Archive for April, 2003

DPRK embassy opens in London

Wednesday, April 30th, 2003

From the BBC:

Foreign minister Choe Su-hon is attending the opening ceremony, and he will meet his British counterpart Bill Rammell, who will press for more information about the secretive nation’s nuclear programme.

The isolated Stalinist state’s interests will be represented from the house of its charge d’affaires, Ri Tae-gun, in Ealing, west London.

Britain initiated diplomatic relations with North Korea in December 2000, after five decades of mutual enmity after the Korean war.

A British embassy was opened in the communist state in July 2001, while three North Korean officials were accredited to an office in London.

The leafy suburb of Ealing is far from the opulence of Kensington and Mayfair where embassies are traditionally located.

But North Korean diplomats will benefit from easy access to Heathrow, extensive green spaces and good public transport links.

Officials are said to be looking for a permanent site in central London.

In line with the secretive atmosphere in North Korea, an official at the embassy refused to discuss Wednesday’s ceremony “for security reasons”.


DPRK joins Berne Convention on Intellectual Property

Monday, April 28th, 2003

Peoples’ Korea

The DPRK joined on April 28 the Berne Convention, a multinational treaty to protect copyright.

Pyongyang’s joining in the treaty enables the DPRK to prepare a legal foundation to internationally guarantee the publication and art and literary works of the DPRK.

Jang Chol Sun, director of the Publication Bureau of the DPRK, said that the treaty would help the DPRK protect its copyright and the DPRK would promote exchange with publishing circles in foreign countries.

The Berne Convention was concluded in 1886. The convention was the first multinational treaty in the world to protect literary property. WIPO (the World Intellectual Property Organization), a Geneva-based UN organization, is in charge of practical work concerning the convention including revision of the convention. 

Summed up below the director’s remarks in an interview by The People’s Korea.

It was at the end of November 2002 that the DPRK applied to the Berne Convention. The DPRK had already joined the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a consultative body of the Berne Convention, in 1974. The WIPO has 23 treaties, and the DPRK had so far joined six of them such as the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property and the Trademark Law Treaty (TLT). The DPRK joined the Berne Convention in consideration of the importance of copyright.

It had protected copyright by concluding bilateral treaties of science and cultural exchange with socialist countries until the Socialist bloc collapsed. Since the collapse of socialist countries in East Europe, the DPRK had worked hard to join the Berne Convention to protect literary property.

In the 4th session of the 10th Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK held in April 2001, the SPA approved the Copyright Law of the DPRK. A new regulation of the Copyright Law, adopted in March 2002, became a legal basis for domestic copyright protection.

It doesn’t mean that the DPRK has had no law to protect literary property. The Socialist Constitution of the DPRK stipulates that a copyright, right of invention and patent rights should be protected. The DPRK legislated for copyright protection of publication in its law of publication. It had developed these laws to a comprehensive copyright act and prepared a legal foundation for the protection of copyright.

It can be said that the DPRK’s participation in the Berne Convention will help protect the literary property of our country and create a favorable condition for protecting literary property of foreign countries.


DPRK acts against sars

Saturday, April 26th, 2003

from the BBC:

North Korea announces tough restrictions in a bid to prevent the spread of the deadly respiratory disease Sars.

It has introduced strict quarantine measures and suspended a shipping service to Japan as well as a joint tourism project with South Korea.

Public health officials have outlined some of the steps being taken on state TV.

Emergency anti-epidemic centres have been set up at national and local level and quarantine officers are implementing stringent checks at all points of entry into the country, said Choe Ung-chin, head of the State Hygiene Inspection Institute at the North Korean Public Health Ministry.

Travellers bear cost


North Korea’s proximity to China, where the outbreak was first recorded, is the cause of particular concern.

“Most North Koreans who make business trips abroad and foreigners who enter our country do so via China,” Han Kyong-ho, another senior health official, explained.

“When the international train that runs from Sinuiju [border station] to Pyongyang enters the station, all travellers are thoroughly checked to see if they have Sars symptoms such as fever and dry coughs.

“Furthermore, all travellers coming into the DPRK from the places of origin of Sars are strictly isolated for 10 days.”

Mr Han said that Sars germs could be present in travellers’ luggage or in insects such as cockroaches.

“Therefore, every one of the travellers’ possessions is thoroughly sterilised, and medical inspections of all workers at the station who have had contact with people who have travelled abroad are being carried out in detail,” he said.

