Archive for June, 2011

Friday Grab Bag: Anju, UN, pr, app

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Anju’s outdoor market

Voice of America published a series of photos from inside the DPRK. Many of the pictures are from Anju. Looking through them, I saw this outdoor market of which I was unaware.  It did not, however, take too long to find it on Google Earth. The coordinates of the outdoor market are 39.623199°, 125.680848°. Anju and nearby Sinanju both also have one covered market each.  Lots of shoes for sale.


UN Conference on Disarmament
The winner of the “rolling eyes” award this week goes to the announcement that the DPRK has been named to the presidency of the United Nations Conference on Disarmament.  According to the official press release:

In his initial address to the Conference as president, So Se Pyong of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said that he was very much committed to the Conference and during his presidency he welcomed any sort of constructive proposals that strengthened the work and credibility of the body. He was ready to work closely with all members to provide the grounds for strengthening their work. As president, he would be guided by the Rules of Procedure and take into account the position of each delegation to find common ground on substantive issues and procedural matters as well. With their support and cooperation, he would do everything in his capacity to move the Conference on Disarmament forward.

I am sure you can think of some recommendations for him!

Canada has since boycotted the committee (2011-7-11).


How to Generate Good Press: Write it
This week the Wall Street Journal’s Korea Real Time had a great post about the North Korean proclivity to purchase advert space in foreign publications and then report “favorable coverage” to the people back home.  “See how much foreigners envy us and out leader[s]”?!

Paying for space in Blitz actually represents something of an economy drive for the Pyongyang publicity machine. Back in 1997, as famine gripped the land, the regime shelled out for some pricier real estate: a full page in the New York Times. That allowed the KCNA to boast that the U.S. newspaper of record had “dedicated one whole page to a special writeup under the title ‘Kim Jong Il Emerges As Lodestar For Sailing the 21st Century’”—with, as the KCNA noted, a large color picture.

Here are five stories from KCNA citing praise in the New York TimesKCNA 1, KCNA 2, KCNA 3, KCNA 4, KCNA 5.  As far as I can tell, the DPRK has never advertised in the Wall Street Journal.  Wouldn’t that be something.


DPRK: There’s an app for that
Martyn Williams writes about Eric Lafforgue’s new iPhone app featuring his pics of the DPRK.  His photo set is here.  Now all we need is a Kernbeisser iPhone app.


The Rason Economic and Trade Zone to Adopt the Singapore Model

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

Since the June 8 and 9 groundbreaking ceremonies for joint development projects between North Korea and China were held, attention has been directed toward North Korea’s international economic activities. The Japan-based newspaper, Chosun Shinbo, featured an interview article regarding these collective projects, including the areas of Hwanggumpyong and Wiwha Islands and the Rason Economic and Trade Zone.

According to North Korea’s Committee of Investment and Joint Venture, Rason Economic and Trade Zone is, “an important national undertaking following the teachings of Kim Il Sung. . . . Rason will soon become the entrepot port like Singapore, enhancing the lives of North Korean people.”

In addition, it was mentioned that the development of economic zones in Hwanggumpyong and Wiwha Islands will solidify the already strong DPRK-China friendship and expand the boundaries of international economic relations.

According to North Korea’s Committee of Investment and Joint Venture, politically, “Stable political atmosphere allow investors to engage freely in investment activities and necessary legal measures were taken creating favorable legal conditions for foreign investments. This includes the establishment of Joint Venture Law (of 1984) and other related laws.” Economically, “All the necessary substructures supporting the business operation are set. Workers will all be provided free 11-year education and tax rates are the lowest in the region and for those investors investing in sectors that the DPRK is promoting, will be provided with preferential treatment.”

North Korea is encouraging foreign investments especially in the industrial, agricultural, transportation, construction, financial, and tourism sectors. In particular, adopting state-of-the-art production technology is considered most important. This is to increase the area’s competitiveness in the international market through the production of items that have high export value. However, investment restrictions are placed preventing exports on natural resources like ore and coal.

The Committee also stressed the accomplishments of economic cooperation with China and Egypt and revealed plans of passing a double tax avoidance agreement with China, who is the largest foreign investment for North Korea.

