Archive for October, 2007

Freed N. Korean vessel opens new window for U.S.-N. Korea ties

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

Byun Duk-kun

A U.S. Navy destroyer helped a North Korean cargo ship escape a hijacking by pirates off the coast of Somalia on Tuesday, an incident which may bode well for the growing detente between the two nations, as sentiments remain upbeat over ongoing talks on the North’s denuclearization.

Officials here noted the incident will work positively in efforts to denuclearize the communist North, as it came just one day before the chief nuclear negotiators of the U.S. and North Korea were to meet for discussions on denuclearization, normalization of ties between the former Cold War foes and other issues.

It was early Tuesday when the USS James E. Williams, operating near Somalia, received a request from the International Maritime Bureau to investigate a North Korea-flagged ship reportedly hijacked by pirates.

The U.S. destroyer reacted with little hesitation, dispatching a helicopter to investigate the reported hijacking and then sailing at full speed to arrive at the site at midday to lend assistance, the U.S. Navy said in a press release.

The 22 crew members of the North Korean freighter eventually regained control of the ship after a firefight with the pirates, while the Williams demanded by radio that the pirates give up their weapons.

Two pirates were reportedly killed in the deadly gunfight, while five others were captured in the tense standoff.

After the hijacking situation was resolved, three injured crew members of the North Korean ship who may have received relatively serious wounds were brought onboard the U.S. destroyer for medical treatment, and were then sent back to their ship in stable condition, a message sent by the U.S. Navy to Yonhap News Agency said. It said the injuries sustained by the three merchant sailors were not life-threatening.

Besides giving first aid, the U.S. warship did not receive any further requests for assistance from the North Korean vessel, the message said.

Washington tried not to brag, saying piracy was a “scourge” in Somalia’s waters and that U.S. vessels were available to intercede when necessary.

“When we get a distress call, we help,” Lydia Robertson, commander of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, was quoted as saying by the AP.

South Korean officials agreed, saying the U.S. would have acted the same way had the incident taken place a year ago. They, however, noted the U.S. would not have acted so swiftly or as willingly had the incident happened before Feb. 13, when Pyongyang agreed to shut down and later disable its key nuclear facilities.

“Piracy is a crime that does not choose its victims by their nationality,” a ministry official said, asking that he remain unidentified.

“The U.S. and NATO forces have long operated missions in the (Somali) area to intercept pirates, so I don’t think the U.S. would have acted any differently had the incident happened a year ago,” said the official, whose job mainly deals with U.S. affairs.

Other officials said the incident demonstrates the changed mood between the former enemies as multilateral talks aimed at denuclearizing the communist North maintain an upbeat mood.

Washington and Pyongyang have held two rounds of working-level talks this year under a six-nation accord signed in February, which binds North Korea to shut down and disable its key nuclear facilities and declare all its nuclear programs.

In return, the communist nation will receive 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil or equivalent assistance, as well as other political benefits such as its removal from the U.S. list of terrorism sponsoring states and the normalization of its diplomatic relations with the U.S. and Japan.

North Korea has already shut down all its key nuclear facilities at Yongbyon and promised earlier this month to disable the Yongbyon complex and submit a full list of its nuclear programs by the end of the year.

Christopher Hill, the top U.S. envoy in six-way talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear ambition, was expected to hold bilateral talks with his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye-gwan in Beijing later Wednesday to discuss various issues including the normalization of ties between their nations, according to officials here.

“The incident will have a positive impact as a result of the efforts by both the U.S. and North Korea to normalize their diplomatic ties,” a ministry official said, asking to remain anonymous.

North Korea has yet to officially acknowledge the U.S. assistance in regaining the freedom of its vessel and treating the ship’s wounded North Korean crew members.

Crew wins deadly pirate battle off Somalia

The crew members of a North Korean freighter regained control of their ship from pirates who hijacked the vessel off Somalia, but not without a deadly fight, the U.S. Navy reported Tuesday.

When the battle aboard the Dai Hong Dan was over, two pirates were dead and five were captured, the Navy said.

Three wounded crew members from the cargo ship were being treated aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS James E. Williams.

The captured pirates were being held aboard the North Korean vessel, the Navy said.

