Archive for February, 2011

Some interesting things…

Monday, February 28th, 2011

On January 18th, 2011, Kim Jong-il visited the “technologically updated” January 18 General Machinery Plant (1월18일기계종합공장, pictured above on Google Earth).  Usually when dates are incorporated into facility names they are public holidays (April 25th House of Culture–4.25 is KPA founding day) or the day Kim Il-sung visited the facility. Since I cannot find a North Korean Holiday on 1.18, I assume this is the day Kim Il-sung first visited the facility.

According to KCNA:

General Secretary Kim Jong Il gave field guidance to the technologically updated January 18 General Machinery Plant.

He went round the inside and outside of the plant to learn in detail about its technological updating and production there.

The workers of the plant have finished the work for its modernization and scientification based on the latest technology by their own efforts and wisdom and energetically developed new technologies to bring about a radical change in production.

Leader Kim Jong Il expressed great satisfaction over this success, watching the production processes equipped with home-made CNC-based machines and new machinery.

The plant has undergone radical changes to meet the need of the knowledge-based economy era thanks to the brisk mass technical innovation movement conducted by its officials, workers and technicians true to the Party’s policy of attaching importance to science and technology, he said, adding: This signal advance is a display of the great mental power of the heroic Korean workers who have always won victories through progress and innovation.

He also made the rounds of newly-built canteen and other cultural and welfare facilities for the workers to acquaint himself with the cultural life and supply service at the plant.

Seeing neat and clean dining room, kitchen, bean store and processing room, he noted that the plant has made signal changes in the supply service in a few years through its careful arrangement and redoubled efforts with the proper viewpoint on the workers. And he expressed great satisfaction over the provision of good living conditions to the workers.

The plant has an important role to play in the development of the nation’s machine building industry, he said, advancing the tasks for it.

Its most important task is to keep the production of machinery going at a high rate and produce more new-type efficient machinery, he said. He set the goal for the plant to hit in the near future and indicated orientation and ways to do it.

The officials of the plant should energetically guide the masses as the supporter and implementer of the Party’s policies and the fighter standing in the van of the drive to devotedly carry out the tasks set forth by the Party, he urged.

He expressed great expectation and conviction that the workers of the plant would creditably perform their role as the vanguard and shock brigade in implementing the WPK’s economic policy.

This factory goes by several similar names, but NTI reports:

According to a source in the South Korean military, this factory produces Scud missile engines. Han Tŏk Su, former chairman of the pro-North Korean General Federation of Korean Residents in Japan (Choch’ongnyŏn), reportedly visited the January 18th Machine Factory in April 1987. His guide told him the facility had been built under an apartment complex, and that very few people living in Kaech’ŏn knew about the factory. Han was also told that the factory mainly produced missiles, tanks and motors. According to the South Korean Ministry of Unification, this factory produces rocket engines.

This was Kim’s second official visit to the factory. The first was on June 10, 1998.


On January 3, 2011, North Korean television broadcast from the Pongchang District Coal Mine (봉창지구탄광).  This is interesting because the mine is located inside Kwan-li-so 18.  Pictured above is the perimeter of the facility identified in The Hidden Gulag.  I posted the relevant television footage to YouTube here which you can use to match up with Google Earth satellite imagery if you wish.  The DPRK might like to give the impression that it is an ordinary coal mine, but most of their other mines do not have security perimeters.


Increase in DPRK’s mineral resources exports to China expected again for this year

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

The trade volume between North Korea and China has steadily increased, reaching its record high of USD 3.4 billion in 2010. Total exports amounted to 1.19 billion USD while imports doubled that figure to USD 2.22 billion. Imports have continued to grow, increasing by 2.4 times over the previous year.

Since the Cheonan incident and the implementation of May 24 sanctions, inter-Korean economic cooperation has come to a halt, naturally resulting in rise in exports to China. In particular, a significant growth in anthracites exports was observed. The monthly anthracites exports that averaged around USD 10 million surpassed USD 70 million mark last August and maintained USD 50 million monthly average between September to November. In addition, cost-per-ton of anthracite in March which was USD 52.2, jumped to USD 82.8 in November, a climb of 60 percent. This boost is attributed to its increased export.

