Archive for December, 2008

Chinese expand reach over DPRK’s coal

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

Via China Knowledge:

Henan Yima Coal Mining Group, one of the leading state-owned coal miners in Henan Province, said the company planned to invest in a 10-million-ton coal mine and a 1.2-million-ton coal chemical project in North Korea, the China Daily reported.

The Chinese coal miner and the Anju Coal Mining Association, the country’s largest coal miner with nearly ten coal mines, signed an agreement on Dec. 12 to develop the two projects.

Under the agreement, the two projects, with Yima Group holding controlling stakes, will be built by stages. Auxiliary facilities, such as power plant and coal-selecting plant, are also expected to be jointly constructed by the two companies.  North Korea is rich in coal resource [sic], a main energy source of the country’s self-dependent economy.

Chinese coal miner taps into North Korea
China Knowledge


Pueblo crew awarded $65 million by US court

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

From the Associated Press (via the New York Times):

A federal judge has awarded more than $65 million to several men of the Navy spy ship Pueblo, who were captured and tortured by North Korea in 1968.

The judge, Henry H. Kennedy Jr. of Federal District Court, issued the judgment against North Korea on Tuesday.

North Korea did not respond to the lawsuit, which accused it of kidnapping, imprisonment and torture. Four former crewmen of the Pueblo filed the suit in 2006.

Judgment Is Issued in North Korea Suit
Associated Press


Status of US food aid deliveries to North Korea

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

Press Statement by Sean McCormack
December 30, 2008
US Department of State web site

Question:  Will you please provide an update on the deliveries of food aid to North Korea?

Answer:   To date, over 143,000 metric tons of U.S. food (wheat, corn, and soybeans) has been delivered to North Korea. Of that amount, the latest shipment of 25,000 metric tons of corn and soybeans arrived in North Korea on November 23 and has completed unloading for distribution by the U.S. NGOs. The latest shipment of food aid (totaling 21,000 metric tons), which was expected to arrive by the end of December, is now expected to arrive in the DPRK on January 2, due to recent rough seas.

The United States has not stopped food aid to North Korea. Under the terms of our agreement with the DPRK, there is to be no limit imposed on the Korean language capabilities of the World Food Program (WFP) and U.S. NGO staff implementing the food aid program. The lack of sufficient Korean speakers on the WFP program is one of the key issues in ongoing discussions. The issuance of visas for Korean-speaking monitors for the WFP program is another issue currently being discussed, along with other technical issues. A delegation that recently visited North Korea, identified problems in the implementation of the world food program portion of the food aid program. Those problems are not yet resolved.

Under the most recent agreement reached at the six party talks, the US has committed to sending 500,000 tons of food assistance to North Korea within the 12 months beginning in June 2008.  So far the US has shipped 143,000 tons. 

South Korean civil society is also contributing:

Two South Korean charities say they’ve shipped food and fuel to impoverished North Korean families suffering in the cold.

A shipment of food for babies and their mothers worth about $302,300 is to be distributed in Hoeryong by the Seoul-based Jungto Society, a Buddhist group, Yonhap News Agency reported Tuesday.

Families in Hoeryong are particularly vulnerable because the town sits on the remote northeastern tip of North Korea and and receives less assistance from other regions, said Kim Ae-Kyung, a Jungto spokesman.

The shipment includes dried seaweed powder, flour, milk powder, sugar and salt for 2,500 mothers and 6,300 infants and children.

Another South Korean charity, Briquet Sharing Movement, said it has delivered 50,000 charcoal fuel briquets to North Korean border towns Kaesong and Kosong.

In all, the two towns have received 800,000 briquets from the charity this year, enough to help heat 3,200 homes, Yonhap reported.

(UPDATE) From the Korea Times:

[T]he “Easter Star” was en route to the reclusive country with 21,000 metric tons of corn and will soon arrive at the port of Nampo.

American NGOs, such as Mercy Corps, World Vision and Global Resource Service will distribute the aid in Jagang and North Pyeongan Provinces, the official added. The State Department originally expected the aid to reach the port by the end of this month.

It will be the sixth shipment of the 500,000 metric tons of promised food aid. In May, the U.S. agreed to resume the aid in June for 12 months. The United States given 143,000 metric tons of food assistance so far, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters in Washington last week.

The NGO official also said 4,940 metric tons of a corn-soya blend and corn oil will be separately shipped to North Korea in mid-January as the seventh shipment, and NGOs will distribute them in the same regions.

NGOs have been a regular channel for Washington to distribute its promised assistance. The World Food Program under the United Nations has also distributed food assistance on the U.S. government’s behalf.

