Archive for August, 2010

Japanese spy satellite breaks down

Monday, August 30th, 2010

According to the Global Times:

One of Japan’s four spy satellites orbiting Earth, in part to monitor activities in North Korea, has broken down, Japanese media quoted government sources as saying Saturday.

According to the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, Japan’s Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Center said it detected a glitch in the satellite’s radar system Monday and began remote operations to restart the system.

However, an official of the center said the outlook for recovery was “extremely grim,” the newspaper said.

The No. 2 radar satellite, which was put into orbit in February 2007, appeared to have run into trouble related to its electrical power supply, the center said. The satellite was designed to work in space for five years and should have completed its mission in 2012.

The remaining three satellites, all optical ones, are working to minimize the effect of the radar satellite’s malfunction, the Kyodo News Agency quoted a defense ministry source as saying.

Japan decided to deploy spy satellites to keep an eye on developments in North Korea after Pyongyang launched a ballistic missile in 1998, part of which flew over the Japanese archipelago and fell into the Pacific Ocean.

A set of four satellites – two radar orbiters and two optical orbiters – can gather imagery of any place in the world within a 24-hour period while in their polar orbit at an altitude of 400- 600 kilometers, the paper said.

Intelligence-gathering satellites are a precious source of information for Japan and “serve as a deterrent by monitoring any kind of activity,” one high-ranking defense official told the paper.

The paper also noted that the breakdown has occurred at the most inopportune time, as North Korea continues to develop missile and nuclear programs and as China expands its military capabilities.

Read the full story here:
Japanese spy satellite over North Korea breaks down
Global Times


Daily NK on Office 39

Monday, August 30th, 2010

Pictured above is the location of the First Caribbean International Bank

According to the Daily NK:

The existence of a secret bank account operated by the No.39 Department of the Chosun Workers’ Party has been publicly confirmed for the first time, bringing yet more attention to bear on the activities of banks in one of the western world’s renowned tax havens.

The No.39 Department, which is responsible for the management of Kim Jong Il’s private funds, holds the bank account with the British Virgin Islands branch of First Caribbean International Bank (FCIB), a prominent bank in the Caribbean region.

According to an expert source familiar with China and North Korea, the No. 39 Department’s secret overseas account exists under the name “Hana Holdings”. It is apparently held with the Road Town branch of the bank, which is based in Barbados and has branches in 17 countries.

Explaining the importance to North Korea of the No.39 Department account, the source told Daily NK, “Due to recent UN Security Council sanctions, the No. 39 Department is experiencing considerable difficulties with its overseas financial trade. Currently, excluding Chinese banks, their only active overseas account is that held with FirstCaribbean International Bank.”

Also, he added, “The only bank through which the No. 39 Department can make overseas transfers is FirstCaribbean International Bank in the British Virgin Islands, since their other secret bank accounts are all blocked.”

He said, “In cases of normal trade relationships with other companies, it used to be possible to transfer the money overseas from China. However, those routes are blocked as well. Since United Nation’s financial sanctions against North Korea make it difficult for North Korea to transfer money to accounts in third countries from Chinese banks, all foreign currency earning units including the No. 39 Department are experiencing the same difficulties.”

Generally, the No. 39 Department works by transferring money from secret overseas bank accounts to accounts with Chinese banks for money laundering.

The source explained, “No. 39 Department moves the management funds from third countries to FirstCaribbean International Bank, then sends the money to the Bank of China until it can be transferred to a North Korean bank or withdrawn.”

According to the source, the person in charge of transfers between FirstCaribbean International Bank and Bank of China is dispatched by the No. 39 Department under a false name. Also, the official allegedly travels to China frequently to deal with problems involving trade with the Chinese bank.

News of the FCIB account will not be too surprising to North Korea economy watchers. Entities in the British Virgin Islands were already suspected of doing business with the North Korean regime before this latest revelation because of the islands’ connection to the activities of Taepung International Investment Group.

The annual returns of the Taepung Group, as it is more commonly known, show that it was originally set up in September, 2006. However, it became better known early in 2010 when it was placed at the center of efforts to revive the North Korean economy through the creation of a state development bank.

Registered in Hong Kong, its only shareholder as of its 2010 Annual Return was Taepung International Investment Holdings Ltd, whose registered address is in Road Town, British Virgin Islands.

According to the same return, obtained by a keen observer of North Korea’s illegal activities, Ken Kato, the Taepung Group’s corporate secretary is Sai Ying Company Ltd, whose only shareholder, and corporate director, is JYBD Holdings Ltd. JYBD Holdings Ltd’s registered address is the same one in Road Town, British Virgin Islands.

This is not the first time that FirstCaribbean International Bank has run into trouble, either. In 2008, it was indicted on 113 charges of “failure to report suspicious transactions” between 2001 and 2005 by the Belize Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU).

However, the charges were dropped because, according to a Belize newspaper, they were threatening to destabilize the country’s financial sector. Instead, First International was ordered to pay for both an electronic reporting system for the country and the refurbishment of two parks.

There are known to be a substantial number of other North Korean accounts held in countries around the world. At the time of the report completed by the 1718 Committee (North Korea sanctions committee) under the UN Security Council last July, North Korean banks were said to hold a total of 39 accounts with 18 banks located in 14 countries. Allegedly, these accounts include a considerable number managed by the No. 39 Department.