The Egyptian company Orascom Telecom has invested in telecommunications, construction, and financial sectors in North Korea. The president of Orascom is said to have met with Kim Jong Il early this year, announcing his plans of expanding investment in the country.

In addition, the Committee reiterated building an independent national economy does not exclude international economic relations. It explained, “We are trying to resolve our shortcomings through international economic activities while maximizing our domestic technology and resources. This is the principle of socialist economic construction.

The Committee of Investment and Joint Venture was established last July, which is a central state organization under the Cabinet overseeing joint ventures and investments. It is in charge of guiding, supervising and administering the inducement of investments from abroad. It is a government body on the level of the Ministry of Trade, which it has close affiliations with. The Ministry is a central organization controlling general trade activities while the Committee is mostly responsible for attracting foreign investment, joint investment, and ventures.


Aid worker claims DPRK cut food rations

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

According to the AFP:

North Korea has drastically cut public food handouts as it heads towards a new hunger crisis with people again eating grass to survive, one of the most experienced aid workers in the isolated nation said.

Food rations have been cut to as low as 150 grammes (5.3 ounces) a day per person in some parts of the country as foreign donations collapse and higher international prices make imports more expensive, said Katharina Zellweger, head of a Swiss government aid office in Pyongyang.

Food supplies to the estimated population of 23 million people have been controlled through a public distribution system for decades.

“It works sometimes and sometimes it doesn’t work,” the head of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation office in Pyongyang told a group of UN correspondents.

“The lowest I heard was 150 grammes per person per day, and I even heard that in Pyongyang the rations are cut to 200 grammes per person per day.”

Diplomats say the rations have been halved over the past 18 months. One hundred grammes of rice produces about 250-350 calories a day, experts said.

Zellweger said she had seen “a lot more malnourished children” on recent travels around the country.

“You see more people out in the fields and on the hillsides digging roots, cutting grass or herbs. So there are signs that there is going to be a crisis.”

At the same time the Daily NK reports:

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the market price of potatoes in North Korea has risen substantially in recent weeks, with farms unable to supply the jangmadang because drought and a lack of fertilizer have had a detrimental effect on this year’s spring harvest.

One farmer from North Hamkyung Province revealed his concerns in a phone interview with The Daily NK on the 26th, saying, “This year, potatoes have not done well because of the drought and fertilizer situation, so I have nothing to sell in the market. I am worried about what we are going to do until the corn comes in August.”

Spring potatoes harvested in early June are a decisive food for North Korean farmers. They receive their share of the autumn harvest in December, but once the People’s Army has received its share and various debts have been repaid, they only get enough food for three or four months. After this, potatoes are an important staple to see them through until corn can be harvested in July and August.

However, after deducting cost incurred in bringing together seeds, fertilizer, agricultural chemicals, farm machinery, irrigation equipment and fuel, a farmer receives distribution depending upon his individual work points, decided according to his/her working hours. Since deductions are high, the share for farmers is low, sources say.

The price of potatoes has even risen sharply in Yangkang Province, the center of North Korean potato production. According to Yangkang Province sources, potatoes there are currently selling for between 900 and 1,000 won/kg, double the price of last year.

Fortunately, the high price of potatoes has not had any influence on rice prices. According to one source, “Rice is being sold steadily, and the price is stable not rising.” In the market in Hyesan, rice is now on sale for between 1,900 and 2,100 won/kg, not much more than it was before the spring shortages began.

Finally, new video footage smuggled out of the DPRK suggested that food supplies are particularly tight in distant towns, even for soldiers:

“Everybody is weak,” says one young North Korean soldier. “Within my troop of 100 comrades, half of them are malnourished,” he said.

The DPRK has requested food aid this year, but donors have been reluctant to meet their demands for a number of reasons.  See related stories here.

According to the Chirstian Science Monitor:

A central question is whether North Korea needs emergency shipments as called for by the World Food Program. Yes, Ms. Park acknowledges, “The problem this year is changed by flood and winter cold,” but the widespread view here is that North Korea basically has enough food.

