Archive for December, 2004

Kaesong regulatory environment set

Saturday, December 11th, 2004

From Chongryun:

On December 11, 2004, the DPRK finalized management, entry and residency regulations, and customs regulations for the Kaesong Industrial Zone.

Set up under a de facto constitution, the “Kaesong Industrial Zone Management Institution” consist of 21 articles.

The Management Institution is a corporation in charge of administrating the region.  People who have experience in these kinds of managemnt fields can work for the Institution, but employees of firm that operate in the zone are no allowed to serve.

The Institution will make annual plans for the development of the zone on its own and carry out the plans and will discuss with the central leading organ of the zone in case an important problem arises in the course of its work.

Entry and residence articles: 30

The regulations apply to South Koreans, overseas Koreans and foreigners who come to the zone from the South or do so by transportation means using the same route. According to the regulations, persons can enter the zone by showing their passports or certificates issued by the management institution.

They can stay in the zone for a long or short term. A short term stay is within 90 days and a long term stay is over 91 days. The extension of their stay is permitted if they applied for it at the immigration office of the industrial zone. Excluded from extended stay are those who are expected to leave the zone within 7 days from their arrival, as well as members of international organizations and foreign missions in South Korea, tourists and those who are not required to register themselves for their stay.

The regulations also clarify the issue of certificates related to entry into the zone, procedures for issuing the certificates of stay and residence registration cards and the extension of their term of validity, orders of deportation from zone, etc.


According to the regulations, goods, postal matter and persons engaged in transport service who stay in the zone for a certain length of time, can pass through the customs clearance house.

The goods that are sent by organizations and enterprises in the DPRK to the zone are exempt from customs procedures. But customs should be imposed on the goods from other countries which are to be sold in the DPRK as they are, without being processed.

Also clarified in the regulations are the rules of customs registration, the rules of customs exemption and payment, presentation of applications for permits to carry goods into and out from the zone, declaration of postal matter and personal belongings, customs inspection and supervisory institutions, the inspection method of goods to be carried into or carried out from the zone, standard customs rates and calculation methods, etc.

The goods prohibited to be carried into the zone include weapons, bullets, explosives and other materials for military use, narcotics, radioactive material, toxic chemical agents, printed matter that may adversely affect public order and good manners and customs of the nation and listed goods coming from contagious disease-afflicted areas.

Those goods banned to be taken out from the zone include weapons, bullets, explosives, materials for military use, lethal weapons, wireless apparatuses and their accessories, poisonous substances, powerful medicines, narcotics, radioactive material, toxic chemical agents, historical relics, secret documents, printed matter (copies included) and their manuscripts, films, photos, cassettes and video tapes, records, compact disks and other goods which are banned from being carried out under related agreement.


N Korea envoys ‘smuggled drugs’

Thursday, December 9th, 2004


Turkey has deported two North Korean diplomats accused of smuggling drugs, Turkish officials say.

They said the two men – named as Ryang Thae Won and Kim Son Jin – were caught in a police raid in Istanbul on Sunday.

They are alleged to have been in possession of large quantities of Captagon – a synthetic amphetamine-type stimulant.

The diplomats – who have immunity – were taken by car to Bulgaria, where they are based, on Tuesday.

“They were declared persona non grata in line with related international agreements,” a Turkish diplomat told AFP news agency.

Turkish officials say the diplomats brought the pills from Bulgaria and delivered them to two Turks, who were arrested in the Istanbul raid.

The government in Ankara recognises North Korea but Pyongyang does not have its embassy in Turkey.

The embassy in Bulgaria usually deals with North Korean affairs in Turkey.

North Korean officials have not commented on the incident.


Welcome to capitalism, North Korean comrades

Saturday, December 4th, 2004

Asia Times
Andrei Lankov

A creeping revolution, both social and economic, is under way in North Korea and it seems there’s no turning back. For decades, the country served as the closest possible approximation of an ideal Stalinist state. But the changes in its economy that have taken place after 1990 have transformed the country completely and, perhaps, irreversibly.

For decades, Pyongyang propaganda presented North Korea as an embodiment of economic self-sufficiency, completely independent from any other country. This image sold well, especially in the more credulous part of the Third World and among the ever-credulous leftist academics. The secret of its supposed self-sufficiency was simple: the country received large amounts of direct and indirect aid from the Soviet Union and China, but never admitted this in public. Though frequently annoyed by such “ingratitude”, neither Moscow nor Beijing made much noise since both communist giants wanted to maintain, at least superficially, friendly relations with their small, capricious ally.

