Archive for March, 2011

KPA Journal Vol.2, No. 2

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Joseph Bermudez, military analyst for Jane’s Intelligence Review and author of The Armed Forces of North Korea, has published the latest issue of his very fascinating KPA Journal.

Topics include: New Hovercraft Base at Sasŭlp’o, Kim Jong-un Biography, Correction: B-26 Invader, Addendum: Yŏnp’yŏng-do Attack, Addendum: Type-63 107 mm MR.

The full issue can be downloaded here (PDF).


On the Narae debit card

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

UPDATE 5 (2012-7-3): Some time has passed since Narae’s launch, and Dr. Seliger reports that use of the debit card in Pyongyang is growing. As evidence he sends along a list of Pyongyang establishments that are accepting the card.


You can see a rough English translation of the names of these shops and hotels here (doc).

It is worth pointing out, again, that the Narae card stores balances in hard currency.

UPDATE 4 (2011-9-22): A recent visitor to the DPRK has posted a picture of the front and back of a Narae card:

UPDATE (2011-3-24): Bernama (Malaysia) offers some more information on the DPRK’s electronic payment system:

An electronic system for settlement with the use of debit cards has been for the first time introduced at the international communications center, in major department stores, hotels, and restaurants of North Korea.

The debit card dubbed Narae (wing), can be used both by the citizens of North Korea and by foreign diplomats and representatives of humanitarian organizations working here, according to Russian news agency Itar-Tass on Tursday.

It takes only several minutes to issue the cards to foreigners. The card’s cost is $3. Not more than $1,000 may be placed in an account.

In case of settlement, the money is automatically converted in to the North Korean won in accordance with the official rate of exchange.

The card bears an inscription indicating a date of issue, a card number, and a bank code.

In the interest of financial safety, a user enters a personal four-digit code of his own.

Most foreigners have acquired such cards, pointing out the convenience of using them, first of all because cash register operators in local shops quite often lack small denomination coins to give change to customers who pay cash in US dollars or Euros.

This story confused me because there are a couple of notable differences between the official information posted in Pyongyang last January (see ORIGINAL POST below) and the facts laid out in the above article.

First, Bernama claims that there is a $1,000 limit to the value that can be prepaid to the Narae card, yet according to the informational flyer posted in the Potonggang Hotel, there is no limit to the balances that can be prepaid. From the Narae issuer’s financial perspective, it does not make sense to apply a limit.  Placing a legal limit to prepaid quantities limits the issuers own income. This is because issuers of prepay cards earn interest income (float) on the deposited funds as long as the balances remain on the card (before the ultimate consumer spends the funds).  The larger the amount of funds prepaid and the slower they are spent, the more float the issuer earns (we are assuming a monopoly issuer here–competition would reduce these profits if allowed).

It could be, however, that the issuers are not profiting from interest income earned by floating deposits since Pyongyang does not have a legitimate money market (Though it would not be too difficult to move most of these funds to Singapore or Hong Kong where they could earn interest while keeping a small % in Pyongyang to clear payments each month). This would imply that the electronic payment system is valuable to the regime for control purposes—because it mops up hard currency from the individuals who regularly come into contact with foreign exchange and prevents dollars, yuan, yen, and euros from trickling into the black markets.  In this sense, the prepay cards works much in the same way as the old foreign exchange certificates (FECs) did.  Remember when the DPRK had three different colored currencies depending on where you were from (Capitalist country, socialist country, or local)?  Theoretically, with the new prepay card North Koreans and foreigners could deposit their hard currency when they arrive at a North Korean customs office (airport) and spend the balances in approved locations.  The government gets the hard currency, the customer gets the goods, and low-level employees and managers are never tempted to accumulate forex.

