Archive for August, 2007

Every Time I Enter North Korea Customs I Feel Like a Criminal

Friday, August 31st, 2007

Daily NK
Kim Min Se

There is one place that traders curse every time they pass through North Korea and China. That is towards the corruptive and fastidious North Korean customs officers.

It is widely known that North Korean customs officers blatantly seek bribes and extort goods justifying it is for inspection.

As more and more citizens became disgruntled by the security at customs, North Korean authorities enforced strict investigations towards customs officers. However, tradesmen who travel in and out of North Korea comment that the corruption occurring at customs is still prevalent.

Wang Hae Dong (pseudonym), one tradesman who has been bringing goods manufactured in China into North Korea for the past 10 years said on 29th, “It’s becoming harder and harder to bring goods into the country because of the demanding customs officers” and “There is nothing left if you bring 100,000 yuan amount of goods as there are now many tradesmen who have been specifically sent from North Korea to acquire items manufactured in China.”

Wang, a Chinese merchant born in North Korea has been living in North Korea for over 20 years and now runs a trading company which sends items for daily living to North Korea.

Wang said, “Not only is it becoming harder to earn money but when customs officers speak rudely and undergo picky inspections, I don’t want to trade anymore and want to give everything up.” He said, “What’s more annoying is the fact that goods disappear every time inspections are made and yet there is no where to make complaints.”

“Losing one or two items of clothing is nothing. I am lucky not to get bundles of clothing taken away from me” he said.

He said, “I barely make a profit of 0.2~03 Yuan from a piece of clothing bought for 10 Yuan. I import about 5 tons of goods in 3 trucks in one go (worth 1million Yuan) but after I sell all of the goods, I’m left with about 3~40,000 Yuan. After delivery fees and taxes, there are many times I’m left with only 10,000 Yuan but when one or two bundles of goods disappear, the work becomes worthless.”

Irrespective of importing or exporting goods to and from China, all items must undergo thorough inspection at customs. Nothing is exempted from goods transported by car or containers to individual pockets and even purses.

Local traders describe the scene of North Korean customs officers opening and inspecting every piece of item as pandemonium.

Many goods also become damaged despite have been well packaged as they are roughly handled by officers. Losing one or two items is common, though there are cases where even whole boxes are lost.

Wang said, “As of 2 years ago, money was given to Chosun superintendents with an import license to clear goods because Chosun customs was so selective yet still goods went missing. What can I do? I still take goods to Chosun once a week, 4 times a month. Don’t I just have to accept the fact that I can’t redeem the lost money?”

Regarding the reasons why North Korean customs officers scavenge through all the goods like searching for lice, Wang said, “Isn’t so they can find another reason to collect extra money?” and “I think that’s what they live off.”

He added, “Every time I pass through Chosun customs, the customs officers seem like the prison guards and I feel like a criminal who is paying for his crime.”


U.S. medical aid arrives in flood-stricken N. Korea: report

Friday, August 31st, 2007


North Korea’s foreign minister Friday met with a U.S. delegation bringing emergency medical supplies to help North Korean victims of recent floods, the North’s official news outlet said.

The reclusive country has appealed to the international community for assistance to cope with massive flooding caused by heavy downpours that left at least 600 people dead or missing and about 100,000 people homeless in early August. The United Nations is seeking US$14 million to provide North Korea with food, medicine, drinking water and other emergency goods.

“Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun met with guests from the United States who visited with emergency medical aid equipment donated by the U.S. administration and the non-governmental organization Samaritan’s Purse with regard to flood damage at the Mansudae Assembly hall,” said the one-sentence report carried by the Korean Central News Agency. It did not identify the U.S. guests.

Washington has so far pledged US$100,000 for the U.N. initiative, equally distributing the funds to two non-governmental relief organizations, Mercy Corps and Samaritan’s Purse, to deliver emergency aid to North Korea.

The heaviest rain in 40 years swept North Korea, which is poorly equipped to cope amid wide-spread deforestation. The severe damage caused the second inter-Korean summit to be postponed from late August to early October.


