DPRK cuts official food rations

August 2nd, 2012

According to the Daily NK:

World Food Programme reports during the month of July, North Koreans received only half the amount of recommended food, rations have been reduced down to half what they should be 300 grams per day.

Between drought and flood damage, crops have suffered and the distribution system is failing to meet the needs of the people.

Due to unrelenting poor weather condition this past July, North Korean food rations per person, already at the minimum recommended amount, were cut in half.

United Nations affiliated organization, the World Food Programme (WFP) recorded that from July 1st until the 15th, food distribution in North Korea was 370 grams per person per day, but during the second half of the month rations were reduced to a mere 300 grams, revealed a Voice of America broadcast two days ago. The World Food Programme puts the recommended amount of food per day at 600 grams minimum.

According to a North Korean based-WFP local official, rations consist of 20-30% rice and 70-80% corn. During the summer, barley, potatoes, wheat and other crops are included in the distribution.

From January until March, rations were maintained at 395 grams per person, and in April they were increased to 400 grams. In May, rations were reverted back to 395 grams and June again saw a slump, down to 380 grams per person.

The WFP attributes the decline in rations to various natural disasters, such as drought and flooding have led to extensive damage of cropland across North Korea.

The WFP estimates these ration shortages will continue to be severe until harvest time arrives in November.

The flip side of this story is that North Koreans obtain the majority of their food from private and black markets.

The Daily NK tracks rice prices in the DPRK here.

Read the full story here:
WFP Reports July Rations Cut in Half at NK
Daily NK
Kim Tae-hong
2012-8-2

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The DPRK and USA women’s football teams face off in the Olympics

July 31st, 2012

UPDATE: The USA won, 1-0.

ORIGINAL POST: I am watching the game now.

The DPRK team has some amazing skills:

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North Korea presents favorable conditions to foreign investors

July 30th, 2012

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2012-7-27

The Beijing branch of the Joint Venture and Investment Committee of North Korea (JVIC), called the Choson Investment Office, announced on July 18 of various preferential conditions to foreign investors and employment conditions on its website.

The Choson Investment Office opened its doors this year and is the only overseas branch of the JVIC, in charge not only of securing foreign capital but cultural and science and technology exchanges and cooperation.

The website posted an article titled, “Problems Investors Face,” which provided useful information for foreign investors in a question and answer format.

In the article, the employment conditions for workers were included. The minimum monthly wage for workers in North Korea was set at 30 euros or about 42,000 KRW. In addition, foreign companies must pay 7 euros to each employee separately as social insurance. Overtime pay also needs to be paid and at the event of work related injuries or illness, the company is responsible for handling the situation with its board of directors.

In comparison, the minimum monthly wage for North Korean employees in the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) is 110 USD or about 125,000 KRW.

As for preferential tax policies, foreign-capital companies that are not joint venture are exempt from certain taxes including tariffs on exports and resource tax for the development of mines.

North Korea will bear the land use tax, which is 1 euro per square meter, and China and other foreign investors will have no restriction for mining the underground resources.

The income tax rate for the foreign capital companies was specified at 25 percent and business tax between 2 to 10 percent will be collected from transportation, power, commerce, trade, finance, insurance, tourism, advertisement, hotel and entertainment industries.

Power is the main concern for most foreign companies and it will be provided at 0.053 euro per 1,000 kilowatt. The DPRK’s central trade guiding organ will oversee the setting of prices of goods while the trademark rights will belong to the company.

The DPRK’s Joint Venture and Investment Committee was expanded and reorganized in July 2010 from Joint Venture and Investment Bureau, with main activities centered around Hwanggumpyong Island and Rajin-Sonbong development.

The main agents for foreign currency earnings are the cabinet, military, JVIC, and Daepung International Investment Group*. Most of the trading companies are affiliated with one of the four groups.

In March, JVIC announced through the KCNA that “As the investment environment is favorably changing, joint venture and investment contracts are increasing. Investment interests from large companies are rising especially in our abundant rare-earth and underground resources as well as building railroads, roads, and power plants.”

