Archive for May, 2011

ROK moves to control inter-Korean remittances

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

UPDATE (2011-5-26): Defectors are not too happy with plans by the South Korean government to get control over remittances to the DPRK.  According to the Korea Herald:

North Korean defectors here are strongly opposing a government plan to require them to gain approval before making remittances to relatives in the cash-strapped state.

They say that the approval process could put them and their loved ones in the North in dangerous situations and make brokers demand more money for delivering funds.

They also say that since their remittances are made through “complicated multi-layered” procedures, it would be difficult to detect those sending money without approval.

On Tuesday, the Unification Ministry put on public notice a revision bill mandating defectors to obtain approval when remitting more than a certain amount of money, with the cut-off figure yet to be set. Officials said the revision is aimed at “securing transparency in inter-Korean exchanges.”

“We have been scrimping on food, clothes and others to send some of the hard-earned money ― at most 1 million won ($917) ― to help our family, not the North Korean regime. The approval system is wrong,” a 43-year-old North Korean defector, who has taken asylum here since 1997, told The Korea Herald, declining to be named.

“Our remittances have been transparently made and we always check whether our relatives have received the money by talking directly to them by cellphone. Through the talks, albeit brief, defectors tell them the truth about Korean society and help enlighten them and bring about change there.”

He also pointed out that the planned system may not be effective.

“All these have so far taken place secretly. Who would ever like to willingly tell the authorities about their remittances at the risk of revealing their identities and those of their relatives in the North? One out of 10 may be willing,” he said.

A Unification Ministry official said that the government will carry out the approval system after taking into account opinions from the defectors and experts.

“There has been controversy over the legitimacy of their remittances, which has stemmed from the absence of government procedures over them. The system is aimed at systemizing their sending of the money to the North,” the official said.

“We will consider various opinions including those regarding the amount of money for which they should secure approval and measures to protect their family in the North.”

North Korean defectors usually send their money through ethnic Chinese people here, who ask their Chinese relatives or acquaintances inside the North or near the North Korea-China border to deliver the money. The brokers are known to take 30 percent of the total remittances.

According to a survey by a private Seoul-based group, which was released early this year, nearly half of North Korean defectors here have sent money to their families in the North.

The survey by the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights found that 49.5 percent said they had sent money to their families in the North, while 46 percent said they had not and 4.5 percent said that they have no family there.

The survey was conducted on 396 North Korean defectors residing in the South, aged 15 or older, from Dec. 14-31 last year.

Seoul officials estimate that North Korean defectors’ annual remittances amount to $10 million.

Some people say the remittances could stimulate North Koreans’ longing for the affluent life south of the heavily fortified border. Others, however, are concerned that the money could get into the wrong hands in the notoriously autocratic regime.

The number of North Korean defectors living here stands at 21,294 as of April. It is expected to rise as food shortages and oppression continue in the reclusive state.

And according to Yonhap:

The Unification Ministry has announced its plans to revise a law that would require defectors to receive government approval before sending money to their families.

The ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said the move is aimed at legalizing the money transfers and increasing their transparency.

Defectors said their families in the North usually receive some 70 percent of their remittances as brokers who arrange the deals take some 30 percent of the money as a fee.

The ministry said it would give some wiggle room for defectors by exempting them from receiving mandatory approval in case they remit a certain amount of money for their families to support them or to help them seek medical treatment.

Details have yet to be arranged. The revision process would take months as other government ministries must screen any changes before the new law’s submission to the legislature for approval.

The new revision is expected to take effect as early as the second half of next year.

The move “is not trying to regulate humanitarian money remittance,” a government official said on condition of anonymity, citing office policy.

Still, the proposed move triggered a backlash from defectors, who fear that the government regulation could complicate the process of money remittance and jeopardize their families in the North.

“I have no choice but to give money to family members in the North as they live on the money I send to them, but I cannot give any information to the government,” a defector said, asking not to be identified, citing security concerns for family members in the North.

ORIGINAL POST (2011-5-23): According to the Korea Herald:

South Koreans who wish to send money to their families in North Korea will be required to get government approval in advance under a revised law, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said Monday.

All remittances between the South and North, including investments or aid to the North from an overseas corporation set up by a South Korean citizen, will require government approval, according to the revised law on inter-Korean exchange and cooperation, aimed at increasing transparency of the cross-border exchanges.