17 of the 39 accounts were located with big Chinese banks like Bank of China, China Construction Bank and HSBC, according to the report. Bank of China in Macao had the largest number of North Korean accounts, while some other accounts were held with Beijing and Dandong branches.

In addition, at the time, North Korea had 18 accounts with 11 banks in 8 countries in Europe; Russia, Switzerland, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Germany, and Belarus; also, it had one account each in Malaysia and Kazakhstan.

As the 1718 Committee report explained, “The DPRK… employs a broad range of techniques to mask its financial transactions, including the use of overseas entities, shell companies, informal transfer mechanisms, cash couriers and barter arrangements. However, it must still, in most cases, rely on access to the international financial system to complete its financial operations. In structuring these transactions, attempts are made to mix illicit transactions with otherwise legitimate business activities in such a way as to hide the illicit activity.”

And also according to the Daily NK:

The newly revealed secret overseas bank account held by the No. 39 Department is just one of several accounts set up in various locations around the world to manage Kim Jong Il’s funds.

However, due to the financial sanctions brought about by two nuclear tests and multiple missile launches, the No. 39 Department’s secret overseas accounts are continuously shrinking. As one North Korean source in China put it, “Due to United Nation’s financial sanction against North Korea, the No. 39 Department’s management of its overseas secret accounts has become difficult.”

Now, due to the Cheonan incident, the U.S. is planning to put in place “customized” financial sanctions which incorporate existing UN Security Council and EU financial sanctions, so the No. 39 Department’s overseas accounts will only get more difficult to manage in the future.

The No. 39 Department’s overseas accounts, which allegedly contribute much to Kim Jong Il’s governing funds, are prime targets for financial sanction since they are key to transferring those funds generated by illegal activity.

According to intelligence authorities, the No.39 Department has a bank account with Daesung Bank in Pyongyang, and manages capital in some of the world’s most influential banks in Macao, Hong Kong, Germany, Japan, and England through a subsidiary of Daesung Bank, Gold Star Bank (Geumbyeol Bank) in Vienna, Austria.

The $25 million which was frozen in Banco Delta Asia in 2005 was allegedly known to be some of Kim Jong Il’s governing funds managed by the No. 39 Department.

Radio Free Asia reports that even the Luxembourg government seems likely to implement any new sanctions, quoting them as saying, “We are keeping a close eye on the illegal activities which can take place through North Korea’s overseas accounts.”

The No. 39 Department has 17 overseas branches, 100 trading companies and banks under its auspices. They generate foreign currency through loyalty funds collected from each agency and management of hotels and foreign currency stores. Also, they trade the country’s natural resources including pine mushrooms, gold and silver.

The department is also in charge of the production of “supernotes,” high quality counterfeit $100 bills, and has a role in weapons and the illegal drugs trade.

The funds are mostly spent on the living costs of the Kim family and the patronage network required to maintain his coterie of high officials. In 2008, the sum of luxury goods purchased by North Korea was estimated to be more than $100 million. For example, immediately prior to the anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth on April 15th, North Korea imported approximately 200 high grade vehicles from China.

Since foreign currency generation started to become difficult due to the sanctions, Kim Jong Il has allegedly revived the No. 38 Department, which used to be in charge of overseas currency earning and was only merged with the No. 39 Department in September of 2009, and replaced the head of No. 39 Department with Jeon Il Choon, an old high school friend.

As Kim Kwang Jin, a North Korean defector who worked for the Northeast Asia Bank of North Korea, pointed out in a recent press interview, “The UN Security’s North Korea sanctions and the United States’ Banco Delta Asia sanctions must have caused the shrinking of North Korea’s overseas accounts. It is possible that North Korea could try to open accounts under phantom company names to continue with its financial trades.”


Party conference preparations underway

Friday, August 27th, 2010

According to the Daily NK:

In preparation for the Chosun Workers’ Party Delegates’ Conference in early September, local delegates’ conferences for the election of delegates from each district, city and county have been held.

Chosun Central Broadcast (the state radio station) reported on Thursday, “District, city, and county delegates’ conferences have been held.”

Chosun Central News Agency (KCNA) also reported the same story, saying, “Through local delegates’ conferences, model workers and party members have been elected delegates for dispatch to provincial delegates’ conferences. They have set an example to others in terms of faithfully taking on the Military-first leadership of the Great General (Kim Jong Il) and carrying out the line and policies of the Party with their indomitable spirit to escort the leader with their lives.”

The KCNA added, “In these local delegate conferences, they agreed unanimously that the Chosun Workers’ Party Delegates’ Conference, to be held in the year of the 65th anniversary of the founding of our honorable Party, will be an epochal turning point in the reinforcement and development of our Party and a great happy event with the remarkable importance of opening an uplifting period in the revolution and construction of Military-first politics.”

These first delegates’ conferences in cities and counties represent the start of the march to Pyongyang and the main Delegates’ Conference. Locally elected delegates will now attend provincial conferences, wherein provincial delegates, who will be dispatched to the Delegates’ Conference, are set to be elected.

However, the whole process will only confirm the appointment of pre-approve candidates. A total of between 1,000 and 1,500 delegates from each province will be recommended and elected as delegates to the main Delegates’ Conference.

Meanwhile, the Delegates’ Conference itself is rumored to be scheduled for between the 6th and 8th of September.