It’s believed that North Korea wants to stockpile food for celebrations planned next year to mark the 100-year anniversary of the birth of the late Kim Il-sung, the long-reigning “Great Leader” who died in 1994 after passing on power to his son, current leader Kim Jong-il.

“There’s a need, but we don’t know how great it is,” says a knowledgeable western observer. “My hunch is it’s less about a shortage of food and more about unequal distribution. You can buy rice in the markets if you have the means.”

South Korean leaders appeared relieved when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently made it clear that the US did not believe North Korea had addressed “serious concerns about monitoring” food distribution. The US still wants to know what happened to 20,000 tons of rice that’s strongly believed to have gone to North Korean soldiers when a US food aid program was suspended two years ago.

And on June 30, Yonhap reported:

North Korea imported more than 50,000 tons of grains from its key ally China in May, an expert said Thursday, amid chronic food shortages in the North.

The North purchased 50,328 tons of corn, flour and rice in May, up 31.5 percent compared to the same period last year, said Kwon Tae-jin, a North Korea expert at the Korea Rural Economic Institute.

The North also imported 114,300 tons of fertilizer from China in the first five months, a rise of 39 percent compared to the same period last year, Kwon said, citing figures from Seoul’s Korea International Trade Association.

China is the North’s last remaining ally, key economic benefactor and diplomatic supporter.


DPRK unexpectedly discharges water from Hwanggang Dam (again)

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

According to Yonhap:

North Korea began discharging water from a dam near the border earlier this week without notifying South Korea, officials here said Wednesday.

Officials here in this Gyeonggi Province town, north of Seoul, said the North earlier this week opened the Hwanggang Dam near the Imjin River, which flows out to South Korea’s west coast, and has kept it open since.

“No damage has been reported around the Imjin River,” an official said. “We’re not concerned about (the water level of the river) yet.”

Officials said the water level on the Pilseung Bridge near the border, which serves as a gauge of North Korea’s water discharge, reached 4.49 meters as of 8 a.m. Tuesday, well over the warning level of 3 meters, and then fell to 4.03 meters at 4:20 p.m. Wednesday before inching back up to 4.04 meters by 5 p.m.

Officials said it usually takes 10 hours for water from the Hwanggang Dam to reach the Pilseung Bridge.

After the North Korean discharge, South Korea opened its Gunnam Dam to control the water level. The dam, which began operations last July, was specifically designed to capture flash floods from North Korea.

North Korea was hit by Typhoon Meari this week, officials added, suggesting that a sudden rise of the water level there might have forced the discharge.

It is the same dam that North Korea opened without prior notice in September 2009. The ensuing flash flood claimed six South Korean lives. At a later inter-Korean meeting on flood control, North Korea expressed regret over the incident and vowed to give prior notice before future discharges.

Last year, North Korea also sent water from the Hwanggang Dam and did notify officials here through the military communication line. The water near the Pilseung Bridge rose to 8.67 meters, but the Gunnam Dam helped prevent damage along the Imjin River.

An official said the local authorities were remaining on guard.

“The water level can surge suddenly,” a local official said. “In 2009, when six South Koreans were killed, the level on the Pilseung Bridge was 4.69 meters. So we’re closely monitoring the situation.”

Additional Information:
1. The South Korean government has also warned its people to be on the lookout for land mines that wash downstream from the DPRK.  See here and here.

2. Read about the 2009 Hwanggang Dam incident here.

3. Here is an older satellite image of the dam (Google Maps).


Some new DPRK publications

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

The Survival of North Korea: Essays on Strategy, Economics and International Relations
Suk Hi Kim, Bernhard Seliger, Terence Roehrig
Order at

About the Book
Since the end of the Cold War, scholars and analysts have been predicting the collapse of the communist regime in North Korea. Yet, despite a deteriorating economy characterized by declining industrial output, outdated technology, and difficulty feeding its people, the country has been able to persist in spite of these daunting obstacles and continues to plod along. How has North Korea been able to survive, and how long can it last without significant change to its economic and political structures? How can we peacefully resolve the North Korean nuclear standoff through constructive dialogue? This book examines North Korea’s survival strategy and practical solutions to a fifty-year nuclear standoff through a series of essays written by thirteen of the world’s foremost scholars and leading experts on strategy, economics, and international relations. The Survival of North Korea, edited by Kim, Roehrig, and Seliger, is essential reading for anyone interested in peace in Northeast Asia. The book will be invaluable in helping policy-makers, diplomats, politicians, researchers, and other North Korea watchers to understand the three closely related issues about North Korea: (1) why North Korea will continue to survive; (2) how the United States and North Korea can build a mutual confidence; and (3) why a dialogue is the only viable way to resolve the North Korea problem peacefully.


