Archive for October, 2009

Humanitarian aid on the way

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

Yonhap anounces two new aid projects aimed at the DPRK.

First,  the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has earmarked US$17 million for humanitarian aid to the DPRK over the next two years. This is to cover medical services for 8.5 million vulnerable people and improve water supply services in North Korea from 2010-2011.

Second, South Korea on Monday offered the North 10,000 tons of corn and other small-scale humanitarian aid, responding to a rare official request for assistance from Pyongyang.


Treasury blacklists another DPRK bank

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

The US Treasury Department has targeted  the Amroggang Development Bank for its connections with the Tanchon Commercial Bank.

According to Reuters:

Tanchon was previously hit with sanctions by both the United States and the United Nations Security Council for its involvement in Pyongyang’s proliferation activities.

Treasury said assets of Tanchon under U.S. jurisdiction are frozen and Americans are banned from any dealing with it. It said that Tanchon’s president, Kim Tong Myong, also was being added to the list of weapons proliferators.

Treasury described Amroggang as a Tanchon-related company run by Tanchon officials. It said Tanchon helps finance Korea Mining Development Corp’s sales of ballistic missiles and has been involved in Komid’s ballistic missile transactions with an Iranian industrial group.

The US has sanctioned several companies and banks this year (here, here, here).

The UN Security Council has also sanctioned several companies and individuals (here).

Here is a link to the Treasury Department Statement.  Some text below:

Amroggang, which was established in 2006, is a Tanchon-related company managed by Tanchon officials.  Tanchon, the financial arm of the U.S. and UN-designated North Korean company Korea Mining Development Corporation (KOMID), plays a role in financing KOMID’s sales of ballistic missiles and has also been involved in ballistic missile transactions from KOMID to Iran’s Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group (SHIG), the U.S. and UN-designated Iranian organization responsible for developing liquid-fueled ballistic missiles. KOMID is North Korea’s premiere arms dealer and main exporter of goods and equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons.

A North Korean individual Kim Tong Myong was also designated today for acting on behalf of Tanchon.  Kim Tong Myong has held various positions within Tanchon since at least 2002 and is currently Tanchon’s President.  He has also played a role in managing Amroggang’s affairs using the alias Kim Chin-so’k.

Read the full Reuters article here:
Treasury puts North Korean bank on blacklist


GPI business delegation to DPRK

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

From GPI:

PDF Brochure here.

In the current financial and economic situation, companies face many challenges. They must cut costs, develop new products and find new markets. In these fields, North-Korea might be an interesting option. Since a few years, it is opening its doors to foreign enterprises. The labor costs are the lowest of Asia, and its skilled labor is of a high quality. It established free trade zones to attract foreign investors and there are several sectors, including textile industry, shipbuilding, agro business, logistics, mining and Information Technology (computer games, animation) that can be considered for trade and investment. Heineken is an example of a  Dutch company, active in North-Korea. Its beer is now widely available (see photo).

In order to explore these business opportunities, a Dutch trade delegation visited North-Korea in September. See a report of this mission here. Are you interested as well? Then join our upcoming mission in May 2010, when we will also visit the annual Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair. This fair can also be used by European companies to come in contact with potential buyers and suppliers in North-Korea, by using a booth. It is also possible for us to organize individual business tours, for participants from a single company.

With best regards,

Paul Tjia (director)
GPI Consultancy
P.O. Box 26151
3002 ED Rotterdam, The Netherlands
E-mail: [email protected]
tel: +31-10-4254172
fax: +31-10-4254317


New report urges US economic engagement to induce change in the DPRK

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

I have not read the full report yet, but here are the details:

PRESS RELEASE EXCERPT: A newly released Asia Society/U.C.-Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation report focuses on economic engagement with North Korea as a peaceful means of inducing change in the DPRK. As the likelihood of some form of US-DPRK talks increases, this report proposes a fundamental rethinking of Washington’s approach toward the DPRK. Economic engagement, properly integrated into a system of sanctions, can transform North Korea into a country that can better provide for its people’s welfare and engage with other countries in a non-hostile manner. As the report shows, North Korea’s history of experiments with reform is limited, and domestic resistance to transition is formidable. But recent trends and tentative past efforts suggest some impulse toward reform and opening from within. North Korea should be actively engaged from the inside to encourage change in its domestic and foreign policy.

The report identifies a number of potential benefits to the U.S. and its allies of economic engagement with the DPRK.