But collapse of the Soviet Union made clear that claims of self-sufficiency were unfounded. From 1991, the North Korean economy went into free fall. Throughout 1991-99, the gross national product (GNP) of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) nearly halved. The situation became unbearable in 1996, when the country was struck by a famine that took, by the best available estimates, about 600,000 lives. The famine could have been prevented by a Chinese-style agricultural reform, but this option was politically impossible: such a reform would undermine the government’s ability to control the populace.

The control on daily lives was lost anyway. What we have seen in North Korea over the past 10 years can be best described as collapse of what used to be rigid Stalinism from below. In the Soviet Union of the late 1950s and in China of the late 1970s, Stalinism-Maoism was dismantled from above, through a chain of deliberate reforms planned and implemented by the government. In North Korea the same thing happened, but the system disintegrated from below, despite weak and ineffectual attempts to keep it intact.

In the 1960s, North Korea was unique in being the only nation in the world where markets were outlawed. The retail trade in a strict sense almost ceased to exist since virtually everything, from socks to apples, was distributed through an elaborate public distribution system with money payments being rather symbolic. The rations depended on a person’s position in the intricate social hierarchy, which eventually became semi-hereditary. In Kim Il-sung’s North Korea, there was almost nothing that could be sold on market since production outside the state economy was almost non-existent.

Unlike governments of other communist countries, until the late 1980s the North Korean government did not even allow its farmers to cultivate kitchen gardens – the individual plot was limited to merely 20-30 square meters, hardly enough to grow enough chili pepper. This was done on purpose. In many other communist countries, farmers had bigger plots and made their living from them, ignoring their work obligations to the state-run cooperative farms. Without their own plots, farmers would work more for the state – or so believed the North Korean government. In the utopia constructed by Kim Il-sung, every single man or woman was supposed to work for the state, and was rewarded for his and her efforts with officially approved rations and salaries.

In 1969, Kim himself admitted that the anti-market policy had been a failure. Thus private markets were gradually legalized, but remained small and strictly controlled. However, as late as late 1980s, markets were still considered inappropriate for a “socialist paradise”. They were something to be ashamed of, so they were pushed to the margins of the city. Until the early 1990s, most markets were in places more or less hidden from view, inside residential blocks and behind high concrete walls. In Pyongyang, the main city market was set up under a huge viaduct at the easternmost part of the North Korean capital, as far from the city center as possible.

However, the economic disaster of 1991-95, and especially the subsequent famine, changed the situation. Markets began to spread across the country with amazing speed. From 1995-97, nearly all plants and factories ceased to operate. The rations were not issued anymore: in most areas people still received ration coupons but these could not be exchanged for food or other rationed goods. Only in Pyongyang and some other politically important areas did food continue to be distributed. But even there, the norms were dramatically watered down. In such a situation, the ability and willingness to engage in some private business became the major guarantee of physical survival.

The government also relaxed the restrictions on domestic travel. Since around 1960, every North Korean who ventured outside his native county was required to have a special “travel permit” (an exception was made for one-day travel to neighboring counties). However, in the mid-1990s, the authorities began to turn a blind eye to unauthorized travel. It is not clear whether it was a deliberate relaxation or just inability to enforce regulations when the state bureaucracy was demoralized. After all, a bribe of some US$5 would buy such a permit from a police officer.

The tidal wave of small trade flooded the country, which once came very close to creating a non-money-based economy. People left their native places in huge numbers. Many sought places where food was more available while others enthusiastically took up the barter trade, including smuggling of goods to and from China. Women were especially prominent in the new small businesses. Many North Korean women were housewives or held less-demanding jobs than men. Their husbands continued to go to their factories, which had come to a standstill. The males received rationing coupons that were hardly worth the paper on which they were printed. But North Korean men still saw the situation as temporary and were afraid to lose the trappings of a proper state-sponsored job that for decades had been a condition for survival in their society. While men were waiting for resumption of “normal life”, whiling away their time in idle plants, the women embarked on frenetic business activity. Soon some of these women began to make sums that far exceeded their husbands’ wages.

The booming markets are not the only place for retail trade. A new service industry has risen from the ashes: private canteens, food stalls and inns operate near the markets. Even prostitution, completely eradicated around 1950, made a powerful comeback as desperate women were eager to sell sexual services to the newly rich merchants. Since no banking institution would serve private commercial operations, illegal money lenders appeared. In the late 1990s they would charge their borrowers monthly interests of 30-40%. This reflected very high risks: these lenders had virtually no protection against the state, criminals and, above all, bad debtors.

In North Korea, which for decades was so different, this meant a revolution. The new situation undermined the government’s ability to control the populace. People involved in the new market activities are independent from (or inured to) subtle government pressures that had ensured compliance for decades. One cannot promote or demote a vendor, transfer him or her to a better or worse job, nor determine his or her type of residence (though admittedly, most people still live in the houses they received when the old system was still operating).