1972 Declaration

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

Korea Times
Andrei Lankov

At 10:00 in the morning of July 4, 1974, Lee Hu-rak, the director of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA), convened a special press conference. It was just the place to drop a bombshell. He told the journalists that in May and June, secret high-level exchanges had been conducted between the North and South Korean governments.

Lee himself went to Pyongyang, while Seoul was secretly visited by Kim Yong-ju, the younger brother of then North Korean President Kim Il-sung. In those days Kim Yong-ju was considered as a likely heir to the North Korean dictator (Kim Jong-il was still too young).

The visits themselves were a sensation since for the two decades following the end of the 1950-53 Korean War there were virtually no government-level contacts between the two Koreas. These secret talks produced a document which is known as the “July 4 Declaration” to the Koreans, but in English language publications it is usually referred to as the “1972 Declaration.”

The declaration stated that both Korean governments were committed to eventual unification, and that this unification should be reached independently (without the involvement of foreign forces), peacefully and with respect to their political and ideological differences.

Frankly, it was not very precise wording. However, in one regard the document was important indeed: for the first time in decades it stated that both Korean states, at least theoretically, were ready to coexist and negotiate.

The declaration produced much hype in the international media, and was welcomed as a “great breakthrough.” Of course, this was not the case, and all long-time Korea watchers knew only too well that from time to time some events would be presented by the world media as a “great turning point” _ only to be forgotten or made irrelevant in few years.

Still, the 1972 Declaration was surely a sign of new times: grudgingly, each Korea began to accept existence of the other side. Not its right to exist, God forbid, but merely its physical existence as a rather unpleasant but unchangeable fact.

This turn took place just after the worst period of confrontation, when the two Koreas seemed to be on the eve of a second Korean War. In 1968 North Korean commandos stormed (unsuccessfully) the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul, and they waged campaigns in the mountain ranges along the eastern coast of South Korea.

Seemingly influenced by the success of the Vietnamese Communist guerrillas, the North Korean strategists believed that a Communist revolution could be started in the South as well.

However, by 1970 Kim Il-sung and his coterie finally realized that their hopes for a Vietnam-style uprising in the South were unfounded. Perhaps, the news from Germany where the Eastern and the Western states finally recognized each other, also had some impact: Koreans always paid attention to events in Germany, another divided country.

South Korea changed its strategy as well. Since 1948, the South Korean state had not made a secret of its willingness to use all means, including military ones, to achieve unification and the “liberation” of the North from “Communist slavery.” (The North Korean leaders, in their turn, vowed to save Southerners from “Capitalist hell”).

However, on August 15, 1970, President Park Chung-hee said that unification should be achieved peacefully. He addressed the North Korean leaders (the same people who tried to kill him two years earlier) and urged them to engage in peaceful economic competition.

This statement reflected a new confidence in Seoul: throughout the first decade of the dictatorial but efficient rule of Park, South Korea’s economy was booming. The South Korean leaders thought they would win the economic competition. We know now that they were correct in this assumption.

Hence, negotiations made sense, at least as a way to win time. Indeed, for a short period after the 1972 Declaration there were a number of exchanges and contacts. The Red Cross societies of both Koreas were engaged in the negotiations of a painful question: the arrangement of meetings between members of separated families.

For all practical purposes, in those years the Red Cross societies acted as major channels of dialogues, hence both sides staffed these NGO-type bodies with high-level officials. The first rounds of talks led to nothing, but even the fact that both Koreas were willing to talk was seen as a great novelty after 25 years of division, war, and propaganda.

In 1973, the ROK government made it clear that it would tolerate the participation of North Korea in international organizations. Shortly before that, the principle of mutually exclusive international recognition had also been dropped: a foreign country could henceforth have ambassadors stationed both in Seoul and in Pyongyang.

However, the declaration did not change as much as newspaper readers worldwide were led to believe in those July days. Neither side was going to compromise too much. Domestically, both sides continued with their propaganda war, an enterprise, which was quite hysterical in the South and much worse in the North.