ORIGINAL POST (2011-1-27): Dr. Bernhard Seliger of the Hanns Seidel Foundation writes in with information on the DPRK’s new “Narae” (나래) debit card system:

Pictured above: “Narae” flyer at the Potonggang Hotel

Dr. Seliger provided an English translation of the flyer:

1. Debit card “Narae” is an electronic payment system used to pay for goods and service in service units where foreign currencies are used. It makes payment process fast and accurate without cash. “Narae” means “wings” and spirits of Songun Cheollima flying fast and high into the homeland’s sky.

2. A card is issued at exchange office of foreign banks and an issued card can be used in service units using foreign currencies without limit.

3. Exchange offices receive foreign cash from guests (including foreigners) and deposit cash into a card according to the exchange rate on that day. Fee for a card itself is paid separately or deducted from money in a card.

4. There are 4 numbers in 4 bundles on the front of card. The first bundle means the bank of issue, the second is the date of issue and the third and fourth bundles means card numbers of the card owner.

5. For security a guest should enter his own pin number under the instruction of clerks.
You approve payments using numbers you already entered so you should remember your own pin numbers.
*If you enter wrong numbers 3 times consecutively payment process is stopped.

6. You can pay only within your balance in a card.

7. If you want to supplement balance you have to pay cash and it will be exchanged into Korean won at the exchange rate on that day and deposited to your card.

8. If you want to take your cash back you can get this service at bank of issue. The exchange rate on that day is applied.
Foreigners can get this service at hotels and airports.
*Fee for cards is not returned.

9. You have to follow those things regarding using a card.
-You should keep a card well not to be broken or damaged. Especially be careful not to damage electronic factor on the card.
-If a card is damaged or missing you should report it to exchange office.

10. Your confidentiality regarding a card is completely assured and money in your card is protected legally.

A PDF of the flyer in English and Korean is here.

By chance, the Russian blog “Show and Tell Pyongyang” (Translated to English here) also posted some information about Narae.  Below is a picture of a Narare card and a list of locations where it is accepted. Click images for larger version.

In the chart above, the first column is apparently bank names. The second column is where people can go to buy the card and deposit money. The third and fourth columns are “Current volunteers/volunteered places that have started card service”.

Thanks to a friend for the translation.  If you recognize any specific institutions on the list, please let me know.


Teaching English in Pyongyang

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

UPDATE 1 (2011-4-10): Radio Free Asia offers additional information on this topic:

North Korea may face Western sanctions over its illicit nuclear weapons program, but nothing seems to stand in the way of efforts to boost the English language in the reclusive state.

What is clear is that Pyongyang is drawing more foreigners to teach English, and that the English level of North Korean students appears to be improving.

Several foreign nongovernmental organizations which have received approval from the North Korean government to send English language teachers to the impoverished country are scouting for candidates through their websites.

For example, the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a Christian group based in the United States and Canada, said on its website that it was “seeking two native-English-speaking Canadian teachers to teach English at a middle school in North Korea.”

“In addition to providing English teaching and training, the opportunity to live and work in North Korea will serve to build bridges of understanding between countries,” the MCC said.

It requires the teachers by July for a 13-month assignment.

“Middle school students in the DPRK (North Korea’s official name) have up until now been studying English from Korean teachers only, not from foreign teachers,” the MCC said.

“The move towards inviting foreign teachers to teach at the middle-school level indicates a new push or interest in equipping North Korean students especially in spoken English.”


Another group campaigning for funds to boost the teaching of English in North Korea is the Wellington, New Zealand-based NZ DPRK Society.

It is “seeking NZ$11,000 [U.S.$ 8,580] to fund a qualified New Zealand volunteer teacher to teach English in Pyongyang for three months in 2011,” according to its website.

The society, whose objective is to increase awareness and understanding between the people of New Zealand and North Korea, had sent a teacher from Christchurch to Pyongyang in 2006—the first Westerner to teach at the primary or secondary education level in North Korea. The teacher, Tim Kearns, returned again in 2008.

“Everybody was very happy about this. The North Korean students and teachers learnt a lot about life outside North Korea, especially in New Zealand. The students loved Tim. The authorities appreciated his input into improvement of English,” the society said.