The current supply of electric power consists mostly of hydroelectric power — reaching over 60 percent– but during the winter season most of the hydropower plants are unoperational due to frozen facilities from harsh winter weather. Anthracites were the alternative resource to fill this gap. Sacrificing power production and exporting great amount of anthracites despite severe winter is a strong indication of the poor foreign currency situation in North Korea.

In its New Year’s joint editorial, North Korea placed heavy emphasis on its anthracite export that took up 60 percent of its total exports. In the statement, four vanguard sectors of coal, electricity, metals, and railroads were highlighted as important industries as “rich underground resources that will help with securing funds and resolving raw material problems.” This is the first time in 13 years – that is, since the Arduous March — for coal to be mentioned first in the New Year’s message.

North Korea also began to lift export restraints of mineral resources like coal and silver from the latter half of last year and ordered to increase imports of rice and corns in place of minerals.

The reason food procurement is placed first at the expense of its mineral resources is believed to be associated with the implementation of the succession involving Kim Jong Un, and to keep North Korean people’s dissatisfaction under control and manage the domestic situation.

North had placed restraints on coal, gold, silver, lead, and zinc exports from 2007 through adopting export control of mineral resources.

In addition, North Korea and China will meet in Beijing to sign an agreement on joint development of underground resources. This agreement will include Musan Mine and rare-earth mines that POSCO (The Pohang Iron and Steel Company of South Korea) has shown interest in in the past for development. China’s moves in this sector are suspected as China’s attempt to monopolize the DPRK’s underground resources.

The DPRK’s Joint Venture and Investment Guidance Bureau and China’s Ministry of Commerce were expected to meet on February 15 to discuss agreements related to underground resources development. On the agenda was Musan Mine, abundant in gold and anthracite, and other mines rich in rare-earth elements. Other mines are also known to be specified in the agreement.

China is expected to bring private companies into the underground resources development project after reaching an agreement with the DPRK. According to our source, “both parties will establish a joint venture investment corporation in Hong Kong after signing the agreement.”

Construction of a highway connecting Heilong City of Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture to Nampyong and Chongjin of North Korea and railway system linking the cities of Heilong, Nampyong, and Musan are currently underway, expected to be in operation by end of this year. Jilin Province and Ministry of Railways of China began construction of this railway system from October 2010 investing CNY 1.19 billion, which runs a distance of 41.68 km. However, it is expected to extend further onto Chongjin and is considered to become the major transportation hub, integrating economic cooperation between the two countries.

Musan Iron Mine is known as the largest outdoor iron mine in Asia and Tonghua Iron and Steel Group along with three other Chinese corporations acquired 50-year development rights of Musan Iron Mine. They are bringing in about 120 tons of iron ore each year and more is expected to be brought in once the Heilong-Musan rail link is completed.


Rason and the Chinese economy

Monday, February 28th, 2011

According to the Choson Ilbo:

But now sources say Beijing seems to think it is high time to persuade the North to reform and open up as the economy is on the verge of collapse. It is pressuring the regime to develop Rajin-Sonbong into a model of Chinese-style reform, and it needs to use Rason Port for its own Tumen River project. This is swiftly attracting Chinese investment to the area.

Beijing reportedly even plans to supply electricity to the Rajin-Songbong area. “The replacement of transformers aimed at getting electricity from China is underway, and Chinese electricity is expected to be supplied from April,” said a North Korean defector.

Beijing has already established an economic mission there that is to handle any conflict with the North Korean authorities. China pressured Pyongyang to sort out traffic, communication and customs issues, and the North apparently agreed to all demands. “Customs clearance took less than 5 minutes,” said a Chinese businessman who visited Rajin-Songbon recently. Previously it took more than three hours and customs officials would extort bribes with false charges. No mobile phone calls to China can be made yet, but landlines are working and mobile phone calls are to be possible soon.

Until last year, not even Chinese people were permitted to watch TV channels from abroad and there were tight limits on what they could say or do. But now Chinese are all but free to do as they please in Rajin-Songbon, and the security officials stationed there have been brought to heel and told not to interfere with Chinese business activities.

Rajin-Songbong used to have so many security officials that it was said the population was half traders and half police, and they frequently hauled people off for questioning on groundless charges.

The North is said to have started selling land in the city to Chinese business at US$50 per 3.3 sq. m downtown and $30 in the suburbs. The Chinese still don’t trust the North Korean regime and are reluctant to purchase, but the fact that the land is for sale at all is a momentous change.

