Archive for May, 2010

RoK halts sand imports from DPRK

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

According to Yonhap:

South Korean companies have suspended their sand imports from North Korea, one of the longest-running economic cooperation projects between the countries, as tension mounted over the March sinking of a South Korean warship, a Seoul official said Tuesday.

Seven South Korean companies have stopped sending cargo vessels to North Korea since Monday, Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said.

“We warned them to be careful about the safety of their employees” because political tension is rising between the Koreas, Chun told reporters.

He denied that the government pressured the companies into suspending their imports, saying they “voluntarily” halted their operations after the warning.

“There are fears that further deterioration in the inter-Korean ties may undermine their businesses,” he said.

The suspension is the latest in a series of developments that indicate worsening ties between the Koreas after the warship sank near the border with the North, killing dozens of seamen.

South Korea suspects the North was behind the tragedy and is set to announce the results of its weeks-long probe into the sinking later this week, vowing a stern response to those found responsible. Pyongyang denies any role in it.

The cargo companies have brought more than 38 million tons of sand from North Korea since 2004, the ministry said in a statement. Most of the sand came from the western coastal city of Haeju.

The trade, despite its small scale, was considered a symbol of reconciliation because it was seen as mitigating tension along the maritime border between the Koreas.

Their navies have clashed three times near the Yellow Sea border since 1999, the latest in November of last year.

Since last week, South Korea has also stopped funding government-level exchanges with North Korea and urged hundreds of companies to refrain from starting new ventures with Pyongyang.

The countries remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty.

Read the full story here:
S. Korea halts sand imports from N. Korea amid tension
Sam Kim


RoK asks China to ban Kumgangsan tours

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

According to Yonhap:

Seoul has requested that Beijing exclude North Korea’s Mount Kumgang resort from its list of group tour destinations allowed for its people while it seeks understanding on a dispute over the North’s recent illegal freeze of South Korean assets there, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism here said Tuesday.

Late last month, the North froze most South Korean assets at the resort on the east coast, including five South Korean government-run facilities, citing Seoul’s refusal to resume cross-border tours.

The tours, once a cash cow for the poverty-ridden communist country, were suspended in 2008, when a South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean soldier guarding a restricted area. Seoul has demanded a full investigation into the case and safety guarantees for South Korean tourists. The demands have yet to be met.

On May 11, South Korean Culture Minister Yoo In-chon sent China’s national travel agency a letter saying that the North’s asset freeze is a violation of an inter-Korean contract, and asked China’s help in making the North withdraw the unlawful step, the ministry said.

Read the full story here:
S. Korea asks China to ban Mount Kumgang tours


RoK ministries asked to suspend aid to DPRK

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

According to the Donga Ilbo:

The Unification Ministry said Monday that it has asked ministries to suspend aid to North Korea requiring government budget.

The ministry had issued recommendations to delay the signing of new contracts and the shipment of materials to the North to companies involved in inter-Korean cooperation.

Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said, “We sent official letters to 10 related ministries, including the Strategy and Finance Ministry, the Health and Welfare Ministry, and the Korea Forestry Service Friday asking for the temporary suspension of assistance projects for North Korea run by those ministries.”

“This measure has been taken in light of the North’s seizure of South Korean real estate in the Mount Kumgang area and the grave nature of inter-Korean relations of late.”

Seoul has also begun efforts to survey inter-Korean projects conducted by the 10 ministries. Last year, the ministries ran a budget of six billion won (5.2 million U.S. dollars) to assist the North.

The Unification Ministry also contacted companies involved in inter-Korean cooperation, excluding those operating at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, to refrain from making new contracts, investment and visits Tuesday and Wednesday last week.

With analysts saying Seoul has taken a series of measures in the wake of the Cheonan sinking, a Unification Ministry source said, “Since the situation in inter-Korean relations has gotten grave and highly treacherous, we informed related ministries as a preemptive measure to reduce risks.”