At Pyongyang international airport, incoming travellers who display any Sars symptoms are hospitalised while those who do not are quarantined for 10 days at specially designated hotels.

Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency reports that the cost of such unforeseen stopovers – 100 euros a night exclusive of meals – will be borne by foreign travellers themselves.

Services suspended


North Korea has also suspended the Man Gyong Bong-92 shipping service to Niigata Port.

Japan’s Kyodo news agency said the ship was slated to make three port calls to Japan in May, but two have already been cancelled.

The North Korean Government is also reported to have sent emails to thousands of pro-Pyongyang ethnic Koreans in Japan urging them not to visit their homeland for the time being.

And South Korea’s Hyundai Asan Corp was “stunned” to learn that North Korea had suspended a joint North-South tourism project it operates over Sars fears, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reports.

The South Korean firm has run loss-making cruises for tourists to the North’s scenic Mount Kumgang since 1998 in a symbolic project to promote inter-Korean reconciliation.

The suspension of the tours heightens the possibility that all of Hyundai’s inter-Korean projects may come to a “screeching halt”, at a time when the company has been campaigning hard to revitalize the business, the agency adds.


Australian drug trial for N Koreans

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2003

from the BBC:

About 30 North Koreans are facing trial for heroin smuggling, after their ship was chased and raided by the Australian authorities at the weekend.
Twenty-six of the group were ordered to stand trial in Melbourne, Victoria, when they appeared at a pre-trial hearing in Sydney on Tuesday.

At least three others will by tried in a Sydney hospital, where they are being treated for an unspecified condition.

Police escorting the suspects wore masks and rubber gloves, apparently because of fears they could be carrying the deadly Sars virus.

The North Koreans’ ship, the Tuvalu-registered Pong Su, is described by police as part of an international drugs ring. The defendants are suspected of smuggling heroin worth up to A$80m ($48m).

One of the men appearing in Sydney magistrates’ court on Tuesday repeatedly protested the sailors’ innocence.

But the defendants were told it was the wrong forum to enter a plea, and that they should appear in court in Melbourne by Thursday in the state where the drug haul was made.

Four other men – two from Malaysia, a Singaporean and a Chinese – are charged with smuggling about 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of heroin which police said had come from the Pong Su, the Associated Press reported.

High Seas chase

Another suspected smuggler died trying to get the drugs ashore. His body washed up on the south Australian coast near the town of Lorne.

Federal police on Monday continued to search for evidence on board the Pong Su, which is now moored in Sydney Harbour.

The 4,000-ton freighter was seized on Sunday after a four-day chase by Australian naval vessels on stormy seas.

The boat was raided by abseiling elite SAS troops.


Economic ills shape crisis

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2003

From the BBC:

North Korea’s economy has been in the doldrums for more than a decade. Perhaps as many as a million people perished in a famine during the 1990s, and the food situation inside the country remains precarious today.

There are two hypotheses about why a country facing such problems has pursued nuclear weapons.

1. Its nuclear programme is merely a bargaining chip to be traded away to extract political and economic concessions from the US – a kind of atomic “trick or treat”.

2.  The North Koreans regard nuclear weapons as an end in themselves – a military deterrent and the ultimate guarantor of the regime’s survival.

North Korea’s foreign ministry said as much on 18 April when it declared, “The Iraqi war teaches a lesson that in order to prevent war and defend the security of a country and the sovereignty of a nation, it is necessary to have a powerful deterrent force only.”

Yet even from this perspective, there is an intriguing economic angle.

If a nuclear North Korea were to foreswear aggression toward South Korea, then its huge conventional forces would be redundant.

Its million-man army, an albatross around the economy’s neck, could be demobilised.

In fact, before the nuclear crisis erupted last October, North Korea floated trial balloons regarding the possibility of such a demobilisation.

But if the North’s army is to be demobilised, those troops have to have jobs to go to.

Last July, the government announced a package of policy changes designed to revitalise the economy.

These included marketisation, the promotion of special economic zones, and a diplomatic opening toward Japan, which the North hoped would pay billions of dollars in post-colonial claims and aid.

However, the rapprochement with Tokyo has stalled, and the expected capital infusion has not materialised.

The consensus of outside observers is that, so far, the reforms have largely failed to deliver.

