Archive for February, 2013

Nuke test does not deter China’s economic interests in the DPRK

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

According to Reuters:

While Beijing has not made clear whether the test would disrupt its investment plans for the Rason economic zone, an official at the zone’s joint management office told Reuters that all previously announced Chinese projects for the zone remain on track, including a power line from China to ease acute electricity shortages there.

“All the people of the management office are still here working as usual… If there is any major impact (from the nuclear test), do you think we would still be here?” he said by phone from Rason, which lies near where North Korea, China and Russia converge. “All works are proceeding as planned.”

There are about 60 Chinese and North Korean people working at the management office, and the number may grow with the launch of more projects, said the official, who declined to be identified as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

China and North Korea jointly set up the Rason management committee in October to handle the planning, construction and development of the zone, also known as Ranjin-Songbong, one of the country’s highest profile economic projects.

“China has normal relations with North Korea. We will conduct normal trade and economic exchanges with North Korea,” Hua Chunying, China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, said when asked whether China would continue to work with North Korea to develop its special economic zones after the nuclear test.

Led by China’s commerce ministry, Chinese firms, including State Grid Corp, Jilin Yatai (Group) and China Railway Construction Group and other state enterprises, have indicated interest in investing in power, building materials, transport and agriculture projects in the zone.

Yatai, a Shanghai-listed cement and coal producer, signed a framework agreement last year with the North Korean government to construct a 500,000-square-metre building materials industrial park, including a cement plant, in Rason.

State Grid finished the final review of the feasibility study of the 97.8-kilometre power line early this year, but has not started construction as it has not yet won all approvals, the official and a source close to the plan said.

The planned line would cut through a Siberian tiger natural reserve, and State Grid is awaiting a green light from China’s National Development and Reform Commission and coordinating with various other authorities, the source told Reuters.

There is no timetable for the project as State Grid is unsure when it would receive government approvals, he added. State Grid was not immediately available for comment.

Jilin Yatai may delay its cement project in Rason — which is critical to the construction of other projects such as the railway there — due to “issues on the North Korean side,” said an official at Yatai’s securities office.

But the likely delay of the project was not related to the nuclear test, the official said by phone from Changchun, capital city of Northeast China’s Jilin province, which borders North Korea. He declined further comment.

In a filing with the Shanghai bourse in August, Yatai said it planned to complete the construction of its first cement plant in North Korea by September this year only if there is sufficient power capacity available.

Read the full story here:
China moves ahead with North Korea trade zone despite nuclear test


Yes, Dennis Rodman is in Pyongyang with the Harlem Globetrotters

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

UPDATE 30 (2013-9-7): Dennis Rodman made his second visit to the DPRK in September 2013.

UPDATE 29 (2013-6-24): Uri Tours has uploaded three videos of the Globetrotters in Pyongyang to Youtube. Here they are: Video 1, Video 2, video 3.

UPDATE 28 (2013-5-31): NK News reports on Dennis Rodman’s autograph in the Kumsusan Memorial Palace guest book:

“This has been a second coming of life. Thank you, thank you.”

UPDATE 27 (2013-5-24): Uri Tours has uploaded the DPRK video taken from the DPRK that shows the lead up to the game. Apparently VICE is trying to keep it off the internet.

UPDATE 26 (2013-3-29): New Focus claims to have some “behind the scenes” information on the Rodman trip.

UPDATE 25 (2013-3-5): It appears Dennis Rodman was escorted from a New York hotel from rambling on about how great Kim Jong-un is. According to the New York Post:

Dennis Rodman, just back from visiting Kim Jong Un, was escorted out of the Time Hotel in Midtown on Sunday after spending hours at the restaurant bar loudly telling anyone who would listen what a great guy the North Korean dictator is.

“He was at the bar at Serafina for three hours,” says a spy. “He kept saying what a nice guy Kim is, and how Kim just wants to talk to President Obama about basketball. He was waving around a signed copy of the dictator’s huge manifesto, telling everyone they should read it.”

Added the witness, “Dennis was making a total jerk of himself. He wouldn’t leave, and he wouldn’t let anyone talk to him about shutting up, or what an oppressive country North Korea is. Eventually he had to leave the bar because the bartender was starting to get [bleep]ed-off.”

