to receive a huge gift for this Day of the Sun, so people are really expecting a lot,” the source said, adding, “The rumor among jangmadang traders is that every house is going to get a DVD player made by Hana Electronics in Pyongyang.”

As the source noted, the move comes following significant public discontent at the lack of gifts on February 16th (Kim Jong Il’s birthday).

On February 21st, Daily NK reported new of that discontent, citing a Yangkang Province source as saying, “There was a flood of criticism about the total lack of holiday distribution for Gwangmyungsung Day, so they began telling every organ, enterprise and people’s unit meeting, ‘That is because we are close to the 100th anniversary of the Suryeong’s birth, and the Party is preparing big gifts for that.’”

North Korea began giving snacks, rice and other foodstuffs to the people every year on the birthdays of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, along with things like school uniforms and blankets every 5th and 10th year, in the 1970s. However, the system ceased to function in the 1990s as the country was gripped by famine and economic disintegration.

Meanwhile, sources also report that with the arrival of the early spring lean season, a time when many people on the Korean Peninsula have traditionally struggled to find sufficient sustenance, prices in the market are beginning to creep up.

According to the Yangkang Province source, “Until late last week the Yuan price was 607 won, but now it is up to 635 won. The price of rice has also gone from 3,300 won to 3,800 won.”

Read the full story here:
North Forms Party 4.15 ‘Gift Preparation Committees’
Daily NK
Lee Seok Young
2012-3-5

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DPRK – PRC trade up 18% in January

March 2nd, 2012

According to Yonhap:

North Korea’s trade volume with China jumped nearly 20 percent in January, compared to the same period last year [January 2011], a report said Friday, indicating sustained bilateral economic relations.

Citing data released by China’s Ministry of Commerce, U.S. broadcaster Voice of America said trade between China and North Korea reached US$418 million in the cited month, up 18 percent from a year ago.

The North’s January exports to China reached $139 million, an on-year increase of 7 percent, while imports expanded 24 percent to $278 million, according to the report.

Coal was the North’s biggest export item for the Chinese market, totaling $70 million, it added.

Here is a link to the original VOA article.  Hat tip to a friend.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea-China trade jumps 18 pct in Jan.: report
Yonhap
2012-3-2

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