Archive for July, 2007

Korea Economic Institute published new data

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

May 2007

Link to KEI web site power point presentation.
PDF here:Korea Economic Institute.pdf

Topics covered:

Nominal and Per Capita GNI
Population and Per Capita GNI
GDP Growth
Industrial Structure in 2004 (% of total GDP)
GDP Growth Rates by Industry
North Korea’s External Trade
Trade with Major Trading Partners (2005)
North Korea’s Principal Trade Partners by Year
Inter- Korean Trade
South Korea’s Exports to North Korea By Type
South Korea’s Processing-on-Commission Trade with North Korea


Efforts to Reunite Separated North Korean Families by Korean-Americans

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

Daily NK
Kim Chan Ku, Researcher in the Institute for Far Eastern Studies

1989 July 14th. Kim Ki Dong, a manager at Rajin ship repairs and superintendent and Choi Chng Ku (affiliated with Daesung General Bureau) of Rajin’s Donghae Marine Products for Exports made a decision to reinvestigate business plans for a ship maintenance factory.

The 3.30PM train headed for Kimchaek arrives at Kimchaek station at 10.40 in North Hamkyung where an official from Kimchaek Fisheries Office came awaiting their guests. We headed for the villa.

Through these business investments, a small fraction of North Korea’s closed doors have been opened and the number of tourists continued to rise. In addition, a great number of Korean-Americans were reunited with their separated North Korean families.

In fact, most of these people had been thinking about small-scale investments with the purpose of frequently meeting their separated families. I was the only person wanting to invest in North Korea despite not having any connections.

In 1988, Koreans with American citizenship thought they were allowed to invest in North Korea different to U.S. North Korea policies. It was at this time problems began to arise.

Korean-Americans only permitted 1 visit to North Korea per year

The U.S. government had claimed North Korea as an enemy state and for this reason had placed restrictions to the number of visits to North Korea. The U.S. had drafted and was regulating a list of visitations to North Korea in which Korean-Americans took no notice of. With the sole reason that North Koreans were of the same race, people traveled unrestricted to North Korea in which the U.S. had deemed an enemy state. However, the U.S. government could not accept this.

Around this time, the number of visits had been reported to the U.S. Department of Treasury.
1) All Korean-Americans residing in the U.S. (with citizenship or permanent residency) are permitted to travel to North Korea on 1 occasion per year.
2) No more than US$100 worth of goods possessed or purchased in North Korea can be brought into the country.
3) All Korean-Americans are prohibited from investing in North Korea and are prohibited from arbitrating any businesses for other North Korea advancement.

A notice was made which specifically stated that strict penalties would be made under U.S. law against any persons who did not comply to the 3 law enforcements. However, I continued with my work.

Following consultations with company authorities, a whole day was spent drafting business plans needed to repair a Russian cargo ship. On examining the business plans, it was decided that a floating dock would be the most appropriate and cost effective operation.

A decision made to help overrun coastal facilities

평양으로 돌아온 나는 종합검토 결과 라진-선봉지역은 일제 때부터 일본군인들이 사용했던 항구이고, 또 지역적으로도 앞으로 동북아 물류 중심 항구로 손색이 없겠다는 결론을 내렸다. 또한, 북한 측의 요구를 고려해 라진-선봉 지구에 시설을 하기로 했다. 원 부자재인 플로팅 독(Floating Dock)은 내가 책임지고, 그 외의 모든 설비는 대성총국 측에서 책임지기로 합의서를 작성했다.  

On returning to Pyongyang, I made a decision on the results which indicated that the Rajin-Sunbong region had been used as a port by Japanese soldiers during Japanese occupation and that geographically, this region possessed no disadvantages in being the focal port of distributing goods in the future of North East Asia.

For 10 days, I visited many small and large ports throughout North Korea’s eastern coast and having seen the incomparably inadequate state of the ports in comparison to South Korean marine business, I made the decision to help these people and signed a contract.

On returning to Seoul, I spent a lot of time collating data that needed to be submitted by September. For 3 weeks, colleagues spent the summer working for more than 10 hours each day taking pictures and collecting information on North Korea companies and repair factories on location in Busan.

3 people, a planner, work colleague and myself, Kim Song Chan, a businessman from LA with experiences in trading with Communist countries arrived early in the morning of September 25th at North Korea’s embassy on the borderline and having received the visas arrived in Pyongyang.