The shipment will be the first aid package reaching North Korea after talks on dismantling the North Korean nuclear program came to an abrupt end without substantial agreement in early December.

In spite of the stalemate on the nuclear issue, McCormack said, “Our humanitarian program will continue.” U.S. attention is now shifting to stationing Korean-speaking staff working with the WFP and NGO programs at the point of distribution.

Read the full articles here:
Charities send food, fuel to North Korea
UPI News

US Corn Aid to Arrive in North Korea Jan. 3
Korea Times
Kim Se-jeong


Korea Buiness Consultants Dec ’08 newsletter

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

Korea Business Consultants published their December 2008 newsletter.  You can read it on line here, or download the PDF here.

The following topics are covered:
Orascom Launches DPRK Mobile Phone Service
Pyongyang Undergoing Facelift
Obama’s DPRK Options
US Brothers Light Up DPRK Hospitals
Kuwait to Lend DPRK US$21.7 Million
DPRK Finds More Natural Resources
DPRK Engineers to Study Russian Rail Operations
Swedes to Make Jeans in DPRK
KNIC Wins Insurance Case
DPRK, ROK Agree on Tokdo
DPRK to Strengthen China Ties
Russia’s House Speaker to visit DPRK
DPRK, Singapore Sign Investment Agreement
DPRK Praises Yemen’s Reunification Example
ROK Wave on the Wane in DPRK
DPRK Girls World Soccer Champions
New DPRK Destinations
Korean Cuisine


Hockey Night in North Korea

Monday, December 29th, 2008

The Globe and Mail, Toronto (via Cancor)
Nathan Vanderklippe

Maybe it was the traditional hotpot meal with dog meat, maybe it was the pre-game beer or maybe it was the unsettling gaze of the Great Leader and the Dear Leader, their portraits glaring down from high above the Pyongyang Ice Rink. Whatever it was, Hockey Night in the (Former) Axis of Evil, a game that may well qualify as the most peculiar of the year, did not begin well.

On one side was a team of 18-year-old North Koreans shod in 20-year-old leather skates. On the other, a team jam-packed with the world’s hockey superpowers: nine expatriate Canadians plus two Finns and a Swede, playing in what they believe was the first-ever international amateur hockey game inside the world’s most reclusive country.

And the Canucks and Co. not only started slowly but ended up falling 11-9 — the damage to Canada’s international hockey reputation still unknown.

In fact, within minutes of the opening face-off, the fast-passing North Koreans had already bagged four unanswered goals. Goalie Scott Lau, a lawyer from Toronto (team nickname: “DPRK Five-Hole”), blamed the arena lighting. “It was kind of dark,” he said. The arena eventually cranked up the brightness. It helped, but only a little.

“I think he let in five of his first six shots near the net,” said team captain Ray Plummer. “They were going wide, he managed to block them and put them in the net.” That, of course, was before the North Korean team relented in the interest of being good hosts.

Three inauspicious periods later — complete with smoke breaks at intermissions to watch the DPRK’s sole Zamboni at work on the DPRK’s sole rink — and the Good Guys strode off the ice in defeat.

Not that anyone really cared. For these expatriates, who live in Asia and work as students, teachers, venture capitalists, hoteliers and diplomats, the October game fulfilled a dream to “go where no team has gone before.”

“How many people go to the DPRK — not many! And how many play hockey there as amateur hacks — just us!” said Mr. Plummer, an Atlantic Canadian who, in his younger and speedier days, turned down a contract in the OHL to attend university instead. “My father said stick with hockey and you’ll go far,” he said. Little did he know.

Mr. Plummer, a construction project manager, met his wife at centre ice in Beijing, where teams of expats square off during winter months in beer-league play. Similar leagues have sprouted up wherever puckheads and hosers have landed, and the Beijing players have for decades competed in annual tournaments in Shanghai, Bangkok, Hong Kong and Taipei.

Over the years, they also began playing in Ulan Bator against Mongolians who compete on outdoor ice in minus 35 temperatures. Hockey has become a channel for philanthropy, and the ex-pats have donated equipment, lessons and international travel to Mongolian kids who otherwise couldn’t afford to play.

But several years ago, Mr. Plummer began searching for a new adventure. What better, he figured, than playing in North Korea? Few people are allowed into the hermit nation; fewer still come to play hockey. Pyongyang has hosted several International Ice Hockey Federation games, but the country has only a few dozen hockey players and they don’t play in globetrotting beer leagues.