Indeed, some of the policy changes, such as the creation of massive inflation and the demand that North Koreans surrender their holdings of dollars, could be interpreted as an attempt to re-assert state influence rather than reform the system.

Last month, Pyongyang introduced a new financial instrument it called a bond, though it is more like a lottery ticket. A mass campaign encouraging citizens to purchase these bonds suggests that politics, not personal finance, is the main selling point.

To make matters worse, the oil flow through a pipeline from China on which North Korea depends was interrupted earlier this month for several days.

The official explanation was that mechanical failure, not diplomatic arm-twisting, was the cause.

In sum, the economic situation remains dire.

However, both China and South Korea have indicated that while they want to see a negotiated resolution [to the nuclear issue], they are unwilling to embargo North Korea in the way the US envisions.

This reluctance to sanction Pyongyang undercuts the credibility of the US threat to isolate North Korea.

The Bush administration’s own rhetoric also calls into question its willingness to promote North Korea’s constructive integration into the global community.  

Marcus Noland is a senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics, and author of Avoiding the Apocalypse: The Future of the Two Koreas.


N.K. drug company urges aid donors to `buy local`

Wednesday, April 16th, 2003

Korea Herald
Chris Gelkin

“It’s not just about making money, at least not from our perspective as a producer,” declared Felix Abt, president of the Pyongyang-based pharmaceutical company PyongSu Pharma. “The profit margins are very small. It is more about supplying a necessary and quality product at a price people can afford.”

Abt was in Seoul earlier this week meeting with South Korean pharmaceutical companies and aid organizations. On the table was a unique opportunity that would allow them to expand their existing humanitarian work, while at the same time helping to lay a solid foundation for the future of the pharmaceutical sector in North Korea.

“One of the main purposes of my visit here is to meet with the people who donate drugs and medicines to North Korea, or their agents who are based here,” Abt told The Korea Herald. The “frontier-businessman” believes substantial savings could be realized if the donor had the drugs produced locally, in North Korea, rather than purchasing them here in the South or overseas and then having them shipped in.

“We have lower production costs in the North, and of course there would be savings on transportation. All of these cost savings would translate into more money being made available for the actual provision of drugs. And after all, that is the whole point of the exercise, isn`t it?” Abt said, posing a very pertinent question.

For each donated dollar, for each dollar spent, he explained, more medicines would actually reach the people who need them.

“So that, from a humanitarian position at the very least, is a very compelling reason for them to buy from us or have us produce them and then organize the distribution.”

PyongSu has been gaining experience through contract manufacturing for charity organizations, donors and pharmaceutical companies, but Abt says there is plenty of scope to do more.

“We have a total staff of about 30 running one full shift,” Abt said, “and obviously we have capacity to expand that.”

Abt said in addition to helping even more North Korean patients in hospitals and clinics throughout the country, aid organizations could also help raise the quality standards of the local pharmaceutical industry.

“Just shipping aid here is all well and good,” Abt explained, “but it has the danger of creating a culture of dependency. So rather than, for example, just giving them fish, we should give them a fishing rod and teach them how to fish.”

By expanding local production in terms of quantity and variety, Abt said, donors would be helping the people to learn how to stand on their own feet.

“This should be particularly interesting for pharmaceutical companies based here in the South,” he said, “it is absolutely in their long-term interests to see a pharmaceutical sector in the North that is developed and meets international standards which could later become a strong and important partner for South Korean companies.”

PyongSu recently underwent an international inspection and has been approved as a producer that meets the highest standards of pharmaceutical producers worldwide.

The company was launched in the summer of 2004 in a joint venture between the Ministry of Public Health and a group of foreign investors. By the end of 2006, PyongSu was producing a range of medications including painkillers and antibiotics among others.

The company`s mission was to reach and maintain production quality and service standards comparable to any pharmaceutical producer elsewhere in the world.

“We are making a direct contribution to the improvement of the local pharmaceutical sector,” Abt said, “through training, education, and our sharing of knowledge with medical professionals and staff at all levels throughout the DPRK.”

PyongSu pharmacists meet regularly with staff from hospitals and clinics to fully understand their needs, and provide them with up to date information on the latest drugs.

Abt said PyongSu has its finger on the pulse of the medical sector in the DPRK, and is in a unique position to serve humanitarian and aid organizations by producing drugs on their behalf and distributing them, “to those who are in need of them.”