Taiwanese man pleads guilty over DPRK weapons shipments

October 9th, 2013

UPDATE 4 (2015-4-24): The yonger Tsai has been sentenced to three years probation. According to the Chicago Sun Times:

After professing to a judge that he loves America, a 39-year-old immigrant from Taiwan was sentenced Friday to probation for helping his father supply North Korea with weapons manufacturing machinery.

Yueh-Hsun “Gary” Tsai, of Glenview, received three years of probation. In 2009, he formed a company, Trans Merits, to export machine tools to North Korea in violation of a U.S. trade ban, prosecutors said.

Some of the machinery could have been used to produce rocket parts, prosecutors said.

In March, U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle sentenced Tsai’s father, 69-year-old Hsein Tai “Alex” Tsai, to two years in prison for leading the scheme. Alex Tsai had been barred from doing business in the United States because of prior business dealings with North Korea.

Father and son have both pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to defraud the United States.

Gary Tsai was earning about $140,000 a year as an actuary before he was arrested in an FBI raid on his home in 2013, said his attorney, Theodore Poulos. His decision to assist his father in the scheme has ruined his life and prompted his wife to divorce him, Poulos said, calling the case a “great tragedy.”

“He is not a threat in any way to the national security of the country,” Poulos said.

Tsai, wearing a dark pinstriped suit, stood next to an interpreter who translated the proceedings for him in Chinese.

But when he addressed the court, he gave an impassioned defense of his patriotism in English, telling Norgle in a soft voice: “I love the United States of America and I would never do anything to hurt America.”

“America is my country and now is my home,” he said. “I am very sorry for everything I did.”

Federal prosecutor Brian Hayes recommended a sentence of up to six months of detention for Tsai for making a “very grave mistake.”

Although Poulos originally sought probation for his client, he said he changed his mind when he recently learned the government is seeking to deport him.

In an unusual move, Poulos asked the judge to give Tsai up to six months of home incarceration to keep him in the United States during his deportation proceedings.

But Norgle said Tsai’s crime, while serious, did not merit detention. The judge said Tsai’s “expression of love and concern for the United States” convinced him that Tsai would stay out of trouble while on probation.

UPDATE 3 (2015-3-16): Tsai sentenced to two years. According to the Wall Street Journal:

A Taiwanese businessman was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiring to evade sanctions that prohibit weapons-related exports to North Korea.

Hsien Tai Tsai, who pleaded guilty in October 2014, admitted that he was involved in multiple commercial and financial transactions to undermine sanctions against proliferating weapons of mass destruction, prosecutors said. He admitted to buying a center hole grinder from a U.S. company based in suburban Chicago and exporting it to Taiwan in 2009 using his company, Trans Multi Mechanics.

The judge credited Mr. Tsai for the assistance he provided to the U.S. government as it investigates proliferators of weapons of mass destruction, prosecutors said.

Mr. Tsai and two of his companies were placed under U.S. sanctions in January 2009, with the U.S. Department of the Treasury saying at the time that he had, since the 1990s, supplied goods with weapons production capabilities to the premier North Korean arms dealer. Treasury targeted Trans Multi Mechanics with sanctions in 2013.

“These sanctions are meant to raise the cost for WMD proliferators to do business and deter others from proliferating by denying them access to our financial and commercial systems,” said John P. Carlin, assistant attorney general, in a statement.

Here is coverage in the Chicago Tribune.

UPDATE 2 (2014-12-17): Gary Tsai has pleaded guilty. According to the Chicago Tribune:

A Glenview man accused of teaming up with his Taiwanese dad to evade a U.S. ban on selling weapon-making equipment to North Korea pleaded guilty Dec. 16 to a lesser charge of lying on export documents.

Gary Tsai, 37, was accused of exporting machinery with his dad, Alex Tsai, that could be used to make weapons of mass destruction.

On Dec. 16, he agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors under which he admitted lying on shipping documents about who would receive an industrial grinder he was selling. In return, any sentence he receives at a sentencing hearing in March will be capped at five years in prison.

His frail father pleaded guilty in October and had agreed to testify against him if he insisted on going to trial. Alex Tsai also faces a maximum of five years.

The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security say the Tsais were part of a web of people who export metal-fabrication machinery — using companies with different names — that could be used to create WMDs.

Alex Tsai was previously indicted in 2008 by Taiwanese prosecutors for forging invoices and shipping restricted materials to North Korea, according to federal records.

In 2009, the Treasury Department identified him as a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and prohibited anyone from doing business with him or his two Taiwanese companies.

UPDATE 1 (2014-10-9): Hsien Tai Tsai to plead guilty. According to Fox News:

Taiwanese man accused of trying to bypass bans on supplying weapons machinery to North Korea is expected to change his plea to guilty.

A court document says Hsien Tai Tsai (SEHN’ SUHN’ SEYE’) will attend a change-of-plea hearing Thursday in federal court in Chicago.

The 68-year-old man has been charged with conspiring to thwart laws on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It’s unclear what counts Tsai will plead guilty to.

He was arrested while visiting Estonia. The Baltic Sea-coast nation worked with the U.S. to capture him, then jailed him for five months. Estonia extradited Tsai a year ago.

Tsai’s son was arrested in the Chicago area last year on similar charges.

Defense attorney Steven Shobat didn’t immediately respond to a message left Wednesday seeking comment.

ORIGINAL POST (2013-5-6): Here is a summary provided by ISIS.

Here is a statement taken from the FBI web page:

Taiwanese Father and Son Arrested for Allegedly Violating U.S. Laws to Prevent Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction

U.S. Attorney’s Office, Northern District of Illinois
May 06, 2013
(312) 353-5300

CHICAGO—A resident of Taiwan whom the U.S. government has linked to the supply of weapons machinery to North Korea, and his son, who resides in suburban Chicago, are facing federal charges here for allegedly conspiring to violate U.S. laws designed to thwart the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, federal law enforcement officials announced today.