In addition, a trading manager, advisor and colleague also joined us on our journey as we left on a special night train headed for Sunbong at 5PM on the 27th. The railroads were so poor that I felt as if I had bordered a boat and I couldn’t see anything as there was no light.

On the following morning, we arrived at Kimchaek city at 8AM. The purpose of this trip was to make ultimate decisions on fisherman, refrigerator and storage for the company, as well understand the present condition of catching turban shells and location for ship repairs. At the time, the Chosun Central Fisheries Committee had requested us to construct facilities at either Rajin or Wonsan port, but the Daesung General Bureau requested that the facilities be constructed at Kimchaek port as it provided all the good conditions.


Pyongyang accent best!

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

Cultured Language, Pride of Korea


The Korean people are proud of having the Pyongyang cultured language and are embodying in their linguistic life thoroughly.

The Pyongyang cultured language is the standard one of the nation, which is fully reflecting the national characteristics and constantly developing in accordance with the requirements of the times.

The Koreans are a nation of one and the same blood who have lived in a territory with same culture down through history. They have developed the Korean language into the Pyongyang cultured language, centering around Pyongyang, the hub of the politics, economy and culture, since the liberation of the country from the Japanese colonial rule.

The Korean language, with abundant vocabularies, can correctly distinguish the differences between various objects and their meanings and clearly express people’s feelings and emotion, color, taste and etiquette.

Its pronunciations are fluent, intonations soft and sounds beautiful.

The Pyongyang cultured language comprehends the superior linguistic factors of the national language.

In particular, all the words of foreign origin which are difficult to understand have been removed and a vocabulary system has been established on the basis of home-grown words. As a result, the Pyongyang cultured language protects the purity of the Korean language on a high level.

Chinese and Japanese words had been brought into the Korean language in the past owing to the flunkeyism of feudal rulers and the Japanese imperialists’ moves to obliterate the Korean language. Foreign words including them have been arranged into Korean ones.


A Mass-Scale Trade Deficit Results after the July 1 Economic Measure

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

Daily NK
Park Hyun Min
In North Korea, despite the additional reform measures on the table after the implementation of the 2002 July 1 Economic Management Reform Measure (July 1 Economic Measure), it appears that a mass-scale trade deficit has resulted.

Choi Soo Young, a Senior Researcher of Korea Institute for National Unification, said through a recently published report called “Five years after the July 1 economic measure, North Korea’s Economy and Process of Transformation” in the July issue of the Reunification Affairs Analysis, “The size of the deficit in North Korea’s revenues and expenditures (with the exception of North and South Korea trade) has increased from 790 million dollars in 2002 to 11 hundred million dollars in 2006.”

Researcher Choi said, “After the July 1 economic measure, North Korea, through regionalization of trade activities, which used to revolve around the Central Planning Administration, by allowing provincial-level offices such as the city and district offices, attempted trade revitalization.” However, to control inflation resulting from structural unemployment and shortage of supply, the North Korean government ignored revenues outside of national planning, which was the cause of the deficit.

After he also pointed out that, “When the North Korean economy’s dependence on China became chronic, the situation has become exacerbated,” he said, “North Korea’s export to China in 2006, compared to 2002, rose 72.7%, but on the other hand, import from China increased 163.8%.”

Between 2002-2004, North Korea’s size of trade deficit with China was only around 2 hundred million dollars, but in 2005 and 2006 each, it expanded to 5.8 hundred million dollars and 7.6 hundred million dollars. Further, North Korea’s reliance on trade with China, augmented from 48.5% in 2004, to 52.6% in 2005, and 56.7% in 2006.

Accordingly, North Korea has to depend on China in order to get equipment, energy, and raw materials for industrial production.

Simultaneously, Choi, from the perspective of macroeconomics on the basis of North Korea’s economic growth rate, North Korea’s economy has recovered from the worst situation and is maintaining a low-growth condition.

He analyzed, “From 1990 to 1998, a continuous 9-year negative economic growth has been recorded, but from 1999 to 2004, a positive growth has been achieved. After the July 1 economic measure, the North Korean economy’s low-growth originated from its verbal effort of increasing productions of agricultural and a portion of its light industry goods and the support of the outside world.”

However, he pointed out that it is not off-target to evaluate that the North has a foundation of undergrowth due to its sustained level of low-growth, that its shortage of food, energy, and raw material goods is continuing, and on the industrial front, productions increase has not shown any movement.

