Archive for April, 2006

North Korean Food Rations Uncertain

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

According to the Manilla Times and ABS/CBN Interactive:

North Korea could suspend food rations for ordinary citizens in Pyongyang next month due to its worsening famine, a South Korean aid group warned Sunday.   The North Korean capital has had a better food supply than other areas despite a chronic food shortage since the 1990s.

“Pyongyang is no longer a safe zone in food supply,” Good Friends, a Seoul-based aid group for North Koreans, said in a newsletter.  “Food supply officials in Pyongyang say food rations lasted only 10 days in April and will be suspended for ordinary citizens beginning in May,” the group said. The aid group said big businesses and state organizations would remain unaffected.

United Nations food aid to North Korea ended late last year after Pyongyang said it no longer needed emergency shipments from the World Food Program (WFP) and other international humanitarian agencies. The North Korean government said it instead wants development assistance and a smaller operation with fewer international staff whose monitoring activities would be restricted.

WFP has proposed a downsized aid plan to feed 1.9 million people, largely women and children vulnerable to malnutrition and disease. It used to feed 6.5 million people.

North Korea’s grain production rose 5.3 percent to 4.54 million tons last year, still far short of its annual demand of six million tons, South Korea’s unification ministry report says.

According to the Daily NK:

North Korean sources have claimed that since April only some areas of Pyongyang have gotten food rations, and local areas were already cut off. North Korea recently relaunched rationing on the Workers’ Party Foundation Day (10/10/2005), yet from the beginning, the program did not meet its objectives, and furthermore, from this spring even Pyongyang is seeing a shortage of food.

Mr. Kim, who is a North Korean trader and now stays in Dandong, China said, “Officials working at the central agencies (the Party, Ministries, Court) in Pyongyang have gotten rations, but workers in general factories and small companies in local cities have to resolve their April and June food prooblmes themselves.”

Mr. Kim stated, “Despite a severe shortage of food, some wealthy, powerful people are persisting well. Yet other people who rely on the food rationing of factories mainly go to local areas to exchange goods for food.” It led to a situation where North Koreans have to withstand starvation by all means, before new potatoes come out.

At the same time, price of rice at the Jangmadang 9farmers markets) began rising.

Rice prices at the Shinuiju Jangmadang are:

1,000W ($0.33) to 1,200W($0.4) per 1kg
Yongcheon rice  is 1,200W 1kg
Chinese rice is 900W($0.3) to 930W($0.31) per 1kg

Corn is 300W($0.1) to 400W($0.133).

Shinuiju rice is a little more expensive than that of other cities, and its wheat flour is cheaper. It is because rice comes in from other cities, and Chinese wheat flour is distributed to each city via Shinuiju. 

Mr. Lee hinted that travel permits to China are issued “conditionally.” That is, after visitors to China come back to North Korea, they have to offer some food to the National Security Agency, and people with no relatives have a harder time getting passes.

Mr. Lee said, “As for me, it is better because I found my older brother. However, other people living in our village go out to rivers to dig for gold and to mountains to dig for edible plants.”

March and April, called the ‘Barley Period (Borigogae)’ are the months when food crunches are most severe. This is when the crops and edible plants (side dishes) harvested last year begin to run out. When edible plants run out, North Koreans prolong their lives by eating grass or wild plants. However, because of death by starvation in the mid 90’s, which resulted in massive foraging, even wild plants like bracken are not easily found now.  



Mangyongbong-92 traveling agian

Tuesday, April 25th, 2006

According to the Associated Press, the Chongryun have once again begun shipping service between their homes in Japan and Wonsan, DPRK.

I remember seeing this very ship when I visited Wonsan in August 2004.  I did not get to walk aboard or anything, I just got a glance as my bus zoomed by….unfortunately too fast to take a picture.

Shipping from North Korea was severly curtailed by the Japanes Authorities in response to public outcry over the kidnapping issue.  Although Japan was coy enough to avoid an outright trade embargo, leaving the door open to future talks, they did place insurance and safety requirements on ships in their ports…requirements very few North Korean ships can meet.

From the article:

The Mangyongbong-92 was inspected by Japanese authorities as nearly 500 police guarded the area. Officials found six minor problems with the vessel, including ones related to fire prevention and communications, but issued no corrective orders, according to the Transport Ministry.

The ferry from Wonsan to Niigata has been a catalyst for Japanese protests. As the only regular passenger service between the two countries, its visits provide the isolated North with a crucial link to the outside world.

The vessel, which was to depart from Niigata on Wednesday, is scheduled to make 18 more visits through October, according to Transport Ministry official Hajime Nakamura.

In late March, police raided the Osaka office of a chamber of commerce for North Korea on suspicion that its top officials were involved in one kidnapping.

