Archive for September, 2008

North Korea juggles South, Japan, Russia, and US

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

The DPRK’s recent efforts to reconstruct the Yongbyon 5MW nuclear reactor seem to have brought implementation of the “second” Agreed Framework to a halt, though it was already behind schedule.  This week the US sent Chris Hill to Pyongyang to try and rescue the process which is hung up on verification protocol.   The North claims to have sufficiently declared their nuclear capabilities and believe they should be removed from the US list of state sponsors of terror.  The US does not believe this condition has been met and seeks to establish a protocol to verify if the North’s declaration is accurate.

Japan is also set to extend sanctions (due to expire) on the DPRK.  According to Bloomberg:

Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party decided to extend sanctions against North Korea for six months after their Oct. 13 expiration date, Jiji Press reported.

LDP lawmakers agreed to extend the sanctions because North Korea took steps to reactivate its nuclear program and made little progress in an investigation into Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents, Jiji reported.

Prime Minister Taro Aso’s Cabinet is likely to endorse the extension by Oct. 10., the Japanese wire service said.

The sanctions include a ban on North Korean imports and the entry of North Korean ships into Japanese ports. The extension will be the fourth since sanctions began after North Korea’s October 2006 nuclear test, Jiji said.

Just as the DPRKs hopes of restoring/establishing relations with Japan and the US start to dim, however, they have reached out to South Korea, with whom political relations had recently gone sour due to the South’s policy change from unsupervised aid provision under the “sunshine policy” to a quid-pro-quo relationship under a “policy of mutual benefits and common prosperity“.  Additionally, the fatal shooting of a South Korean tourist in Kumgangsan led to a deterioration in cooperation between the two governments and suspension of the inter-Korean project (a cash cow for the North).

How much was the Sunshine Policy worth to the North?  South Korean GNP lawmaker Jin Yeong, who analzed data submitted by the Unification Ministry and the Export-Import Bank of Korea, claims that the Kim and Roh administrations oversaw the transfer of 8.38 trillion South Korean Won in aid and loans since 1998.

Taking office in February 2003 after the second North Korean nuclear crisis emerged in September 2002, Roh doled out 5.68 trillion won to Pyongyang over his five-year term, double that of his predecessor Kim (2.70 trillion won).

Kim and Roh gave to North Korea 2.4 trillion won for building light-water reactors and in food aid; 2.5 trillion won to pin the price of rice aid to that of the global market; 2.8 trillion won for other aid including fertilizer; and 696 billion won in aid from advocacy groups and provincial governments.

In 2003, South Korean aid to the North reached a high of 1.56 trillion won. Then after North Korean leader Kim Jong Il declared that his country had gone nuclear in 2005, the Roh administration sent 1.48 trillion won to the North.

Jin said, “South Korea gave a loan with rice first in 2000. Payments on the loan are deferred for 10 years. Thus, we are to receive the first repayment installment in 2010. But most of the 2.4 trillion won in loans seem irrecoverable.”

PricewaterhouseCoopers Korea audited the fiscal 2007 accounts of Seoul`s inter-Korean cooperation funds, saying, “Considering the characteristics of the North Korean government, grave uncertainty exists over the possibility of redeeming the loans given to the regime. The ultimate outcome depends heavily on the conditions around the Korean Peninsula.”

Since President Lee Myung-bak took office this year, exchanges between the two Koreas have been rare. Still, aid to the light-water reactor and the Gaesong industrial complex projects and civilian donations have continued, amounting to a combined 211.3 billion won. (Donga Ilbo)

It appears the Russians are doing their part to bring the North and South together through a project they can all agree on—building a natural gas pipeline from Russia to South Korea via the DPRK:

South Korea plans to import $90 billion of natural gas from Russia via North Korea, with which it shares one of the world’s most heavily fortified borders, to reduce its reliance on more expensive cargoes arriving by sea.

State-run Korea Gas Corp. signed a preliminary agreement with OAO Gazprom, Russia’s largest energy company, to import 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas over 30 years starting in 2015, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy said in a statement. The accord was signed in Moscow during President Lee Myung Bak’s three-day visit that began yesterday.

Gazprom Chief Executive Officer Alexei Miller said after talks today between Lee and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that the exact delivery route hasn’t been determined and that shipments could begin as early as 2015.

“Russia suggested a pipeline via North Korea, which is expected to be more economical than other possible routes,” the minister said in a news briefing. “Russia will contact the North to discuss this.”