On one hand, researcher Choi said that going beyond the financial deficit, in order to realize a form of annual income and annual expenditures, an establishment of the power of taxation for an increase in tax revenues and restraining of unnecessary financial expenses are needed. Also, he ordered the acquirement of an objective tax system for the assurance of an effective financial plan and a fair tax.


Drivers Employ Guards to Prevent Theft

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

Daily NK
Han Young Jin

More and more North Korean delivery drivers have been employing guards in preparation for theft by soldiers.

On the 24th, Kim Kyung Min (pseudonym) a defector who entered Korea in February said, “Lately, there have been many incidents where the military get into brawls with young kids employed by delivery drivers and chauffeurs” and added, “This was something unthinkable in the past, but delivery drivers who transport wholesale goods are now hiring guards in order to protect their goods.”

As Jangmadang (markets) revitalized and more drivers began to load cargo onto their trucks to deliver goods to rural districts via road, protective measures such as guards have been employed as the number of theft by the military becomes more common.

Kim said, “In the past, drivers used government cars and so they were always attacked. However, things have changed now. Drivers bring their cars registering them at factories and businesses, and as a result, 2~3 guards are hired as a proactive way to protect themselves.”

According to Kim, these “bodyguards” employed by drivers were once militants who served in the army. Hence, they are trained in martial arts and fighting skills so that it is possible for a person to combat 2~3 people on his own.

Kim said, “Last year, soldiers put their baggage in the middle of the road on Pyongyang-Hyangsan Highway and wanted for a delivery truck. Thinking that the goods had fallen from a passing truck, the driver stopped his vehicle when three to four soldiers came and threatened him to hand over the goods. At that moment, the kids hired by the driver who were in hiding came and took care of the situation. Businessmen and drivers felt refreshed on hearing this story.”

Secretary general Lee Hae Young of the Association of North Korean Defectors said, “Since the past, soldiers would frequently steal household goods and corn from the country” and explained, “It seems that people have become conscious of protecting their assets.”

This kind of response by the people is a reflection of the real decline in power by the People’s Army.

Following the food crisis in North Korea, corruption amidst governmental officials worsened and soldiers increasingly stole goods from homes. People are widely recognizing the People’s Army as a violent group which steals goods.

Last year August, one Japanese broadcast captured and exposed a footage where a driver and security agent got into a fight in the vicinity of Sariwon, North Hwanghae, after the security agent had smashed a car window. This is what the majority of defectors mean when they respond, “This was something unthinkable in the past.”

These incidents may be a result of increasing individualism and property awareness as the distribution system collapsed. North Korean people analyze that different to the past, people are now increasingly asserting their own authority and not following the ways of the government or military.


North Korea Wants End to Sanctions Before It Makes Nuclear Deal

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

Bradley K. Martin

To make painkillers and antibiotics in his factory in Pyongyang, Swiss businessman Felix Abt needs reagents, chemicals used to test for toxic impurities. Abt can’t get them now — because the world refuses to sell North Korea a product that is also used to manufacture biological weapons.

Such sanctions on trade with the regime of Kim Jong Il — some dating back to the Korean War — may be the next diplomatic battleground after North Korea bowed to pressure last week and shut down five nuclear facilities at Yongbyon.

North Korea said July 16 that ending sanctions, and its removal from a U.S. list of countries that sponsor terrorism, are prerequisites for further progress in the negotiations to end its nuclear weapons program. The U.S., meanwhile, says the next step is for North Korea to disclose all its nuclear capabilities, followed by a permanent dismantling of Yongbyon.

North Korea is playing a “tactical game,” said David Straub, a Korea specialist at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. After shutting down Yongbyon and receiving a pledge of 950,000 tons of oil, the reclusive nation will try to “force the U.S. and others to lift sanctions,” Straub said in an e-mail exchange.

While many of the post-Korean war sanctions were lifted between 1994 and 2000 by President Bill Clinton, Americans are prohibited from exporting “dual-use” products or technologies, a wide range of items that might have military as well as civilian applications — including reagents and even aluminum bicycle tubing, which might be used to make rockets.

UN Sanctions

Much of the world joined the sanctions regime after North Korea tested an atomic device last October. The United Nations called on member states to stop trade in weapons, “dual-use” items and luxury goods. Japan went further, stopping used-car exports and banning port calls by North Korean vessels.

