Archive for September, 2008

Yongbyon and beyond…

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

UPDATE:  Inspectors barred.

North Korea has barred international inspectors from a nuclear reprocessing plant that produces weapons-grade material and intends to restart activity there in a week, the International Atomic Energy Agency said on Wednesday.

The decision by North Korea comes as the Vienna-based nuclear agency also announced it had completed on Wednesday the removal of all seals and surveillance cameras from the reprocessing plant, one of several sites at its vast Yongbyon nuclear complex. The removal was carried out following a formal request to the agency by the North two days ago.

…[T]he North Koreans “also informed IAEA inspectors that they plan to introduce nuclear material to the reprocessing plant in one week’s time. They further stated that from here on, IAEA inspectors will have no further access to the reprocessing plant.”

The inspectors have worked there, living in guest quarters on the site, since July 2007. (Herald Tribune)

ORIGINAL POST: North Korea has formally requested that the IAEA remove its seals and surveilance equipment from the Yongbyon processing facility.  According to the Associated Press:

North Korea had said that it was making “thorough preparations” to start up Yongbyon, which it began disabling last year under a now-stalled disarmament-for-aid deal.

“Some equipment previously removed by the DPRK during the disablement process has been brought back” to Yongbyon, ElBaradei told the closed meeting in comments made available to reporters. DPRK is the abbreviation of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

While the reactor remains shut down, “this morning, the DPRK authorities asked the agency’s inspectors to remove seals and surveillance equipment,” he said  (Associated Press).

According to Bloomberg, the South Korean government responded to this news by threatening to cut off promised energy assistance (previously negotiated as a reward to the DPRK for denuclearization progress). 

South Korea has so far delivered about 40 percent of a promised 1 million tons of energy aid to North Korea (Bloomberg).

According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, South Korea has also delayed shipment of “aid materials” to the DPRK including “steel pipes”.

The US is still maintaining its aid commitments as agreed to under the six-party talks.  According to the Choson Ilbo  (quoting the Congressional Research Service), the US has already paid the DPRK $20 million to dismantle the Yongbyon facility (famously blown up earlier this year) in addition to:

Spending close to US$1.3 billion on aid to North Korea since 1995, including: approximately 2.5 million tons of food worth over $700 million (since 1995), approximately $150 million on fuel oil provisions, and $400 million on the KEDO light water reactor.

This year the U.S. government plans to donate an additional 500,000 tons of food and an additional $100 million in oil shipments.

The DPRK claims this turnabout is a response to the US government’s failure to remove it from the list of state sponsors of terror (a symbolic gesture as it carries little economic significance).  The US claims that the DPRK did not meet the disclosure requirements necessary for it to justify taking such action.

In July 2008, the Congressional Research Service published a paper on the DPRK’s terrorism list removal.  Read it here.

Read the full articles below:


Doing business in North Korea seminar

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

Capital Club, Beijing
Sept 29, 2008

Spearkers include: Dr. Leonid Petrov and Paul Tija
Agenda and reservation information here: dprk_seminar.pdf

The DPRK (North-Korea) is in need of many foreign products and investments, while there are also opportunities for production and outsourcing. From the end of September to 4 October 2008, a Dutch economic mission will investigate the business climate in this country, with participants from different business sectors, including agribusiness, light industry and computer software.   
Before leaving for Pyongyang, the trade mission will start its tour in Beijing. On 29 September, some of the participants will join the BenCham (Benelux Chamber of Commerce) event: “Doing business with North-Korea”. This dinner/seminar takes place at the famous Capital Club and will start at 18:30. The leader of the trade delegation, Paul Tjia of GPI Consultancy, will give a presentation. If you or your colleagues in China are interested, then you are welcome to join the event. Program details (including information on registration and dress code) can be found in the PDF file above.       
Due to the growing European interest in trading with the DPRK, we are planning to organize another trade mission to North-Korea in 2009. This trip will be open for business participants from other countries as well. If you are interested in joining a future trade mission, or wishing to cooperate, please contact us for further details.    
With best regards,
Paul Tjia (sr. consultant ‘offshore sourcing’)
GPI Consultancy, P.O. Box 26151, 3002 ED Rotterdam, The Netherlands
E-mail: [email protected] tel: +31-10-4254172  fax: +31-10-4254317 Website:


UN to conduct DPRK census

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

According to the Korea Times, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) is preparing to launch the first census taken in the DPRK since 1993.

According to the artilce:

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said it has conducted data-collecting education to North Koreans and has been inspecting regional-level education for a population census in which as many as 35,200 field researchers and 7,500 inspectors will be dispatched

The census will take place between October 1-15.


Returned to North Korea

Friday, September 19th, 2008


The above image is from Returned to North Korea, a documentary on the 1959 program to repatriate Japanese-Koreans to the newly founded Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Watch the video here.


