Archive for September, 2011

Catholicism and the DPRK

Saturday, September 24th, 2011

According to (2011-9-23):

Religious leaders, including Catholic leaders, from democratic South Korea are visiting Communist North Korea, one of the world’s most repressive nations.

“The visit of a delegation of religious leaders in North Korea is a gesture to keep an open channel with the North,” says Bishop Peter Kang of Cheju, president of the bishops’ conference. “But we need to be realistic, and not have any great illusions. Religions will continue to bring humanitarian aid to the population of the North who suffer from hunger, and this is the interest of Pyongyang. Believers in the North are closely monitored and religious freedom is denied.”

Delegation itinerary:

According to KCNA, the delegation arrived in Pyongyang on Sept 21:

A south Korean delegation of 7 religious orders headed by Kim Hui Jung, representative chairman of the South Korean Religionists Council for Peace and head of the Kwangju Archdiocese of the Catholic Church, arrived here on Wednesday.

According to KCNA, the group held a meeting on the 22nd:

A meeting of north-south religionists for national reconciliation, unity and peaceful reunification took place in Pyongyang on Thursday.
Present at the meeting were Jang Jae On, chairman of the Religious Believers Council of Korea; Kang Yong Sop, chairman of the Central Committee of the Christian Federation of Korea; Sim Sang Jin, chairman of the Central Committee of the Buddhist Federation of Korea; Kang Chol Won, vice-chairman of the Central Guidance Committee of the Chondoist Association of Korea; and members of religious organizations.
Also attending it were members of the delegation of south Korea’s 7 religious orders led by Kim Hui Jung, representative chairman of the South Korean Religionists Council for Peace and head of the Kwangju Archdiocese of the Catholic Church.
Speakers at the meeting spoke of the pleasure of representatives of different religious organizations in the north and the south at sitting together and having their meeting for national reconciliation and unity and peaceful reunification.
They noted the meeting would mark a meaningful occasion in demonstrating internally and externally the strong will of the believers in the north and the south to tide over difficulties in the way of national reunification, promote national concord and bring about a new phase of peace and independent reunification.
They called upon believers in the north and the south to advance, holding higher the banner of “By the Korean nation itself” convinced that the implementation of the June 15 joint declaration leads to the reunification and peace of the country.
A joint statement of the believers in the north and the south for national reconciliation, unity and peaceful reunification was made public at the meeting.
The statement said that they would make positive efforts to defuse antagonism and distrust, tension and confrontation between compatriots, remove the danger of war and ensure durable peace.
It stressed the need to solve all the problems between the north and the south in conformity with the will and interests common to the nation.
It went on:
The Religious Believers Council of Korea in the north and the south Korean Religionists Council for Peace will regularly hold meetings to boost dialogue and cooperation between themselves and actively conduct a movement to achieve the unity of believers and reunification.
The statement ardently called upon all the Koreans in the north and the south and abroad to join as one in the drive for national reconciliation, unity, peace and reunification.

According to KCNA, following the meeting the delegation visited Mangyongdae, Mt. Paektu, the Arch of Triumph, the Taedonggang Combined Fruit Farm and its new processing factory, and saw “Arirang”.

On Sept24, the delegation departed.

Some history:

Around the time of the delegation’s visit, Kwang On-yoo sent out the following information to the Korean Studies list:

Just before the Korean War there were 52 Catholic parishes in the North, with some 50,000 believers in three dioceses, Pyongyang, Hamhung and Chunchon, plus a territorial abbey that was a direct subject of the Holy See.

After the end of the Korean War and the resulting division of the nation, the Vatican handed over the Apostolic administration of the North Korean dioceses to bishops in South Korea.

The current Archbishop of Seoul, Cardinal Cheong Jin-suk, is the Apostolic Administrator for Pyongyang and Hamhung while Bishop Kim Un-hwi of the Chunchon diocese in South Korea is the Apostolic Administrator of Chunchon diocese in North Korea.

Over the years, requests by the South Korean Bishops for pastoral visits to the North Korean dioceses have repeatedly been denied.