Unification Minister Hyun In-taek also told reporters Monday, “We can hardly say that we’ve taken any practical countermeasures.”

Read the full story here:
Ministries Asked to Suspend Aid to N. Korea
Donga Ilbo


UN to send review mission to DPRK

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

According to the AFP:

The United Nations will send a team to North Korea in May to assess how aid funds have been used in the country, a spokeswoman from the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs told AFP Tuesday.

“A working level UN mission will go to DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) in late May to review the implementation of central emergency response fund (CERF) funded projects there,” Elisabeth Byrs said, in response to queries from AFP.

“The mission will comprise four UN staff from OCHA and from the CERF secretariat,” she said, confirming Japanese media reports.

The team would meet heads of UN agencies on site, in order to “better understand how funds provided by CERF are used,” said Byrs.

The spokeswoman did not know if the team would also meet North Korean authorities.

The UN has allocated eight million dollars in 2010 in emergency relief funds for North Korea, which has suffered more than two decades of natural disasters.

While UN agencies such as the World Food Programme, Unicef and the World Health Organisation have offices in North Korea, visits by UN missions to the secretive communist nation are extremely rare.

In the past months, however, high-level UN officials have been travelling to the country, a sign that Pyongyang may be opening up, a source close to the UN said.

UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe visited the country in February, and in April UN health agency chief Margaret Chan also made a trip there.

Chan said following the visit that North Korea’s health system would be the “envy” for most developing countries although it faced challenges.

“Based on what I have seen, I can tell you they have something that most other developing countries would envy,” the WHO director general told journalists, despite reports of renewed famine in parts of the country.

Good Friends, a Seoul-based welfare group with contacts in the North, had said in February that 2,000 people had starved to death there this winter.

Well that was not very subtle.

Read the full story here:
UN to send review mission to North Korea


260 companies attend Pyongyang Trade Fair

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

UPDATE: According to Xinhua:

Chinese enterprises did plenty of business at the 13th Pyongyang Spring International Trader Fair, which ended Thursday.

More than 130 Chinese enterprises were represented at the fair, including Aucma of Qingdao, Frestech of Henan, and carmaker Yuan Group of Chongqing.

The Chinese products, especially those of the industrial machine and home appliances, attracted great attention from clients in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Chinese enterprises signed up 240 new clients at the fair, including 123 potential clients, with deals totalling 4.46 million U.S. dollars, according to Luo Lei, deputy director of the Exhibition Department of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade.

The fair was a good opportunity to promote trade and cooperation between the two countries, Luo said.

The 13th Pyongyang Spring International Trader Fair opened Monday, attacting 278 firms from 15 countries, including the DPRK, China, Russia, Vietnam and Thailand.

The spring fair and the Autumn International Trader Fair are held each year in Pyongyang.

ORIGINAL POST: According to Kyodo News:

North Korea opened a four-day international trade fair in Pyongyang on Monday, bringing together about 60 domestic firms and 200 companies from abroad.

Participants were seen looking at medical products, foodstuffs and electronic products, and holding business talks at the site. Computer-controlled numerical machine tools that North Korea manufactured for the first time last year drew particular attention.

The 13th Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair features products from Australia, Austria, China, Cuba, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Mongolia, North Korea, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Switzerland and Taiwan, according to the North’s Korean Central News Agency.

North Korean Vice Premier O Su Yong, Foreign Trade Minister Ri Ryong Nam, foreign company delegations and diplomatic missions in Pyongyang took part in the opening ceremony.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea opens int’l trade fair, 260 companies attending
Kyodo News


Vienna’s Museum of Applied Arts hosts DPFK art

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

UPDATE 3: The Los Angeles Times also covers the story:

More than 100 oils, watercolors, traditional Korean ink paintings and posters from the Korean Art Gallery in Pyongyang have been drawing a blurry line here between art and propaganda.

