Archive for January, 2006

North Korean Grain production up 5.3% in 2005

Wednesday, January 25th, 2006

According to Financial Express:

North Korea’s grain production rose 5.3 per cent to 4.54 million tonnes in 2005, helped by better harvests and fertilizer shipments from South Korea, South Korean data showed today.

The 2005 harvest was still far short of the impoverished country’s annual demand, estimated at six million tonnes, South Korea’s unification ministry said in a report. North Korea received 500,000 tonnes of rice from South Korea last year, together with humanitarian food aid from the World Food Programme (WFP) and other international agencies.

UN’s food aid to North Korea, however, ended on December 31 after Pyongyang said it no longer needed emergency shipments from international agencies.  Instead, Pyongyang called for long-term development assistance to end its chronic food shortages. But some experts regard the shift to development-oriented assistance as a tactic to dodge the WFP’s request for transparency in food distribution. 


Private business in Hamheung province

Tuesday, January 24th, 2006

According to the Daily NK:

Recent testimonies came out stating that 90% of the families in Hamheung City of South Hamkyung province maintain their living by running private businesses and due to the given reality, distribution of phones has been rapidly on the rise.  It is a well known fact that the North Korean factories in work are still below 20% and it is the women who are the main breadwinners of the North Korean homes. This is the first time the testimony came out saying that 90% of women in Hamheung City run businesses.  Lee said that although she does not sell at a stall in a jangmadang, she does have a business of providing necessary items to a number of regulars. She started this medication business in 1995, when her relatives(Korean-Chinese) living in China helped her by providing 500,000 Won ($250).

Lee said that instead of going to the workplace, she pays 10,000 won ($5). Because she is not working, they do not give her food tickets, but they stamp her attendance card. If she neither works nor pays, she has to go to a labor detention facility (Nodong Danryeondae).

“Although state enterprises say they will give 10,000 won ($5) to the workers, after taking out fees for the People’s Army, savings, and other fees to the state, the money you end up with is only about 2,000 Won ($1). With this, you cannot live. This is why I started my own business,” said Lee.

Kim Jin Chul (male, age 26) from Shinuiju testified, “Most of the families I know of in my town, Dongsang-dong, Shiuiju, have their own businesses. They mostly sell manufactured goods such as shoes, hats, glasses, gloves and food such as candies, ramyun, and liquor.”

“More than 90% of the Dongsang-dong residents live by running their own businesses. They buy goods by making profits by exchanging foreign currency to the trade companies in China, and they sell them in jangmadang,” said Kim.


Welcome to!

Monday, January 23rd, 2006

Welcome to the future home of, the first blog that will be dedicated exclusively to analyzing the North Korean economy.  This sight has just been established and I am currently adding material and learning some basic web programming before the official launch.

If you have any suggestions or questions, please send email to: “[email protected]” (and remove the “1”).

Thanks to Will Wilkinson for providing invaluable assistance in getting this project launched.


Thank you for your donation!

Monday, January 23rd, 2006

This web page was launched in January 2006 and since then it has been supported entirely by myself and some tech-savvy friends who have been generous enough to help with programming, organization, and technical issues.

Your donation is much appreciated by all who have made a vibrant and comprehensive source for information on the DPRK!




Private hotels and travel permits for sale?

Sunday, January 22nd, 2006

By Kwon Jeong Hyun, Dandong of China
From the Daily NK:

An anonymous Chinese who resides in Pakchun-gun or North Pyongan province said, “state still maintains the hotel business, but there is an increase private hotels with best facilities. The hotels are mainly for the Chinese customers and the cost is about 5000Won($2.5) a night.”

“The state run hotels does not have good heating systems and lacking management, customers rarely go there. There is also an increase of house lodging business,” he said and further described how those who do private house lodging business come out at night to call customers into their houses. The cost of lodging is 100Won($0.05) a night.

Travel Permits: They used to be free, but limited.  Now for sale.
1.  Pyongyang travel permit seems fixed at 10,000W ($5)
2.  Province to Province travel varies based on destination: Jagang Province 7,000W($3.5), Chongjin 8,000W, and Pyongsung 6,000W
3.  within a province, price is less.



US accuses DPRK of more illicit activities

Friday, January 20th, 2006

According to Yonhap: 

“An investigation by the Bush administration has found that North Korea’s government officially sanctions criminal products such as counterfeit American currency, narcotics and counterfeit cigarette brands,” the report said.