In March, Japan passed a law requiring all foreign ships over 100 tons entering Japan to be insured against oil spills, losses and other damage.

Few North Korean ships were believed able to meet the requirement, and officials acknowledged the measure was intended to increase pressure on the North.


Japanese Language on Decline in DPRK

Tuesday, April 25th, 2006

Well, if you thought the Japanese were unpopular in South Korea, you should see the propoganda in the North. Still, there are strong ties between North Korea and Japanese of Korean descent. The Chongryun in North Korea send lots of hard currency, investment, and students through Wonsan. This support, however, seems to be on the decline. The Japanese government has restriced the number of North Korean ships that can dock in their ports (Under insurance requirements….a way of imposing an economic embargo without calling it so). Also, becuase of the unknown fate of the Japanese citizens in North Korea, the popularity of the pro-North Korean is at an all time low.

According to the Japanese press, here are some interesting statistics on foreign language learning in the DPRK:

At the elite Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies, the number of Japanese majors has fallen to a quarter of what it was a decade ago as the outlook for the two countries normalizing diplomatic ties becomes murkier, according to language professors at the institution.

“There were about 200 students of Japanese in the mid-1990s, after talks on normalizing diplomatic relations began,” a young professor at the foreign studies university said. “Now, there are only about 50 students for the entire four years.”

The most popular language for North Korean students now is English, with about 1,000 of the 2,000 students at Pyongyang University majoring in it. Chinese has become the second-most popular language, as trade ties between China and North Korea grow. Russian, the leading language to study in the days of the Soviet Union, when it had extensive political and economic ties with the North, comes in third place, and Japanese is the fourth-largest group.

“For business, English and Chinese are obviously the most important languages now. This is a phenomenon that reflects the change of the times,” said Noriyuki Suzuki, a senior analyst at Radiopress in Tokyo, a Foreign Ministry-backed foundation that monitors the North Korean media.


Military as Stepping Stone to Making Money

Tuesday, April 25th, 2006

According to the Daily NK:

The North Korean military has 1.2 million regular forces, although the exact strength of the military has not been revealed (Some estimate the size at 1.7 million). But if you add the “Pacification corps” and the “Red Guard” composed of workers and peasants, and 8 the million effective reserves, everyone belongs to the military except for the old, sick and young.

For men, military service lasts 10 years.  For women, it is 6-8 years. Between 1987-8, conscription lasted 13 years, but after that, it was reduced back to 10.

The biggest cause of stress for the soldiers is not being allowed to have relationships. For this reason, senior students are having secret relationships with women in the nearest village. There are many who prepare for the end of their terms by saving up resources for marriage and getting engaged.

Such activities are risky, particularly if the relationship results in pregnancy.  Such soldiers are ‘discharged from service due to family hardships’.  These soldiers will never being able to become high officials.  

The second source of stress is money. Before the 1990s, joining the Korean Workers’ Party was the highest honor and it was the purpose of serving in the military. Today, money is preferred to party membership. This is why conscripts try to strategically choose departments where they can maximize their revenue.

In the past when joining the party was important, people preferred a forward unit and a special branch of the army, but now they prefer border guards and coast guards.  In the 1990s, the border guards aimed to “make 3-500,000W ($100-$167)”, but now they aim to “make 3 million won” ($1,000).


I Have Some Water-Front Property that’s Perfect for You

Saturday, April 22nd, 2006

According to the Donga Ilbo, North Korea is assaying its real estate to establish its commercial value. 

Minju Chosun, published by the Cabinet of North Korea, reported on April 19 that the North Korean government is evaluating the real estate value across the country. The North’s official daily mentioned the on-going evaluation efforts in the editorial, emphasizing execution of this year’s budget set by the Supreme People`s Assembly during its fourth meeting on April 11.

“The government should actively engage in the evaluation process and contribute to generating the country’s financial resources,” the paper stressed.

Donga Ilbo reported on April 13 that North Korea is preparing for an economic reform centered on real estate reform, and that it intends to replenish national finances through real estate leases.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il purportedly ordered real estate reform earlier this year. A source said that the cabinet decision delivered on January 19 was related to Kim’s order on January 4 to lease real estate. Kim made a secret visit on January 10 to southern parts of China, a center of the country’s open and reform policies.

The source also said that the cabinet set the price of buildings and ports based on additional construction costs whereas it decide the price of natural real estate such as mountains and streams based on their use value.



Are US economic restrictions hurting the DPRK?