* Economic engagement would encourage the transformation of the DPRK’s political economy and foreign policy, with direct benefits to international peace.
* It would open space for the Korean people to have greater contact with outsiders, and vice versa.
* It would reinforce changes that are already taking place from the ground up.
* An active economic engagement policy would bring the long-term strategic approach of the U.S. into alignment with those of its allies and partners.

The report recommends a combination of the following avenues to initiate the new policy approach: official contacts, Track Two dialogues, academic exchanges, and non-governmental organizations’ (NGOs) development programs. The report further recommends that the U.S. government adopt a new visa policy to increase contacts significantly. Finally, the report suggests how the U.S. could help enable international financial institutions to begin to interact with North Korea.

Download the full report here (PDF).


CNN interviews Hyun Jeong-eun

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

The article was not as informative as I hoped.  But here are a few lines that I thought were interesting:

Q: When you were talking with Kim Jong Il, was it your impression that he wants more investment from South Korea? That he wants to do more business with your country?

A: He showed a lot of enthusiasm. He said he hopes the North and South Korean government can talk things through so to have a lot of South Korean companies enter the North, and he also said that since they have the natural resources and the South has the skills to sell, if both sides work together he expects the North and South to prosper.

Comment: There is a vast literature on the relationship between natural resources, economic growth, and conflict.  Natural resources tend to be the kiss of death for widespread economic development and “democracy.” Unfortunately, given the way the North Korean system is managed, I would expect most of the revenues from increased natural resources exports to go to the DPRK leadership with little tangible benefit to the North Korean people.

The Kaesong industrial complex, the joint facility run by North and South, what is the future of that complex?

Currently we are only operating the first block, but I am sure that once things get settled down by both governments, we have many plans for the second block as well. A hotel needs to be built. We need to have hospitals, post offices, so I am expecting gradually that we will expand business there.

I am more optimistic about the Kaesong Zone than I am about the DPRK’s desire for increasing natural resource exports because the workers at Kaesong actually process resources to build the textiles.  As a result, their productivity has increased over time and the workers have been able to capture some of that extra value themselves in the form of higher incomes (although at a ridiculously steep “tax rate” since the DPRK government keeps the vast majority of their salaries).  If Kaesong was closed down the workers would certainly be worse off, and so would all of those who depend on them.  Despite the DPRK’s efforts to increase tensions this year, business never closed down at Kaesong.  It could be that the DPRK leadership now considers Kaesong too big to fail.

Read the full interview below:
Doing business in North Korea


World Council of Churches visiting North Korea

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

UPDATE 2: Well apparently the World Council of Churches is in bed with the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  According to their most recent press release:

Nearly 140 leaders from the world’s churches, North and South Koreans among them, have called for the formation of an inter-Korean confederation even before complete reunification of Korea can take place. Agreement was reached at the close of a three-day meeting in Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong where the Christian leaders expressed unrelenting hope for peace and reconciliation among Koreans, despite the stark realities of the ongoing division of the Korean peninsula.

The call for a confederation came in a communiqué developed by the group at the end of their international consultation on Korean reunification. The “Tsuen Wan Communiqué” says the confederation option would involve progressive steps such as peaceful co-existence and the furthering of economic cooperation between the two Koreas.

The proposal for an inter-Korean confederation was presented to the group jointly by church leaders from North and South Korea on the final day of deliberations.

The “confederation system would respect both governments”, said the Rev. Kang Yong Sop, chairman of the Korea Christian Federation of North Korea, in a presentation to the group on Friday morning.

“North and South Korea must first recognize each other’s systems and engage in cooperation in any field possible, and institutionalize the results,” said Suh Bo Hyug, a member of the National Council of Churches in Korea’s reconciliation and reunification committee: “Only then will they move closer to reunification.”

The communiqué was the outcome of a consultation on peace, reconciliation and reunification of the Korean peninsula held 21 to 23 October 2009, sponsored by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA).

Of course the confederation plan was raised by Kim Il sung years ago and the DPRK is still pushing that vision as an intermediary step towards reunification.

And if there was any doubt remaining:

They also called for all sanctions against North Korea imposed by the United Nations Security Council to be lifted, for immediate bilateral talks between the United States and North Korea, and for North and South Korea to implement fully the 15 June 2000 North-South Joint Declaration and the 4 October 2007 Declaration, both of which spelled out a number of goals and steps toward reunification.

UPDATE 1:  The WCC issued an interesting press release following their visit to the DPRK.  Here is an excerpt:

Visiting North Korea at the invitation of the Korean Christian Federation of North Korea, Kobia and the delegation visited three churches on Sunday 18 October.

