Archive for December, 2011

How the DPRK should have responded…

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

UPDATE 1 (2011-12-20): Due to the announcement of Kim Jong-il’s death on December 19, the lighting of the Christmas trees was cancelled.


Pictured above: How the DPRK should have responded to South Korean Christmas Trees

Last year I wrote a blog post about the large “Christmas tree” a South Korean church was erecting on a hilltop tower across the Han River from Jogang-ri, in Kaesong (37.752445°, 126.593120°). Here is a satellite image  (Google Earth) of the location:

This year, the South Korean government again rewarded the church with permission to raise the “Christmas tree”, and again, Pyongyang was not happy:

The North’s official website, Uriminzokkiri, called the plan “a mean attempt for psychological warfare” against the communist state and threatened to retaliate immediately if the lights are switched on.

The tree-shaped, 30-meter-high steel structure is illuminated by thousands of small light bulbs and can be seen from the North’s major city of Kaesong just north of the border, according to media reports.

“The enemy warmongers… should be aware that they should be held responsible entirely for any unexpected consequences that may be caused by their scheme,” it said.

“This issue… is not something to be ignored quietly,” it said.

My parents taught me that if someone is trying to annoy me–I should just ignore them.  Showing irritation will only invite further harassment. The DPRK chose to ignore this wisdom, and as a result, the South Koreans approved the construction of two additional “Christmas trees” along the border (three in total now). According to the Associated Press (via the Washigton Post):

The South Korean government allowed a Christian group to light a massive steel Christmas tree near the border last year for the first time in seven years as tensions flared in the wake of two deadly attacks blamed on the North.

That tree will be lit again this month, while South Korea has also decided to allow other Christian groups to light two other front-line Christmas trees, a Defense Ministry official said.

The decision is meant to help guarantee freedom of expression and religion, the official said on condition of anonymity, citing office policy.

South Korea’s military will bolster security near the three trees, located on the western, central and eastern portions of the border, the Defense Ministry official said. The trees will stay lit for 15 days starting Dec. 23.

So Christmas trees are increasing military tension along the DMZ. Fantastic. Since it is the holiday season, however, and we should all be feeling good about each other, etc., I wanted to offer the DPRK a more appropriate tactic to respond to the the South’s new “psychological warfare” techniques.  The DPRK already has one of the world’s tallest flag support structures erected near Panmunjom (The 160 meter edifice is technically not a flag pole)…why not just cover it in lights and put a big red star on top? It could even be powered with electricity from the Kaesong Industrial Complex (provided by the South). No South Korean organization could compete. The DPRK would win…it would have the “Tallest Christmas Tree in the World”! Of course, this would be escalation of a different sort.  The South Koreans would respond somehow…but the outcome would be preferable to military escalation!

Happy holidays and happy new year!


Two years after the DPRK’s currency revaluation

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

It has been two years since the implementation of North Korea’s currency revaluation and the South Korean government recently has presented an assessment of it, evaluating it as a complete failure, as exchange rates have skyrocketed and inflation set in.

It has been largely evaluated as having weakened the government control over the market and the people.

In the report released by South Korea’s Ministry of Unification (MOU), the prices of rice and exchange rates have returned previously to the level before the measure went into effect. The prices of rice per kg that cost between 20 to 40 KPW in December 2009 has jumped to 3,000 to 5,000 KPW as of November of this year, which is more than a 2,300 times increase.

The price of rice that went for 2,400 KPW early this October is believed to be close to 5,000 KWP currently.

The fluctuation of rice price is allegedly associated with preparation for next year’s celebration (i.e., of North Korea becoming a “strong and prosperous nation”). According to an anonymous North Korean government official, rice is being stockpiled to be released next year during the celebration period.

North Korea has self-proclaimed 2012, the centennial birthday of Kim Il Sung, as the first year of the “strong and prosperous nation.” While it may be ephemeral, it said it will normalize rice distribution for next year.