The bandits had seized the ship’s bridge, while the crew kept control of the steering gear and engines, the Navy said.

The Koreans moved against the attackers after the Williams — responding to reports of the hijacking — ordered the pirates to give up their weapons, according to the Navy.

When the crew members stormed the bridge, the deadly battle began. After the crew regained control, Navy sailors boarded the Dai Hong Dan to help with the injured.

North Korea and the United States have no diplomatic relations.

The incident took place about 70 miles northeast of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, the Navy said.

It is the second incident of piracy reported in recent days. A second U.S. Navy destroyer was searching waters off Somalia for pirates who hijacked a Japanese-owned ship, military officials said.

Over the weekend, gunmen aboard two skiffs hijacked the Panamanian-flagged Golden Nori off the Socotra archipelago near the Horn of Africa, said Andrew Mwangura, a spokesman for the Kenyan-based Seafarers’ Assistance Program.

The guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke has been pursuing the pirates after entering Somali waters with the permission of the troubled transitional government in Mogadishu, U.S. officials said Monday. In recent years, warships have stayed outside the 12-mile limit when chasing pirates.

Two military officials familiar with the details confirmed the ongoing operation.

The Navy’s pursuit of the pirates began Sunday night when the Golden Nori radioed for help. The Burke’s sister ship, the USS Porter, opened fire and sank the pirate skiffs tied to the Golden Nori’s stern before the Burke took over shadowing the hijacked vessel.

When the shots were fired, it was not known the ship was filled with highly flammable benzene. U.S. military officials indicate there is a great deal of concern about the cargo because it is so sensitive.

Benzene, which U.S. authorities have declared a known human carcinogen, is used as a solvent and to make plastics and synthetic fabrics.

Four other ships in the region remain in pirate hands, the Navy said.

U.S. and NATO warships have been patrolling off the Horn of Africa for years in an effort to crack down on piracy off Somalia, where a U.N.-backed transitional government is struggling to restore order after 15 years of near-anarchy.

On Monday, the head of the transitional government resigned as his administration — backed by Ethiopian troops — battled insurgents from the Islamic movement that seized control of Mogadishu in 2006.

Hospital officials reported 30 dead in three days of clashes on the city’s south side.

In June, the ship USS Carter Hall fired warning shots in an attempt to stop a hijacked Danish cargo ship off Somalia, but the American vessel turned away when the pirated ship entered Somali waters.

In May, a U.S. Navy advisory warned merchant ships to stay at least 200 miles off the Somali coast. But the U.S. Maritime Administration said pirates sometimes issue false distress calls to lure ships closer to shore.

The pirates often are armed with automatic rifles and shoulder-fired rockets, according to a recent warning from the agency.

“To date, vessels that increase speed and take evasive maneuvers avoid boarding, while those that slow down are boarded, taken to the Somali coastline and released after successful ransom payment, often after protracted negotiations of as much as 11 weeks,” the warning advised.

The agency issued a new warning to sailors in the Gulf of Aden, between Somalia and Yemen, after Sunday’s hijacking.


Korea allows aid group to reach flood victims directly: RFA

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

Sam Kim

North Korea has allowed an international relief group to bring supplies directly to the North’s southeastern region hit hard by recent floods, Radio Free Asia (RFA) has reported.

The U.S.-funded broadcasting station cited Tom Henderson of England-based civic group, Shelter Box, Tuesday as saying that North Korean authorities made the rare decision, allowing aid officials to deliver food and other supplies to flood victims in the region southeast of capital Pyongyang.


Inter-Korean trade climbs 12.7 pct to US$1.23 bln in January-September period

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007


South Korean trade with North Korea rose 12.7 percent from a year earlier to US$1.23 billion for the first nine months of this year, a report said Wednesday, amid progress in talks on the North’s nuclear programs.

During the January-September period, South Korea exported $700 million worth of goods to North Korea and imported $530 million, the Korea International Trade Association said in the report.


Hyundai Motor union leaders visit N. Korea for noodle project

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007


Union leaders of Hyundai Motor Co., South Korea’s largest carmaker, left for North Korea to attend a ceremony to mark the completion of a corn noodle plant in the North’s capital, union officials said Wednesday.

