Archive for March, 2011

Friday fun Smörgåsbord

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

1. Lots of artistic depictions of the DPRK’s traffic girls.

2. A North Korean defector runs a restaurant in the DC area.  I will have to check it out soon.

3. Hollywood is out of ideas.  Red Dawn, which I will confess to enjoying in my youth, is being remade.  This time the North Koreans are invading.  Really.

4. James Gandolfini (AKA Tony Soprano) will be portraying New Jersey’s Bar-B-Q ambassador to the DPRK. Non-fiction. Really.

5. DPRK advises people to use pets as earthquake early warning system.

6. Pyongyang goes pop: Jarvis Cocker unites the divided.

7. Aidan Foster-Carter really dislikes Homefront.

8. Protips for increased dictator longevity.



Is Russia looking for more loggers?

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

According to ITAR-TASS:

According to the head of the Russian delegation, “North Korea has a possibility to send workforce to Russia.” Last year about 32,000 citizens of North Korea worked on the territory of Russia. He noted that North Korea “hopes to increase the number of its citizens working in Russia”.

Of course there has been plenty of media attention given to the North Koreans who work as loggers in Russia (See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here), but they must be a small minority of 32,000 people.

What else are North Koreans doing in Russia? Art showstrade and construction, paying off imports, etc.  There are 5,000 in Vladivostok alone. Leonid Petrov adds more details.


Some recent material on DPRK markets

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

First, Kim Song Min  (김성민), founder of Free North Korea Radio, has posted another clandestine video of a North Korean market:

You can (probably) see the ten-minute video here.  It will not work in China.  Again, the market is surprisingly ordinary; lots of fish, potatoes, and greens.

I posted a similar video several weeks ago which you can see here.

Secondly, the March 24th WFP/FAO/UNICEF Rapid Food Security Assessment Mission (PDF of the report here) included some interesting information on the DPRK’s markets:

5.2. Markets
The mission had unprecedented access to markets in the country. All teams spent a considerable amount of time surveying different markets and their attributes. In DPRK there are three main types of markets where people can buy food and non-food stuff: 1) State Shops; 2) Farmer’s Markets; and 3) City Markets.

State Shops
State Shops are open seven days a week to provide families with such essentials like the soyabean sauce, soya-bean paste, and cooking oil at discounted prices. Each household is assigned to a state shop and, for certain commodities, is entitled to a monthly quota that is set by the Ministry of Commerce. Essential food items include: soya-bean sauce (50 grams /person/day); soya-bean paste (30 grams/person/day); and cooking oil (20 grams/person/day).

Whether households can purchase their full allocation primarily depends on availability. For example, many households reported that soya-bean oil has not been available since early February. Others households informed that meat is only available on special occasions like the New Year or the birthdays of Kim Il Sung (15 April) and Kim Jong Il (16 February).

The Peoples Neighborhood Unit (PNU) [Inminban] announces when new supplies arrive and informs the household’s entitlement. Payment is collected from the households and tokens are issued, specifying items and quantities that can be collected from the state shops.

The variety and quantity of food and non-food commodities varies from county to county. Some shops were observed to have other food items for sale, such as wild vegetables, biscuits and salt. The mission observed that State Shops in rural areas have fewer commodities available than those in large urban centres.

The mission also observed non-food commodities in State Shops, including: school supplies, clothes, shoes, blankets, kitchen utensils, ceramics, cigarettes, beer, rice wine, children’s toys, and single-band radios.

Farmers Markets
The Farmers’ Markets occur every ten days or three times each month. Sellers bring their food and non-food produce to the market where they pay a fee of KPW10 to secure a two meter stall for the day. The sale of cereals is officially prohibited. The mission did not observe any cereals being sold. The main food items observed in these markets were vegetables, potatoes, fruits, eggs, meat, fish, lentils and spices. Non-food items included basic farming equipment, woven baskets, school supplies, clothes, knitted socks and gloves.

Any exchange of cereals between households is privately done through barter trade or households who are PDS [Public Distribution System] dependants get cereals as gifts from relatives and friends in Cooperative farms. The surplus cereal produced by the farmers over and above their grain allocation for home consumption has to be sold to the State Food Procurement Agency.

Some sellers were able to quote terms of barter trade including: two kilograms of maize can be exchanged for one kilogram of rice; one kilogram of fish can be exchanged for one kilogram of rice; one-half kilogram of pork meat can be exchanged for one kilogram of rice; and five eggs can be exchanged for one kilogram of rice. Sellers were hesitant to quote rice and maize prices in KPW other than what is paid through the PDS.

Interestingly sellers only brought commodities in small quantities despite the fact that these markets happen only three times a month. The number of sellers out numbered the buyers but that could be the mission effect as people were wary of foreigners asking questions, particularly outside Pyongyang. The difference in the prices paid in these rural markets compared to Tongil market in Pyongyang was astounding. A bundle of spinach that cost KPW 20 in rural market was being sold for KPW 1000 in Tongil market—50 times more. However, this may not be of concern to ordinary citizens as Tongil caters more to the foreigners and DPRK elite.