Since 1988, the North Korea regime has presented Jangchung ” Cathedral” [See satellite image here], the only so called Catholic church in North Korea, to outsiders as a shining example of North Korean Catholicism with hundreds of parishioners. Actually, the church has no functioning priest and no sacraments.

In April, a Seoul based North Korean defector’s radio station, Free North Korea, alleged that Jangchung Church is in fact a clandestine cocaine factory where cocaine is manufactured for illegal export, to generate much needed foreign currency.

This is the current state of North Korean Catholicism.

I do not have any reason to believe that the church is used to produce cocaine since it has been effective at generating revenue and assets from abroad (especially South Korea) through more “traditional” methods–such as facilitating the recent delegation.


Koryo Tours completes first bike tour of DPRK

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Only weeks after helping launch the DPRK’s first Ultimate Frisbee tournament (see here and here), Koryo Tours launched the first bicycle tour of the DPRK. According to the Telegraph:

Beijing-based Koryo Group took 24 tourists from 10 nations on a 10-day tour of the most isolated nation on Earth.

The cyclists pedalled as far as 30 miles a day, often along dirt tracks in some of the most remote parts of the country, but also journeyed along the 10-lane Youth Hero Highway from Pyongyang to Nampo, on the west coast.

The itinerary is here. The Telegraph has a video of the tour here, and Koryo Tours has posted additional pictures here.

KCNA even gave an “interesting” shout out to the bike tour:

DPRK Directs Effort to Developing Tourism

Pyongyang, September 27 (KCNA) — The DPRK is directing much effort to developing tourism, with an eye to promoting the understanding, harmony, friendship and cooperation among nations and people of the world.

The country joined the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in September Juche 76 (1987) and the Pacific-Asia Tourism Association (PATA) in April 1996.

On September 27, World Tourism Day, Hong In Chol, a department director of the State General Bureau of Tourism, told KCNA:

The number of travel companies and people interested in the DPRK tourism is steadily increasing in Asian and European countries.

In particular, many tourists have visited the DPRK in the period of the grand gymnastic and artistic performance “Arirang” through international air routes and chartered flights from Shanghai, Xi An and Haerbin of China and Kuala Lumpur of Malaysia.

We have travel offices in China, Malaysia and Germany and plan to open such offices in other countries.

The bicycle tourism which took place in the DPRK some time ago under the sponsorship of the “Koryo Tours”, a British tourist agency, was very interesting.

The country’s tourist destinations have taken on a new look under the deep care of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the government, while the project for modernizing the infrastructure of tourism is progressing apace.

We will diversify the tourist program with cultural, sports, bicycle, golf and treatment tourism and improve all services.


DPRK electricity grid

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

UPDATE: On a flight today I was able to translate most of this map.  Interestingly, it shows the incomplete Kumho Light Water Reactor (금호원자력발전소: in yellow on the right) but none of the other nuclear facilities.

ORIGINAL POST: A recent visitor to the DPRK took this picture of a map of the North Korean electricity grid:

See larger version here

This is one of the best maps of the North Korean electricity grid that I have seen (abstract as it is). This will be immensely helpful for my own efforts to map the North Korean electricity grid on Google Earth:


Lankov on measures of economic freedom in the DPRK

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Pictured above: An annual index measure of economic freedom in the DPRK from 1995 to 2011, published by the Heritage Foundation’s and Wall Street Journal’s Index of Economic Freedom.

Andrei Lankov writes in the Asia Times:

[The] Heritage foundation and the Wall Street Journal recently published a new edition of their annual index of economic freedom, according to which North Korea has the world’s least-free economy. One can hardly argue about this – North Korea has for decades worked hard to take Stalinism to its logical extremes, and slightly beyond that.

However, one gets perplexed when looking at the grades of unfreedom that are given by the Heritage Foundation to the North through the 1995-2011 period. According to the index, the level of economic unfreedom in North Korea was essentially the same throughout the entire 1996-2005 period. Then, in 2005 it deteriorated considerably and has continued a slow downward slide until now.

This depiction is bound to raise the eyebrows of anyone who is familiar with actual economic trends in North Korea. The graph is correct when it says that the economy became more restrictive in 2005, when the government tried to re-introduce the rationing and reconfirmed the ban on the private sale of grain (such a ban had existed since 1957, but ceased to be enforced around 1990).

