Archive for April, 2010

Zimbabweans planning to protest DPRK football team (canceled)

Monday, April 19th, 2010

UPDATE 4: The DPRK has canceled its football team’s visit to Zimbabwe.  According to the Times Live of South Africa:

The North Korean squad had been due to arrive in Zimbabwe on Tuesday to train and play friendlies against local teams before moving onto South Africa, where the World Cup kicks off on June 11.

But a senior source in the power-sharing government of President Robert Mugabe and former opposition leader, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, said the visit was called off after it provoked outrage among supporters of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

UPDATE 3: Zimbabwe continues to put off  deliberation.  According to Voice of America:

Cabinet discussion of whether Zimbabwe should invite the North Korean soccer team to train in the country through the June-July World Cup period has been put off to next Tuesday as President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai are in Tanzania for the World Economic Forum, a ministerial source said.

Education, Sports and Culture Minister David Coltart told VOA Studio 7 reporter Gibbs Dube that the Cabinet will review the decision by the Zimbabwe World Cup 2010 Committee to invite the North Koreans.

“I presume that if the issue has to be discussed by Cabinet, it will be discussed on Tuesday and as far as I am concerned that team has not yet confirmed that it will be training in this country,” Coltart said.

Political commentator Samukele Hadebe said the North Korean team visit should be canceled to promote healing and reconciliation among Zimbabweans traumatized not only by political violence during the 2008 elections but by older episodes like the 1980s Gukurahundi purge of rival liberation activists in the Matabeleland region.

UPDATE 2: It is possible Zimbabwe could back out of the plan since they have yet to confirm a date. And according to the Guardian:

Zimbabwe’s sports minister, David Coltart, said the dates of the North Koreans’ visit were still to be confirmed. “It is important that the Zimbabwe government deals with this matter in a very sensitive way and does not ignore the history of North Korea here, and does not do anything that might inflame passions or reopen old wounds,” he said.

But he added: “I don’t think it is right to attack a group of young players for what happened 27 years ago in this country.”

Strangely…I met Coltart in Washington a few years ago. He was an MP representing Bulawayo at the time.

UPDATE 1: A Zimbabwe perspective:

Boycotting North Korea solves nothing
Tendai Huchu

The people of Zimbabwe, more than any other nation in Africa, seem pathologically unable to come to terms with their past. As a nation we share the same psychological symptoms of people who have suffered abuse as children.

At the moment there are calls by some for the people of Matebeleland to boycott the visit by North Korea’s football team on May 25 for warm up matches before the World Cup. They site the Gukurahundi massacres in the mid 1980’s as the reason the North Koreans should be boycotted. These people forget that aggressive attempts to court teams like Brazil to Zimbabwe were rebuffed because of our current circumstances. A lot of countries want nothing to do with us but the North Koreans have agreed to come. They could have gone directly to South Africa like everyone else and found facilities there far superior to anything we can offer.

That the Gukurahundi atrocities were a great tragedy in the history of our nation is beyond debate. This is still an issue we have yet to come to terms with, but exactly how boycotting a team we have invited can help redress our past is difficult to understand. North Korea like Zimbabwe is an undemocratic state. These footballers have no influence whatsoever on their government’s policies, especially those from twenty years ago. The majority of them would have been toddlers or not even born when we were slaughtering each other in the 80s. It is absurd to punish these players for something that they had nothing to do with whatsoever. We are quick to protest when New Zealand and England boycott our cricket team because of their differences with the Mugabe government, yet here we are proposing to do the exact same thing to the North Koreans.

The Observer newspaper in the UK quoted Bulawayo-based activist Effie Ncube saying that the invitation is a “profound insult” because of North Korea’s role in training the Fifth Brigade. This is a typical Zimbabwean attitude of blaming everyone else except ourselves for things that have gone wrong.