The exchange rate for KPW in December 2009 was 35 North Korean won to one USD; a year later, it soared to 2,000 won, and it is currently worth 3,800 won.

At the time of the currency revaluation, the usage of foreign currency was completely banned. This in return made the exchange rate spiral up. In February of this year, North Korea eventually abandoned this measure.

One Chinese yuan is also worth about 400 KPW, standing shoulder to shoulder with the value of the US dollar. About 300 markets that exist currently in North Korea are affected by the soaring exchange rate of the yuan, raising the prices of Chinese products on the market.

North Korea also has increased wages for the workers a hundred fold during the currency redenomination; but life for the people has become harder due to hyperinflation.

The average monthly salary of a North Korean worker is about 3,000 KPW; however, the monthly expenses for an average family of four hovers around 100,000 KPW.

The MOU has announced that the currency reform implemented by the North Korean government two years ago was intended to weaken the role of the markets, and regulate the new-rich, generate supplies of capital for the construction industry, and adjust the amount of domestic currency in circulation. In the end, the reevaluation ended up achieving the opposite.

At the time, the government prohibited sales of imported and industrial products on the market and promoted marketization of agricultural goods. But the people’s dependency on markets is as high as ever, leading to a relaxation of market regulation in February 2010.

The MOU also stated, “There is growing distrust of the government among North Koreans from the failed policy which in effect undermined the power of the government to control the market and the people.”

The Daily NK also reported some similar information:

The price of rice in North Hamkyung Province and other areas along the Sino-North Korean border has passed 5,000 won per kilo. This represents a rise of over 1,000 won in little over a fortnight, after similar reports came out two weeks ago asserting that the price had passed 4,000 won in late November.

Sources have independently reported that the 5,000 won mark has been passed in markets in the cities of Hoeryeong and Musan, both in North Hamkyung Province, and Hyesan in Yangkang Province. The exchange rate of the Chinese Yuan against the North Korean won has simultaneously jumped from the low 700s to 800 in Hyesan and over 1,000 in Musan and Hoeryeong.

Reporting the news, one Hoeryeong-based source told The Daily NK, “The price rises have left people living hand-to-mouth, and the endless government controls and crackdowns mean people have no idea what to do. The atmosphere in the jangmadang has gotten really ugly on rumors that prices are going to rise further.”

A source from Musan pointed out, “The Yuan seems to go up every day, and now that rice has passed 5,000 won a kilo people have no idea what they’re going to eat to survive.”

“We’ve already given up on the idea of eating rice cake for the Chinese New Year,” the trading source from Hyesan said, going on, “Chosun rice now costs 5,000 won a kilo while Chinese rice is 3,800 won. Wherever you go people are up in arms about it.”

Most locals blame the rapid rise in the cost of living on the strength of the Yuan against the North Korean won. In this way, the lack of confidence in the local currency promoted and enhanced by the 2009 currency redenomination seems to be having a direct effect on the price of rice.

“Everybody prefers to use Renminbi to Chosun money, so by the time you wake up in the morning the thing which has risen again is the price of the Yuan. Because the exchange rate is rising, it is inevitable that the price of rice goes up as well,” the source from Hyesan explained.”

Interestingly, according to the border region sources there is no great difference in the physical volume of rice in the market. However, because the Yuan has become the main currency for both the supply and demand sides of the market, prices have risen in accordance with the change in the exchange rate. The use of the Yuan as the medium of exchange between locals was already becoming institutionalized even before the recent rises.

The rapid price rises are also encouraging traders to try and obtain more locally-grown rice.

The source from Hyesan said, “Train stations in North Hamgyung and Hwanghae Provinces are in complete chaos when there is a train because of all the traders trying to bring in local rice, as well as the agents regulating them,” while the source from Musan said, “Many people are stocking up on food while they can because of reports that food prices will keep rising until next spring.”

Marcus Noland also blogged about the price of food and US$ exchange rate in the DPRK last week.