The growth of new markets also undermined some pillars of old North Korean hierarchy. Of course, many people who became affluent in the new system came from the old hierarchy – as was the case in most post-communist countries. Officials or managers of state-run enterprises found manifold ways to make an extra won. These managers often sold their factories’ products on the market. But many hitherto discriminated-against groups managed to rise to prominence during this decade. The access to foreign currency was very important, and in North Korea there were three major groups who had access to some investment capital: the Japanese-Koreans, Chinese-Koreans and Korean-Chinese.

The Japanese-Koreans moved into the country in the 1960s (there were some 95,000 of them – with family members, children and grandchildren, their current number can be estimated at 200,000-250,000). These people have relatives in Japan who are willing to send them money. Traditionally, the authorities looked at Japanese-Koreans with suspicion. At the same time, since money transfers from Japan have been a major source of hard currency for Pyongyang, their activities were often tolerated. This particular group even enjoyed some special rights, being privileged and discriminated against at the same time. When the old system of state control and distribution collapsed, Japanese-Koreans began to invest their money into a multitude of trade adventures. It did not hurt that many of them still had the first-hand experience of living in a capitalist society.

Another group were people with relatives in China. The economic growth of China meant that the relatives could also help their poor relatives in North Korea. In most cases, this was not in the form of money transfers, but assistance in business and trade. The local ethnic Chinese were in an even better position to exploit the new opportunities. For decades, they have constituted the only group of the country’s inhabitants who could travel overseas as private citizens more or less at their will. Even in earlier times, the ethnic Chinese used this unique position to earn extra money by small-scale and part-time smuggling. In the 1990s, they switched to large operations. There is an irony in the sudden economic advance of these groups. For decades, their overseas connections have made them suspect and led to systematic discrimination against them. In the 1990s, however, the same connections became the source of their prosperity.

Until recently, the government did not try to lead, but simply followed the events. The much-trumpeted reforms of 2002 by and large were hardly anything more than the admission of the situation that had been existing for a few years by then. The official abolition (or near-abolition) of the public distribution system did not count for much, since this system ceased to operate outside Pyongyang around 1995.

But the North Korean economy has indeed come a long way from its Stalinist ways. Now the government has neither money nor support nor the political will to revive the Stalinist-style central economy. There is no way back, only forward. Stalinism is dead. Welcome to capitalism, comrades!


DPRK health care data quality audit

Wednesday, December 1st, 2004

The GAVI Alliance (formerly known as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation) is a public-private partnership focused on increasing children’s access to vaccines in poor countries. Partners include the GAVI Fund, national governments, UNICEF, WHO, The World Bank, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the vaccine industry, public health institutions and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The GAVI Fund provides resources for the Alliance programs. The Alliance provides a forum for partners to agree upon mutual goals, share strategies, and coordinate efforts.

In 2004, The GAVI Alliance commissioned a data quality audit of the North Korean immunisation system to facilitate future collaboration.  The audit was designed to assist countries receiving support to improve their information systems, and aid with accuracy in reporting.

The report is saved to this website here:DQA_2004_KoreaDPR.pdf
On the web, it is located here.

The results of the audit are not surprising given the centrally-planned nature of the North Korean health bureaucracies combined with their penchant for secrecy.  I recommend reading the full report to get an idea of how efficient of how socialist institutions are with data, but here are some points I considered interesting:

-District immunization information is not passed on to the national level, but combined at the county level.

-Out of 206 counties, 168 were audited.  The rest were excluded for “security reasons”.

-The Ministry of population and Health contains a National Hygeing Control Committee, which controls the National Hygeine and Anti-Epidemic Institute which is responsible for the Expanded Programme on Immunization.  This program was supported by UNICEF and the WHO.

-Officially, immunizations are offered in all 206 counties to children under one year old.  Records are suposed to be made on an individual’s Child Health Card, and in the doctor’s own ledgers.  These health cards are stored at local health facilities and are supposed to move with the child.  Immunizations are distributed by the national government and are carried out one day per month.

-Outside of the national level, where one computer was used to for entering data, no computers were seen (all done by hand).

-In cases of county data, many errors were detected in the addition of monthly subtotals which could not be explained by the district staff.  The auditors concluded that the district used the 2003 figures rather than admit to missing 2002 data to meet the criteria of the audit.

-County managers do not take the previous year’s achievements into account in order to set realistic targets for the next year.

-Supervision of immunization activities was weak.  Only two counties could provide a written schedule of supervision.

-One health unit destroyed its records.