Archive for November, 2009

Koreas to visit PRC-Vietnam industrial complex

Monday, November 30th, 2009

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No.09-11-30-1

In an effort to seek new ways to develop the inter-Korean joint industrial complex in Kaesong, it is expected that the first joint complex between China and Vietnam will be inspected in the middle of next month. According to a high-ranking official in the South Korean Ministry of Unification, “If the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) is to be made into an internationally competitive industrial complex, [we] need to take a close look at the processes and structure of the international market,” and, “In order to develop the KIC, we decided to inspect a foreign industrial complex, and the North has agreed.”

This inspection was agreed upon during the second round of inter-Korean working level talks in June, and is being looked at as a breakthrough in restarting talks between officials from the North and the South. The source added, “The thought is that the inspection will be of a China-Vietnam industrial complex,” and, “If this overseas inspection goes well, the 3-C problem (Communication, Conveyance, Customs) and issues of visits and sojourns by South Koreans in the complex, dormitories for the North Korean workers, the construction of roads for coming to and from work, and other issues will be advanced.”

The inspection team will include 10 officials from North Korea and 10 from the South, and plans to visit the site for ten days beginning on the 12th of next month. The South Korean delegation is expected to include representatives from the Ministry of Unification, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy, Korea Land Corporation, and members of the KIC management committee. The agreement between the two Koreas to inspect an overseas industrial zone is seen as a sign that inter-Korean relations are improving. It appears that North Korea is continuing to work toward improving inter-Korean relations.

At the very least, it looks like this inspection will foster an atmosphere in which Seoul and Pyongyang can resolve all of the problems, listed above, surrounding the KIC. In June of 2007, 14 Koreans, 7 from the North and 7 from the South, spent ten days and nine nights inspecting the joint Chinese-Vietnamese industrial complex, so expectations are that this visit will further boost inter-Korean relations and KIC competitiveness.

This story was also reported in the Joong Ang Ilbo:

The Unification Ministry announced yesterday that 10 officials from ech country will visit China and Vietnam for about 10 days in mid-December. Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said the two Koreas will continue to discuss detailed itineraries and the makeup of the delegations. Chun added that the trip will be financed by the South’s inter-Korean cooperation fund. It is the third such joint trip to overseas industrial sites, but the first during the Lee Myung-bak administration. The previous two trips took place in June 2005 and March 2007.

The two Koreas have held four rounds of mostly fruitless working-level discussions on Kaesong this year and wrangled over land use fees and wage increases. During the second meeting in June, the South proposed a joint overseas trip, and Chun said the North recently agreed. “We hope the trip will allow the two Koreas to build a consensus on stable development of the Kaesong complex,” he said. “The officials will study legal structures, incentives designed to draw investments and customs clearance. We expect Kaesong to grow into a globally competitive complex.”

While it appears intent on improving inter-Korean ties at Kaesong, Seoul is in no hurry to resume suspended tourism to the North’s Mount Kumgang.


South Korean conditions for resumption of Kumgangsan Tours

Monday, November 30th, 2009

UPDATE: The South Korean government is showing no eagerness to resume tours to Kumgnagsan.  Its list of conditions for doing so are listed below in the original post.  The last item in the list (The DPRK needs to provide more transparency about how it spends the money it receives from the Kumgang resort) seems to be the most important to the South Korean government at this point.  According to the Joong Ang Daily:

While it appears intent on improving inter-Korean ties at Kaesong, Seoul is in no hurry to resume suspended tourism to the North’s Mount Kumgang. The South Korean government for the first time tied the Mount Kumgang tours to international sanctions, saying providing cash payments for the program would run counter to an existing United Nations Security Council resolution.

Speaking to reporters late Wednesday, a high-ranking Unification Ministry official said Seoul was reviewing the possibility of replacing cash with goods to pay North Korea for tours to Kumgang. “The issue of compensating the North for the tourism is related to UN Security Council Resolution 1874,” the official said.

He was referring to the resolution adopted in June, following North Korea’s second nuclear test in late May. The resolution states that member states must not provide financial assistance to North Korea, except for “humanitarian and developmental purposes directly addressing civilian needs.” The resolution also says that UN members must not provide “public financial support” for North Korea where such aid “could contribute to the country’s nuclear-related or ballistic missile-related or other [weapons of mass destruction]-related programs or activities.”