Since the day of the founding of the Republic (North Korea) is September 9th and the North’s authorities have reported that the Conference will be held in “early” September, the rumors seem convincing.

Read the full story here:
North Korea Starts March to Pyongyang
Daily NK
Kim So Yeol


Security tightened leading up to party conference

Friday, August 27th, 2010

According to the Daily NK:

It has been reported that the North Korean authorities have declared a “Special Vigilance Period” and begun regulating civilian access to Pyongyang. The move looks like the start of preparations for the Delegates’ Conference of the Chosun Workers’ Party, which could begin as early as the end of next week.

An inside source reported the news in a telephone conversation with The Daily NK today, saying, “Since the 26th, they have been regulating access to Pyongyang for provincial residents at all the ‘No. 10 Checkpoints.’”

The General Security Bureau of the National Security Agency sets checkpoints at every major entry point into Pyongyang, and these are called “No. 10 Checkpoints.” They are used to regulate the floating population; at all checkpoints, vehicles and civilians have their documents checked.

There are approximately ten checkpoints, with Junghwa No.10 (Hwangju, North Hwanghae Province to Pyongyang), Seopo No.10 (Pyongsung, South Pyongan Province to Pyongyang), and Majang No.10 (Sariwon, North Hwanghae Province to Pyongyang) seeing the highest traffic flows.

The source added, “There is also a decree whereby all local cadres on business trips and others visiting Pyongyang on family business or for other reasons must leave Pyongyang by the end of this month.”

Special Vigilance Periods are a customary move when important events are held in Pyongyang on national holidays.

On Kim Il Sung’s and Kim Jong Il’s birthdays (April 15 and February 16), the founding day of the Chosun People’s Army (April 25) and the Chosun Worker’s Party (October 10), the four major national holidays, the Special Vigilance Period conventionally lasts for seven to ten days, while there is customarily a three or four day Special Vigilance Period when the Supreme People’s Assembly is sitting. Additionally, when international VIPs visit Pyongyang, access to the city is generally restricted for four to six days.

The only specific public evidence of the start date of the Delegates’ Conference came in the form of a June 26th Chosun Central News Agency dispatch, according to which, “The Politburo of the Central Party summons a delegates conference of the Chosun Workers’ Party at the beginning of September, 2010 to elect the leading apparatus of the Workers’ Party and reflect new demands for the revolutionary development of the Party, which is facing critical changes in bringing about the strong and prosperous socialist state and Juche revolutionary achievements.”

While the statement could mean any time between September 1st and 10th, considering September 9th is the founding day of the North Korean regime, the conference looks likely to be held between September 6th and 8th.

The Chosun Central News Agency (KCNA) also reported today that county delegates’ conferences have been held and provincial delegates’ conferences will be held soon. The latter will elect provincial delegates who will go forward to the main conference.

In another report, Chosun (North Korea) Central Broadcast (the state radio station) reported that Kim Jong Il had been voted in as a delegate for the North Korean People’s Army in a military party delegates’ conference held in the April 25 House of Culture on the 25th.

Read the full story here:
Pyongyang Getting Set for Delegates’ Conference
Daily NK
Yoo Gwan Hee


DPRK cracks down on drug markets

Friday, August 27th, 2010

According to the Daily NK:

An inside North Korean source has reported the launch of a renewed movement to expose and punish drug crime.

The source explained during a phone interview with The Daily NK on August 26th, “Starting August 20th, a compulsory public lecture has been given by National Security Agency personnel in each neighborhood office. Party instructions regarding a mass struggle to prevent drug and smuggling crime were introduced there.”

The lectures were attended by people’s unit members, with the exception of workers. It is standard practice for the same lecture to be given in work places separately.

The source added, “As the Chosun Workers’ Party Delegates’ Conference approaches, the number of cases in which National Security Agency agents are directing the education of citizens is increasing. Here, they emphasized that there will be strict legal action and punishment for those who take, sell or smuggle drugs in that jurisdiction.”

The People’s Safety Ministry has apparently also dispatched separate task forces to major cities along the Yalu River to hinder smuggling. They are currently trying to bring the border area under control.

The source reported, “Just within Hoiryeong there are 40 ‘task force’ personnel under the People’s Safety Ministry cracking down on illegal immigration and drug smuggling.”

The fact that North Korean citizens living in the border area regularly take drugs or engage in smuggling is not news.

The smuggling route between Sinujiu, Hyesan, Hoiryeong and Onsung to China came into being during the March of Tribulation in the late 1990s. Pharmacists and doctors started mass-producing methamphetamines (known locally as “Ice”) and sold it in China to survive, but now many, indeed some say most, foreign currency earning units are producing, distributing, and smuggling the drug.

Among the more affluent people living in the border area near the Tumen River, “Would you like some Ice?” is a common greeting. Many such people also take Ice as a painkiller, not least because it is among the few widely available drugs which can do the job. Furthermore, use of the drug has also spread to affluent teenagers, which is creating even more concern.

Currently, in major regional cities like Hamheung and Chongjin, one dose of Ice sells for between 3,000 and 5,000 North Korean won.

Read the full story here:
North Korea Launches Drugs Crackdown
Daily NK
Yoo Gwan Hee


South Korean religious organizations donate flour to DPRK

Friday, August 27th, 2010

According to Yonhap:

A joint delegation of five major religious organizations in South Korea traveled to North Korea Friday to deliver food aid, the second civilian visit to the communist state since Seoul imposed a travel ban in May.