City Markets
City markets are held daily in cities and often in the same structures as the farmers markets.Mission members did not observe any cereals for sale in the market. Food items observed were potato, vegetables, pulses, wild vegetables, seafood, fish, eggs, and meat, including rabbit, chicken, and duck. Non-food items included farming tools, baskets, brooms, school supplies, clothing, and other household items. Commodities were available in small quantities speaking to the size of the market. The prices in these markets were competitive and the produce similar to the farmers market.

Finally, Yonhap reports on the travels of a British Envoy to the DPRK:

Martin Uden, Britain’s ambassador to South Korea, said Sunday that a marketplace in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, appear to be stocked with large amounts of food, poultry and electronic products, despite the communist state’s ongoing search for food aid abroad.

Uden, who traveled to Pyongyang and Wonsan, a port on North Korea’s east coast, from March 11-14, said he witnessed plenty of chicken, fish and vegetables and an array of computer and camera accessories during his visit to the “Dong-il” market in the capital city.

In his travelogue that was written after his second trip to the North following the first in 2008 and sent to Yonhap News Agency, Uden said that overall, both the variety and quantity of food products available at the Pyongyang market were a “fair bit less” compared with three years ago, noting the absence of beef was especially noticeable.

“This March, I saw no beef and a tiny amount of pork. But plenty of chicken of all sizes, both cooked and uncooked, and some duck. Large amounts of good-looking fish and plentiful root vegetables,” the British diplomat said in his travelogue that offers insights into the daily life of ordinary Pyongyang citizens.

“In terms of the food aid that the DPRK is seeking at present, it’s worth remembering that even if this one market appeared reasonably stocked, it’s not possible to draw wider conclusions from that,” he said, using the abbreviation of the North’s official name.

Uden said he arrived in Pyongyang on the second Friday of March, the day of a devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, but was kept in the dark about the disaster until Monday, when the state news organizations carried reports about it. He called the incident an eloquent example of information control by the government.

“In (North Korea), you can only know what the state wants you to know,” he said.

The full text of his travelogue can be found here.


Competition in “oldest profession” in Sinuiju

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

According to the Daily NK:

An inside source has reported that the number of pimps in Sinuiju continues to increase, with security agents driving up prices by taking a growing slice of the profits. As a result, many women are apparently working to find other ways to make money from the activity whilst avoiding losing money to a growing list of middle men.

The source, who comes from the city explained, “Since there is so very little food, it is not difficult to find cases of even university students selling their bodies. Young women sit around in the market selling themselves.”

According to the source, the cost of sex with a local university student (20~25 years old) is around $100, but can run to a maximum of $130. In the case of a working woman (19~25 years old), it is $70~100, and housewives (26~30 years old) allegedly cost $20~30.

The security services, which should be controlling the situation, have joined the process. According to the source, they demand a substantial cut of the illegal profits.

He explained, “Security agents and pimps are both involved in the business, colluding to fix the price at whatever level they want,” before adding, “Therefore, the person directly involved is unable to earn much money.”

For this reason, many prostitutes have begun to sell themselves secretively in local markets.

According to the source, if a woman is selling a small number of eggs in the market, it means that she will sell herself. When a man asks “How much is this?” bargaining over the price of the woman rather than the eggs begins. The source reported that it is commonplace to see a woman and man disappear off somewhere shortly after reaching agreement on price.

The source added, “Recently the number of women selling flowers one-by-one has been rising. These are also women selling their bodies.”

However, the source pointed out that because security agents are connected with pimps and profit from prostitution, those women who try to sell themselves individually face strict inspection. The source said, “In front of train stations and markets, for example, it is not rare to see a struggle between prostituting females, their customers and the security agents who chase them.”

Other well-organized prostitution is conducted in established brothels, but these are not inspected either because there, too, security agents simply take money to look the other way.

Read the full story here:
Battle for Prostitution Profits Fierce in Sinuiju
Daily NK
Park Jun Hyeong


CRS report on Kaesong Industrial Complex

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

The Congressional Research Service has published an update to its paper on the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

You can download the paper here (PDF).

You can download other CRS reports on North Korea at my CRS Reports Page.

Below is the paper’s summary:

This purpose of this report is to provide an overview of the role, purposes, and results of the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) and examine U.S. interests, policy issues, options, and legislation. The KIC is a six-year old industrial park located in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) just across the demilitarized zone from South Korea. As of the end of 2010, over 120 medium-sized South Korean companies were employing over 47,000 North Korean workers to manufacture products in Kaesong. The facility, which in 2010 produced $323 million in output, has the land and infrastructure to house two to three times as many firms and workers. Products vary widely, and include clothing and textiles (71 firms), kitchen utensils (4 firms), auto parts (4 firms), semiconductor parts (2 firms), and toner cartridges (1 firm).

