Archive for March, 2006

Triplets rounded up?

Thursday, March 9th, 2006

From the Times of London:
Michael Sheridan

ALL baby triplets in North Korea are being removed from their parents and placed in bleak state orphanages where they are fed by foreign aid.

The policy has prompted concern among diplomats and aid officials, who have witnessed sets of babies kept in special “triplet rooms” in orphanages across the country.

“There is no doubt that the policy is compulsory and universal,” said a seasoned diplomatic visitor to North Korea who has seen the rooms. He said he had not noticed family members visiting the children in his many calls at the orphanages. Conditions when foreigners are allowed to enter appear to be spartan but clean, according to several witnesses.

Food supplies to orphanages are a priority for both the United Nations relief agencies and the North Korean authorities. Local officials have assured inquirers that the babies are being given privileges to relieve their parents of the anxiety of feeding three mouths while the impoverished Stalinist nation endures an eighth year of food shortages.

But diplomatic experts who understand the Korean language and culture cast doubt on the official explanation.

They believe the true reason is linked to some of the most bizarre aspects of Kim Jong-il’s dictatorship. The number three is auspicious in Korean mysticism and triplets are revered for exceptional good fortune. Some believe they may be destined for power and great achievements, which would account for the regime’s desire to keep them under observation.

Diplomats and international aid officials also doubt that poverty is the explanation, because not even triplets born to high-ranking party members are exempt. “It may be officially atheistic and Stalinist but essentially North Korea operates a state religion infused with superstition, astrology and a personality cult which glorifies Kim as a unique individual,” said the veteran diplomat. “You don’t take any chances with rivals in that system.”

Power conferred by blood descent is also important in Korea’s Confucian tradition. The North Korean capital, Pyongyang, was rebuilt by its communist rulers along principles of Chinese geomancy, with “power lines” linking the purported birthplace of the previous dictator, Kim Il-sung, with the purported tomb of Tangun, founder of the Korean race. As heir to the world’s only communist dynasty, the younger Kim exploits every such tradition to exalt himself, while keeping a careful watch on his clan network of intermarried army and party men.

Children of the elite are usually taken from their parents by the age of two and placed in party-controlled schools to break family bonds and to consecrate their devotion to Kim. Foreign observers believe the triplets are kept together and transferred to these schools when old enough.

The segregation of triplets has provoked debate among UN aid agencies and non-governmental organisations delivering help to North Korea.

Although there appear to be no reasons to fear for the physical safety of the triplets, regular visitors to North Korean orphanages report desperate scenes of isolation and sadness.

On a recent visit a member of a foreign delegation entered a room to see infants placed several to a cot, all rocking backwards and forwards.

“Our people were stunned into silence,” the delegate said. A paediatrician outside North Korea who assessed evidence collected on the visit diagnosed severe emotional trauma.

Witnesses said they had noticed better nursing attention and care for triplets in the special rooms. “But none of those infants knows what affection is,” said one visitor. “Our staff try to cuddle them for a few minutes but then, of course, we have to leave.”

Up to 300 sets of triplets a year are believed to be born in North Korea. In an official statement to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, North Korea said: “Triplets are supplied by the state free of charge with clothing, bedding, a one-year supply of dairy products and a pre-school subsidy, and special medical workers take charge of such mothers and children and care for their health.”

The UN’s World Food Programme has reported a sharp improvement in children’s health in North Korea thanks to foreign aid. Since 1998 cases of acute malnutrition in children under seven have fallen from 16% to 9%, and the number of underweight children has decreased from 61% to 21%.

As tension mounts between North Korea and the United States over Pyongyang’s nuclear programme, however, aid officials fear that any military clash could put at risk their ability to feed the children.

There is little doubt of the regime’s cold-hearted approach to paediatrics. In 1998, Médecins sans Frontières pulled out of North Korea, alleging that aid agencies were denied access to so-called 9-27 camps in which sick and disabled children had been dumped under a decree issued by Kim to “normalise” the country.

UN agencies are still arguing for access to closed districts in the northeast of the country, where prison camps and military facilities are located.


Education News

Wednesday, March 8th, 2006

From NK Zone:

North Korea has changed its middle school examinations from all-day essay writing events to a multiple choice and “fill in the blank” format,Xinhua news agency reports. 

It says “the totally new exam system will test the results of the students’ study more scientifically”, will make the exams shorter and will “reduce subjective factors in taking the exam and will test the results of the students’ study more fairly”.