Read the full Daily NK story here:
Rice Tops Key 5,000 Won Mark
Daily NK
Lee Seok Young


“Chinese company” given access to Kumgang facilities

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

According to Yonhap :

North Korea has allowed a Chinese company to do business at its scenic mountain resort, a source said Tuesday, in an apparent attempt to revitalize the resort at the center of a dispute with South Korea.

The company plans to organize a cruise tour to Mount Kumgang on the North’s east coast for Chinese tourists from Hong Kong and other eastern Chinese ports, said the source familiar with the issue.

The company, which won permission to run the business until the end of 2026, also plans to run a casino, a duty free shop and a hotel in the resort, the source said.

The move comes just months after North Korea made a trial cruise from its northeastern port city of Rajin to the mountain resort to try to attract Chinese tourists.

North Korea has launched a series of tourism programs for the Chinese in an apparent bid to earn much-needed hard currency.

For a decade, South and North Korea jointly ran the tour program at the resort, a key symbol of reconciliation on the divided Korean Peninsula.

Still, Seoul halted the cross-border tour program following the 2008 shooting death of a tourist by a North Korean soldier near the resort.

Seoul has demanded a formal apology from Pyongyang for the incident, in addition to improved security measures for tourists, before resuming the tour program, a key cash cow for the North.

However, the North has expelled South Korean workers from the resort and disposed of all South Korean assets there after it unsuccessfully tried to pressure Seoul to resume the tour program.

South Korea has asked foreign countries not to invest or engage in tourism activities at the mountain resort as part of its moves to protect its property rights there.

Dear Yonhap: Would it have been too much trouble to give us the name of the Chinese company or tell us anything about it?

Read the full story here:
N. Korea permits foreign company to run business at its scenic resort


Celebrate the socialist way!

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

According to the Daily NK:

The North Korean authorities are currently employing various means to encourage frugality, an idea which has recently come to include ‘kwanhonsangje’ (the four ceremonial occasions; coming of age, marriage, funeral and ancestral rites).

In recent years there has been official criticism of the fact that engagement ceremonies, wedding gift exchanges between families and even the table for ancestral rites have become occasions full of over-spending, empty formalities and vanity.

Recently, Daily NK obtained a copy of the October issue of monthly magazine ‘Socialist Cultural Life’, to which social studies scholar Jang Seong Nam submitted a piece, ‘Let’s Perform Kwanhonsangje the Socialist Way’, in which he declared, “kwanhonsangje should be performed according to the demands of the Party and social development.”

The article emphasized, “We are taking the lead, seeing kwanhonsangje performed in the socialist way as a valid and unavoidable problem in the establishment of the new military-first socialist life.”

“Because old, feudalist, superstitious, empty formalities and bizarre foreign customs are not disappearing, we are strongly demanding action on this problem,” it went on, adding, “Rejecting bizarre foreign customs crushes the Imperialists’ policy of ethnic extermination under the banner of ‘globalization’.”

The article also looked in more detail at problem issues surrounding kwanhonsangjae.

“A sufficient engagement,” it proclaimed, “has two people and their parents meeting to confirm the marriage, and wedding ceremonies should be a gathering at someone’s home.”

Regarding funeral arrangements and ancestral rites, it recommended, “Commemorate a death by placing a medal or honorary certificate before an image of the deceased along with flowers, while the various commemorative services on the 3rd day or the birthday of the deceased should be eliminated.”

Getting into minutae, it added of a groom’s suit color, “Discard the convention of wearing a black or dark blue suit; men should wear bright colors according to season.”

In these ways, the article asserted, kwanhonsangjae becomes an aesthetic and modern set of customs with a uniquely Chosun ethnic color.

The piece appears to show both the state’s desire to restrain consumption but also to reassert ‘socialist’ attitudes and encourage nationalist attitudes, thus pushing back against the impact of foreign ideas coming in via overseas media, South Korean dramas and so on.

