Archive for March, 2008

Air China finally lands in Pyongyang

Monday, March 31st, 2008

According to Reuters, Air China on Monday launched service to North Korea, making it the world’s only foreign airline to fly regularly to Pyongyang.

The Beijing-Pyongyang flight route was postponed by three months after Air China said preparatory work took longer than expected.

Air China will fly the return trip three times per week, making Pyongyang a Star Alliance destination, the airline grouping led by Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa and United Airlines.

Air China said previously that it saw the financial potential in the route, primarily from the Chinese tourist business.

I predicted that Air China would primarily service Chinese customers, with Westerners sticking with Air Koryo, the North Korean airline. In separate conversations with Koryo Tours and Walter Keats both tour operators expressed a preference for Air Koryo because of its flexibility and unique atmosphere, neither of which Air China can easily match. 

The time-warp effect travelers feel when boarding an Air Koryo flight, however, might be soon diminished.  Largely at the insistence of Beijing, Air Koryo has recently updated its fleet to meet international safety standards.  Although the stewardesses appearance and speaker announcement welcoming arrivals to the land of “juche paradise” will likely remain the same, the 1950’s era deco interior will certainly take on a more conventional feel. 

Source material here:
Air China launches flights to North Korea
Simon Rabinovitch


Escalation run down (and reasons not to panic)

Monday, March 31st, 2008

The DPRK is sending a barrage of signals that it is not happy with the policy changes that are on the new South Korean government’s agenda (denuclearize and account for all nuclear activities, reform, repatriate missing South Korean citizens, etc):

1. February 25, 2008: the DPRK increases fighter jet maneuvers near the DMZ. (Source: N.K. flight maneuvers rise near border, Korea Herald, Jin Dae-woong

2. March 27, 2008: the DPRK expels eleven South Korean officials from industrial zone. (Source: South Koreans kicked out of North Korea’s Kaesong industrial centre, The Times of London, Leo Lewis, (3/27/2008)

3. March 28, 2008: the DPRK test fires missles off its coast. (Source: North Korea sends a missile warning, Asia Times, Donald Kirk, 3/29/2008)

4. March 30, 2008: the DPRK issues blunt statements about deteriorating relations and suggesting complete destruction of the South if it is attacked. (Source: Pro-North Korea newspaper says relations with South at lowest since after nuclear test, Associated Press, 3/31/2008)

5. April 1, 2008: The DPRK breaks its silence on direclty challenging South Korea’s new president, labeling Lee Myung Bak a “traitor” and a “sycophant toward the U.S.” (Source: North Korea Calls South Korean President a `Traitor’, Bloomberg, 4/1/2008)

6. April 3, 2008: North Korea accuses the South Korean Navy of violating its territorial waters, “The South Korean military’s warmongers have sent three battleships deep into our territorial waters in the West Sea (Yellow Sea) at around 11:45 am (0245 GMT) on April 3,” and “South Korea’s military should clearly bear in mind that an unexpected countermeasure will follow if they continue to push battleships into (our waters) and raise tensions.” (Note here they are trying to pin the military escalation on South Korea) (Source: North Korea accuses South of entering its waters, Reuters, 4/3/2008)

7. April 3, 2008: North Korea announces it is suspending all dialogue with South Korea and closing the border to Seoul officials, its toughest action in a week of growing cross-border tensions. (North Korea cuts contacts with South, The Austrailan, Park, Chan Kyong, 4/3/2008)

8. DPRK violates NLL three times (Yonhap) 5/22/2008

Reasons not to panic:

1.  Although eleven South Korean officials have been expelled from the Kaesong Zone, Some 48 South Koreans and five North Koreans still work at a separate inter-Korean management committee overseeing the industrial zone, where about 800 South Koreans work along with more than 25,600 North Korean laborers for 69 South Korean companies.  In other words, it is still business as usual for the most part. (Source: Pro-North Korea newspaper says relations with South at lowest since after nuclear test, Associated Press, 3/31/2008)

2.  DPRK statements about about attacking the South are a response to statements aired in public by General Kim Tae-young at a National Assembly hearing on his nomination as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff where he claimed his people had plans for use any time it was deemed necessary to take out the North’s nuclear facilities. (Source: North Korea sends a missile warning, Asia Times, Donald Kirk, 3/29/2008)

3. While all of this was going on, 159 CEO’s of small- to medium-sized South Korean enterprises toured North Korea in search of investment opportunities. (Source: 159 CEOs Begin Trip to North Korea, Korea Times, Kim Sue-young, 3/19/2008)

4. Tourism to the DPRK continues unhampered.

5.  The Pyongyang International Trade fair in May is on and business delegations are still welcome.

6. April 3, 2008: The South’s unification ministry said it did not believe civilian exchanges would be affected. Two Seoul-funded projects in the North – the Kumgang resort and the Kaesong industrial complex – are major hard currency earners for the impoverished nation. (North Korea cuts contacts with South, The Austrailan, Park, Chan Kyong, 4/3/2008)

7. Inter korean trade this year is up! (Yonhap)


Pyongyang International Trade Fair and IT delegation

Monday, March 31st, 2008

GPI Consulting is once again hosting an IT business delegation in conjunction with the Pyongyang International Trade Fair this spring. 