“Transporting gas through North Korea could be risky for South Korea,” said Kim Jin Woo, a senior research analyst at Korea Energy Economics Institute. “But the project will ease tensions on the Korean peninsula if Russia successfully persuades North Korea” to accept the plan.

North Korea could earn $100 million a year from the gas- pipeline project, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy said.

“Russia will supply the fuel in the form of LNG or compressed natural gas if negotiations with North Korea do not work out,” according to the ministry’s statement. South Korea and Russia will sign a final agreement in 2010 when a study on the route is completed.

South Korea is turning to Russia, holder of the world’s biggest proven gas reserves, as it faces intensifying competition for energy resources from China and Japan. Asia’s fourth-largest economy depends on gas for 16 percent of its power generation.

Under the agreement, a pipeline to South Korea will be laid via North Korea from gas fields on Sakhalin Island in Russia’s Far East. The pipeline would initially carry 10 billion cubic meters of gas a year, or about 20 percent of South Korea’s annual consumption. The cost of the gas link’s construction is estimated at $3 billion, the ministry said.

Read the full articles here:
South Korea Seeks $90 Billion of Russian Natural Gas
Shinhye Kang

Liberal Gov`ts Gave W8.38 Bln to North Korea`
Donga Ilbo


DPRK steps up efforts to improve power plants

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

Instutie for Far Easter Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 08-9-30-1

North Korea is accelerating projects to repair and upgrade power plants throughout the country in order to resolve its electrical shortage problems. According to the (North) Korean Central Broadcasting Station on September 25, oil pressure regulators on generators 1 and 2 at the Soopoong Power Plant on the Yalu River were replaced with more efficient digital regulators in order to increase power production capabilities. The broadcasters also announced on the 22nd that the Number 3 Boiler at the East Pyongyang Steam Power Plant, which supplies electricity to the Pyongyang area, is undergoing a major overhaul, just as its Number 1 Boiler did in July.

A ‘February 17 Shock Troop’ of scientists and technicians from Kim Il Sung University, Kim Chaek University of Technology, Pyongyang Machinery College, Han Duk Su Pyongyang Technical College, Pyongyang Computer College, and the Ham Heung Su College of Locomotive Power has been dispatched to the East Pyongyang plant and are working on overhauling and updating the equipment there.

The Pyongyang Steam Power Plant, in the Pyongchun neighborhood of Pyongyang, is also undergoing major upgrades in preparation for winter, with boilers Number 2 and 7 overhauled and back on-line and Number 4 Boiler’s overhaul in its final stage. Electrical facilities on the Boojeon River, Jangja River, Daedong River, and Nam River, as well as the Taechun, Seodusu, and Samsu Power Plants, are all undergoing upgrades on power generation equipment and water flow systems.

North Korea is also pushing forward with the building of new power production facilities at the Yesung River Power Plant, Wonsan Centennial Power Plant, Urang Power Plant, Youngwon Power Plant, Geumya River Power Plant, Baekdu Mountain Military-first Centennial Power Plant, and the Geumjin River Guchang Power Plant. Cabinet officials from the government’s construction bureau have been dispatched to each location in order to ensure the early completion, while legislation supporting the construction of small and mid-sized power plants is also being pushed.

As North Korea celebrates the 60th anniversary of its founding, it is emphasizing economic development, and to this end, has completed construction of the Number 1 Generator at the Yesung River Centennial Power Plant, the Sungchun Power Plant, and the first stage of construction at the Wonsan Centennial Power Plant. In the 2008 New Year’s Joint Editorial, the government promoted the construction of large-scale hydroelectric facilities as well as small and mid-size power plants, along with modernization of existing power production equipment, in order to increase electrical production.


Pyongyang’s construction boom

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

UPDATE (2009-10-12): Last September (2008), Barbara Demick at the LA Times became the first US journalist to report on Pyongyang’s housing boom.  Yonhap now provides some additional information on Pyongyang’s current housing ambitions:

The Chosun Sinbo, which usually conveys Pyongyang’s views, described the housing construction as an “unprecedented national project” and a “core project” in the country’s campaign looking to 2012.

The paper reported that the North was in the process of building 65,000 new houses in the city’s western district of Mangyeongdae, where Kim Il-sung’s birth home is located, 15,000 houses in central Pyongyang and 20,000 houses along the railroad spanning between the southern district of Ryokpo and Ryongsong district in the capital’s northern region.

Each home will be approximately 100 square meters in size, according to the report.

The North Korean capital, despite a strict control on the entry of people from rural areas, has reportedly been going through a major housing shortage. The paper said that the completion of the housing project will solve the problem plaguing the citizens of Pyongyang.