Hsien Tai Tsai, also known as “Alex Tsai,” who is believed to reside in Taiwan, was arrested last Wednesday in Tallinn, Estonia, while his son, Yueh-Hsun Tsai, also known as “Gary Tsai,” who is from Taiwan and is a legal permanent resident in the United States, was arrested the same day at his home in Glenview, Illinios.

Gary Tsai, 36, was ordered held in custody pending a detention hearing at 1:30 p.m. today before Magistrate Judge Susan Cox in U.S. District Court in Chicago. Alex Tsai, 67, remains in custody in Estonia pending proceedings to extradite him to the United States.

Both men were charged in federal court in Chicago with three identical offenses in separate complaints that were filed previously and unsealed following their arrests. Each was charged with one count of conspiring to defraud the United States in its enforcement of laws and regulations prohibiting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, one count of conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) by conspiring to evade the restrictions imposed on Alex Tsai and two of his companies by the U.S. Treasury Department, and one count of money laundering.

The arrests and charges were announced by Gary S. Shapiro, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Cory B. Nelson, Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago Office of the FBI; Gary Hartwig, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Chicago; and Ronald B. Orzel, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security, Office of Export Enforcement, Chicago Field Office. The Justice Department’s National Security Division and Office of International Affairs assisted with the investigation. U.S. officials thanked the Estonian Internal Security Service and the Estonian Prosecutor’s Office for their cooperation.

According to both complaint affidavits, agents have been investigating Alex and Gary Tsai, as well as Individual A (a Taiwanese associate of Alex Tsai) and a network of companies engaged in the export of U.S. origin goods and machinery that could be used to produce weapons of mass destruction. The investigation has revealed that Alex and Gary Tsai and Individual A are associated with at least three companies based in Taiwan—Global Interface Company Inc., Trans Merits Co. Ltd., and Trans Multi Mechanics Co. Ltd.—that have purchased and then exported, and attempted to purchase and then export, from the United States machinery used to fabricate metals and other materials with a high degree of precision.

On January 16, 2009, under Executive Order 13382, which sanctions proliferators of weapons of mass destruction and their supporters, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Alex Tsai, Global Interface, and Trans Merits as proliferators of weapons of mass destruction, isolating them from the U.S. financial and commercial systems and prohibiting any person or company in the United States from knowingly engaging in any transaction or dealing with Alex Tsai and the two Taiwanese companies.

In announcing the January 2009 OFAC order, the Treasury Department said that Alex Tsai was designated for providing, or attempting to provide, financial, technological, or other support for, or goods or services in support of the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation (KOMID), which was designated as a proliferator by President George W. Bush in June 2005. The Treasury Department asserted that Alex Tsai “has been supplying goods with weapons production capabilities to KOMID and its subordinates since the late 1990s, and he has been involved in shipping items to North Korea that could be used to support North Korea’s advanced weapons program.” The Treasury Department further said that Global Interface was designated “for being owned or controlled by Tsai,” who is a shareholder of the company and acts as its president. Tsai is also the general manager of Trans Merits Co. Ltd., which was designated for being a subsidiary owned or controlled by Global Interface Company Inc.

After the OFAC designations, Alex and Gary Tsai and Individual A allegedly continued to conduct business together but attempted to hide Alex Tsai’s and Trans Merit’s involvement in those transactions by conducting business under different company names, including Trans Multi Mechanics. For example, by August 2009—approximately eight months after the OFAC designations—Alex and Gary Tsai, Individual A, and others allegedly began using Trans Multi Mechanics to purchase and export machinery on behalf of Trans Merits and Alex Tsai. Specifically, the charges allege that in September 2009, they purchased a Bryant center hole grinder from a U.S. company based in suburban Chicago and exported it to Taiwan using the company Trans Multi Mechanics. A Bryant center hole grinder is a machine tool used to grind a center hole, with precisely smooth sides, through the length of a material.

The charges further allege that by at least September 2009, Gary Tsai had formed a machine tool company named Factory Direct Machine Tools in Glenview, Illinois, which was in the business of importing and exporting machine tools, parts, and other items to and from the United States. However, the charges allege that Alex Tsai and Trans Merits were active partners in Factory Direct Machine Tools, in some instances procuring the goods for import to the United States for Factory Direct Machine Tool customers.

Violating IEEPA carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine; money laundering carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine; and conspiracy to defraud the United States carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. If convicted, the court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal statutes and the advisory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. The government is being represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Patrick Pope and Brian Hayes.

The public is reminded that a complaint is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

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Changes in DPRK – EU trade patterns over 2011-2012

October 7th, 2013

According to the Daily NK:

International sanctions against North Korea are leading to declining bilateral trade volumes with the European Union (EU), it has been revealed.

“The total amount of trade between North Korea and the EU in 2012 fell 40%, from 159,000,000 Euros in 2011 to 92,000,000 Euros in 2012,” Voice of America reported yesterday, citing the latest trade statistics from the European Commission.

The root of the decline lies in exports from North Korea; in other words, Pyongyang’s exports to the EU decreased dramatically, and this led to an overall decrease in bilateral trade.

North Korean imports from the EU last year amounted to 73,000,000 Euros, a 60% increase from the previous year. However, exports in the same period were only worth 19,000,000 Euros, not even 1/5 of the previous year’s 116,000,000 Euros.

A report released by the Korean International Trade association last month yielded a similar outcome, concluding that trade between North Korea and the EU in the first five months of 2013 was on a declining curve, being worth just 12,500,000 Euros, a 77% decrease over the same period of 2012.

The EU also reported that North Korea’s foreign trade last year was worth 690,000,000 Euros overall. North Korea’s biggest trade partner was China, with 470,000,000 Euros, 68% of total foreign trade.

North Korea’s other major trade partners in 2012 India, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Saudi Arabia, and the Dominican Republic.