Friday, April 21st, 2006

From the BBC:

A recent report for the US Congress estimated that $45m of the notes are in circulation worldwide. South Korean police this month uncovered a haul of 700 fake $100 bills. “They’re about 95% identical to the real thing,” said Suh Tae-suk, South Korea’s leading expert on counterfeit currency, “but there’s a slight difference in the texture of the paper and the make-up of the chemicals, so experts can still spot them.”

Most of the notes are brought in from China; and organised crime networks are reported to be distributing them in Asia, and through Russia into Europe. American officials say they have no doubt the notes are manufactured in North Korea.   High-level North Korean defectors back up some of Washington’s claims that Pyongyang is involved in counterfeiting and other illicit activities.

One former North Korean diplomat painted a picture of cash-strapped embassies that are expected to finance themselves, and of diplomats racking their brains for new ways to raise money. He asked not to be identified because he had left family behind in Pyongyang, who he now considers hostages of the regime. “We were each given a quota of foreign currency that we had to raise each year to show our loyalty to the state,” he explained. “I was expected to produce $100,000 a year and remit it to a bank in China”.

The former diplomat, who has lived in Seoul since his defection, said a superior once handed him fake US bank notes, mixed in with the real thing, to conduct a trade deal in South East Asia. He said he raised money from kick-backs on trade deals, but would also smuggle gold and “currency by the kilogramme” in diplomatic bags.

And there were other scams: Trading in tax-free cars, smuggling liquor into Islamic countries, and trafficking horns and ivory out of Africa to sell to Chinese businessmen.

At the centre of much of the trade is North Korea’s top-secret Bureau 39, which defectors say was set up in the 1970s to create a personal slush fund for Kim Jong-il.

“Bureau 39 has a monopoly on earning foreign currency,” said Kim Dok-hong, who worked for 17 years alongside the bureau’s agents at the North Korean Workers’ Party Central Committee.   “Bureau 39 has a monopoly of trade in high-quality agricultural products like pine mushrooms and red ginseng. They also control the drug trade. Opium is produced across the country and then refined into heroin. Their other main role was distributing the supernotes,” he said.

North Korea denies the charges of counterfeiting.  It accuses the US of counterfitting its own currency and trying to blame the DPRK. 

North Korea has also asked the government of Switzerland to investigate the authenticity of a U.S. claim that Pyongyang secretly keeps US$4 billion in Swiss bank accounts, and then release a report on its findings.

The North Korean embassy in Switzerland sent a statement to Yonhap News Agency, branding the U.S. allegation a “conventional scheme to damage the image of our republic.”
North Korea has “made an official request to the Swiss government to investigate this matter and release the results of the probe on purpose to guarantee objectivity,” the statement said.


3.4% of North Koreans Listed as Disabled

Wednesday, April 19th, 2006

Korea Times
Kim Rahn

North Korea has about 763,000 disabled people, 3.41 percent of its total population, according a report.

The World Association of Milal, a South Korean missionary organization, released the report Wednesday which it obtained from a North Korean organization, the only group in the North supporting the disabled.

The report said there were 763,237 disabled people in the North as of 1999. Among them, 296,518 people, or 38.8 percent, were physically disabled, while 168,141, or 22 percent, had hearing troubles, 165,088 or 21 percent had eyesight impairment, and 37,780 were mentally handicapped.

By sex, the male disabled accounted for 57 percent, 435,045 people.

The report said Pyoksong county in South Hwanghae Province had the highest ratio of residents with disabilities, with 5.1 percent. The region was followed by Tongchon of Kangwon Province with 3.9 percent and Pyongwon in South Pyongan Province, with 3.8 percent.

In Pyongyang, where North Korea claims not a single disabled person lives, 1.75 percent of the city’s population were disabled. Urban areas had more handicapped people than rural areas, with 64 percent of the total.

More than 30 percent of the total disabled were in asylums, 23.8 percent were laborers, 9.4 percent were intellectuals, 7.8 percent were farmers, and 1.9 percent were students.

About 40 percent developed the disabilities from diseases, while 15.6 percent were congenital, and 19 percent from accidents.

In South Korea, about 1.7 million people are registered as disabled, more than twice that of North Korea.

In the South, the ratio of the physically disabled is about 41 percent of total handicapped people, higher than that of the North. The ratio of those with hearing problems and eyesight trouble in the South is lower than the North, with 10.3 percent and 12.5 percent, respectively.


Has private employment been banned?

Tuesday, April 18th, 2006

The division of labor and specialization was championed by Adam Smith in the 1700s for being one of the great sources of the wealth of nations.  The division of labor was attacked by Karl Mark in the 1800s for “alienating” workers from the value they provide their customers…making them “cogs in the machines”…”bricks in the wall,” etc.  If you see Chalrie Chaplin’s Modern Times you will get the idea.