The nine-member delegation of the Catholic, Protestant, Cheondo, Buddhist and Won-Buddhist orders drove to the North from this western border town of Paju, Gyeonggi Province, accompanied by about a dozen trucks carrying 300 tons of flour.

The 250 million won (US$209,170) worth of aid was the second inter-Korean assistance since Seoul imposed a North Korea travel ban in May in protest of the sinking of a South Korean warship two months earlier. North Korea denied involvement in the sinking that killed 46 sailors.

Seoul allowed the first civilian visit on Aug. 17, in which an aid organization delivered 400 million won worth of anti-malaria aid to North Korea.

“The denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is important, but the lives of the people on the Korean Peninsula take priority over any other issue,” the group said in a joint statement at a ceremony attended by some 150 people, ahead of its departure. “We religious communities from the left and the right are taking a step toward opening the door for reconciliation and peace in the inter-Korean relations.”

During its one-day visit, the delegation will deliver the flour to Kaesong, just north of the inter-Korean border, which will be distributed to inhabitants in the border town and counties in North Hwanghae Province.

Read the full story below:
S. Korea’s pan-religious delegation travels to N. Korea with flour aid


China sends emergency flood/food aid to DPRK

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

According to the AFP (h/t

North Korea will receive emergency aid from China amid reports that the impoverished country’s food crisis would worsen this year.

China has decided to provide an unspecified amount of “emergency relief materials” to North Korea, its official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said late today.

“This measure will encourage the Korean people in their efforts to recover from the flood damage as early as possible and more energetically step up the building of a thriving nation,” it said.

The report followed a message of sympathy from China’s president Hu Jintao to North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il.

In the message, quoted by KCNA, Hu expressed deep sympathy and consolation over “the sad news that some parts of your country were hit by severe flood recently, causing causalities and property losses”.

The North has reported widespread flooding this summer which washed away homes, roads, railways and farmland, causing an unspecified number of deaths.

Heavy downpours last week swelled the Yalu river, which forms part of the border between China and North Korea, sending water spilling over its banks on both sides and inundating homes, roads and farmland.

After decades of deforestation, the North is particularly vulnerable to flooding. In 2007, it reported at least 600 people dead or missing from devastating floods.

Aid groups warned that this year’s flooding would aggravate the North’s chronic food shortages.

The North suffered a famine in the mid-1990s which killed hundreds of thousands. The UN children’s fund estimates one third of children are stunted by malnutrition.

A bungled currency revaluation last November, designed to flush out entrepreneurs’ savings, backfired disastrously, fuelling food shortages and sparking rare outbreaks of unrest.

In 2008 South Korea suspended an annual rice shipment to its impoverished neighbour as relations soured.

For its part, South Korea has also offered to send assistance.  According to Yonhap:

South Korea’s Red Cross on Thursday proposed providing aid to North Korea to help the communist neighbor recover from recent flood damages, an official said.

The proposal was made in a message delivered to a inter-Korean office in the North Korean border town of Kaesong, a Unification Ministry official in Seoul said, declining to be identified.

The ministry said earlier in the day that it was considering allowing emergency relief assistance to North Korea, but did not elaborate. The North, which remains technically at war with the South, had to evacuate a large number of people when heavy rains raised the level of rivers on its border with China and flooded its towns earlier this month.

“It’s not just the people in the Sinuiju border area that we’re considering providing aid to,” a Red Cross official said by phone, declining to be named. “We will follow the examples of 2006 and 2007 when we provided help, but the scale of aid this year will be determined upon exact assessments.”

“The emergency aid will mainly consist of noodles, water, milk and the likes,” the ministry official said, ruling rice out.

The aid, if accepted, could open room for improvement in the inter-Korean relations, which have soured since South Korea blamed North Korea in May for the sinking of its warship. Pyongyang denies involvement in the sinking that killed 46 sailors.

Read the full stories here:
North Korea to receive aid from China

S. Korea’s Red Cross proposes sending flood aid to N. Korea
Sam Kim


World Food Program donations to DPRK shrink

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

According toYonhap:

The World Food Program is struggling to keep its project of feeding malnourished children in North Korea from shrinking, its director for the communist state said in an interview on Thursday.

Torben Due, who represents the WFP office in Pyongyang, said his organization set out to raise US$500 million two years ago to provide basic nutrition for North Korean children.

In reality, what the WFP ended up with was $100 million. Due said his team in Pyongyang has re-designed its operation for the next two years to value at $96 million because of grim expectations for funding.

“The most difficult obstacle is that we don’t get the resources we need. We don’t get the money we need,” said Due, who was in Seoul this week to meet with government officials to discuss food needs in North Korea.

“We had to reduce (our program) because we could see we would not get the money. We had to design a program small and realistic in terms of what we would be able to do,” he said.

The WFP is a U.N. organization heavily dependent on donation. In North Korea, it supplies cereal-type food mixed with soybeans, milk powder, sugar and others rich in protein and minerals, specifically aimed to fight nutritional deficiencies in growing children.

“The child who is chronically malnourished will be damaged in a way that lasts a whole life. He will be physically stunted, and mental and intellectual development will also be harmed,” Due said, adding North Korean children “particularly” like biscuits.