Marketing language:
Business trip to the “11th Pyongyang International Trade Fair” (May 2008)
North-Korea is slowly opening up to the outside world. The trade with neighboring China and South-Korea is already growing fast, and also several European companies are conducting business. An excellent way to collect information and to make new contacts is by visiting the annual “International Trade Fair”, wich takes place from 12-15 May in Pyongyang. Companies interested in exploring business opportunties in North-Korea are invited to join our 10-17 May IT-business mission. The participants will be offered a tailormade program, with a focus on the International Trade Fair. For European companies, it is possible to make use of a collective European stand: for only 600 Euro, they can present their products or services to the public (or have them presented by local staff).   
IT- and multimedia study tour to North-Korea (May 10-17, 2008 )
The main focus of our business mission is to explore IT opportunities in North Korea. The goal of this studytour is to give the participants detailed information about offshoring. The IT-participants will visit firms in Pyongyang in the field of IT, animation, 2D and 3d design, cartoons, computer games, mobile games,and BPO. The business mission will have an informal character, with some attention to cultural or touristic elements. The trip will start in Beijing, and after returning from North Korea, an extension of the stay in China is possible in order to visit additional firms. The program of the tour has been added, and can also be found at:   
Contact Information: 
Paul Tjia (sr. consultant)
GPI Consultancy, P.O.  Box 26151, 3002 ED Rotterdam, The Netherlands
tel: +31-10-4254172  fax: +31-10-4254317 E-mail: [email protected]  Website:


DPRK promotes multifaceted trade to boost exports

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 08-3-27-1

The latest issue of the North Korean publication “Economic Research” (2008, issue no. 1) highlights the need to restructure North Korea’s trade system in order to meet the demands of the capitalist market. The journal quotes Kim Jong Il as saying, “[We] need fresh improvement, in our own manner, of the basic Socialist economy’s trade system of yesterday, meeting the current demands being faced due to the capitalist market.”

Therefore, the journal stresses, “As the socialist market crumbles, and given the demands of the capitalist market as [our] focus shifts to overseas economic relations, what is currently needed for the development of overseas trade is improvement of our own style to the trade system that can ensure large profits.

The journal goes on to recommend that, in order to meet these new demands of the international capitalist market, “the most important thing is improving the import-export system based on the foundation of an self-reliant national economy.” It states that raw materials should not be sold as-is, but rather should be turned into processed goods and then sold, that goods popular on the international market should be manufactured for export, and that niches should be chosen in which North Korean goods can dominate the international market.

However, the journal also says, “If individual offices trade with capitalists outside the scope of government controls, ‘reform’ and ‘opening’ sought by the imperialists would occur, and the nation’s economy could liberalize and capitalize…International trade must take place orderly under the uniform control and guidance of the nation.”

The journal asserts that even though a variety of offices are engaged in trade, they must first receive government permission, follow government guidelines, and operate in a government-created environment. The central government must standardize prices and designs of selected export goods from each trading company.


Glyn Ford’s nuclear solution…

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

(Posted from Shanghai, China – I am on vacation, so this is just a quick note)

While in Beijing a few days ago, I ran into Glyn Ford giving a talk in conjunction with the release of his new book, North Korea on the Brink.

Mr. Ford was on his way to Pyongyang to pitch an idea he believes could resolve the HEU (Highly-Enriched Uranium) impasse, which is bogging down implementation of the most recent version of the Agreed Framework.

His idea is this:

Even if the North Koreans have an HEU program it would require a colossal amount of electricity delivered in a consistent fashion.  So one way the west could monitor if such a program was taking place would be to keep tabs on the North Korean power grid for suspicious activity, or to build in fluctuations to the power supply so that the machinery which does the enriching is not able to function.

If both sides can know that there is currently no HEU program underway, then maybe they can avoid the politicalty trecherous waters of determining whether such a program once existed–allowing us all to move on to the next phases of the agreement.


Chollima Leadership Program announced…

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

This new program, co-sponsored by LiNK and the International Republican Institute (IRI), seeks to invest North Korea’s future by teaching former North Korean citizens  leadership and organizational skills so they may bring benefits to the DPRK when the doors are opened.

Fifteen candidates of different ages, genders, and experiences will be selected on the basis of their potential to benefit from the program.

The three week program will be hosted in Seoul where workshops will be conducted by experts and trainers from various countries and backgrounds.  Topics to be covered include: democracy and governance, rule of law, international human rights, comparative movements, comparative politics, business protocol and etiquette, and leadership development.

All applications must be submitted with all components completed by March 31, 2008. If you feel you, or others you know, would be a good candidate for the Chollima Leadership Program, please contact jane (at) for more information and an application.

Here is a summary on the IRI web page.


DPRK citizens turn to batteries, bicycles to solve energy shortages

Monday, March 24th, 2008

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 08-3-24-1

North Koreans, long suffering from a chronic engergy shortage, are now putting forth efforts to solve even this electrical issue on their own.