The generals planned future military operations, and secret services were conducting their silent war with the same zeal. Nobody was willing to give in, and talks were interrupted in 1973. They resumed only a decade later, and by that time the situation in and around Korea had changed dramatically.

Prof. Andrei Lankov was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, and now teaches at Kookmin University in Seoul.


S.Korean Networks to Pay Millions for N.Korean Footage

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

Choson Ilbo (Hat Tip DPRK Studies)

Three South Korean terrestrial TV stations agreed in July to pay tens of millions to North Korea annually for footage from North Korea’s state-run Korean Central Broadcasting Station. An SBS executive said South Korean TV stations have used TV pictures aired by KCBS for free, but in July, the Korean Foundation for South-North Economic and Cultural Cooperation, as a proxy of the North Korean TV station, concluded negotiations with three TV stations whereby SBS will pay about W20 million every year to KCBS through the foundation. MBC will pay slightly more than that, and KBS will pay about W30 million.

The foundation, chaired by United New Democratic Party member Im Jong-seok, was established in 2004. It held talks with the three terrestrial networks for a year and a half. In the talks, the three argued it was unreasonable for South Korean TV stations to pay for North Korean footage in programs that aim at promoting mutual understanding, and they generally rejected the idea of unilaterally paying North Korea when the North does not pay South Korean broadcasters for footage.


No Contact with North Koreans on Kaesung Tour

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

Daily NK
Kim Yong Hun

In 2005, the South Korean Buddhist Cheontaejong and North Korea collaborated to begin restorations at Yongtong Temple and as of June this year, an agreement was made permitting tourists to visit the area of Kaesung with the focus of visiting the sacred land. Though the tour is limited, it still has symbolic meaning as it is the only region of North Korea that South Koreans can legally visit in addition to Geumgang Mountain. The following is a report on Kaesung from the eyes of the reporter.

Tourists not only visit the sacred land of Yongtong Temple but the Sunjukgyo located in the regions of Kaesung and the Korean Folk Museum. Visitors arrive at Yongtong Temple via a road which workers and laborers take on their way to work at Kaesung Industrial Complex. Then, tourists visit the traditional folk inn, Sunjukgyo and Korean Folk Museum.

Excluding the ruins, photography is prohibited at all times. The path to the holy land, the people and the urban area of Kaesung as well as the country scenery on the outer skirts of Kaesung may only be captured just by the eye.

There were many people clustering in groups within the city of Kaesung. Most of the people wandering on the streets wore dark colored short sleeved t-shirts and black pants. The main form of transportation is the bicycle.

The people cautiously watched the tour bus which travelled on the road to the holy land but showed very little response. Every so often, soldiers stood at attention gazing at the tour bus and the guards observed and cautioning that the no contact was to be made with the people.

However, every so often, people and children wove in a friendly manner while eyeing the guards.

On arriving at the centre of Kaesung city, I noticed that people were sitting in groups. I saw some people sitting in two’s and three’s leisurely smoking and chatting, some aged people carried bundles with difficulty, and 10 or so students attentively listening to a person that seemed like their teacher.

Complete control over contact with Kaesung citizens

Once we had just reached the outer skirts of Kaesung city, you could see hundreds of acres of fields. Here, groups of North Korean workers had been mobilized to work. There were even quite a lot of young students. Just like the children, they watched the South Korean tourists but did not wave their hand. On the whole, there are more rice paddies rather than corn and bean fields in Kaesung.

The urban areas of Kaesung was cleaner and more organized than I had expected. Propaganda slogans idolizing Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung were visible sporadically. Kim Il Song’s statue alone made it clear that this was North Korea. In addition, barbers, clothes alteration and shoe stores were located within a building for convenience as well as prominent trade names for a ‘Wedding Photo Gallery’ and ‘Hair Salon.’

All the homes around Kaesung were either one-storey or apartment blocks. However, whether the buildings were old or not, paint was peeling and some buildings even used plastic as a window shield instead of glass.