UPDATE 24 (2013-3-5): The Harlem Globetrotters were featured on the North Korean evening news again (March 4th).  This time they visited the Grand People’s Study House and the Golden Lane Bowling Alley:

Here is coverage in KCNA:

Harlem Globetrotters Players Tour Various Places

Pyongyang, March 5 (KCNA) — American basketball players of Harlem Globetrotters and their party visited the International Friendship Exhibition House.

The guests paid tribute to the wax replica of President Kim Il Sung.

They looked round the gifts Kim Il Sung, leader Kim Jong Il and the dear respected Kim Jong Un received from party, state and government heads and personages of many countries.

At the end of the visit Jeffrey Raymond Munn made an entry in the visitor’s book.

He wrote that the exhibition house is the greatest collective of national treasures in the world and he was pleased to see them, excellent wealth for the Korean people.

The guests also toured the E-library and Indoor Swimming Pool of Kim Il Sung University, Grand People’s Study House, Pyongyang Gold Lane and other places.

Earlier, basketball players of Harlem Globetrotters conducted a joint training with players of the Hwaebul basketball team of Korean University of Physical Education.

The guests flew back home Tuesday.

UPDATE 23 (2013-3-4): The White House has dismissed the Rodman trip as “a ‘celebrity sporting event’ for an oppressive regime”. Read more here.

UPDATE 22 (2013-3-4): The North Korean evening (March 3) news featured the Harlem Globetrotters visiting the new electronic library and indoor swimming pool of  Kim Il-Sung University:

UPDATE 21 (2013-3-3): Here is an Instagram image from Pyongyang of the Harlem Globetrotters entertaining some children in Pyongyang.

UPDATE 20 (2013-3-3): Dennis Rodman gave an interview to ABC News. You can see it here. Dennis Rodman says he is going back. Shane Smith is banned from the DPRK, but was still able to pull this off…

UPDATE 19 (2013-3-2): KCTV footage shows the Globetrotters visiting the International Friendship Exhibition in Myohyangsan.

UPDATE 18 (2013-3-1): Here is KCNA footage of Dennis Rodman leaving the DPRK:

Here is what KCNA had to say:

Pyongyang, March 1 (KCNA) — Ex-player of the NBA of the U.S. Dennis Rodman left here Friday. Seeing him off at the airport were Son Kwang Ho, vice-chairman of the DPRK Olympic Committee, and officials concerned.

The Harlem Globetrotters remain in the DPRK.

UPDATE 17 (2013-3-1): When Dennis Rodman left the DPRK, he complemented the Paektu blood line noting Kim Jong-un is an “awesome guy” and his father and grandfather were “great leaders”.  According to the Associated Press:

At Pyongyang’s Sunan airport on his way to Beijing, Rodman said it was “amazing” that the North Koreans were “so honest.” He added that Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s founder, “were great leaders.”

“He’s proud, his country likes him – not like him, love him, love him,” Rodman said of Kim Jong Un. “Guess what, I love him. The guy’s really awesome.”

At Beijing’s airport, Rodman pushed past waiting journalists without saying anything.

Rodman’s agent, Darren Prince, sent a text message to The Associated Press saying Rodman will be in New York on Sunday “to do some major press interviews and talk about his trip in North Korea as well as discussing what’s accurate and inaccurate from the press the past few days.”

UPDATE 16 (2013-3-1): Rodong Sinmun reports on Rodman and Harlem Globetrotters visit to  the Rungra Dolphinarium. Here is coverage in KCNA:

U.S. Ex-NBA Star Tours Pyongyang

Pyongyang, March 1 (KCNA) — Dennis Rodman, ex-player of the NBA of the U.S., and his party toured the Rungna Dolphinarium on Friday.

The guests expressed deep impressions as they were briefed on the Dolphinarium on picturesque Rungna Islet.

They spent a good time watching dolphins dancing to the tune of cheerful music, jumping in group, spinning rings, jumping into the air and shaking hands with people.

Earlier, they also toured the Tower of the Juche Idea and the Arch of Triumph.