Due said political tensions appear to be one reason why the WFP operation is not receiving enough donations for North Korea, which has conducted two nuclear tests since 2006, defying warnings.

“This is a pure humanitarian issue. Children suffer more than anybody else if there is no food,” he said, adding that the WFP office in Pyongyang had to cut the number of counties it was supporting from 130 to 65 this year.

“You are talking about roughly a third of the population that has problems with insufficient food intake, both in terms of quantity and quality. What we’re providing is supplement for a small part of the population. The problem is much bigger than what the WFP program is about,” he said.

North Korea has a population of about 24 million. Due said quantity matters as much as quality when it comes to helping North Korean children.

“If you have a country with 5 million children, if you want to contribute and solve the problem, you must think in terms of what is needed,” he said.

Due declined to disclose his discussions with the South Korean government officials he met here. South Korea has suspended sending large-scale food aid to North Korea unless Pyongyang moves to denuclearize under a multinational agreement.

North Korea has relied on international handouts since it suffered massive famine in the 1990s, when as many as 2 million people reportedly died.

The country is vulnerable to natural disasters. Earlier this month, heavy rains along its border with China raised the level of rivers and led to the evacuation of 23,000 North Koreans, Due said.

“In the areas affected, it’s quite devastating,” he said. But Due said North Korea had yet to appeal for international assistance as “the impact is very limited” and “localized.”

“The government can probably handle it themselves. We are, along with the Red Cross, providing some items,” including 1,300 tons of food, he said, adding he had no knowledge of human losses yet.

Earlier Thursday, South Korea’s Red Cross proposed sending aid to North Korea to help it recover from the flooding.

Read the full story here:
WFP feeding fewer N. Korean children as donation shrinks: director
Sam Kim


DPRK farm life worsens on market price instability

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Institutie for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 10-08-25-1

The quality of life among North Korea’s agricultural workers has reportedly worsened sharply in recent times. It appears that the aftermath of last November’s currency reform measure has finally reached as far as the farmhouse. According to a report by the group Daily NK, in the town of Onsong, North Hamgyong Province, only 4~5 families per neighborhood unit (around 30 families) manage to eat rice, in the way of ‘corn rice’, three times per day. Most households eat boiled ears of corn or gruel-like corn soup.

While it was thought that the currency reforms would ease the food shortages of farming households, their lives have grown more difficult due to the sudden fluctuations of market prices, driving down the number of farmers able to sell their yields at market. In the Onsong market, rice sold for an average of 1050 won per kilogram on August 20. Compared to the beginning of the month, prices were down approximately 100 won, but are still more than twice as high as just a few months ago. This is, in part, due to the foreign currency exchange rate. One Chinese Yuan is trading for 215 North Korean won.

Actually, North Korean farmers were about the only beneficiaries of the currency reform. Last December saw the biggest public distribution of goods ever. Commerce was up around 15~20 percent over the year prior. In addition, follow-up measures allowed families to collect 10,000-20,000 won each. However, as market prices became increasingly unstable during the first half of this year, it became harder for farmers to sell their goods. Because rice prices would double or triple, then drop again, month after month, it was difficult for a farmer to take 20~30 kilograms of corn to market and get the price they wanted. On top of this, the price of household goods was climbing, driving up the cost of living.

In North Korea, all farmers are obligated to work on cooperative farms, but are also allowed private plots to raise goods for supplementary income. Therefore, when they have an opportunity, most make their way to a local market to sell their goods. The regime considers this ‘supplementary’ income, but actually, the money earned from this practice is what most live off of, using profits from their corn sales to buy other food or necessities. For these farmers, not only is it difficult to sell their crops, but circumstances make it tough even to harvest them. In the case of one farmer in Onsong who works a 1500 pyong private plot, he harvests approximately three tons of corn per year. As those at the cooperative farm receive only 300 kilograms of corn in rations, three tons is not an insignificant amount. However, due to the cost of fertilizer, bribes to authorities, bribes to inspectors, etc., he is left with only around one ton. With fertilizer shortages this spring, considerably less fertilizer was available for private plots.

Even if the farmer saw yields similar to last fall, at today’s prices, he would be able to make only around 500,000 won. This is little more than the 40,000 won/month market traders can make. Farmers with plots of only 500~600 pyong have an even more difficult time. A source explained, “As stories of growing starvation in Kangwon Province spread, people are becoming more distraught,” and, “a family of four lives off of gruel made from one kilogram of potatoes or corn per day.”


Jimmy in DPRK—KJI in China

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

UPDATE 4: Chinese government confirms Kim Jong-il visit.  According to Evan Ramstad in the Wall Street Journal:

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il met Chinese President Hu Jintao during his five-day visit to northeast China, the Chinese government confirmed Monday night as Mr. Kim left the country, in a surprise get-together that underscored their solidarity as they cope with pressure from the U.S. and other countries to act more responsibly.

The announcement was the climax of what appeared to be a coordinated public-relations push by China on Monday, beginning with stories in several media outlets praising the China-North Korea relationship while also saying Beijing shouldn’t be held responsible for Pyongyang’s provocative actions.

The meeting happened Friday, though China, as it has done with Mr. Kim’s previous visits, waited until he left the country to say he had been there.