Quoting the Korea Central New Agency, it says the changes were discussed by education officials, scholars and teachers over several years and that foreign languages, computer science and practical subjects will also be tested orally.

It provides no further details, but given how little is known about the NK education system, I thought this was worth mentioning.
The Library of Congress gives an outline of education in NK here and a South Korean professor has written an article here.


South Korean Rice Bank for North

Monday, March 6th, 2006

According to Reuters:

South Korean farmers plan to establish a rice bank to help the impoverished North Korea and the poor within the South.

Farmers are also expecting the aid would boost demand for domestic rice amid concerns further opening of the rice market under the World Trade Organisation system may put the farming industry in serious jeopardy.

“South Korean farmers are worried about huge rice surplus and market liberalisation. On the other hand, there are lots of poor people still in hunger and especially North Koreans heavily depend on outside aid,” Chong Minsu, executive director of Seoul Rice Exposition Organizing Committee, said on Sunday.

Rice bank, planned to start from May, will be run by donations from local businesses and individuals, purchasing local rice to distribute the poor.

“The bank will connect donors with the needy,” he told in a rice festival at Dorasan, the last station on the southern side of the strictly guarded buffer zone that straddles the actual border between the North and South.


North Korean Sneakers gumming up trade talks

Sunday, March 5th, 2006

from Bloomberg:

North Korean workers stitching Made in Korea labels on $150 sneakers may hold the key to a $29 billion free-trade agreement between the U.S. and South Korea, the biggest U.S. accord in a decade.The 6,000 North Koreans, working 48-hour weeks for 1/20th of the pay of their southern colleagues, are churning out pots, sneakers and clothes in a South Korean-funded business park just north of the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas.

South Korea’s government is counting on free-trade status to help lure local and overseas companies to the park near Gaeseong, an ancient capital of united Korea. The U.S. says goods made north of the DMZ won’t qualify for special treatment.

“The free-trade agreement must be expanded to include Gaeseong products,” said Kim Dong Keun, chairman of the park’s management committee, in Gaeseong. “I understand that nothing has been set in stone. The matter is still up for negotiation.”

At stake is an accord forecast to boost U.S. exports by $19 billion and lift imports from South Korea, the U.S.’s seventh- largest trading partner, by $10 billion. Talks may start as soon as this month.

The U.S. last year exported $29 billion of goods to South Korea and bought $43 billion of Korean imports, according to the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The U.S. is the country’s third-largest trading partner.

“The starting point is that an FTA applies to goods originating in the U.S. and the Republic of Korea,” Alexander Vershbow, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, said at a seminar with economists in Seoul on Feb. 14. “How Gaeseong is treated under the free-trade agreement is going to be a complex issue.”

Europe Waives Duties

South Korean Trade Minister Kim Hyun Chong said at a Feb. 2 press conference with U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman in Washington that his government expects goods made in Gaeseong to be part of the trade deal. Portman said the agreement would only cover goods produced in South Korea.

“This is a negotiation between the United States and the Republic of Korea,” Christin Baker, Portman’s spokeswoman, said March 2. “Its provisions will apply to goods originating within the territories of the two parties.”

Singapore on March 2 implemented a free-trade agreement with South Korea that eliminated tariffs on all goods, including those from the North Korean industrial zone.

The European Free-Trade Association waives duties on Gaeseong goods if more than 60 percent of the product is sourced from South Korea.

Delayed Plans

At Gaeseong, Moon Chang Seop, president of South Korean shoemaker Samduk Stafild Co., is delaying his expansion plans until the U.S. talks end.

Moon’s company is among 15 South Korean enterprises to have opened factories in the zone since June 2003. He’s hoping to shift all of his $50 million annual production from the southern city of Busan.

“It all depends on whether the U.S. can accept products made in Gaeseong as South Korean-made,” said Moon, 55, as North Korean music played to rows of uniformed seamstresses in his factory. “If the U.S. won’t budge, I won’t be able to move our main plant.”

Seoul-based Hyundai Group, which controls the world’s largest ship-builder, began developing Gaeseong after a landmark summit in 2000 between then South Korean President Kim Dae Jung and his northern counterpart, Kim Jong Il.

The 10-hectare (25-acre) park borders Gaeseong city, the capital of Korea’s Goryeo kingdom from 918 to 1392. It’s ringed by a 2-meter-high (6.5 feet) fence and guarded by North Korean soldiers armed with pistols and semi-automatic weapons.

More than 300 trucks cross the heavily fortified demilitarized zone every day, carrying in raw materials from the South and carting off finished products. Gaeseong is an hour’s drive from both Seoul and Inchon, the nearest South Korean port, and two hours from Pyongyang.