U.S.-DPRK Educational Exchanges: Status and Future Prospects
38 North
Karin J. Lee and Gi-Wook Shin
June 2011


My First Monitoring Trip
38 North
Erich Weingartner
June 2011


And I am a bit behind the ball on this one, but I have added the second Panel of Expterts Report (2011) on the DPRK to my DPRK Economic Statistics Page.


Some alleged guidelines for the Hwanggumphyong SEZ

Friday, June 24th, 2011

According to the JoongAng Daily:

The JoongAng Ilbo has acquired North Korea’s guidelines for Chinese investors at its economic development zone on Hwanggumpyong Island, and many are more liberal than those offered to South Koreans at the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

The date of the document acquired by the JoongAng Ilbo was not known.

According to the guidelines written by a joint committee for the development and organization of the Hwanggumpyong and Rason special economic zone, transactions in Chinese currency are allowed. Independent and joint banks will also be allowed to be established in the zones.

South Korean companies working in Kaesong conduct all business in U.S. dollars. Unlike South Koreans working in Kaesong, investors in the new zones will receive special privileges when it comes to using land. They are free to lease, lend or even bequeath the land to their relatives, as long it is done within a contracted period of time. Those who reside within the special economic zones can also freely use cell phones and are provided with Internet access.

Cell phones are not allowed in the Kaesong industrial complex.

The goal of the zones, the document said, was to “continue to firmly develop the traditional friendship between the two countries,” which was “agreed upon by the two greatest leaders” of China and North Korea, referring to Chinese president Hu Jintao and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

“It also supports the hopes and future gains of the people from the two countries,” it said.

The economic zones are also meant to improve North Korea’s manufacturing ability, quality of life for North Koreans and the North’s competitiveness in earning foreign currency, the document added. In order to do so, North Korea’s natural resources would be utilized to their fullest, including human resources, land and minerals.

The document’s role, it said, was to “aid the writing of more detailed development policies.” The guidelines are valid in the 470 square kilometers (181 square miles) of the Rason free economic zone and 16 square kilometers of Hwanggumpyong.

In case the zones fill up, the document hinted at the possibility of a third zone that could be established.

For Rason, the document said three piers leased out to different countries – China, Switzerland and Russia – would be modified to allow vessels of more than 50,000 tons to dock. In addition, new highways, bridges and even an airfield would be built in the area.

At Hwanggumpyong, a new port will be constructed for passengers and cargo vessels between the island and the North Korean city of Sinuiju. The document said the airport at Dandong, which is near Hwanggumpyong, would be “actively utilized.”

The document emphasized that foreign investors’ assets would not be nationalized and that all investors’ legal rights were guaranteed.

The document was written in both Chinese and Korean.

Despite all the promises in the guidelines, analysts remained skeptical as to how successful the trade zones will be. “It’s a mystery as to how many investors will be eager to invest there,” said a diplomatic source in North Korea.

Read the full story here:
Pyongyang promises China investors the moon
JoongAng Daily
Chang Se-jeong, Christine Kim


Daily NK on anti-socialist activities

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

Part 1: The Illogicality of Anti-Socialist Policy
Lee Seok Young

In North Korea today, those actions which are subject to the harshest oversight and most excessive punishment are those deemed anti-socialist, an expression of the extent to which such actions are seen as a threat to the regime.

Yet these very actions have already taken deep root in people’s lifestyles, spreading rapidly as a result of chronic economic difficulties, food insecurity, endemic corruption and the inflow of information from abroad.