Read the full story here:
North Losing Out in European Market
Daily NK
Yang Jung A
2013-10-7

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DPRK exports to China up 8% in Jan-Aug 2013

October 7th, 2013

According to Yonhap:

North Korea’s exports to China rose 8 percent on-year to US$1.85 billion in the first eight months of this year, thanks to higher exports of coal, ores and woven garments, a South Korean diplomat said Monday.

The North’s imports from China fell 6 percent on-year to $2.24 billion in the eight-month period, with two-way trade totaling $4.09 billion, said the diplomat at the South Korean Embassy in Beijing.

Total trade volume between North Korea and China was little changed in the January-August period, compared with $4.1 billion for the cited period a year earlier, the diplomat said on the condition of anonymity, in a sign that their trade is on a recovery track.

It was not immediately clear, however, whether the rebound in bilateral trade meant that Beijing might ease its tougher stance on Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

“North Korea’s exports of coal and ores to China showed a double-digit growth during the eight-month period, despite declines in their international spot prices,” the diplomat said.

North Korea’s traditional ally has become increasingly frustrated with its wayward neighbor, particularly after the North’s third nuclear test in February in defiance of China. Beijing voted in favor of tougher sanctions by the United Nations Security Council to punish Pyongyang for conducting the nuclear test.

In May, the Bank of China closed accounts with North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank, which was accused by the U.S. of helping finance the North’s nuclear weapons program.

Last month, China disclosed a list of weapons-related goods banned for export to North Korea, highlighting Beijing’s commitment to enforcing international sanctions against Pyongyang.

Still, many Chinese businesses keep close trading ties with North Korea, supplying key commodities and hard currency to the North.

Yonhap also offered additional information in an artiucle published by the Korea Herald:

However, he said sales of clothing topped $290 million as of end-August, compared to $200 million during the same period last year.

On imports, the North brought in mostly crude oil, food and fertilizers from China, although overall numbers were down 6 percent on-year.

Imports of food and fertilizers were down 57 percent and 27 percent, respectively, with crude imports dipping 6 percent compared to the year before.

The North has been importing less food from China after a good harvest last year.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s exports to China rise 8 pct in Jan.-Aug.
Yonhap
2013-10-7

N. Korea-China trade in 2013 largely unchanged from previous year
Korea Herald
29103-10-9

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Recent DPRK agricultural statistics

October 2nd, 2013

According to Yonhap, the DPRK’s food imports increased over the summer:

North Korea’s crop imports from China rose 16.5 percent in August from the previous month, data showed Tuesday, indicating stability in food supply for people in the impoverished nation.

According to the data compiled by Kwon Tae-jin, a researcher at the Korea Rural Economic Institute, North Korea imported 26,804 tons of grains such as flour, rice, corn and bean in August from its neighboring country, compared with 22,988 tons a month earlier.

The North spent a total of US$15.4 million to buy the crops that month, the largest monthly spending for the year, the data showed.

August also marked the seventh consecutive month that the North’s crop imports topped 20,000 tons.

“Since February, the North has imported more than 20,000 tons of crops per month from its strongest ally,” Kwon said.

“Factoring in the forecast of good harvests for the autumn thanks to good weather conditions, the North is expected to enjoy a relatively stable supply of crops at least for the rest of the year,” he added.

Meanwhile, North Korea’s fertilizer imports from China totaled 183,639 tons in the January-August period, down 27.1 percent from the same period a year earlier, according to the data.

North Korea’s domestic food production is also apparently higher. According to Yonhap:

North Korea’s grain harvest is expected to grow about 8 percent this year from 2012 thanks to relatively favorable weather conditions, a source with the knowledge of food situation in the communist nation said Wednesday.

The North is estimated to produce as much as 5.3 million tons of grains this year, a 7.7 percent increase from 4.92 million tons last year, the source said on the condition of anonymity.

This year’s estimated grain harvest roughly meets with the North’s annual demand of 5.4 million tons. The annual demand was calculated by South Korea’s state-run Korea Rural Economic Institute.

“Grain harvest in North Korea this year is much better than last year because there were no big natural disasters, except for heavy rains in July this year,” the source said.

Despite the positive assessments of the DPRK’s food supply, the UN warns more food assistance is needed. According to Yonhap:

North Korea remains one of the 34 countries in the world that require external assistance to properly feed their people, a media report said Friday.

The Voice of America said the October issue of Crop Prospects and Food Situation by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated that there will be some 2.8 million “vulnerable” people in the communist country needing assistance until this year’s fall harvest.

The Washington-based media outlet said that judging by official estimates tallied by the United Nations organization, Pyongyang’s spring cereal harvest for 2013, mainly winter, wheat and barley, fell shy of the initial forecast, and that this is the main reason for the current shortage.

The country had reported improved harvests in the fall of 2012.

The U.N. agency also said people in the country are experiencing “widespread lack of access” to food caused in part by past floods.

The latest findings added that overall conditions in the North have not changed vis-a-vis July when the last food situation report was released.

At the time, the North was the only country in East Asia to be placed on the list requiring external aid. Others on the list of the 34 countries were in Africa and Central Asia.

The FAO, meanwhile, estimated that the North has been able to secure 328,000 tons of various grain from November of 2012 to early last month. This is equal to 65 percent of the 507,000 tons of grain Pyongyang needs to properly feed its population.

Read the full stories here:
N. Korea’s crop imports from China up 16 pct in Aug.
Yonhap
2013-10-1

N. Korea’s grain harvest seen improving: source
Yonhap
2013-10-2

N. Korea needs external aid to feed its people: report
Yonhap
2013-10-4

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North Korea accelerating modernization of postal and communication sectors

September 27th, 2013

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2013-9-27

North Korea is promoting the development of its postal and communication sectors.

North Korea recently held the “National Communications Workers’ Rally” on September 16, 2013. The First Chairman of the National Defence Commission Kim Jong Un sent a letter addressed to the participants titled “Time for a New Shift in the Communications Industry.”