So far, only payments for commercial transactions were subject to obtain government permission in advance, raising concerns that it was hard to track other kinds of cash flow into North Korea.

North Korean defectors who have settled in the South or members of families separated by the border after the 1950-53 Korean War have occasionally remitted money to their kin in the impoverished North through bank accounts in third countries such as China.

But under the new law taking effect in the second half of this year, South Koreans are obliged to get government approval before sending or passing on inheritance to their family in the North. There will be exceptions, however, for remittances of small amounts for basic living costs or medical costs of their kin in the North.

If a corporation established by a South Korean citizen in a third country plans to invest in the North, the South Korean proprietor will now have to report to the Seoul government in advance.

South Koreans planning to send goods purchased in third countries to the North will also have to attain government permission.

A South Korean Christian aid group recently sent flour, bought in China through a Chinese nongovernmental organization called Amity Foundation, to North Korea.

South Korean companies trading with entities in the North will also be required to register, under the new law.

“Between 700 and 800 companies are believed to have records of trade with the North so far, but only 580 have been confirmed so far in a survey conducted after the May 25 regulation (on inter-Korean exchanges) last year,” a ministry official said.

“The others have either stopped doing business in the North or have gone out of contact, making it hard for the government to keep track.”

The ministry plans to set up a state-funded agency to support inter-Korean nongovernmental exchanges at all times.

So far, the ministry has allocated financial aid to support inter-Korean exchange to selected non-profit organizations once or twice a year.

Previous reports indicated that the level of remittances from the ROK to the DPRK can reach USD$10m per year.

Read the full story here:
Seoul tightens rules on cash flow to North Korea
Korea Herald
Kim So-hyun


KJI’s no 8. trip to China

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

UPDATE 7 (2011-5-30): According to the Choson Ilbo, the Hwanggumpyong Island groundbreaking ceremony was cancelled without any announcement.

UPDATE 6 (2011-5-27): According to the Irrawaddy, KJI’s delegation visit to Beijing overlapped with a Myanmar delegation.  Maybe the two met?

UPDATE 5 (2011-5-25): According the Choson Ilbo, Kim Jong-il’s security in China is facing an all new challenge: Yoku!

UPDATE 4 (2011-5-25): According to Yonhap and the Choson Ilbo, Kim Jong-il’s consort, Kim Ok, is traveling with him.

UPDATE 3 (2011-5-25): KJI is now in Beijing for talks with PRC President Hu Jintao (Yonhap).  According to a colleague, Xinhua claims KJI also met with Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew in Beijing.

UPDATE 2 (2011-5-24): China confirms that Kim Jong-il is in the PRC (Nanjing on Tuesday).  China usually waits until KJI has returned to the DPRK before announcing his visits.  See the Wall Street Journal: China Real Time, Yonhap, AFP.

UPDATE 1 (2011-5-23): More coverage is coming out on KJI’s trip to the PRC:

1. Aidan Foster-Carter writes about Kim Jong-il’s previous trips to China in 38 North.

2. China claims Kim’s trip is focused on economic issues (WSJ):  “China invited North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, who began his seventh trip there on Friday, to learn more about its economic development, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told South Korean President Lee Myung-bak Sunday.”

3. PRC-DPRK trade up significantly in the last year (Bloomberg): “North Korea’s trade with China jumped 30 percent last year even after the United Nations stepped up sanctions following its second nuclear test in May 2009, according to China’s commerce ministry.”

4. Yonhap reports that Kim Jong-il will possibly attend a groundbreaking ceremony for development of the Hwanggumpyong Island (see more here) .  This ceremony is supposedly scheduled for May 28th.

5. The Hankyoreh has an update of KJI’s travel itinerary as of today.

ORIGINAL POST (2011-5-20): This morning there were dozens of conflicting stories about whether Kim Jong-il and/or Kim jong-un had traveled to China.  Right now, the emerging view seems to be that Kim Jong-il is definitely in China and Kim Jong-un is possibly (probably not) in China.