In order to go to Yongtong Temple, you must pass through Kaesung’s urban area, only then will you be permitted to enter the outer skirts and rural districts of Kaesung. The scenery outside of Kaesung was of endless fields. Though the mountains were dense with trees, there weren’t many outstanding tall trees. Rather all the trees stood at around 1m.

I felt a sort of loss, having only seen no more than 10 people while riding the tour bus that was traveling the regions of Kaesung that had been disconnected to South Korea for over half a century. Above all, I was most disappointed at the fact that I could not capture any photos of Kaesung which I had never before laid eyes on.

Two North Koreans accompany the tour as “guides” to the South Korean tourists, though these people were there to assert control over taking photos.

“The problem is South Korea’s conservative press who criticize North Korea”

Whether or not these “guides” had met many South Koreans in past, they freely took photos with the tourists without hesitation and casually socialized with the South Koreans. Further, they were the ones to open discussion on South Korean people, Kaesung Industrial Complex and the South Korean presidential election. The two guides on our bus showed quite an interest on the South Korean media.

One guide began by saying, “I cannot understand why Southern conservative media criticizes North Korea” and used this as a point to continually criticize the South Korean press. Further, the guide even named a particular reporter, expressing anger and complaints against the reporter for distorting the news.

Though you can capture some of Kaesung city through your eyes on the tour, it is difficult to capture the hearts of the people. This Kausung tour must be a “confined tour” which prohibits all contact with the people.

Visitors are prohibited from taking any photos outside the ruins and Yongtong Temple. While taking photos of the people is completed forbidden, conversation with the people whom the guides did not permit to talk is even more difficult. Even the average citizen is surely not permitted to approach us.

At the North Korean immigration office, all cameras owned by South Korean tourists are inspected. This is to regulate any photos that were taken without the guides’ permission. Any photo that is not of the ruins or remains is deleted.

One tourist said, “I took a few photos of North Korean transportation because it was so interesting. I was rather surprised when a North Korean official made an issue of this and made me delete the photos.” If any photos are taken without consent, the camera is confiscated and the person fined $100.

The 500 or so visitors to the Yongtong Temple all carried one or two souvenir bags. There are more than 2 souvenir stores at both the folk village and Korean Folk Museum which sells special gifts such as Kaesung ginseng, alcohol and other special products.

These two stores displayed goods produced at Kaesung including alcohol, honey, medicinal herbs, ginseng, fans, stamps, stamps and books. In particular, the books were on Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il propaganda, and others beautifully decorated idolizing the two people. They had also been published in English. An expensive book would set you back about $100, though on average, the books cost $10~$50.

There is only one reason why North Korean authorities strictly regulate contact with the people and capturing of photos. It is to do with money. This was clearly evident throughout the whole Kaesung tour.

The Kaesung tour costs 160,000 won (around USD 172) per person. When you calculate the tour costs of 500 or so people and the average amount of money they spend purchasing souvenirs, North Korea can earn more than $100,000 through one Kaesung tour.

My heart raced as I visited Kaesung in person, a place I had only known on the map. It was probably because of my high expectations and excitement, however, my expectations were greatly disappointed. On the tour, I merely saw scenery and was unable to meet any people. I wonder how much longer it will be until the North Korean regimes continues to enforce control and venture on this dangerous ride of foreign money.


Nigeria seeks North Korean energy investment

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

(Hat tip DPRK Forum)

Nigeria will send a high-level delegation to North Korea to discuss attracting investment in Nigerian energy and natural gas, President Umaru Yar’Adua has said.

Nigeria is the fifth largest oil supplier to the United States and an ally of Washington, but it also maintains warm relations with the secretive Stalinist state as a fellow member of the Non-Aligned Movement.

“I will direct the minister of state for energy to visit your country for discussions on energy and gas, a sector where we have an emergency,” Yar’Adua told the outgoing North Korean ambassador to Nigeria, King Pyong Gi, on Tuesday.

Yar’Adua, who took office in May, intends to declare a state of emergency in energy and power to accelerate development of the sector, which has been mismanaged and starved of investment for decades.