At the event, Deputy Premier Jon Sung Hun delivered a speech emphasizing that “(communications sector officials) must work with the mission and duty to raise the national communications business up to the state-of-the-art level.”

The dedication of technicians working at the mobile communication base station, research of scientists and technicians at the communications sector, and modernization of information and communications in Pyongyang were acclaimed for achievements.

In the North, letters and parcel delivery as well as land-based and mobile phones, and intranets are considered a part of the communications sector. The Ministry of Communications under the Cabinet oversees this entire industry.

During his life, former leader Kim Jong Il also showed great interest in the communications sector. At the national rally for communications workers on August 25, 1993, Kim sent a letter encouraging the participants: “Let’s push forward toward modernization of the communications sector.” In North Korea, this text is regarded as the bible of the communications industry.

North Korea has been holding the National Communications Workers’ Rally once every ten years, with the last event held in October 2003 at the People’s Palace of Culture in Pyongyang.

Meanwhile, Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Korean Workers’ Party, devoted the entirety of page four to introducing the achievements of the International Satellite Communication Bureau and the fiber-optic cable factories. It covered extensively the successes of the postal and communications industries.

The newspaper stated, “The workers and technicians of the communication sector successfully finished the fiber optic cable construction in the provincial, city, and district levels in a short period.” The news also boasted that “They realized the high-speed and large-capacity of communications based on state-of-the-art technology and high-tech facilities.”

In addition, Rodong Sinmun reported the advancement of the speed and accuracy of communications, high-speed data network and exchange capacity, making positive contribution in distance learning and remote medical system.

The news also acclaimed, “The fiber-optic cable communication and communication facilities and operation has reached the level of modernization,” and “Most of all, the high-tech mobile services is contributing greatly to ensuring the convenience of people’s daily lives.”

Recently, North Korean mobile communications has made great progress. Reportedly, North Korea has over 200 million subscribers (as of April 2013). About 1 in 12 North Koreans have mobile phones. The younger generation is also reported to be reading mobile news, multimedia message (MMS), and sending and receiving video calls via 3G.

Mobile phones in North Korea are spreading rapidly and mobile games are also growing in popularity.

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ROK sets aside funds for DMZ Peace Park

September 26th, 2013

According to Yonhap:

The government set aside 40.2 billion won (US$37.3 million) in next year’s budget proposal for a project calling for the establishment of a peace park in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the border with North Korea, according to the draft budget Thursday.

The DMZ peace park project is one of President Park Geun-hye’s outreach projects to North Korea. She first unveiled the vision during her visit to the United States in May and formally proposed the project on August. But questions persist about its possibility due to tensions with Pyongyang.

According to the government’s budget proposal, which is subject to changes and requires approval from the National Assembly, the unification ministry’s total budget was set at 1.34 trillion won, up 20.9 billion won or 1.6 percent from this year’s budget.

Of the 40.2 billion won set aside for the peace park project, 24 billion was designated for use in removing landmines strewn throughout the DMZ, while the rest was allocated for research and other purposes, according to the budget proposal.

The budget for humanitarian assistance to North Korea fell slightly to 680.2 billion won from this year’s 724 billion won. But officials said the decline is because of a fall in prices for rice and fertilizer and the government plans to keep the amount of aid at this year’s level of 400,000 tons of rice and 300,000 tons of fertilizer.

Read the full story here:
S. Korea sets aside 40.2 billion won for DMZ peace park project
Yonhap
2013-9-26

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DPRK more stable in Kim Jong-un era

September 25th, 2013

According to Yonhap:

North Korea’s political stability has improved over the past couple of years following its power transition, a World Bank report showed Wednesday.

According to the World Governance Indicators (WGI) data compiled by the World Bank, the North’s aggregate indicator of “political stability and absence of violence” came to 0.01 in 2012, up from minus 0.32 a year earlier.

The data reflect perceptions of the likelihood that a government will be destabilized or overthrown by unconstitutional or violent means, including politically motivated violence and terrorism, the organization said.

They are measured based on 31 underlying sources reporting the perceptions of governance of a large number of survey respondents and expert assessments worldwide, with scores ranging from minus 2.5 to plus 2.5, according to the bank.

The level of the communist country’s stability reached minus 0.51 in 1996 when expectations ran high even among serious North Korea observers about the collapse of the regime following the death of its founder Kim Il-sung.

After his son Kim Jong-il took the helm, the figure had been on the rise to reach 0.54 in 2008. But it plunged to minus 0.38 in 2010, which is likely attributable to his faltering health.

Following Kim Jong-il’s death in December 2011, his youngest son Kim Jong-un inherited the power and has since led the country, which would make the country more stable than before when the future was less certain.

North Korea stood in the middle among 215 countries surveyed in terms of political stability in 2012, according to the report.

The WGI paper shows governance indicators for around 200 countries over the period from 1996 to 2012, covering six categories: voice and accountability; political stability and absence of violence; government effectiveness; regulatory quality; rule of law; and control of corruption.

In terms of the remaining five indicators, North Korea ranked low, with its level of voice and accountability, which reflects freedom of expression and citizen participation in selecting their government, coming to minus 2.17, government effectiveness to minus 1.93 and rule of law to minus 1.25, the report showed.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea more politically stable after power shift: World Bank
Yonhap
2013-9-25

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Ruediger Frank on the DPRK economy

September 24th, 2013

Ruediger Frank writes in the East Asia Forum:

After decades of being divided into a population of a small and mostly invisible elite and everyone else, a middle class of about 2 million people is on the rise. These are the people who have mobile phones, use taxis and show a remarkable diversity in clothing and accessories. The local 7-inch tablet computer, ‘Samjiyŏn’, sells for US$180 and comes with the Android operating system and a number of apps such as a dictionary, changgi (Korean chess), and a collection of the works of the two deceased former leaders, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.