Despite a rise in tensions between North and South Korea since early 2008, the complex has continued to operate and expand. The KIC was not shut down in 2010 despite two violent incidents between the two Koreas that year: the March sinking of a South Korean naval vessel, the Cheonan, which was found to be caused by a North Korean torpedo, and North Korea’s artillery attack on a South Korean island in November. Indeed, the complex has become virtually the last vestige of inter-Korean cooperation. After the Cheonan sinking, South Korea announced it would cut off all inter-Korean economic relations except the Kaesong complex. It also has reduced the number of South Korean workers—primarily government officials and business managers—at the complex because of worries about them being taken hostage by North Korea.

The KIC represents a dilemma for U.S. and South Korean policymakers. On the one hand, the project provides an ongoing revenue stream to the Kim Jong-il regime in Pyongyang, by virtue of the share the government takes from the salaries paid to North Korean workers. South Korean and U.S. officials estimate this revenue stream to be around $20 million per year. On the other hand, the KIC arguably helps maintain stability on the Peninsula and provides a possible beachhead for market reforms in the DPRK that could eventually spill over to areas outside the park and expose tens of thousands of North Koreans to outside influences, market-oriented businesses, and incentives.

The United States has limited direct involvement in the KIC, which the United States has officially supported since its conception. At present, no U.S. companies have invested in the Kaesong complex, though a number of South Korean officials have expressed a desire to attract U.S. investment. U.S. government approval is needed for South Korean firms to ship to the KIC certain U.S.-made equipment currently under U.S. export controls. The Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA), which has yet to be submitted to Congress for approval, provides for a Committee on Outward Processing Zones (OPZ) to be formed and to consider whether zones such as the KIC will receive preferential treatment under the FTA. Although the KORUS FTA says that the Executive branch will seek “legislative approval” for any changes to the agreement, Congress’s precise role in accepting or rejecting these changes is not clear.

Another issue raised by the KIC is whether components made in the complex can enter the United States if they are incorporated into products that are manufactured in South Korea and that qualify as originating in South Korea. This possibility is likely to be determined mainly by the KIC’s evolution; the more that is produced in the complex, the more products are likely to enter South Korea’s supply chain.



Monday, March 28th, 2011

USA Today published a story on the ROK’s transition program for DPRK defectors, Hanawon (하나원).  There is not much new information in the story, but I wanted to address some of the criticisms the program receives.

Here is the most salient part of the article:

North Koreans who’ve gone through the program say it is helpful but not enough to prepare one for a Western-oriented society after a life in a Stalinist dictatorship cut off from the outside world.

Gwang Il Jung, who attended the program six years ago and runs an advocacy group, Free NK Gulag, says the courses have good intentions but gloss over too many details.

“They will tell you the basics,” he says. “But what can you really learn in three months? How do you teach someone to use an ATM or ride the metro in a classroom setting? The classes need to be more hands-on.”

He says the requirement that North Koreans remain on the school grounds for three months is unhelpful.

“They just got here in pursuit of freedom. And they’re locked in again. It’s like prison for them. All they think about is getting out. Let them live. They’ll make their share of mistakes, but many are eager and able to learn,” Jung says.

The two Koreas share a common heritage and language, but much has changed since the two countries were divided in 1948 after the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to temporarily occupy the country as a trusteeship following the Allied victory in World War II.

The students must complete 130 hours of language courses to get a better grasp of the Southern dialect that has been infiltrated by English and other foreign vocabulary, such as the words “Internet” and “computer,” “chicken” and “phone.”

“They may find a job as a waitress, but if they can’t take orders or understand a command like ‘Go get that key from the cabinet,’ it’s just a matter of time before they’re fired,” Youn says.

Personal finance courses, ranging from basic money management skills to the concept of private property ownership, are also mandatory, as many North Koreans are ill-equipped to handle the sudden exposure to welfare and settlement payments the South Korean government provides.

Stories of defectors falling victim to financial scams or bouts of compulsive shopping are common.

Students take lessons on using computers, child-rearing skills and even hairdressing.

First of all, there is no program that is going to suitably address the individual needs of all the defectors that enter the ROK. Individual capacities, experiences, and needs are simply to heterogeneous for a single government program to address.  This diversity of needs, however, presents a market opportunity for non-profits and education entrepreneurs.   Indeed I can think of  a few organizations that offer “continuing education” to former North Koreans as they adjust to life in their new homes.   So Hanawon should not be criticized for failing to meet all needs of all defectors, it should be seen as simply the first step.