The North Koreans are a people we should sympathize with. There are too many similarities between them and us to mention. Like us they depend on handouts from the international community or else they would starve. We, better than most other nations, know what it is like to be isolated from the rest of the world. We know what it is like to live under a government which has no regard for its citizen’s rights and opinions. This is an opportunity to show solidarity to a people who have many similar problems to our own.

We can continue to be a bitter and angry people who constantly look back at the past, not taking responsibility for our actions and blaming everyone else for the things we have done to one another or we can move on. The North Koreans are not our enemy, they have never been. Sport is supposed to bring people together, not to divide them. There is nothing that can be gained by protesting against the North Korean football team for something they had absolutely no involvement in. They deserve to be shown our true Zimbabwean hospitality. We can only pray that the future of both our nations is going to be better than the past we are leaving behind.

ORIGINAL POST: According to Times Live of South Africa:

Zimbabwe’s tourism minister has appealed to activists in the western provinces of Bulawayo to drop plans to protest against the North Korean football team’s scheduled camp in the country during the World Cup.

The presence of the team from the dictatorship of President Kim Jong Il has stirred up strong emotions over the massacre in the early 80s of an estimated 20,000 civilians of the Ndebele speaking people of western Zimbabwe, carried out by soldiers of the Zimbabwe army’s notorious Fifth Brigade who were trained by North Korean instructors.

Groups have threatened to carry out protests against the team in the western city of Bulawayo and in South Africa where over a million Zimbabwean exiles from President Robert Mugabe’s rule now live.

“We are totally against bringing the team to Zimbabwe,” said Methuseli Moyo, spokesman for the Zimbabwe African People’s Union party. “Having a team flying the North Korean flag is very provocative.” The team is due in Harare on May 25 and is set to play friendly matches against the Zimbabwe national team in the capital and in Bulawayo, but activists have warned they would make Bulawayo’s Barbourfields stadium a centre of resistance against the North Koreans.

Tourism minister Walter Mzembi was quoted Sunday in the weekly Standard newspaper as appealing to the groups not to mix politics with sport and to allow national healing to take place.

“Sport must remain the bridge for people-to-people contact, probably the only bridge that has remained standing even when nation states are in a state of fall-out,” he said.

“I wouldn’t want to make this a political issue. It’s purely a sports issue.” He said he had extended invitations to the major teams in the World Cup, including Brazil, England and the United States, but North Korea was the only team that had responded.

The North Korean [5th Brigate] instructors were brought to Zimbabwe in 1983 at the request President Robert Mugabe to form a new brigade of the army, composed exclusively of Shona-speaking veterans of Mugabe’s civil war guerrilla army, to put down a limited insurgency against Mugabe’s rule by Ndebele-based guerrilla veterans.

The Fifth Brigade troops immediately developed a reputation for savage brutality, butchering children and pregnant women to deny the guerrillas support among the population of rural areas where they operated.

Military experts say that the Fifth Brigade’s methods were starkly different from the rest of the country’s largely British-trained army.

Mugabe, held responsible for the massacres, has only referred to the murderous period in the country’s history as a moment of madness. Demands for acknowledgment of the brutality are rising round the country, but two weeks ago police forcibly closed down an art exhibition portraying the suffering of the period, and arrested the artist.

Additional information: 
1. Here is a satellite image of Barbourfields stadium.  (I visited Bulawayo in 1996 and it was a lovely town at the time).

2. Last I read North Korean laborers were building football stadiums in South Africa for the World Cup.  This was in dispute and I do not know whether it has been confirmed or disproven.

3. North Korean laborers built Zimbabwe’s Heroe’s Acre.  Here is a satellite image of it.

4. And just for fun, here is a satellite image of Robert Mugabe’s retirement palace.  If you view the location in Google Earth, you can scroll through historical imagery to see this and neighboring houses under construction.


DPRK spends millions of US$ on fireworks show

Monday, April 19th, 2010

According to the Choson Ilbo:

North Korea spent more than US$5.4 million on fireworks displays along the banks of the Taedong River in Pyongyang on Wednesday to celebrate former leader Kim Il-sung’s 98th birthday the following day.