*IFES and Choson Exchange previously discussed the merger of JVIC and “Daephung”

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DPRK denies economic and international policy changes

July 29th, 2012

UPDATE 3: See Chris Green’s comments here.

UPDATE 2: See Geoffrey See’s take at Choson Exchange.

UPDATE 1: See Evan Ramstad’s coverage of this story in the Wall Street Journal.

ORIGINAL POST: Following the spread of speculation in the West that the DPRK is in the midst of re-calibrating some of its economic policies (see here, here, here,  here, and here), KCNA issued a public rebuttal (and took a swipe at deaf and blind people through some strange metaphors). According to the article (2012-7-29):

To Expect ‘Change’ from DPRK Is Foolish Ambition: Spokesman for CPRK

Pyongyang, July 29 (KCNA) — A spokesman for the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea gave the following answer to a question put by KCNA Sunday in connection with the fact that the south Korean puppet group is talking loudly about the DPRK’s “policy change” and “reform and opening”:

The army and people of the DPRK are dynamically advancing toward the final victory full of fresh conviction and vitality with a great honor and pride of holding in high esteem Kim Jong Un, supreme leader of the party, army and state, as DPRK Marshal.

They are bringing about remarkable events one after another in high spirit and stamina while demonstrating over the world the dignity and might as a power which is carrying forward the tradition of Mt. Paektu. This stirring reality is greatly admired by the whole world.

Upset by this, the puppet group let experts in the north affairs and others interpret the stirring situation of the DPRK in a self-centered manner, vociferating about “signs of policy change” and “attempt at reform and opening”. This ridiculous rhetoric only revealed its ignorance and sinister intention against the DPRK.

As far as “signs of policy change” are concerned, there can not be any slightest change in all policies of the DPRK as they are meant to carry forward and accomplish the ideas and cause of the peerlessly great persons generation after generation, to all intents and purposes.

The DPRK is putting forward new strategic and tactical policies in keeping with the changing and developing situation in each stage of revolution. The puppet group is describing it as a “policy change” and tried to give impression that the present leadership of the DPRK broke with the past. This is the height of ignorance just like a deaf person saying in his favor.

Read the rest of this entry »

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North Koreans visiting China rose in 2011

July 29th, 2012

According to Yonhap:

The number of North Korean visitors to China increased drastically since then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s tour of the North’s biggest communist ally early last year, Chinese government data shows.

The data on the entry of foreigners obtained Sunday by Yonhap News Agency showed that 152,000 North Koreans entered China in 2011, a sharp rise from 116,000 the previous year. Out of the total, 114,000 were businessmen and laborers.

The comparable figures were 116,000 in 2010, 103,000 in 2009, 101,000 in 2008, 113,000 in 2007 and 110,000 in 2006.

The sharp rise is attributed to the visit to China by late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in May last year, apparently to enhance bilateral economic cooperation.

The Beijing government said at the time that Kim was invited “so he could have the chance to grasp the developments in China and make the most of them for the development of North Korea.”

The number of North Korean visitors to China will likely increase further this year as China has received 88,000 North Koreans for the first six months this year alone.

Read the full story here:
N. Korean visitors to China rise drastically since last year: data
Yonhap
2012-7-29

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New KoryoLink phones see features disabled

July 28th, 2012

RFA issued a report that the DPRK has imposed new restraints on the operation and functionality of mobile phones. You can read the report here, but it is only available in Korean. Fortunately Yonhap picked up the story and published it in English.

According to the Yonhap article (2012-7-28):

North Korea has disabled video camera and memory card functions in new mobile phones, a news report said Saturday, in what appears to be Pyongyang’s latest move to tighten control over the flow of information within and across its borders.

The North also removed the Bluetooth function, a protocol that allows mobile phone users to exchange data over short distances, and blocked subscribers from using mobile phones beyond the city where they are registered, Washington-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported, citing a Japanese journalist familiar with the issue.