Pyongyang is in negotiations with Beijing to build a massive industrial park in the area like the joint Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex.

Read the full sotry here:
Chinese Businesses Pour into N.Korea’s Rajin-Songbong
Choson Ilbo


North Pyongan ‘protest’ wrap up

Friday, February 25th, 2011

Pictured above (Google Earth): locations of the reported protests in North Pyongan along the Beijing-Pyongyang railway line (blue)

This week several stories came out alleging multiple protests in North Pyongan Province (평안북도)  over economic conditions.  The cities affected were Sinuiju (신의주),  Ryongchon (Yongchon 룡천), Sonchon (선천), and Jongju (정주).

According to the Choson Ilbo:

Small pockets of unrest are appearing in North Korea as the repressive regime staggers under international sanctions and the fallout from a botched currency reform, sources say. On Feb. 14, two days before leader Kim Jong-il’s birthday, scores of people in Jongju, Yongchon and Sonchon in North Pyongan Province caused a commotion, shouting, “Give us fire [electricity] and rice! ”

A North Korean source said people fashioned makeshift megaphones out of newspapers and shouted, “We can’t live! Give us fire! Give us rice!” “At first, there were only one or two people, but as time went by more and more came out of their houses and joined in the shouting,” the source added.

The State Security Department investigated this incident but failed to identify the people who started the commotion when they met with a wall of silence.

“When such an incident took place in the past, people used to report their neighbors to the security forces, but now they’re covering for each other,” the source said.

The commotion started because the North Korean regime had diverted sparse electricity from the Jongju and Yongchon area to Pyongyang to light up the night there to mark Kim’s birthday on Feb. 16.

“Discontent erupted because the regime cut off electricity that had been supplied to them only a few hours a day, and they had hard time putting food on the table due to soaring rice prices.”

A North Korean defector said the Jongju and Yongchon area “has long been a headache to the regime due to the spirit of defiance of the people there.”

In a separate story reported by the Choson Ilbo, it appears that a protest in Sinuiju was launched several days later by market traders who were being harassed by officials.

(UPDATE) The Daily NK reports that the skirmishes were fairly minor:

A news report about a protest supposedly involving a few hundred citizens in Sinuiju on the 18th, released by a South Korean newspaper on the 23rd, appears to have been highly exaggerated. It was just an argument over stall fees between traders and market managers, sources say.

The commotion revealed by a domestic South Korean newspaper occurred at Chinseon Market near Sinuiju Stadium, where a number of fabric and shoe factories are located. The disagreement was triggered by a notice stating that fees would double from 4,000 to 8,000 won a month, or 400 won a day. At current prices, the new stall fee is enough to buy corn to feed a North Korean adult for more than two weeks.

When a member of market management insisted that traders had to follow the regulations unconditionally as an order handed down by the municipal commercial management office, some got so angry that they threw trash at the manager, shouting that it was too much to take and asserting that illegal grasshopper trading, meaning without a permanent stall in the legal market, trading in nearby alleyways illegally while avoiding the eyes of community watch guards or People’s Safety Ministry agents, would be better for them.

Eventually, ten or so agents from a PSM strike force were able to calm them down. Nevertheless, during the incident other traders came along to watch the commotion, so in the end over a hundred of people were gathered in the one area.

After around 30 minutes of complaint, the traders were finally dispersed. Some got hurt during fights with market managers, but there were no serious casualties. Additionally, there was no military presence.

The source explained, “Since market managers are not members of law enforcement, traders were able to grab them irately by the collar and shout at them for raising the fees.”

“Commotions like this are common,” he went on, “so there is no serious uneasiness about it,” and went on, “in addition; community watch guards kicking grasshoppers out of alley markets, then them going back there and trading again is a daily routine. Therefore, physical fights are really common between traders, community watch guards and market managers.”

Finally, he noted, “In Shinuiju, it is generally calm,” and, regarding another report on cell phone usage which suggested that phones had been cut to avoid giving the people access to information on Middle East protests, said, “There is no evidence of that. People are still using cell phones.”

So don’t get your hopes up that this has anything to do with the situation in the Middle East (as some journalists seem to have done). According to Yonhap:

South Korea has not detected any signs of organized resistance in North Korea, although it believes that small-scale protests have sometimes occurred in the impoverished communist nation over economic woes, an official here said Thursday.