First of all, every North Korean and defector the Daily NK meets says much the same thing; that if people had not followed an ‘anti-socialist’ path during the mid-90s famine, they could not have survived. The power which maintains North Korean society through the hardest times is that derived from anti-socialist actions, and it is those actions which the authorities would like to put an end to.

The blocking of these so-called ‘anti-socialist trends’ nominally began with Kim Jong Il’s 1992 work, ‘Socialism Is a Science’, issued following the fall of the Eastern Bloc. A time of great fear for the regime, ‘Socialism Is a Science’ expressed a determination to block out anti-socialist phenomena.

However, a famine exploded nationwide shortly after the publication of the thesis, placing these very anti-socialist modes of behavior at the core of the lives of almost everybody in the nation.

Having completely replaced Kim Jong Il and the Chosun Workers’ Party as the alpha provider of sustenance, money is now uppermost in the minds of the people. If they can, they are moving away from the collective farms, factories and enterprises to become more active in the market.

“At a time when the state didn’t provide rations and workers were not even receiving their monthly wages, the ones who started trading early on were all best able to avoid this predicament,” said one defector, “Others followed after their example and, rather than trying to find work, went straight into the market.”

Money, then, is the fundamental toxin that now threatens to shake the very basis of the Kim regime, completely undermining the ‘let’s work the same, have the same and live well’ lifestyle that the regime has long been demanding from the people.The authorities, as part of a losing battle to halt this slide, ‘educates’ the people with the mantra, “Don’t become a slave to money,” but it makes no difference.

People are growing more and more money-oriented. What simply began as a desperate rearguard action to survive extreme poverty has become a preoccupation with accumulating wealth. The many who don’t have the capital to start a business are keen to work with those who do.

One interviewee, a woman hailing from North Hamkyung Province, told The Daily NK, “They have to keep trying, but they can’t eliminate it. How could they, when the state itself is actually encouraging its spread? Everywhere you go, they demand bribes, and people with money never get punished even when clearly guilty, because everyone is desperate to earn money.”

Given that the central authorities demand Party funds from regional bodies, and regional Party and military cadres in turn work with smugglers, and the cadres charged with inspection turn a blind eye to criminal acts in exchange for bribes, the whole system is, as the interviewee said, rotten from the top down.

One defector who left his position as a cadre in a Yangkang Province enterprise agreed, recalling, “The Party periodically collected money from our factory, but since all the machinery had long since stopped running, they made us work in the market and give 30% of the profits to the authorities. It was the state that promoted anti-socialism in consequence.”

Another defector originally from North Hamkyung Province said in a similar vein, “The National Security and People’s Safety agents stationed on provincial borders stop people without the right permit to travel, but let them pass in exchange for a few packs of cigarettes. Some even ask for your wrist watch. It’s not just the people; the whole nation is busy being anti-socialist.”

Increasing exposure to foreign materials is also influencing the situation somewhat. Such things are especially popular with students and women working in the markets, two groups which are more up-to-date than most.

South Korean and Western culture is being transmitted quickly via DVD, and materials that are brought into the state from China by traders and smugglers are also pushing forward new trends such as the ‘Korean Wave.’

To the North Korean people, who once lived in near complete isolation from the rest of the world, the introduction of foreign materials has intensified their yearnings for a new life style. The stricter the regulations become, the thirstier for something else the people become.

Part 2: Crackdowns Enhancing Anti-Socialist Cycle
Mok Yong Jae

‘Anti-socialism’ in North Korea is a destabilizing force disturbing the foundations of the system. For that reason, the authorities place a great emphasis on rooting it out. Inspections are frequent and their targets varied. But the fact is that this has done little to stop the growth of such activities; in fact, quite the opposite; some believe that targeted inspections actually increase instances of smuggling, for example.

These focused inspections are handed down in the name of the ‘Party Center’ in other words Kim Jong Il. The latest inspections over anti-socialist trends in border areas have been being carried out by Kim Jong Eun’s direct instruction. First people are educated about and warned against ‘anti-socialist behavior’, then provincial Party and military cadres launch an inspection.