“We thought, ‘Here’s a crazy place to go. Let’s play hockey, but go as tourists and experience something barely anybody experiences,'” Mr. Plummer said. He contacted a travel agent with experience getting foreign visitors into North Korea to ask if it might be possible. This summer, for reasons unknown, they were invited to come. A few months later, after shelling out $2,000 each for the trip, they found themselves on a Russian-made Tupolev jet bound for a country where the roads are empty, the cities go dark at night and portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il abound.

“It was truly like going to another planet,” Mr. Plummer said. They hit the tourist sites, were lectured about the evil ways of the “Imperialist Americans” and travelled to the demilitarized zone dividing North and South Korea, where they discovered the Maple Leaf proudly displayed as part of North Korea’s own Axis of Evil.

And they suited up for a second game against the young North Koreans, who play on the country’s development team, and will likely one day compete at the national level. The ice was Olympic-sized, the referee an official with the IIHF. But for all that, they lost again, this time 6-4.

“They played Soviet-type spread-out, passing, skating, circle the puck,” Mr. Plummer said. “They’re not great, and there’s not a big pool of players to pick from. But they’re better than old, ex-pat foreigners who are just up there for some tourism and hockey.”

After the game, after taking photos with the young players whose language they couldn’t speak, the expats offered their sticks as a token of friendship. The North Koreans offered a retired set of national team jerseys in return. Mr. Plummer plans to send one of them to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

Olivier Rochefort, one of the team’s leading goal-scorers and the director of operations for the Beijing Radisson SAS hotel, can scarcely believe it. Not only has he traded slap shots with North Koreans — he now has a shot at something even greater.

“We need to autograph that jersey,” he said, laughing. “That’s the only way my name’s going to be in the Hockey Hall of Fame.”


Distribution of Soy Sauce Resumed

Monday, December 29th, 2008

Daily NK
Lee Sung Jin

A source has relayed news that North Korea has begun to so-called “essential food factories” in provincial capitals for the first time since Kim Il Sung’s death, and that distribution of soy sauce and soybean paste to civilians in those cities has resumed.

A source from Yangkang Province said in a phone conversation with the Daily NK on the 28th, “Essential food factories situated in each province entered production in October and every household has been provided with a kilogram of soybean paste and a kilogram of soy sauce on a monthly basis ever since. Such provision is on a par with the amount rationed when the Supreme Leader (Kim Il Sung) was alive in the 1990s.”

A North Hamkyung Province source said, “At a North Hamkyung Province essential food factory in Chongjin, production began in October and a kilogram of soybean paste and soy sauce has been being provided to each household once a month.”

North Korea changed the name of “food factories” in each city and province to “essential food factories” in 1993, and remodeled the buildings. It also pursued the modernization of equipment for soy sauce and soybean production. However, due to the “economic crisis” following Kim Il Sung’s death in 1994, the operation of all food factories ceased.

Accordingly, the resumption of operations has triggered the analysis that the “confidence” of the North Korean authorities has been restored regarding both North Korea’s agricultural production and the food situation this year.

A source from Yangkang Province emphasized, “Soybean and peas which have been coming in as foreign aid have sometimes been used to produce the soybean and soy sauce to be provided to Pyongyang, the military and the construction units, but this is the first time that rations to average civilians have resumed since the Kim Il Sung’s death. The reason for the state’s display of concern for the civilian economy is because farming went well this year.”

He then said, “Not only in Yangkang Province, but essential food factories in Hamheung and Pyongsung have also been brought back online. The civilians are hoping that soybean paste and soy sauce distribution will be normalized.”

The source noted, “In the Hyesan Essential Food Factory, approximately 22 tons of ingredients for soybean paste and soy sauce, including peas and wheat, are used daily. At such a rate, a kilogram of soybean paste and soy sauce can be provided to civilians each month over a fixed term.”

He then went on to explain the backdrop, “The storage capacity of the soybean paste fermentation tank in the Hyesan Essential Food Factory is about 60 tons, but with the 22 tons of ingredients that have been coming in each day, only a portion of the production equipment has been operating.

According to North Korea’s central pricing system, a kilogram of soybean paste and soy sauce are 150 North Korean Won and 80 won, respectively. The source added, however, “The soybean paste produced from the factories has been extensively sold in the jangmadang for 300 won per kilogram. Homemade hot pepper paste has been being sold for 900 won per kilogram.”

Therefore, North Korean authorities are said to have held civilian education lectures nationwide, on or around the 19th, stressing the subject, “Regarding strictly adhering to the national grain regulations and preserving army rations as the top priority.”