The Kumgang tours have been suspended since July of last year after a female South Korean tourist was fatally shot by a North Korean soldier in a nearby restricted zone. Last week, the North sent a message through Hyundai Group, the South Korean operator of the tours, that it wanted to talk to the South about the resumption of the tours, but Seoul has been lukewarm to the overture. The Mount Kumgang tour had been regarded as a major cash cow for North Korea. Since it is difficult to verify the use of cash in the North, the question of the program’s possible violation of the resolution has been raised in the past.

When the North made the proposal through Hyundai, one government official said he was “none too pleased” with the North because it could have sent its message through official channels.

I expressed some skepticism for “alternative payment mechanisms” below.

ORIGINAL POST: The South Korean government does not plan to allow South Korean tourists to return to Mt. Kumgang until the DPRK:

1. Cooperates in an investigation of the shooting of a South Korean tourist last year.

2. Implements measures to prevent a recurrence.

3. Guarantees tourist safety.

Recently, however, the South Korean government added another item to the list:

4. The DPRK needs to provide more transparency about how it spends the money it receives from the Kumgang resort.

According to the Hankyoreh:

The government’s attitude is in line with a statement given by President Lee Myung-bak in an interview with European news channel EuroNews on July 7, in which he namely said that there are suspicions that the massive aid given to North Korea over the last decade had been used to develop nuclear weapons. A government official said they were unable to block all of the cash entering North Korea from tourists spending money at Mt. Kumgang, but the government has concluded that at least the tourism fees should be transparent. Up until the project was suspended last July, Hyundai Asan, the company that operates the Mt. Kumgang tourism project, had sent North Korea 30 dollars per person for same-day tours, 48 dollars for two-day, one-night tours and 80 dollars for three-day, two-night tours. In total, Hyundai Asan had given North Korea an estimated 15 million dollars per year.

How can they achieve “transparency”? The Hankyoreh reports on a couple of ideas:

1. Pay North Korea in goods such as grain or sugar.

2. Open up an escrow account for North Korea that would limit the DPRK government to transferring money only for the import of specific non-military-use items.

I am skeptical that these latter two ideas could accomplish their goal.  If South Korea paid the DPRK in goods (food, fertilizer, equipment), these could simply be resold to China for cash–as previous aid has been.

If South Korea set up an escrow account for the North Korean government which would be restricted somehow, such as prohibitions on the purchase of dual-use technologies, (would I be too cynical to predict that funds in the account would be limited to purchases of goods made in South Korea?) not much changes from the example above–although now there is a greater opportunity for the DPRK to engage in strategic arbitrage.  If I was the DPRK official in charge of the escrow account, I would look for price differences in commodities and capital between South Korea and China.  When I saw a price differential, I would buy the cheap goods in South Korea using the escrow funds and sell them for a profit in China. This could potentially net the DPRK more money than the previous policy proposal, but it does bring the DPRK one step closer to trading futures contracts!

Even if the DPRK did not get into the arbitrage game, there is no getting around fungibility.  For example, if the DPRK spent the entire escrow account on food, it could  steer domestic resources towards more profitable exports and get the cash that way.

Either way, most of the money goes where the leadership wants it to go.


A self-interested plea for DPRK food aid

Thursday, November 26th, 2009

Accoding to Voice of America:

North Korea has experienced chronic food shortages for about two decades, mainly due to the government’s political isolation and mismanagement.  Belts in the North have tightened even further since South Korea’s president stopped sending large amounts of rice.  Now, South Korean farmers say there is too much rice on the market here, and they find they have a vested interest in rekindling generosity toward the North.

Demonstrations like this one, just a few hundred meters from South Korea’s parliament in Seoul, are frequent.

The livelihood of South Korean rice farmers is one of the country’s most sensitive political topics.  The government subsidizes rice production and shields the market from most imports.  Still, farmers make impassioned pleas, and sometimes take drastic action, to demand even more aid.

These days, politics add a new twist to the usual drama.

“We have been crying at the top of our voices, start sending rice to North Korea again!  We should try to consume more rice here at home, but if we can’t consume it all, then we must resume North Korean rice aid,” said Democratic Party chairman Chung Sye Kyun.