Some recent media reports, citing unidentified sources inside the North or defectors, have said North Koreans staged rare public demonstrations over food shortages, amid popular uprisings sweeping the Middle East and North Africa.

“Although small-scale protests over livelihood have been reported since a botched currency reform, we have not observed any circumstances to be viewed as a collective demonstration there,” said the official at the Unification Ministry in charge of relations with North Korea.

Responding to questions about whether the wave of pro-democracy upheavals in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Libya and elsewhere would affect North Korea, the official said, “I think there would be no big impact in the short term.”

The New York Times also noted the difficulties of mounting social change in the DPRK:

“The gap between the elite and the rest of the country has probably never been wider,” said Mr. Everard, currently a fellow at the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford. But at the same time, he added, “There’s no reason to expect things to change any time soon.”

The Communist regime in Pyongyang, analysts said, has no intention of relaxing its political grip or opening up its economy.

“Reforms mean death,” said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert and professor at Kookmin University in Seoul. “It’s a matter of survival and control.

“The leadership wouldn’t mind economic development,” he said. “Look, they’re rational. They want modernity. They’re not fundamentalists looking to Paradise and expecting 72 virgins to be waiting for them.

“But reforms? No.”

Indeed, the word “reform” — kaehyuk in Korean — has never been used in the official North Korean economic literature, according to Changyong Choi, a research fellow in social science at Syracuse University in New York State who has studied the topic. Instead, policy changes are known as “adjustments,” and the result is called “pragmatic socialism.”

Recent refugees, scholars of North Korea and South Korean government officials see no signs that the economic hardships are pointing toward political instability. They see no existential threat to Kim Jong-il and his regime, whether through civil unrest, political factionalism or a military revolt.

Regime change, as tantalizing as it might be to Seoul and Washington, seems remote. Mr. Kim looks to be in passably good health. And the apprenticeship of his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, appears to be under way, albeit slowly and quietly.

Ordinary North Koreans certainly struggle to eke out a living, but they are not starving. And the situation is nothing at all like the so-called Arduous March famine of the mid-1990s. More than a million North Koreans reportedly died from starvation then when aid from Russia stopped, crops failed and the socialist system of food allotments fell apart.

Even at that level of hunger and horror, there was no profound, collective unrest. “The people who kept waiting for their government rations to come, they just died quietly,” said John S. Park, director of the Korea Working Group at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington.

The New York Times has more here.

Andray Abrahamian has more in 38 North.


Defectors remit US$10m a year to DPRK

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

UPDATE 3 (2/23/2011): According to Yonhap:

A recent survey of North Korean defectors in South Korea showed Wednesday that a large number of them use part of their resettlement money from the government here to help their families in the North.

In the survey conducted in November by the Organization for One Korea, a group run by unification activists, 71 percent of 350 respondents said they have sent money back to the communist country before. About 66 percent of the cash remitters said that they used part of their money received from the South Korean government.

In an effort to buffer the initial costs of resettlement, the government here provides each defector with a subsidy of 6 million won (US$5,330) and partly finances their housing.

More than 20,000 North Korean defectors have arrived in South Korea since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce. The number does not account for the estimated tens of thousands hiding in China.

According to the survey that had a margin of error of 3.59 percentage points, about half of the cash remitters said brokers took away 30 percent of their money sent to the North as a fee, while only 65 percent believed the remainder was entirely delivered.

North Korean defectors are 17 times likelier to depend on government allowances, according to the Unification Ministry. Over 50 percent of defectors depend on a universal welfare program that pays them about 400,000 won (US$355) a month.

Defections began to accelerate after a massive famine swept through North Korea in the mid-1990s, killing an estimated 2 million people. North Korea considers defectors criminals punishable even by death.

Read previous recent stories about remittances below.


Drilling at Punggye-ri continues

Monday, February 21st, 2011

This week there were numerous stories about the DPRK’s drilling operations at Punggye-ri (풍계리) in Kilju County (길주군) which was taken as a signal that the DPRK is preparing for a third nuclear test.  According to the Donga Ilbo:

North Korea has reportedly drilled several underground tunnels at it nuclear test site in the village of Punggye-ri, North Hamgyong Province, apparently for its third nuclear test.