Now that North Korea has shut its facilities at Yongbyon and allowed in international inspectors, the haggling will begin on the next steps. If its demands aren’t met, North Korea could kick out the inspectors and restart the plants, as it did in 2002.

“The Bush administration must choose between settling for a temporary closure of the nuclear sites and taking a strategic decision to coexist” with North Korea, said Kim Myong Chol, Tokyo-based president of the Center for Korean-American Peace, who for three decades has encouraged foreign reporters to consider him an informal North Korean spokesman. “Otherwise, the agreement will break up, leaving the U.S. with little to show.”

‘Contentious Issue’

Sanctions represent “a multiplicity of issues that could become contentious,” said economist Marcus Noland, North Korea specialist at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, in an e-mail exchange. China has already called for the lifting of the UN sanctions imposed Oct. 14.

North Korea agreed with the U.S., South Korea, Russia, China and Japan on Feb. 13 to close its Yongbyon reactor, which produced weapons-grade plutonium, and to eventually declare and disable all of its atomic programs. Working groups will meet in August before another round of talks in September.

If the U.S. insists on a list of all the country’s nuclear facilities without starting to negotiate on sanctions, North Korea might consider that “a spoiler” for the talks ahead, Kim Myong Chol said.

Swiss businessman Abt said that in the past he could get around U.S. sanctions for his North Korean pharmaceutical factory by buying supplies from other countries. The UN sanctions shut off those sources.

Using Old Stocks

“Luckily, we have enough stock of reagents, but when it runs out we would not be able to guarantee the safety of our pharmaceuticals any longer,” he said.

Abt, 52, is president of Pyongsu Pharma Joint Venture Co., an enterprise with ties to the Ministry of Public Health that makes painkillers and antibiotics for humanitarian organizations in North Korea. He is also president of Pyongyang’s European Business Association.

“The same is true in many other civilian industries,” said Abt, who moved to North Korea from Vietnam five years ago. Gold mines are affected too, he said: “If they cannot import cyanide, they can’t extract the gold.” Cyanide is another “dual-use” product, part of the process for making some chemical weapons, he said.

All this has “a highly negative impact” on the economy at a time when the regime has announced it wants to focus on development, Abt said. Foreigners are showing “more and more interest in doing business here,” Abt said, predicting that North Korea will eventually be regarded as a successor to Vietnam as “the newest emerging market.”


Inter-Korean Trade Jumps 28.6%

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

Korea Times
Jane Han

Inter-Korean trade rose 28.6 percent in the first half of 2007 from a year earlier, the country’s leading trade agency said Thursday, attributing the boost to the Gaeseong joint industrial complex and the eased tension between Seoul and Pyongyang.

Trade amounted to $720 million during the January-June period, the Korea International Trade Association (KITA) said.

While South’s exports to the North dropped 9.4 percent to $330 million, imports from the North jumped an impressive 63.3 percent to $390 million.

The trade group credited the big import leap to the expanded number of items produced in the industrial complex located at North Korea’s western border city.

But unlike the positive performance of the two-way trade, the Mt. Geumgang tour business has dropped 7.2 percent.

South Korean companies are currently employing about 15,000 North Korean workers in the Gaeseong complex and the number is expected to rise as the facility undergoes expansion.

Symbolic of the cooperation between the Cold War rivals, the industrial park began construction in June 2003 and its operation started the following year.


Natural Medicines Produced in DPRK

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007


The world medical circles call for producing natural medicines today when various synthetic medicines are rampant.

The Unphasan Pharmaceutical Institute of the DPRK has developed and perfected natural medicines efficacious for the diseases such as arteriosclerosis, hyperlipemia, diabetes, obesity, hyperuricemia, hepatitis and pancreatitis which should be treated for a long time. Now the medicines are being applied to clinical treatment.

Director of the institute Sonu Su Yong told KCNA that the research team has developed medicines with natural substances as their main raw material and they are made an effective use in the treatment of diseases.

He went on to say:

To prevent the break of immune systems by anticancer agent, antituberclosis agent and other medicines, the team has made immune activator-Immunoton injection from fish skin. The injection is efficacious for the treatment and prevention of diseases including the acute and chronic hepatitis and pancreatitis.

Discle is potent for hyperlipemia. It, which has no side effect and prevents the disease from returning, is more effective than Symbastatin.

High-Ins is made of various natural substances. It improves insulin selectivity. It is good for the treatment of diabetes.