If a concerted inspection is to be unleashed on a given area, an inspection unit is set up, and it does the work. In the case of recent inspections targeting drugs and defection, the inspection units have even been sent from the Central Committee of the Party. The makeup of the unit can differ slightly depending on the target of the inspection, but usually includes agents from the National Security Agency (NSA), People’s Safety Ministry and Prosecutors Office. Precise search sites are usually selected at random and the searches conducted without warning, while ‘criminals’ are flushed out in part by getting citizens to report on one another.

However, the effectiveness of this system has a limit. This is primarily due to an overwhelming degree of official corruption at nearly all levels.

The Spread of Bureaucracy and the Limits of Inspections

The primary agents conducting the inspections, agents from the NSA and PSM, collude with smugglers for their own benefit. Anti-socialist activities are not a new means of survival, and the more commonplace the inspections become, the more focused the agents doing it become on their own self-interest; i.e. rent seeking rather than uncovering instances of wrongdoing.

For example, agents seek out big smugglers only in order to offer them an opportunity for their actions to be ignored, something they will do for a price. A source from Yangkang Province explained to The Daily NK, “Hoping not to lose their goods, also so as to avoid prison, in many cases smugglers try to win over agents. They talk to the official for a while, and if they think ‘this guy can be won over’ then some even gently encourage them to find a way to forego any punishment.”

Then, when the inspecting agents begin dropping heavy hints about expensive merchandise, electronics or a piano, for example, the smugglers say, “I’d be delighted to buy that for you,” and for that receive their freedom.

Thus, it is rare for money to change hands directly; goods are bought in China and handed over when the inspection period has come to a close. The smuggler also obtains a permit to import a certain amount of other goods without penalty in the future. By winning over agents in this way, assistance in future times of trouble can also be secured.

In addition, as Lee Jae Won, the former chairman of the Korean Bar Association Committee on Human Rights in North Korea and someone who has interviewed a great number of defectors as author of the 2010 White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea, concludes, “Anti-socialist activities are extremely common for North Korean cadres in public positions such as prosecutors and judges.” The bribing of prosecutors and judges in exchange for leniency or to escape conviction is a daily occurrence, as much as bribing the security forces and cadres.

What Anti-socialist Counteroffensive? Officials are the source of Antisocialism

Now much more so than in the past, cadres and agents are directly involved in the antisocialist activities.

A Chinese-Korean trader who often goes between Dandong and Shinuiju told The Daily NK, “There are so many drugs in North Korea that even the officers supposed to be policing it are taking drugs themselves. Some of them even asked me to take opium to China and sell it. I go back to North Korea every year to visit relatives, and I’ve seen officers there doing bingdu (methamphetamines) with my own eyes.

It is also said that the families of cadres are the main source of South Korean movies and dramas on DVD. Party cadres are, in effect, the very source of the Korean Wave that their bosses in Pyongyang ban on the premise of defending the state from the ‘ideological and cultural invasion of the South Chosun reactionaries’.

A source from Pyongan Province confirmed the story, telling The Daily NK, “These DVDs and VCDs come from the houses of cadres who travel overseas a lot. The children of cadres love watching them. The families of traders have a lot of them, too, but it’s the cadres they’re spreading from.”

Thus, while the central Party single-mindedly attacks anti-socialist behaviour, the cadres and agents who are meant to be carrying out the orders are deeply involved in the ‘anti-socialism’ themselves. The more crackdowns that occur, the more contact there is between the elite and security forces on the one hand and smugglers and traders on the other, offering more opportunities for symbiosis. It is for this reason that some claim the inspections are actually catalyzing the anti-socialism.

Meanwhile, An Chan Il of the World North Korea Study Center pointed out to The Daily NK that the whole thing is completely inevitable, saying, “These inspection teams are not receiving proper rations from the state, so of course they take bribes instead when sent out into the field. Administrative irregularities and corruption are at the very heart of these anti-socialist inspections. The only way for the families of inspecting agents to survive is for the father to be a part of this anti-socialist behavior.”