A South Korean government source said Sunday that the North has dug at least three tunnels in Punggye-ri since last winter and that the sites are under close surveillance by South Korean and U.S. intelligence. Pyongyang conducted nuclear tests in Punggye-ri in October 2006 and May 2009.

According to intelligence, the depth of the L-shaped underground tunnels is estimated at 500 meters to 1 kilometer, and North Korea excavated tunnels simultaneously to select the best location and depth.

Another source said the North has been preparing for another nuclear test in Punggye-ri since last winter and irritated the U.S. by intentionally showing busy activity on clear days so that U.S. reconnaissance satellites would capture the scene.

The latter statement rings true to me. I posted satellite images of this site in November 2010 when the DPRK last made a scene by drilling at the sensitive location.  You can see those pictures here.

Here is additional coverage in Yonhap.

Read the full sotry in the Donga Ilbo here:
North Korea preparing for 3rd nuclear test: source
Donga Ilbo


Eugene Bell foundation fighting tuberculosis in DPRK

Monday, February 21st, 2011

According to the Korea Times:

Dr. Stephen Linton, founder of the Eugene Bell Foundation, says his group’s program to combat multidrug resistant TB (MDRTB) has cured its first patients after four years of working to establish adequate care in the North.

“We’re making progress,” Linton, 60, said in a phone interview. “It has been a tremendous learning curve for the North Koreans on a very short time frame. It takes most nations decades to put together a good MDRTB program because the treatment is so intensive.”

A growing health concern worldwide, MDRTB emerges when regular TB is inadequately treated, creating bacteria resistant to first- and sometimes second-line drugs. Half of those who do not get treatment, which can take up to two years to complete, die.

The problem is compounded in poor countries not properly equipped to diagnose the disease and where malnutrition makes the body more susceptible to TB.

The organization’s hopeful outlook follows its most recent trip to the North in November last year, when it found a steadily-increasing rate of patients testing negative for the strain ― meaning they are no longer infective.

It also comes as the international community wrestles with how to help the impoverished country ― which has called in recent weeks for humanitarian assistance ― without supporting its provocative behavior.

In the case of treating MDRTB, the doctor says the breakthrough would be impossible without meaningful contributions on both sides of the tense border that divides the Koreas.

Powerful medicine

By 2007, Linton had been travelling to the North to treat TB for more than a decade, so he was braced for the news when caregivers complained that first-line drugs were not helping some patients.

“I knew it was going to be a real headache,” he said of the undertaking. “But the commitment of our donors and the desire to treat the people in most need ― that was a powerful incentive.”

Later that year, Linton and his team took sputum from 19 patients, brought the samples to a South Korean hospital for analysis, and returned six months later with medicine. On subsequent trips, the number of patients wanting the test grew.

By 2009, as an indication of the worsening health situation but also the growing trust in the program, Eugene Bell was overwhelmed by crowds of people at its testing centers.

The program now accommodates upwards of six hundred patients at six specialized centers across the country’s northwest.

Linton, who spent his childhood in South Korea, says the process requires significant “buy-in” from North Koreans, beginning with the health authorities.

In their biggest show of cooperation, the government agreed to Eugene Bell’s recommendation that treatment take place in centrally-located MDRTB centers, despite reluctance over the logistics.

It also needs the dedication of health care providers, who must vigilantly keep patients on their programs. If not, they can become resistant to MDRTB medications, opening the door for the emergence of XDRTB, which Linton calls “virtually incurable.”

But the biggest commitment comes from patients, who are prescribed with a harsh cocktail of drugs. Some need to learn to trust outside help, not always an easy task in the isolated country.

“This is a very rigorous and rough treatment program. It takes a lot of very strong, toxic medicines to treat MDRTB. Patients suffer a good bit,” said Linton, who counted nausea, vomiting, temporary deafness and psychosis as side effects.

If after eighteen months, a patient’s sputum tests negative for MDRTB, they are effectively cured. But if after a year they still test positive, the treatment is considered a failure.

“Most of those people know, because they are still coughing up phlegm,” the doctor said. “But failing people is terrible. This work can be very dramatic at times.”

You can read previous posts about the Eugene Bell Foundation here.

UPDATE: On February 24th the Korea Economic Institute held a conference with Dr. Sharon Perry, DPRK Tuberculosis Project, Stanford School of Medicine.  You can see the video of the conference here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4. The paper is here (PDF).