In the past, Pyongyang has built 50,000 new apartments each in the 1980s and the 1990s.

In 2001, North Korea sought to develop a satellite city of some 1 million households near the Mangyeongdae district, but failed due to the nation’s economic woes.

You can read additional DPRK real estate posts here.

Read the full Yonhap story here:
N. Korea building new housing districts in Pyongyang: report
Tony Chang

ORIGINAL POST (2008-9-27): Los Angeles Times reporter Barbara Demick recently visited the DPRK (with the Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries) and noticed that Pyongyang is experienceing a bit of a construction boom:

Except for the monuments glorifying leader Kim Jong Il and his father, Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea, hardly anything new has gone up in decades. By night, the city is so quiet you can hear a baby crying from far across the Taedong River, which cuts through the center of town.

Yet these days, high-rise apartments in shades of pink are taking shape near the Pueblo, the American spy ship captured in 1968 and still anchored in the river. A tangle of construction cranes juts into the skyline near Pothong Gate, a re-creation of the old city wall. About 100,000 units are to be built over the next four years.

A modernistic silver-sided box of a conference center is already complete. Theaters and hotels are being renovated. Streets have been repaved and buildings repainted.

Even North Korea’s most notorious clunker, an unfinished 105-story hotel that looms vacant over the city, is under construction again after sitting idle for nearly two decades.

All are slated for completion by 2012, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung. The deadline appears to have taken on new urgency for the appearance-conscious North Koreans, who fret that their capital has become a laughingstock.

“We know we need to modernize. We want to make the city comfortable for the people who live here and for tourists,” said Choe Jong Hun, an official with the Committee for Cultural Relations With Foreign Countries.

North Korean officials insist that they’re funding the building spree on their own, in keeping with an underlying ideology that emphasizes self-reliance.

“If we rely on others, our dreams won’t be realized by 2012. It is all built with our own technology, our own material, our own labor, our own strength,” Choe said.

But analysts are skeptical of such claims, given the nation’s economy and the regime’s secretive nature and often deceptive pronouncements.

“This is a puzzle,” said Yoon Deok-ryong, a South Korean economist who recently visited Pyongyang. “The North Koreans are trying to show the outside world that they are not starving, that they are strong, but we know it is not true, so we wonder where the money is coming from.”

Ms. Demick also speculates on a political reason why Kim Jong il might be financing the construction (beyond the stated policy goal of achieving economic success by 2012):

Expatriate businesspeople in Pyongyang say Kim might also be investing some of his own stash with an eye toward maintaining the loyalty of his Workers’ Party cadres. Apartments under construction look to be aimed at the elite.

Read the full story here:
North Korea in the midst of a mysterious building boom
Los Angeles Times
Barbara Demick


North Korean ship sinks in the Black Sea

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

So it seems the DPRK “was” involved in the Black Sea shipping industry…until their ship sank.  From RIA Novosty:

The Tolstoy cargo ship that has reportedly sunk in the Black Sea off the Bulgarian coast was not Russian, but North Korean, the Russian Transportation Ministry said on Saturday.

“We have nothing to report in relation to this tragedy because the ship that sank on Saturday near the Bulgarian coast belongs to North Korea…The crew was not Russian either,” the ministry said in a statement.

The Bulgarian Ministry of Transport earlier reported that the Russian Tolstoy cargo vessel with 13-member crew on board sank about 04.00 local time 10-15 miles off the Bulgarian coast.

Meanwhile, Bulgaria’s Darik Radio said sea search-and-rescue teams, including a Bulgarian military helicopter, are attempting to find the survivors, but the rescue operation is hampered by bad weather.

A Bulgarian Navy frigate is expected to join the rescue effort later on Sunday.

Darik Radio said the 138-meter-long cargo vessel was carrying scrap metal from Rostov-on-Don in Russia to Nemrut in Turkey.

The ship has reportedly been in service for 37 years and was recently cited for numerous technical problems.

Read the full story here:
Russia says ‘sunken ship in Black Sea was North Korean’
RIA Novosti


Failure to protect – the ongoing challenge of North Korea

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights
Download the PDF of the report here:  nkhr.pdf
Press release here.

Executive Summary:
The human rights and humanitarian situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) is still, as the UN Secretary-General has stated, “unacceptable.”