However, the 2005 measures were, essentially, a backlash, an attempt to reverse the half-baked reforms of 2002 – and those reforms can be described only as liberalizing.

On balance, the 2002 reforms should not be overestimated. Nonetheless, the 2002 reforms legalized a significant part of the black economy, and also granted managers of state-owned industrial enterprises a measure of managerial freedom they had not had for many decades.

If this was not an increase in economic freedom, what was it? But the Heritage Foundation graph does not give any hint of this change: the line that purports to depict the level of economic freedom remains on the same low level in 2002.

This is more interesting because 1997-2002 was when actual economic freedom increased dramatically. The old hyper-Stalinist laws remained technically effective, but nobody bothered to enforce these restrictions. It is estimated that in the early 2000s, the average North Korean family drew some 80% of its income from various market activities.

This was technically illegal, but the authorities were ready to turn a blind eye to the re-emergence of some form of a market economy, and in 2002 they even grudgingly and partially legalized the already flourishing market economy.

However, these improvements – both de-facto and, in 2002-2005 de-jure – find no expression in the flat line of the Heritage graph which, however, does not fail to notice that after 2005 the situation again began to deteriorate due to a government backlash against the private economy. The backlash was not particularly successful, but it lasted until 2009, and this is correctly reflected by the downward line at the graph.

However, then the graph begins seriously misleading again – and again, seemingly due the same implicit assumption that in North Korea things can go only from bad to worse. The graph depicts 2009 as a year when the level of freedom went even lower – and this is a correct assumption, since in 2009 the authorities undertook currency reform.

The reform’s main, if not sole, purpose was to annihilate the private economy that had survived the 2005-2009 backlashes surprisingly well. There is little doubt that North Korean decision-makers really want, above all, to revive the hyper-Stalinist economy that alone guarantees the regime’s long-term political stability (or so they – and the present author – believe).

However, the 2009 bold attempt to go back to the Stalinist ways ended in complete and pathetic failure – and the government, fearful of the chaos its inept reform created, backpedaled immediately.

The failure of the 2009 currency reform was followed by another wave of economic liberalization. In May 2010, the government lifted all restrictions and bans on private retail trade that were introduced in the 2005-09 backlash. In fact, the North Korean economy nowadays is roughly as free (or rather unfree) as it used to be immediately after the 2002 reforms. But there is no hint of this roller coaster changes in the slowly descending line of the Heritage Foundation Index.

The same is applicable to the economic situation. Every year, we get reports about a looming famine in North Korea – and this year is no exception. A quick look through headlines of major newspapers can clarify that such reports surface with predictable regularity every year.

In March 2008, the International Herald Tribune ran a headline “Food shortage looms in North Korea”. In March 2009, the Washington Post headline said “At the Heart of North Korea’s Troubles, an Intractable Hunger Crisis”. One year later, in March 2010, the Times of London warned: “Catastrophe in North Korea; China must pressure Pyongyang to allow food aid to millions threatened by famine.” In March 2011, The New York Times wrote: “North Korea: 6 Million Are Hungry.” The predictions of gloom come every year, but famine does not.

Actually, from around 2002-2003, we have seen a steady but clear improvement in North Korea’s economic situation. North Koreans are still malnourished, and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, they are not starving any more – at least not in significant numbers.

However, opponents of the regime cannot admit that people are not starving or report about (however marginal) improvement of the food situation, since, as I have said, from their viewpoint nothing can possibly improve in North Korea. At the same time, supporters of the regime will not admit that the North Korean people are still malnourished, and the regime itself is active in presenting exaggerated evidence of a looming famine (or perhaps, even fabricating such evidence when necessary) – as this will help it get more free food from the outside, and this is what Pyongyang needs.

One can see the same trends everywhere. For example, human-rights non-governmental organizations keep telling us about a further deterioration in the human-rights situation in the North. However, the evidence tells a different story. Human rights are still by far the world’s worst, but they are better than 20 or 30 years ago.