DPRK journal stresses food provision reform

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

Institute for Far Eastern Studies  (IFES)
(NK Brief No. 08-9-18-1)

The latest issue of the North Korean academic journal “Institute for Social Science Bulletin” (no.3, 2008) stressed that in order to resolve the North’s food shortage problems as quickly as possible, “it is necessary to take a good assessment of future food consumption [needs].”

In this issue, recently obtained in South Korea, an article reads, “the project for resolving the food issue cannot be pushed forward into the future, and while taking into consideration what steps can be taken now, the country’s food problems cannot ultimately be relieved by relying only on short-term benefits. On the contrary, [this] can adversely affect the future resolution of the food issue.”

The journal also added, “The task of restructuring food production must start with an assessment of future food consumption and start off with a view of long term interests rather than from starting from a standpoint of short-term interests in order to completely relieve food supply problems.” It stressed, “These days, resolving the country’s food supply problem is the most urgent and important task…solving food issues is an urgent problem that cannot be delayed a single moment,” but warned, “while the food issue must be solved without a day’s delay, recklessly pushing forward without scientific calculation or goals could result in insufficient and disorganized future results.”


Mass Games to run through October 10

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

According to a recent update from Koryo Tours, this year’s mass games have been extended through October 10th, which is the 63rd Party Founding Day.

This might be the last time for Americans to visit Pyongyang until 2012.


N.Korea’s Leading Apparatchiks

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

Choson Ilbo

Gen. Hyon Chol-hae, the 74-year-old deputy director of the general political department of the North Korean People’s Army (KPA) has been North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s most frequent companion on official occasions. Hyon has accompanied Kim, who is said to be recovering from a stroke, on 32 occasions this year.

In analysis of senior North Korean officials who have accompanied Kim on his inspections of various facilities until Aug. 14, Hyon was followed by Gen. Ri Myong-su (71), director of the administrative department of the National Defense Commission (29 occasions); Kim Ki-nam (82), director of the propaganda department of the North Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) (22 occasions); Pak Nam-gi (74), director of the planning and fiscal affairs department of the KWP (10 occasions); Kim Jong-gak (62), first vice-director of the KPA’s general political department, Pak To-chun, chief secretary of the WPK Jagang Provincial Committee, Kim Kyok-sik, chief of the KPA general staff (seven occasions); Jang Song-taek (62), director of the administrative department of the KWP (five occasions); and North Korea’s first vice foreign minister Kang Sok-ju (67) (five occasions).

During these inspections, Kim has given instructions to military officers, government officials and plant managers. The more often these elderly men accompany Kim, the closer the Unification Ministry, which carried out the analysis, considers them to the North Korean leader. Hyon, Ri, Kim and Pak ranked first through fourth in 2007 as well

Song Dae-sung, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute, said there is no big change in the ranking order of those closest aides to Kim Jong-il, who are assisting Kim on his sickbed or governing North Korea on his behalf.

Hyon Chol-hae
The KPA’s general political department, which Hyon controls as deputy director, is in charge of the entire KPA organization. A graduate of the Mangyongdae Revolutionary School, which families and descendants of the anti-Japanese partisans attend, he controls the school’s graduates, most of whom serve in the military. During the Korean War, he was Kim Il-sung’s bodyguard. He accompanied Kim junior on his visit to China in 2001.

Hyon stood on the platform alongside other North Korean leaders during a military parade on North Korea’s 60th anniversary on Sept. 9. According to analysts, normally only vice marshals or higher-ranking military officers are allowed to stand on the platform, and Hyon, a general, was an unprecedented exception.

Suh Jae-jean, director of the Korea Institute for National Unification, said, “It seems that Hyon Chol-hae is currently running North Korea behind the scenes. He is expected to play a leading role in laying the foundation for the post-Kim Jong-il era according to Kim’s wishes.” The institute says Hyon also has connections with Kim’s second son Jong-chol (27).

Ri Myong-su
Ri is director of the administrative department of the National Defense Commission, North Korea’s de facto supreme leadership. As the NDC’s administrative department director, he controls inspection and intelligence activities within the KPA. Until last year, he was under Kim Jong-il’s direct command as the director of the KPA’s operations department.

Ri emerged as a strongman in the process of Kim’s succession to power in the 1970s, by displaying loyalty to him. He has been Kim’s second most frequent companion since 2003.

Ryu Dong-ryeol, a researcher at the Police Science Institute, said, “Hyon and Ri directly report to Kim Jong-il.”

Kim Ki-nam
Kim is a well-known figure in South Korea since making an unannounced visit to the Seoul National Cemetery when he was in Seoul as the chief of a North Korean delegation to a “Unification Festival” marking Liberation Day on Aug. 15, 2005. He is Kim’s mouthpiece as secretary for propaganda for the KWP Central Committee. He was the editor-in-chief of the Rodong Shinmun, the organ of the KWP Central Committee, in 1976. In 1985, he was appointed director of the propaganda department of the KWP Central Committee.