‘Socialist Cultural Life’ is distributed monthly to all official organs and enterprises. Its publisher, Labor Group Publishing House, publishes various other magazines including ‘Chosun Women’, ‘Worker’ and ‘Agricultural Worker’. As a part of the Party Propaganda and Agitation Department, its various publications are among the state’s most ubiquitous propaganda weapons after the daily Workers’ Party mouthpiece, ‘Rodong Shinmun’.

Read the full story here:
Celebrate the Socialist Way!
Daily NK
Lee Seok Young


DPRK looking for someone to give them new meteorological equipment

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

UPDATE (2011-12-13): According to Radio Free Asia (in Korean), the Chinese government has agree to provide the DPRK with new meteorological equipment.  According to the article:

중국 정부가 유엔 산하 기구를 통해 북한에 첨단 기상관측장비를 지원하기로 결정한 것으로 밝혀졌습니다.

정아름 기자가 보도합니다.

중국정부가 지난 12일 북한에 컴퓨터를 통해 기상관측 정보를 받아보는 자동기상 관측장비(Automatic Weather Systems) 4대를 지원 하겠다는 의사를 유엔 산하 세계기상기구에 전달했습니다.

세계기상기구는 13일 자유아시아방송(RFA)에 이번 지원의 정확한 시점과 지원대상지역은 정해지지 않은 상태이라고 전했습니다.

Here is the article translated by Google Translate.

Jospeh Bermudez recently wrote about the DPRK’s hydro meteorological service.

ORIGINAL POST: According to the Korea Times:

A meteorological expert called for international assistance for North Korea, saying it was lacking in up-to-date meteorological equipment.

The Radio Free Asia quoted Avinash Tyagi, director of the climate and water department of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), who visited North Korea in mid-March, as saying “equipment and computers used for weather forecasting were in urgent need of replacement.”

Tyagi’s visit with two other colleagues was the first by a WMO team in eight years.

They were supposed to visit the North last November in light of severe flooding last summer, but the trip was postponed.

The floods cost many lives and left many homeless in Sinuiju near the border with China, drawing immediate international humanitarian assistance, including from the South.

The expert said new equipment would help improve the food situation in the country and encouraged the international community to help. He added of the 186 observatories scattered through the country, only 27 were connected to the international meteorology network. Even the equipment there was outdated, made in the 1970 and 80s.

Food shortages are a chronic problem for North Korea, and this has got worse in recent years, which prompted the regime to run an unprecedented campaign to call for food aid from other countries.

More on the DPRK’s 2011 food situation here.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea in need of new meteorological equipment
Korea Times


US – DPRK trade (aid) reaches $2.45m in 2011-10

Saturday, December 10th, 2011

According to Yonhap:

Trade between the United States and North Korea reached US$2.45 million in October, a U.S. report showed Saturday.

The bilateral trade volume was comprised completely of aid goods offered by the U.S. to the communist state, the Voice of America (VOA) reported citing data compiled by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The VOA said the Department of Commerce did not give specifics on what kinds of goods were shipped to North Korea, but the goods traded are considered humanitarian aid products as the two countries are not engaged in commercial trade.

In the first 10 months of the year, the bilateral trade reached $6.24 million, compared with $1.90 million a year earlier, the report said.

Here is a list of DPRK/US engagement stories in 2011.

Read the full story here:
U.S.-N. Korea trade reaches US$2.45 mln in Oct.


Friday Fun: Tourism, winter, and stamps

Friday, December 9th, 2011

Tourism: Koryo Tours issued a newsletter this week promoting their tours to the DPRK during the celebrations of Kim Il-sung’s 100th year:

April 15th 2012 marks North Korea’s biggest celebration in decades – the 100th birth anniversary of Kim Il Sung, who, despite his death in 1994 is still the country’s ‘Great Leader’ and ‘Eternal President’.