Hyundai’s 44,000-strong union has donated 500 million won (US$553,800), collected from unionized workers for a mere $13 each, to help a South Korean humanitarian group build the noodle factory in the impoverished North.


Odd couple: The royal and the Red

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

Asia Times
Bertil Lintner

North Korean Premier Kim Yong-il is scheduled to pay a four-day visit to Cambodia in early November, underscoring the curious close relationship between one of the world’s last communist dictatorships and one of Asia’s most ancient monarchies.

Kim Yong-il, who should not be confused with the North Korean supremo, “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il or any of his relatives, will hold talks with Cambodia’s retired king Norodom Sihanouk, the Cambodian Foreign Ministry said in a statement posted on its website.

The North Korean premier will also hold “official talks” with his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen, and “pay courtesy calls” on Senate president Chea Sim, and the president of the National Assembly, Heng Samrin, according to the statement.

Cambodia has long served as a link between North Korea and Southeast Asia and beyond, so it is plausible to assume that trade and related issues will be on the agenda. For years the two countries ran a joint shipping company, and before the China-led six party talks, Cambodia had offered to mediate over Pyongyang’s contentious nuclear program.

Kim Yong-il’s visit to Cambodia is not the first by a North Korean dignitary in recent years. Kim Yong-nam, president of North Korea’s rubber-stamp parliament, the Supreme People’s Assembly, also visited the country in 2001 at the invitation of Sihanouk, who had then not yet abdicated in favor of his son, Norodom Sihamoni, the current serving monarch.

Kim Yong-nam now functions as de facto head of state, as Kim Jong-il’s father, “Great Leader” Kim Il-sung was elevated to the position of “eternal president” before his death in 1994, making North Korea not a monarchy, but rather the world’s only necrocracy.

As incongruous as it may seem, Cambodia is North Korea’s oldest ally in Southeast Asia. It all began when Sihanouk met Kim Il-sung in 1961 at a Non-Aligned Movement meeting in Belgrade and a personal friendship developed between the two leaders. When Sihanouk was ousted in a coup in 1970, Kim Il-sung not only offered him sanctuary in North Korea but also had a new home built for him about an hour’s drive north of Pyongyang.

A battalion of North Korean troops worked full-time on it for almost a year, and when it was finished, only specially selected guards were allowed anywhere near the 60-room palatial residence. Overlooking the scenic Chhang Sou On Lake and surrounded by mountains, the Korean-style building even had its own indoor movie theater. Like the Great Leader’s son, Kim Jong-il, Sihanouk loves movies.

Sihanouk has both directed and acted in his own romantic feature movies and a few more were made in North Korea, with Cambodian actors strutting their stuff against the backdrop of Korea’s snow-capped mountains.

French wines and gourmet food were flown in via China, and Sihanouk and his entourage were treated as royals would have been in any country that respects monarchy – as North Korea evidently does.

By contrast, North Korea has maintained less cordial relations with neighboring communist Vietnam, which still exerts behind-the-scenes pressure on Cambodia. Kim Yong-il will nonetheless also visit Hanoi during his diplomatic tour of Southeast Asia.

Throughout the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia, North Korea refused to recognize the regime that Hanoi installed in Phnom Penh in January 1979 – and that despite immense pressure at the time put on Pyongyang from Moscow. During a meeting between Kim Il-sung and Sihanouk seven years later on April 10, 1986, in Pyongyang, the Great Leader reassured the then prince that North Korea would continue to regard him as Cambodia’s legitimate head of state.

When Sihanouk returned to Phnom Penh in September 1993, after United Nations-led mediation to end Cambodia’s civil conflict, he arrived with 35 North Korean bodyguards, commanded by a general from Kim Il-sung’s presidential guards. They are still there, now guarding Sihanouk as well as the new king, Sihanomi, who is not as close to North Korea as his father, but has paid at least one visit to Pyongyang.

Sailing buddies
Sihanouk and the Cambodian royals showed their gratitude to the North Koreans when in the late 1990s they set up a privately-owned shipping registry, the Cambodia Shipping Corporation (CSC). The flag of convenience was used by the North Koreans, and it enjoyed royal protection as it was headed by Khek Vandy, the husband of Sihanouk’s eldest daughter, Boupha Devi.