Hanawon also draws criticism in the article for keeping North Korean defectors isolated on campus for three months.  This criticism stems from the fact that Hanawon serves more than one mission.  The first mission is to facilitate the transition of North Korean defectors to their new lives in the south.  The second mission is to facilitate the gathering of information on the DPRK and to protect South Korea (and the North Korean defector community) from infiltration by North Korean agents.  There are now 20,000+ North Korean defectors in the South and some +% of them are active agents.  Given the potentially high and visible cost of failing to catch a North Korean agent, South Korean policymakers have a bias toward preventing type 1 errors (allowing DPRK agents to enter the country).  They try to reduce this cost by extending the amount of time defectors spend under scrutiny while confined at Hanawon.  However, this produces a type 2 error: the unnecessary “holding” of innocent DPRK defectors who just want to get on with their lives.  These particular individuals (the vast majority) have every right to feel “mistreated” by this system, but the only politically feasible way to minimize this cost is to improve the ability of the South Korean security services to detect North Korean agents–something few people are able to do anything about.

It is also worth pointing out that there are quite a few North Koreans that don’t go through Hanawon when they come to the South.  I wonder why that is?

Previous posts on Hanawon here.  Previous posts on North Korean defectors here.

You can read the full USA Today story here.


DPRK economic delegation visits US

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

UPDATE 4 (4/13/2011): The Street adds some more information:

A delegation of 12 North Korean economic envoys flew back to Pyongyang on Sunday after spending two weeks touring companies that “represent main strands of the U.S. economy.”

The group visited Google (GOOG), Home Depot (HD), Bloomberg, Citigroup (C), Qualcomm(QCOM), Sempra Energy(SRE), Union Bank, and Universal Studios, as well as a mushroom farm, a seafood wholesaler, and the Port of Los Angeles, where they leaned about trade infrastructure.

Journalists were not permitted access to the visitors (they entered the Googleplex through a back entrance under tight security), and no mention of the trip appeared in the American media. I stumbled upon the story after striking up a conversation with a DPRK official at the North Korean embassy in Berlin, Germany.

Located on Glinkastraße, an avenue in what was once East Berlin, the North Koreans built an 87,788 square foot compound during the 1970s. After the Cold War ended, staff numbers were significantly reduced, and, according to the surprisingly friendly official I spoke with through the embassy’s rear gate, two of the DPRK’s three buildings were leased out to private companies.

In nearly-unaccented English, he pointed out the main tenant — a youth hostel which opened for business in 2008. Though the North Korean flag flies out front, the decision to become landlords was strictly capitalistic, as years of economic sanctions have taken a tremendous financial toll on the DPRK.

After learning I was an American, the embassy official told me that a group of North Koreans happened to be in the States at that very moment.

Before I could inquire further, he was gone.

One of the few sources providing any details regarding the affair, South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo, managed to obtain a copy of the delegation’s itinerary.

According to the report, “Six director-level officials were in the group, including the delegation’s head, Yon Il, a director at North Korea’s trade ministry. The other directors work for the trade ministry, agriculture ministry, finance ministry and industry ministry.”

Other delegates included lower level North Korean directors and managers, two advisors, and a researcher from a North Korean trade bank.

While Russian news outlet ITAR-TASS maintained that “[T]he initiator of these meetings is unknown,” the North Koreans were in fact invited to the U.S. by Susan Shirk, director of the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation at the University of California, “to see firsthand what improved relations with the United States might mean in terms of economic cooperation.”

From 1997-2000, Shirk served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs from 1997-2000, and is the head of the Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue, an organization engaged in “track-two” diplomacy.

As described by Tong Kim, a research professor with the Ilmin Institute of International Relations at Korea University and an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, the track-two approach “refers to contact, exchange of views, and other conduit activities between civilian organizations or individuals of two countries that are in dispute with each other.”

An email to Shirk seeking further details of last week’s visit was met with a terse “Sorry, no comment.” But sources say the North Koreans attended lectures at Stanford University and NYU, where they learned about “the market economy, consumer protection, what a CEO does, corporate strategies in the U.S., and an overview of the western legal system.”

This is one of the pillars of the track-two strategy. In “North Korea Inside Out: The Case for Economic Engagement,” a December, 2009 policy paper from an independent task force chaired by Dr. Shirk and Charles Kartman, former director of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, the case is made that:

The United States should adopt a long-term strategy of economic engagement with North Korea. North Korea’s attitude toward the world is closely related to the underlying structure of its domestic political-economy: a closed, command economy that favors the military and heavy industry and is isolated from the sweeping economic and political changes that have transformed the Asian landscape in recent decades. Encouraging a more open and market-friendly economic growth strategy would benefit the North Korean people as a whole and would generate vested interests in continued reform and opening, and a less confrontational foreign policy. In other words, economic engagement could change North Korea’s perception of its own self-interest. China’s economic transformation stands as an important precedent, showing how a greater emphasis on reform and opening can have positive effects on foreign policy as well. Economic change has the potential to induce and reinforce the D.P.R.K.’s peaceful transition into a country that can better provide for its people’s welfare and engage with other countries in a non-hostile manner.

Some, more hawkish Korea-watchers brush aside track-two diplomacy as a rube’s game being played with a staunchly anti-American entity that already knows far more about the outside world than it lets on.