For most of the past 10 years, South Korea annually shipped nearly half a million tons of rice to impoverished North Korea.

That ended last year, when President Lee Myung-bak adopted a harder policy toward Pyongyang, saying significant aid could only take place if North Korea took real steps to end its nuclear weapons programs.

The problem is the rice shipped north effectively subsidized South Korean farmers; it was taken off the market, shoring up prices, so farmers earned more.

Kim Jin-beum, chairman of the Korean Alliance of Farmers, says now South Korea has too much rice, and prices are down.

Read the full story here:
North Korea Finds Latest Ally: South Korean Rice Farmers
Voice of America


China approves Tumen border development zone

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

UPDATE:  China plans development zone on North Korean border
By Michael Rank

China is planning a major new development zone along the North Korean border aimed at boosting trade with its reclusive neighbour and throughout northeast Asia, a Chinese-language website reports.

The plan is to come to fruition under two separate deals: the border cities of Dandong in Liaoning province and Tonghua in Jilin province have signed an (unpriced) “development and opening up vanguard zone cooperation agreement” as well as a 440 million yuan ($64 million) “six-party cooperation agreement” with the Shenyang Railway Bureau, Changchun Customs, Dandong Port Group and Tonghua Steel (Tonggang) to build a “Tonghua inland port” with a duty-free zone, warehouses and international transit facilities that will be ready in 2012.

The Tonghua-Dandong Economic Zone will apparently stretch over most of the western half of the Chinese-North Korean border, a distance of around 350 km. The city of Tonghua is in fact some 80 km north of the border, but the report says the new zone will include the border post of Ji’an which is administered by Tonghua.

It gives few further details, but notes that when Premier Wen Jiabao visited North Korea last month he signed an agreement on building a new bridge across the Yalu river which would further boost Chinese-North Korean trade.

It also quotes the acting mayor of Tonghua, Tian Yulin, as saying that the new zone will transform the city from “inland” to “coastal” and “will promote trade between the inland cities of the northeast and North Korea and with the whole of northeast Asia.” The report adds that almost 60% of China’s trade with North Korea passes through Dandong.

This is not the only new development zone in China’s rustbelt northeast, which has been in severe economic decline in recent decades: a separate Chinese report announces the creation of another zone in Jilin, stretching from the capital Changchun in the centre of the province to the city of Jilin (or rather just part of it, for some unstated reason) as far as Yanbian on the North Korean border. This report does not mention North Korea directly but says the new zone will make the eastern border city of Hunchun an “open window” for regional trade, with Changchun and Jilin city “important supports.”

One-third of Jilin’s 26 million population live in the zone and it accounts for half of the province’s economic output, the report adds. See also this English-language report.

State-owned Tonghua Steel’s involvement in the Tonghua-Dandong zone is somewhat surprising as the ailing company has been rocked by unrest following an abortive attempt at a takeover deal by rival company Jianlong earlier this year. There was strong opposition to the deal on the part of workers who feared they would lose their jobs, and their fears turned to violence last July when a senior manager was murdered in mysterious circumstances.

The Chinese business magazine Caijing told how “the man’s death at the hands of unidentified killers uncovered an often antagonistic network of competing business interests and investors involved in Jianlong’s botched attempt to buy Tonggang.”

Tonghua Steel was in 2005 planning to sign a 7 billion yuan ($865 million), 50-year exploration rights deal with a North Korean iron ore mine, said to be the country’s largest iron deposit. The Chinese company was hoping to receive 10 million tonnes of iron ore a year from the Musan mine as part of its plans to increase steel production from a projected 5.5 million tonnes in 2007 to 10 million tonnes in 2010.

Tonggang boss An Fengcheng said at the time that agreement had already been reached with China Development Bank on 800 million yuan worth of soft loans and 1.6 billion yuan of hard loans, while “the remaining investment will come in in stages”. But it seems that the deal was never signed.

Caijing told how An, the steel mill’s chairman and Communist Party secretary, had “basically unlimited managerial control of Tonggang” and that the takeover by Jianlong was cancelled just a few hours after the murder of the manager Chen Guojin, who had come from Jianlong and was one of two Jianlong representatives on the board of Tonghua.