Lee Ki-dong, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Strategy, said, “Kim Ki-nam will be in charge of publicizing at home and abroad Kim Jong-il’s decision about a successor.”

Pak Nam-gi
Pak is in charge of North Korea’s economy. Since 1976, he has worked as an economic expert as vice chairman of the State Planning Commission, the agency that controls North Korea’s planned economy.

As the first vice-director of the KPA’s general political department, Kim Jong-gak is in charge of propaganda within the military. Kim Kyok-sik assumed the post as the chief of KPA general staff in April last year, and Pak To-chun has served as the chief secretary of the KWP Jagang Provincial Committee since 2005.

Jang Song-taek, Kim Jong-il’s brother-in-law, fell out of favor with Kim in May 2004. But he came back in 2006 and has since controlled powerful agencies such as the Ministry of Public Security and the State Security Department, and prosecutors’ offices. He is reportedly close to Kim’s eldest son Jong-nam (37).

Kang Sok-ju played a major role in reaching the U.S.-North Korean Geneva Agreement in 1994.


Chinese official confirms DPRK grain smuggling

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

Markets work because price increases send entrepreners strong signals of relative scarcity and potential profit opporunities (unless these price increases are caused by inflation).  Entrepreneurs who pick up on these signals, then, have a strong incentive to move the desired resources from where they are valued less to where they are valued more.

A Chinese official in Jilin claims entrepreneurs in his province hear these signals loud and clear—and they respond the way humans have for thousands of years–they arbitrage:

The head of the grains bureau of Jilin, the Chinese province bordering North Korea, Zhu Yehui, says a drought in North Korea is very serious, and there is a lot of corn smuggling from China into North Korea.

He says the price in North Korea is more than 10 times the domestic price in China.

I am going to go out on a limb to suggest that these Chinese smugglers (entrepreneurs) are also delivering food more cheaply (on average) than the World Food Program, and I also am willing to wager that they have better access to “sensitive areas.” 

Addendum: According to Yonhap North Korea’s grain crop last year reportedly amounted to 4 million tons. The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization told U.S.-based Radio Free Asia last month that the North will harvest a half million tons less than last year.

Read the full article here:
China reports grain smuggling business active into North Korea
Australian Broadacsting Corporation


New Chuseok Trends in North Korea

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

Daily NK
Moon Sung Hwee

Chuseok is considered one of the most important national holidays in South Korea, but this is not the case in North Korea.

North Korea’s most celebrated holidays are Kim Il Sung’s birthday (April 15th) and Kim Jong Il’s birthday (February 16th). Chuseok is no more meaningful than simply a day to groom one’s ancestral gravesites.

It was especially difficult to comfortably celebrate Chuseok this year because Chuseok fell on a Sunday, the day after the time when North Koreans are required to participate in regular evaluation meetings, lectures, and mass events.

In fact, North Korea completely neglected Seolnal (Lunar New Year’s Day) and Chuseok up until the mid-1980s, claiming that they originated from China.

However, Pyongyang began showing an interest in national holidays at the time of the “13th World Festival for Youth and Students,” held in Pyongyang in 1989. The North Korean authorities felt it necessary to propagate the excellence of its national history through national traditions on display for the foreigners attending the festival; including Seolnal and Chuseok.

As a consequence, some North Koreans began to perceive that Chuseok was a valuable national holiday, not a Chinese holiday. However, Chuseok still has a tendency to be considered a day off to take care of a forefather’s gravesite rather than a true national holiday.

The second reason why Chuseok is just considered a day off is because of North Korea’s poor infrastructure and North Koreans’ economic hardship.

The North Korean authorities grant a special break the day before Chuseok for those whose forefathers’ gravesites are far away in order to minimize any inconvenience. On the day off, the authorities even “guarantee” North Koreans’ convenience by increasing the numbers of trains and buses.

However due to the extremely poor infrastructure in North Korea and the complicated process of transit, it is almost impossible for families to gather together on Chuseok.

When the authorities speak of increasing the number of buses and trains for the convenience of North Koreans, they only increase the schedule by one or two. North Koreans cannot even consider visiting families because in order for them to travel to different provinces or districts, they need to be granted an official travel certificate.

Most North Koreans visiting their forefathers’ gravesites therefore have to walk approximately 39km (24 miles). If they want to visit gravesites in different districts, then they have to request a travel certificate, get a train ticket 10 days in advance and get ready to stand on a busy train for two or three days.

A third reason why it is difficult for North Koreans to comfortably celebrate Chuseok is related to the fact that Chuseok is in “autumn.” For North Koreans, autumn is an extremely busy season. Not only farmers but factory workers, housewives and even students are mobilized to harvest and transport crops. Furthermore, each household has to prepare and get ready to survive the long winter. Therefore, taking care of forefathers has to be put on the back burner.

