Archive for January, 2006

Let’s Reform and Liberalize, Please!

Friday, January 13th, 2006

Daily NK
Kim Young Jin

The North Korean people feel they have reached a limit in enduring daily hardships.

The North Korean defectors recently found in China all say, “There is no other way to live unless (North Korea) opens up.” They are “tired of living.”

Last October, the North Korean state officially announced a restart of the food distribution system. It requested the halt of food aid from the WFP and demanded for a withdrawal of international rescue NGOs in Pyongyang.

However, the North Koreans who escaped to China testify that the empty promise for the good distribution system was never fulfilled.

Hur Chul Min who defected from Musan said, “They said they will distribute food starting in October, but all I got was 9 kg of corn in November.” Hur, who was a miner, must have received 900g of corn per day, which makes 27kg a month according to regulations. However, he received enough for only ten days.

The North Korean state last year put out a slogan saying, “Farming Prioritization” and the same slogan prevails this year. Hur says the only reason why the state returned the food distribution system is to earn loyalty from the people. The North Korean people already know all about it.

The following is the interview with Hur in full text.

– How is the situation of food distribution for Musan Mine this year?

On the October 10 holiday, they gave all the companies an order to make food cards. They said because farming this year was successful, they will give us food. They gave us food for ten days in November, but after that, they kept telling us to wait because there is not enough of food at the distribution centers. Those who started working again because the state promised food distribution, started to talk again, that they will only get “word distribution.”

– What do you mean by “Word distribution”?

It means they only give us words instead of food. People were deceived so many times that they no longer believe in the government promises.

– Did the government control of the people intensify?

The National Security Office orders the people to go to work. The people’s committee conducts family counts and reports the people who do not work. It is better to disappear from home. If you don’t come to work for two days, the mine patrol come to your home to take you. Even when you eat gruel, they demand you to work.

– How long did you work at Musan Mine?

I worked for 18 years. There was a lack in the workforce, so when I graduated middle school, I was “levied” to the mine by the state. None of my peers could go to the military. Starting in 1994, we did not receive any wages. Until 1997, we lived on grass. Starting in 1998, people started to sell things, and found ways to survive.

– Is it true that the farming last year was a success?

I do not know because I worked in a mine. After they ordered the “farming prioritization” policy, people were not allowed to stay jobless. Those who were selling things were forced to work. The road patrol caught those who hitchhiked to do their business. Those without travel permits were taken to the farms to pull out weeds.

– Did the situation improve after the 7.1 Economic Management Measure?

Immediately after the government implemented the 7.1 Economic Management Measure in 2002, the wages increased instantly. At the time my status was a level 4 technician, so I received 2,500 Won ($1.25) a month. Those who had level 6 status received 4,500 Won ($2.25). It made everyone happy at first. However, in less than two months, the price of goods increased more than 50 times.

Rice that used to cost 70 Won ($0.035) per kilo was now 1,200 Won ($0.6) per kilo. Meat enough for a meal cost more than 2,000 Won ($1). Wages were not given on time. They told us to consider the wages not given to have been saved, and gave us a ticket. They said, once the production takes place, they will give us the accumulated wages. But we never received them. Actually, after taking out support fees for the People’s Army and health insurance fees, there isn’t much left anyway. If you don’t have your own business, you will die.

– Have you ever received rice from South Korea?

I saw rice sacks that had “Republic of Korea” printed come into the Chongjin Port. However, for us, they are only cakes in pictures. They took all of them to the military in three days. On a day like that, you have so much rice in the market. The price of rice drops dramatically and those who can afford it buy a lot of rice to store. Their intention is to sell it when the price increases.

Now the people know why they are so poor. Whenever people gather, they openly say they want reformation and liberalization to take place at last.


The DailyNK Exclusive Verification of the North Korean “Super Note”

Tuesday, January 10th, 2006

Daily NK
Shin Ju Hyun

Korea Exchange Bank double Assurance

For the verification of the North Korean-made counterfeit dollars, the so-called “Super Note,” The DailyNK bought these counterfeit dollars and requested examination of them at the Korea Exchange Bank (KEB).

The above photos are of the “Super Note,” which the The DailyNK bought in Dandong, China. They were taken to the KEB on January 5th at 3 pm for examination and identified it as a “Super Note made in 2003.”

The following is the process of how The DailyNK obtained the counterfeit bills made in North Korea and requested examination of it at the KEB.

The DailyNK correspondent in Dandong, China, on January 2nd, was introduced to a businessman who does trade business between North Korea and China through an acquaintance. The DailyNK asked the businessman, Mr. Lee, working for K Trade Company to buy him some counterfeit dollar bills recently made in North Korea.