Yar’Adua promised to encourage high-level visits between the two countries, the state-run News Agency of Nigeria said.

In 2004 North Korea, which tested a nuclear device for the first time in October 2006, offered to share missile technology with Nigeria as part of a wide-ranging military cooperation agreement. It is unclear if it went ahead after Washington opposed it.

Ambassador Pyong expressed North Korea’s support for Nigeria’s bid for a permanent seat at the U.N. Security Council, the agency said.


North Korea Uncovered v.4 on Google Earth

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

The most authoritative, publicly available map of North Korea
Version 4: August 29, 2007

Download it here 

This map covers North Korea’s agriculture, aviation, cultural locations, manufacturing facilities, railroad, energy infrastructure, politics, sports venues, military establishments, religious facilities, leisure destinations, and national parks. It is continually expanding and undergoing revisions. This is the fourth version.

Additions to the latest version of “North Korea Uncovered” include the city of Manpo along the Chinese border, KEDO, Kumgang Resort expansion, Kaesong Industrial Zone, as well as a few more parks, antiaircraft sites, dams, mines, canals, etc. I have also added more links in the menu which will tell the viewer a bit about the locations themselves. I have also changed the color scheme to make the collage easier to view.

Disclaimer: I cannot vouch for the authenticity of many locations since I have not seen or been to them, but great efforts have been made to check for authenticity. These efforts include pouring over books, maps, conducting interviews, and keeping up with other peoples’ discoveries. In many cases, I have posted sources, though not for all. This is a thorough compilation of lots of material, but I will leave it up to the reader to make up their own minds as to what they see. I cannot catch everything and I welcome contributions.

I hope this map will increase interest in North Korea. There is still plenty more to learn, and I look forward to receiving your additions to this project.


Foreign Business Begins Entry Into KIC

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

Institute for Far Eastern Studies
NK Brief No. 07-8-29-1

A Chinese manufacturer of artificial fingernails has become the first non-Korean business to set up shop in the Kaesong Industrial Complex. The (South) Korea Land Corporation announced that on August 27, a contract for entry into the Kaesong Industrial Complex was concluded with Dashing Diva, the South Korean subsidiary of Tianjin Jci Cosmetic, which had applied for a plot in the 1st stage of the KIC. Another firm, a plywood manufacturer located in Linyi, a city in China’s Shandong province and the hub of the country’s lumber industry, is preparing to close a contract for a 2000 square meter plot by the end of August.

In order to enhance the global image of the KIC, six plots in the first stage of the complex, designed to house small and medium-sized manufacturers, have been slated specifically for foreign manufacturers. In the event a foreign enterprise wishes to do business in the KIC, it must have a South Korean subsidiary with which a land development contract can be drawn. However, when applications were solicited last June, not a single company showed interest, so the lots were offered contract ad libitum beginning at the end of July.

In addition to these Chinese companies, representatives of the Kimberly-Clark Corporation, a U.S.-based global leader in health and hygiene products, met with KIC officials at the ROK Ministry of Unification on August 14 in order to reach an understanding on investment issues. Yuhan-Kimberly Ltd., Kimberly-Clark Corporation’s Seoul-based subsidiary, oversees all of the corporation’s Northeast Asian branches. Yuhan-Kimberly Ltd. CEO Moon Kook-hyun stated that the corporation’s Beijing plant was interested in a lot in the KIC, after Kimberly-Clark Corp. CEO Thomas Falk visited the complex earlier in the year.

Investment by foreign companies has special meaning for the inter-Korean joint project, as it reflects international confidence in the complex. In particular, when taking into account the importance of U.S.-DPRK relations, investment by the multinational Kimberly-Clark Corp. could have even greater meaning.


Hyundai Motor’s union to provide aid to North Korea despite looming strike

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007


The labor union of Hyundai Motor Co. decided to provide aid to North Korea to help a South Korean humanitarian group expand a corn-noodle plant in North Korea, union officials said Wednesday, despite the union’s steps to stage a possible strike next week.

