Archive for November, 2008

DPRK authorities reclaim plots for tree planting

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 08-11-18-1

The South Korean civic organization ‘Good Friends’ recently reported that North Korean authorities have prohibited North Koreans from working private plots in the mountains which had been cleared and used for grain production, and have recently begun replanting trees in these areas.

A source for Good Friends stated, “The Central Party decreed last September 29th, ‘The Fatherland’s mountains and fields must be adorned with green so that not one single desolate plot exists by the year 2012.’” Accordingly, garden plots are already being reclaimed from individuals and planted with trees.

North Korea is declaring 2012, the year which marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung and the 70th birthday of Kim Jong Il, ‘The Year Opening the Gates to a Strong and Prosperous Nation’.

The source stated that local residents in Booryung, North Hamm planted corn, potatoes, beans, and millet on those plots, relying on them for between 3 and 6 months worth of food, and that with the new decree prohibiting farming, more people would die. 

*NKeconWatch: The DPRK just recently replaced its Minister of Forestry.  This is his first large-scale policy initiative. 


Pyongyang remodeling underway

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 08-11-17-1

North Korea’s capital city of Pyongyang appears to be getting a facelift. The (North) Korean Central Broadcasters has reported that a city beautification project is underway in Pyongyang.

An apartment-erecting crane is building a new skyscraper, while construction has been restarted on the 16-year old remains of the shell of the Ryukyung Hotel as large-scale construction equipment and barges crowd the river as piles of construction materials can be found at each construction site.

Pyongyang insiders report that efforts getting underway in this anniversary year marking 60 years since the founding of the country are part of an effort to make Pyongyang a completely new city by 2012, when the North will mark the 100th birthday of its eternal president, Kim Il Sung.

Pyongyang is being developed as a ‘showcase capital’ for international visitors to the poverty-stricken North, as the North Korean people refer to Pyongyang as the ‘capital of the revolution.’

Recently, South Korean representatives from organizations providing aid to the North have reported being been surrounded by new construction of hotels and other buildings and the refurbishment of older buildings such as the Pyongyang Grand Theater.

What is curious is that the origin of the capital needed for these large-scale construction projects appears to indicate growing investment from foreign enterprises. The Ryukyung Hotel construction is reportedly being supported by a United Arab Emirates (UAE) company.*

A South Korean entrepreneur recently in Pyongyang quoted a Pyongyang official as saying, “The Ryukyung Hotel will be complete within three years,” and that the Daedong River Hotel construction was almost in the finishing stages with the help of foreign investment.

In January of this year, the Egyptian wireless communications company Orascom announced it would invest 400 million USD in order to construct the North’s first wireless communications network.

Also, North Korea’s foreign trade appears to have grown this year, especially because, as energy demand has sharply increased, the North’s export of mined materials to China appears in early calculations to have expanded considerably.

* NKeconWatch: This is the first I have heard about a UAE firm.  Previously, discussion centered only around Orascom.


DPRK culture update: sports and film

Monday, November 17th, 2008

In football, North Korea won the under-17 women’s football World Cup yesterday with a come-from-behind 2-1 win over the United States in Auckland, New Zealand.

According to a New Zealand sports web site:

The Koreans fell behind after two minutes to a freak own goal from a throw-in, but drew level through Kim Un Hyang with 13 minutes of regular time remaining.

Jang Hyon-Sun netted the winner in the second period of extra time, seven minutes away from a penalty shoot-out.

North Korea now boast both age-group women’s World Cup titles, having taken the under-20 version in Russia two years ago.

In film, the Daily NK reports that the popularity of South Korean films is giving way to American, Thai, and Chinese films:

In North Korea, the fervor of the South Korean Waves is on the wane; Korean dramas, which have spearheaded the spread of South Korean culture and progress since 2000, are no longer generating huge interest among North Korean citizens. The prevailing response of the citizens has been “I have seen enough” and “I have had my fill.”