So let’s back up a couple of days.  Kim Jong-il was just reported to have given on the spot guidance visits to the Ryongjon (룡전과수농장) and Toksong  (덕성과수농장) Fruit Farms on May 18th.  The Ryongjon Fruit Farm is located in Pukchon County (북청군, 40.172649°, 128.338476°) and the Toksong Fruit Farm is located in neighboring Toksong County (덕성군, 40.325806°, 128.262423°).  Those are the coordinates of the farms themselves if you want to check them out on Google Earth.

These farms lie on railway lines that indicate KJI was traveling north to cross into China at either Manpho (만포시) or Namyang, Onsong County (남양로동지구, 온성군).

So was Kim Jong-un traveling with Kim Jong-il?  Maybe, but I don’t think so…

KCNA reports from Kim’s guidance tours:

[Kim Jong-il] was accompanied by Kim Ki Nam and Choe Thae Bok, members of the Political Bureau and secretaries of the C.C., WPK, Thae Jong Su, alternate member of the Political Bureau and secretary of the C.C., WPK, and Kwak Pom Gi, chief secretary of the South Hamgyong Provincial Committee of the WPK.

Now I know that Kim Jong-un has reportedly accompanied his father on guidance trips without being listed as part of the official entourage and that he could have been omitted from official coverage precisely to hide his presence on the train to China.  In these situations I generally look to occam’s razor for the answer, and the razor says “no”.  Now I will just wait to be proven wrong.

The Wall Street Journal has more.

Here is coverage of the trip in the Washington Post.

Here is a headline (but no story) from Yonhap.


Plastic surgery required to work in prestigious DPRK restaurants

Friday, May 20th, 2011

According to the Daily NK:

It has been belatedly revealed that since the start of the 2000s, young women working in North Korean restaurants both in Pyongyang and abroad have been required to have double eyelid surgery.

A source with a long history of visits to Pyongyang explained to The Daily NK yesterday, “When I was in Pyongyang last year, I heard from someone related to the North that since the start of the 2000s all waitresses had double eyelid surgery on Kim Jong Il’s instructions,” and added, “It seems that Kim Jong Il places great importance on the appearance of workers in restaurants earning foreign currency.”

According to the source, the target of Kim Jong Il’s requirements includes workers at restaurants within Pyongyang fraternized by foreigners, including Korean and international restaurants in the Yanggakdo and Koryo Hotels, coffee shops and other shops.

But it also includes those sent to work in China (Beijing, Shanghai, Shenyang, Yanji), Southeast Asia (Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia), the Middle East (Dubai), Nepal, the Kaesong Industrial Complex and Kaesong.

The reason why Kim Jong Il made the decision is supposedly connected with restaurant sales; the waitresses at such establishments are not merely waitresses, for they must also be talented singers and dancers, too.

According to the source, “They are mostly young university students born in Pyongyang, and I heard they get the surgery in hospital in Pyongyang for $17.”

North Korea pushed into the foreign restaurant market at first in the 1990s in an attempt to boost hard currency earnings. Now, with foreign currency earning businesses under both Party and military organs operating in the market, there are more than 100 North Korean restaurants worldwide.

According to the scale of the restaurant and number of waitresses, each is expected to earn a certain amount of foreign currency per year, and while getting a job in one of the restaurants naturally relies heavily on family and educational background, the waitresses are still watched more carefully by the authorities than ordinary North Korean citizens.

A former resident of Pyongyang told me that elite North Korean women were all getting this procedure done back in the 1980s.  It was very cheap and common.

Read the full story here:
Eyelid Surgery a Restaurant Must
Daily NK:
Kim Yong Hun


Orascom releases 2011 Q1 shareholder report

Friday, May 20th, 2011

You can see the whole report here (PDF).

According to Martyn Williams (PC World):

The number of 3G cellular subscriptions in North Korea passed half a million during the first quarter, the country’s only 3G cellular operator said this week.

The Koryolink network had 535,133 subscriptions at the end of March, an increase of just over 100,000 on the end of December 2010, said Orascom Telecom. Egypt’s Orascom owns a majority stake in Koryolink, which is operated as a joint venture with the state-run Korea Posts and Telecommunications Co.

Subscriber growth has been strong ever since the network was launched in late 2008, but the most recent quarter delivered the first signs that Koryolink is having to work harder for new subscribers.

The January to March period was the first time since the third quarter of 2009 that the number of new subscribers during the quarter failed to be more than the previous quarter. In the October to December quarter, the company added just over 130,000 new customers.

