Archive for May, 2012

Petrov on the Chinese boat situation

Saturday, May 26th, 2012

UPDATE: The PRC’s China Daily has published a timeline and related information on the “Hikacked” fishing vessel.

ORIGINAL POST (2012-5-25): Leonid Petrov writes in the Asia Times:

China often describes its relations with North Korea, its closest regional ally, as intimate but not substantial. For more than half a century, Beijing’s attitude towards the Korean Peninsula has revolved around the avoidance of three scenarios: “No new war on the Korean Peninsula”; “No regime change in North Korea” and “No American troops on the Sino-Korean border”.

But can the developments of recent weeks shake this strategic alliance tested by time, wars and revolutions?

Read the remainder of the article below…


UN World Food Program buys wheat for DPRK

Friday, May 25th, 2012

According to Bloomberg:

The agency bought $2.12 million of wheat from Glencore Grain BV for delivery to North Korea, the Rome-based WFP wrote in notifications on its website today.

Read the full story here:
WFP Buys Sugar For Syria And Wheat From Glencore For North Korea
Rudy Ruitenberg


North Korean academic publications abroad

Friday, May 25th, 2012

The Hanguk Ilbo reported on a Korean VOA story about North Korean publications abroad. A friend was kind enough to translate this article for me:

Voice of America (VOA) reported on the 25th that Thompson Reuters, a rating agency of scientific findings, announced NK has published 187 papers in reputable science journals between 2000 and 2012.

Reviewing the publication history, from 2000 to 2006 NK scientists annually published articles abroad totaling in the single digits–except in 2004. However, Reuters reports that since 2007 that the annual average has increased to 28 publications per year.

Of the publications in these foreign journals, 77.5% (or 145) of the publications were joint-research with foreign researchers. Of these joint-research projects, 61.4% (or 89) publications were with the Chinese. This is followed by Germans (27 publications), Australians (9 publications), South Korean (8 publications), American (7 publications) and Japan (5 publications).

The reporting agency claims that the reason why so few NK research was published in international academic journals is that NK lack the appropriate English (communication or writing; it’s not specific) skills.

Thompson Reuters is currently aggregating publications listed with internationally renown and respected academic journals.

In contrast, in 2010 alone, SK scientists have published approximately 40,000 papers in academic journals and American scientists have published approximately 33,000 papers.

The original Korean story can be found here:
2000년 이후 12년간 北국제논문 187건뿐
Hanguk Ilbo


Chongjin facing impossible battle

Friday, May 25th, 2012

According to the Daily NK:

Despite the fact that North Korea is currently in a period of mass mobilization for the agricultural planting season, North Hamkyung Province Party authorities are also pursuing a number of construction projects in and around Chongjin.

One of the plans calls for the construction of apartments for 10,000 Chongjin families after the fashion of the Mansudae area of Pyongyang, but local Party cadres and ordinary civilians see it mostly as an attempt by Provincial Party Chief Secretary Oh Su Yong to publicly display his loyalty to the regime of Kim Jong Eun.

A source from the city explained the story to Daily NK on the 24th, saying, “Most students and laborers have been mobilized for the farming support battle, yet in the middle of that the provincial Party is ordering the construction of apartments with more than 15 floors for 10,000 households in the Pohang district of Chongjin.”

“They are simultaneously doing large scale repairs in Pohang Square, constructing a coastal road and Youth Park, doing work on Chongjin Port and on a waste water purifying facility for Sunam Stream,” he added.

The construction has been entrusted to the city’s major construction enterprises, including 5.16 Construction Company, Ranam Combined Coal Mining and 6.2 Port Construction Industry. However, these do not have the financial capacity to purchase all the materials and equipment required, meaning that responsibility for providing sufficient gravel, sand and other basic items is being passed in part onto the local population.

“Households are being assigned the task of providing certain amounts of sand and gravel to certain construction sites,” the source explained. “People’s unit heads are going house to house every night pushing people to do their bit.”

“This whole thing is the result of the Party chief secretary wanting to show off his loyalty,” the source concluded.

Read the full story here:
Chongjin Facing Impossible Battle
Choi Song Min


China cracking down on DPRK border-crossers and underground economy

Friday, May 25th, 2012

According to the BBC:

China has launched a drive against illegal immigration in a north-eastern region bordering North Korea.