In addition to visiting the Bong Soo Church the delegation also visited the Chilgol Church in the capital, Pyongyang, and a house church of 12 members in the town of Sunam which is near Pyongyang.

Continuing with the Corinthian example Kobia told the Bong Soo congregation that no church is more important than the other. “The body is whole when all the parts cooperate with each other,” he said. “Therefore in his letter to the churches in Corinth, Paul appeals to the community to recognize each other as being a very important part of the body.”

The Bong Soo Church was constructed in 1987 with funding from the North Korean government and the Presbyterian Church of Korea. The church is thoroughly modern with a full sound system, balcony and music text on a large screen in front of the church, a video camera system, a high-lofted ceiling and an area for a large choir.

Bibles and songbooks line the seating areas for the congregations. Within the church compound is a recently constructed theological seminary where 12 students are now enrolled to earn degrees in evangelism.

The Bong Soo worship service overflowed with music from the choir, soloists and several women’s groups, mostly singing traditional hymns. Asked if the abundance of music was especially for the WCC delegation, a congregation member said no, “this happens every week.”

The smaller congregation at the Chilgol Church, which the WCC delegation also visited, has been in existence since the late 1800s. The current building is relatively new, as the original building was destroyed in the Korean War by the U.S. bombing of Pyongyang.

A WCC delegation member asked the congregation about the noticeable absence of children in the churches. While acknowledging this is a challenge within North Korean society, they said the children are involved in a broad range of other activities and some will at a later age come to church. They said it was their job to teach their children at home about Christianity.

On Sunday afternoon the WCC delegation visited a house church of 12 members who meet in a home in the community of Sunam outside of Pyongyang. They said the house church movement within North Korea is growing.

The church meets on Sundays, sitting on the floor of the living room of a member’s home. One member brings an accordion to accompany the singing. The singing in the North Korean church tends to be extraordinarily rich and is a key part, along with prayer and teaching, of any worship service.

Read the full press release here.

ORIGINAL POST: According to the press release on their web page (written before departure):

The visit is at the invitation of and being organized by the Korean Christian Federation (KCF) of North Korea and will take place 17 to 20 October.

“We will be meeting with the churches, government officials and learning about the life and witness of churches in North Korea,” said Dr Mathews George Chunakara, director of the WCC Public Witness programme and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, who will be a member of the delegation travelling with Kobia. “We will be participating in the worship service at Bong Soo Church in Pyongyang, where the WCC general secretary will preach.”

The churches in North Korea are involved in social development and humanitarian aid assistance, and the members of WCC’s ecumenical fellowship have been supportive to the KCF for the past several years, said Chunakara.

The visit is taking place at a time when intense multilateral diplomatic efforts and negotiations are under way on issues related to denuclearization of North Korea and resumption of Six Party Talks, which were stalled for some time after North Korea withdrew from the talks.

Although North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is said to have made the announcement to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Pyongyang last week during his three-day visit that North Korea would return to the Six Party Talks, it is also reported that Kim Jong-il said the return would be dependent on the progress of its planned bilateral talks with the US.

The WCC has been relating with the churches in North Korea for the past 25 years, with the first official visit having taken place in 1985. In the early 1980s the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs initiated a process aimed at peace, reconciliation and reunification of the Korean peninsula and bringing church leaders from North and South Korea together.

This is the second visit of a WCC general secretary in ten years. In 1999, then general secretary Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser visited North Korea.

After the visit to North Korea, the delegation will travel to Hong Kong to participate in an international consultation on peace, reconciliation and reunification of the Korean peninsula, which will be held from 21 to 23 October.

The WCC general secretary will be accompanied by WCC staff members Mathews George Chunakara, Christina Papazoglou, Mark Beach and Peter Williams, as well as the general secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia, Dr Prawate Khid-arn.

Critics of the DPRK have long argued that the primary purpose of Korean Christian Federation is to attract aid from foreign religious organizations. This is probably true to some extent, but the organization has been around since the 1940s so it is likely that by this point its mission within the political system is more complicated than to function only as an aid magnet.

Here are a few older posts about the KCF.


DPRK October forest fires via NASA

Monday, October 19th, 2009

According to NASA:

Multiple fires burned in North Korea in mid-October 2009, sending a plume of smoke over the Sea of Japan. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this true-color image on October 15. Red outlines indicate hotspots associated with active fires, although not all the fires have visible hotspots. The smoke plumes blow uniformly eastward, some of the individual plumes coalescing into a single large plume over the sea.


Click image for full size version.