Revenue for the quarter was a record US$25.7 million, a jump of 185 percent on the same period of 2010. Orascom doesn’t disclose net profit figures for the company.

The company is keen to launch new value-added services to raise average revenue per user (ARPU) and during the quarter it began offering MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service). Customers gave the service a positive response, Orascom said.

But despite the efforts, ARPU fell to its lowest level since service began in 2009. At just US$12.7 per month, it was down 40 percent on the same period last year.

Orascom also launched pre-paid cards denominated in euros to boost foreign exchange earnings from North Korea. The scratch cards offer free voice and value-added service use during off-peak hours.

The company’s network now covers 92 percent of the population.

North Korea is one of the world’s most heavily controlled countries and communication is severely restricted. Most cell phones don’t have the ability to make or receive international calls.

The Daily NK offers some additional information:

Cell phone customer numbers are rising while the price of the handsets is falling, according to sources from inside North Korea.

One such source from Pyongyang reported on the 18th, “The phone bill is no different from in the past, only the price of the cell phone itself is falling.”

According to sources, in Pyongyang a single-piece handset has gone from $280 to $250, and a clamshell design from $400 to $380 (at the exchange rate in South Pyongan Province, one dollar is presently worth 2,500 North Korean won, while a kilo of rice continues to drift in the 2,000 won range).

The source explained, “Cell phone users keep increasing. In Pyongyang, approximately 60% of people between their 20s and 50s use cell phones. Especially for the younger generation in their 20s and 30s, a cell phone is seen as a necessary item,” he said.

A source from Shinuiju also commented, “Around three out of ten young people have got a cell phone, and prices have been cut a bit.”

A source from South Pyongan Province agreed, too, saying, “Cell phone bills and prices have dropped compared with in the beginning. A basic cell phone (single-piece) is $225 and an expensive one is $300. You pay 30,000 won in our money, and then you can use it for 200 minutes.”

The source went on, “But when you buy a $10 card, you can use it for 600 minutes. This is a state policy to earn dollars.”

He explained that according to the jangmadang exchange rate, $10 is currently 25,000 won, meaning that payment for credit in dollars is of huge benefit in terms of value for money.

However, there is still an application fee of $800 and registration fee of $100, as before.

The source reported, “Cell phone traders purchase cell phones using their families’ and relatives’ names,” because only one handset per person is allowed. “Since there are many people who have obtained a cell phone in another’s name, their cell phones occasionally get confiscated when they go to the telephone office to pay the bill and get their ID checked.”

In a connected story, Radio Free Asia reported on the 19th that Koryo Link has added another 100,000 subscribers to its books since the end of last year, bringing the total number to 535,133 as of the end of March.

However, in contrast with Pyonyang and the interior areas of North Korea where usage is growing, the battle in the border region is still to restrict and control cell phone usage. Distinguishing a Chinese cell phone is not easy, so cracking down on the practice of using them is not easy, either, and therefore the method of applying for a cell phone has been made more difficult, among other measures.

According to one Yangkang Province source, “One person who took cell phones brought in by smugglers in March, remodeled and sold them was arrested by the People’s Safety Ministry, and in the light of that the process for applying for a cell phone here got stricter. The person who wishes to buy the phone must have the signature of a National Security agent now. In the beginning, there was no such rule.”

In North Korea, applications for cell phones are handled by sales offices; however, the procedure is more difficult now, and so some get the handset from a smuggler and only the number from the local office, in order to avoid the process. Of course, bribes are necessary to facilitate that, currently approximately $400-$450 in Yangkang Province.

According to sources, an official North Korean cell phone works on a different frequency to those from China in order to stop their being used to connect outside the country. However, if the frequency of a smuggled phone is changed to match North Korea’s, then the cell phone can be used.