Choi Yong Hwan from the Gyeonggi Research Institute agreed, adding, “These inspections are intensifying social inequality. The fundamental cause of this is the collapse of the state rationing system due to economic difficulties. It’s a situation where even the agents are hungry, so there is a permanent pattern of them attempting to guarantee their own survival via corruption. There is a vicious cycle repeating here, whereby those who are able to ingratiate themselves with the inspecting agents and cadres survive, and those who do not or cannot get punished.”


Friday Fun: Sunglasses, scuba, Pororo, and ladies football!

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

1. The Leader’s so bright (I gotta wear shades). Only Kim Jong-il could give a talk to a packed auditorium while wearing sunglasses indoors…

2. As an frequent scuba diver, I was surprised to see this on North Korean TV this week:

I have not seen a dive suit like this outside of a museum.  Antique dive helmets in this style sell for well over US$1,000 and most are from Russia.  It seems like the DPRK could export its aging scuba gear, use the proceeds to buy newer/safer dive equipment, and have some cash left over.  The picture was taken at the Tanchon Port, which is being renovated.

3. Poor Pororo:

Back in early May, Pororo came out of the closet as a joint-Korean creation. With the implementation of new DPRK-US trade regulations (EO 13570), many were worried that the US was rolling up the welcome mat for Pororo videos—but he will be fine. OFAC explains why. Steve Park’s importation of Pyongyang Soju will also be fine.

4. North Korean Wave:

This week the DPRK launched a new television drama about its ladies national football team.  The show’s premier was announced on the KCTV evening news on June 18th and so far it has aired every day this week beginning on the 19th.  I have all of the episodes (so far) on my computer, and they are very fun to watch–even without subtitles.

The show appears to be shot on location at the ladies team’s training complex in Pyongyang (38.994877°, 125.811791°–right next to the Taedonggang Brewery):

And just as interesting, this show is the first example (of which I am aware) in which KCTV seems to directly engage in product placement advertising for a foreign-made product.  Here is a series of screen shots from the first four episodes:

The coach never takes off his FILA jacket. How long before all of the DPRK’s aspiring footballers want a jacket just like that one?

Interestingly, according to the FILA Wikipedia page: “Founded in 1911 in Italy, Fila has been owned and operated from South Korea since a takeover in 2007.”

I have uploaded a short sassy clip of the show to YouTube.  Watch it here.  Here is a story in Yonhap about the show (Korean).


DPRK looking to export rare earths…

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

UPDATE 2 (2011-7-23): The Choson Sinbo, a pro-Pyongyang news service based in Tokyo, has published an article on rare-earths development in the DPRK.  You can see a PDF of the original Korean article here.

According to coverage of the article in Bernama:

According to resource development senior officials, the amount of rare earth buried in the North amounts to approximately 20 million tonnes.

Estimates on the amount could rise fo the current digging work finds new burial grounds or more elements deeper in existing sites, said the Tokyo-based paper, which serves as a channel for Pyongyang to deliver messages.

So far, no exact amount of rare earth deposits in the reclusive communist nation has been confirmed. The largest burial deposit was located in North Pyeongan Province the paper said, while the rest of the elements were distributed in the southern and northern parts of the nation.

The North is working on using the rare earth minerals in manufacturing industries and is considering joint projects with other nations, Kim Heung-joo, vice chief of the state-run resource development agency, was quoted as saying by the paper.

The government will put limits on its output aqnd exports of rare earth materials, Kim added.

According to coverage in the AFP:

China has 90 million tonnes of rare earth deposits, Russia has 21 million tonnes while the United States has 14 million tonnes, the report said.

The largest deposit was discovered in North Pyongan Province, the paper said, while the rest of the elements were distributed in southern and northern parts of the country.

A senior North Korean official of the state natural resource development agency told the newspaper that North Korea was encouraging joint ventures with other countries to develop rare earth metals.

“It is important that these elements be processed in the country before being exported,” the official, Kim Hung-Ju, was quoted as saying by the Chosun Shinbo.

Currently, China produces more than 95 percent of the world’s rare earths — 17 elements critical to manufacturing everything from iPods to low-emission cars and missiles.