UPDATE 15 : Here is KCTV footage of the basketball game and dinner banquet:

Reminds me of the time I saw Kim Jong-il!

UPDATE 14 (2013-2-28): Here is the State Department Briefing for February 28th which features discussion of Rodman’s visit to the DPRK. Here is Washington Post coverage of the briefing.

UPDATE 13 (2013-2-28): The game with Kim Jong-un and Dennis Rodman did not make the evening news tonight, but it did feature Rodman and the team visiting the Arch of Triumph and Juche Tower. They make an appearance at the 8:07 mark:

The video of the Rodman/Jong-un game/dinner will come to the USA tomorrow.

KCNA has published 15 photos from the game and dinner, but because their web page is so poorly designed, I cannot link to them.  If you go to, search for “American Players”. When the story appears, click on the camera icon to the left of the story.  You should be able to see the photos.

In the event that this is too much work for you, Yonhap has released some screenshots from North Korean television of the game and dinner (which has not made its way through the usual outlets to viewers in the Western hemisphere): one, two, three, four (the bow), five (the toast), six, seven, eight (the hug), nine.

UPDATE 12 (2013-2-28): This evening we will see how much of the performance ended up on North Korean television. In the meantime, KCNA reports on Kim Jong-un’s attendance of the game with Rodman:

Kim Jong Un Enjoys Basketball Game of DPRK, American Players

Pyongyang, February 28 (KCNA) — A mixed basketball game of the visiting American basketball players of Harlem Globetrotters and Korean players belonging to the Hwaebul basketball team of Korean University of Physical Education took place at Ryugyong Jong Ju Yong Gymnasium on Thursday. Among the American players was ex-player of NBA Dennis Rodman.

Sports fans and other Pyongyang citizens packed the gymnasium to watch the game with great interest.

Among the audience were foreign diplomatic envoys, representatives of international bodies, military attaches and other foreign guests here with their families.

The dear respected Marshal Kim Jong Un, together with his wife Ri Sol Ju, came to the gymnasium to watch the game.

The players and audience broke into thunderous cheers, greatly excited to see the game together with Kim Jong Un.

Dennis Rodman went up to the auditorium to bow to Kim Jong Un.

Warmly welcoming him, Kim Jong Un let him sit next to him.

Brett Dennis Meister and Jeffrey Raymond Munn also sat near him.

American basketball players first played a demonstration game amid great attention of the audience.

They showed a variety of special basketball skills to be highly acclaimed.

Then a mixed game of DPRK and American players took place amid elated atmosphere.

Divided into red and white teams, the players carried out fierce seesaw battle.

In the first and second rounds, the red team players won 60:47 with long-distance shooting, dunk shot and other skills.

The audience enthusiastically cheered the players as they showed amazing skills.

During breaks, women’s brass band presented glamorous rhythmic formations.

National dances by Korean women artistes and a demonstration performance of Taekwon-Do players added to the cheerful mood.

Korean basketball players played the game well with American players of their teams in a coordinated way by fully displaying their techniques. American players made a good job of the game to give good impressions to the audience.

The white team combined man-to-man defence and fast break. The game ended in a draw 110:110.

Kim Jong Un applauded both teams for their nice game.

Dennis Rodman expressed thanks to Kim Jong Un, saying over the mike with excitement that his impressive Pyongyang visit is quite satisfactory and it is a great privilege for him.

He said he was very pleased to mix with Pyongyang citizens, adding that it is regrettable that the relations between the U.S. and the DPRK are not good, but Korean people are his friends and in particular, he considers Marshal Kim Jong Un a close friend.

Kim Jong Un was presented with a uniform of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team as a gift by the American guests.

This evening Kim Jong Un was invited to a dinner hosted by the DPRK Olympic Committee in honour of Rodman and his party.

He met and conversed with them in an amicable atmosphere.

He was pleased they visited Pyongyang to provide young people of the DPRK who are fond of basketball with an opportunity of enjoying the nice game, he said.

He expressed his expectation that such sports exchange would be activated, contributing to promoting mutual understanding between the peoples of the two countries.

He welcomed their visit to the DPRK, hoping that through the visit they would become familiar with the DPRK people, especially with basketball fans.