Although the country has opened up to some international food assistance, because of the food policy and the inequities of its political caste system, large segments of the North Korean population never receive any of the food provided by international relief agencies and other countries. There is no indication that the food situation is about to change. One illustration of the seriousness of the food crisis and of North Korea’s treatment of defectors is the execution of 15 people in public in the North-Eastern town of Onseong in February 2008 after they had attempted to flee North Korea to obtain economic aid from relatives in China.

Furthermore, North Korea’s political prison camps continue to operate with the same level of brutality and massive disregard for basic human rights as initially detailed in the previous report Failure to Protect.

The North Korea crisis also has serious spill-over effects in the form of refugees to neighboring countries. North Korean refugees who do not have families to finance a relatively safe escape often end up as victims of exploitation, violence, or crime when they cross into other countries. Women are forced into sex trade or coerced marriages while children and men face higher mortality risk.

In the wake of North Korea’s nuclear test in October 2006, the Six-Party Talks reached a deal for the normalization of relations between the parties and the denuclearization of North Korea. However, the discussions about the human rights and humanitarian challenges within North Korea remain largely an issue of secondary concern.

It is the intention of this report to fill this gap: to raise the human rights and humanitarian concerns and to promote the inclusion of those in these ongoing negotiations and through greater international involvement with North Korea.

For the purposes of further engagement between the North and the South, the Six Parties, and the broader international community, we present a series of recommendations at the end of this report which, in sum:

• Advocate greater international engagement with North Korea on human rights and humanitarian concerns;
• Urge the inclusion of human rights and humanitarian concerns into all the Working Groups of the Six-Party Talks, with the exception of the Working Group on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula;
• Suggest the UN General Assembly strengthen its annual resolution on North Korea by including reference to the “responsibility to protect” doctrine and recommending a group of experts be appointed to investigate if the severe violations of human rights in North Korea constitute a violation of this doctrine; and
• Advise the Government of South Korea to take a number of steps to both provide famine relief to the North Korean people and increase its emphasis on human rights and humanitarian concerns related to North Korea.


South Korea monitoring 76 pro-North websites

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

According to the Choson Ilbo, the South Korean government is monitoring 76 pro-DPRK websites:

The National Police Agency is monitoring a total of 76 pro-North Korea websites overseas. According to data on the NPA submitted to Grand National Party lawmaker Lee Bum-rae of the National Assembly’s Public Administration and Security Committee, of the websites with servers abroad, 31 in the U.S., 19 in Japan, 13 in China, 4 in Germany, and 9 in other countries. 

The NPA said it has also asked or advised web portals to delete a total of 6,377 pro-Pyongyang postings since the inauguration of the Roh Moo-hyun administration in February 2003. The number has been on the increase from 1,010 in 2004 to 1,434 in 2007. Until August this year, the NPA already asked web portals to delete a total of 1,035 such postings.

I find this personally disturbing for a couple of reasons—the first being that the South Korean government asking content to be removed from the Internet sounds more like a North Korean policy than that of a democratic government in one of Asia’s wealthiest nations.  The second bit of news that disturbs me is that I cannot come up with more than 10 pro-DPRK web sites.  Where are these people hiding?     

Read the full article here.

UPDATE: South Korea raids the offices of a pro-North group:

A group of agents from the National Intelligence Service, the police, and the Prosecutor’s Office Saturday stormed the headquarters of the All-Korean Committee for Implementation of June 15 Joint Declaration in Seoul and its 5 regional offices as well as the houses of the organization’s five officials simultaneously, Yonhap News reported.

The authorities also arrested seven officials of the organization, including its leader, whose last name is Choi, for violation of the National Security Law.

The authorities reportedly launched the massive investigation of the group when it was airing the media contents from North Korea through its Internet-based “6.15TV” that allegedly violated the 7th clause of the law that prohibits the praise for and encouragement on North Korea.
The group was established in October 2000 to commemorate the June 15 Joint Declaration and promote the unification movement on a civilian level. It has been engaged in civilian exchanges between the two Koreas, demanded the withdrawal of the U.S. troops from South Korea as well as a movement to understand North Korea better.

The group’s Web site ( was inaccessible Saturday afternoon due to heavy traffic volume.

Read the full story in the Korea Times.

UPDATE 2: 4 South Korean arrested for “praising north”

Four progressive civic group members were arrested Tuesday for allegedly praising North Korea, leading the Solidarity for Practice of the South-North Joint Declaration (SPSNJD) to criticize the National Intelligence Service (NIS) and the prosecution for abusing what they call the outdated National Security Law.