A source form North Hamkyung Province said in a phone conversation with the Daily NK on the 2nd, “Nowadays, a Thai movie, “Ong-Bak (2003), Muay Thai Warrior,” is immensely popular among the younger generation. Chinese or American movies have become more popular than South Korean movies.”

The source added, “When South Korean dramas were first popular, adoration, curiosity, new storylines and exotic scenes generated a wave of interest, but people seemed to have had their fill.”

“Previously, Chinese people would bring back South Korean films when (North Korean) people requested DVDs, but now, and they mostly bring American or Chinese martial arts movies. According to smugglers working along the border, South Korean DVDs cannot be found in the homes of the Chinese.”

He evaluated thus, “More than anything, we like clarity and accuracy, but South Korean movies tend to be ambiguous. It frustrates me that they take and twist around words when the reality of the situation is clear.”

Gwon Myung Chul (pseudonym), who visited his relatives in China at the end of October, noted, “In Pyongyang, people can mostly acquire South Korean songs. With the rising popularity of South Korean songs, CDs containing these songs have come out, but they did not generate much interest.”

Gwon explained, “Recent Korean songs have not resonated with us emotionally and they have been difficult to understand. I don’t know what the people there (in the South) think, but rap or Pansori (traditional Korean narrative songs) are really difficult to listen to.”

He observed that “South Korean songs were better in the past” and listed off the Korean songs which he could sing, such as Noh Sa Yeon’s ‘Meeting’ and Kim Jong Hwan’s ‘For Love.’

Read the full article here:
South Korean Movies Not Popular Anymore in North Korea
Daily NK
Lee Sung Jin


Intellectuals and Marxism in North Korea

Monday, November 17th, 2008

An interesting quote from the Daily NK:

Until the late 1960s Das Capital, the selected works of Engels and books and publications related to the dialectical materialism and metaphysics were set on my father’s bookshelf.

However, in 1968 or 1969 the authorities took away every book claiming, “Let’s establish Juche.” Since 1970, there was no house where books related to Marx and Engels remained. The only books with regard to an ideology were the analects and selected writings of Kim Il Sung.

The generations that learned Marxism are those who took lectures in universities from 1950 to early 1960s. Since 1967, there have been no lectures on Marxism and no professors who used the publications of Marx.

Since 1970, theories of philosophy or even dialectical materialism have been fabricated as Kim Il Sung’s analects, and theses of Marx and Engels have been revealed as Kim Il Sung’s ones, placing at the forefront the words, “According to the Supreme Leader, Kim Il Sung.”

Finally, later Kim Jong Il even got rid of such things. He made people study only the Juche Ideology as he took away the dialectic. Even the issue on productive forces and their relation to the means of production in the Marxist theory were dealt with in the Juche Ideology. They didn’t teach cadres the dialectical materialism in the Communist College.

The Party omitted the line, “the Chosun Workers’ Party struggles to practice Marxism-Leninism,” replacing it with “the Kim Il Sung Ideology,” at the 6th Party Convention in October, 1980.

Read the full article here:
North Korean Intellectuals Oppressed and Watched
Daily NK
Kim Seo Yeol


North Korea statistics

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

I get many requests for North Korea’s economic statistics.  In order to make these things easier to find, I have created a page on the menu to the right called “North Korea Economic Statistics.”  This resource provides links to the most frequently quoted and cited statistics.  It is not yet complete, but I will be continually expanding it. 

I believe these should be taken with buckets of salt, but here they are nonetheless.

Also on the menu are links to the following information:
North Korea Academic Resources
North Korea Blogs
North Korea Books
North Korea CRS Reports
North Korea Films

If you have anything to add to any of these resources, please let me know. 


(Updated) Kumgang/Kaesong update

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

UPDATE: Marcus Noland discussed this subject with the Daily NK.  Joshua has some thoughts at One Free Korea.

ORIGINAL POST: Hyundai Asan (HA) was having a good year up through July 2008.  At that point, inter-Korean trade volume had experienced a 23% year-over-year  increase—reaching US$880 million.   Commercial trade comprised 94% of this volume, up from 78%, and the number of firms conducting inter-Korean trade reached 526, up from 324.