“Mobile phones have played a big role in spreading information,” said Ishimaru Jiro, the publisher of Rimjin-gang Magazine, which is written by undercover journalists inside the North, according to RFA. With the technological restrictions, however, the new mobile phones “have lost key functions for the spread and proliferation of information inside and outside North Korea,” he said.

Pyongyang took the new measures last October when it issued a new first four digit number to new subscribers, RFA said, in an apparent move to differentiate more than 1 million subscribers with phones equipped with camera functions and memory cards.

North Koreans can purchase phones using the previous four digit number and equipped with camera functions and memory cards, but the North has raised their price to about US$1,000, putting them out of reach for ordinary citizens, RFA said.

North Koreans earn an average of 3,000 to 5,000 won a month. The North Korean won is traded at around 3,500 won to $US1 in North Korean markets, though the official rate is 100 won to one dollar, according to North Korean defectors in South Korea.

The North’s move appears to be designed to wean North Koreans off phones with high-technology and eventually restrict any free flow of information and foreign news and materials, which the North sees as a potential threat to its stability.

Additional information:
1. On an related note, here is a North Korean video on cell phone etiquette that I uploaded to YouTube.

2. Here are previous posts on cell phones and Orascom.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea disables key functions in new mobile phones: report
Yonhap
2012-7-28

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Unreported Kim Jong-un visit in May

July 26th, 2012

Pictured Above (Google Earth): Construction of the Sporting Center on Tongil Street ( 38.979300°, 125.702961°)

I watched a documentary of Kim Jong-un’s guidance trips in May 2012 and noticed that there was a visit in the video that was never reported in KCNA (neither the .kp nor the .jp versions) . The visit was to the “Sporting Center in Thongil Street”. I have posted the relevant video to YouTube:

According to the chronology of the video, the guidance trip took place sometime between Kim’s attendance of a performance by the Unhasu Orchestra (2012-5-1) and his guidance trip to the Mangyongdae Funfair (2012-5-9). The visit was unlikely to have taken place on 2012-5-2, however, since Kim is reported to have visited the command of the KPA Air Force (which was not reported in the documentary).

I was unable to recognize the people who attended the guidance trip with Kim, so I asked Michael Madden (NK Leadership Watch), who is quite good at this sort of thing, for some assistance. Here is his response:

[Kim Jong-un] was accompanied at that visit by VMar Choe Ryong Hae, Jang Song Taek, VMar Hyon Chol Hae, Gen. Pak Jae Gyong, Col. Gen. Son Chol Ju, Pak To Chun, Hwang Pyong So and VMar Ri Yong Ho. Also in attendance were members of the Guard Command and KJU’s personal secretariat.

Interestingly, KCNA did report that Choe Ryong Hae visited this facility on May 30 and hinted at the earlier Kim Jong-un visit:

Choe Ryong Hae Makes Field Survey of Sporting Center in Thongil Street

Choe Ryong Hae, member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea and director of the General Political Bureau of the Korean People’s Army, on Wednesday made field survey of the Sporting Center in Thongil Street.

The construction of the modern center for the promotion of the people’s health started at the initiative of the dear respected Kim Jong Un and under his plan. It is now nearing its completion.

There are in the center with a huge plottage hundreds of sports apparatuses of various kinds, recuperation rooms, table tennis halls, a supersonic wave wading pool, etc.

Choe Ryong Hae went round various places of the center associated with footsteps left by Supreme Commander Kim Jong Un with loving care for the people.

Choe underscored the need for builders to fully display the serve-the-people spirit in building, bearing deep in mind the intention of the supreme commander to make the people fully enjoy wealth and prosperity under socialism.

Each sports apparatus is associated with the warm loving care of the supreme commander, Choe said, calling for managing apparatuses and equipment well to provide convenience to visitors on a priority basis.

Going round the meat and fish shop conducive to improving the diet of people, he underscored the need for the officials and servants of the center to fufil their responsibility and role, deeply cherishing their mission as the servants of the people in hearty response to the party’s slogan “We Serve the People!”

He stressed the need for the soldier-builders to thoroughly implement the order of the supreme commander and successfully complete the center as early as possible.

