Archive for July, 2012

Bank of Korea publishes 2011 DPRK economic estimates

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

A couple of weeks ago, the South Korean Central Bank, the Bank of Korea, published its estimate of the size and composition of the North Korean economy in 2011. You can read the finings (PDF) here. I have posted this and many other estimates of the North Korean economy on my “DPRK economic statistics page“.

Here is coverage of the report in Bloomberg/Business Week:

Gross domestic product in the communist nation increased 0.8 percent in 2011 after a 0.5 percent decline in 2010, according to an estimate published by the Bank of Korea in Seoul. The nation’s economy has contracted during four of the last six years, the bank’s data show.

“The manufacturing sector declined, but the agricultural industry enjoyed better weather and more use of fertilizer,” the Bank of Korea said in an e-mailed statement.

North Korea is projected to keep growing under the new leader as its economic ties with China and Russia develop.

“Mineral exports to China and dollars brought in by North Korean workers sent to China and Russia would have driven the country’s GDP growth,” said Koh Yu Hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul. “North Korea is expected to be economically stronger under Kim Jong Un as it continues to increase transactions with its allies.”

Kim Jong Un has waged a nationwide campaign to “bring about a turn in agriculture” and increase crop yields, according to a June 7 report carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. North Korea’s agriculture and fisheries sector expanded 5.3 percent in 2011 while manufacturing fell 3 percent, according to the BOK report.

North Korea’s nominal GDP totaled 32 trillion won ($28 billion) in 2011, compared with South Korea’s 1,237 trillion won, the BOK said. North Korea’s per capita income was 1.33 million won while South Korea’s was 25 million won, according to its estimates.

After adjusting for inflation, North Korea’s economy remained smaller at the end of 2011 than it had been in 2008, according to the Bank of Korea.

Here is more from Strategy Page:

The North Korean economy is undergoing changes. In fact, last year there was actually some growth, with GDP increasing .8 percent, versus a .5 percent decline in 2010. The North Korea GDP (about $28 billion, compared to $1,100 billion for South Korea). Thus even with a larger population, the average South Korean has 20 times more income as their northern counterparts. Moreover, income distribution is quite different in the north, where about two-thirds of the population is very poor and very hungry. The other third contains the well-fed ruling elite (whose lavish country estates can be seen via commercial satellite photos) and their supporters (secret police, military officers, bureaucrats) plus the semi-legal merchant class that has been allowed to develop over the last six years to avoid total economic collapse.
The economic decline in 2010, was the result of agricultural (floods) and industrial (massive power shortages) failure. But China came to the rescue by offering to set up mining operations in North Korea and buy billions of dollars-worth of minerals each year. China rebuilt railroads to handle the increased traffic from the remote North Korean mines. In addition, China offered legal jobs for North Koreans in China. The only catch was that the North Korean government took most of the pay. Similar deals have long been used with Russia but China offered far more jobs under more comfortable conditions. Competition for these jobs is fierce in North Korea and the government selects those deemed least likely to run away.

Last year North Korea bought more fertilizer for farmers and the weather was pretty good. That, plus the growing income from Chinese run mines and North Korean workers in China made up for the continuing declines in manufacturing. A good year on the farm is a big deal in North Korea, where farming and fishing are 23 percent of the economy (compared to under three percent in the south). But this year all of Korea is suffering from a record-breaking drought. This is hurting the north a lot more than the south. Although the monsoon (jangma) rains recenly arrived, a month late, the damage was already done in the north. Three months of very hot and very dry weather has seriously damaged crops. The rains will save some of them but at least a fifth of this year’s crops will be lost.


Pyongyang’s internal announcements on economic policy

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Before you start reading below, I want to let readers know about a DPRK-specific term: “3rd broadcast”. The “3rd broadcast” is a fixed-wire audio transmission that goes directly into the homes of residents in Pyongyang apartment buildings. In these homes, a speaker is mounted to the wall which broadcasts the information much like a radio would–except the signals are coming from a cable, not radio waves.  Because the signal it is not broadcast over radio, it is difficult to know what is being told to the captive audience of Pyongyang residents. This broadcast equipment was featured in the film A State of Mind where the narrator commented “it can be turned down, but it cannot be turned off”.