The quality of life in the capital differs significantly from the rest of the country. Some observers believe this will increase discontent; but it also smartly diverts attention away from the shiny examples of foreign metropolises spread on pirated DVDs and USB sticks, and offers the population a domestic Xanadu. The key question for social stability is thus not what peasants in the countryside dream about, but what middle-class Pyongyangites aspire to. Meanwhile, the number of solar panels and small windmills is rising, which is the countryside’s solution to having less privileged access to power.

Despite all the changes, many of the old problems remain unsolved. Prices rise, speculation is rampant and frustration grows in sync with corruption and an ever-more obvious gap between the poor and the new middle class. It would be unrealistic to imply that Kim Jong-un even theoretically had the chance to improve the lives of the majority of his people significantly within a year of taking over. But he has not been idle. Inequality in North Korea is a sign of deepening change. A growing income and welfare gap between individuals indicates that the economy is on the move away from socialist egalitarianism towards capitalist diversity.

Read the full report here:
North Korea’s rolling economic reforms
Ruediger Frank
East Asia Forum
2013-9-24

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Russia – Rason railway (RasonKonTrans)

September 24th, 2013

Pictured above (Google Earth): A map of the Khasan-Rajin Port rail service.

UPDATE 15 (2014-4-30): According to a new article in Yonhap, the new railway line is not really being used:

Russia appears to be preparing for a test operation of its newly renovated railway linked to North Korea, but the economic feasibility of South Korea’s joining the logistics project remains to be seen, a Seoul diplomat said Wednesday.

“I have been sensing that Russia is preparing to export its coal through the Rajin-Khasan railway in the near future as part of an experiment,” Lee Yang-goo, council general in Vladivostok, told reporters. “But it seems that there is no substantial demand for the rail line now.”

The project is part of Russia’s ambition to set up a rail road linking Asia to the Eurasian region. Last year, South Korea agreed with Russia to extend the track to South Korea.

Seoul officials said that they may be able to finish linking the rail to South Korea’s southern port city of Busan and put it into operation as early as next year, but experts have said feasibility of the plan remains to be seen.

Several factors, including economic and technological ones, should be taken into account before South Korean firms can join the logistics project, the council general said. “The economic feasibility should be reviewed foremost.”

UPDATE 14 (2014-4-9): Russians test coal shipment to Rason. According to the International Railway Journal:

RUSSIAN Railways (RZD) has commenced testing of freight traffic on the reopened link from the Khasan border station of the Trans Siberian Railway in western Siberia to the port of Rason, North Korea.

Two freight trains consisting of 65 wagons containing Kuzbass coal are taking part in the trials, which are intended to test the recently redeveloped railway infrastructure, as well as customs practices and freight handling at the port.

The project is being carried out by the RasonKonTrans joint venture, which was formed in 2008, and is held by RZD Trading House (70%) and the port of Rason (30%). Work involved the reconstruction of the Tumangang – Rason railway in North Korea, which included the introduction of 54km of dual-gauge (1520mm and 1435mm) track, as well as the reconstruction of 18 bridges, 12 culverts, and three tunnels with a total length of more than 4.5km.

The railway was officially opened on September 22, 2013, and was funded through RasonKonTrans’ authorised capital and loans. The joint venture has also invested to improve capacity at the port, including the addition of connecting tracks, dredging and construction of a new quay wall.

RZD says the project will attract additional traffic to the Trans-Siberian Railway, with around 4 million tonnes of freight expected to use the Khasan – Rason link per year.

According to the Moscow Times:

Russian Railways has put to use the North Korean port it helped to upgrade recently.

The state-owned railway operator said Tuesday it had started carrying Siberian coal to the port of Rajin, in what may be the first attempt to utilize the harbor after it reopened in September.

“The company has started to provide a full suite of services to ship coal through Rajin to Asia-Pacific countries,” said a statement from Russian Railways logistics subsidiary, RZhD Logistika.

A joint venture between Russian Railways and the North Korean Ministry of Railways has rebuilt one of the port’s wharfs and a rail link connecting it to Russia in a rare example of foreign involvement in the economy of the isolated dictator state. The joint venture, RasonKonTrans, where Russia holds 70 percent, sought to relieve the congestion at Russia’s Pacific ports.

Coal miner and steelmaker Mechel is the sender of the coal consignments, according to Nadezhda Malysheva, chief editor of port industry portal PortNews.

Both Mechel and RzhD Logistica spokespersons declined to comment.

Russian Railways chief Vladimir Yakunin traveled to Rajin for a grand opening of the rail service and the wharf in September. The company invested 9 billion rubles ($250 million) to upgrade both. Russian engineers supervised the work, while Koreans largely contributed with unskilled labor.

The Russian terminal at Rajin, Asia’s most northerly all-year ice-free port, will at first handle just coal freight from Russia to ship it further to China’s eastern and southeastern provinces. Further plans are to equip it to be able to provide container services.

RZhD Logistika loaded a total of 9,000 metric tons of coal on two freight trains of 130 cars each to carry to Rajin at the end of last month, it said in the statement. The cargo will next go to China’s ports of Shanghai, Lianyungang and Guangzhou.

Current load capacity of port Rajin is 4 million tons of coal a year.

Russia’s biggest coal export port, Vostochny, which sits on the Pacific coast, has the capacity to handle 18 million tons a year, Malysheva said. It and the other key coal port of Vanino operate at the top of their capacity, as exports of the fuel to Asia have increased, she said.

Coal remains the principal fuel for electricity generation at power plants in China. But its coal price declined 10 percent last year because of strong rivalry among Russian suppliers and competition from Australia, the RZhD Logistika statement said.

Even so, the government last week backed a plan to boost development of the coal-mining industry in the country’s Far East to cater to Asian markets. The idea is to have a shorter transportation leg for the shipments, compared with the distance that the coal travels from Siberia.

This Russian-language source has additional information.