This historic day will see epic events and the completion of large-scale national programmes, all furthering what North Korean media calls the creation of a ‘strong and prosperous country’ – however flexible that concept may be. We invite you to come with us to experience this once in a lifetime occasion on the ground in Pyongyang

At present, the exact nature of the celebrations and corresponding tourist access is shrouded in the usual mystery – no one knows what visitors can see and do, but as always Koryo Tours will be first in line. Birthday travellers should be ready for sudden changes in itinerary and hotels – all part of the excitement of the country’s biggest holiday period ever!

We have several tours going on over this holiday, including one brand new one we just added to our website; all of them are open for application now.

In brief they are:

Kim Il Sung Birthday Short Tour
– Ideal for anyone wanting to see North Korea’s capital Pyongyang on this massive occasion. We’ll see all the city’s highlights and be there for the nation’s biggest occasion in history.

Kim Il Sung Birthday Long Tour
– In addition to capital sightseeing and anniversary events, this trip goes to the west coast city of Nampo – and for the first time, the surrounding industrial areas which Koryo Tours opened to tourism only this year. Finally, we’ll take in ancient city of Kaesong (buy your famous ginseng here) as well as the notorious DMZ, the concrete barrier that has divided
the peninsula for six decades.

Kim Il Sung Birthday Ultimate Tour
– The Big One! If you’ve ever wanted to (almost) fully explore the world’s most mysterious country in one trip, then sign up today. The tour’s complete version runs two weeks; those on tight schedules can book for first or second halves alone. Week one (Option A) takes us around Pyongyang, Kaesong and the DMZ, Mt. Myohyang and the giant gift halls to North Korea’s leaders, the west coast city of Nampo and much more. Choose week two (Option B), and you’ll see the rarely-visited east coast cities of Wonsan and Hamhung, North Korea’s second largest city, which Koryo Tours opened to tourists in 2010. From there we’ll see the stunning Mt. Kumgang area and the country’s most remote area open to travellers.

In its history, Pujon County has only seen one tour group (run by Koryo Tours); if you’re looking for a unique area of a unique country, you won’t do better than this. Option A is nearly closed so book today; Option B is still open for booking, and ideal for those
who have seen the main sites and want a second trip.

Option A is filling up fast so we do need to ask for early applications for this tour, Option B is still open for booking, and ideal for those who have seen the main sites and want a second trip. There are 15 places left for the Option A or Ultimate Option!

NEW!! – Kim Il Sung Birthday Week Tour
– Due to high demand we have added another week-long tour, so you can take in the country’s most fascinating sites and still catch the Big Event.

Check out our amazing programme and sign up now to be on the ground for the biggest birthday party of 2012!

While all tours are still open, we strongly suggest that you book sooner rather than later due to high holiday demand. Tours may need to be closed early, so don’t miss out; book now! (early bookings also apply to independent tours)

Winter: Today KCNA published photos of Pyongyang’s first winter 2011/12 snowfall :

Stamps: Today Joshua Pollack ( posted some new stamps from the DPRK:


Click images to see larger version from the source. I have an interesting book of North Korean stamps, but have not posted it. Here are some recent DPRK stamps highlighting Chinese/DPRK friendship. Here are some CNC stamps. Here is a stamp issued to raise awareness of bird flu.

Finally, this week’s issue of the Pyongyang Times, claims that the DPRK stamps below won the “best stamp award” at the 10th China Annual Best Foreign Stamp Poll on November 24:

UPDATE 1: A reader sent me a link to some additional DPRK stamps on the North Korean web page, Naenara.  See them here, here, here, and here!

UPDATE 2: Thanks again to the same reader sending this stamp commemorating the sinking of the General Sherman:


SEZ Law Enacted by Supreme Assembly

Friday, December 9th, 2011

Pictured Above (Google Earth): The Hwanggumphyong and Wiwha Island SEZ on the Yalu/Amnok River which separates the DPRK and PRC.