However, there aren’t many other options in this increasingly unstable era, as a North Korean power handoff from Kim Jong Il to his son, Kim Jong Eun, is said to be in the offing.

Professor John W. Lewis of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford, who has been involved in track-two negotiations with North Korea since 1986, told the Stanford News Service, “They would definitely prefer to have these talks and meetings with American officials. But since American officials won’t talk to them, we’re the only game in town. We have this weird access.”

A wholesale transformation of the North Korean political-economy would surely reap unprecedented benefits for the world at large. Of course, it would also benefit tremendously the foreign business concerns that manage to be first to market.

In this instance, Susan Shirk’s deep connections in Washington certainly bear mentioning. Shirk is a Senior Director at the Albright Stonebridge Group, a “global strategy firm that helps corporations, associations and non-profit organizations around the world meet their core objectives in a highly competitive, complex and ever-changing marketplace,” which happens to be led by former National Security Advisor Samuel R. Berger, former Senator Warren B. Rudman, and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright — the first American official ever to visit North Korea.

The company “address[es] challenges for clients in any country, and work[s] with them to develop and implement winning strategies for long-term growth and success” — something that dovetails nicely with the goals of Albright Capital Management, an “emerging markets investment firm” of which Albright Stonebridge is “a significant shareholder” and “strategic partner”, “leveraging collective networks and skills to enhance each firm’s ability to serve as a trusted advisor in the emerging markets.”

The kind of access someone like Madeleine Albright provides cannot be understated.

“We see a lot of potential in emerging markets for economic growth,” Jelle Beenen, a portfolio manager at Dutch investment firm PGGM, told Bloomberg in 2007. “The reason that investing there is always a problem is there are issues like fraud and political instability, so that’s why there’s value in political-risk management and the involvement of Secretary Albright is a valuable one.”

Could the “DPRK 12” be sending a signal that the North “is finally getting serious about introducing more market-based economic reforms?” JoonAng Ilbo asks. “Has the reformist message that China, its closest ally, has been hammering home for years finally gotten across? Or is the envoys’ mission just a conciliatory gesture to try to woo food aid from the U.S. amid a deepening food crisis?”

The short answer is, no one knows.

David Straub, a former Senior Foreign Service Officer who spent 30 years focused on Northeast Asian affairs declined a request for comment, but in a recent paper, asserted that, “The fact of the matter is that no one, not even in Pyongyang, really knows what is going to happen there. I believe there could be dramatic change in the regime in North Korea even as you are reading this, but I also believe it is possible that the regime could last many decades more.”

Henry Rowen, Co-director of Stanford’s Program on Regions of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Director emeritus of the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution who gave a presentation to the North Koreans, said in an email that he knew “very little about the group and its mission,” though he added a caveat that, “My hunch is that it was less significant than you suggest.”

Most optimistic of all seems to be Dr. Siegfried Hecker, former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory (1986-97) and current co-director of Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation.

Hecker, who has been granted access to North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear complex, told an audience about an experience he had during a recent visit to Pyongyang.

As Hecker entered a subway station in the capital city, he encountered a young man “wearing a backwards baseball cap with a Nike(NKE_) swoosh.”

“When he gets to be 21 years old, they’re gonna have a hard time keeping him down on the farm,” Hecker said.

“Where there is ‘swoosh,’ there is hope.”

UPDATE 3 (4/2/2011): The Delegation spent the day in Silicon Valley touring Google headquarters and attending a talk at Stanford University.  According to Yonhap:

A delegation of North Korean economic officials toured Silicon Valley on Friday, as their rare two-week trip to the United States was heading to a close.

The 12-member delegation, comprising mid-level officials from the trade, agriculture and other ministries, has been in the U.S. since March 19 at the invitation of the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation at University of California, San Diego.

The group also had visited New York earlier this week.

On Friday, the North Koreans toured Silicon Valley which included a visit to the world’s largest Internet firm, Google, for about an hour and 40 minutes amid tight security. The delegation got into the building through a backdoor, and security guards restricted journalists from accessing the visitors.

Officials from the San Francisco-based Asia Foundation accompanied the North Koreans.

After the visit to Google, the delegation moved to Stanford University and attended a lunch seminar organized by the school’s Asia-Pacific Research Center.

The two-hour seminar was about industry-university cooperation and also drew well-known U.S. experts on North Korea, such as nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker and former Defense Secretary William Perry, according to a participant who requested anonymity.

The North Koreans were scheduled to leave for home on Sunday.

It is rare for North Korean officials to visit the U.S. The North and the U.S. fought in the 1950-53 Korean War and have no diplomatic relations. The two sides have also been at odds over Pyongyang’s nuclear programs and a series of provocations.

The Choson Ilbo also covered the visit to Google and Stanford–including a rather funny photo.