I also made a Google Earth overlay of this image which you can download here.  Comparing this with the map I made of the North Korean electricity grid it is fairly obvious these fires were not started by falling power cables.  The power lines do not run through the areas on fire.


DPRK-RoK trade increases in September

Monday, October 19th, 2009

According to Yonhap:

Inter-Korean trade grew for the first time in 13 months in September amid improving global economic conditions and eased cross-border tensions, customs data showed Monday.

According to data compiled by the Korea Customs Service, trade between South and North Korea amounted to US$173.17 million last month, up 2.6 percent from a year earlier when the global financial turbulence first began following the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

Also according to Yonhap however, the DPRK and RoK failed to agree on an aid-for-family reunions deal:

The two Koreas on Friday ended their day-long negotiations over further cross-border family reunions and other humanitarian issues without reaching any concrete agreement, with Pyongyang asking for resumption of aid by Seoul, officials said.

In the meeting arranged by Red Cross offices from both sides, South Korea proposed holding new rounds of reunions for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War next month in both Seoul and Pyongyang, and again around February at the North’s Mount Kumgang resort.

But aid is not off the table.  According to the Korea Times today:

The government has been reviewing whether to subsidize non-government organizations through the inter-Korean cooperation fund in order to provide aid to North Korea, according to the Ministry of Unification, Monday.

“The government is mainly checking plans to offer health and medical care,” ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung told reporters. “But details have yet to be determined.”

Chun reiterated that Seoul is sticking to its existing stance that it will provide North Korea with humanitarian assistance regardless of the political climate.

According to government sources, the subsidy would total less than 1 billion won (about $853,000).

The plan, however, is not related to North Korea’s request for humanitarian aid made during the inter-Korean Red Cross talks last Friday, the sources said.

Seoul has also been reviewing whether to provide the reclusive state with government-level support such as food and fertilizer aid, according to ministry officials.

The inter-Korean cooperation fund has served as a lifeline for cross-border business projects, including the Gaeseong Industrial Complex and the Mt. Geumgang tourism program, which has been suspended.

It is also a main source of South Korea’s economic aid to the impoverished North.

The cash pot was introduced in 1990 in order to boost personal exchanges, economic cooperation and trust-building between the two Koreas.

In August, the ministry approved a plan to subsidize 10 civic groups with approximately 3.6 billion won ($3 million) from the fund for relief activities involving North Korean babies, pregnant women and other social minorities.

The government originally planned to distribute the money starting from April but North Korea’s provocations postponed the plan.

As reported before, the South Korean government has spent just 5% of the funds it budgeted for inter-Korean projects this year.

At the same time North Korea is soliciting aid from South Korean and Western religious origanizations.  See here, here, and here in just the last few days.


Arirang Mass Games 2009 wrap up

Monday, October 19th, 2009

UPDATE: According to Yonhap:

North Korea has wrapped up its Arirang festival, a two month-long mass gymnastics extravaganza, media outlets reported Tuesday.

The festival drew about 1.4 million people from home and abroad since it opened in August at the May Day Stadium in Pyongyang, according to the Korean Central Broadcasting Station, a North Korean radio network.

The 80-minute show was held daily except on Sundays after opening on Aug. 10.

North Korea has held the festival, named after the famous Korean folk song, almost annually since 2002. It features synchronized acrobatics, gymnastics, dances and flip-card mosaic animation. Performed by about 100,000 people, it is believed to be the largest gymnastics show in the world.

Read the full story below:
N. Korea wraps up Arirang gymnastics festival

ORIGINAL POST: North Korea’s Mass Games (100,000 person gymnastics spectacle) began yesterday.

Mass Games used to be held only on special anniversaries (5, 10, 15, 60, etc.) of special holidays such as the end of the Korean War (Victory in the Fatherland Liberation War), Founding of the Worker’s Party, etc.  Since 2005 (when yours truly watched the show with Kim Jing il), however, the games have been hosted annually.

Although the themes and names of Mass Games performances have changed over the years, this specific performance called “Arirang” has been running since 2002—with slight modifications.

According to the AFP, this year the theme Kangsong Taeguk  (powerful and prosperous nation) was added to the performance. This of course reflects the policy goals the government hopes to achieve by 2012, Kim Il sung’s 100th birthday.

According to KCNA:

Extravaganza “Arirang” Starts

Pyongyang, August 11 (KCNA) — The grand gymnastic and artistic performance “Arirang” for this year started at the May Day Stadium Monday.

The creating staff and performers succeeded in re-representing the extravaganza in a brief span of time; they newly created Scene I of Act III and enriched it with fresh contents more truthfully representing the great mental power and skills of the Korean people and the appearance of the country that has undergone tremendous changes.