“There is no evidence to suggest An’s involvement in Chen’s death. But two weeks after the incident, he was sacked and stripped of all power by the Jilin provincial government. No other details of his removal were announced,” the magazine added.

ORIGINAL POST: According to the P.R. of China’s Global Times (Xinhua) via Adam Cathcart:

The Chinese government has approved a border development zone in the Tumen River Delta to boost cross-border cooperation in the Northeast Asian region, the provincial government of Jilin announced on Monday.The information office of the government said the pilot zone covering 73,000 square kilometers involved the cities of Changchun and Jilin as well as the Tumen River area.

Han Changbin, governor of Jilin, said the Changchun-Jilin-Tumen pilot zone was China’s first border development zone.

It is expected to push forward cross-border cooperation in the Tumen River Delta.

The delta, a 516-kilometer-long river straddling the borders of China, Russia and North Korea, was set up as an economic development zone in 1991 by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to promote trade.

In 1995, five countries – China, Russia, North Korea, South Korea and Mongolia – ratified the agreement on the Establishment of the Cooperation Commission for the Tumen River Economic Development Area (web page here). Japan participated in the program as an observer.

In 2005, the five signatories agreed to extend the agreement for another 10 years.

They also agreed to expand the area to the Greater Tumen Region and to further strengthen cooperation for economic growth and sustainable development for the peoples of Northeast Asia.

“Before the Changchun-Jilin-Tumen pilot zone was initiated, the Chinese part of the Tumen River area was mainly Huichun, a port city in Jilin, that has involved in the cross-border cooperation,” said Zhu Xianping, director of the Northeast Asia Research Institute of Jilin University in Changchun.

The 5,145-square-kilometer port city with a 250,000 population had limited industrial development capacity to develop infrastructure projects that will match the cross-border cooperation, he said.

Du Ying, deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission, said that by bringing the two cities of Changchun and Jilin into the border zone, the zone could serve as a strategic platform to support the cross-border cooperation in the Greater Tumen Region.

Zhao Zhenqi, an assistant to the Jilin governor, said the central government has allowed the pilot zone to try new land use and foreign financing methods, such as sharing ports and sea routes with other countries in the region and setting up free trade zones.

Under the initiative of the pilot zone, local governments in the region could better interact to tackle development bottlenecks, he said.

The Northeast China region, rich in natural resources including coal and oil, is China’s traditional heavy industry base and granary. However, it also faces the challenges of industrial upgrading, resource depletion and financing bottlenecks.

Random thoughts and links:
1. The challenge facing north east China (as they see it) is the lack of a port city on the East Sea (or the Sea of Japan if you prefer).  This is where North Korea comes in.  China and Russia have long been trying to establish  use rights and/or control of Rason and Chongjin.  Russia recently built a “Russia-gague” railroad line from Rason to the DPRK-Russian border. The Chinese have been busy building roads.

2. (speculation) China is the DPRK’s largest trading partner.  International sanctions have given China monopsony power vis-a-vis the DPRK.  This means the Yuan goes farther in the DPRK than in other countries and it gives the PRC a financial incentive in the continued economic isolation of the DPRK.

3. Here is CCTV video.

4. Forbes covers this story here.


Kaesong exports grow, labor shortages worsen

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No.09-11-23-1

Companies in the inter-Korean joint Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) have recorded a growth since North Korea abolished restrictions on traffic to and from the complex, as well as on the number and length of visits by South Korean workers.

According to the South Korean Ministry of Unification, companies in the KIC recorded September exports worth 3.42 million USD, 21.5 percent higher than the 2.82 million USD-worth of goods exported in September 2008. From May 2008 to July of this year, KIC exports were lower than the previous year every single month, but finally showed a 29% jump in August, the first time in 15 months. The increase in the value of the complex’s exports was helped by exports of machinery and household electrical appliances now being produced there.

There are currently 116 companies operating in the KIC, but according to the Ministry of Unification, at the end of September there were only 40,848 North Korean laborers working there, and the problems revolving around hiring more workers are clouding future prospects for the complex. As there are only around 40,000 North Korean workers living in Kaesong City and the surrounding area, it appears that the KIC cannot currently accommodate any new businesses. This poses a dilemma for the 18 construction projects currently underway, and puts on hold another 105 projects that have been allotted land within the KIC, but have not yet begun construction of any factories.