CSC was also partly owned by a Phnom Penh-based North Korean diplomat and for a few years aggressively marketed itself as a cheap and efficient “flag of convenience” service for international shippers. A series of embarrassing maritime incidents, including the interception in June 2002 of a Cambodian-registered – though not North Korean owned – ship by the French navy, in a joint operation with US, Greek and Spanish authorities, of a massive haul of cocaine off the West African coast prompted Hun Sen’s government to cancel CSC’s concession and reportedly give it to a South Korean company, the Cosmos Group.

At the time, International Transport Federation general secretary David Cockroft told the Cambodia-based fortnightly newspaper the Phnom Penh Post that “they’ll need to be able to walk on water, because nothing short of a miracle will clean up the name of Cambodian shipping”. Indeed, little appeared to change, including North Korea’s use of Cambodia’s flag of convenience for controversial shipments.

In December 2002, a Cambodian-registered, North Korean-owned ship named So San was intercepted by Spanish marines, working on a US tip, in the Arabian Sea. It was found to be carrying 15 Scud-type missiles, 15 conventional warheads, 23 tanks of nitric acid rocket propellant and 85 drums of unidentified chemicals under a cargo of cement bags.

The destination of the weaponry was said to be Yemen, and following protests from both Yemen and North Korea – and intervention by the US, which apparently did not want to antagonize Yemen, a supposed ally in Washington’s “war on terror” – the ship was allowed to continue to Yemen. Later revelations indicated that the cargo was ultimately delivered to Libya, which caused considerable embarrassment in Washington.

Premier Kim Yong-il is likely to be quite familiar with the CSC, as he served as minister for land and marine transport from 1994 until the Supreme People’s Assembly appointed him to the premiership in April this year. But since the scandal-ridden CSC was reorganized five years ago, Cambodia’s economic importance to Pyongyang would appear to have waned, and North Korea’s only known activity in the country today is in the restaurant business, including eateries in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

Yet as a diplomatic link to the wider region, Cambodia is still important to North Korea. In April 2003, the Cambodian government, at the urging of Sihanouk, had plans to send an envoy to Pyongyang in a bid to persuade the North Korean leadership to be more flexible about talks on its nuclear program, which at that time had stalled.

The mission never materialized, but North Korea no doubt remembers that its trusted ally Cambodia tried first to mediate – and that Phnom Penh in future could still serve as a gateway for improved contacts with the outside world. It remains to be seen what message Kim Yong-il will bring to Phnom Penh, but it is reasonable to assume that his visit will, despite the official announcements, be confined merely to “courtesy calls” and royal audiences.

Bertil Lintner is a former correspondent with the Far Eastern Economic Review and the author of Great Leader, Dear Leader: Demystifying North Korea under the Kim Clan. He is currently a writer with Asia-Pacific Media Services.


Economic Implications of Summit Agreement

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

Nautilus Institute
Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland

The success of economic cooperation projects depends on the intentions of North Koreans.

The Arabs have a proverb: “He who foretells the future lies.” The recent summit announcement may make many people liars, not the least its authors. The problem with the summit announcement is that its ultimate impact depends on three major unknowns: the attitude and commitment of the next South Korean president; the willingness of the North Koreans to embrace reforms; and progress-or lack thereof-on resolving the North Korean nuclear issue.

The summit and the nuclear controversy are inextricably linked, even if Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Jong-il may have wished to downplay it, and the summit announcement must be evaluated in the context of the nuclear matter. The nuclear issue provides a great opportunity for North-South reconciliation but also sets limits on how fast progress on other fronts can be made.

On the one hand, aid from Seoul may act as inducement for Kim Jong-il to resolve the nuclear issue; this has long been the claim of proengagement politicians. On the other hand, Seoul will receive little support for its diplomacy from the United States, Japan, and other countries if it moves forward aggressively on economic cooperation before the North Korean regime shows a genuine willingness to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

Indeed, the risk is that aid from the South could reduce economic incentives on the North to cooperate and undercut the negotiations. Pyongyang’s celebration of the first anniversary of its nuclear test underscores that achieving this goal could prove an arduous march of its own.