A North Korean source on Friday said the North had imported about 60 tons of fireworks from China for the display and invited foreign engineers for technical assistance. “They must have spent more than W6 billion for the fireworks and their display, transportation, and labor,” the source said.

The regime temporarily cut power and banned driving in an area near the Juche Tower for the fireworks spectacular to maximize the effect. The North’s state-run Korean Central Television broadcast the fireworks for an hour from 9 p.m. on Thursday, and reran it the following morning.

At the fireworks ceremony, Kim Ki-nam, a close aide to Kim senior and a secretary of the North Korean Workers’ Party’s Central Committee, said, “We put on the fireworks display full of hope today because we have held matchless great men in high esteem generation after generation.” Some interpret this as a hint at the succession from leader Kim Jong-il to his son Kim Jong-un.

You can watch the fireworks show on YouTube: Part 1, Part 2 (the new 10-minute CNC song kicks in at 5:10), Part 3.

Aside: I managed to get a great mp3 of the CNC song.  I am working on a CNC post and you will hopefully be able to donwload  it there.


DPRK to make appearance at Shanghai Expo

Monday, April 19th, 2010

UPDATE 4: Here is the DPRK Pavilion’s web page (h/t

UPDATE 3: A video of the DPRK pavilion at the Shanghai expo can be seen here.

UPDATE 2: Voice of America offers a description of the interior of theD PRK’s Pavilion:

Inside, there is a replica of Pyongyang’s Juche Statue, a small waterway that represents the North’s Taedong River, a traditional bridge and large fountain with colored lights.

On top of the fountain, a group of white marble statues of naked boys encircle two others. One boy holds the other up in the air as he lifts a dove into the sky.

In one corner, there is a small cave that contains a reproduction of a mural from the North’s Koguryo Tombs, a World Heritage site.

Along a wall, beneath the phrase “Paradise for the People,” a row of television sets plays videos depicting everyday life in North Korea.

Some of the videos show North Koreans leisurely bowling, playing golf and ice skating. Although some of the footage appears to be recent, other shots seem to be decades old.

Many who visited the pavilion Tuesday say that aside from the fact that there were no lines to get in, they wanted to visit because, as they put it, North Korea is so mysterious.

UPDATE 1:  The Shanghai Expo has posted some information on the DPRK’s Pavilion. Here are some of the details:

Theme: Urban Development of Pyongyang, the Capital of DPR Korea (Prosperous Pyongyang based on the River Taedong Culture)

Pavilion Features: The pavilion perfectly merges national characteristics of DPRK together with its modern beauty. Outer walls are decorated with national flags and a winged steed bronze statue. Main items exhibited in the pavilion include Juche Tower, Taedong River, Korean-style pavilions, rockeries and small stone caves. All of them present a prosperous and modern Pyongyang based on the traditions of DPRK, where education, science, culture and sports have achieved great development during its long history.

Pavilion Highlights
Highlight 1: The Juche Tower Model — 4.5-meter-high model of Juche Tower is exhibited in the pavilion.
Highlight 2: Symbol of Taedong River — winding river flows across the pavilion, reminding people of the stretching Taedong River.
Highlight 3: National Section and Stone Caves — national section and stone caves are exhibited on the right side of the pavilion. Inside the cave the world heritage of tomb murals in Jiangxi County and paintings of DPRK style are displayed.

Here are some photos of the DPRK’s pavilion (h/t Daylife):

expo1.jpg expo2.jpg expo3.jpg

And here are some photos from the Shanghai Scrap blog:

shanghai-expo-4.jpg shangahi-expo-5.jpg shanghai-expo-6.jpg shanghai-expo-7.jpg shanghai-expo-8.jpg shanghai-expo-9.jpg shanghai-expo-10.jpg shanghai-expo-11.jpg shanghai-expo-12.jpg shanghai-expo-13.jpg shanghai-expo-14.jpg shanghai-expo-15.jpg

ORIGINAL POST: According to the PRC’s People’s Daily:

China welcomes countries including the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to participate in the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Tuesday.