Read the full story here:
First Russian Coal Heads to North Korean Port
Moscow Times
Anatoly Medetsky
2014-4-8

UPDATE 13 (2014-4-8): Business organization information. According to the Moscow Times:

A joint venture between Russian Railways and the North Korean Ministry of Railways has rebuilt one of the port’s wharfs and a rail link connecting it to Russia in a rare example of foreign involvement in the economy of the isolated dictator state. The joint venture, RasonKonTrans, where Russia holds 70 percent, sought to relieve the congestion at Russia’s Pacific ports.

Russian Railways chief Vladimir Yakunin traveled to Rajin for a grand opening of the rail service and the wharf in September. The company invested 9 billion rubles ($250 million) to upgrade both. Russian engineers supervised the work, while Koreans largely contributed with unskilled labor.

UPDATE 12 (2013-9-23): Rajin-Khasan Railway Section Opens for Service. According to KCNA:

The Rajin-Khasan railway section has been successfully rebuilt in line with the DPRK-Russia Moscow Declaration, signed in August 2001. The section was opened for service on Sunday.

Its opening serves as a landmark in promoting the friendly and cooperative relations between the DPRK and Russia, strengthening the economic and cultural ties in the Asia-Pacific region and ensuring the common prosperity of regional countries.

In the first year of the new century, historic meeting and talks were held between Kim Jong Il, leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and V.V. Putin, president of the Russian Federation, resulting in the adoption of the DPRK-Russia Moscow Declaration.

The declaration expressed the will of the two countries to make every possible effort to carry into practice a plan for opening railway transit linking the DPRK, Russia and Europe. Such plan was the first phase for wide-ranging cooperation between the two countries, which came under spotlight of the world.

At that time some forces criticized the plan as a “daydream”, displeased with significant cooperation between the two countries as well as peace and prosperity of the Korean Peninsula.

However, the project plan went into practice in October 2008 on the eve of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the bilateral diplomatic relations thanks to the unshakable will of the two countries and the active cooperation of their railway workers.

At the ground-breaking ceremony for the project, which was held in front of the DPRK-Russia Friendship Pavilion in the area of Tumangang Railway Station in Rason City, V. I. Yakunin, president of the Russian Railways Company, said that the world would soon witness the longest railway transit, extending more than 10 000 km, through which 100 000 containers would be transported annually from 2013.

At last, the Rajin-Khasan railway section has been successfully rebuilt this year marking the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relation between the DPRK and Russia. This would bring a large-scale cooperation project between the two countries into practice, ensuring their and regional development and interests.

The railway section from Rajin to Khasan will be helpful to the economy, transport service and people’s wellbeing of the two countries. It can also develop into an international transit between Asia and Europe.

The facts show the vitality of cooperation documents of the two countries, including the DPRK-Russia Moscow Declaration, and the noble idea carried in them.

The friendly and cooperative relationship between the DPRK and Russia will grow stronger with the geopolitical importance of Northeast Asia.

Choson Exchange offers additional detail and other news from Rason here.

UPDATE 11 (2013-9-22): It appears that Russia – Rajin rail service has been launched (again). According to KCNA:

Rajin-Khasan railway section has been successfully rebuilt and opened for service with due ceremony in Rajin on Sunday.

The opening of the section will greatly contribute to developing the friendly and cooperative relations between Russia and the DPRK.

Present at the ceremony from the DPRK side were Jon Kil Su, minister of Railways, O Ryong Chol, vice-minister of Foreign Trade, Ri Chol Sok, vice-chairman of the State Commission for Economic Development, Jo Jong Ho, chairman of the Rason City People’s Committee, Im Chon Il, consul general of the DPRK to Nakhodka, officials in the field of railways and people in Rason City.

Present there from the Russian side were V. I. Yakunin, president of the “Russian Railways” Company, Alexei Tsijenov, vice-minister of Transport, Sergey Sidorov, first vice-governor of the Maritime Territory Administration, Alexandr Timonin, Russian ambassador to the DPRK, Vyacheslav Tsupikov, consul general of Russia to Chongjin, and Russians including those concerned with the railways.

Diplomatic envoys to the DPRK also attended.

V. I. Yakunin in the opening ceremony said the section has opened for service under Russia-DPRK Moscow Declaration signed by the top leaders of the two countries in 2001.

To press for the renovation of the railways running through the land of Korea will be of great contribution to the development of economic cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region in the future, he stressed.

Minister of Railways of the DPRK in his speech said that the plan of linking DPRK-Russia railways serves as a model of wide-ranging bilateral cooperation which meets the common progress and interests of the two peoples.

He expressed the conviction that the operation of the opened railways section will be successful as it was made on the principle of mutual respect and cooperation between the railway transportation fields of the two countries.

There were congratulatory speeches.

The ceremony ended with the playing of national anthems of the two countries. It was followed by a reception.

According to Yonhap:

After years of work to directly connect railway tracks between Russia and North Korea, a 54-kilometer section linking border areas of the two countries reopened Sunday with a ceremony in Rason, a special economic zone in northeastern North Korea.

A special train carrying a group of reporters arrived at Rajin Port in Rason from Khasan in the Russian Far East, making it the first train to travel between the two countries without changing bogies at the border.

Trains had traveled on the section since the Soviet era. But given differences in track width between the Russian side and the North Korean side, workers had to change bogies every time a train crossed the border.

With the end of overhaul work, North Korea appears poised to promote the development of its special economic zone, while Russia seeks to revitalize the Trans-Siberian Railway by linking it, in the future, to a railway system that would run through the Korean Peninsula.

In 2008, the two countries started work to lay Russia-sized railway tracks from the Russian border area to Rajin Port after Russian President Vladimir Putin and then North Korean leader Kim Jong Il agreed in August 2001 to directly connect the two railway systems.

Moscow shoulders 70 percent of 8.3 billion ruble, or 25.8 billion yen, in costs to lay the new tracks and build the North Korean port, while Pyongyang covers the remainder.