According to the Daily NK:

North Korea has begun to focus on promoting the appropriateness of the ‘6.28 Policy’, North Korea’s first attempt at economic change since Kim Jong Eun came to power. This is being done via the 3rd Broadcast, and the reports are even utilizing the controversial term “economic reform.”

“They have been talking on the 3rd Broadcast since the beginning of last week about how ‘respected comrade Kim Jong Eun has selected economic reform measures so as to bring our economy up to world class status and greatly improve the people’s lives’,” a source from Chongjin revealed to Daily NK today.

The source explained the 3rd Broadcast content as “sketching out the nature of the reform policy and saying that we must accept and pursue Kim Jong Eun’s economic policy plan.”

However, given a history of disappointment, the North Korean people remain skeptical about the policy, the source said.

“Given the barrage of economic reform propaganda we get every single morning, it does seem as though something will happen, but right now it is nothing more than a political sermon; people say that they can only know when actual policies emerge,” the source said.

However, he went on, “It is clearly a change compared to the decades when people couldn’t even speak a word about reform and opening”.

Daily NK previously reported on the presentation of the ‘6.28 Policy’ in citizens’ meetings and that Kim Jong Suk County in Yangkang Province is one of three areas being used to test elements of the policy in advance of full rollout in October.

Previous posts on the 6.28 policy here.

Read the full story here:
3rd Broadcast Promoting Economic Change
Daily NK
Choi Song Min


North Koreans study China’s Huaxi Village

Friday, July 20th, 2012

They should be studying Xiaogang Village! But instead they are studying Huaxi Village. Why? According to the Joong Ang Ilbo:

For the past six months, seven working-level North Korean officials have been staying at the Longxi International Hotel, located in a 72-story skyscraper in Huaxi Village, in China’s Jiangsu Province, a local government official told the JoongAng Ilbo in a telephone interview.

They’re allegedly trying to learn the secrets of Huaxi Village, known as China’s richest village but one that is still dedicated to socialism.

Huaxi Village is one of the richest places in China and a symbol of a model mixing socialism and capitalism. All the residents are shareholders of the local conglomerate and earn dividends at the end of every year according to its profitability.

“Roughly 20 North Koreans recently toured Huaxi Village,” a local resident told the JoongAng Ilbo. “The seven working-level North Korean officials have been staying in the village for six months learning how to manage a modern-style hotel.” Intriguingly, all seven are women.

The 328-meter (1,076-foot)-high Longxi International Hotel was completed last October and cost 3 billion yuan ($471 million). The five-star hotel has 800 rooms, including suites that go for 99,999 yuan per night.

“Officials from North Korea’s Foreign Ministry and the North Korean Embassy in Beijing also visited the village,” the resident said. “I’m not quite sure whether the women workers are from the ruling Workers’ Party, but they are mostly in their 20s.

“They have a great interest in learning about the dramatic growth of the village,” he continued. “They reportedly receive some kind of wages [from North Korea].”

Starting in 1978, the village’s residents actively participated in the reforms led by Deng Xiaoping. Wu Ren Bao, 84-year-old local secretary of the village, said in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo in October 2011, “We accepted whatever was needed to make people rich and develop the village.”

Read the full story here:
Joong Ang Ilbo
Chang Se-jeong, Jeong Yong-soo


China-DPRK trade increasing

Friday, July 20th, 2012

According to the Daily NK:

According to data released by a South Korean government-run think tank today, trade between North Korea and China during the first five months of this year increased 27.9% ($2.5 billion USD) over the same period last year.

The Korea Development Institute believes that imports into the North totaled $1.46 billion for the period, whereas exports to China increased 29% to total $1.05 billion, leaving North Korea with a $410 million trade deficit.

Much of the growth in North Korean exports lies in coal; anthracite, a compact mineral coal, now accounts for more than 58% of the country’s total exports, not to mention half of all Chinese imports during the period. China largely provided North Korea with energy products and machinery.

Excluding trade with South Korea, China accounted for 89.1% of North Korea’s total trade volume, the report reveals. Again, this is a dramatic increase over last year’s figure of 52.6%, showing Pyongyang’s growing reliance on trade with its only major ally.