Health food Defatty is potent for simplex obesity which has not high lipid in blood. Among the newly developed medicines are health food Lipohepa for liver, health food Kumsanjong for hyperuricemia, health food Chitosan for hyperlipemia and osteoarthrosis and combined enzyme health food Dipansin for the digestive diseases. They are all patented medicines made by the institute with natural medical stuffs.


North Korea’s living exports

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

Asia Times
Bertil Lintner

It has been known since the early 1990s that North Korea exports manpower to eastern Russian logging sites. But two remarkable incidents over the past years reveal that the foreign-currency-strapped nation also sends laborers to other, somewhat less expected places in the world.

When North Korea won a soccer game over Japan at the Asian Games in the Qatari capital Doha last December, its cheerleaders became so excited that they rushed on to the field and carried the players on their shoulders around the grounds. They could do that, because the North Korean cheerleaders were not, as cheerleaders usually are, young, petite women. They were all male – sturdy, middle-aged construction workers who belonged to the contingents of laborers that the North Korean government is sending to work in the Middle East.

Then, in January, the managing director of an unnamed construction firm was found slashed to death, and one of his workers hanged, in a building in the East Malaysian riverside town of Sibu, on the fringes of the jungles of Sarawak. The businessman was identified as Ri Won-gil, 52, and the worker as Kim Kwong-ryun, 47 – both North Koreans. Their company had “been doing contract work here for years”, the Malaysian Star newspaper reported, although it was not clear what kind of work that was.

As many as 70,000 North Koreans are currently working in various countries, Kim Tae-san, a defector who testified last year on North Korean migrant labor to the European Parliament, told US-financed Radio Free Asia (RFA) this year. Other estimates are considerably lower, but it is evident that labor export is becoming an important source of income for the government in Pyongyang.

Today, North Korean workers are found not only in Russia, Malaysia and Qatar but in Dubai, Mongolia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Bulgaria, Libya, Saudi Arabia and possibly also some African countries. Many are dispatched through labor agencies based in China, and most of their salaries end up in the coffers in Pyongyang. As North Korea does not publish any economic statistics, it is not known exactly how much it earns from exporting labor to other countries, but is it believed by North Korea-watchers to be bringing in millions of US dollars annually.

In addition, tens of thousands of North Koreans are working illegally in China, and sending money home to their relatives. This may not directly benefit the Pyongyang regime, but it helps alleviate poverty in the country, and therefore stifle possible social unrest on the level that actually hit the North Korea during the great famine in the early and mid-1990s. On a more organized level, trusted citizens are sent by Pyongyang to work in North Korean-run restaurants not only in China – Beijing and Shanghai – but also in Russia, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos. Profits from those enterprises are, naturally, sent to Pyongyang, or to support the activities of North Korean diplomatic missions in those respective countries.

Russia, or the erstwhile Soviet Union, is the oldest destination for North Korean labor, and it probably began when in 1967 Soviet secretary general Leonid Brezhnev and North Korea’s Kim Il-sung reached an agreement to bring manpower to sparsely populated eastern Russia. In September 1996, Amnesty International stated in its “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea/Russian Federation: Pursuit, Intimidation and Abuse of North Korean Refugees and Workers”, one of the earliest reports on the subject: “North Korea brought in the manpower and ran the logging sites, while the Soviet Union provided the natural resources. The profit, reportedly many million dollars over the years, was split between the two countries.” Some of the income was also reportedly used to pay off North Korea’s debt to Russia.

Today, according to Moscow’s Ministry of Economics, 90% of North Korea’s “exports” to Russia consist of workers. An estimated 2,500 North Koreans are to be found in Primorye, or the maritime region adjacent to the Sea of Japan, and almost all of them work at construction sites in Vladivostok and Nakhodka. According to local sources, they sleep in dormitories and eat together under portraits of the late Kim Il-sung and his son, current ruler Kim Jong-il.

Political classes are held every week under strict supervision of members of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party. The supervisors, who belong to North Korea’s security police, also collect their salaries from the Russian construction companies that have hired them, and give the workers only food and some pocket money. The bulk of their incomes are sent back to Pyongyang, or used to buy computers and other electronic equipment for North Korea’s small but burgeoning information-technology industry.