In the initial reports confirming the meeting between Messrs. Kim and Hu, China’s state media said that Mr. Kim wanted a resumption of the six-nation talks aimed at striking a bargain for denuclearizing North Korea. They also hinted that Mr. Kim was interested in the economic overhauls that opened China to the world, though they didn’t say he endorsed or would follow them.

Mr. Kim for years has resisted requests of Chinese leaders to open up North Korea’s economy. Late last year, his regime tried to clamp down on market activities but halted the effort when the government couldn’t feed people.

Mr. Hu said on state TV that China should expand its economic cooperation with North Korea. Since Mr. Kim’s entourage was spotted in China on Thursday, analysts have speculated that one reason he made the trip was to seek more money and assistance for the impoverished North.

Analysts also speculated that Mr. Kim brought his expected heir-apparent, son Kim Jong Eun, to meet Chinese officials ahead of a political meeting in Pyongyang next week that may be the son’s public debut in North Korea. The Chinese news reports about the visit did not mention the son, however.

“I think there are other two issues Kim wants to talk about with China,” said Jin Hanyi, head of Northeastern Asian Research Institute at Yanbian University in Jilin. “North Korea recently had a bad flood and, with international sanctions against it and the failure of monetary reform, Kim wants to discuss how to deal with these awful messes,” Mr. Hanyi said. “Second, North Korea will hold a Workers’ Party meeting next month and he wants support from China for new policies.”

Mr. Kim’s entourage twice during the trip stopped in places associated with his father, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, moves that are likely to be portrayed in North Korea as highlighting the importance of the Kim family as another potential succession looms.

For outside diplomats, the greatest significance of the trip is the symbolism of Messrs. Kim and Hu going to great lengths to meet each other in the aftermath of criticism both countries took following the sinking of a South Korean earlier this year, an incident that South Korea, the U.S. and others blame on a North Korean attack.

China has refused to blame North Korea publicly for the sinking, which killed 46 South Korean sailors, or to examine the results of the South Korea-led investigation.

Instead, North Korea and China have, since late May when the investigation first produced the accusation against North Korea, called for the resumption of the six-party denuclearization talks. The talks began in 2003, producing two agreements that North Korea dragged out and ultimately failed to keep. Pyongyang formally walked away from them last year.

Japan, South Korea and the U.S. have said North Korea damaged the potential for the talks with its attack on the South Korean ship.

The message to restart the talks was also given last week by a different North Korean official to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter when Mr. Carter went to Pyongyang to retrieve an American teacher who entered North Korea illegally in January. Mr. Kim skipped the opportunity to meet Mr. Carter to go to China instead.Mr. Kim doesn’t like to fly and travels by train that is easily monitored by satellite by foreign governments. His entourage is then tracked on the ground by reporters who follow the highly visible security cordons that go up along his route.

On Monday, South Korean and Japanese news agencies reported the action as Mr. Kim took his specially outfitted train from Harbin, the capital of China’s most northeastern province Heilongjiang, to a smaller city called Mudanjiang and then down to the border crossing at Tumen.

Mr. Kim called himself a “witness” to the success of China’s “reform and opening up,” Chinese television reported, but it was unclear whether that meant the North would follow that model. Last year, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, in a visit to Pyongyang, proposed development projects valued at several billion dollars to North Korea, but none have gotten off the ground.

Early Monday, Chinese state media rang with praise for North Korea but also tried to draw a line in the two countries’ relationship.

The state-run Xinhua news agency published a commentary talking about Chinese men who sacrificed their lives for North Korea, during the Korean War of the 1950s and afterward. Its latest example was the tale of a Chinese man who drowned this month after rescuing three North Korean girls adrift at sea.

The man’s “sacrifice led us again to recollect the long history of friendship between the two peoples,” Xinhua wrote.

Another nationalist newspaper, Global Times, wrote an editorial that called the China-North Korea relationship both “special” and “normal.”

“The biggest negative impact the China-North Korea relationship has on China is that the U.S, Japan and South Korea all request that China be responsible for North Korea’s ‘irrational behaviors,'” the newspaper wrote. “However, China has no ability to shoulder such responsibility.”

UPDATE 3: Kim Jong il departs from Harbin and returns home.

UPDATE 2: Kim Jong-il in Changchun. According to Yonhap:

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il arrived in a Chinese industrial city Friday, a day after making a pilgrimage to sites bearing footmarks of his late father, on an abrupt trip seen as related to his leadership succession plan.

A convoy of some 30 vehicles, believed to be carrying the reclusive leader, arrived at the South Lake Hotel in the northeastern Chinese city of Changchun, about an hour and a half after leaving the nearby city of Jilin.

Earlier in the day, Kim’s convoy appeared to be traveling to a Jilin train station, where security was heavy, to allow the leader to board his personal armored train to Changchun. However, instead of stopping, the convoy took a highway to the capital city of Jilin province. About 10 police vehicles provided escort for the group of limousines and mini-buses.

Kim’s stay in Changchun is expected to include a tour of advanced industrial facilities.

Kim, 68, began the latest secrecy-shrouded trip a day ago, crossing into China around midnight Wednesday aboard his luxurious special train.

The trip was a surprise because it came as former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was in Pyongyang for a widely speculated meeting with him. It was also Kim’s second visit to China in about three months, an unusual move for the isolated leader who rarely travels abroad.