Among the audience were servicepersons and people from all walks of life, diplomatic envoys and representatives of international organizations here, foreign guests and overseas Koreans.

The performers made an impressive grand epic representation of Juche Korea that has risen high as a dignified sovereign power after putting an end to the history of the nation’s sufferings under the leadership of President Kim Il Sung and the unshakable faith and will of the army and people of the DPRK to build a great prosperous and powerful socialist nation guaranteeing the eternal prosperity of the nation under the Songun leadership of Kim Jong Il.

The performance was highly acclaimed by the audience for presenting fantastic scenery with a good combination of dynamic mass gymnastics and graceful artistry, ever-changing peculiar background scenes, stage decor and a variety of electronic displays.

Further thoughts:
1. This is one of the few times American tourists are able to visit the country. I recommend as many Americans as possible do so.  Based on personal experience, I know that many in the DPRK do not believe the propaganda they are told about Americans.  North Korea’s third generation is now coming of age and these individuals have neither seen a military conflict with the US nor personally known a relative killed in the Korean War.  The kids in particular are very curious.

2. The western media tends to assume the motivation for the mass games is pure propaganda for both a domestic and international audience–“come and see how united our people are”.  Although this might be compelling strategy, I can’t help but to be reminded of the great economic history book by Fogel and Engerman, Time on the Cross, about slavery in the Southern United States.

In the book, the authors discuss the strategy of plantation owners to create a number of cottage industries and tasks which were not terribly economical, however, they kept the slaves occupied so they did not have time to organize or pursue other sorts of goals that could lead them to “trouble”.  I am beginning to feel the same way about the Mass Games.  Kids who are not in school are ripe for trouble-making and the development of individual pursuits, so why not keep them busy all summer producing “wholesome” goods like the mass games?


More on the DPRK’s deforestation

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

Peter Hayes writes an interesting article in Global Asia in which he discusses the DPRK’s deforestation.  I have posted some excerpts below and converted the article into a PDF for download. Here are some excerpts:

One of the most acute environmental problems in North Korea is deforestation. This problem has a long history, stretching back to over-cutting by Japanese colonialists, the impact of the Korean War and poor reforestation practices by North Korean agencies. The reforestation effort relied on mobilized adult and youth mass labor units working with simple tools. Specialized nurseries and well-trained foresters grew seedlings, but without good fertilizer and seed stock, the success rate was small, especially on steep, north-facing slopes.

These basic problems were made worse by land-use decisions in the early and mid-1990s when food shortages led authorities to direct farmers to cultivate steep slopes, to convert forested areas into agriculture, and in some cases, to actually re-engineer landscapes. When unprecedented floods hit North Korea, much of the topsoil in these areas was washed downstream (also thereby silting up many of the run-of-the-river hydro-electric dams in North Korea).

Is it possible to estimate the scale of the reduction in North Korea’s forest resources? In 1990 North Korea reported that it had about 9 million hectares of forest out of about 12 million hectares in national territory. In 1994, the GEF forester who I sent to North Korea estimated that the nominal North Korean forest in 1993 actually was about 9 million hectares, but that only 7.8 million hectares were “in practice” forested. Overall, North Korea itself says that its forests are about 42 percent coniferous, 35 percent deciduous/hardwood species, and 23 percent mixed conifer and deciduous forests. Pine species dominate the coniferous forests, and oaks dominate the deciduous species. However, the conversion and usage described below may have shifted these ratios far from the official figures.

Luckily, these days we don’t have to rely on official North Korean data to estimate the country’s forest cover. Both international and South Korean remote sensing techniques using satellite imaging have been used to evaluate the status of North Korea’s forests. Using these sources, Professor Lee Seung-ho from the Korea Forestry Research Institute in Seoul has estimated North Korea’s total forest cover as follows: 9.77 million hectares (Mha) in 1970 (North Korean source), 8.97 Mha in 1987 (FAO source), 8.45 Mha in 1994 (KFRI Satellite Image Analysis), 7.53 Mha in 1997 (North Korea from UNDP Round Table Meeting) and 7.53 Mha in 1999 (KFRI Satellite Image Analysis). An additional time-series of North Korea’s forest area from the UN FAO 2005 Global Forest Resource Assessment shows a trend from 8.20 to 6.82 to 6.19 Mha in 1990, 2000, and 2005, respectively.

Download a PDF version of the full article here.

Here are previous posts related forestry, lumber, and the Ministry of Forests.