Does the show at Vienna’s MAK: Austrian Museum for Applied Arts/Contemporary Art offer a rare glimpse into an isolated and largely unknown North Korean art scene, or is it merely a stage for a regime that uses art not only as a messenger of its political ideology but also as a source of international funding?

The term “political propaganda” does indeed come to mind while viewing the exhibit “Flowers for Kim Il Sung,” on display since May and running through Sept. 5.

A significant portion of the show is dedicated to monumental portraits of Kim Il Sung and his son/successor, Kim Jong Il. They are either walking proudly together or are featured in scenes with peasants, soldiers or children in front of lush, blossoming gardens.

One work, titled “Kim Jong Il, the Supreme Commander of the KPA, Deeply Concerned Over the Soldiers’ Diet,” shows Kim looking into a cooking pot.

Another is a portrait of Kim Jong Il staring at paperwork on his desk, a cigarette burning in his hand. The night sky dominates the view from the window at his side. The canvas is called “The Endlessly Burning Light of the Party Center.”

All paintings with the Kims are carefully arranged in deep niches and protectively cordoned off with red rope. None of the artworks in the exhibit bears any comment about the nature of the North Korean regime — the main point contested by the critics of the show.

But MAK’s director, Peter Noever, appears unfazed by any debate surrounding the exhibit.

“I am neither a politician nor a political scientist. And besides, everybody knows what sort of a regime that is; we don’t have to explain this to anyone,” Noever said, sipping coffee in his office on the same floor as the North Korean artworks.

Such a display, the museum director said, offers a unique glimpse into the character, the mentality and the culture of a nation.

Along with portrayals of smiling, neatly dressed citizens, children with rosy cheeks under baby blue skies and happy peasants toiling amid stunning scenery, there are brightly colored prints in a style reminiscent of the Soviet poster tradition. The North Korean ones transmit messages — complete with exclamation marks — such as “Utmost efficiency in the use of electricity!”, “Spare every drop of water!” and “Even more consumer goods for the people!”

MAK officials said it is the first time the Korean Art Gallery has sent such a significant collection of work — dating from the 1960s to 2010 — abroad.

In North Korea, “art assumes a social function and is subordinate to the revolutionary process,” organizers of the Viennese exhibit said in a news release. North Korean artists are all members of state artist associations and have regular working hours. They receive a monthly salary for producing a certain number of works that “communicate the correct attitude, behaviors, morality and values.”

And their work has apparently become a profitable export that is able to skirt North Korea’s international isolation, helping to bring cash back home.

Ardent collectors can travel to the country to shop for art, said Rudiger Frank, professor of East Asian Economy and Society at the University of Vienna. Or works can be acquired at specialized galleries in more easily accessible locations, such as Beijing. Art can even be ordered directly from North Korean artists or the associations they work for.

Mansudae Overseas Project Group of Companies — the largest such association and the main center of production for North Korean art — was founded in 1959 and employs about 4,000 people, including about 1,000 artists working in all media.

Noever said his counterparts in Pyongyang had no financial demands for lending works to the Vienna exhibition, but arranging the show had its difficulties.

While on a trip to Japan seven years ago, he spontaneously decided to visit North Korea, managing to obtain a permit to enter alone and stay for a week. He went to the national art gallery in Pyongyang and met its manager, who showed him artworks that Noever decided had to be seen by a wider audience.

Persuading North Korean authorities, however, was not easy.

“They were surprised and did not understand at first why we would want such an exhibition,” Noever said. “It was a long back-and-forth affair. We had to wrestle with them because they had totally different, very academic ideas about what should go on display.”

He has had the chance to visit some of the artists’ workshops and said he was impressed by the decent working conditions, although he doubts that all North Korean artists have such good jobs.

After all his effort, Noever believes that bringing the North Korean artworks to Vienna was a coup. Frank too is convinced that having them in Austria is a good thing.

“One quickly forgets that North Korea is not only about nuclear weapons and its regime. The exhibition helps people think about what more is there; it brings up questions,” Frank said.