Read the full story here:
Sino-NK Trade Trends Up Once More
Daily NK
Clara Fontana


Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) update

Friday, July 20th, 2012

According to the Asahi Shimbun:

Currently 300 undergraduate and 70 graduate students are enrolled in the PUST’s three departments: electronic and computer engineering; international finance and management; and agriculture and life sciences. Thirty computers, with access to the Internet, are available for graduate students. At least some of those computers seem to be made by Chinese subsidiaries of South Korean electronics giants Samsung Electronics Co. and LG Electronics Inc., he said.

The goal of the university is to nurture personnel capable of working in the international community.

About 50 professors from Europe, the United States, Australia and elsewhere give lectures in English, with the content of the courses left to their discretion, Park said, and lectures on economics include finance, investment, insurance, equity and trade in Europe and the United States.

The students at PUST are selected from among those who have studied at least two years at the country’s top universities, including Kim Il Sung University and Kim Chaek University of Technology. Students live in a dormitory, and tuition and living expenses are free. Each student is given a monthly allowance of $10 (790 yen) in card form, which they can use to purchase daily commodities and school supplies at a campus store.

When a large number of the country’s students were recruited for construction work and other projects in preparation for the 100th anniversary in April of the birth of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung, PUST students received special exemptions.

In September the university plans to send the first three students to study at a British university.

The story also reports “a business school in Pyongyang founded by a Swiss investor is proving popular among bureaucrats and corporate workers,” but I heard as recently as last week that this endeavor has not been operational for a few years.

Read previous articles on PUST here.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea opening up to education on capitalism
Asahi Shimbun
Akira Nakano


Coercion, control, surveillance, and punishment: An examination of the North Korean police state

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

Today The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) is releasing “Coercion, Control, Surveillance, and Punishment: An Examination of the North Korean Police State” (PDF) by Ken Gause.

Here is the table of contents:

Part I: The Internal Security Agencies
–State Security Department (SSD)
–Ministry of People’s Security (MPS)
–Military Security Command (MSC)
–Neighborhood Watch Units (In-min-ban)
–Ad Hoc Social Monitoring Organizations
Part II: What the Internal Security Agencies Do
–Surveillance of North Korea’s Citizens
–Investigation and Detention
–The Role of Internal Security Agencies in Trials
–The Role of the Internal Security Agencies in Prisons
Part III: History of the Internal Security Apparatus
–Formative Years (1945 and 1950)
–Purging the Enemies of the State (1950s and 1960s)
–Kimilsungism and the Monolithic Guidance System (1970–1980)
–Kim Jong-il as Heir Apparent (1980–1994)
–Intrigue Following Kim Il-sung’s Death (1994–1998)
–Kim Jong-il Regime
–Laying the Groundwork for Kim Jong-un’s Succession
–Kim Jong-un Regime
–Appendix I: Biographies of Key Internal Security Officials
–Appendix II: An Example of a North Korean Ministry of People’s Security Decree.180
–Appendix III: An Example of a North Korean Arrest Warrant

Additional Information:
1. Here is coverage in Yonhap

2. Here is coverage in the AFP


Lankov on bribery

Friday, July 13th, 2012

Below I have posted some excerpts from a recent Andrei Lankov article on bribery in the DPRK along with the economic bullet points:

Bribery has little to do with ethics or honesty but relative costs and benefits:

The incorruptibility of the old bureaucracy has a rather simple and rational explanation: Most of the time, it did not pay to be a corrupt official under Kim Il-sung. Money was of surprisingly little use in the 1960s and 1970s, when pretty much everything was rationed and distributed by the state according to predetermined quotas and norms.

In those days officials lived significantly better than the average North Korean, no doubt. But they were affluent not because they had significantly more money (the wage differential between a top official and a humble worker was remarkably low), but rather because they had access to higher-quality goods and services that were not available to the common people. One of my North Korean interlocutors said: “Back in the 1980s, I did not care about money. Nobody did, since money did not buy much in those days.” In those days, in the 1970s or 1980s, one had to be an official to drink beer every week, to smoke cigarettes with filters, or feast on pork a few times a month. But officials did not buy these goods at market; rather they received them from the state as part of their special (very special) rations.

In this situation, it did not make sense for an official to accept bribes as a reward for overlooking some misbehavior or violations of some rules. Money would not be particularly useful and at the same time there was a significant risk of being caught. If caught, an unlucky official would at best lose his or her job and at worst even freedom, and no amount of money would compensate for this disaster.