Yet there are signs of hope. The summit document did make a reference, however brief, to resolving the nuclear question and in the context of the six-party talks the North Koreans have-almost simultaneously-agreed to a timetable for the dismantlement of existing nuclear facilities. The summit agreement also contains some important confidence building measures, including most notably a commitment to address conflicts over the disputed boundary in the West Sea that has led to military engagements in the past.

However, all parties have to date studiously avoided mention of what will be done with North Korea’s stocks of nuclear weapons and fissile material. And talk of a final peace settlement to replace the armistice puts the cart before the horse; in the absence of a resolution to the nuclear question it would make little sense to negotiate a broader peace agreement.

If these issues can be resolved the next hurdle is North Korea’s willingness to embrace economic reform. The summit document lays out a number of economic cooperation projects that could be beneficial to both North and South Korea: reestablishment of trans-Korean transportation links; expansion of the Gaeseong Industrial Complex and its replication in other locations; and cooperation in specific industries such as shipbuilding where complementarities would seem to exist between North and South Korean capabilities. All of these are positives.

Yet the projects, while desirable, will have a limited impact as long as North Korea avoids the challenge of broader opening and reform. North-South discussions appear to have avoided the basic building blocks of a market economy-operation of markets, enterprise management, agricultural reform-which would allow the North Koreans to make the most of the aid that they will receive. The long history of aid to other developing countries suggests that aid can be futile, even counterproductive, in the absence of complementary reforms.

Moreover, South Korea’s engagement-in contrast to China’s-remains bottled up in physically and economically delimited projects such as Gaeseong and the Mount Geumgang tourism venture. This situation is regrettable because it is only by broadening contacts with profit-oriented South Korean firms that their North Korean counterparts will learn about the operation of a market economy. Pyongyang continues to resist broader opening, presumably due to concerns that more contact with South Korea could be politically destabilizing.

South Korean analysts are already calculating the costs and benefits of the program outlined in the summit announcement, with one press account describing the costs as “astronomical.” Even the high-end estimates, on the order of $11 billion and more, are a mere drop in the bucket compared to the ultimate costs of rehabilitating the North Korean economy and providing a stable basis for eventual unification. If nothing else, such analyses should stimulate a serious discussion in South Korea of the long-term costs and benefits of different contingencies on the peninsula including the possibility of regime collapse, a discussion that, regrettably, has largely been avoided.

The resolution of outstanding security issues on the peninsula is an important precondition for broader reforms to really work. It is unlikely that foreign investors from the United States, Japan, or Western Europe are going to take a serious interest in the country in the absence of a resolution of the nuclear question. The summit announcement is unlikely to have much of an impact on the passage of the Korea-US free trade agreement (KORUS FTA) in the US Congress. But if North and South Korea push forward with the phase II expansion of the Gaeseong complex in the absence of resolution of the nuclear issue, it would make passage of the KORUS FTA agreement in the US Congress more difficult.

Ultimately, these issues will be laid at the doorstep of the next South Korean president. One contender, Lee Myung-bak, has already expressed reservations about the open-ended nature of South Korean commitments. But whoever enters the Blue House in February 2008, the president-elect will have to make their own decisions on how to approach the North and may not be bound by a document negotiated by an unpopular lame duck president. The 2007 summit announcement may end up like the 1991 North-South Denuclearization Accord, amounting to little more than a statement of good intentions rather than a map for subsequent policy.

The two agreements differ in one significant respect, however. The big budget projects of the summit announcement may create constituencies in South Korea in favor of expanded engagement for purely self-interested reasons. The next South Korean president may confront South Korean corporations lobbying for expansion of contact for the contracts or subsidies they bring regardless of the broader political or diplomatic ramifications.

Ultimately the success of the program sketched out in the summit announcement will depend on the intentions of the North Koreans. Pyongyang could use the assistance offered by the Seoul to leverage its own reform program. However, it could take the aid and simply retreat into its shell, avoiding real reform and a verifiable resolution to the nuclear issue. Only time will tell.


Police agency abolishes rewards for turning in N. Korean propaganda leaflets

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007


Police said Tuesday they have abolished rewards for those who turn in North Korean propaganda leaflets discovered in South Korean territory, as almost none have been found over the past few years amid thawing inter-Korean relations.