UPDATE 2: The BBC offers coverage of the art show. See it here. 

UPDATE 1:  Daylife offers some pictures of the exhibit: Photo 1, Photo 2, Photo 3, Photo 4, Photo 5, Photo 6, Photo 7, Photo 8.

ORIGINAL POST: According to the AFP:

Portraits never seen outside North Korea of leader Kim Jong-Il and his late father Kim Il-Sung go on display in Vienna on Wednesday alongside dozens of propaganda posters produced by the secretive nuclear state.

The exhibition, entitled “Flowers for Kim Il Sung” also includes a model of the capital Pyongyang’s landmark Juche Tower and architectural drawings and photographs.

The 16 portraits of Kim and his father, the founder of North Korea, are being exhibited for the first time abroad, according to museum officials.

The pair are the subject of an all-embracing personality cult in North Korea.

Kim Il-Sung was declared president for eternity after he died of a heart attack in 1994 at the age of 82. His embalmed body lies in a glass coffin at a palace in Pyongyang.

Kim, 67, who reportedly suffered a stroke in August 2008, is widely thought to have chosen his third son, Jong-Un, to inherit power.

Vienna’s Museum of Applied Arts, or MAK, which prepared the exhibition in cooperation with the Korean Art Gallery in Pyongyang and the Paektusan Academy of Architecture, has been accused by some critics in Austria of supporting the North Korean regime.

But the museum’s director Peter Noever dismissed the suggestion.

“As a museum of art, our job is to display art so that it can be discussed afterwards,” he said.

The exhibition runs until September 5.Read the full story here:
Rare portraits of N.Korea leader revealed


Mass Games to be performed in 2010

Monday, May 17th, 2010

According to the Koryo Tours newsletter:

Koryo Tours has been officially informed by the Korea International Travel Company that Arirang Mass Gymnastics (Mass Games) will be performed from August 2nd throughout to October 10th, 2010. Mass Games can basically be described as a synchronized socialist-realist spectacular, featuring over 100,000 participants in a 90 minute display of gymnastics, dance, acrobatics, and dramatic performance, accompanied by music and other effects, all wrapped in a highly politicized package. Literally no other place on Earth has anything comparable and it has to be seen with your own two eyes to truly appreciate the scale on display.

Book your tour here.

See the group tours we offer during Mass Games.

You can choose your dates of travel, methods of entry and exit and also the itinerary can be tailored to suit your requests if you prefer to travel with an independent tour. Find more information here.

Preparations are visible on the streets of Pyongyang well in advance of the Mass Games with tens of thousands of gymnasts preparing their routines in the city’s open spaces and parks. The 2009 performance was entitled ‘Arirang’ based on a historic tragic love story but was adapted to represent the struggle of North Korea during the Japanese occupation and Korean War. Students practiced every day from January onwards. The 90 minute performance is held every evening at 7pm and features the ‘largest picture in the world’ a giant mosaic of individual students each holding a book whose pages links with their neighbours’ to make up one gigantic scene. When the students turn the pages the scene or individual elements of the scene change, up to 170 pages make up one book.

In 2003 we made our film on the Mass Games A State of Mind (Koryo Tours, VeryMuchSo productions and BBC4), The film has been broadcast unedited in both North and South Korea and in 2004 won the Pyongyang Film Festival Special Prize and best film music award as well as various international awards and is currently on worldwide release.


British Council offers work in DPRK

Monday, May 17th, 2010

According to the Guardian Jobs web page:

Exciting opportunities in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea)

Posted: 06 May 2010
Reference: OA10002
Location: Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea)
Industry:  Charities – International, Education – TEFL, General – General
Hours: Full Time
Salary: £26,880 – £30,624

Exciting opportunities in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea)

In-country Project Leader – £30,624

English Curriculum/Materials Developer/Trainer – £26,880

English Trainer – £26,880

Contract from August 2010 to August 2011 (with the possibility of extension to March 2012)

Benefits including free accommodation, pension provision, medical insurance and mid-contract flights to Beijing and the UK

The British Council is the United Kingdom’s international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. Our purpose is to build mutually beneficial relationships between people in the UK and other countries and increase appreciation for the UK’s creative ideas and achievements. We operate in 110 countries and territories worldwide.