…and then a South Korean tourist was shot by North Korean soldiers at HA’s flagship project, the Kumgang tourist resort.  Shortly after the shooting, the South Korean government halted tourism to Kumgangsan until the DPRK agreed to launch a joint investigation into the shooting and guaranteed the safety of tourists—which never happened.  As a result, the newly constructed six-star “Kumgang Ananti Golf and Spa Resort” desigend by Korean- American architect Min Sung Jin, sits unused, and revenues at HA are likely to fall to as low as 220 billion won (US$165 million), from about 300 billion won last year (Yonhap).

Despite the troubles at Kumgangsan, the joint-Korean projects on the west coast (Kaesong Industrial Zone and Kaesong tourism) remained unaffected.  The Kaesong Industrial Zone, the most ambitious and risky project, has continued to receive support from both the North and South Korean governments, and the Kaesong tours have grossed the North Korean government nearly $10 million since the project was launched in December 2007

Since I operate on the assumption that people will never turn down free money, even communist governments, I have been skeptical that the DPRK would jeopardize these investments.  As of this week, however, it looks like my assumption is wrong.  It seems the DPRK remains intent to cut off its nose to spite its face.  On November 9, 2008:

A North Korean military team visited an inter-Korean industrial complex in Gaeseong, North Korea, last week to check personnel and facilities there.

Local experts speculated that the unprecedented survey is aimed at putting pressure on the South, whose civic groups continue to send propaganda fliers containing criticism of the North’s dictatorship.

Five military officials looked around the industrial park, Moon Moo-hong, chairman of the Kaesong Indutrial District Management Committee (KIDMAC), said.

“They made the rounds of 11 companies in the complex in the morning and asked about the amount of investment, capital, the number of workers, their salaries and working conditions,” he said.

The officials, in military uniforms, asked about how long it would take to empty the complex several times during the six-hour inspection, he added.

They did not show an amicable attitude either, saying they were not visiting to give out business cards and they had nothing to talk about.

A government official asking to remain anonymous said the visit can be read as a threat to drive out South Korean companies from the complex. (Korea Times)

Who was leading the military delegation? Lt. General Kim Yong Chol:

Kim is widely known as Pyongyang’s chief delegate to inter-Korean general-level talks in South Korea, but this time, he assumed the title of policy chief of the National Defense Committee, the most powerful organization in the North. While inspecting infrastructure and companies at the complex, he reportedly asked, “How long would it take for South Korean companies to pack up and go home?” (Donga Ilbo)

Economically, this is a terrible move:

The complex employs 35,000 North Korean workers who earn 55 dollars a month (63 dollars including social insurance), an amount considered extremely high by North Korean standards. Though the communist regime deducts a significant sum from their salaries, workers there are clearly healthier and better fed than their malnourished neighbors. If each of these workers is assumed to be part of a family of four, the complex feeds 140,000 North Koreans. (Donga Ilbo)

Yet yesterday, the implicit threat to close the border was made explicit:

[On] Wednesday, North Korea’s military threatened to “strictly restrict and cut off” all overland passage through the military demarcation line starting Dec. 1 in protest over Seoul’s “confrontational” policy. (Yonhap)


A Red Cross office in the North with the only civilian phone link will shut. (BBC)

Hyundai Asan Corp. said that it has yet to receive an official notice from North Korea on the suspension of its tour program to a historic city in the North, despite Pyongyang’s announcement to restrict border crossings. (Yonhap)

So what has made the DPRK so angry that its leaders are willing to take such drastic action?  Judging only from the public statments by the DPRK’s military spokesmen, it seems to be the proliferation of balloons and anti-Kim Jong il leaflets that human rights groups are sending across the DMZ.   