The Daily NK, a South Korean-based human rights organization, has learned from interviews with North Korean residents that these days, even in farming villages, families with regular incomes are relying on batteries to light their houses and power their televisions.

Many batteries are being imported from China, and there are also many households using bicycle-mounted generators to produce electricity to overcome energy shortages. Despite the fact that these North Koreans are living in a Socialist country that fails to provide them electricity, they are coming up with their own methods for solving problems.

According to these North Koreans, there is a difference in the way they are solving the electrical shortages in the cities and in the farming communities. In the cities, many are using rechargable car batteries. There, power is provied from around 8:00am to 1:00pm, and then again in the evenings from around 8:00pm until 11:00pm. During these times, batteries are recharged and then used later for lighting and watching television.

In order to use these batteries to watch television or videos, direct current needs to be transformed into 220-volt alternating current, requiring a small power converter. The prohibitive cost of such a converter means that in farming commuities, the use of batteries to power households is difficult.

This has led many in rural areas to find a slightly different method of solving their energy needs. In farming villages, small generators attached to the rear wheel of bicycles so that ‘human power’ is used to produce electricity.

The cost of a used car battery in North Korea is around 70,000 won, while a new battery could run as much as 120,000~160,000 won*. Batteries produced in China are of high quality, but if there is ever a problem, it is difficult to have them repaired. Therefore, ‘Daedong River’ car batteries produced in North Korea are preferred.

* The current black-market currency exchange rate is approximately 2,500 DPRK Won/ USD.


Women and police clash in DPRK Markets

Saturday, March 22nd, 2008

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 08-3-22-1

Recently, North Korea passed a measure prohibiting women younger then 49 from selling goods in markets, leading to clashes between police enforcing the rule and younger women wanting to work in markets.

The March 19th newsletter from ‘Good Friends’, an organization providing aid for North Korea, reported that on February 5th in Haeju, South Hwanghae Province, women who were not allowed to enter the local market and so were selling goods on a nearby corner physically clashed and police. This reportedly led to the arrest and detention of 9 people.

The newsletter reported, “The women held at the police station were subjected to harsh interrogation as to ‘who was the ringleader’, and after being subjected to four days of torture, one who could no longer hold out confessed to being the ringleader and was sent to a detention center, while the remaining women were all released.”

North Korean authorities announced the measure restricting women under 49 from selling goods in markets after December 1st last year, and that measure is being enforced not only in Pyongyang, but in rural areas as well.

According to Good Friends, “Just like other cities, Haeju City has received absolutely no food rations since March,” and “Women from households barely managing regular meals through market trading are being reduced to the weakest level by North Korean authorities’ prohibition on trading.”

It follows that in Haeju City, either authorities recognize that if these women can not sell in the markets their families will starve to death and so turn a blind eye to their activities, or these women, prevented from selling in markets, will continue to clash with authorities.

The newsletter also reported, “On March 3, in Chungjin City, North Hamkyung Province, organized protests by women prevented from market activities by the new regulations broke out, and Chungjin City authorities are now allowing all women, with no exception, to sell goods in markets.”

Immediately following organized protests by these women, Chungjin City officials reported the disturbances, but no policies to deal with the issue were forthcoming, and so it appears that all women, with no exception, are now allowed to conduct market activities.


Thailand urges South Korea to accept more defectors

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

According to a recent story in the Choson Ilbo, the Thai government told the South Korean government in January to take the large numbers of North Korean refugees currently in Thailand off its hands, but the South Korean government found it difficult to transport more than 70 refugees at a time for reasons of security and the size of the North Korean refugee camp (Hanawon) in South Korea.

Excerpts from the story:

As of January, some 400 North Korean refugees, more than three times the optimum level of 120, were staying at the Thai immigration center. But South Korea government has been transporting only about 40 to 50 of them at a time on grounds that the North Korean refugee camp here has already reached saturation point and they have to be transported in secrecy.

A South Korean government official said, “We’ve brought North Korean refugees from Southeast Asia almost every week since December last year. As a result, the number of North Korean refugees in the Thai center has dwindled to about 300.” A total of 400 North Korean refugees have reportedly arrived in South Korea from Southeast Asia since early this year.

An estimated 800 North Korean refugees are staying at police stations or private homes in Thailand in addition to the immigration center, waiting to be taken to South Korea.

Hanawon, the South Korean government resettlement center for North Korean refugees, now accommodates some 660 North Koreans. They undergo resettlement training for three months before leaving the center. Ongoing extension work at Hanawon is expected to be completed around December.

The full story can be read here:
Thailand Urged Seoul to Accept More N.Korean Refugees
Choson Ilbo


On vacation in Tajikistan

Thursday, March 13th, 2008

I am saying goodbye to Washington to visit China and Tajikistan.  Hoping to catch some Buzkashi and the World Cup qualifier between North and South Korean in Shanghai.

I will return to the US on March 29 and blogging will begin shortly thereafter.

In the meantime, enjoy the latest version of North Korea Uncovered (North Korea Google Earth).  The latest version makes a decent contribution to understanding how “marketized” DPRK society has become.  Markets (Jangmadang) are everywhere!