Read the full sotry here:
Aid group engages N. Korea in fight against TB
Korea Times
Kim Joung-jin


DPRK experiencing record low temperatures

Monday, February 21st, 2011

UPDATE 1 (2/21/2011): The Korea Times has published a more recent (though lower resolution) image of Pyongyang and Nampho buried in snow–along with some information on the implications of the weather on the DPRK’s infrastructure.

According to the Korea Times:

Images obtained by the Korea Center for Atmospheric Environment Research (KCAER) show that a significant portion of the coast of (North) Korea Bay, located in the north part of the West Sea, has frozen over. The bay is also choked by abnormal amounts of drift ice.

The lower portion of the Daedong River, which flows into the bay, has turned into ice almost up to Nampo, the site of the country’s major harbor.

“Transportation of goods to Nampo Harbor has likely been extremely impeded for more than 45 days,” Chung Yong-seung, a KCAER expert, said in an email. “They could go to the Wonsan Port (in the southeast) instead, but it’s highly likely that sea transportation has been difficult.”

Further north, a significant portion of the Cheongcheon River appears to have been covered by thick ice.

According to KCAER, there has been less arctic ice worldwide this winter than in the past. But cold arctic air moved south, bringing a cold snap to many parts of the region and the rare freeze in Korea Bay.

The research center predicted that warmer air and water will flow into the bay in about 10 days, causing the ice to float away or melt.

The North’s state media reported last month that temperatures in December and January had been markedly colder than usual, causing hardship for “the people’s lives.”

South Korean humanitarian aid groups that maintain contact with the North said the harsh conditions had severely compounded existing malnutrition and shelter problems.

Pyongyang has reportedly stepped up its calls for aid from the international community in recent weeks amid what the aid groups consider a worsening humanitarian situation.

ORIGINAL POST (2/1/2011): DPRK experiencing record low temperatures

Image source: NASA

According to Yonhap:

The longest cold spell in six decades has hit North Korea, a report said Tuesday, allowing people to walk across the frozen river in Pyongyang while causing farmers to worry about their crop production this year.

Frozen along with the landmark Taedong River were ports on the west coast close to the capital, said the Chosun Sinbo, a pro-North Korean newspaper that has correspondents in the communist country but is published in Japan.

The temperature in North Korea stayed below the freezing point for 40 consecutive days this winter, a phenomenon only surpassed by a 62-day streak in 1945, the paper said, citing a North Korean meteorologist.

“Even last year’s winter, which had already been colder than before, did not freeze the Taedong River this completely,” the Chosun Sinbo said. “People are now walking across the Taedong river in the heart of the city.”

The chill has frozen soil up to 42 centimeters below, 10 cm deeper than last year, the paper said. The freeze may cause a delay in the plowing season, making farming more difficult although it does have the benefit of freezing harmful insects to death, it said.

“At present, a wave of phone calls are being made by workers in the fields of agriculture and city construction” to the local weather agency with concerns, the paper said.

South Korea also suffered a prolonged cold spell this year with temperatures even in the usually warmer southern regions dropping to their lowest levels in decades. Heavy snowfall and high waves also disrupted ground and sea traffic in those regions.

Ryu Ki-yeol, the North Korean scientist cited by the Chosun Sinbo, cited a difference in pressure at the highest latitudes known as the Artic Oscillation as the cause of the prolonged cold spell.

Read the full stories here:
N. Korea gripped by longest cold snap in decades: report
Sam Kim

Deep freeze hits N. Korea’s west coast
Korea Times
Kim Young-jin


Office 38 reportedly back in business–and other changes

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

UPDATE 4 (2/20/2011): Kim Tong-un (김동은) named Kim Jong-il’s fund manager.  According to Yonhap:

A senior official of North Korea’s ruling party has been named to lead a special party bureau, code-named Office 38, that oversees coffers and raises slush funds for its leader Kim Jong-il and the ruling elites, a source on North Korea said Sunday.

Kim Tong-un, formerly head of Office 39 in the Workers’ Party of Korea, assumed the post in May last year, when North Korea revived Office 38, which was merged with Office 39 in 2009, the source said on condition of anonymity. Office 39 is believed to be another organ that governs a wide network of business operations both legal and illegal.

Both Offices 38 and 39 belong to the Secretariat of the Workers’ Party, which Kim Jong-il chairs, according to a diagram of the North’s power structure released by the Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs. Last year, the ministry had only included Office 39 in a similar diagram.