“The administration is divided over how to use this information, whether to pressure North Korean leaders to give up nuclear weapons, or give up power,” it said.

Years of U.S. investigations, involving 14 federal agencies, have found that the illicit activities are now generating more than half a billion U.S. dollars for Pyongyang, according to NPR.

North Korea is counterfeiting not only the greenback but also the Japanese yen, and well as producing heroin, methamphetamines, fake pharmaceuticals such as Viagra and Marlboro and other cigarettes brands, the report said.

The regime was even counterfeiting tax stamps attached to American cigarette packs.

“You name it, they are pretty much in it,” David Asher, former State Department official who was deeply involved in the North Korean investigations, told NPR.

Mitchell Reiss, who led the probe during his two years at the State Department policy planning office under the first Bush administration, said the scale and scope of North Korea’s illicit activities “surprised” him.


Kim Jong il taking in Chinese economy

Friday, January 20th, 2006

Speculation was rampant this week on the whereabouts of Kim jong il.  No one knew for sure really…First he was Beijing via his special train, then he was in Russia, others claimed it was Shanghai by air.  It turns out he was in southern China (by train). As usual, the “unofficial” trip, from January 10-18, and itinerary were made public just as Kim was to return home.(source)

According to the Washintgon Post:
Hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes police swarmed in and around the opulent White Swan Hotel in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province, putting up roadblocks leading to the hotel. In the early evening, two of the city’s most luxurious sightseeing ferries — “The Pearl of the Flower City” and “The Information Times,” named after a local paper — cruised slowly down the Pearl River, with Kim rumored to be aboard. Police cars lined roads on both sides of the river.

Where did he visit?
A Guangzhou branch of Sun Yat Sen Univeristy (source)
Yantian container port (source) (Guangzhou)
Wuhan and Yichang, Hubei province (source)
Beijing (source)
Three Gorges Dam (source)
High-tech factories and agricultural research institute (source)
Yantian Port (source)

What was the purpose? 
The visit has prompted speculation that China is advocating market reforms for Pyongyang and could also urge it to rejoin stalled nuclear negotiations. 

Mr Kim’s visit to the cradle of the Chinese boom could be a careful hint to the outside world that he is following Beijing’s lead, says the BBC’s Louisa Lim in Beijing. (source)

“There is a debate in North Korea as there was in China at one time about how far and how fast they should go,” said Chung Jae Ho, an international relations expert at Seoul National University. “But I think this is a signal that this is the right time for a new opening.”(source)

He said one possibility widely discussed among experts was that North Korea would try to create a capitalist-oriented trading zone on its western coast, near China, modeled at least loosely on Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong.(source)

Kim also held meetings with President Hu Jintao and all other eight members of the governing Politburo Standing Committee as well as tours of two Chinese provinces.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill, made an unscheduled trip to Beijing and met with his North Korean counterpart, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan, in a session hosted by the Chinese, diplomats said. (source)

Kim Quote:
“The progress made in the southern part of China, which has undergone a rapid change, and the stirring reality of China deeply impressed us”


DPRK “Soprano” State accusation

Wednesday, January 18th, 2006

North Korea, the ‘Sopranos’ state
Asia Times

By Todd Crowell

When US Ambassador to South Korea Alexander Vershbow recently called North Korea a “criminal regime”, he was not speaking metaphorically. He was not talking about the North’s abysmal human-rights record, illegal missile sales or efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.

No, he was talking about crime – as in counterfeiting US banknotes and cigarette packages, money-laundering and drug-trafficking. These issues have suddenly risen to the forefront of Washington’s agenda and become a major stumbling block in the renewal of the six-party nuclear-disarmament talks.

In September, Washington named Macau’s second-largest bank, Banco Delta Asia, as being “a willing pawn for the North Korean government to engage in corrupt financial activities through Macau”. It said senior bank officials were working with Pyongyang “to accept large deposits of cash, including counterfeit US currency, and agreeing to place that currency into circulation”.

In mid-December, the US Treasury Department issued a formal advisory concerning North Korea’s illegal activities and cautioned US financial institutions to take “reasonable steps to guard against the abuses of their financial services by North Korea, which may be seeking to establish new or to exploit existing account relationships”.