Furthermore, despite the fact that managers in the KIC are trying to maintain a sense of stability in order to attract further orders, if the North decides to close the door on friendly policies, the beginning of next year could see a reversal of the growth. The KIC is, at best, enjoying an ‘uneasy peace.’

KIC officials say that the primary issue at the moment appears to be whether roads to and from the complex will be constructed and whether the inter-Korean agreement reached during the Roh Moo-hyn administration to provide dormitories for 15,000 workers will be implemented. According to a survey of businesses, companies already in operation and/or under construction want to hire an additional 26,000 workers. However, with the current government closely linking the North Korean nuclear issue with inter-Korean relations, the road and dormitory construction, which would cost tens of millions of dollars, would have to be based on progress toward denuclearization, the likelihood of which, at this point, is cloudy.

The incumbent government also seems to put more weight on maintaining the current, relatively stable state of things in the complex than on further developing the group project. One problem they are working to solve is that officials managing the KIC are now prepared to rent out space in one ‘apartment-style factory’ in which many different companies operate production facilities under one roof, but are having difficulties finding willing clients, while current tenants complain about close quarters and a lack of space.


Noko Jeans

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

Some enterprising Swedes had some jeans manufactured in North Korea (where they can’t be worn in public) to be sold in the west.  The brand name is Noko Jeans.

The fist shipment  of appx 1,000 jeans arrived in Sweden on November 11, and the goods will go on sale December 4, 2009.

Here is a photo of the Noko jeans team with their shipment.

Here is a photo of all the  official stamps and approvals on the shipment.

IHere is their official web page:


DPRK diplos arrested for smuggling (again)

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

UPDATE:  According to the Boston Herald, the diplomats were sentenced to eight months in prison.

ORIGINAL POST: It is no secret that North Korean diplomats and embassies are self-financing.  In fact, they are profit earning and they must remit funds back to Pyongyang.  While this means that DPRK diplomatic relations are not a drain on the treasury, as is typically the case with other countries, it does mean that the DPRK’s official representatives are more likely to make headlines for their business dealings rather than political statements.

And so here is the latest installment in this saga from Reuters:

Swedish police have arrested two North Korean diplomats on suspicion of smuggling 230,000 cigarettes into the Nordic country, the Swedish Customs Office said Friday.

The pair, a man and a woman who have diplomatic status in Russia, were stopped by Swedish customs officers Wednesday morning as they drove off a ferry from Helsinki, the Finnish capital.

Customs officials discovered Russian cigarettes in the car driven by the couple, Swedish Customs spokeswoman Monica Magnusson told Reuters.

The two North Koreans claimed diplomatic immunity.

“They were accredited as diplomats in Russia, but had no accreditation in Sweden,” she said. “They were arrested on suspicion of smuggling.”

Magnusson added that the pair were still being held by Swedish police and that she was not aware of them having any contact with North Korean officials since their arrest.

Sweden’s Foreign Ministry said it had been informed of the arrests but would not comment directly on the matter, saying it was a criminal case and was being handled by the police.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Cecilia Julin said foreign diplomats are only immune from criminal prosecution in countries where they have been accredited with the authorities.

“If you come to Sweden and commit a crime, you’re just like any other foreign national,” she said.

Sweden is one of only seven countries to have an embassy in North Korea, treated by much of the world as a rogue state due to human rights abuses and its possession of nuclear weapons despite opposition by the international community.

The Foreign Ministry said the arrests were primarily a police matter, but that the North Korean embassy in Sweden was in contact with the ministry over the matter.

An official at the North Korean embassy in Stockholm said earlier he had no knowledge of the arrests.

North Korean diplomatic staff were expelled from Sweden and two other countries in 1976 after a “massive” smuggling scheme was uncovered.  According to Time Magazine (in 1976):

Not in years have so many diplomatic persona suddenly been declared non grata. In Oslo, members of North Korea’s diplomatic mission—three bureaucrats and a chauffeur—were given six days to pack up and get out. Foreign Ministry officials frostily informed North Korea’s Ambassador to Stockholm, Kil Jae Gyong, who is also accredited to Oslo, that he was no longer welcome in Norway. Similar scenes took place in Helsinki and Copenhagen, and as of last week, twelve North Korean embassy staffers had been unceremoniously ordered home to Pyongyang.