The society’s new volunteer will spend three months from July teaching secondary school students at Pyongyang’s Kumsong School and Kumsong Middle School No.1, which caters to “bright students who will go onto university and in the future will occupy top jobs in the civil service.”

“English is a crucial language for young North Koreans to learn if they are to become part of the world community.”

On the rise

Other groups, including the British Council, Canada’s Trinity Western University, and Global Resource Services in the United States, have also dispatched volunteer English teachers to North Korea, and the number of native instructors in North Korea is on the rise.

At the same time, the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) scores of North Korean students—meant to determine the students’ English language proficiency—have been improving.

“In 2009, the world average TOEFL score was 80 points. North Korean nationals who took the test averaged 75 points” out of a maximum of 120 points, said Tom Ewing, public information officer for Educational Testing Service (ETS), the organization that administers the TOEFL.

“Test takers of North Korean nationality scored an average 72 points in 2008, and 69 points in 2007—a 6-point improvement over a 3-year period,” he said.

The 2009 TOEFL statistical data, published in December 2010, indicate that North Korean nationals scored an average 18 points in reading, 18 in listening comprehension, 19 in speaking, and 20 in written composition, Ewing said.


ETS does not have specific personal details of the more than 4,000 TOEFL test takers every year since 2002 claiming North Korean nationality.

There is no North Korean institution tasked with administering TOEFL in the country, and TOEFL tests are not conducted in North Korea.

It is believed that among the test takers are children of officials dispatched overseas and ethnic Koreans in Japan claiming North Korean citizenship.

Robert DeCamp, an American who visited North Korea in the fall of 2010, said that the English conversation skills of his North Korean tourist guides were impressive.

The guides included North Korean women in their 20s who had graduated from the Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies and who had never traveled to Anglophone countries.

They spoke easily understandable, sophisticated English, with no heavy accent at all, DeCamp said.

“I would say that the English capabilities of the guides were quite good. I was pretty impressed with their English. They were very easy to understand, had a very minimal accent, and had pretty polished English considering they had never been to an English-speaking country.”

American North Korea experts who have recently visited the hardline communist state pointed out that unlike the ordinary young people of North Korea, the children of the elite displayed an impressive command of English.

ORIGINAL POST (2011-3-24): According to the Korea Herald:

South Korea has hired tens of thousands of foreign English teachers to meet the increasing demand for English education. Little is known, however, about North Korea’s interest in the subject.

But news reports say that North Korea recently requested that a Canadian relief agency send English teachers. The Mennonite Central Committee will select two English teachers and send them to North Korea to teach from September this year until July 2012.

The agency said that this is the first time North Korea has requested English teachers and believes the move is meant to enhance the English-speaking ability of students.

Another agency in New Zealand has posted a notice on its website recently, saying they are raising funds to send a voluntary teacher to teach for three months in 2011 in Pyongyang, according to the Radio Free Asia report Tuesday. The NZ-DPRK Society sent the first westerner to teach English in a North Korean school in 2006. Tim Kearn, a former school teacher in Christchurch, had spent two years in North Korea, teaching English at three secondary schools in Pyongyang.

The Society estimates that the total cost to send a teacher to North Korea for three months will be about $8,000. It emphasizes that English education is essential for North Korea because the isolated country can increase exchanges with outside world and eventually become a member of the international community.

The report said that more foreign English teachers come to North Korea via cultural and academic institutes. The British Council has been running an English-teacher training program in Pyongyang since 2000. The Trinity Western University in Canada also sends a team of professors and graduates to North Korea.

An American who recently visited Pyongyang praised the English speaking level of female tour guides there.

“I would say that the English capabilities of the guides were quite good. I was pretty impressed with their English. They were very easy to understand, had a very minimal accent, and had pretty polished English considering they had never been to an English-speaking country,” DeCamp was quoted as saying in the Radio Free Asia report.