So I am unsure why KCNA never reported on this particular Kim visit. Theories welcome. It makes me wonder what other visits go unreported!

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Comrade Kim Goes Flying

July 26th, 2012

The first collaborative film project between the DPRK and western producers, Comrade Kim Goes Flying, will premier at the 2012 Pyongyang International Film Festival.

If you would like to attend the film festival with Koryo Tours to see the film, click here.

Yonhap reports:

As the North’s first romantic comedy feature film, the movie was produced by the communist country in partnership with Belgian producer Anja Daelemans and British-run travel agency Koryo Tours’ official Nick Bonner. The film was shot in Pyongyang with North Korean cast and crew, according to the report.

The biennial festival also plans to screen feature films including “Mr. Bean,” “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” and a South African movie titled “Cry, The Beloved Country,” the report said, citing Koryo Tours, which runs tour programs to the North for the film fest.

Without giving too much away, the plot of the film revolves around the daughter of a coal miner who wants to be a gymnast in Pyongyang.

UPDATE: This story was picked up in the New York Times on 2012-7-30.

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Mixed prospects for economic reform under Kim Jong-un regime

July 26th, 2012

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2012-7-19

There is increasing speculation that the new Kim Jong Un regime is pushing toward economic reform. This may be due to Kim’s young age, as he is considered to be more open to change than his father.

According to an unnamed South Korean official, there is a growing prospect that North Korea will soon release a new economic reform measure. More and more testimonies from North Korean defectors suggest that since Kim Jong Il’s death, reform measures are slowly taking place. But it is unclear when such new economic reform measure will occur.

North Korea’s behavior also implies that certain economic reform may occur. The spokesperson for the DPRK’s foreign ministry made a statement last month to the KCNA, “The dear respected Kim Jong Un has already set forth a goal of Korean-style development and strategies and tactics for enabling the Korean people to live well with nothing to desire more in the world. He is now wisely leading the general advance of the Korean people for economic construction and improving the standard of people’s living.” This indirectly suggests that the Kim Jong Un regime will put forth a new economic measure.

On the other hand, the content and timing of such still remains uncertain. According to the NK Intellectuals Solidarity, the Central Committee of Workers’ Party decided on a policy to introduce a new economic management system on August 1, one that would be centered around the cabinet.

However, the South Korea-based online newspaper Daily NK released an article on July 10 quoting its source from North Pyongan Province that a new “June 28 Measure” was released internally. This measure is reportedly a type of “our-way” new economic management system, to be enforced from October 1.

What path North Korea will take with the new economic reform is unknown. However, the reform will comprise various economic sectors including agriculture, commerce, production and distribution. Details of the reform are unavailable.

The NK Intellectuals Solidarity predicted that new measures will be centered around the legalization of permitting private investment and commercial activities in service and trade sectors and private contract system for agriculture.

In contrast, Daily NK expects the core of the new economic measure will involve downsizing of cooperative farms (from 10-to-25 people in size to 4-to-6 people) and permit farming in unused lands; enforce government procurement system based on market price and strengthening self-supporting accounting system for companies.

The Choson Sinbo, a Japan-based pro-North Korean newspaper ran an editorial on July 11 that North Korea’s economic revival strategy is to follow the global trend but doing it “our-way.” The news also added that North Korea has already entered the path toward economic restoration and praised Kim Jong Un’s “our-style development goal and strategy” to improve the lives of the people while following the current trend of knowledge-based economy.

The news explicated that emphasis on “following the global trend” did not mean following and copying other nations but aimed for the nation to develop and rise on its own to reach the most advanced level of society. In addition, it is considered a refute against South Korea’s over interpretation about the possibility for opening and reform in North Korea during the Kim Jong Un era.

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Rason architecture development concept being implemented

July 25th, 2012

On 2010-11-5, the Choson Ilbo published a report on a North Korean video which portrayed an urban/architectural vision for the future of Rajin (Rason). I have uploaded this video to YouTube:

A better-quality version of the video can be found on Youku (PR of China) here.