International politics had nothing to do with the abrupt action by the Scandinavian governments. What had happened was that North Koreans in all three countries* had been caught red-handed in a massive smuggling racket involving liquor, cigarettes and dope —apparently instigated by the financially hard-pressed government of President Kim II Sung. Officials in Norway estimated that their branch of the Kim gang had smuggled into the country at least 4,000 bottles of booze (mostly Polish vodka) and 140,000 cigarettes, which were then given surreptitiously to Norwegian wholesalers for distribution on the black market. In Denmark, the illegal goodies impounded so far included 400 bottles of liquor, 4.5 million cigarettes and 147 kilos of hashish, which police confiscated two weeks ago from two Danes who had just bought the drug from North Korean embassy staffers.

Personal Use. How long the North Koreans have been into smuggling as a sideline remains unclear, but Scandinavian officials have been closely watching their business dealings for about five months. In Norway, neighbors of the neat brick North Korean embassy in Oslo’s West End had long been puzzled by the constant movement of cars in and out of the compound and by the sight of mission staffers struggling in the backyard with huge mysterious boxes. In Denmark, customs officials got suspicious last month when the North Koreans imported 2.5 million duty-free cigarettes, allegedly for the “personal use” of one staffer.

The discovery of illegal activity by the North Koreans in Scandinavia may be only the iceberg’s tip. Five months ago in Cairo, Egyptian officials caught two North Korean diplomats with 400 kilos of hashish in their luggage. A North Korean official assigned to Malaysia has also been recalled after dealing in smuggled goods.

The North Koreans have protested their innocence, and mission staffers in Finland insisted that they would not leave the country. Nonetheless, Scandinavian officials have little doubt that the smuggling was ordered by Pyongyang as a desperate measure to help resolve the government’s horrendous financial crisis. Western experts estimate that North Korea, with a G.N.P. of only $4.5 billion, has a foreign debt of more than $2 billion, at least $500 million of which is owed to the capitalist world. North Korea not only maintains some 60 expensive missions abroad but also buys millions of dollars’ worth of advertising space in newspapers round the world every year to publicize the latest speeches of Kim II Sung. Faced with a severe shortage of hard Western currency, officials speculate, North Korean diplomats turned to smuggling to support their missions and pay for the ads, sending any excess profits home to Pyongyang.

The DPRK embassy has also been accused of smuggling in Pakistan.

Sometimes the DPRK embassy staff make “good” business decisions.

Good article here with further info (h/t OneFreeKorea).

2007 CRS report: Drug Trafficking and North Korea: Issues for U.S. Policy

You could probably write a series of books on the DPRK embassies in Russia and  China.

And just for the record: Sweden–the North Koreans are not the only ones doing this–everyone is.  When I lived in Europe over 15 years ago I talked with fellow teenagers about doing this!  If you want to increase people’s incomes, increase tax receipts, and lower the incomes of mobsters and bootleggers–lower your cigarette taxes!

Read the full stories here:
Diplomats arrested for cigarette smuggling
Jens Hansegard

SCANDINAVIA: Smuggling Diplomats
Time Magazine


Battle for North Korea’s Resources

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

Radio Free Asia
Song-wu Park

North Korea is pulling back from Chinese mining investments in an effort to independently develop its industry and use the profits to create a self-reliant economy, according to a well-informed North Korean defector.

But analysts say it is unlikely that North Korea will be able to lock China out completely, because it lacks the infrastructure and capital needed to develop the country’s vast mineral resources.

The defector, who said he had worked as the director of a state trading agency controlled by the military in a major North Korean city, refuted South Korean news reports that suggested China was taking control of North Korea’s underground natural resources.

“Such statements are exaggerated and different from the truth,” the defector, who uses the pseudonym Kim Ju Song, said in an interview.

Kim attended closed-door sessions with U.S. legislators and congressional staff in Washington on Wednesday.

Several South Korean news organizations, including the Yonhap news agency, recently reported that China has increased its investment in North Korea, established firm control over North Korea’s underground natural resources, and plans to utilize North Korea as its “natural resource base.”