With the increase in the number of foreign English teachers in North Korea, the average TOEFL score of North Koreans jumped six points from an average of 69 in 2007 to 75 in 2009, just five points below the world average, which is 80.

South Korea achieved an average score of 81 in 2009, a four-point increase from 2007.

Read the full story here:
North Korea embraces more foreign English teachers
Korea Herald
Lee Woo-young


DPRK publishes 2001 harvest propaganda

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Images vis KCNA and the Daily NK:

Click images for larger versions

According to the Daily NK, the poster on the left states, “Let’s have a bumper crop this spring!”, and poster on the right shows people heading for the fields alongside trucks of fertilizer and rolls of vinyl plastic, and proclaims on the big sheaf of wheat that farming is the people’s “lifeline”.

According t KCNA:

A poster titled “Bring about a Great Innovation in Agricultural Production This Year!” (right) depicts an agricultural worker determined to bring a rich harvest, helpers rushing to a socialist cooperative field and vehicles carrying farm materials, etc. It makes a successful ideological and artistic representation of the firm will of the Korean people to thoroughly implement the WPK′s policy of agricultural revolution.

A poster entitled “Bring about a Rich Harvest of First Crop!” (left) calls for attaining the target of grain production without fail. It encourages the agricultural workers in their drive to achieve signal successes in the immediate spring farm work.


South Korean entertainment increasingly popular

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

According to the Daily NK:

The names Kang Ho Dong and Yoo Jae Seok are growing in popularity in urban North Korea now that variety shows hosted by the two South Korean entertainers, KBS show “One Night, Two Days” and MBC’s “Endless Challenge”, are becoming popular there.

One source who trades in Pyongyang said, “I rented ‘X-Men’ (a variety show on another big South Korean station, SBS), the show hosted by Kang Ho Dong and Yoo Jae Seok, from a CD store; it was really entertaining.”

“One of the popular things with Pyongyang elementary and middle school students is the games they can see in this show,” he added.

He noted, “Parents believe the games in X-Men can develop their children’s brains, so they also try to occasionally show it to them. Kang Ho Dong and Yoo Jae Seok are really popular here; we laughed until we cried.”

According to the source, people in Pyongyang do not generally purchase CDs of North Korean products, but rent them for around 500 won each, while illegally-produced South Korean dramas and variety shows are generally 2,000 won each, approximately the price of a kilogram of rice.

Another source from Shinuiju said, “The shows with Kang Ho Dong and Yoo Jae Seok, ‘One Night, Two Days’ and ‘Endless Challenge’ are so popular that they sell for 4,800 won.”

The reason why people like ‘One Night, Two Days’, in which a number of South Korean entertainers, led by Kang, take a trip to little-known South Korean places to camp out, mingle with locals and play a range of games, the source said, is “because people can see a lot of the scenery of South Chosun, as if they were sightseeing for real. It gives comfort to those who are in the situation of being unable to so much as dream of a trip to Chosun.”

There is another background reason for their growing popularity: they are also popular among Korean-Chinese people in the border provinces of China, leading to these illegally copied CDs flowing into North Korea.

In Yanji, Dandong, Shenyang and other Chinese cities with big Korean-Chinese populations, internet cafes have their own servers to download South Korean TV shows so that local people can see them easily at a decent speed.

North Korean or Korean-Chinese smugglers then take illegally copied DVDs or CDs containing the shows into North Korea. One smuggler generally carries between 1,000 and 3,000 recordable CDs or DVDs including such shows into North Korea at any one time.

Another defector, Kim Seong Cheol explained, “I can copy thousands of CDs cheaply and send them to North Korea all at once.”

When he crosses the river, Kim says he ends up giving away a few hundred discs in the form of bribes, and wholesales a few hundred to each North Korean trader.