It was reported this month that a delegation of agents from the US Secret Service, which is responsible for counter-counterfeiting as well as protecting the life of the president, will travel to Seoul to meet with South Korean authorities over counterfeiting. Visits of this nature are not usually broadcast in such a public fashion.

Meanwhile, Pyongyang says it won’t return to the six-party talks unless the US lifts restrictions against its financial institutions, including those directed at eight state-owned trading companies that Washington cited in October as being involved in weapons trafficking, especially banned missile technology.

Rumors of North Korean counterfeiting and drug-trafficking have been circulating in Asia for years. Anyone who lived in Hong Kong for many years has heard them from time to time. North Korean companies have a long history of operating in the former Portuguese enclave of Macau, which for decades served the regime as a key window to the outside world.

The Zokwang Trading Co was considered Pyongyang’s de facto consulate in Macau, and the relationship between Zokwang and Banco Delta Asia is no secret. As far back as 1994 the bank found thousands of bogus US$100 bills allegedly deposited by a North Korean employee. The director of the Zokwang Trading Co was held and questioned, but no charges were pressed.

There have been several more recent instances of alleged North Korean counterfeiting.

Last April, the Japanese media reported that a hundred or so fake $100 bills were found among a stack of used currency aboard a North Korean freighter that called at a Japanese port in Tottori prefecture. The captain was reported telling police, “We were asked to bring the money to Japan so that the money could be paid for cars and other items.”

Also in April, a large stash of bogus notes was uncovered in South Korea. The Chosun Ilbo, which reported the story, did not say where or under what circumstances the money was found, though it went into great detail over the quality of the notes and quoted experts as saying it was “highly likely” they came from North Korea.

In August, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported two “sting” operations in the US, colorfully described as Operation Royal Charm and Operation Smoking Dragon. The US government indicted 59 people on charges related to smuggling counterfeit US currency, drugs and cigarettes into the country. The announcement did not specify their origin, but other accounts have speculated that they came from North Korea.

David Asher, head of the US administration’s North Korea Working Group, published a lengthy essay in mid-November in which he described what he called “an extensive criminal network involving North Korean diplomats and officials, Chinese gangsters and other organized crime syndicates, prominent Asian banks, Irish guerrillas and a KGB agent”.

“North Korea is the only government in the world today that can be identified as being actively involved in directing crime as a central part of its national economic strategy and foreign policy … in essence North Korea has become the Sopranos state – a government guided by [Korean] Workers Party leaders, whose actions attitudes and affiliations increasingly resemble those of an organized-crime family more than a normal nation.” The Sopranos is a popular US television series about an organized-crime family.

But why is Washington suddenly pushing decades-old suspicions at this particular time? In September, Christopher Hill, the senior US negotiator at the six-party talks, announced a breakthrough in the negotiations. North Korea had agreed in principle to disarm in exchange for recognition and aid. That same month the Treasury Department issued a warning against dealings with the Macau bank.

In October came the sanctions against the eight North Korean trading companies. Also in October, Vershbow arrived in South Korea, and the new US ambassador quickly developed a reputation for making provocative statements. In November, the six-party talks quickly foundered on Pyongyang’s demands to lift sanctions.

No doubt American officials would solemnly swear they are motivated by a desire to protect the integrity of the US currency and nothing else. But even if the allegations are substantially true, which probably is the case, isn’t this really penny-ante stuff set against the much larger issue of North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program?

None of the other participants in the six-party talks has expressed any public concern about Pyongyang’s crimes. That includes Japan, which not only is supposedly the target of counterfeit money but also is on the receiving end of drugs manufactured in North Korea. (Japanese estimate that nearly half of the country’s illegal drug imports originate from there.) Yet it has said nothing.

Last week, the Chinese Foreign Ministry was forced to deny a report printed in the South Korean media that its government had found evidence of North Korean money-laundering in Macau. “China has never indicated that the government had confirmed North Koreans using Macau for money-laundering,” the ministry statement said.

Vershbow has likened North Korea to Nazi Germany as being only the second state-sponsored counterfeiter. He was referring to an operation whereby concentration-camp inmates forged millions of US dollars and British pounds to disperse in England in an effort to ignite inflation there and harm their enemies’ economies.