The campaign in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in Jilin province mainly focuses on North Koreans fleeing poverty and persecution at home.

China is known to routinely repatriate North Koreans who often slip across the border undetected.

Human rights groups say many face punishment when they return.

“Foreigners who illegally enter, work and overstay are hidden troubles, and they might pose potential threats to social stability,” Li Yongxue, a police official from Yanbian, was quoted by state-run China Daily newspaper as saying.

The police say they want to stamp out criminal activities to maintain order. They add that those without proper documents will be sent back.

Many of these illegal immigrants have relatives in China, some come to work, while others use China as a staging post before moving to other countries, according to the BBC’s Michael Bristow.

A police officer from the province told the BBC that it was a sensitive year in China, with officials stressing the need for stability ahead of a leadership change this year.

Read the full story here:
China targets illegal immigration at North Korea border


South Korean firms losing money in the DPRK

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

According to the Hankyoreh:

South Korean businesses have suffered losses of up to ten trillion won (US$8.3 billion) from the cutbacks in inter-Korean economic cooperation under the Lee Myung-bak administration, figures show.

The losses taken by South Korean firms are fives times the 1.8 trillion won (US$1.7 billion) North Korea’s estimated losses. The results show an unintended effect of Seoul’s May 24 sanctions, which were meant to punish North Korea economically for the shooting death of a tourist at the Mt. Kumkang resort, the sinking of the Cheonan warship, and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island. North Korea has offset these losses with increased cooperation with China.

Read more below…



DPRK experiencing annual spring food shortage

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

According to the Daily NK:

On the 22nd, North Korea handed down a ‘farming support battle mass mobilization order’ in the name of the Supreme Command of the Chosun People’s Army. The order commands the military to take the lead in the battle to increase food production.

At the same time, Rodong Shinmun ramped up the propaganda side on the 21st, publishing a couple of articles on agricultural topics including one about Yeokpyeong Cooperative Farm in Huicheon, Jagang Province entitled, ‘There Is Nothing You Cannot Do as Long as You Are Determined’.

However, sources in North Hamkyung Province confirm that neither the propaganda nor the orders from above reflect the difficult reality on the ground during the annual ‘spring hardship period’ which last until the early part of May. In effect, the North Korean authorities are calling for mass mobilization to secure the nation’s food supplies without ensuring food for those being mobilized.

According to one, “The spinach which we prepared for soup is already gone. There are now ‘side dish support teams’ out looking for wild plants and herbs for side dishes.”

To try and solve this problem in situ, anyone who is able to offer 50kg of rice or equivalent is handed a month of vacation time during the farm support period. If rations amount to 600g per day then a single worker will go through 24kg of rice or corn over the course of the 40-day mobilization period; thus, giving 50kg means taking responsibility for feeding two other people, and this is enough to get an exemption from labor for oneself.

However, when those able to give food and those out collecting food from the mountain-sides are combined, it means half the people who are meant to be supporting the farming work are not doing so directly. Not only that; according to the source, “The people left behind on the farms are in a lifeless state, so it’s pretty hard to get any work done.” They are very cynical, too, reportedly pointing out that they will gain strength by eating corn, not by yelling slogans.

Given that there are also cases of support workers stealing from nearby farmhouses, local people are said to be waiting for the day when the support workers will be allowed to leave.

Official controls have also been heightened for the support period. Weddings, funeral and ancestral rites are prohibited, and there is no travel permit issuance going on either. In addition, only immediate family members of deceased persons may move around locally.

Read the full story here:
50kg the Only Relief from Hardship Period
Daily NK
Choi Song Min


North-South Korea and Chinese trade

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

The Joongang Ilbo reports some recent statistics from, the Kaesong Industrial Zone and some trade statistics between the two Koreas and China.

Inter-Korean and China trade (Joongang Ilbo):

Exactly two years ago, on May 24, 2010, in the aftermath of the deadly sinking of the Cheonan warship, the Lee Myung-bak administration imposed sanctions against North Korea that forbade all inter-Korean trade and South Korean investments in the North.


Statistics from the Korea International Trade Association show that the volume of inter-Korea trade in 2011 dropped by 10.4 percent, falling to about $1.7 billion from $1.9 billion in 2010. The Kaesong Industrial Complex, which was exempted from the sanctions, accounted for most of the inter-Korean trade.