In a meeting with reporters last week, a ministry official said Office 38 has been spun off from Office 39 and is now running on its own again. The official, who would speak only on the condition of anonymity citing the sensitive nature of his comments, described “a stream of information” that has come through since mid-2010.

Office 38 mainly oversees transactions involving foreign currency, hotels and trade, the official said, while Office 39, headed by Jon Il-chun, drives revenue by dealing in narcotics, arms, natural resources and others.

The North’s revival of Office 38 is interpreted as an effort to cover the increasing cost of leader Kim Jong-il’s ceding of power to his youngest son, Jong-un.

The story was also reported in Yonhap.

UPDATE 3: Here are links to the Ministry of Unification‘s English language organization charts of the North Korean leadership in which some of the changes mentioned below are listed (though not all): Workers’ Party, State Organs, Parties and Organizations

UPDATE (2/15/2011): According to the Daily NK:

The number of Special Departments under the Secretariat of the Chosun Workers’ Party has been increased from 18 to 20, a move that includes the revival of the No. 38 Department, which previously served as Kim Jong Il’s private bank vault, and the foundation of a film department.

The Ministry of Unification revealed the news yesterday in its 2011 North Korean Power Structure and Index of Figures, Agencies and Organizations. It incorporates North Korean changes from December, 2009 up to the present day, completed after consultation with relevant agencies and experts.

The revival of the No. 38 Department and founding of a film department

The report states, “The No. 38 Department, which was merged with the No. 39 Department in 2009, was spun off again last year. Kang Neung Su, who was appointed Deputy Prime Minister in June of 2010, was introduced as head of the film department at the same time. The exact foundation date of the film department is unknown; however, it appears to be newly established.”

No. 38 and No. 39 Departments are directly controlled by Kim Jong Il and serve as a private vault for his ruling funds. The No. 38 Department manages hotels, foreign currency stores and restaurants etc, while illegal weapons trading through foreign trade companies, the smuggling of gold, illegal trade in drugs and the distribution of counterfeit dollars, so-called supernotes, are handled by the No. 39 Department.

“They combined two offices which had different functions, and it appears that this did not result in the intended efficiency,” a knowledgeable source commented.

Meanwhile, on the establishment of a film department, the source added, “North Korea’s cultural art is a political means by which to carry out Party policy and a policy tool to implant policy in the North Korean citizens.”

Among the reshuffled special departments, the existing ‘Munitions Industry Department’ has been renamed the ‘Machine Industry Department’, and the ‘Administration and Capital Construction Department’ has been scaled back to simply ‘Administration Department’.

Elsewhere, the existing National Resources Development and Guidance Department under the Ministry of Extractive Industries has been promoted to National Resources Development Council and, as reported, the Joint Investment Guidance Department rose to become the Joint Investment Committee, while the National Price Establishment Department became the National Price Establishment Committee. Again, as reported, the ‘People’s Safety Agency’ under the Cabinet became the People’s Safety Ministry under the National Defense Commission, while the Capital Construction Department was downsized to become the General Bureau of Capital Construction.

The Central Court and Central Prosecutors Office were also renamed the Supreme Court and Supreme Prosecutors Office respectively.

The Ministry of Unification report also notes that North Korea added Nampo City to its list of eleven cities and provinces, increasing the total number to twelve.

The newly designated Nampo City includes five former parts of South Pyongan Province; Gangseo, Daean, Oncheon, Yonggang, and Chollima districts. Previously, Nampo was under the direct control of the central government as part of South Pyongan Province proper.

At the same time, North Korea also transferred the existing Kangnam-gun, Joonghwa-gun, Sangwon-gun, and Seungho-district, all formerly southern sections of Pyongyang City, to North Hwanghae Province.

Military Commission placed under the Central Committee of the Party

The relationship of the Central Committee and Central Military Commission, which was formerly said to be in parallel, has been changed, reflecting the idea that the Military Commission is now under the Central Committee of the Party.

The Ministry of Unification commented, “By revising the Party regulations, the Central Military Commission and Central Committee were marked as parallel in 2009 and 2010. However, after confirming the revised Party regulations at the Chosun Workers’ Party Delegates’ Conference on September 28th last year, this relationship was adjusted, and an election is now held for the Central Military Commission via a plenary session of the Central Committee.”