Just one example of this under-reported improvement will probably suffice. Until the mid-1990s, the entire family of a political criminal – that is, all people who were registered at the same address as he or she, were by default shipped to a concentration camp. Some 10 or 15 years ago, this approach ceased to be universal, so families of many political criminals – including some prominent activists based in Seoul – remained free.

There is little doubt that families are harassed, and even distant relatives of dissenters are denied good jobs and/or the right to reside in Pyongyang and major cities. Nonetheless, there is a great difference between inability to live in a major city and incarceration in what might indeed be the world’s worst prison camp system.

However, this change is seldom reported. Human-rights advocacy groups obviously cannot bring themselves admit that something can get better under the Kim family regime. Probably, they think that such admission would make the situation look less urgent and thus would help the Kim family regime in some indirect way. These worries might be even well-founded – but the result is the tendency to ignore a particular type of “politically incorrect” news.

Paradoxically, regime sympathizers – whose presence is especially noticeable among the South Korean left – are equally reluctant to attract any attention to these minor improvements. It is understandable, since we are talking about changes from the awful to the very bad, and Pyongyang champions cannot bring themselves to admit how brutal and inefficient the regime actually is.

For example, if pro-Pyongyang media outlets report that the “family responsibility” principle does not apply in many cases, they would have to admit that in the supposed “paradise” of national purity and/or anti-globalist determination in North Korea, not only dissenters, but their families as well were shipped to concentration camps until quite recently. No member of South Korea’s radical nationalist left could bring him or herself to admit this fact.

One cannot imagine a pro-North Korean leftist blogger in Seoul triumphantly writing something like this: “In the past, if somebody watched a South Korean melodrama, he would be arrested, beaten unconscious and then sent to prison for life together with his entire family. Nowadays, things are so better: only his teeth – not ribs! – are likely to be broken during an investigation, and then he or she will spend in prison merely a couple years, and his family are now allowed to keep their freedom. What an improvement!”

The sad irony is that this change is actually an improvement, but neither side of the political debate is going to report it. This is confirmation to the old truism: political passions make people oblivious to the obvious. However, propaganda is a poor substitute for honest and objective analysis – even when such propaganda is produced by people who believe it themselves.

Read the full story here:
It’s not all doom and gloom in Pyongyang
Andrei Lankov
Asia Times


Rajin-Sonbong Minimum Wage Set at 80 Dollars

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

The minimum monthly wage at the Rajin-Sonbong (Rason) Economic and Trade Zone has been set at 80 USD.

The Rason Economic and Trade Zone is a joint development project between China and the DPRK. Recently, a booklet on the “Tax Policy in the Rason Economic and Trade Zone” was published by Rason city’s tax bureau to introduce the zone’s tax policy to foreign investors. The booklet designates the monthly minimum wage for local employees at 80 USD.

The Rason Economic and Trade Zone Law was revised in January 2010, handing to local Rason authorities the jurisdiction to decide on the minimum wage for the North Korean workers working for foreign companies in the region.

With wages in China rising, Chinese firms are tending to look at Vietnam and Indonesia to build factories. The Rason Economic Zone is also becoming an attractive alternative, especially for those investors from companies situated in China’s northeastern provinces.

The monthly minimum wage at Rason will be 25.3 percent higher than the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC), which is set at 63.814 USD. However, the minimum wage at Rason still remains below half of the minimum wage of workers in China. According to the (South) Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA), the monthly minimum wage in China is 167 USD.

The booklet also provides detailed descriptions of tax related information in the Rason area.

For buildings obtained with one’s own funds, property tax will be exempted for five years. It will also be possible to make inheritance tax payments in installments, if it exceeds 20,000 Euros.

The corporate income tax rates range from 10 to 14 percent. Those companies that invest over 30 million Euros will be exempt from income tax for four years from the year they record a profit. Afterward for the next three years they will receive a 50 percent tax reduction. Other taxes such as sales and transaction taxes are set at 0.6 to 5 and 0.3 to 2.5 percent.

In addition, tax payments are permitted at banks and the tax bureau directly.

Kim Jong Il made a visit to Rason in 2009 where he announced to focus on three main sectors to revive the North Korean economy: manufacturing, transportation, and tourism.