Many more North Koreans – the exact figure is not known but is believed to be at least 10,000 – work under similar conditions in logging camps in Khabarovsky krai (region) and Amursky oblast (province). The main camps in Khabarovsky krai are around Chegmodyn and Alonka in the Verkhnebureinsky region, in the wilderness some 680 kilometers north of Khabarovsk. In Amursky oblast, logging camps with North Korean workers are found in the north along the Yuktali, Yukcha and Gilyui rivers, and along the Arkhara River in the southeast. Fenced off with barbed wire, these camps are in extremely remote areas from which it is almost impossible to escape.

Some Russian logging firms – now all privately owned since the collapse of the Soviet Union and its communist system in 1991 – pay in cash, while others reportedly let the North Koreans keep 40% of the timber they fell as payment. Those logs are sent to North Korea by train, and resold to China, or used in North Korea itself, which has almost no forests left and therefore no timber.

According to Lyudmila Erokhina of the Vladivostok State University of Economics and Services, North Korean workers are preferred in the Russian Far East because they work hard and never complain: “They were brought up as law-abiding citizens in a strictly controlled society.” On the other hand, Chinese and Vietnamese guest workers in the Russian Far East are known to have raised demands for better working conditions, and are alleged by many Russians to be engaged in sometimes dubious local businesses, often in black or gray areas.

The good behavior of North Korean workers and their willingness to put up with harsh conditions may have been selling points when in more recent years Pyongyang began sending laborers to the Middle East, where they, according to RFA, mostly perform “low-skilled labor, such as plastering and bricklaying. The North Korean workers receive meager wages, even lower than the Nepalese workers, who have been known to receive the lowest pay of all foreign laborers” in, for instance, Qatar.

“The entire wage received by North Korean workers goes to the North Korean authorities. In order to make some money they can keep, they have to moonlight,” RFA quoted a South Korean resident in Qatar as saying. Thousands of North Korean construction workers are reported to be living under similar conditions in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

In the Czech Republic, hundreds of North Koreans, mostly women, work in factories producing auto parts, or as seamstresses in the garment industry. According to the US State Department’s 2006 Trafficking in Persons Report, the North Korean regime “provides contract labor for private industry in the Czech Republic. There are allegations that this labor is exploitative, specifically that the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] government keeps most of the wages paid to the North Korean workers and that workers’ movement is controlled by DPRK government ‘minders’.”

Since the formerly communist Czech Republic joined the European Union in 2004, it has been compelled to investigate the conditions of North Korean workers in country. But according to the US report, the Czech government “to date … has not confirmed that they enjoy freedom of movement away from DPRK government ‘minders’ and are not subject to other coercive practices, such as the collection of a majority of the workers’ salaries by DPRK officials”.

Soon, however, the North Koreans in the Czech Republic may be going home because of international pressure. No new work permits will be issued to them, and those who have permits will not have them renewed, which means that by the end of this year there will be no more North Korean workers in that country. The main problem from the Czech government’s point of view is that, since it joined the EU, tens of thousands of its own workers have left to seek higher wages in western Europe, so foreign labor is badly needed. And who could be better than hard-working, compliant North Koreans?

But if they are no longer wanted in the Czech Republic, there are many other countries willing to hire North Koreans – and, as long as Pyongyang needs foreign currency, the export of labor is also likely to continue.


N Korea ‘bans smoking for leader’

Tuesday, July 24th, 2007


smoking.jpgThe North Korean capital, Pyongyang, has reportedly become the latest city to impose a smoking ban.

However, rather than being for the good of the general public, it is all about the country’s leader Kim Jong-il.

The move comes after doctors advised Mr Kim to stop smoking and drinking after a recent heart operation, reports say.

“Kim’s home, office and all other places he goes to have been designated as non-smoking areas,” a former South Korean lawmaker said.

“A Chinese diplomat who has close relations with the North Koreans told me by telephone that doctors had asked Chairman Kim Jong-il to quit smoking and drinking,” Jang Sung-Min, an associate of former South Korean president Kim Dae-Jung, told the French news agency AFP.

“Even the highest-ranking officials are going outdoors to smoke,” he said.

Former chain-smoker

Mr Kim, 65, has reduced his official activities this year, and a month-long disappearance from public view in May prompted rumours of failing health.

A team of German doctors visited Pyongyang in May, sparking speculation among some foreign and local news media that Mr Kim might have had a heart operation. This has never been confirmed.

While accurate information is hard to obtain, several accounts portray Mr Kim as a former chain-smoker and a heavy drinker with an appetite for fine dining.

Such rumours are hard to confirm because of the highly secretive nature of his regime.