UPDATE 1 (2012-3-19): Read the laws governing the SEZs here.

ORIGINAL POST (2011-12-9): According to the Daily NK:

North Korea has enacted a law governing activities at Hwanggeumpyeong and on Wihwa Island, two new special economic zones in the vicinity of Shinuiju on the Sino-North Korean border.

Chosun Central News Agency revealed the news this morning, stating, “The Hwanggeumpyeong-Wihwa Island Economic Zone Act was adopted by the Standing Committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the Chosun People’s Democratic Republic.” It did not offer any further details.

The provisions of the new law are reported to have been circulated to various Chinese governmental and economic figures, and it is said to contain provisions reflecting successful elements in the development of China’s own special economic zones.

Naturally, one key part of the intent behind the new law’s enactment appears to be to reassure potential Chinese investors of the stability of the investment climate in North Korea.

At this stage, although there was a large opening ceremony for the zone in June this year attended by Workers’ Party figures including Jang Sung Taek, who plays a key role in the attraction of overseas investment to North Korea, the pace of construction remains limited.

However, there may not be long to wait. Dai Yulin, who heads the Municipal Committtee of the Chinese Communist Party across the Yalu River in Dandong told the China Daily back in September, “Concrete plans for the development of the Hwanggeumpyeong Special Economic Zone will be completed by the end of this year.”

Read the full story here:
SEZ Law Enacted by Supreme Assembly
Daily NK
Kim Tae Hong


Koreas push to use same spelling of place names

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

According to Yonhap:

South and North Korean linguistic experts have agreed to push to use the same spelling of place names, together with their Chinese counterparts, a Chinese scholar said Thursday.

The project is designed to promote better communication among South and North Koreans as well as ethnic Koreans in China.

The divided Koreas use the same alphabet known as “hangeul,” though decades of division following the 1950-53 Korean War resulted in dialectical differences and deviations in word meaning.

The two Koreas also spell differently in hangeul when naming places and countries, a phenomenon that often causes trouble in communication between South and North Koreans.

Most of the about 2 million ethnic Koreans in China can speak Korean, though they also use different dialects and spell the names of locations differently than Koreans.

North Korean linguistic experts have proposed unifying the spelling of place names on the Korean Peninsula and China, said Liu Yinzhong, a professor of Zhejiang Yuexiu University of Foreign Languages in China.

Liu, an ethnic Korean who studied at Kim Il-sung University in North Korea, said the project could help contribute to boosting mutual confidence and cooperation.

Chin Yong-ohk, an emeritus professor of Kyunghee University who is involved in the project, said Liu would visit South and North Korea to exchange ideas on the project.

South Korea has banned its citizens from visiting North Korea as part of sanctions on the North in retaliation for the sinking of a South Korean warship in 2010. The North has denied involvement in the sinking that killed 46 sailors.

South Korea has selectively allowed religious and private aid groups to visit the North as part of humanitarian projects.

Last month, the two Koreas held discussions in the North’s border city of Kaesong on resuming a separate project to publish a joint dictionary covering their different dialects.

The project, launched in 2005, was suspended last year after the North’s sinking of the South Korean warship.

Read the full story here:
Koreas push to use same spelling of place names


S. Korean businessmen to meet in Kaesong

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

According to Yonahp:

Top executives of more than 120 South Korean companies operating in the Kaesong Industrial Complex plan to meet in the North’s border city this week, in the first such meeting to discuss pending inter-Korean business issues, an organizer said Tuesday.

The CEO conference is scheduled to bring together the heads or local representatives of 123 South Korean firms and other related officials on Wednesday, said Bae Won-joo, one of the organizers of the meeting.

A Unification Ministry official said the meeting was designed to discuss issues related to the operation of the industrial complex. He did not give further details and asked not to identified, citing office policy.

Previous posts on the Kaesong Industrial Zone can be found here.

Read the full story here:
S. Korean businessmen to meet in N. Korea’s industrial park