In highly regulated economies, bribery and growth are positively correlated:

We are conditioned to see official corruption as an evil, but in present-day North Korea, corruption might be a life-saver. The average North Korean gets most of his or her income (about 75%, if recent estimates are to be believed) from private economic activities – these include private agriculture, trade and small-scale household production, and myriad other things. Nonetheless, nearly all of these activities remain technically illegal. Unlike China, North Korea has never undertaken serious economic reform, so private economic activities are still considered crimes, even though they have long become, in practice, a universal norm (and without such activities many would be unable to stay alive).

The only reason these activities are able to exist is corruption. Without widespread corruption, many more North Koreans would probably have perished in the great famine because there would have been no way to have private agriculture, and it would have been nearly impossible for private traders to move food across the country, delivering it to areas where the food situation was especially dire. After all, trade in grain and long-distance travel for commercial purposes are both technically crimes. No markets would be possible had the local bureaucracy been serious about enforcing a multitude of bans and restrictions on commercial activities.

Although corruption will lead to low levels of growth, it will impede overall development in the long-term:

Even when the Kim family regime meets its eventual demise, when a new North Korea emerges, the culture of corruption may remain as part of its heritage. And perhaps eventually it will become a serious burden to a resurgent North Korean economy.

Regarding this last point, see this post.

Read the full story here:
North Korea’s culture of bribery
Asia Times
Andrei Lankov


DPRK-China Economic Cooperation: First Six Months in Review after Kim Jong Un’s Rise to Power

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

After Kim Jong Un’s succession following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, added attention is drawn to the economic cooperation between China and North Korea.

The DPRK-China economic cooperation has totaled 990 million USD from January to April this year, a rise of 16.5 percent against the previous year. Other economic cooperation projects are also underway as appropriate system and regulations are currently being established along with recruitment and training of employees.

According to Yonhap News Agency on July 4, Chinese commerce ministry invited about 20 North Korean economic government officials and scholars to Tianjin for training in special economic zones from late May. The main purpose of the training was identified; to promote and revitalize the special economic zones in North Korea, including Hwanggumpyong and Wihwa Islands and Rajin-Sonbong.

The invited North Korean trainees are top officials from economic, administrative, finance, and customs sectors to receive two-month training in Tianjin from Chinese experts with years of experience and knowledge in the area of operations, management, and investment promotion of economic zones. The entire training cost is supported by the Chinese government with full support of education and accommodations.

The details of the program consisted of a month of training in theoretical background and a month of practical training in economic zones of Shanghai Pudong and Shenzhen.

Hwanggumpyong and Wihwa Islands began as China and North Korea partnered up to develop it as the next Kaesong Industrial Complex. Last June, China’s Commerce Minister Chen Deming and the DPRK’s vice-chairman of National Defence Commission Jang Song Thaek met and hosted the groundbreaking ceremony for the development of the area. However, the development in Hwanggumpyong area is making a slow progress.

On June 25, Kyodo News Service of Japan reported that China and North Korea both expressed to delay the joint development project of Hwanggumpyong for the lack of economic value after North Korea conducted its satellite launch. However, on the following day, Chinese foreign ministry made a statement that Hwanggumpyong joint development project was on track and criticized Kyodo for the inaccurate account of the situation.

China has obtained port usage right of Rajin Port in 2008, which connects Tumen River with Hunchun of Jilin Province in China. The construction for the 53 km-long road that connects Rajin with Hunchun is expected to be completed by the end of this year and sea route to this area will officially take off. China invested in the entire cost of construction as it hopes to develop it into an international distribution base, as a part of the Chang-Ji-Tu Development Project in Northeast China.

Nearly 70 percent of China-DPRK trade is located in Dandong and Sinuiju area. Many experts agree that it will be a matter of time before the development of Hwanggumpyong economic zone become full-fledged. Despite the apparent delay in development, North Korea has already established a Law on Hwanggumpyong and Wihwa Islands Economic Zone and joint management committee were formed consisting of Chinese and North Korean officials. Rapid progress in this zone can be expected after the New Yalu River Bridge is completed in 2014.

As economic trade and cooperation between North and South Korea ebbed, North Korea is likely to increase its efforts with China, combining the land and manpower of North Korea with China’s resources and technologies to develop other SEZs similar to Kaesong. However, a large-scale dispatch of North Korean employees to China will be difficult challenge to overcome.