Golf Course

The South Korean government is spending $220 million to expand the site to 330 hectares by 2007, with 24 new tenant companies already building plants.

By 2012, factories will cover 26 square kilometers (10 square miles), according to the Gaeseong committee. It plans to build a supporting urban area of 40 square kilometers, including a 36-hole golf course.

About 730,000 North Koreans, or almost 3 percent of the communist nation’s population, will be housed there by then, said Kim, the committee chairman.

South Korean companies are paying the North Korean government $57.50 a month for each worker, according to Kim. Of that, North Korea collects at least $7.50 in what it calls a social tax.

By comparison, the average monthly wage for factory workers in the South is more than $1,000, according to Hyundai.

Gaeseong isn’t the only obstacle to a trade accord that may be the biggest negotiated by the U.S. since its 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada.

Agriculture, Autos

U.S. officials also will push South Korea to cut trade barriers in agriculture, auto, pharmaceutical and services industries, according to a Feb. 9 report by the research department of the U.S Congress.

South Korea last month reduced quotas on Korean movies to allow more U.S. films to be shown in cinemas and lifted a two- year ban on U.S. beef imports, paving the way for talks to start.

It also agreed to accept some U.S. auto imports, temporarily exempting them from emission rules that are tighter than U.S. federal standards.

U.S. Trade Representative Portman and South Korean Trade Minister Kim said on Feb. 2 that both parties aim to sign an agreement by the end of this year.

At Gaeseong, Oh Sung Chang, the senior managing director of South Korean package maker Taesung Hata Co., is biding his time.

Taesung Hata, which makes cosmetics cases and casings for brands such as Stila, Bobby Brown and Shiseido, plans to quadruple its initial $14 million investment in Gaeseong in the next few years, Oh said.

“Of course, the outcome of the trade negotiations may influence our decision,” he said, as North Korean workers assembled compact-powder casings in the Taesung factory. “We await a favorable outcome.”


Not Guilty! So will they get their heroin back?

Sunday, March 5th, 2006

One of the constant accusations leveled at the DPRK is that they are manufacturing and distributing illegal drugs.  Of course, it does not help that their ships keep getting busted at sea.  But the Australian Broadcasting Corporation has the latest news…

A Supreme Court jury has acquitted four North Korean men of being involved in the importation of Victoria’s largest heroin haul.

In April 2003, 125 kilograms of pure heroin was smuggled into southern Victoria, off the coast of Lorne, from the North Korean freighter Pong Su.

The Pong Su was seized by special forces and police north of Sydney after a four day chase.

Today the ship’s master, chief mate, chief engineer and political secretary were found not guilty of aiding and abetting the importation of the $168 million worth of heroin.



Import Export contacts

Sunday, March 5th, 2006

Pyongyang’s Central district is a black box. None of the buildings are labeled, but that is where all the ministries are located.  I have not been able to identify them on Google Earth yet!

From Naerna:

Export/Import corporations

  • Korea Kwangop Trading Corporation
    Pothonggang-dong No. 1, Pothonggang District, Pyongyang, DPRK
    Tel: 850-2-18111-381-8247
    Fax: 850-2-381-4569
    Export: Electrolytic zinc, base bullion, concentrates of zinc, copper, lead, molybdenum, gold and scheelite, placer wolframite, talc powder, talc lumps, barite, jade, automobile batteries, sepiolite, electric motors, pumps, rock drills.
    Import: Coking coal, round steel, silicon steel sheets, wire ropes, seamless steel pipes, rails, tin plates, electrolytic nickel, electrolytic lead, hard alloy, copper sulfate, aluminium ingots.
  • Korea General Mangesia Clinker Corporation
    Tongsong-dong, Central District, Pyongyang, DPRK
    Tel: 850-2-18111-381-8080
    Fax: 850-2-381-4634
    Export: Magnesia clinker, slightly burnt magnesia, chlorite, firebricks, fire-proof materials.
    Import: Equipment and accessories for mines and factories, steel, electric equipment and machines, vehicle parts, insulating materials, fibre goods, synthetic resin goods, rubber and its products, heavy oil, nonferrous metals, bean, animal feed.
  • Korea General Zinc Industry Corporation
    Tongsong-dong, Central District, Pyongyang, DPRK
    Tel: 850-2-18111-381-8166
    Fax: 850-2-381-4034
    Export: Zinc, lead, base bullion, lead and zinc concentrates, cadmium, arsenic, zinc residues, copper concentrate.
    Import: Equipment and accessories for mines and refineries, steel, reagents, electric equipment and machines, vehicle parts, insulating materials, fibre goods, synthetic resin goods, rubber and its products, nonferrous metals, animal feed.
  • Korea General Machinery Trading Corporation
    Tongsin-dong No. 3, Tongdaewon District, Pyongyang, DPRK
    Tel: 850-2-18111-381-8102
    Fax: 850-2-381-4495
    Export: Various kinds of machine tools, metal processing and mining facilities, large-size gears, compressors, transformers, generators, electric motors, insulators, pumps, valves, rolling stocks and parts.
    Import: Steel, chemical materials, machine accessories.
  • Korea Kwangmyong Trading Group
    Jungsong-dong, Central District, Pyongyang, DPRK
    Tel: 850-2-18111-381-8111
    Fax: 850-2-381-4494
    Export: Agricultural produce, marine products, nonmetallic minerals, clothes, essential oils, jewelry.
    Import: Fibre goods, vessel equipment and materials.
  • Korea Ponghwa General Corporation
    Jungsong-dong, Central District, Pyongyang, DPRK
    Tel: 850-2-18111-381-8023
    Fax: 850-2-381-4444
    Export: Clothes, shoes, bags, knitwear, agricultural produce, marine products.
    Import: Materials for clothes and shoes, packing materials, fishing tackles, high-pressure polyethylene, powdered sugar.
  • Korea Sonbong General Trading Corporation
    Kinmaul-dong No. 1, Moranbong District, Pyongyang, DPRK
    Tel: 850-2-18111-381-8136
    Fax: 850-2-381-4416
    Export: Clothes, medicinal honey, marine products, synthetic waddings, dies, cutting tools.
    Import: Clothes, stationeries, daily necessities, electric appliances, shoes, furniture.
  • Korea Unha General Trading Corporation
    Rungra-dong No. 1, Taedonggang District, Pyongyang, DPRK
    Tel: 850-2-18111-381-8236, 8642
    Fax: 850-2-381-4506
    Export: Clothes, spring waters.
    Import: Materials and equipment for manufacturing clothes and shoes, grains, gasoline, diesel oil.
  • Korea General Petroleum United Corporation
    Raknang-dong No.3, Raknang District, Pyongyang, DPRK
    Tel: 850-2-18111-381-8463
    Fax: 850-2-381-2100
    Export: Processed crude oil, zinc powder, marine products, agricultural produce, processed stones, paints.
    Import: Contracting measurement treatment of crude oil, oil feeder and accessories, tank cars, building materials, vehicle parts.
  • Korea Hwanggumsan Trading Corporation
    Jungsong-dong, Central District, Pyongyang, DPRK
    Tel: 850-2-18111-381-8278
    Fax: 850-2-381-3451
    Export: Agricultural produce.
    Import: Fertilizers, agrochemicals, vinyl sheets, herbicides, farming materials.
  • Korea Minye General Corporation
    Oesong-dong, Central District, Pyongyang, DPRK
    Tel: 850-2-18111-381-8178
    Fax: 850-2-381-8088
    Export: Art pieces (oil paintings, Korean paintings, woodcut prints, calligraphic works), industrial art works, national musical instruments, clothes.
    Import: Piano strings, caustic soda, glycerine, stearic acid, sodium carbonate, photographic chemicals, oil colours, lacquer, carton paper.
  • Korea Mannyon General Health Corporation
    Chongryu-dong No. 2, Taedonggang District, Pyongyang, DPRK
    Tel: 850-2-18111-381-8905
    Fax: 850-2-381-4546
    Export: Koryo Insam products, health foods, natural medicinal herbs, medical instruments and equipment.
    Import: Medicines, pharmaceutical materials, packing materials, medical instruments and equipment.
  • Korea Rungrado General Trading Corporation
    Segori-dong, Pothonggang District, Pyongyang, DPRK
    Tel: 850-2-18111-381-8022
    Fax: 850-2-381-4507
    Export: Sindok Spring Water, marine products, knitwear, clothes, metallic and nonmetallic minerals, shell buttons.
    Import: Light industrial goods.
  • Pyongyang General Domestic Fowl Corporation
    Tongsong-dong, Central District, Pyongyang, DPRK
    Fax: 850-2-381-4410
    Export: Duck, chicken, duck down.
    Import: Veterinery medicines, poultry-farm equipment and accessories, duck down washing agent.
  • Korea Okryu Combined Corporation
    Ansan-dong No. 1, Phyongchon District, Pyongyang, DPRK
    Tel: 850-2-18111-381-8092
    Fax: 850-2-381-4618
    Export: Kangso Mineral Water, marine products, Pyongyang Liquor, Ponghak Beer, cigarettes, clothes, red peppered bean paste, cold noodle, dehydrated starch noodle, cucumber, tomato, sweet pepper, nonmetallic minerals, ceramics, industrial craftworks, cement.
    Import: Goods for sale at shop, building materials.