For those of you who don’t want to watch the video again, here are the relevant images:

 

The video begins with a quote by Kim Il-sung who insists that the DPRK needs to make Rason better than Singapore after-which it elucidates the viewer as to how this task will be accomplished.  Part one of the video focuses on the reconstruction of downtown Rajin, where a broad new north-south boulevard lined with new housing and facilities is set to become the new city center.

When I first saw this video I interpreted it as more “wishful thinking” on the part of North Korea’s urban planners than a manifestation of actual policy proposals. According to new[ish] satellite imagery on Google Earth, however, it appears that the North Koreans are actually going for it:

 

The image on the left is an old one archived on my computer so I unfortunately don’t know the date. The image on the right is from Google Earth and was taken on 2011-6-19.  The recenlty released Google Earth image actually predates the release of the North Korean video–so this is what the city looked like when the video was made public. Unfortunately I have not yet seen any new tourism photos from this area to determine if construction has continued to the present day.

Many houses have been demolished to make way for the new road, and I am not sure to where the dislocated families have been moved. If progress continues, however, many more Rajin residents can expect to see their homes demolished to make way for new high-rise apartments. To see a good example of the urban transition, look at what happened in Ryongchon.

Along the south end of the new road, we can see proposed construction projects in various stages of implementation–from “completed” to “unstarted”:

The Rajin Noodle Restaurant has long been completed.  A new project to the north-east of the restaurant has been launched.  I am not sure, but I believe it is either a new library or health complex. South of that is a construction site that has not yet been launched.  The video also shows a large new stadium scheduled to replace Rajin’s humbe sports field and gymnasium.  This work does not appear to have begun either.

If any readers can understand the video and pass along any helpful information I would appreciate it.

UPDATE 1: Calvin Chua of Choson Exchange writes in with the following commentary:

In general, these are three main characteristics of their urban plan which I gather from the video.

1) Functional Zoning
Like any typical urban master plan, Rason is divided into various zones: commercial, leisure, residential, distributed according to its geographical characteristics of hilly regions and the sea.

2) Emphasis of Axis and Roundabouts
There is a great emphasis on the long axial roads meeting at roundabouts which are filled with monuments and civic buildings. I believe this is largely influenced by their urban plan for Pyongyang which is planned according to early 20th century socialist urban model. In principle, it is should be efficient for vehicular movement and transportation of goods.

3) Relationship with Mountain and Sea and the 3D Effect Narrative
The urban plan is also built upon a visual narrative of the harmony between the mountain and the sea where the buildings are designed and placed strategically to provide a 3-dimensional effect‘입체감’ (a term that is constantly repeated throughout the video).

Aesthetics aside, Rason’s urban plan seems to be quite basic, it lacks the dynamism of other new SEZs, research parks that are currently being developed. Increasingly, cities are becoming more complex and developing the software infrastructure (data cables, monitoring systems, green technologies, etc) are becoming as equally important as developing the physical infrastructure (buildings and roads). New business parks like Songdo in Incheon are fully wired up jointly by IBM and Cisco. Urban planning and management has become a thriving business for tech companies like Siemens to construction conglomerates like Bechtel which offer one-stop solutions from financing to construction and layout grids for the city.

While Rason is far less sophisticated than Songdo, but in order to be a well-functioning SEZ, it needs to consider and provide better urban management systems beyond physical infrastructure. Rason would need to consider the project on a longer term basis since the urban infrastructure provided today will have economic ramifications in future. For example, to rewire or install new technological infrastructure in future would cost much more than planning for future expansion. Perhaps, it will be interesting to uncover their plans for these ‘soft’ infrastructures together with the organisations (multidisciplinary conglomerates) that would invest in them.

However, luck isn’t on Rason’s side, its development might be hindered by its geographical constraints. It is locked within hilly ridges and to pipe cable infrastructure to it might be costly and it also prevents future expansion of the city. As such, there are many hurdles for Rason to cross before becoming a well-functioning city.

UPDATE 2 (2012-10-18): Calvin Chua offers more data in this post on the Choson Exchange web site.

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