And according to Mobile Business Briefing:

Orascom Telecom’s North Korean mobile arm, koryolink, surpassed the half a million subscriber mark in the first quarter, representing growth of 420 percent year-on-year. Orascom noted during its Q1 earnings yesterday that its North Korean subscriber base has reached 535,133, up from 125,661 a year earlier. While the numbers are still relatively small, Orascom’s North Korean venture – which was first launched in December 2008 – is being closely watched; koryolink is the only commercial operator in the notoriously secretive and totalitarian country and therefore has huge growth potential – as well as being a risky investment. Orascom said that current mobile penetration in North Korea is just 2 percent. Its revenue from koryolink rose 185 percent year-on-year to US$25.8 million in Q1, while earnings (EBITDA) hit US$22.6 million, giving it an impressive EBITDA margin of 87.6 percent.

koryolink’s network currently consists of 341 base stations covering the capital Pyongyang, 14 main cities as well as 72 smaller cities, Orascom said. The network also extends over 22 highways. As of the end of Q1 2011, koryolink covers 13.6 percent of the country’s territory and 92 percent of its population. In January 2011, koryolink launched MMS services for the first time, the latest addition to its VAS portfolio. The firm has also focused on maximising foreign currency revenue, launching in February a recharge card that can be bought in Euros.


Koryo Tours update

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

2012 DPRK tour dates: Koryo has posted travel dates for 2012, including a tour for Kim Il-sung’s 100th birthday.  Check the dates and itineraries here.

2011 Ultimate Frisbee tourney: Pyongyang will be home to its first ever Ultimate Frisbee tourney this summer.  August 27th.  Sign up now.

Ultimate Frisbee in North Korea. The most interesting sports thing you’ve ever done. Unless you’re Usain Bolt, who isn’t responding to my friend request.

The cost will be 890 Euros. This includes flights from and back to Beijing, tourist stuff Saturday and Monday, pizza, all other food that isn’t pizza, hotel, fields, entertainment. Visa fee (not optiona, 50 Euro) and ticket to the mass games (optional, but would be weird not to go: 80, 100, 150 or 300 Euro options) will be extra. North Korean microbrewed beer will be extra, but cheap (and good).

The itinerary includes two full days and three nights of touring. The tournament is a one day hat. We leave Beijing early Saturday and return early Tuesday. Participants should be in Beijing by Friday afternoon in order to collect visas get final info at Koryo Tours.
All nationalities except South Korean can participate.

Write an email to [email protected] if interested in attending and want more info.

If you know you’re in, write [email protected] and ask for the necessary forms to get it going.

It ain’t cheap, but it will be amazing. We’re looking to get deposits by June 30th.

Tentative Itinerary for Ultimate Frisbee Tour
Thurs 25th Aug: Pickup in Beijing -Introduction to “Extreme Pollution Ultimate”, dinner at Dong Bei Ren Restaurant (Not included in tour fee)

Fri 26th Aug: Briefing/Collect Visas at Koryo Tours office in Beijing

Sat 27th Aug: N/A Arrival by Air Koryo flight from Beijing at 14:20, Fountain Park, Mansudae Grand Monument, Kim Il Sung Square, ARIRANG MASS GAMES

Sun 28th Aug: Taesongsan Park for Frisbee Tournament, picnic lunch Frisbee tournament, evening trip to Kaeson Youth funfair, dinner at Korean restaurant

Mon 29th Aug: Juche Tower, Mansudae Art Studio, Pyongyang Metro (extended ride on the subway), Arch of Triumph, USS Pueblo, Pizza Restaurant Lunch, FRISBEE CLINIC AT LOCAL MIDDLE SCHOOL. Paradise Micro-Brewery, Foreign Languages Bookshop, Farewell dinner at Duck BBQ restaurant, evening Karaoke option.

Tues 30th Aug: 9:00 Air Koryo Flight to Beijing. End of tour.

Previously, Koryo Tours hosted the first cricket match (2008) and first golf tournament (2005) in the DPRK.

Middlesbrough Women’s Football Team booklet: It has been posted to the Koryo Tours web page. You can download it here (PDF).  Learn more about this effort here and here.


Is a generation change coming to the Supreme People’s Assembly?

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

The Choson Ilbo reports:

North Korea’s Workers Party has started a generational shakeup in the Supreme People’s Assembly by appointing large numbers of young delegates in their 20s and 30s. The rubber-stamp parliament consists of delegates with a five-year term from various organizations including the party and the military.

A North Korean source said the Workers Party recently ordered municipal, provincial, and county party committees to force elderly members to quit for health reasons and fill the vacancies with people under 40.

“The North Korean leadership is seeking to replace a larger number of elderly members with younger people next year,” which it has declared as the year when the country becomes a “powerful and prosperous” nation, the source said. The regime “also ordered officials to lower the educational level of the delegates, but raise the ratio of female delegates to more than 30 percent.”