In contrast, the volume of trade between North Korea and China surged by 62.4 percent in 2011, from $3.4 billion in 2010 to $5.6 billion.

“After stopping trade with South Korea, factories in Pyongyang and Nampo cities turned to Chinese companies and now work for them,” a South Korean businessman said on condition of anonymity. “It took so much time and money for us to teach North Korean employees and now Chinese companies enjoy the fruits of our labor.”

The North Korean government responded to the South Korean sanctions:

As talks between the two authorities have been halted, North Korea has unilaterally decided to raise taxes on income and management of the complex.

In fact, the North Korean regime earns significant money from the complex. South Korean firms pay the North Korean government an average of $126.4 per month for each North Korean worker. The government then distributes 5,000 won of North Korean currency and some food coupons to each employee per month. This wage is desirable compared to other worker payments in the North.

Analysts calculate that the regime is holding at least $50 million from the $77.8 million of the North Korean employees’ annual income.

At current black market rates, there are appx 4,450 DPRK won to for US$1.

The article notes, however, that the Kaesong Industrial Zone continues to grow:

Located only three kilometers away from the Military Demarcation Line, the inter-Korean complex has 123 South Korean companies and about 51,000 North Korean employees.

Currently, the South Korean government is implementing a scheme to build more roads and infrastructure for South Koreans crossing the border to commute to the complex (see here and here).

“Although Kim Yong-chol, former head of the policy planning office of the North’s powerful National Defense Commission, who has exerted a huge influence on operating the Kaesong complex, repeatedly threatened to shut down the complex since the May 24 sanctions, he’s recently been more cooperative, saying ‘Let’s make it better,’” a high-ranking government source told the JoongAng Ilbo.

Unlike the frosty inter-Korean relations, the sales performance of the joint industrial complex is positive. For the past three years, 55 South Korean firms additionally moved into the complex and the annual output value surpassed $400 million in 2011, jumping from $180 million in 2007.

Last year’s volume is 30 times that of the $14.91 million in 2005, when the complex made its first yearly outputs. The total output value since 2005 has accumulated to $1.5 billion.


Currently, roughly 160,000 people are living in Kaesong city and approximately one out of three are working in the complex

The article also reports on additional DPRK-China projects that are not necessarily a result of higher barriers to commerce between the two Koreas (dredging, mining, labor mobility, and SEZs):

“A Chinese firm based in Yanji is now implementing a 60-kilometer-long (37-mile) dredging project in the Tumen river bed,” a government-affiliated research official said.

“It’s not simple dredging work, but a plan to mine the iron ore buried nearby.”

“In the river bed, about 30 percent of the sand contains iron ore,” the official said.

The regime also exports their labor forces to their closest ally.

“Most of the local people left for South Korea to get a decent job and the average wage for a Chinese worker is increasing,” a Chinese factory manager in Yanji said. “So we are planning to hire North Korean workers instead.”

Pyongyang and Beijing are also focusing on developing the two special economic zones, Rason and Hwanggumpyong in northeastern North Korea.

When Chen Deming, the Minister of the Chinese Ministry of Commerce of China, and South Korean Trade Minister Park Tae-ho had a bilateral meeting on May 2 to start negotiations on the Korea-China free trade deal, they included a provision stating the two countries will allow preferential tariffs on goods produced in designated zones.

“Hwanggumpyong is like a Kaesong Industrial Complex to China,” a South Korean authority said. “The Hwanggumpyong zone has the same function as Kaesong, composed of China’s capital and technology and North Korea’s land and labor forces.”

In the Rason Economic Zone, China has finished construction paving the 53-kilometer-long road connecting the Rason zone and a local tax office in Wonjong-ri, a North Korean village close to China.

The Chinese government also arranged a harbor near the Rason area, constructing a pier that can accept a three million-ton ship and building a bus route between an express bus terminal in China and the zone.

“If China uses the Rason harbor, they can save $10 per metric ton,” Jo Bong-hyeon, a senior official at the Industrial Bank of Korea, said. “It’s really good business for China, enough to invest money on building infrastructure in the zone.”

Read the full story here:
Kaesong complex running well despite sanctions
JoongAng Ilbo


Gas stations booming in Pyongyang

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

According to the Korea Times:

The number of gas stations in North Korea is rapidly increasing following a similar rise in automobiles in and around the showcase capital, a source who recently visited the Stalinist state said Tuesday.