DPRK Chamber of Commerce Vice-Chairman Ri Song Un told Xinhua on March 18 that the country had already finished preparatory work for the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, its first Expo appearance.

Situated in an area of 5.28 square kilometers at the core the city of Shanghai to exhibitions, events and forums, the six-month expo starting from May 1 will attract about 200 nations and regions and international organizations’ participation, as well as 70 million visitors from home and abroad.

Read the full story here:
China welcomes DPRK in attending Shanghai World Expo: FM spokesman
People’s Daily


New evidence on clandestine South Korean members of the KWP

Monday, April 19th, 2010

According to the Wilson Center’s North Korea International Documentation Project (NKIDP):

Documents obtained by NKIDP scholar Bernd Schaefer from the archives of East Germany’s state security service, or Stasi, were featured in an article in South Korea’s Dong-a Ilbo. The documents detail procedures for admitting clandestine members of the Korean Workers’ Party from South Korea to East Germany for meetings with North Korean officials. According to the documents, North Korea and East Germany established special procedures for South Korean “comrades” to secretly enter the GDR for meetings with North Korean officials at the DPRK embassy. East Berlin was also used as a stopover for these South Korean “comrades” traveling to Pyongyang for meetings with North Korean officials.

View the article in Korean at the Dong-a Ilbo website.  There were additional articles in Korean (here and here) and one in English here.


The DPRK’s illicit international activities

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

The Strategic Studies Institute has published a paper on the DPRK’s illicit activities.  You can download the paper here (PDF). It has been added to my DPRK Economic Statistics page.  Here is the forward:

The authors of this monograph have exposed a key piece of the puzzle which helps to provide a better understanding of North Korea’s surreptitious international behavior. For years, North Korea’s military provocations have been obvious to the world, however, much of its decisionmaking is shrouded in secrecy, particularly that of a wide-range of clandestine activities. This monograph is unique in the way that it sheds light on the illicit activities of the regime, and how those illegal activities are used to support its military programs and the government itself.

From drug trafficking to counterfeiting, from money laundering to cigarette smuggling, North Korea’s Central Committee Bureau 39 is an active participant in the criminal economy of the region with tentacles extending well beyond Asia. The authors discuss how these activities have negative strategic consequences for a number of stakeholders and nations throughout the region while describing how such activities provide critical funding streams for military programs and regime supporters.

As a result, North Korea is not just a “rogue state,” but practices what is essentially criminal sovereignty whereby it organizes its illegitimate activities behind the shield of non-intervention while using the tools of the state to perpetrate these schemes abroad. The authors argue that this arrangement has important links to succession issues within the regime. They also argue that policy makers who are concerned with the development of future policies and strategies aimed toward North Korea must view those new policies from a different perspective than that used in the past.

This paper draws heavily on information from Kim Kwang-jin who is working at the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. Without Mr. Kim’s contributions, much of this activity would remain unknown to us.  You can make a donation to support Mr. Kim’s work here in the US at this web page.


An update on the DPRK’s economic relations

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

Francoise Nicolas has written a data-driven survey on the DPRK’s changing trade and investment relationships.  The paper can be downloaded here (PDF).  This paper has also been added to my DPRK Economic Statistics page.  Here is the paper’s conclusion:

This brief analysis of the current external economic relations of the DPRK leads to a number of conclusions.  First, the North Korean economy maintains very limited exposure to the outside world and, as a result, to external influence.  In terms of volume North Korea’s trade is miniscule, even in relation with the size of its economy.  This is also the case for foreign direct investment inflows.