The British Council/Foreign and Commonwealth Office English language project in the DPRK aims to deliver quality programmes in teacher/trainer training and to develop the curriculum and related materials as well as assessment systems at three leading institutions in Pyongyang. This high-profile project has been running since 2000, and we are now seeking three experienced English language teaching professionals to fill the above posts, which will be based at these institutions.

For all posts you will have: a diploma level qualification in TEFL (eg UCLES DTEFLA/Cambridge ESOL DELTA, Trinity College London Dip TESOL); a minimum of 3 years’ ELT and teacher training experience overseas; and experience of curriculum planning; and of materials development. It is desirable that you have experience of working in a ‘hardship’ environment.


English Trainer: will have experience of developing English assessments.

English Curriculum/Materials Developer/Trainer: it is desirable that you have experience of constructing English tests and of running CELTA/Trinity Certificate type courses.

In-country Project Leader post: will have experience of testing. It is desirable that you have an MA in Applied Linguistics (or equivalent); people and project management; teaching British Studies; English for specific purposes (ESP); and content and language integrated learning (CLIL).

Note: local restrictions mean that UK passport holders only can be considered for this post. This is an unaccompanied post, although in exceptional cases the DPRK authorities might agree to an accompanying spouse. Employment is subject to permission from the DPRK Ministries of Education and Foreign Affairs.

Closing date for applications: 12 noon, Monday 24 May 2010. Applications should be returned by e-mail.

For more information and an application pack, please visit: or e-mail (quoting OA10002): [email protected]


DPRK threatens to cut off Kaesong (again)

Monday, May 17th, 2010

According to the Choson Ilbo:

North Korea on Sunday warned it will restrict or stop overland travel to the Kaesong Industrial Complex if South Korean activists send propaganda leaflets to the North. The North said it could limit travel “along the east and west coast” — the land routes used for tours to Mt. Kumgang and the Kaesong complex.

The head of a North Korean delegation to inter-Korean defense talks sent a letter to the South which read, “Despite our repeated requests, the South Korean government goaded and tacitly permitted activists to send propaganda leaflets that castigate our ideology and regime, small radios, US$1 bills and DVDs [via helium balloons] from May 1.”

A South Korean government official said this is the first time that North Korea clearly mentioned the possibility of shutting down the land route to the Kaesong complex. “It seems to be a preemptive action as we are reviewing sanctions against the North” following the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan and the seizure of South Korean property in Mt. Kumgang.

Additional Information
Pyongyang has previously used Kaesong as leverage over the RoK government to prevent activists from sending balloons across the DMZ.

The Kaesong Zone was previously “closed” to South Koreans during contentious wage negotiations.


DPRK aid request rejected by China (rumor)

Monday, May 17th, 2010

According to Bloomberg:

China rejected North Korea’s request for aid at a meeting between Premier Wen Jiabao and Kim Jong Il, which may explain why Kim cut short his stay in Beijing, the Seoul-based JoongAng  Ilbo newspaper reported.

China can’t support North Korea beyond the framework of sanctions set by the United Nations Security Council, Wen told Kim at their meeting on May 6, the Korean-language daily said, citing an unnamed source in Beijing.

Kim made his first trip to China in four years amid speculation, denied by North Korea, that his regime may have been responsible for the March 26 sinking of a South Korean naval ship, which killed 46 sailors.

North Korea quit nuclear disarmament talks in April 2009 after UN condemnation of its test-firing of a ballistic missile. China is host of the six-party forum, also including Japan, Russia, South Korea and the U.S., which hasn’t convened since December 2008.

For a story like this the usual caveats apply.