UPDATE 2 (3/27/2011): (New York, NY) According to Yonhap:

A delegation of North Korean economic officials arrived in New York on Sunday, saying that they want to explore the possibility of economic cooperation with the United States

The 12-member delegation, comprising mid-level officials from the trade, agriculture and other ministries, flew from San Diego, where they had stayed after arriving in the U.S. on March 19 at the invitation of the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation at University of California, San Diego.

The delegation’s trip to New York was organized by the Asia Society.

It is rare for North Korean officials to visit the U.S. The North and the U.S. fought in the 1950-53 Korean War and have no diplomatic relations. The two sides have also been at odds over Pyongyang’s nuclear programs and a series of provocations.

But the trip came amid recent talk of the possibility of the U.S. resuming food aid to the impoverished nation and as former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is preparing to visit the communist nation to broker rapprochement between the two Cold War foes.

“We’re an economic delegation. We’re here to discuss and look for the possibility of economic cooperation between us and the United States,” one member of the delegation said, without giving his name.

Washington has downplayed the significance of the North’s delegation, stressing that their visit is a privately organized event in which the government has played no part.

“Our assessment is that they are not here for talks between the North and the U.S., considering the agencies they belong to and their ranks,” a source here said. “It’s difficult to fathom the real intentions of the North, but for the U.S., it might have seen no reason to reject the North’s delegation coming to learn about the capitalist economy.”

In New York, the North Korean officials are expected to attend an Asian Society seminar and visit media firms and Wall Street. The Asia Society has strictly barred reporters from access to the North Koreans, saying their trip is part of private-level exchanges.

UPDATE 1 (3/26/2011): (San Diego, California)  According to the Joong Ang Ilbo:

A tour bus with black tinted windows pulled up to a hotel in La Jolla, San Diego, at 5:30 p.m. on Monday and from it stepped out 12 strangers from a strange land.

The 12 were so-called “economic envoys” from North Korea who, according to their host, came to learn about American-style capitalism for one week.

Susan Shirk, director of the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation (IGCC) at the University of California, San Diego, invited the envoys, all North Korean officials in charge of economic affairs.

The IGCC is one of the United States’ influential, private diplomatic channels for dialogue with the communist country.

The U.S. government calls the envoys’ mission a private trip, but some North Korea watchers are trying to read more into it.

Could it be a signal that the North is finally getting serious about introducing more market-based economic reforms as leader Kim Jong-il searches for substantial achievement to smooth his relinquishment of power to his youngest son Jong-un? Has the reformist message that China, its closest ally, has been hammering home for years finally gotten across? Or is the envoys’ mission just a conciliatory gesture to try to woo food aid from the U.S. amid a deepening food crisis?

One of the 12 North Koreans admitted to JoongAng Ilbo reporters that they came to the U.S. to study the market economy. But none answered why they wanted to.

The attempt to interview them was cut short when the North Koreans got nervous. The reporters only could ask one additional question about whether the envoys knew about the democratic movements in the Middle East.

“We are not deaf,” one replied.

For the week, they will study capitalism at the IGCC building, 10 minutes away from the hotel.

ORIGINAL POST (3/4/2011): According ot the Korea Times:

A North Korean economic delegation will visit San Diego and New York City for two weeks from March 20.

Susan Shirk, director of the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation at the University of California, San Diego, invited the ten-member delegation who will learn about Western economic systems and theory during their stay, the Voice of America (VOA) reported.

Between 1997 and 2000, Shirk served as deputy assistant secretary of state in the East Asia and Pacific Affairs bureau, and went to North Korea last year as a director of the institute, to discuss North Korea-U.S. cooperation on a private level.

Read the full story here:
N. Korean delegation to visit NY
Korea Times
Kim Se-jeong


India and the DPRK: aid and financial safeguards

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

India is providing the DPRK with USD$1m in assiatance via the UN World Food Program.  According to the WFP web page:

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today welcomed a generous donation of US$1 million from the Government of India for its operation to reach the most vulnerable children and their mothers in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

In an event organised at the Government of India’s Ministry of External Affairs, Honourable Minister of State for External Affairs Mr. E. Ahmed handed over an official pledge letter to WFP India representative Mihoko Tamamura.

“We are delighted to accept this donation from the government on behalf of the people of India,” said Ms. Tamamura. “As the people of DPRK are coming to the end of one of the bitterest winters in living memory – this act of generosity is extremely timely.”

The donation from India is to be used to buy pulses, rich in protein, which is a key missing ingredient in the daily DPRK diet.

Meanwhile the Reserve Bank of India (India’s Central Bank) has issued a warning to Indian banks regarding North Korean funds.  According to the Business Standard:

Fearing possible money laundering and terror-financing risks from Iran and North Korea, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has asked banks and other financial entities to be cautious in dealings with entities and funds from these countries.

The RBI warning follows a fresh global caution notice issued by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on Iran and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The FATF is an inter-governmental body responsible for making policies at national and international levels to combat money laundering and terror-financing.