This seems bizarre because balloons have been crossing the DMZ for decades.  The North Korean villages along the DMZ know exactly how to deal with these leaflets and it is fairly routine for work groups to be organized to go pick them up.  Additionally, North Korea’s leaders are smart enough to know that the South Korean government has no legal authority to prevent its citizens from undertaking these activities.  So the DPRK’s ultimate goals here must be greater than stopping human rights groups from sending the balloons.

Ironically, it is the same human rights groups that are sending the balloons across the border who are most vocal about closing down the Kaesong Industrial Zone and ending the Kaesong tourism project. This is because they believe that the revenues generated by these projects are diverted to support the government with little going to the actual workers.  If the North Korean government ends these inter-Korean projects it will be delivering its most vocal opponents a double victory—the DPRK will end up with more balloons and less South Korean money.  If I was in the business of sending balloons across the DMZ, I would be sending out fundraising letters right now telling potential donors how effective my strategy is. 

Anyhow, if all of this was not strange enough, North Korea has slowed dismantling of the Yongbyon reactor (again), claiming the US owes it energy aid, and asserted that they never agreed to a nuclear verification deal which gives inspectors permission to collect samples and remove them from the country for analysAre they just trying to squeeze more concessions out of the Six-Party talks? Or is this a calculated political strategy?


Of troops and tourism

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

Troops: the Financial Times reports that the PRC (China) is increasing the number troops along its border with North Korea:

The Chinese military has boosted troop numbers along the border with North Korea since September amid mounting concerns about the health of Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, according to US officials.

Beijing has declined to discuss contingency plans with Washington, but the US officials said the Peoples’ Liberation Army has stationed more soldiers on the border to prepare for any possible influx of refugees due to instability, or regime change, in North Korea.

One official cautioned that the increase in Chinese troops was not “dramatic”, but he said China was also constructing more fences and installations at key border outposts. Wang Baodong, the Chinese embassy spokesman in Washington, said he was unaware of any increased deployments.

Tourism: Reuters reports that the DPRK has closed Sinuiju to entering Chinese tourists:

North Korea is restricting visitors from its ally and giant neighbour China, travel agents said on Thursday, including virtually closing off one of its main border crossings at Dandong.

Travel agents in China, who send a steady though small flow of tourists to impoverished and isolated North Korea, said they were still organising visits, though trips had to be made via air rather than by rail.

“The border has been closed since October. If you want to go to North Korea, you have to go to Shenyang and fly from there to North Korea,” said one travel agent in Dandong, referring to a northeastern Chinese city.

A Chinese rail official in Dandong said freight trains were still able to cross over into North Korea.

“There are four trains a week to North Korea. One train just left for there, though I don’t know if there are any passengers on it. I think most of the trains are freight trains,” the official said by telephone.

China’s relations with North Korea have long been characterised as being “as close as lips and teeth” after they fought side-by-side during the 1950-53 Korean War.

Read the full articles here:
China increases troops on North Korea border
Financial Times 
Demetri Sevastopulo and and Song Jung-a

North Korea restricts travel for Chinese visitors
Ben Blanchard


DPRK Looking forward

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

Below is an excerpt from the Economist Intelligence Unit Views Wire 11/1/2008 (h/t Oliver): 

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: The immediate outlook for North Korea’s foreign relations is positive. The country’s removal in October from the US State Department’s list of states regarded as sponsoring terrorism signals that the nuclear six-party talks (SPT, also involving China, the US, Russia, Japan and South Korea) are back on track, at least for now. The delisting also clears the way for North Korea, if it so desired, to apply to join the World Bank and the IMF, which the US was previously bound to oppose. However, the rollercoaster of the past three months, and the fact that the SPT are now in their sixth year, counsels caution as to the depth or irreversibility of any progress.

POLICY TRENDS: The omens for progress on economic reform are not propitious. Six years on from the “special measures” (the word “reform” remains discouragingly taboo) of July 2002, it is clear that these have not galvanised GDP growth, which was negative during 2006 and 2007, according to the Bank of Korea (the South’s central bank). Nor have they been a harbinger of wider or deeper institutional reform. Even though the North Korean state can no longer provide and most of its citizens must scrape a living from markets, the regime still seems perversely determined to keep markets in check.