The average age of the 687 SPA delegates is 57. Those with college or higher degrees account for 92.8 percent, and women for 19.3 percent, according to the source. The moves are believed to be part of the regime’s efforts to consolidate the succession of leader Kim Jong-il’s third son and heir Jong-un, who is in his late 20s.

Liberty Forward Party lawmaker Park Sun-young backed the story. “I was told by a North Korean source based in a Southeast Asian country that the regime has recently issued instructions for a generational change in the SPA,” she said. “The party is trying to strengthen Kim Jong-un’s control” at a time when the lower echelons of the party, which has a membership of 4.5 million nationwide, have become unreliable since a botched currency reform in late 2008.

“Once the SPA has more delegates in their 20s and 30s who are Kim Jong-un’s loyal cadres, the regime will probably get tough, including launching more provocations against the South,” Park added.

The 12th Supreme People’s Assembly just held their 4th session.

Read the full story here:
N.Korea Pushes Generational Change in Parliament
Choson Ilbo


PUST enrollment reaches 250*

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Pictured above (Google Earth): Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) in  December 2009

Martyn Williams offers us an update on the University:

The Pyongyang University of Science and Technology enrolled an additional 100 students at the start of the current academic semester, according to a foundation that supports the school.

The first classes at PUST began in October 2010 with 160 students enrolled, said reports at the time. The latest intake will take the student body to 260 members, assuming none of the initial students has dropped out.

You can read Martyn’s full blog post here.

If you are interested in doing some volunteer work for PUST, here is their foundation’s web page. Here is the official PUST web page.

Previous PUST posts can be found here.


ROK court rules on DPRK defector confidentiality

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

According to Yonhap:

A Seoul appeals court ruled Thursday the South Korean government should pay 120 million won (US$110,000) to a North Korean defector over an identity leak case that he claimed led to the disappearance of his 22 relatives in the North.

The Seoul High Court said the government claimed media reports on defection were intended to satisfy the people’s right to know, but the need to accept the defector’s request for confidentiality takes precedence over the people’s right to know or the freedom of press.

Lee Kwang-su, 42, sailed into South Korean waters along with his wife, two children and a friend aboard a small barge in 2006. He claimed he had initially planned to go to Japan and seek political asylum at the U.S. embassy there.

Lee currently lives in California after he won asylum in the United States in 2008.

He has said South Korean investigators released his identity as well as that of four others to media despite his request for confidentiality for fear of retaliation against their relatives in North Korea.

North Korean defectors in the South claim that North Korea harshly punishes relatives of defectors and sends them to prisons.

Lee believed his relatives were sent to a political prison camp, though it is nearly impossible to independently verify the claims due to lack of free access to the isolated country.

The ruling raised the amount of compensation to Lee, who was awarded 55 million won in a lower court in October. He had demanded 1.15 billion won when he filed a suit against the South Korean government in 2008.

Lee said he will consult with his lawyer before deciding whether or not appeal the ruling.

“I cannot expect justice will be served even if I appeal to the Supreme Court,” Lee said after the ruling, adding he plans to sue the South Korean government in a U.S. court. He did not give a specific time frame.

South Korean prosecutors were not immediately available for comment.

Read the full story here:
Appeals court orders S. Korean gov’t to pay W120 mln to defector


Kaesong production sets monthly record

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

Pictured above (Google Earth): Growth of the Kaesong Industrial Center (Apr. 2004, Jan. 2006, Sept. 2009)

According to Yonhap:

South Korean factories in an industrial complex in North Korea produced goods worth US$34.7 million in March, setting a monthly output record since the two Koreas launched the zone in 2004, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said Wednesday.

The complex, a key symbol of rapprochement between the two Koreas, combines the South’s technology and management expertise with the North’s cheap labor.

More than 46,000 North Koreans work for about 120 South Korean firms operating in the North Korean border city of Kaesong to produce clothes, utensils, watches and other low-tech goods.

The two divided Koreas managed to maintain the zone despite a chill in their relations over the North’s two deadly attacks on the South last year that killed 50 South Koreans.

A couple of days ago I posted a story about the growth in number of North Korean workers at the complex.