Read the full story here:
South Korean Entertainers Gaining in Popularity
Daily NK
Park Jun Hyeong and Jeong Jae Sung


North Korea Resumes Military Rice Procurement Drive from January

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 11-03-23

A nationwide drive for military rice procurement was reported to have resumed from January this year in North Korea. The DPRK authorities halted the collection of rice for the military early last year with a sharp decrease in food production after suffering from repeated flood damages. However with their efforts to find aid from China and other foreign means to little avail, restarted the military procurement from early this year, collecting 2 to 3 USD worth of rice per person on a national level. North Koreans are reported to be strongly against the resurgence of the collection.

According to the Daily NK, sources from Pyongyang revealed that “Orders came from the Central Committee of the Party last December to begin a nationwide collection from January on the grounds of deficient military food supply. Although the order encouraged the drive to be voluntary and not obligatory, the department in charge of procurement is placing pressure on merchants and workers and officials of various corporations for donation.”

The Pyongyang source added, “In the case of Jung District Market (Jungguyeok Market) [satellite image here], the merchants were coerced into paying additional forty to fifty thousand KPW per person. The police are pressuring people that those who fail to pay will be forced to leave their lucrative spot in the market and replaced by those that paid.” Given the price of rice at the end of February was 1,900 KPW per/kg, each merchants was donating about 20 to 25kg of rice to the military.

On the other hand, workers in corporations were paying about 10 kg/person while the cadres were instructed to pay 30 kg/person. “The authorities did not hesitate to criticize and condemn those who dawdled on paying,” the source disclosed.

Another source from Sariwon in North Hwanghae Province also confirmed the account, “The Central Committee instructed the donations to be based on people’s consciences, but local authorities are demanding ‘each person must give specified kilos of rice,’ and ‘those that paid over a ton (1,000 kg), were given party membership right there and then with no inquiries about the source of the rice.”

Thus far, two people were reported to have given ten tons of rice and corn each, 50 people offered two tons of rice, and 200 people donated one ton of rice.

The source further added, the Party’s original target of 800 tons of rice for Sariwon was exceeded by a large margin, reaching over 2,400 tons.

However, disgruntled voices of North Koreans are also reported to be heard for the half-forced “military rice procurement drive,” raising questions about “where the food was going,” and “unhappy about taking rice for the military when there are no food rations for the people and factories no longer in operation.”

Previous stories on the DPRK’s food situation this year can be found here.


KBS signal strength affects DPRK housing prices

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

According to the Daily NK:

The price of housing in areas of North Korea where it is possible to receive South Korean television (in the form of main state broadcaster KBS) is considerably higher than in other locations, the president of NK Intellectuals Solidarity asserted today.

Kim Heung Gwang revealed the house price news in a lecture at an event organized by the National Development Institute in Seoul this morning, “Is a Jasmine Revolution Possible in North Korea?”

However, Kim also said that external information is not as important as internal factors when it comes to influencing North Korea’s future.

“Speaking with defectors, it becomes clear that whether one is from the country or the city, coming into contact with South Korean dramas or movies at least once is the norm,” Kim explained, adding, “Thanks to this, places where South Korean TV can be received are popular with North Koreans.”

“We believe that the places where South Korean TV can be received are along the East and West Sea coasts, and in these places sellers can name their price,” he went on. “It is said that in the case of one area of Hamheung, you can get South Korean TV within a ten kilometer radius, and that is the only reason why the price of housing is expensive.”

However, Kim also emphasized that while South Korean TV may be popular, the real power to change North Korea is emerging not from external effects, but from inside the country itself.

Additional Information:

The Daily NK published a similar story back in 2006.  Lankov wrote about broadcasts into the DPRK some time ago as well.

Other factors affecting real estate prices are location, quality, and the “effectiveness” of the inminban.

Read the full story here:
North Korean House Prices Hanging on KBS Availability
Daily NK
Mok Yong Jae


Inter-Korean trade half of DPRK-PRC trade in 2010

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

According to Yonhap:

North Korea’s trade with South Korea fell to about half of its trade with China in 2010 amid worsened political relations between the divided Koreas, a trade body said Wednesday.