They were charged with opening an exclusive pro-North chat room on the group’s Web site ― restricted to certified members ― and releasing North Korean press material to praise the Stalinist country at the expense of the South. (Korea Times)

Really? A chat room with 4 nobodys?  It would be different if they had guns and plans, but reading silly North Korean press releases can’t seriously be considered subversive activity can it?


Petrov on DPRK-Australian relations

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

The Nautilus Institute has published an aritcle by Leonid Petrov on 60 years of Australian/DPRK relations.

Topics covered: on again/off agian diplomatic history, Australian foreign policy, bilateral relations, DPRK engagement with Australia, Pong Su (drug smuggling), denuclearization, economic sanctions, DPRK canberra embassy closing.

You may read the article on line here.

You may download a PDF of the article here: petrov-australia-dprk.pdf


Venerable Pomnyun at Johns Hopkins

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

UPDATE:Here is V. Pomnyun’s outline: pomnyun.pdf

NKeconWatch notes:
Agriculture: April – June are the lean months.  In July 2008 potatoes helped alleviate food shortage.  Also aid from West. Things began to get worse in August and September.

Earlier this year, the price of rice was up to 5x higher than a year ago.  In June-July it fell to 3x higher.  Now it is creeping back up.

Arduous March: In the 1990s, urban residents of North Hamgyong Province was the worst affected by famine.  Today, the worst affected are the farmers and rural residents of Hwangae (he did not specify north or south).  Shortage as bad as 1st arduous march, but fewer consumers and markets feed cities now.

Markets: protests in Chongjin.  People chanted, “Give us food or let us trade.”  None of the protests are political, just expressions of frustration.

Nukes:Nuclear weapons are a domestic propaganda weapon as well. Not just a matter of foreign policy.

Original Post:
Program details here
Wednesday, September 24
2:00 – 4:00 pm
Rome Auditorium at SAIS
1619 Massachusetts Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20036
RSVP here

The Venerable Pomnyun Sunim, Chairman of Good Friends and The Peace Foundation, will discuss the current political and social climate in North Korea, including the spread of the black market economy and the increase in political control over North Korea’s elite. Joining his discussion, is Dr. Cho Seong-ryoul, Director of the New Security Studies Program at the Institute for National Security Strategy (INSS), who will offer his insights on current and future inter-Korean relations.


New CRS reports on North Korea available

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

I have updated the list of Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports published on North Korea and posted them here.  I have also added a hyperlink under “pages” on the menu tab to the right.

Updates include:
US Assistance to North Korea: July 31, 2008
North Korean Ballistic Missile Threat: January 24, 2008
North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Program: January 21, 2008
North Korea’s Abduction of Japanese Citizens and the Six-Party Talks: March 19, 2008
The Kaesong North-South Industrial Complex: February 14, 2008
The North Korean Economy: Leverage and Policy Analysis: August 26, 2008


Chosun International Development Trust Company handling overseas business for the DPRK

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 08-9-23-1

North Korea’s Chosun International Development Trust Company, founded less than four years ago, is quickly emerging as the center for all of North Korea’s overseas business transactions. This was made public in an article published in the September 18 edition of the Chosun Sinbo, the newspaper of the Jochongryeon, an organization representing the North Korean diaspora in Japan.

The newspaper introduced the trust as being involved in “business and trade dealings with other countries, investment trust activities, financial services and other activities,” while “raising the credit rating of related domestic enterprises through solid business practices and broadly and continuously expanding business transactions with foreign enterprises.” This trust was founded in April 2004, and handles import-export business and investment trust services, as well as financial services and other activities for foreign enterprises. The main imports of the trust are soybean oil and other foodstuffs, fertilizer, and farm-use products such as vinyl sheeting, which are high on the list of consumer demands within North Korea. The trust has set up an exchange market in the Botong River area of Pyongyang, and is responsible for providing production materials to the North’s businesses and farming towns.

This business also focuses on trust investment and financial services. According to the Chosun Sinbo, the trust is “solidifying economic utility and connecting domestic and international firms that are promoting positive prospective plans, guaranteeing and investing capital necessary for the development of national businesses.” The paper also explained that the trust “also provides financial services, actively promoting the management of domestic enterprises.” According to the article, it appears that the Chosun International Investment Trust Company is receiving foreign capital and investing it in North Korea’s domestic businesses.

The trust seeks capital, particularly Chinese capital in Beijing and Jilin, and invests this foreign capital in the building and operating of a leaf tobacco processing plant, a hygienic products production plant, food processing facilities, automobile repair facilities, and other joint venture and cooperative venture projects.