Visitors to Pyongyang, which underwent massive renovations for the recent 100th birth anniversary of country founder Kim Il-sung, have noted a visible increase in cars, mostly Chinese, but also brands such as Mercedes, BMW and Volkswagen.

“Compared to some years ago, there has been a veritable boom in the use of cars. And, at the same time new gas stations have sprouted in Pyongyang, and even in the countryside,” the source said, asking not to be named.

North Korea watchers say that while much of the country remains in dire economic straits, consumption is rising in Pyongyang, where the North’s elite class resides, boasting wealth accrued from grassroots capitalism and increased trade with China.

The source, who has a record of accuracy on economic developments in the North, said while the stations appear to be owned by party organizations they are seen as good business opportunities for the operators.

Those filling up cars attached to the party must pay with a coupon but prices were cheaper for others paying with hard currency, which experts say Pyongyang is attempting to soak up. Gas is measured in kilograms there, not liters or gallons.

The source also noted the increased use of the license plate number “7-27” that has become linked to new leader Kim Jong-un and refers to July 27, 1953, when the armistice to end the Korean War came into force.

Most cars are still formally attached to an army unit, the ruling party or a government institution, but are said to be increasingly used for private transportation. Other signs of increased spending have popped up in Pyongyang in the form of foreign-themed restaurants and cafes, as well as a department store hawking Chanel and Armani.

Other projects for the founder’s centennial include new high-rise apartment units in the Mansudae area of the capital and the opening of a hydroelectric plant long-touted as a symbol of modernity.

The makeover coincides with lifestyle changes among Pyongyang residents marked most distinctly by the rapidly-increasing use of cellphones after the regime introduced a 3G network in 2008.

Despite the upgrades in the capital, reports of starvation persists, raising concerns that the wealth disparity may be unsustainable for the fledgling Kim Jong-un regime. Some say the regime may feel pressured to provide luxury goods due to fierce competition among the elite.

Read the full story here:
Gas stations booming in Pyongyang
Korea Times
Kim Young-jin


DPRK’s Premier Choe Yong Rim makes onsite inspections

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

In the past, it was usually Kim Jong Il or Kim Jong Un who made on-the-spot guidance and inspections. However in the recent years, that has changed. Premier of the DPRK Cabinet Choe Yong Rim, is making onsite inspections in economic sectors, while the director of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) General Political Bureau, Choe Ryong Hae, is doing the same at construction sites.

The KCNA reported on May 15 that Choe Yong Rim and Choe Ryong Hae each made on-the-spot visits.

First, Choe Yong Rim visited the Hwanghae Iron and Steel Complex on May 15.

The KCNA reported that the “workers of the complex are making achievements in updating it and producing heavy-duty rails true to the behests of General Secretary Kim Jong Il.”

The news also added “Going around gas generation and high temperature air combustion heating process and various other places, the premier learned in detail about the progress made in updating the complex and held a consultative meeting.”

Premier Choe was also reported to have visited the 15th Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair on the same day where he stressed “the need to positively develop the bilateral and multilateral cooperation among countries and regions in the economic and trade fields.”

The 15th Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair was held from May 14 to 17 at the Three-Revolution Exhibition Hall with over 270 countries participating. The KCNA reported the exhibit was organized by the Korean International Exhibition Corporation, the sole body in charge of any international trade fair held in the country. On May 10, the KCNA released an article that covered the major achievements of the Corporation, for having won special prizes, gold and silver cups and certificates at international trade fairs. Furthermore, the corporation is known to have made import and export contracts with many countries in Asia, Europe, and other regions.

On the other hand, Choe Ryong Hae was reported to have visited Pyongyang Folk Park on the same day and inspected the progress made in the construction for the park, which is in its final stages.

The KCNA described the park to be, “associated with the noble intention of the great men of Mt. Paektu to provide the Korean people with better cultural and emotional life while valuing the folk tradition.”

Choe Ryong Hae examined the construction site and “encouraged the soldier-builders for their labor achievements for making innovations day by day true to the teachings provided by Supreme Commander Kim Jong Un.”

In addition, he commanded for the construction of the park to be completed at the highest level that was “initiated by General Secretary Kim Jong Il and for which the Supreme Commander has shown concern for.”