ECONOMIC GROWTH: A reportedly better autumn harvest may bring some respite, but will not alter the fundamental plight of most North Koreans, who must scrabble to ensure even a meagre amount of food. Meanwhile, heavy industry, outmoded and worn out, has no potential to recover, and infrastructure remains in a parlous state. Transforming all of this would require two as yet unmet conditions: large-scale capital investment, which can only come from abroad, and the will to pursue genuine market reforms. The paltry energy aid and other assistance offered via the SPT is no substitute for the major investment needed, the precondition of which is complete denuclearisation.


Christian group smuggling radios into DPRK

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

Individuals and organizations who smuggle radios into the DPRK, whether for personal gain or for altruistic reasons, do not to attract attention to themselves.  This makes it difficult to determine just how many foreign-made radios can be operated, and by whom, in the DPRK.

This week, however, Christian broadcaster Trans World Radio announced that it will distribute 3,400 radios in the DPRK this year alone:

International Christian broadcaster Trans World Radio (TWR) confirmed Friday, November 7, that it has secretly distributed thousands of radio receivers in North Korea, one of the world’s most isolated Communist nations. 

“TWR already delivered 3,100 radio’s in recent months and the plan is to increase that number to 3,400 by the end of this year,”  said TWR-Netherlands from its headquarters in the Dutch town of Barneveld. “Radio is the only way for North Koreans to hear the Gospel.  However receivers sold in the country are only tuned to the state-run network,” TWR added.

TWR said it has set up a transmitter in the region to reach the people of North Korea with Christian programming and encourage underground churches. “Most Christians in North Korea are not able to share their faith with other believers openly, and are forced to worship in secret.”?

Who knows how many of these radios will end up in actual use, but this is just one organization in one year.  Is it plausible to believe that over 10,000 radios are smuggled into the DPRK in a year? Are there reasons to doubt or qualify these numbers?  Why would they announce this if it was true?

Christian Broadcaster Smuggles Radio’s To North Korea   
Bos News Life
Eric Leijenaar


PyongSu Joint Venture Company

Sunday, November 9th, 2008

From Wikipedia:

PyongSu Joint Venture Company, Limited is a pharmaceutical company jointly founded in 2002 by Pyongyang Pharmaceutical Company in North Korea and a company headquartered in Hong Kong which is a market leader in pharmaceuticals distribution and contract manufacturing in Asia. The corporate headquarters of PyongSu are in the Songyo district in Pyongyang. PyongSu started trial production in 2004 and, as of 2005, engaged in manufacturing mainly painkillers and antibiotics. At the end of 2006 the foreign-invested stake was sold to another investor. Felix Abt, the 3rd managing director (or president) managed to avoid the closure of the company by turning the heavily loss-making operation into a profit-making one. PyongSu became the first North Korean pharmaceutical factory to reach GMP (a universally recognized quality standard in the pharmaceutical industry as defined by the WHO), repeatedly inspected and confirmed by the WHO. It also became the first ever North Korean company to participate in tender competitions and to win contracts against foreign competitors from China, India, Germany and elsewhere. With an increasing cash-flow generated by itself, the company has even become able to buy and profitably operate pharmacies and other sales outlets in the country. Towards the end of 2008 managing director Felix Abt explained that the company now enjoys 1) a portfolio of products made by itself including an anti-helmintic and an anti-hypertensive drug that meets the patients’ needs well 2) a good reputation as a quality and service-minded company in the DPR Korea and the recognition as the “model company” of the domestic pharmaceutical industry. 3) a good market penetration thanks to wholesaling (that includes a variety of complementary products at affordable prices imported directly from reliable GMP-manufacturers) and its own profitable retail outlets (i.e. pharmacies) and 4) a healthy growth (including a high amount of orders on hand for 2009), sustainability and profitability.

Click here to read a recent interview by Mr. Abt in Interview Blog.