Yet the highest figure I have seen for the North Korean counterfeiting is the $45 million (over a decade) reported in the Washington Times, which is nothing set against the vast sums of dollars sloshing around Asia. Indeed, I’ve never heard even a whisper that North Korean counterfeits were affecting world currency markets or the value of the dollar in the slightest way.

It’s hard not to believe that the US administration is again listening to more hardline elements after a brief ascendancy of the “realists” in the State Department. Their purpose is to neutralize the talks (how does a nation negotiate with a criminal gang, after all?) and shift the issue away from nuclear disarmament back to the nature of the regime – with the ultimate objective of toppling that regime.

Todd Crowell comments on Asian affairs.


what is stopping DPRK reform?

Wednesday, January 18th, 2006

According to Han Young Jin, Reporter, Defector from Pyongyang
in the Daily NK:

Interview 1:
Kang Min Jun (pseudonym, age 65), a former executive of “Keumgang Jewelry Processing Co.”, a North Korea-China state cooperative factory asserted that Kim Jong Il’s visit to China is a mere gesture.

“I participated in the National Economic Sector Officials Seminar held in Pyongyang, and it was before the 2002 7.1 Economic Measure was announced. The central party officials who came to educate us said, “Reformation and liberalization does not fit into our revolution reality so do not expect it to happen.” Unless the North Korean regimes changes, reformation and liberalization will remain as a dream,” Kang said.

“After his 2001 visit to China, Kim Jong Il praised China’s changes calling it, “heaven and earth reversed” and called on three hundred professors and experts from Pyongyang People’s Economy University and Wonsan Economics University and made them visit China and study economics. They came back and during their discussion for reformation, their study was abandoned due to the four principles the Party insisted never to be violated.”

The four principles Kang presented are as the following.
1.  Planned economy must never be abandoned.
2.  Private ownership by the people cannot be permitted.
3.  Liberalization of individual economy must not be allowed.
4.  The Public Distribution System (food distribution system) must not be abandoned.

Interview 2:
“Whenever he is in trouble, Kim Jong Il makes an event. Right now, Kim Jong Il is in a deep trouble. Nuclear issue, counterfeit issue, Banco Delta Asia fund freeze, human rights issue, food issue and all the problems are now come together. The only way to solve these problems is siding with China. If North Korea is determined to reform, it could be have just made foreign investment attraction policy instead of making a trip all the way to China.”



Wednesday, January 18th, 2006

This web page is intended as a research resource for those who are gathering and publishing information on North Korea.  The editor of this site does not personally comment on many of the topics, unless the subject is something with which he has some first-hand experience. 

This site focuses on the North Korean economy (broadly defined), and does not dwell on foreign policy, human rights, military affairs, or defections.  These topics are thoroughly covered in other forums.  In a centrally-planned, highly-politicized economy like North Korea’s, it is difficult to separate political and economic analysis, but in such cases where separation is not possible, the editor’s comments will be expressed through the positive analysis of the Public Choice and New Institutional schools of economics.

If you agree or disagree with anything posted here, or simply have something to add that enriches other readers’ perspectives on any issue, please post your comments on the website.  The only thing the editor asks is that you post something intelligent and respectful.  Include citations to back up your claim(s) if possible. 

Five years down the line, the editor hopes this web site will be a popular source for discussion, research, publication, and general sharing of analysis on the North Korean economy. 

Finally, the editor extends an open invitation to scholars and business developers who specialize in North Korea to send any materials you wish to be posted on this site (many have already done so). This will save the editor time in finding your particular publication on line and will guarantee it is seen by the broader community of those interested in North Korean affairs. 

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About the Editor:
Curtis Melvin works in Arlington, Virginia, at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, an organization which carries out a significant amount of research on entrepreneurship and institutional analysis in the developing world with an eye to understanding the institutional prerequisites that promote sustainable prosperity. 

Curtis has been interested in communist/socialist societies in general since he had the opportunity to visit the Soviet Union and several Warsaw Pact countries in his youth.  When traveling around the world in 1996 he picked up a Lonely Planet North East Asia guide book and got his first exposure to the DPRK.  In 2000 he began studying the country in earnest.  Thanks to opportunities offered by the  Korean Friendship Association, he was able to visit the DPRK in 2004 and 2005.

Curtis received his BBA in economics from the University of Georgia and MA in economics from George Mason University