Nevertheless, there are an increased number of so called bourgeoisie-high ranking officials or successful businessmen- visiting forefathers’ gravesites these days. But the reason for such visits is aberrant. They visit not to pay respects to deceased forefathers but to gain money, power and promotion by exercising superstitions.

Among Pyongyang citizens in the early 21st century, covertly visiting fortunetellers and paying exorbitant amounts of money to get one’s fortune told became popular. The trend has quickly spread not just among regular residents but among North Korean intelligentsia such as Party members, military personnel and educators.

Blaming forefathers for any negative fortune is a commonality found among North Korean fortunetellers. Therefore, in order to reverse such a fortune, forefather’s gravesites are often mentioned. The fortunetellers often advise taking better care of the ceremonial tables by forefathers’ gravesites. For this reason, many North Koreans spend time going to their forefathers’ gravesites despite their distance.

These people visit the forefathers’ gravesites to bury money near the gravesites (they bury 55 won or 555 won hoping for more money to come to them since the sound of number 5 in Korean means “to come”) or to burn red cloth to spread ashes in a certain direction following fortunetellers’ instructions. For them, Chuseok is a day to practice superstition for their survival in front of forefathers’ gravesites.

In South Korea, people spend money on Chuseok to share gifts or to prepare food for their families. However, North Koreans on this day spend money to exercise age-old superstitions. At least these people have money to spend. There is no extra public distribution at Chuseok in North Korea. Therefore, Chuseok means nothing to those poor North Koreans who have no money. It is just another day to worry about what they are going to eat.


A look inside Pyongyang’s Central Market

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

Jerry Guo, a Yale University economics student who recently traveled to Pyongyang, wrote some interesting articles this week detailing his illicit adventures into Pyongyang’s Central Market (pictures below).



Pyongyang’s Central Market is located along the shore of the Taedong River and is visible from the Yanggakdo Hotel.  Unlike the larger Tongil Market located on the south side of town, the Central Market does not receive tourists or foreign visitors—and given the location, its customers would probably prefer to keep it that way.  So in a sense, an impromptu stroll to the Central Market offers every visitor to the DPRK exactly what they are looking for: a spontaneous glimpse at every-day life in Pyongyang.

According to Guo, that is exactly what he received:

But I wanted to catch a real glimpse of Pyongyang nightlife, so late one afternoon, I sneaked off unsupervised and hit the city streets. And much to my surprise, I didn’t see a single People’s Army cadet goose-step past me with those missile-launchers-on-wheels that appear on the nightly news. What I did witness: a mother buying a soda for her daughter from a sidewalk snack cart; two older women sitting on a bench, gossiping and eating pears; businessmen coming out of the subway, sans Bluetooth headsets; a grimacing teenage boy getting a haircut at a salon. (Washington Post)

Eventually he meandered into the Central District Market:

I had found myself in the North Korean version of Macy’s, but here, every day is the Friday after Thanksgiving. There were delicate blouses and dresses for around 15,000 won (roughly $4 at black market exchange rates), all sorts of fruit — thought to be nearly impossible to find in this mountainous hermit kingdom — and enough varieties of mystery meats to make my high school cafeteria green with envy.

…and he took some pictures (These pictures belong to Mr. Guo, and I thank him for letting me post them):

guo1small.JPG guo2small.JPG

Above: Fruits and chickens for sale

guo3small.JPG guo4small.JPG

Above: Side dishes/Sauces and clothing for sale


Above: View of the Central Market from the Yanggakdo Hotel

Taking these pictures, however, ushered in an unpleasant afternoon:

No one paid much attention to me, until I stopped to snap a few photos. Then a group of stocky women in pink dresses magically appeared. They half-wrestled me to a second-floor office while blowing fiercely on blue whistles, as if to announce, “Look at me! My first American spy!” For the next six hours, I was questioned and scrutinized by a procession of Public Safety Bureau officers, their rank identifiable by the quality of their outfits: the first wore an undershirt, the last what seemed to be a custom Italian suit.[…]

Eventually, they forced me to write a hyperbolic but harmless self-criticism, describing myself as “an American student,” “an incompetent trouble-maker” and “a genuine lover of the Korean people.” Then they booted me back to my five-star hotel.

Mr. Guo’s adventures have been chronicled in the following publications and they are well worth checking out:

My Excellent North Korean Adventure
Washington Post
Jerry Guo
9/14/2008; Page B02

A writer journeys into North Korea with Chinese tourists
Christian Science Monitor
Jerry Guo

Yale Senior Enjoys Uncensored Day in N. Korea
National Public Radio

And a caveat for future visitors: Although I personally appreciate knowing this type of information about the DPRK, I do not recommend other tourists take this course of action for numerous reasons!