Secondly, although North Korea is less isolated than often thought, its trade and investment flows are very heavily polarized both geographically and sectorally, limiting de facto their potential impact.  In contrast to what was the case during the Soviet era, North Korea’s main economic partners are not ideological partners but neighboring economies, namely China and South Korea.  They are major partners in trade as well as in FDI.  Russia still plays a non negligible role but is in no way comparable to what was the case before the demise of the Soviet bloc.

Thirdly, North Korea’s external economic relations are very much dictated by political considerations.  Politics accounts both for the choice of partners and for the nature of the economic relations.

Fourthly, and more importantly, the very distinct nature of the DPRK’s connection with the rest of the world, and primarily with its two major economic partners, sets it apart from other transition economies and in particular from China, but also from Vietnam.  In the case of North Korea, economic openness, although announced time and again as an official objective, cannot be seen as an instrument for enhancing competitiveness or as part of a development strategy.  The recent, renewed signs of reform in the direction of increased openness should thus be interpreted with utmost caution.

Fifthly, the structure of the country’s external trade is indicative of an economy in survival mode.  The substantial aid component in the inter-Korean trade and FDI relationship undoubtedly further substantiates such a claim.  Surprisingly, relations between North Korea and China are more often based on a market-economy logic, although this only holds true for trade flows and not FDI flows.  The Probability of change through trade appears still very limited.

Lastly, the role the European Union may play in the region remains very much an open question but the margin of maneuver is limited.  Given the state of play described earlier, it would be extremely naive to believe that a European engagement strategy vis-à-vis the DPRK could contribute to economic change.  In addition the country’s lack of attractiveness for potential investors is a further obstacle.  However, the persistent uncertainty and the lack of visibility over the political and economic evolution of the DPRK should not deter European investment in the region and, far to the contrary, should provide a strong incentive to closely monitor the economic moves made in Pyongyang.


Mansudae Street residential construction

Friday, April 16th, 2010

UPDATE: Here is a satellite image of the completed project:


UPDATE: Mansudae Street construction is now visible on Google Earth.  Below I have included before and after pictures.  If you open them in separate browsers, you can click back and forth between images to compare.



ORIGINAL POST: As capitalist countries are struggling with falling property values and a glut of housing inventories, Pyongyang is experiencing a housing construction boom (previously covered here and here). In North Korea, however, the housing boom is not the result of an “unexpected” asset bubble but rather a deliberate government policy to achieve a “strong and prosperous country (Kangsong Taeguk)” by 2012 — the year the earth is predicted to be destroyed according to the Mayan calendar.

As part of this construction boom, the North Koreans are (re)building a substantial number of housing units on Mansudae Street east of the Potong River Gate and north of the Russian Embassy.  Kim Jong il recently gave an “on-the-spot-guidance” visit there, so using information provided in the coverage of his tour, I was able to map out the areas to be torn down and rebuilt.

First, here is the image from Kim’s visit (courtesy of Daylife and Reuters):

(click image to enlarge)

Using this and other information, I was able to map out the construction areas in Google Earth.  Here are some pictures to explain the scale of the work (click images to enlarge):

Construction area

(red=demolish/rebuild; white=preserved)

Previous real estate posts can be read here.

Previous construction posts can be read here.

If you would like to make an effort at improving on my work, you can download my Google Earth overlay here and use it yourself. Some of the buildings in the construction area are specifically identified in North Korea Uncovered.

UPDATE: Here are some pics of the construction site:



Propaganda on ice

Friday, April 16th, 2010

The image below was taken on Jan 27, 2009.  The coordinates are 39° 9’33.50″N, 125°40’35.96″E.  The writing is appx 8.4m tall and 22.7m in width.



강성대국 reads “Kangsong Taekuk” which loosely translates to “A strong and prosperous nation”


PSCORE offers Google Earth locations

Friday, April 16th, 2010

PSCORE (People for Successful COrean REunification) is a non-profit, non-religious, non-partisan NGO based in Seoul & Washington, DC. According to their web page, they “strive for mutual understanding and harmony between the two Koreas and aim to provide a platform to discuss topics such as democratization, human rights and social issues.”