According to the Daily NK, the government of North Korea has found itself struggling against the natural economic processes of division of labor in its emerging private sector.  If government officials were interested in promoting economic growth, the natural response to this is to establish courts that can enforce contracts between business partners.  This will provide the state with tax revenue and provide a sort of insurance to businessmen who need instruments that will facilitate credible commitment between business partners to the fulfilment of obligations.  The mafia can do this also if the state declines.

According to the story, the governemnt has decided instead to ban private employment in an effort to protect the state owned enterprises.  If this were enforceable, about which I have serious doubts, it will limit business organizations to one person, or will promote the growth of “family businesses”, where members of the organization do not have to worry about their partners cheating them.  “family businesses” can take on many different roles if you get my drift…either way, customers will not be able to take advantage of the lower prices and higher quality of goods produced by specialized labor.


North Korean Economics Presentations at KEI

Tuesday, April 18th, 2006

Economic Reform and SEZ as Survival Strategy of DPRK
PDF: Deok Ryong Yoon.pdf
Deok Ryong Yoon

Introduction to & implications of Gaesong Industrial Complex Project
PDF: kaesong.faqs.pdf
Ministry of Unification

Gaeseong Industrial complex: Past, Present and Future
PDF: Dong-geun Kim.pdf
Speech by Dong-geun Kim, Chairman of Gaeseong Industrial District Management Committee

Gaeseong Industrial Complex : Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
PDF: kaesong.faqs1.pdf
Ministry of Unification, ROK


Supreme Peoples’ Assembly Roundup

Friday, April 14th, 2006

Well, it has been another whirlwind session of the SPA…I can only imagine what working here is like.

According to the Daily NK:

Rodong Shinmun of the 12th reported that the 4th conference of the 11th North Korean Supreme People’s Assembly was held in the Pyongyang Mansudae Assembly Hall on 11 March.

It was informed that 595 of 687 registered representatives including Kim Young Nam, the Permanent Chairman of the Supreme People’s Assembly, and Choi Tae Bok, the Chairman of the Supreme People’s Assembly, participated in the conference, yet Kim Jong Il was absent from it.

Discussed conference agendas were about the fixed tasks of the previous year and the feasible achievements of this year, the executed budget for the previous year and the arranged budget for this year, and pursuing a great country construction by promoting technological development.

There was no ‘significant declaration’ related to reformation and liberalization that was receiving much attention, nor mentions related to economic sanction and nuclear weapon issue. Given that only technological development and advance to the foreign market were stated. This means that North Korea seams to emphasize an acute food problem and economic recoup in this year.

This year’s budget was arranged 2,935 million dollars which was expecting to be more revenue of 7.1 %, more expenditure of 3% than the previous year and national defense expense was fixed more 15.9% than the previous year.

Technological development plan is thought-provoking in the respect of what strategy North Korea will take in the technology field in the future. This shows that the North Korean Organization and Guidance Department has an intension to encourage technology for its economic recovery, to reinforce productivity and to modernize the production facilities.

Choi Tae Bok, the Chairman of the Supreme People’s Assembly and Secretary of the Science Education Department at the Central Party, announced a five-year plan (2008-2012) and a medium and long-term plan(up to 2022) for technological development.

Particularly considering that he presented a resolute to concentrate on developing superior species through Information Technology and Bio-technology, raw material industries through Nano-technology and Space Science, Martials Science and Basic Science. It seems that North Korea may spur technological interchanges with China.

This is an evidence that ofter Kim Jong Il’s visit to over the districts of Guangzhou and Shenzen and Jang Sung Taek’s visit to China, North Korea is highly interested in technological development of China. Recently, a frenzy of Chinese language prevailing in Kim Chaek Technical College is not irrelevant to the interest.

The Prime Minister Park Bong Joo revealed that, “North Korea will realize cooperation or joint ventures with the companies from other countries and unroll foreign economic cooperation businesses actively”. This presents the intention of North Korea to seek a breakthrough for economic recovery outside.

The specific budgets for this year was more increased than the last year as follows: 15.9% in national defense, 12.2% in agriculture, 9.6% in steel, fuel, and electricity, and 3.1% in technological development. However, it is doubtful that North Korea could push the economic strategy as the Prime Minister Park stated.

Because although the defense budget is arranged 15.9%, the real appropriation for defense is more than that percentage. Plus, the North Korea situations is that the Prime Minister who cannot sigh economic joint contracts because of no money of even several thousands dollars.

The expectation that a Special Act related to reformation and liberalization would be announced was off the mark. Yet it is impossible to say firmly that North Korea does not have any will of reformation and liberalization at consideration of the fact that this time plan was decided by the Supreme People’s Assembly like the ‘Shinuiju Sepecial Region Act’.