The two countries conducted a trial run on the section using a freight train in October 2011. They initially planned to launch commercial runs in autumn last year, but the plan was delayed until now.

Bloomberg adds the following data:

Initially, the 54-kilometer (33-mile) line will transport Russian coal to markets in the Asia-Pacific region, OAO Russian Railways Chief Executive Officer Vladimir Yakunin said at the ceremony in Rajin. The second phase of the project will involve the construction of a container-handling facility and potentially an oil terminal at the North Korean site, he said.

“Our common objective is for this link and port to be a pilot scheme for the restoration of a single transport system in North and South Korea that would link the peninsula to countries that gravitate to this region, to Europe via Russia,” Yakunin said. The CEO said he hopes the plan will help promote peace between the two Koreas, which remain technically at war following the conflict 1950-53 that divided the countries.

The route is part of a larger project, dubbed the Iron Silk Road, that would connect Russia’s Trans-Siberian Railway to South Korea via the North for an overland route cutting transportation costs to Europe. Success depends on improved ties between South Korea and its isolated Communist neighbor.

Reuters adds the following data:

Yakunin said the railway and container terminal, a project worth 9 billion roubles ($283 million), would work at a capacity of 4 million metric tons a year within two years.

Here is some additional background information:

Practical implementation of the project began in 2008, when RZD and North Korea’s Ministry of Railways signed a cooperation agreement. In October of that year, Tumangan station saw the ceremonial laying of the first link of the rails and sleepers that marked the beginning of the reconstruction of the Khasan – Rajin railway section.

In 2009, a joint venture, RasonKonTrans, was set up by Russian Railways Trading House, a subsidiary of RZD, and the port of Rajin, in order to implement the project. RasonKonTrans has in turn concluded a 49-year leasing arrangement of the railway line between Tumen – Rajin with the Donghae company of North Korea’s Ministry of Railways. The work was financed from RasonKonTrans’ share capital, as well as by funds the joint venture was able to borrow based on the project’s business plan. More than 5.5 billion roubles had been invested in the reconstruction of the Khasan – Rajin railway line and 3.5 billion roubles in the port terminal.

The final construction phase to create a universal intermodal exchange terminal at the port of Rajin has now begun, including a range of measures ranging from dredging, building a new quay wall and equipping storage yards, through the construction of industrial and office buildings and facilities to laying railway lines within the terminal itself. Yakunin continued:

“The port is designed to handle transhipment volumes of 4 million tonnes of cargo, but that is not the limit. We are confident that the cargo base will expand and that containers will be shipped through the port. The construction of the port terminal is almost complete, and we are already seeing interest from international customers and partners.”

Officials from both countries say they are working together to finalise the timetable and the joint regulations which will govern the movement of trains on this section. To ensure the interoperability of the new line with both North Korea’s railway network and the Russian rail network, there are plans to create a single control centre with the participation of experts from the RasonKonTrans joint venture and the Donghae transport company of North Korea’s Ministry of Railways.

More from RT here.

UPDATE 10 (2013-6-25): It appears that regular rail service never materialized. According to Siberian Times:

Talks in Moscow between Vladimir Yakunin, President of Russian Railways, and Jeong Gil Soo, North Korea’s Minister of Railways (MOR) agreed the final details on the Khasas-Rajin link.

The project is being implemented in accordance with agreements reached in 2000 by Russian President Vladimir Putin and then North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. It is linked to cooperation between the two countries and forms part of a project to restore traffic on the entire Trans-Korean Main Line.

‘Over the long term, this will allow most traffic between South Korea, Europe, Russia and the CIS countries to be sent by rail by the Trans-Siberian Railway,’ said one report.

The new agreement allows for a single control centre ‘with the participation of experts from the joint ventures RasonKonTrans and ZHTK Donghae MOR from North Korea to handle traffic management and facilitate collaboration with the entire railway network in North Korea. The parties also agreed to develop instructions for the movement of trains and a train timetable’, stated RIA Oreanda.

The project involves reconnecting the combined dual-track railway with 1520 mm and 1435 mm gauges on the stretch from the Russian border to the port of Rajin in North Korea, a distance of 54 km. This includes the reconstruction of three tunnels, the repair a border railway bridge and construction of a freight terminal with an annual capacity of 4 million tons at Port Rajin.

The report continued:’The project is being implemented by the joint venture RasonKonTrans, which was specially set up in 2008 and is owned by OAO RZD Trading House and the port of Rajin.

‘The stretch between Rajin and Tuman stations is estimated at 99.8% complete. Work on commissioning the signalling, centralisation and blocking equipment has been completed along the entire section with the exception of Rajin station.

‘The tunnels are now fully ready. As of mid-May 2013, all the work to replace the timber on the Korean border bridge ‘Friendship’ has been carried out. Currently, work is underway to finish the bridge and install the railing.

‘At the port of Rajin, concrete is being laid and building foundations are being installed at the administrative and amenity building, repair shop and spare parts warehouse, work has begun on laying and ballasting the railway lines within the terminals and utility lines are being laid.

‘Equipment continues to be installed at the harbour wall. Work on installing outdoor lighting and fencing the port terminal’s territory is also ongoing’.

UPDATE 9 (2012-4-2) : DPRK and Russia to start cross-border freight train service in October. According to KCNA:

Rajin-Khassan Cargo Train Service to Begin in October

Pyongyang, April 2 (KCNA) — A Rajin-Khassan cargo train service will run from October this year.

Kim Chang Sik, a department director of the DPRK Ministry of Railways, told KCNA that the laying of railroad and renovation of railway stations, tunnels and communications facilities are now under way in the section.

The railway project was highlighted in the historic DPRK-Russia Moscow Declaration, which was signed in August 2001, he said, adding:

In line with the declaration, a cooperation agreement between the DPRK Ministry of Railways and the Russia Railway Holding Corporation was concluded in April 2008 to be followed by an agreement on joint venture between Rajin Port and the Corporation.