According to a North Korean authority, “Investing in labor intensive industries will be profitable in many ways. Many Chinese and even Taiwanese textile companies are expressing interest in building factories in the Rason area.”

In addition, Rason authorities expressed future plans to attract businesses in the tools, shipbuilding, automobile, and high-tech industries, and are making great efforts to attract foreign investments to the area by promoting the zone’s geographical proximity to China and Russia, cheap labor, and tax benefits.

Additional Information:
1. Read more about the Rason tax and wage policies here.

2. Read previous posts on the Rason Zone here.


DPRK rice price up

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

According to Yonhap:

The price of rice in North Korea has risen constantly over the past six months, reaching as much as 2,400 North Korean won (US$17.18) per kilogram early this month, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said Friday.

After falling to as low as 1,400 won per kilogram, rice prices started to increase in April and reached between 2,200 and 2,400 won by early this month, according to the ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs.

Here is a compendium of stories about thie DPRK’s alleged food shortage and food aid this year.

Read the full story here:
Price of rice in N. Korea rises over past 6 months: ministry


KCNA publishes new “motivational” posters

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

Click images for larger view.

According to KCNA (2011-9-22):

New posters have been produced in the DPRK to help more splendidly spruce up Pyongyang and hasten the harvest this year.

Poster “Let’s develop Pyongyang, the capital city of revolution, into a world-class city!” vividly reflects citizens all out to turn their city into a more beautiful and magnificent one.

Poster “Let us all go for harvesting!” depicts an agricultural worker at work with joy against the background of a coop field alive with harvesting. It arouses the people to go out for reaping in good time the crops cultivated with the sweat of their brow during spring and summer.

Click here to learn more about Pongyang’s recent renovations.


New facts about the DPRK’s informal economy

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Pictured above (Google Earth): An unofficial street market in Sinchon (신천) is bustling while the nearby official marketplace is closed.  See in Google Maps here.

The Choson Ilbo posted a few factoids about the official and unofficial economies of the DPRK:

The rationing system, the backbone of the socialist planned economy, has nearly collapsed. Some 4 million people still live on rations — 2.6 million in Pyongyang and 1.2 million soldiers.

But a senior South Korean government official said 20 million North Koreans rely absolutely on the underground economy.

“A North Korean family needs 90,000-100,000 North Korean won for living costs per month, but workers at state-run factories or enterprises earn a mere 2,000-8,000 won,” the source said. “So North Koreans have no choice but to become market traders, cottage industrialists or transport entrepreneurs to make up for shortages.”

Many stores, restaurants, and beauty parlors are privately owned. Private tutors teach music or foreign languages. Carpenters have evolved as quasi-manufacturers who receive orders and make furniture on a massive scale. They earn 80,000-90,000 won per month on average.

It is common to find people in front of railway stations or in markets who wait to earn a few extra won by carrying luggage or purchases in their handcarts. Like taxis, their fees are calculated on a basic fee and the distance covered.

In the countryside, people earn money by selling corn or beans grown in their own vegetable gardens in the back yard or in the hills. They can harvest 700 kg of corn a year from a 1,600 sq.m. lot. And by selling 50 kg of corn a month they make 30,000-40,000 won on top of their daily living costs.

“Ordinary North Koreans have become so dependent on the private economy that they get 80-90 percent of daily necessities and 60-70 percent of food from the markets,” the security official said.

Noland and Haggard’s recent book, Witness to Transformation, contains thorough and revealing data on market utilization in the PDRK. More here.


DPRK owes USD $1.5b to ROK

Monday, September 19th, 2011

According to Yonhap:

North Korea owes about 1.8 trillion won (US$1.5 billion) to South Korea in food and other shipments, with its first repayment due next June, but chances of repayment are slim given the country’s crumbling economy, a government report said Monday.

The debt is for food, railway equipment and raw materials South Korea has provided to its impoverished communist neighbor in the form of loans over the past decade, according to the Unification Ministry report submitted for the annual parliamentary audit.

South Korea had been one of the largest aid providers to the North, but such shipments were halted after President Lee Myung-bak took office in early 2008 with a pledge to link aid to progress in efforts to end Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programs.