The RBI said the FATF has issued a fresh public statement on February 25, 2011, “calling its members and other jurisdictions to apply counter-measures to protect the international financial system from the ongoing and substantial money laundering and terrorist financing (ML/FT) risks emanating from Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).”

“All banks and all-India financial institutions are accordingly advised to take into account risks arising from the deficiencies in AML/CFT regime of these countries, while entering into business relationships and transactions with persons (including financial institutions) from or in these countries/jurisdictions,” the RBI said in a March 24 circular.

A similar circular could be issued soon by the market regulator Sebi to warn market entities against their dealings with funds and entities related to these two countries.

An FATF public statement in this regard is always followed up by various regulators in India and other member countries asking the entities regulated by them to exercise extra caution in dealings with countries where anti-money laundering and terror-financing regulations have deficiencies.

The RBI and Sebi had last issued such a warning in January about Iran, pursuant to a directive from the FATF.

India became a member of the FATF last year. Following the nation’s accession into the global body, it is required to follow the global standards prescribed by the FATF to check money laundering and terror-financing activities.

As per the FATF warning, all financial institutions have been advised to give special attention to business relationships and transactions with Iran and North Korea, as well as their companies and financial institutions.

The FATF has urged member countries to take into account the risk of money laundering and terror-financing when considering requests by Iranian and North Korean financial institutions to open branches and subsidiaries.

Iran and North Korea have been subjected to various sanctions by the US and some European countries to thwart the flow of funds allegedly used to finance their nuclear weapon ambitions and sponsor terror-related activities.

You can read the full story here:
RBI warns banks against dealings with Iran, N Korea funds
Business Standard


Kim Jong-il praises munitions workers

Friday, March 25th, 2011

According to the Daily NK:

Kim Jong Il and successor Kim Jong Eun recently posed for a commemorative picture in front of Mt. Keumsoo Memorial Palace in Pyongyang alongside the attendees at a conference of model logistics and munitions workers.

The North Korean authorities released news of the conference, held for two days over the 24th and 25th, through Chosun Central Broadcast (the state-run radio station), Chosun Central TV, in Rodong Shinmun and on the propaganda website ‘Uriminjokkiri’.

According to the North Korean media reports, Kim Jong Il said, “Cadres and workers in the munitions section devote themselves to the management of weapons and materials for weapons technology without reputation or reward, and without regard to popular recognition.”

Kim called them “the conscience of humanity, real patriots, precious national treasures and magnificent comrade gunstocks of our Party.”

According to defectors, this is the first time that the authorities have held a model workers’ conference specifically for the munitions sector.

The reason why Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Eun made a show of their participation is likely to be because they aim to awaken cadres and workers to a lack of wartime reserves and the need to raise morale. The participation of very high Party and military officials seems to back this interpretation.

The attending model workers would appear to be from the Logistics General Bureau, which is in charge of stocking North Korea’s reserves; it is a group whose activities are ordinarily top secret. Therefore, it is unusual for the authorities to have organized this event, particularly so publicly.

The North Korean authorities have had one eye firmly on the country’s war reserves since Kim Il Sung was alive. Kim himself told planners to “secure enough wartime reserves for two months even if they do nothing.” Accordingly, the Bureau has trucks loaded with reserve materials such as gas, clothes, rice and communication tools on standby at all times. For security, they apparently let down the tires.

However, slack discipline in the military and Party results in the usage of military reserves, not to mention their theft, as shown by the stealing of gasoline and other materials from a military depot in Chongjin which was released by The Daily NK on the 17th of this month.

According to the North Korean media, the event was attended by Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission Lee Young Ho, Director of the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces Kim Young Chun, Defense Commission Vice Chairman Jang Sung Taek, First-Vice-Director of the General Political Bureau of the Army Kim Jeong Kak, Party Secretary Park Do Chun, First Vice-Director of the Ministry of the Munitions Industry of the Central Committee of the Party Ju Kyu Chang, Vice Director of the General Political Department of the People’s Army Kim Won Hong, Director of the Operation Department of the Army Kim Myeong Kuk, Naval Commander Lee Byeong Cheol, among others.

You can read the whole story here:
Munitions Sector Gets Public Attention’
Daily NK
Kang Mi Jin


DPRK fashion update

Friday, March 25th, 2011

The Daily NK on earrings and cosmetic surgery:

Earrings, once seen as a capitalist symbol and a target for crackdowns, are becoming more and more popular with North Korean women of all social levels in urban areas, while the growth of cheap, unregulated surgical procedures is apparently attracting attention in the capital.

This desire for beauty has even forced the authorities onto the back foot; they have reportedly stopped attempting to control some of the social changes.

A source from the West Sea port city of Nampo explained the situation there on the 13th, saying, “In the past, long earrings were a crackdown target, but now they stop it so people are wearing them a lot.”

Of course, in past years young women in major cities and around the border region also wore earrings, but did so more furtively. If and when caught, they were criticized as examples of an anti-socialist trend at a time when the standard ‘Chosun woman’ was advertized as one who had short bobbed hair, wore no make-up and was to be seen in a dress that came to between knee and ankle.