Mr. Lee smiled and said, “That is not a problem.” He said half a day would be enough for him to buy some counterfeit bills. The correspondent set an appointment with Mr. Lee for the next day.

The next day, the DailyNk was able to obtain the “goods.” From a wad of bills, he pulled out a $100 bill. It cost him $80. He said, “If you buy directly from a North Korean tradesman, it first costs $80 then drops down to $70 on the second call.”

“This is a dollar bill I got directly from a North Korean tradesman, and it is in good condition,” said Mr. Lee. “I was asked to do a favor to sell the dollar bills at $70 each.” According to Mr. Lee, if you meet the same North Korean tradesmen more than twice, they all ask you to do them the favor of selling counterfeit dollars.

Mr. Lee said in the areas where North Korean trade companies are located, such as Dandong, Changbai, and Tumen, daily counterfeit dollar exchanges are made. In Dandong, there is the Sinheung Trade Company run by North Korea’s National Security Agency and the ‘** base of 3000 Bureau (General Federation of Rear Services) run by the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces.

Mr. Shim, who accompanied the meeting added, “Besides counterfeit dollar exchanges, it is a well known fact that fake (Chinese) Yuan bills are circulated as well.”

North Korean Tradesmen, First Deals for Counterfeit Dollars, Second for Drugs

“The Chinese government seems to know about this. If the counterfeit money becomes a problem between North Korea and the US, then China will also decide to take a hard-line policy against the North Korean counterfeit Yuan,” said Shim. “After deals for the counterfeit money are made, then comes deals for drugs. Drug deals are made much more carefully.”

The correspondent mailed the “Super Note” to The DailyNK headquarters in Seoul on January 4th. The DailyNK reporters in Seoul visited Korea Exchange Bank on January 5th for examination.

On the afternoon of January 5th, Suh Taek Seok at the financial office sales department at the KEB headquarters said, “It is certain that the bill is a sophisticated Super Note.”

“Some Super Notes made in 2001 are often circulated, but 2003 bills are very rarely found in South Korea,” he added.

After the close examination, “Although at the basic level, the quality of paper and print technique is very complicated, this Super Note bill could be considered one of the most sophisticated ones to be found,” explained Suh.

“The Super Note made in 2003 were circulated only from October 2005, thus some of the banks out there with detection machines still could fail to verify them.”

“Counterfeit Money from the Early 80s”

Suh said, “Without knowing where the Super Note bills came from, it is difficult to predict in which country the bills were produced. However, if it is true that if the bills were produced in North Korea, the problem could become quite a sensitive matter.”

“Apart from the quality of the paper, for the $100 bill, where it says ‘UNITED STATES’ on the left side of the Franklin portrait, there are white lines on the letter “N” and the picture of the grapes under the eagles is not so clearly printed. There are many more differences between real and fake bills.”

It seems the way the counterfeit bills are circulated also varies. Kim Chan Goo, researcher at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies of Kyungnam University who was devoted to relations with North Korea for a decade since 1989 testified, “Eleven years ago when I visited Pyongyang, the guide asked me if I would like to $100 bill for 30 dollars. I bought it as a souvenir, and asked for examination at the KEB when I came back to South Korea. It was verified that it was a counterfeit.”

Kim still kept the bill as a souvenir. “There were many cases of South Korean trade/businessmen who were asked to buy and sell as a broker between the consumers and the North Korean tradesmen in Dandung. Looking back, it can be deduced that North Korea started counterfeiting dollars in the early 80s.”


About “North Korean Economy Watch”

Sunday, January 1st, 2006

Launched in January 2006, North Korean Economy Watch (NKeconWatch) is intended as a research resource for business persons, policy makers, academics, journalists and others interested in the North Korean economy (broadly speaking).


Curtis Melvin is a researcher at the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University and a contributor to 38 North.

Curtis enjoys traveling to developing nations. To date he has visited  over 50 countries including China, Zimbabwe, Iran, North Korea, Turkmenistan, and Myanmar. Curtis also enjoys Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, in which he is a purple belt.

Curtis received his BBA in economics from the University of Georgia and his MA in economics from George Mason University. He is ABD in the econ department at Geroge Mason University.


Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Stimson Center, working with the 38 North program and North Korean Economy Watch. He is also a Doctoral Candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, where he researches the history of social control in North Korea. He graduated from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in 2015 with an MA in international relations and international economics.

Benjamin enjoys reading and writing about totalitarianism and the intersection between political oppression and economics. He previously worked in development politics for the Swedish government. He is an avid listener of the North Korean Army Choir, and a passionate eater of most sorts of kimchi.

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