Repayment of the loans was scheduled over 20 years with a 10-year grace period, at 1 percent annual interest. The North is scheduled to make its first repayment in June of next year for a $5.83 million food loan extended in 2000.

South Korean officials, however, have cast doubt on that repayment given the North’s dire economic situation.

The DPRK remains in debt default from loans taken in the 1960s and 1970s. The Russians are in talks to forgive DPRK debts (Likely in connection with developments of the Rason economic zone and/or natural gas pipeline).

You can learn more about speculating on the repayment of North Korean debt here.


Chinese joint venture company takes over Hyesan Youth Copper Mine

Monday, September 19th, 2011

Pictured above (Google Earth): Hyesan Youth Copper Mine.  See in Google Maps here.

According to Xinhua (China):

Hyesan-China Joint Venture Mineral Company, a large joint project between China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), started operation at Hyesan of Ryanggang province on Monday.

The mineral company was jointly set up by Wanxiang Resources Limited Company of China and the Ministry of Mining Industries of the DPRK on Nov. 1, 2007. Its main business was to produce and sell copper.

DPRK Mining Industries Minister Kang Min Chol and Chinese ambassador Liu Hongcai attended the opening ceremony.

Kim Chol, chairman of the people’s committee of the Ryanggang province, said at the ceremony that the joint venture was one of the symbols of the development of the DPRK-China friendship and would be a model of modernization, science and economic benefits.

Liu believed the company would make profits for both sides, benefit the two peoples and promote traditional China-DPRK friendship.

According to Reuters:

The mine was located a few miles from the Chinese city of Changbai in the northeastern province of Jilin and was 51 percent owned by Wanxiang, a source with direct knowledge of the project told Reuters on Tuesday.

The mine had a designed annual capacity of 50,000-70,000 tonnes of copper concentrate, expected to contain 20-30 percent copper, he added.

“All the concentrate will be sold to China,” the source said.

The source said the joint venture would conduct second-phase construction to expand the capacity of the mine if production ran smoothly, but did not give details on timing or expanded capacity.

China is the world’s top copper consumer but does not produce sufficient concentrate to meet demand. The country imported 3.4 million tonnes of copper concentrate in the first seven months of 2011, down 11 percent from a year earlier.

According to KCNA:

The Hyesan Youth Mine in Ryanggang Province was successfully updated as required by the new century.

The workers and technicians of the mine together with Chinese technicians and skilled workers completed the vast modernization project and successively ensured their commissioning.

The modernization of various production processes including mining, carriage and ore dressing made it possible to boost mineral production and thus contribute to economic development and the improvement of the standard of people’s living.

A ceremony for the completion of the modernization project at the Hyesan Youth Mine and the Hyesan-China Joint Venture Mineral Company was held on Monday.

Present there were Kang Min Chol, minister of Mining Industry, Kim Hi Thaek and officials concerned, Liu Hongcai, Chinese ambassador to the DPRK, and staff members of his embassy and Han Youhong, president of the Wanxiang Resources Co., Ltd. of China, and personages concerned.

Ri Mun Yong, manager of the Ryanggang Provincial Mining Complex, made an address to be followed by congratulatory and other speeches.

At the end of the ceremony, the participants went round production processes.

That day a reception was given in connection with the ceremony.

Although foreign investors and aid groups frequently build/ repair / upgrade North Korea’s state owned enterprises, it is rare that they are given any credit for their work in the official media.

Previous posts about the Hyesan Mine:
1. Poor electricity supply (2011-5-16)

3. Mine is flooded (2007-11-1)

4. China investing in mine (2007-4-12)

5. Chinese investing in mine (2006-12-24)

Additional mining information:
1. DPRK – China minerals for food program (2011-8-19)

2. DPRK looking to export rare earths (2011-7-23)

3. DPRK – China trade: 1995 – 2009 (2011-6-7)

4. Increase in DPRK’s mineral resources exports to China expected again for this year (2011-2-28)

5. DPRK – China mining deal (2011-2-6)

6. China expanding mining rights in DPRK (2010-1-15)