Carter arrived in Pyongyang Wednesday to win the release of an American citizen detained in the North since January for illegal entry. Carter headed home Friday with the freed American, Aijalon Mahli Gomes, Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency said.

It was apparent that he failed to meet with Kim Jong-il.

On Thursday, Kim paid a visit to Jilin’s Yuwen Middle School, which his father and national founder, Kim Il-sung, attended for two and a half years starting in 1927. Kim also visited Beishan Park in the city of Jilin where the remains of anti-Japanese independence fighters are buried.

North Korea has lavishly lauded Kim Il-sung for his anti-Japanese activities during the 1910-45 colonial rule. The late leader, who founded North Korea in 1948, is still revered as eternal president and is subject to a strong cult of personality even after his death in 1994.

Kim’s move suggests that he visited the two sites considered sacred to his family dynasty ahead of handing power over to his youngest son, Jong-un, analysts said. Unconfirmed reports said the heir-apparent could be accompanying his father on the rare trip.

North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party is scheduled to convene a rare leadership meeting early next month in which the younger Kim could be given a key position in the run-up to formally taking over the communist dynasty.

On Thursday, Pyongyang’s state media reported that the country has started holding lower-level meetings of party delegations in the run-up to next month’s conference.

“The meetings were unanimous in saying that the WPK conference … will be a significant conference which will be a landmark of an epochal turn in strengthening the party and a great jubilee of great significance in ushering in a new surge in the revolution and construction,” the KCNA said.

Kim’s trip came as tensions still run high in the wake of the March sinking of a South Korean warship and China pushes to jump start six-nation talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear programs.

Beijing’s chief nuclear envoy has been in Seoul for talks on his trip to North Korea last week.

China is pushing for a “three-step” proposal for resuming the nuclear talks.

The proposal calls for Pyongyang and Washington first holding bilateral talks before all six parties hold an informal preparatory meeting and then an official session. The talks, which involve the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the U.S., have been stalled since late 2008.

South Korea has expressed its reluctance to reopen the dialogue unless the North shows a “responsible” attitude over the sinking and proves through action that it is serious about abandoning its nuclear programs.

UPDATE 1: Here is KCNA coverage of Cater’s visit to secure the release of Gomes

ORIGINAL POST: Former President Jimmy Carter is in Pyongyang to secure the release of American Aijalon Gomes.  Past stories about his detention can be found here. President Carter last traveled to Pyongyang in 1994  and met with Kim Il-sung (the North Koreans made a propaganda video out of the trip which they sell to foreigners), and discussed terms to freeze the country’s nuclear program. Many were speculating that President Carter might meet with Kim Jong-il while in the DPRK, but Kim appears to be in China.

According to the New York Times:

The man Mr. Carter is seeking to free is Aijalon Mahli Gomes, a 30-year-old Christian from Boston who was arrested in January for crossing into North Korea and sentenced in April to eight years of hard labor and fined $700,000. Last month, North Korea said he tried to kill himself out of “frustration with the U.S. government’s failure to free him.”

The visit by Mr. Carter, an evangelical Christian, is the second to North Korea by a former American president in a year on what the United States described as a private humanitarian missions. Last August, Bill Clinton flew there and met with the reclusive North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, to secure the release of two American journalists held for five months for illegal entry.

The Obama administration kept its distance, emphasizing that Mr. Carter not an envoy. “I’ll just say that President Carter is on a private humanitarian mission and I’m not going to comment more beyond that,” said Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman.

But as with Mr. Clinton’s visit, Mr. Carter’s has deeper diplomatic undercurrents. The North Koreans have used the captive Americans as bargaining chips, promising to release them in exchange for visits from specific high-profile Americans. North Korea can portray the meetings domestically as evidence of its international importance, while the United States has a high-level direct encounter that it cannot officially engage in.

But Mr. Carter has a long history as an independent agent, and some administration officials worried that he might undercut their policy in some way and make it harder to keep up the pressure on Pyongyang to give up its nuclear program.

It was not immediately clear who among the North Koreans would meet with Mr. Carter. The North Korean media reports said that he was greeted at the airport in Pyongyang, the capital, by Kim Kye-gwan, a senior diplomat who has been the North’s main envoy to the six-nation talks on its nuclear weapons program. The talks have been stalled for more than two years, but the North recently said it was willing to return to the discussions.

Higher-level meetings would appear to be likely, since Mr. Carter’s visit comes at a fraught time for North Korea. Its economy remains deeply troubled, and its ravaged agricultural sector has been further damaged by recent flooding. A March torpedo attack that sank one of the South’s warships, killing 46 sailors, drove inter-Korean relations to their lowest point in years and added to tensions with the United States. In addition, there may be a struggle over succession within the government of Kim Jong-il, who has had serious health problems.

The case of Mr. Gomes also touches on efforts of Christians in South Korea and the United States on behalf of North Koreans. His illegal entry was made in support of Robert Park, a fellow Christian from the United States who crossed from China in December to call attention to the dismal conditions in the North’s prison camps. Mr. Park was expelled after about 40 days.

Mr. Carter has been a contentious figure among South Korean conservatives. “Carter is idealistic, not realistic when it comes to North Korea,” said Hong Kwan-hee, director of the Institute for Security Strategy in Seoul. “North Korea always has tried to use prominent Americans, preferably Democrats, as a medium to engage the United States and drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington.