The workers at Hyundai, South Korea’s largest automaker, are scheduled to vote Thursday on whether to launch a walkout over higher wages and better working conditions, almost an annual ritual for the 44,000-strong union.

In a statement, the union said it will provide the aid worth 500 million won (US$530,786), including noodle-processing machines, a minibus, a truck and a power generator, to the corn-noodle plant in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.

The aid will be provided via the Seoul-based humanitarian group Movement for One Korea, an official at Hyundai’s union said by telephone from Ulsan, a port city on the nation’s southeast coast where Hyundai’s main plant is located.

“We decided to provide the aid to help North Korea recover from its food shortage and to implement the union’s corporate social responsibility,” said the official, refusing to give his name.

The timing and other details have yet to be decided, he said.

It is the first time that a union of a private company has decided to give aid to North Korea.

The North has had to rely on international humanitarian aid for the past decade, due to floods, drought and economic mismanagement.

Earlier in the day, conservative newspapers questioned the Hyundai union’s rationale, criticizing it for deciding to give aid to the North as the strike looms.

“It’s an inappropriate time for Hyundai Motor’s union to do this as public criticism is mounting over its 13th consecutive annual strike,” Bae Son-geun, a professor at Korea University, was quoted as saying by the daily Dong-a Ilbo.

Hyundai and its union have had 10 sessions of formal negotiations. The union is demanding an 8.9 percent increase in monthly basic salary, after rejecting the company’s offer of a 5.4 percent rise.

The strike vote will be held on Friday and the outcome is to be announced later in the day or early Saturday, union officials said.

So far this year, Hyundai workers staged a 13-day partial strike over a bonus dispute and a proposed free trade agreement with the United States which they argued could hurt the livelihoods of farmers and factory workers.

Hyundai’s union has held walkouts every year except 1994 since its foundation in 1987. In the past 20 years, the union has gone on strike for 313 days, costing the company 8.94 trillion won (US$9.53 billion) in total lost sales, according to the automaker.


Hundreds of firms plan to open in Kaesong

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

Joong Ang Daily
Limb Jae-un

Less than 10 percent of companies in Kaesong have stayed five years.

Hundreds of companies are lining up to operate in North Korea’s Kaesong Industrial Complex, but an economist said in a seminar yesterday that the current economic cooperation with South Korea won’t bring any significant changes to the communist country.

More than 200 companies have signed a contract with the Korea Land Corp. to join the 33 domestic companies currently operating in the industrial park, according to Kim Du-bok, an employee at the state-owned company.

Korea Land Corp. is responsible for assigning space in the industrial complex.

Among the new companies are a couple of firms with foreign connections that hope to open next year.

A Korean subsidiary of Tianjin JCI Cosmetic Corp., a Chinese producer of synthetic nail tips and other cosmetic goods, agreed Monday to lease space in the section allotted for foreign companies.

“Tianjin JCI Cosmetic Corp. and its Korean subsidiary, Dashing Diva, signed a contract to lease a piece of land,” Kim said yesterday.

To operate at the inter-Korean park, which uses North Korean labor and South Korean technology, a foreign company needs to have a South Korean subsidiary.

Yuhan-Kimberly, a joint venture between U.S.-based Kimberly-Clark and Korea-based Yuhan, has expressed a desire to set up a manufacturing base in Kaesong, but has not yet applied for space.

However, Cho Dong-ho, a professor at Ewha Womans University, said during a seminar in Seoul yesterday sponsored by the Korea Rural Economic Institute, that the government needs a more practical approach to stimulate reform and the opening of North Korea.

As an example of the failure, he said there are neither goods nor people to transport on the reconnected railroad between Seoul and Sinuiju.

He also said only 9.2 percent of the companies that tried to manufacture goods in Kaesong had done so for more than five years, as of January 2007. Many companies, he said, halted their operations after one or two years.

“The purpose of the economic policy toward North Korea is to support North Korea’s economic development and encourage reform and the opening of the North, but despite the fact that the cooperation is an economic issue, non-economic considerations were made a priority.”