Also, the ‘Bureau of General Staff’ under the National Defense Commission was judged to be below the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces, but is now shown to be in a parallel relationship with the Ministry of the People’s Armed Force and ‘General Political Department’.

ORIGINAL POST (2/14/2011): According to Yonhap:

North Korea has revived a special party bureau, codenamed Office 38, that oversees coffers and raises slush funds for its leader Kim Jong-il and the ruling elites, South Korea said Monday in its annual assessment of the power structure in the communist country.

In 2009, the bureau had been merged with Office 39, another organ that governs a wide network of business operations both legal and illegal, according to the Unification Ministry in Seoul.

In a meeting with reporters, however, a ministry official said Office 38 has been spun off from Office 39 and is now running on its own again. The official, who would speak only on the condition of anonymity citing the intelligence nature of his comments, cited “a stream of information” that has come through since mid-2010.

The official would not elaborate on how the information has been obtained, only saying the ministry works closely with “related government bodies” to outline the North’s power structure.

Office 38, whose chief remains unknown, mainly oversees transactions involving foreign currency, hotels and trade, the official said, while Office 39, headed by Jon Il-chun, drives revenue by dealing in narcotics, arms, natural resources and others.

A source privy to North Korea matters said the spin-off suggests that North Korea has been experiencing difficulties in earning foreign currency since merging the two offices.

“Efficiency was probably compromised after the two, which have different functions, were combined,” the source said, declining to be identified citing the speculative nature of the topic. “More importantly, it seems related to the current state of foreign currency stocks. The North is apparently trying to address those difficulties.”

In August last year, the United States blacklisted Office 39 as one of several North Korean entities to newly come under sanctions for involvement in illegal deeds such as currency counterfeiting.

North Korea is also believed to have been hit hard financially after South Korea imposed a series of economic penalties last year on Pyongyang when the sinking of a warship was blamed on it.

Both Offices 38 and 39 belong to the Secretariat of the Workers’ Party, which Kim Jong-il chairs, according to a diagram of the North’s power structure released by the Unification Ministry. Last year, the ministry had only included Office 39 in a similar diagram.

Both offices have often been referred to as Kim Jong-il’s “personal safes” for their role in raising and managing secret funds and procuring luxury goods for the aging leader.

Read the full story here:
North Korea Splits No. 38 and 39 Departments Up Again
Daily NK
Kim So Yeol

N. Korea revives ‘Office 38’ managing Kim Jong-il’s funds: ministry
Sam Kim


RoK extends refugee status to Chinese-Korean

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

According to Yonhap:

A Seoul court has for the first time granted refugee status to a Korean-Chinese in recognition of his efforts to help North Koreans defect to South Korea, citing the high possibility of persecution in his home country, the court said Sunday.

The Seoul Administrative Court judged as unlawful the justice ministry’s 2010 decision to dismiss the request of the Korean-Chinese man, identified only by his surname Kim, to receive refugee status.

The court said, “It is highly likely that Kim may be suspected of being politically opposed to the Chinese government’s North Korea defector policy, which would constitute persecution for political opinion.”

China’s laws impose punishment as severe as life imprisonment on those who help North Koreans defect from their country, and Kim could face arrest or incarceration if he returns to China, the court noted.

Under the United Nations’ convention, an expatriate can obtain refugee status from another country when the person cannot or is not willing to receive protection from his own country due to a fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion or particular political opinion.

According to the court, Kim, an ethnic Korean with Chinese nationality who has been living in South Korea since 2000, had provided food, residence and guidance to North Koreans who were staying in China and encouraged them to flee their communist home country from 1995-2000.

Kim applied for refugee status with Seoul’s Ministry of Justice last year after the legal duration of his sojourn in South Korea expired. He said he could not return to China for fear of persecution after learning that a person who had coordinated his assistance to North Koreans had been indicted, sentenced to death and killed.

The ministry dismissed Kim’s request last year, saying his aid to North Koreans was not politically motivated, prompting him to file for administrative litigation to overturn the ministry’s decision.

“The court made a very progressive ruling from a humanitarian point of view,” a lawyer representing Kim said. “So far diplomatic relations with China have made it difficult (for the court) to recognize Korean-Chinese as refugees,” he said.

Read the full sotry here:
Court grants refugee status to Korean-Chinese who helped North defectors