The two Koreas exchanged US$1.91 billion worth of goods last year, up 14 percent from 2009, according to the Korea International Trade Association (KITA).

However, trade between the North and China jumped 32 percent on-year to slightly over $3.46 billion, indicating Pyongyang’s growing economic dependence on its communist ally.

The proportion of inter-Korean trade to North Korea-China trade reached its peak of 91 percent in 2007 when then-South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun held a historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, the second summit between the Koreas.

The rate dropped to 65 percent in 2008, 64 percent in 2009 and 55 percent last year, KITA said.

When only considering the amount, inter-Korean trade reached its highest level last year, but only because of increased output at a joint industrial complex of the two Koreas in the North’s border town of Kaesong.

Economic exchanges between the two Koreas at Kaesong jumped 53.4 percent on-year to over $1.44 billion in 2010 while the amount of the actual trading of goods between the countries plunged 54 percent from a year earlier to $117.8 million, according to KITA.

“The gap between the amount of South-North trade and that of North-China trade will further widen unless the tension between the South and North is quickly removed, as economic cooperation between the North and China is fast increasing,” said Shim Nam-seop, a KITA official in charge of inter-Korean trade.

Once again Yonhap fails to mention the name of the report or to provide a link. Its not that hard guys.

It is late (and I am jet lagged) so I am not going to bother fighting the KITA web page for the report this evening.

Read the full story here:
Inter-Korean trade falls to half of North-China trade in 2010


DPRK-EU trade grows in 2010

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

According to KBS:

The Voice of America says that North Korea’s exports to the European Union more than doubled year-on-year in 2010 as the communist country exported petroleum products worth 55 million euros to the Netherlands in the first half of last year.

Quoting data from Eurostat, the statistic agency of the EU, the broadcaster said that North Korea’s exports to the EU surged from 50 million euros in 2009 to over one hundred million euros last year.

However, the North’s imports from the EU inched up only about two million euros from 70 million euros in 2009 to 72 million euros in 2010.

I am pretty swamped at the moment.  I did a quick search for the original data source with no success. If you have any idea where to find it, please let me know.

Read the full story here:
NK’s Exports to EU Doubled in 2010


Statistics Korea: DPRK population tops 24.1m in 2010

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

According to Yonhap (3/22/2011):

North Korea’s population is estimated to have increased slightly in 2010 from a year earlier, despite its hardships stemming from a chronic food shortage, a report said Tuesday.

The communist country’s population came to an estimated 24.19 million last year, compared with 24.06 million the previous year, according to the report by Statistics Korea, South Korea’s statistical agency. The estimate is based on an analysis of the results of North Korea’s census.

The agency said overall living conditions in North Korea don’t seem to have improved in the past decade with the average life expectancy remaining below the level in the early 1990s.

According to the report, the average North Korean man and woman had a life expectancy of 64.1 years and 71.0 years, respectively, in 2008. Comparable figures were 67.0 years and 74.1 years each in 1993.

About 70 percent of the population over 16 or 12.19 million people were engaged in economic activities, with 36.0 percent working in the agricultural sector. This was followed by 23.7 percent engaged in manufacturing and 20.3 percent in public service areas.

Despite a relatively high percentage of population engaged in economic activities, only 7.3 percent of people over 60 worked, a sign that most North Koreans retire early.

Of the population, 60.6 percent lived in cities in 2008, up from just 40.6 percent in 1960, with the average man and woman getting married at 29.0 years and 25.5 years each.

Despite more people living in urban areas, coal and wood remained the main sources of heating, the report said.

Here is the Statistics Korea web page.  If anyone can provide a link to the original report, I would appreciate it.

The DPRK conducted censuses in 1993 and 2008 with funding from the UN.  Information on the 2008 census can be found here and here.