The reports said Beijing had laid out a U.S. $1.2 billion investment plan for North Korean mine development and that Chinese firms had bid for the long-term rights to mine anthracite, iron ore, and molybdenum deposits in the country.

But Kim Ju Song called the reports “distorted,” adding that the North Korean regime is averse to such investments because its current objective is to create a “self-reliant” economy.

“With its own style of self-reliant national economy as the foundation, North Korea hopes to develop and employ its own technologies to extract and process its underground natural resources, prior to selling them on the world markets,” Kim said.

“However, under the current circumstances, simply selling those natural resources at a bargain price would not earn North Korea that much money,” he said.

Kim said that while North Korea will sell China minerals that it is unable to exploit due to technological limitations, “it would be inconceivable for the North Korean regime to cede its mines to China.”

John Park, a senior research associate at the Washington-based United States Institute of Peace, said it is unlikely that North Korea will be able to effectively develop its mineral industry independent of China.

“It’s a chronic issue for the North Koreans to develop the transportation infrastructure that links up their mines,” Park said.

He added that much of North Korea suffers from shortages of the electricity required to develop profitable mines.

Park added that mining requires a “tremendous” amount of startup capital in order to purchase the equipment needed for mine development and mineral extraction.

“The Chinese state-owned enterprise model is so interesting is because of their government funding…These types of state-owned enterprise vehicles can actually sustain these early stage losses that private sector firms cannot,” Park said.

“From that functional capability standpoint the Chinese state-owned enterprise is one of the very, very few that can partner up [with North Korea],” he said.

Jennifer Lee, a researcher with the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, said she doesn’t see North Korea “significantly” backing away from Chinese investment.

“But I can see why North Korea might want to lessen China’s near-monopoly state in that industry … with their Ju’che ideology and all,” Lee said, referring to the official state ideology of North Korea that roughly translates as “the spirit of self-reliance.”

Lee said she had heard reports that one of a group of North Korean delegates that visited New York last month was “eager to attract foreign investment other than from China.”

“I believe that they’re concerned that they are depending way too much on China alone,” she said.

But she acknowledged that North Korea lacks the infrastructure to refuse Chinese investment, particularly in light of international sanctions leveled against Pyongyang following testing of missiles and a nuclear weapon earlier this year.

Lee added that Beijing would be unwilling to allow North Korea to shrug off Chinese interests.

“They’re hungry for North Korean resources, especially because they can get [them] cheaper—being the only country with proper access to [North Korea],” she said.

‘Wary of Chinese influence’

Andrei Lankov, a Seoul-based North Korea expert who works as a commentator for RFA, said that while talks of a “Chinese takeover” are not unfounded, they may be exaggerated.

“North Korean leaders … certainly would not welcome an excessive growth of Chinese influence inside North Korea,” he said.

He called North Korea’s leaders “ethnic nationalists of a rather extreme kind” who dislike foreign influence over their domestic affairs.

“Some contacts are taking place and some agreements have been concluded,” Lankov said.

“North Korean feels ambivalent about these contacts—it needs Chinese money, but is wary of Chinese influence,” he said.

Park called Chinese premier Wen Jiabao’s October visit to the North Korean capital Pyongyang “the culmination of a Chinese process to rebuild the bilateral relationship” between the two countries, noting that Wen had presented a comprehensive package of suggested partnerships to North Korea’s leadership.

“But with all things related to North Korea, it’s up to North Korea if they want to accept it or what portions of it they want to accept,” Park said.

“North Korea does have a record of renegotiating, which has definitely scared off other foreign investors in the past,” he said.

Lee added that even if North Korea decides to lessen China’s impact on its mining industry, such a decision would not involve a significant break with its northern neighbor.

“It would probably go towards the diversification route, trying to attract other foreign investors and possibly replacing some of the Chinese investment in the long run.”

She said North Korea now thinks of its mining industry as a “cash cow” and is working towards making it more attractive to foreign investors through development and a crackdown on corruption.


Now that’s a socialist haircut!

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

socialist-haircut.jpgBack in 2005, the North Korean media was mocked in the western press for encouraging its population to maintain hairstyles consistent with a socialist lifestyle.   Judging by the imagery, this was no laughing matter!