UPDATE 1 (2011-6-23): Here is the story in KCNA:

DPRK Makes Full Use of Rare-earth Minerals

Pyongyang, June 20 (KCNA) — An effective utilization of rare-earth minerals is of weighty significance in economic growth, said an official of the Ministry of State Resource Development.

Kim Hung Ju, vice department director of the ministry, told KCNA the DPRK government has paid much effort to the exploitation and utilization of rare-earth minerals.

The country has large deposits of high-grade rare-earth minerals in west and east areas.

Prospecting work and mining have been launched in the areas and detailed exploration of new deposits is going on in a far-sighted way in areas with favorable mining conditions.

Meanwhile, scientific institutes have intensified researches in various rare-earth elements.

KCNA has previously boasted about rare-earths development.  See 2002-11-18, 2004-7-29, and 2010-4-9.

ORIGINAL POST (2011-6-23): According to Yonhap:

North Korea is showing a growing interest in developing rare earth minerals, in an apparent bid to earn much-needed cash from selling the materials abroad.

Rare earth minerals are compounds of rare earth metals, including cerium and neodymium, which are used as a crucial element in semiconductors, cars, computers and other advanced technology areas. Some types of rare earth materials can be used to build missiles.

In a report carried by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) earlier this week, the communist state said it is working on developing rare earth minerals for economic growth.

“An effective utilization of rare earth minerals is of weighty significance in economic growth,” the report said, quoting Kim Hung-ju, vice department director of the North’s Ministry of State Resource Development.

“The DPRK government has paid much effort to the exploitation and utilization of rare earth minerals,” it said, referring to North Korea by the acronym of its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The report added that there are large deposits of high-grade rare earth minerals in the western and eastern parts of the country, where prospecting work and mining have already begun. It also said the rare earth elements are being studied in scientific institutes, while some of the research findings have already been introduced in economic sectors.

The article follows another KCNA report in July 2009 that described North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s inspection of a semiconductor materials plant, saying he stressed the importance of producing more rare earth metals.

Until now, North Korea’s official media have mostly reported on the use of rare earth minerals in medicine and fertilizers. But its new focus on developing and using the materials appears to stem from the country’s interest in selling the metals for a high price on the international market, according to experts.

Rare earth elements are becoming increasingly expensive, as China, the world’s largest rare earth supplier, puts limits on its output and exports.

“It appears that North Korea only recently started taking an interest in rare earth materials,” said Choi Gyeong-su, head of the North Korea Resources Institute in Seoul. “The country does not have the technology to even determine the exact amount of its reserves, so it doesn’t seem likely anytime soon that the rare earth materials will be used to produce goods for the high-tech industry.”

Read the full story here:
N. Korea seen exploiting rare earth minerals for exports


DPRK looking to ink tax deal with China

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

According to the Korea Herald:

North Korea is pressing to ink a deal with China to prevent double taxation, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper said Wednesday, signaling an apparent bid to attract investment from its key ally and the world’s No. 2 economy.

The isolated country has already signed similar accords with Egypt and 11 other countries and negotiations are under way with other countries, the Chosun Sinbo reported, citing a North Korean official handling the issue of attracting foreign investment.

However, the newspaper, widely seen as the mouthpiece of the communist regime in Pyongyang, did not give any further details.

Earlier this month, North Korea and China broke ground on their border island and the North’s Rason special economic zone to jointly develop the two areas.

The trade volume between North Korea and China stood at $3.46 billion in 2010, up from $2.68 billion in 2009, according to South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs.

The North designated Rason as a special economic zone in 1991 and has since strived to develop it into a regional transportation hub near China and Russia, but no major progress has been made.

The North hopes to transform Rason into a regional hub of transit trade like Singapore, and it should expand economic relations with outside world to improve its faltering economy, the newspaper said, citing the North Korean official.

North Korea and China are also likely to complete the repairs of a key logistics road that links the Chinese city of Hunchun to the Rajin port inside the Rason economic zone by October, two months earlier than previously planned, according to sources in Hunchun.

Beijing has secured the right to use the port, which provides China with an export route to other countries.

Read the full story here:

N. Korea pushing to sign double taxation avoidance deal with China
Korea Herald