Well the team at PSCORE just sent me some North Korea map locations to add to the next version of the Google Earth project.  I am looking forward to sorting these out over the weekend, but just so you don’t have to wait on me, I have posted them on line for you to download yourself. 

Click here to download the PSCORE Google Earth locations.

Click here to learn more about PSCORE.


Pyongyang’s Women Wear the Pants

Friday, April 16th, 2010

Andrei Lankov writes in the Wall Street Journal about the growing role women have come to play in the North Korean economy.  According to the article:

A joke making the rounds in Pyongyang goes: “What do a husband and a pet dog have in common?” Answer: “Neither works nor earns money, but both are cute, stay at home and can scare away burglars.”

North Korea is still a strongly patriarchal society, so the popularity of jokes deriding men is a surprising sign of shifting attitudes. The cause is also a surprise—women are running the country’s booming unofficial economy.

A decade ago North Korea went through a man-made social disaster which exceeds everything East Asia has experienced since Mao’s ill-conceived experiments of the 1960s. An estimated 600,000-900,000 people perished in the 1990s famine, which was largely a product of the government’s unwillingness to reform the economy. The social and economic structure of a Stalinist society collapsed. Antiquated iron mills and power plants ground to a halt, and the rationing system did not provide enough food for the average citizen to survive.

Facing this challenge, North Korean society reacted in an unusual way: It rediscovered the market economy. Unlike China, where capitalism was re-introduced from above by Deng Xiaoping and his fellow reformers, in North Korea its growth has been largely spontaneous. Nonetheless, by 2000 market exchange, both illegal and semilegal, came to play a decisive role in the lives of North Koreans.

This worried the Kim regime’s leaders, who understand full well how the marketplace undermines their political control. In recent years they launched a number of policies aimed at undermining markets. The recent currency reform was meant to deliver another blow to the markets by annihilating the capital of private businesses. It backfired, though, and the economic situation worsened considerably.

However, the nemesis of the regime, the market vendors of North Korea, are by no means the kind of street toughs one might encounter in the black markets of other countries. North Korea’s “new capitalism” of dirty marketplaces, ancient charcoal trucks and badly dressed vendors has a distinctly female face. Women are overrepresented among the leaders of the growing post-Stalinist economy—at least at its grassroots level, among the market traders and small-time entrepreneurs.

This is partly due to a distinctive feature of North Korean society. Until around 1990, markets played a very slight role in the North Korean economy. Almost everything was rationed by the state. In those days, the North Korean state required every able-bodied male to be employed by some state enterprise. However, some 30% of married women of working age were allowed to stay at home as full-time housewives.

When in the early 1990s the old system began to fall apart, men continued to go to their jobs. At first glance this might appear irrational, since most state-run factories came to a standstill, subsidized rations were not delivered and an official monthly salary would barely buy one kilo of rice.

Nonetheless, North Koreans expected that sooner or later things would eventually return to what they thought of as “normal”—that is, to the old Stalinist system. They were not aware of any alternative. They also knew from experience that people who showed any disloyalty to the state—for instance those who cooperated with South Korean authorities during the Korean War—were discriminated against for the rest of their lives. Even the children of such “unreliable elements” faced many official restrictions. So men believed that it would be wise to keep their “official” jobs for the sake of the family’s future.

The situation of women was different. They had time, and their involvement with private trade was seen as less dangerous—precisely because of the patriarchal nature of a society where only males’ behavior really mattered. In some cases women began by selling household items they could do without or homemade food. Eventually, these activities developed into larger businesses, and today at least three-quarters of North Korean market vendors are women.

For many North Korean women, the social disaster of the 1990s has become an opportunity to display their strength and intelligence. In recent months those women have become the primary target of government policies designed to destroy private enterprises. But the experience of the last two decades suggests that the women are likely to continue wearing the pants.

Read the full article here:
Pyongyang’s Women Wear the Pants
Wall Street Journal
Andrei Lankov