A contract on the lease of the Rajin-Tumangang railway was made between the Ministry’s Eastern Railway Ryonun Company and the Rason International Joint Venture Container Terminal, under which the 54 km-section has been rebuilt into a mixed track from October 2008.
A trial train service took place in October 2011 between Rajin of the DPRK and Khassan of Russia.

At least 100,000 containers will be yearly carried along the line.

This section will serve as an international railway container transport line linking Northeast Asia with Europe.

KCNA also offered this video.

Yonhap also reported:

North Korea and Russia will start a cross-border cargo train service in October, Pyongyang’s state media reported Monday, in a move that could make a North Korean port a regional hub for Europe-bound shipments.

The announcement came more than three years after the two countries launched a project to rebuild two rail lines between Russia’s Far Eastern border town of Khasan and North Korea’s northeastern port city of Rajin.

The North designated Rason, which includes the Rajin port, as a special economic zone in 1991 and has since striven to develop it into a regional logistics hub close to both China and Russia.

In October, North Korea and Russia held a test run on the 54-kilometer-long railway line.

The proposed cargo service can handle 100,000 shipping containers each year, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said in a dispatch.

The renovation project, if completed, will offer a new route of container transportation between Northeast Asia and Europe, the dispatch said, and could significantly reduce shipping time and costs.

The freight service could also help boost relations between North Korea and Russia, including their economic cooperation, the dispatch said.

The trade volume between North Korea and Russia stood at US$110 million in 2010, the latest year for which statistics are available, according to South Korea’s state-run Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency.

Russia maintains friendly ties with North Korea, though its leader Dmitry Medvedev has strongly denounced North Korea’s rocket launch set for sometime between April 12 and 16.

Medvedev made the remarks during summit talks with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in Seoul last month on the sidelines of an international nuclear summit, according to Lee’s office.

Historical posts on this topic below:

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China releases document on trade restrictions with DPRK

September 24th, 2013

…although I cannot find a copy of it anywhere.  It is probably being sent around in PDF form and only available in Chinese.

According to the New York Times:

In a sign of growing concern about North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, China published a long list on Tuesday of equipment and chemical substances to be banned from export to North Korea for fear they could be used in adding to its increasingly sophisticated nuclear weapons programs.

If put into place, the export controls would be some of the strongest steps taken by China, the North’s closest ally, to try to limit the country’s nuclear programs. The announcement indicates that China is now following through on some United Nations Security Council sanctions it approved months ago, according to a noted American arms expert.

The list of banned items was released amid a flurry of reports suggesting that North Korea is accelerating its two nuclear weapons programs. Two weeks ago, new satellite photographs showed that North Korea might be resuming production of plutonium at its newly reconstructed nuclear reactor at Yongbyon. And this week, two American arms experts reported that North Korea appeared to have learned to produce its own crucial components for uranium enrichment.

The move also comes less than a week after China made an unsuccessful attempt to revive talks aimed at persuading the North to give up its nuclear capabilities. The United States continues to resist restarting the talks, which North Korea has used in the past to extract concessions without making long-term changes to its nuclear program.

“The release of the new export control list is a signal China is concerned about the speeding up of weaponization” of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities, said Zhu Feng, the deputy director of the Center for International and Strategic Studies at Beijing University, who called the move “very important.” In particular, he said, the Chinese are concerned about resumption of plutonium production at the Yongbyon complex, the centerpiece of North Korea’s nuclear program.

Another Chinese expert on North Korea, who declined to be identified because of his position in the government, said the publication of the list “says that China is increasingly unsatisfied with North Korea’s actions.”

“This is one of the practical actions to show it,” he said.

Both plutonium and highly enriched uranium can be used in nuclear bombs, but analysts say the North’s plutonium program is much further along. At least two of the three bombs the country has tested used plutonium.

China has long resisted punishing North Korea for its nuclear programs, but has appeared increasingly frustrated as the North’s young leader, Kim Jong-un, has appeared to ignore Chinese pleas for moderation. China agreed to the United Nations sanctions after the North conducted a nuclear test this year over Chinese objections.

The North responded to the sanctions with months of nuclear threats against South Korea and the United States, which, analysts say, ended only after China exerted strong pressure, apparently fearful of instability that could harm its economic progress.

David Albright, the American expert who said China was now implementing the United Nations sanctions passed in March, added that the Chinese ban “will help, since North Korea procures so much from China.” Mr. Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security, added that China could take additional measures to “dramatically increase the inspection of goods into North Korea by road and rail.”

China has moved before to stop the export of other technologies that could be used in nuclear programs, including missile technology, though it did not single out any countries when it did so.

The items on the list China released Tuesday were called “dual-use technologies” because they can be used for either civilian or military purposes, and they included items that could be used to build more chemical weapons and to make biological weapons.

Banned items include Ebola, a virus that can be used for medical research as well as a biological weapon; nickel powder; radium; flash X-ray generators; and microwave antennas designed to accelerate ions. China’s Commerce Ministry, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the General Administration of Customs, and the Atomic Energy Authority jointly published the list.

In a statement, the Ministry of Commerce said the items in the 236-page document were prohibited from being sent to North Korea because “the dual-use products and technologies delineated in this list have uses in weapons of mass destruction.”

Reuters also adds:

Released by the commerce ministry along with the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the China Atomic Energy Authority, the document describes items that could be used to build nuclear and chemical weapons, as well as technology that could build and fuel nuclear reactors.

Yonhap adds:

The ban took effect on Monday (September 23).

Read the full stories here:
China Bans Items for Export to North Korea, Fearing Their Use in Weapons
New York Times
Jane Perlez
2013-9-24

China releases list of goods banned from export to North Korea
Reuters
Megha Rajagopalan
2013-9-23

China issues long list of banned items for exports to N. Korea
Yonhap
2013-9-24

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