Well, the AFP reports that Rodong Sinmun has once again taken on the task of reminding the population of the importance of tidy hair:

Rodong Sinmun, the ruling-party newspaper, said men should keep their hair short and women should have it tied up.

“To keep your hair tidy and simple… is a very important matter for setting the ethos of a sound lifestyle in the country,” the paper said in its Saturday edition, quoted Thursday by South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

“A short haircut is the basic style for men,” it said, adding that trimmed hair makes men look “elegant, neat, ambitious and passionate.”

The paper added that “for women to have their hair down and mussed up” does not suit the “people of the revolutionary age.”

Rodong recommended that female students keep their hair short or plaited, middle-aged women have their hair permed or tied and the elderly wear their locks in a traditional bun.

It is too bad the Rodong Sinmun is not on line and in english.  I would love to know how often the public is urged to look after its hair.

Read the full article here:
North Koreans told to keep hair short, tidy


Hyesan getting a facelift

Friday, November 20th, 2009

Kangsong Taeguk 2012 comes to Hyesan! According to the Daily NK:

According to an inside source, the North Korean authorities have, at the behest of Kim Jong Il, been using the “Mt. Baekdu Tourism Fund’ for improving areas in and around the city of Hyesan in Yangkang Province.

The source relayed the news in a phone conversation with The Daily NK on the 11th, saying, “Recently, many changes have been taking place in Hyesan. At the General’s suggestion, the ‘Mt. Baekdu Tourism Fund’ was channeled to the city, and has been used to dramatically improve the road to and beautify the area around the Samsu Powerplant, as well as creating parks around the Kim Jong Suk Performing Arts Theater.”

In May 2007, after five years under construction, the North Korean authorities held a ceremony for the completion of the Samsu Powerplant. Subsequently, in preparation for an onsite inspection by Kim Jong Il, the beautification of the area around the plant was completed and a new, 24km section of the No. 1 Road running from nearby Wangduk Station (one of a number for the exclusive use of Kim Jong Il) up to the powerplant was constructed.

Construction of the road was apparently extremely difficult, involving removing mountainsides and filling in streams to facilitate the construction of the road, part of that which connects Hyesan with Samjiyeon.

North Korea mobilized around 100,000 people in the period between January 2007 and May 2008 for the work, including 30,000 members of the June 18th Shock Troop, workers from a nearby collective farm, Hyesan Factory and other enterprise laborers.

The construction funds, said to be in the region of $800,000, were sent directly, in cash, to the Party Provincial Secretary and the Provincial Trading Bureau in 2007. They even brought in iron rods, gasoline and diesel fuel from China.

It is apparently difficult for even the vehicles of officials to pass down the No. 1 Road due to the existence of an Escort Bureau checkpoint.

The source also explained about other projects, “Separate from this construction, the project to renovate the road which goes around Wangduk to the Chundong district of Hyesan (where the No. 10 Army Corps Headquarters is located) also began recently (in 2009), and $80,000 has been invested in a beautification project in the area around the Kim Jong Suk theater.”

The road construction project connecting Wangduk and the Samsu Powerplant and the project to repave the existing road from Wangduk Station to the No. 10 Army Corps Headquarters in Chundong were both completed between May 2008 and the end of the “150-Day Battle” in preparation for Kim Jong Il’s inspection of army units in the area.

The beautification of the area around the newly constructed Kim Jong Suk Theater is also noteworthy. The surrounding area contains the No. 7 and No. 8 apartments, which until recently were extremely worn out. Additionally, when an 8-floor apartment next to the No. 7 apartment collapsed in July 2007, some 30 people are said to have lost their lives.

The authorities, while remodeling the No. 7 and No. 8 apartments in an effort to clean up the area, renovated dilapidated apartments and even started a project to lay down Chinese paving blocks in the area.

The Daily NK’s source could not be sure what the original source of the funds was, but confirmed in particular that “it was first tapped under the General’s instructions. Most officials are aware of this.”

On a related note, work on the incomplete Mt. Baekdu-Samjiyeon Railway has still not resumed since its interruption in May. This would seem to indicate that even the Mt. Baekdu Tourism Fund was insufficient for the work.

Read the full story here:
Intensive Public Works Reported in Hyesan
Daily NK
Lee Sung Jin