UPDATE (2011-5-27): The Wall Street Journal’s Korea Real-Time offers some 2010 joint-Korean trade and aid umbers:

For the full year, general trade between the two Koreas amounted to $118 million, down 54% from $256 million in 2009.

But the joint industrial complex at Kaesong, a city just inside North Korea on the west side of the inter-Korean border, continued to flourish.

The volume of trade at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, goods moving into the approximately 120 factories there and then being shipped back south after North Korean workers added value, rose 54% to $1.44 billion last year from $941 million in 2009.

As part of the penalties following the Cheonan incident, the South Korean government limited the number of South Koreans who could stay at the Kaesong complex. The result: one-day visits to the complex soared, lifting the total number of South Koreans who visited the North.

For all of 2010, 130,119 South Koreans went to the North while just 130 North Koreans visited the South. In 2009, 120,616 South Koreans went to the North and 246 North Koreans visited the South.

South Korea’s assistance to North Korea also dropped sharply last year, to 30.1 bililon won from 77.5 billion won a year earlier. The South’s direct government assistance was 8 billion won, down from 10.4 billion won in 2009.

Private assistance from South Korea also fell to 20 billion won in 2010, from 37.7 billion won in 2009.

Read the full story here:
Production at Koreas’ industrial complex sets monthly record


Some current economic data points

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

According to Daily NK:

Things are growing more difficult for many North Korean people as they pass through the spring lean season, according to a new interview with a citizen from the edge of Pyongyang, Kang Mi Soon. There has been little distribution this year, even in the capital, which has traditionally received preferential treatment, and while people are trading to try and improve matters, it’s not easy at the moment.

This is because, as a lingering after-effect of the currency redenomination, a lot of people have exhausted their reserves of cash, while prices have returned to levels commensurate with before the redenomination. In spite of relative commercial freedom in the jangmadang, the number of transactions has fallen and the class of small traders which lives day-to-day is struggling.

Kang, who hails from Gangdong County in Pyongyang, revealed this and more news from the city in an interview she gave to The Daily NK in Yanji, where she recently visited relatives,

The following is a transcript of the interview with Kang:

– What is the state of the distribution system?

In December last year and then January this year, there were eight days-worth of distribution. In February there were ten days, including the 16th (Kim Jong Il’s birthday), but in March there was no distribution. In April there were five days, including the Day of the Sun (Kim Il Sung’s birthday).

(One day of distribution ordinarily means 700g of rice or other grain for laborers, 900g for miners and workers in other strategic industries, 800g for members of state security, 400-500g for students (depending on grade) and 300g for housewives)

– Is the jangmadang operating well?

The jangmadang is working normally. However, the situation is that though the number of sellers is on the rise, people do not have money so products are not selling well.

– What things are selling the most?

Mostly, rice and corn are the mainstays of jangmadang sales. Since February of this year, there has been a drastic reduction in sales of other household items and industrial products. Though the supplies of rice and corn in the jangmadang are similar to last year, the number of buyers and the amounts being bought are both decreasing.

– What is the overall situation in terms of prices?

Overall, they have risen to a level similar to that of before the redenomination. In the case of Chinese products, prices have increased to more than before the redenomination. Socks made in China were 1,500won before, but now they are 2,000won.

– They say that the food situation during the spring lean season is hard. Can you tell us more?

Starting from last year, after the currency redenomination, the situation started getting worse, and this year it is really bad.

– Has anyone starved to death?

In Gangdong [Kangdong] County, since the beginning of February about twenty people, including two families which committed suicide, have died of hunger.

(Gangdong County had a population of 221,539 in 2008)

– What is the overall food supply situation?

60% of people in the county are living off three meals a day of corn porridge or corn flour noodles, 30% on corn rice and the remaining 10% are eating three meals of rice a day. In March and April of last year, the number of people eating three meals of rice was 30 or 40%, and less than 5% were living on corn porridge or noodles; the rest are corn rice.

– What about other regions?

With the exception of central Pyongyang and other big cities (Sinuiju, Pyongsung, Chongjin etc), it seems to me that other rural regions are in the same situation as Gangdong. The price of rice looks likely to stay the same or rise, and so, until around June 10th when the potatoes are gathered, the numbers of starving people is likely to rise.

Read the full story here:
Gangdong County Hit by Spring Shortages
Daily NK
Choi Cheong Ho