Pyongyang Entertainment

Sunday, March 5th, 2006

Obviously this Chinese citizen knows more about fn in the DPRK than I do, but he lists it all out.  If you are in Pyongyang, beg your giude.  Maybe you will get to hang out in some of these places.

His web page


Rainbow Trading Company Selling DPRK currency

Sunday, March 5th, 2006

Well, I dont know how, but my personal email address has been on the distribution list of the Rainbow Trading Company…a Tokyo based shop that specializes in North Korean art and books.  The owner, Jun Miyagawa, does not seem to be Korean, and I have never spent more time in Tokyo than to pass through several times on my way to the countryside.

Still, I just thought I would let you know that he is selling a complete set of North Korean Currency (1,5,10,50,100,200,500,1,000,5000W) for $66.50.

If you add up all of the denominations, you get 6866Won.  Using the market exchange rate of 3,000W=$1USD, the sum value of these notes is $2.28.  This is a markup of 2816% (not including postage).

Remember this when you purchase North Korean currency from ebay.  Also, When I was visiting, I was told that they have trouble with counterfiters in China.  It is likely the money you are buying has never been to the DPRK, unless it is from an actual visitor that you can verify.


Japan Could Tax North Korea Offices

Saturday, March 4th, 2006

From the Donga:

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party of Japan has decided to ask local autonomous organizations to levy local taxes on offices being used by Jochongryeon, a pro-North Korean residents’ league in Japan, according to Japanese newspaper reports.

The Yomiuri reported yesterday that the Liberal Democratic Party will send official documents to local autonomous groups asking them to levy the taxes. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe gave the similar directions to the Ministry of Public Management Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications last February.

According to a survey by Japan’s Ministry of Public Management Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications, there are 19 local autonomous organizations that exempt buildings such as Chosun Hall from paying local taxes, and 13 local autonomous organizations that partly exempt taxation across Japan. Chosun Hall is the building used by Jochongryeon for educational and cultural purposes.

The measures by the Japanese government and the ruling party seem to be aimed at increasing pressure on North Korea and seeking solutions to the Japanese abduction issue.

In the past, Japan viewed Jochongryeon as a quasi-diplomatic organization and did not levy taxes on it. But as public opinion has turned against North Korea due to the abduction issue, some local autonomous organizations stopped their tax exemptions starting in 2003.

The Japanese government is squeezing the group’s financial resources by collecting receivable bonds from Jochongryeon-related financial institutions as well.

Estimates of the amount of money sent by Jochongryeon to North Korea range from $200 million to $600 million a year, to just a few million. As a result, it is hard to predict how much damage the taxation will inflict on North Korea.


World Food Program-DPRK aid plan announced

Friday, March 3rd, 2006

From the Seoul Times:

WFP’s governing Executive Board has approved a two-year plan to build on the agency’s ten-year record of humanitarian assistance to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea by tackling nutritional deficiencies and chronic hunger.

Valued at US$102 million and requiring 150,000 metric tons of commodities for 1.9 million North Koreans, the plan aims to provide vitamin-and-mineral enriched foods produced in-country to young children and women of child-bearing age, and cereal rations to underemployed communities to build and rehabilitate agricultural and other community assets.

Several members of the Executive Board expressed strong concerns about the restrictions on monitoring and access that the DPRK government has imposed. These include a reduction in the number of international staff from a peak of 46 to just 10, and a reduction in the number of monitoring visits from approximately 400 per month to a much more limited number.

“We now look to the government of the DPRK to agree to conditions that will allow us to do our work properly, for the sake of the people who need our help.” “If we cannot reach a suitable final agreement on our operating conditions, we will be forced to withdraw,” Morris told the Executive Board members.

Past WFP operations mobilised more than four million tonnes of commodities valued at US$1.7 billion, supported up to one-third of the population of 23 million, and contributed to a significant reduction in malnutrition rates.

While in years past WFP’s resources were spread across all accessible counties – 160 out of 203 for much of 2005 – the new operation envisages a more focused approach, with 80 percent of the food going to the 50 most vulnerable counties.