“In recent years, the number of North Korean leaflets that have been reported to us is close to zero,” said a spokesman for the National Police Agency, adding that the reward policy is already useless.

Leaflet dissemination was a key element of propaganda warfare between the archrival countries during the Cold War. The two Koreas, which are technically in a state of war, attempted to secretly distribute the leaflets in each other’s territory ever since the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice.

However, the number plummeted in recent years amid a thaw in two-way ties, especially after the first summit between the leaders of the two Koreas in Pyongyang in 2000. South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il held the second inter-Korean summit in the North Korean capital early this month.

The North attempted to disseminate millions of propaganda leaflets in the South every year until the 2000 summit.

The North Korean leaflets, often found in the countryside or on university campuses, were allegedly distributed by South Korean sympathizers or sent by balloon from the communist state.

The leaflets contained messages or pictures aimed at enticing South Koreans to defect to the North or criticizing the Seoul government.

Police had previously urged citizens to be aware of the leaflets in April and August, as strong northwestern winds enabled more balloons carrying the propaganda to reach the South.

Police used to grant medals to adults who collected a large number of the leaflets, while children were rewarded with new pencils and notebooks.


Cut the Telephone Cables

Monday, October 29th, 2007

Daily NK
Kwon Jeong Hyun

It has become known that the North Korean authorities’ search for a household that paid 5,000 won for telephone usages per month has come to a close. Upon finding the residence, the authorities cut the telephone lines to prohibit the outflow of inside information.

Kim Choen Mo (pseudonym), a North Korean trader traveling through Dandong, China on business, said on the 28th that “The Social Security Agency, the Postal Service Office and the People’s Unit are cooperatively managing this case.”

Mr. Kim quoted an affiliate of the Postal Service Office saying, “If someone pays a large amount in phone bills, it means that they are making a living in trade. Therefore, the order was made to block the leakage of inside information and to block trade as well.”

In 1997, North Korea started introducing a telephone system using fiber-optic cables in big cities such as Pyongyang, Shinuiju, Chongjin, Hamheung, Sariwon and Pyongsung. Under the orders of Kim Jong Il to modernize the telecommunication system, the cables from China were set up in Pyongyang and other big counties and provinces. People were permitted for the first time to install telephones in their houses, and residents in big cities became increasingly reliant on phone usage.

After 10 years, however, the order was handed down to cut the cables off houses where phone usage exceeded 5,000won a month.

In 2002 North Korean authorities introduced a mobile communication system, but since the Yongchoen explosion incident in 2004, mobile phone usage has been banned.


The Price of Cabbage in North Korea Is Prohibitive

Monday, October 29th, 2007

Daily NK
Lee Sung Jin

South Korean housewives are afraid to open their wallets due to the threefold increase in the price of cabbage and radish compared to last year with the kimchi preparation season ahead. The skyrocketed price of cabbage in North Korea has also caused concerns about disturbance to the kimjang (kimchi preparation) season.

Lee Ok Ran (45), who trades in Hoiryeong, relayed in a phone conversation with DailyNK on the 25th, “Due to the flood damage and the delayed seedtime, the amount of the cabbage harvest has decreased significantly. In the middle of October, we have to enter the kimjang season, but are worried because the price of cabbage has risen exorbitantly. The saying that the price of cabbage is like the price of gold seems fitting now.”

Ms. Lee said, “Large cabbage has not been reaped yet, so cabbage from China has mostly been sold in the jangmadang (markets). Unripe cabbage made in North Korea is being sold at 450~500 won per bundle and Chinese-produced cabbage costs around 1,800~2,000 won.” Last year, North Korean-produced cabbage was sold for 200~250 won per bundle.

He explained, “Chosun (North Korea) cabbage has a lot of insect marks and the leaves are tough, but on the other hand, Chinese-produced cabbages have better quality, so generally reflect over a twofold difference in price. Mostly, the party leaders buy and eat these cabbages rather than average civilians.”

However, with the soaring price of North Korean cabbage, the cost of imported cabbage has increased significantly.

Ms. Lee added, “In the winter, there is only one type of a sidedish—kimchi–so they are called ‘a half-year’s gourmet food.’ At this time, if we cannot prepare kimchi, we will not see kimchi for the entire year next year.”