However, starting with the more affluent families of government officials and now found throughout society, this officially decreed standard of dress is no longer accepted. Indeed, even Kim Jong Cheol was seen with an earring at a recent Eric Clapton concert in Singapore, and, according to North Korean Intellectuals Solidarity, “A decree from Kim Jong Eun was handed down this past January stating that earrings are to be accepted.”

Indeed, while official controls on issues of beauty and accessories have been melting away, clothing including skinny jeans, which reveal the figure very closely, have grown in popularity for affluent Pyongyang women.

Even cosmetic surgery is said to be gaining in popularity. Although still illegal, some doctors will apparently perform certain procedures on the side for extra money, while there are also unqualified surgeons offering their services.

One Pyongyang source explained, “Double eyelids, eyebrows, lips and tattooing around the eyes are popular,” adding, “Seven out of ten women between 20 and 40 have had one or other of these procedures done. Mostly it is women who do it; there are many who feel they must do it even if they are short of food.”

According to the same source, part of this popularity stems from the surprising cheapness of the processes concerned. The tattooing of fake eyebrows costs in the region of 1,000-2,000 won, while double eyelids cost just 2,000-3,000 won. This at a time when a kilo of rice in the market costs only slightly less than 2,000 won.

However, the Nampo source explained that there are still some limits in that city at least, where “university students are not permitted to wear striking earrings inside their schools.”

And more on the DPRK people seeking to emulate the clothing of characters in ROK dramas:

The so-called ‘Korean Wave’ is strong with today’s young North Korean adults. As copies of illegally-recorded South Korean dramas flow into the country in greater numbers, some affluent young adults are keen to imitate the main characters in the dramas they are watching.

Of late, some children of rich parents are said to have tried to obtain the kind of tracksuit worn by Hyun Bin, who recently personified the life of a ‘self-centered and arrogant urban male’ in the popular SBS drama ‘Secret Garden’. For women, the trend is to follow the fashion of Kim Nam Joo, who played the main character in another drama, MBC’s ‘Queen of the Turn Around’.

Kim, a Korean-Chinese who trades between Dandong and Sinuiju, recently gave an interview to The Daily NK about the trend towards South Korean fashion in contemporary North Korea.

– Recently, what South Korean products have been the most popular with North Koreans?

All South Korean products are popular. There are many customers who want to buy South Korean products, so there are many sellers. Products with South Korean letters on can be sold for two or three times the price of other products.

– But what about the security services?

Agents who perform the inspections say, ‘we’ll let you sell them as long as the Korean letters are erased’. However, the trend is that more and more customers are looking for South Korean stuff, and since there is no way to prove whether the product is from South Korea if there is no Korean lettering, increasing numbers of merchants, who don’t want to miss a sale, think ‘I’ll just sell it as it is’ despite the crackdowns.

– What clothing is the trendiest these days?

The recently-aired South Korean drama ‘Queen of the Turn Around’ has been the most popular. Clothing worn by the main characters is popular. Except those things which reveal too much chest and the skirts, it’s all very similar to China. Now, skinny jeans are being worn by a surprising number of women.

– This is true even though South Korean products are more expensive?

It is such a big trend that even young adults who are having trouble making ends meet feel that they have to buy these things; fights with parents over it are on the increase, too. The price of boots and such like is $20~30, but they sell a lot to young females. Clothing sells for between $15~100.

– Do the wealthy classes or children of cadres also by many South Korean products?

They buy the most. Children from the houses of cadres or the wealthy seek the exact clothing which appears in South Korean dramas. Recently, fake mink has been popular. Especially, middle aged people in their 40s and 50s are wearing clothing made of fake mink a lot.

– What about when the product is different from that which the consumers are looking for?

There is a separate person who amends clothing. The cost of getting something changed is about 10,000 won, so they also make a lot of money. As a result, security agents try to get close to them. They visit them sometimes to get bribes; the agents don’t bother them.

– Why are South Korean products so popular?

It is because people are watching CDs of South Korean dramas secretively and imitating them.

– What if the same product people see on film is not on sale?

The person makes a drawing of the nice clothes which appeared in the drama or brings a picture. Clothing manufacturers have a hard time when young females bring an image and beg them to make the clothing no matter what.

– Especially is that the case with the children of cadres?

Once I met a child who brought the image of an item which would have been impossible to obtain, and then asked whether I could even get it by going to South Korea; that was a difficult situation. Not long ago, there was also one person who asked me to obtain the tracksuit worn by the main character in a recent South Korean drama.

Previous posts on DPRK fashion here.

Read the full stories here:
Push for Beauty Altering Official Curbs
Daily NK
Park Jun Hyeong and Jeong Jae Sung

Looking Like Hyun Bin or Kim Nam Joo
Daily NK
Park Jun Hyeong