Insurance in the DPRK

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

Jakub Rehor and Geoffrey See of Choson Exchange post interesting information on insurance in the DPRK:

According to the Choson Exchange:

In the planned, state-controlled economy of North Korea, familiar concepts (including insurance) acquire a very different meaning. In a market economy, insurance coverage indemnifies individuals or corporations for losses suffered due to natural disasters, accidents, sickness, or death. In North Korea, what is called “insurance” functions as a fundraiser for certain entities in the government.

There are two kinds of insurance products in North Korea, individual and enterprise insurance. Both are compulsory and are administered by KNIC (Korea National Insurance Corporation). Compulsory individual insurance is deducted automatically from salaries, and is used to fund the state-run healthcare system. Individuals cannot file claims under this insurance; all payments go into the healthcare system to cover its costs and to other state-directed uses. This individual insurance program was originally administered by Korea Central Bank, but parts of it were moved to KNIC where it formed a new department.

Individuals do not have the option of buying property or life insurance in DPRK. Only state-owned enterprises can use property insurance. Compulsory enterprise insurance covers property losses from all major perils (there is exclusion for war). There are no separate policies or riders for windstorm, earthquake, flooding, etc. Instead, policies specify coverage by type of property (animal insurance, machinery insurance, etc.)

Pricing is set without regard to individual risks and loss history. Rather, insurance operates on a pooled basis, with the goal of roughly matching premiums with claims and administration costs. There are no reserves and the state absorbs any losses or profits. As a result, KNIC has no incentive to care about profitability or correct pricing (and, presumably, service) for local insurance operations priced in North Korean won.

There is no independent regulatory authority in DPRK overseeing KNIC’s activities. In theory, the Central Bank and Finance Ministry should be involved, but in reality they don’t have the expertise or political backing. The only oversight of KNIC comes from the party which provides mainly political supervision.

Given the pooled nature of the compulsory policies and lack of risk-based pricing, KNIC acts mainly as an administrator, collecting premiums and disbursing payments. In this position it functions as a revenue generator for the government via two channels:

1. It fails to pay market replacement value of losses. Claims are settled at official government prices which do not reflect market reality.

2. It has been alleged that KNIC has been involved in reinsurance fraud. Media reports claim that European reinsurers write policies for KNIC which then submits false claims, or retains a portion of the claim settlement payments rather than passing it on to the insured.

The existing insurance arrangements in DPRK are clearly inadequate for the needs of foreign joint ventures operating in the Special Economic Zones. If North Korea hopes to attract foreign investment, it needs to modernize its insurance system to bring it into line with expectations of outside investors.


Remittances to the DPRK

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

Reuters offers a tale of how remittances from defectors in the South are making life easier for their family members who remain in the DPRK (a topic discussed here before). According to Reuters:

Next morning, she wired 15,000 yuan ($2,400) to the broker’s account at a bank in China, near the border. His wife confirmed receipt of the funds, informed her husband, and the defector’s brother got money in North Korea, a state where the average income is estimated at just $1,200 a year.

Brokers typically charge up to 30 percent fees for such transactions, but by and large, they work well.

“I heard it only took 15 minutes for my brother to get the money (after funds were wired),” said the defector, who is officially listed as dead in North Korea. “Two days later, my brother called me back saying ‘Thank you. We will spend your money wisely’.”

Some 70 percent send money home to the country they fled, says the Organization for One Korea, a South Korean support and research institute on North Korean defectors. Annual flows are estimated at $10 million a year as defectors try to help out families in a country where many are malnourished and lack access to basic healthcare.

Incoming funds from South Korea have become so significant that they have been dubbed the “Mount Halla Stream”, named after the tallest mountain in South Korea, said Kang Cheol-hwan, the author of “The Aquariums of Pyongyang,” a survivor’s account of North Korean gulags.

This has helped offset a decline in funds from ethnic Koreans living in Japan that dominated in the mid-1980s and was known as the “Mount Fuji Stream”.

“In the past, pro-Pyongyang people in Japan and some Korean Americans sent money but they grew old and strong sanctions from Japan also took a toll. So the generation providing remittances has changed and it is now the defectors in South Korea who are doing it,” said Kang.

I have also interviewed a few former North Koreans about remittances. They all report it is common and brokers charge about 30%.

Read the full story here:
Insight: A secret plea for money from a mountain in North Korea