North Korean civilians have prepared for kimchi by harvesting cabbage or radish seeds, planted starting late July immediately after reaping wheat and corn, from the end of October.

The reality of the cabbage scarcity is due to the loss of the majority of cabbage, which had just started sprouting in early August, in the flood.

The North Korean Central News Agency and the Chosun Shimbo issued by Chongryon (General Association of North Korean Residents in Japan) reported on the 10th, “In some areas of South Pyongan and Kangwon, collective farm laborers plowed the fields submerged in the flood and have started re-sowing.”

The North Korean farmers started sowing cabbage and radish seeds again, but the amount of the harvest is expected to be half of the annual average amount. Due to this, North Korea’s “kimjang combat,” which is supposed to start the middle of October, is supposed to be hit with a huge setback.

In North Korea, using military language such as “combat” for important events is customary. Just as there is the spring rice-planting combat, the summer weeding combat, and the fall harvesting combat, the words, “kimjang combat,” are used during kimjang season.

In northernmost Yangkang, North Hamkyung, kimjang season begins in the middle of October. Come November, all regions of North Korea, such as South Hamkyung, Jagang, North Pyongan, South Pyongan, and Hwanghae are swarming from the combats.

However, the price of cabbage has exorbitantly this year and by kimjang season, the price of hot pepper and seasoning skyrockets, so the concern of North Korean ordinary people for surviving the winter will be raised a notch.


N. Korea Eager for Economic Modernization

Monday, October 29th, 2007

Korea Times
Jung Sung-ki

North Korea has a keen interest in economic modernization program aimed at luring foreign investment through business cooperation projects with other countries, a member of the European Parliament said Monday.

In a press conference in Seoul, Hubert Pirker, an Austrian member of the European Parliament, said the North clearly understands the fact that without economic modernization, it will not be able to attract foreign investment into the country.

Pirker and two other EU representatives _ Jas Gawronsky of Italy and Glyn Ford of Britain _ visited North Korea from Oct. 20-27 and met the North’s Prime Minister Kim Yong-il. They also held an economic forum with North Korean officials.

During the forum, North Koreans’ attitudes “were not closed or hostile,” said Pirker.

“We visited the railway station, for example, and also parks and restaurants. I could say we could see more modern-style restaurants and more cars than ever before,” the European lawmaker was quoted by Yonhap News Agency as saying.

The European lawmakers discussed ways of modernizing North Korea’s agriculture, light industry, information technology and finance sectors with officials there, Pirker said.

North Korea’s Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun expressed his wish to visit Europe next year, as Pyongyang seeks to send its young officials and industrial trainees there to learn information technology and other advanced knowledge from European nations, he said.

Pirker said the delegates had advised the North Koreans that upgrading the level of communications and finance systems in the North to global standards was essential to securing foreign investments in a stable manner.

Progress at the six-party talks aimed at scrapping Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program and expanding inter-Korea economic cooperation would help the North achieve its goal of inviting foreign capital, the legislator added.

The European Union has so far sent about 50 million euros worth of aid to North Korea, he said.

The impoverished North has recently shown strong interest in the economic reform programs of other countries.

Reports said North Korean leader Kim Jong-il expressed intentions last week copying Vietanam’s economic reform and openness policy, called “Doi Moi,” during a meeting with Nong Duc Manh, the secretary-general of the Vietnamese Communist Party, in Pyongyang.

The ongoing visit to Hanoi by the North Korean premier appears to have something to do with Kim’s remarks, they said. The reclusive leader is reportedly planning to visit Vietnam in the near future.

North Korean officials expressed firm commitment to denuclearization under the Feb. 13 nuclear deal, according to Pirker.

Under the pact signed by the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia, Pyongyang pledged to disable its nuclear facilities and declare all of its nuclear programs by the end of this year in return for economic assistance and political concessions.

North Korea has received 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil from South Korea and an equal amount from China for closing five of its nuclear facilities in July. The regime is to receive an additional 900,000 tons of oil or equivalent energy aid if it goes through the second stage of denuclearization.

The EU delegates are scheduled to pay a courtesy call on Prime Minister Han Duck-soo and hold meetings with South Korean business leaders including Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group Chairman Chung Mong-koo before leaving South Korea on Nov. 2.