In another development, the South Korean authorities on Thursday morning were looking into indications that Mr. Kim, the North Korean leader, might be visiting China, an official in the presidential office of South Korea said. News media in South Korea, including the national news agency, Yonhap, and the mass-circulation daily, Chosun, reported the same on their Web sites.

“We have signs that Kim Jong-il is visiting China,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the matter. “It’s unclear whether he has arrived or is still on the move.”

If true, this would be Mr. Kim’s sixth trip to China and his second in three months. North Korea and China usually do not confirm a trip by Mr. Kim until after it is over. His previous trips were often preceded by weeks of media speculation. Many journalists waited on the Chinese side of the border to wait for his train to cross. This time, there was no such activity.

According to Bloomberg:

Carter yesterday also met with Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea, KCNA said. The pair had a “cordial talk” in the Mansudae Assembly Hall, the official news agency said.

Regarding Kim Jong-il’s visit to China, I turn to the Los Angeles Times:

In a trip shrouded in mystery and speculation, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il traveled to China by train with his youngest son, according to two South Korean government officials.

An official in the South Korean Blue House confirmed late Thursday that Kim’s train had crossed the border into China around midnight Wednesday, but said the North Korean leader did not take the usual route through the city of Dandong.

We “detected indications a few days ago,” the official told reporters, asking not to be named. “Chairman Kim’s special train has been confirmed to have left Manpo for China’s Jilin around midnight Wednesday.”

Another official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to discuss the matter, said earlier that intelligence had detected movement by the reclusive Kim.

South Korea’s Yonhap news service quoted an official speculating that the trip might be associated with the anticipated handover of power in the secretive regime.

“Signs have been detected that Chairman Kim visited China early Thursday morning,” the second unnamed official told the agency. “We are still trying to grasp his exact destination and the purpose of the visit.”

This was Kim’s second trip to China since May, when he embarked on a five-day journey for a summit with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

The Chinese government Thursday had no immediate comment on the visit. Because of security concerns, Kim’s rare trips outside North Korea to the ally nation are publicly confirmed only after they end.

The Yalu River crossing between North Korea and the Chinese city of Dandong was badly flooded last weekend, disrupting the railroad lines over which Kim normally travels in an armored, luxury train, reportedly equipped with conference rooms, bedrooms and high-tech communication facilities.

Shi Yinhong, a professor at Beijing’s Renmin University, speculated that Kim “must need China’s help in reducing tensions and ensuring a good environment for the succession of his son.”

The visit may signal that North Korea is prepared to return to six-party talks hosted by China on its nuclear program. North Korea also badly needs humanitarian assistance as a result of a series of economic blunders, as well as poor harvests and damage to cropland caused by the recent flooding.

Kim, who is 68 and in poor health after suffering a stroke in 2008, is in the process of naming his youngest son, the little-known Kim Jong Eun, 26, as his successor, a decision which should be announced at a special congress next month of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party.

“It’s likely that Kim Jong Il wants to end the debate on the succession issue in Pyongyang ahead of a meeting next month of the North Korea’s Workers’ Party,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

“There’s been plenty of succession talk between working-level and senior-level officials in Beijing and Pyongyang where they have failed to reach an agreement. Kim Jong Il now seems to be taking matters into his own hands.”

Kim Jong Eun, who was educated in Switzerland and speaks several languages, did not accompany his father during the previous trip to China in June. His presence on this visit might be something of a courtesy call to introduce the future leader to the Chinese.

“China will have no choice but to deal with Kim Jong Eun. Their regime is traditionally a family dynasty and, like it or not, if you deal with North Korea, you have to deal with their ruler,” said Shi.

Kim Jong Il assumed power in North Korea with the death of his father, Kim Il Sung, in 1994.

The rumors come amid tensions on the Korean Peninsula following the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship in March. The south has blamed North Korea for an unprovoked torpedo attack.

The trip also comes the day after former U.S. President Jimmy Carter arrived in Pyongyang to secure the release of a U.S. citizen imprisoned for illegally entering the country.

Here is the original Yonhap story.

Here is more in the New York Times.

Here is more in the Los Angeles Times.

The Road less taken: DPRK railway crossings into China

Click image for larger version

The DPRK does not have many railway crossings into China. From West to East: Sinuiju, Sakju, Manpho,  and Namyang.  Historically there were additional crossings at the Unbon Dam,  Hyesan, and Saepyol, but these do not appear to be used anymore.  Namyang is in the furthest reaches of North Hamgyong Province, so if Kim is going to cross into China by rail, he has to do so from Sinuiju, Sakju, or Manpho.  Coincidentally, he has a private railway station and secure residential compound near each of these border crossings–though the closest leadership compound and train station to Manpho is in nearby Kanggye and the closest compound to the Sakju Bridge is in Changsong County.

Given that the Sinuiju crossing is most convenient, it is a bit of a mystery why he chose to cross at Manpho when Sakju/Changsong is so much closer.  Maybe the Sakju/Changsong railway crossing is not as convenient for some unknown reason?  Maybe the “smaller” Kanggye leaderhip compound is more exclusive and Kim prefered hiding this trip from as many of his cohorts as he could?  Maybe the Changsong elite compound (which is also on the water) is also flooded?  I do not know the reason, but there has to be one…