The source added, “Within less than a month of the resumption of the essential food factories, some managers and cadres of the factories were found to have embezzled the soybean paste ingredients, so the state authorities held formal reeducation lectures for officials. Also, the civilians in the counties or farmlands have not been receiving soy sauce and soybean paste, because only the essential food factories have been operating.”


DPRK announces “bond”…er…lottery winners

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

Quoting from Yonhap:

The latest drawings for pay outs of North Korea’s government bonds have taken place in Pyongyang, the country’s state-run television broadcaster said Friday.

The (North) Korean Central TV, monitored in Seoul, reported that the latest winners of the “People’s Life Bonds” were announced this week.

From July-November 2003, the North Korean government sold 10-year bonds worth 500 (US$3.50), 1000, and 5000 North Korean won, saying it would repay lottery winners by multiplying the original payment rather than paying interest.

It was the first bond that North Korea has issued.

According to reports then, the cash-short communist regime aggressively marketed the bonds, praising buyers as “patriots” helping to funnel private money into the buildup of the national economy.

First-place winners get 50 times the face value of the bond, with second-place winners receiving 25 times, third with 10 times, fourth with five times, six with triple and seventh with double.

Drawings were reported to be held once or twice a year.

The sixth round of drawings took place in January 2008, with thirteen 5000-won bond holders declared winners, as well as eight 1000-won bond holders and 10 holders of 500-won bonds.

For this week’s event, seven winners were drawn for each denomination, the TV report said.

Here is a link to an IFES article on the last round (round six) of bond payments, which were announced in January 2008.  Round five took place in January 2006.

Read the full article here:
N. Korea holds latest lottery for gov’t bond repayment


DPRK to continue economic slide

Saturday, December 27th, 2008

Quoting from The Nation:

“North Korea had a little boost this year, due largely to its farm, mine and electricity and gas sectors,” the Hyundai Research Institute (HRI) said in its 2009 report on the communist nation’s economy.

North Korea’s farm production increased by 7.5 per cent, from 4.01 million tonnes in 2007 to 4.31 million tonnes forecast for 2008, according to South Korea’s Rural Development Administration (RDA).

“This year, North Korea’s weather conditions have enabled modest harvest growth,” said Ha Un-Gu, a researcher at RDA.

The delivery of energy aid from the United States, China and Russia was cited by the HRI report as a boost for North Korea’s gas and electricity sectors.

In 2008, North Korean trade with China has grown at a pace strong enough to offset its shrinking trade with Thailand. “So North Korea is forecast to post a record trade volume of 3 billion US dollars in 2008,” the HRI said.

However, North Korea’s 2012 target is becoming elusive, as the country’s trade volume is forecast to slide back from its peak of 3 billion dollars in 2008.

Liquidity problems of key trading partners China and Thailand will make it hard for them to maintain their economic ties with North Korea.

North Korea’s business ties with China were forecast to undergo a particularly steep decline, the HRI said.

North Korea’s trade volume with China increased by 25 per cent to 1.19 billion dollars during the January to June period in 2008, compared to same period in 2007, according to Shin Jeong-Seung, the South Korean ambassador to China.

Download the study (PDF in Korean) here.

Read the full article here:
North Korea’s economy is forecast to resume its slide
The Nation


DPRK manufactures DVD players

Friday, December 26th, 2008

According to an anonymous qoute by a South Korean intelligence official in the Choson Ilbo:

“Especially, North Korea developed its own DVD player in 2006 with a view to developing its own IT industry, this ironically provided momentum for the spread of South Korean soap operas.”

I had assumed the DPRK imported DVD players. 

Read the full article here:
Pyongyang Bids Korean Wave to Recede
Choson Ilbo


South Korea teaching agricultural techniques in DPRK

Thursday, December 25th, 2008

From the Joong Ang Daily:

Seoul and Pyongyang have held annual symposiums on agricultural science since 2000, through which South Korean scientists and officials provide agricultural technology and expertise, with a focus on potato farming, they said.

“If North Korea is able to produce and distribute seed potatoes and learn to effectively control harmful insects, it should be able to produce between 3.3 million and 4.25 million tons of potatoes annually,” Lee added.

A North Korean official attending the inter-Korean symposium said his country’s potato harvest was expected to increase from 2 million tons last year to 3 million tons in 2009.

These efforts are well-intentioned and might help in the short run, but North Korea’s climate and geography are not conducive to agricultural abundance.  The DPRK would be better off in the long run producing the goods and services in which it is competitive and trading them internationally for food. 

Read the ful article here:
North Korea is expecting 3-ton potato harvest
Joong Ang Daily