Rodman said that it was the greatest pleasure for him to meet with Kim Jong Un and his wife for the first time for Americans.

The American basketball star hoped the sports exchange would continue between the two countries.

He wished Kim Jong Un good health, heartily thanking him for warm hospitality.

The dinner proceeded in an amicable atmosphere.

Here is a satellite image of the school where the North Korean team studies:


A satellite image of the stadium can be seen below.

UPDATE 11 (2013-2-28): Some photo work:


A collegaue informs me that the individual outlined in green used to be one of Kim Jong-il’s top body guards. Maybe he has taken a new job with Kim Jong-un?

The individual outlined in yellow was Wolf Blitzer’s (CNN) interpreter and handler. It appears from footage on CNN that he is also Rodman’s interpreter.

There are a few other “suits” who appear to be security, but if anyone else can identify people in the crowd, please let me know.

Nicolas Levi also spotted some faces in the crowd….including the Polish Ambassador.

UPDATE 10 (2013-2-28): Jean Lee tweets that Rodman and Kim-Jong-un had dinner as well:


Now there is no way to know (yet) whether it was one of the official residencies or just a guest house (like the one President Clinton or Eric Schmidt visited). But I am sure the food was good.

Associated Press story here.

CNN reports that the theme to “Dallas” was playing over and over in the background…

UPDATE 9 (2013-2-28): Even though no photos, or mention of the encounter, have appeared in the North Korean media (KCNA, Rodong Sinmun, or domestic television broadcast), Vice has the visuals:


How many words is this photo worth?

According to Vice:

Earlier today former Chicago Bulls superstar Dennis Rodman presided over a mixed-match basketball game in Pyongyang alongside Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. The teams consisted of VICE correspondent Ryan Duffy; Moose Weekes, Buckets Blakes, and Bull Bullard of the Harlem Globetrotters; and North Korea’s “Dream Team,” all of whom played their hearts out in what we have termed a “basketball diplomacy” mission. Following the game, Rodman gave a stirring speech that extended an olive branch to the Hermit Kingdom. The VICE crew is currently having a reception at the Supreme Leader’s house, and Duffy has invited Kim Jung-un to America and to tour the VICE offices. There isn’t much more to say other than that because our jaws are still on the floor. So while we pick them up and get more info from our team, enjoy these photos of the game. You can watch the highlights on VICE, our new HBO series that premieres April 5.

Alejandro Cao de Benos is jealous.

KCNA did report some of the American basketball player’s activities:

Ex-player of U.S. NBA Pay Respects to Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il
Pyongyang, February 28 (KCNA) — Ex-player of the NBA of the U.S. Dennis Rodman and his party Thursday visited the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun to pay respects to President Kim Il Sung and leader Kim Jong Il.

They paid high tribute to Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il before their statues.

They entered the halls where Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il lie in state and paid homage to them.

They went round the halls where orders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il received are on display and the halls which house cars, an electric car, a boat and train coaches used by them during their field guidance and foreign trips till the last moments of their lives.

They made an entry in the visitor’s book.

UPDATE 8 (2013-2-28): No word yet in the North Korean media, but apparently Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong-un did meet, watched a basketball game, and conversed in English. Read more here: Washington Post, Associated Press, Xinhua.

Nate Thayer also wrote this piece on the Kim family’s basketball history. Max Fisher wrote a follow up piece at the Washington Post.

UPDATE 7 (2013-2-27): Dennis Rodman participated in his first event in the DPRK on the 27th. According to KCNA:

DPRK, U.S. Basketball Players Have Joint Training

Pyongyang, February 27 (KCNA) — Basketball players of the DPRK and the U.S. conducted a joint training in Ryugyong Jong Ju Yong Gymnasium here on Wednesday.

Participating in it were U-18 players of the DPRK and ex-player of the NBA of the U.S. Dennis Rodman and his party.

Match tactics, training mode and technique movement of the players of the two countries were exchanged at the joint training.

A workshop on basketball technique took place that day.

Here is the February 26 State Department Briefing that discusses the visit.

Here is a satellite image of the facility (Google Earth:  39.040180°, 125.734745°):


 On the evening of the 27th, the DPRK evening news contained no information on the Rodman/Vice visit.

UPDATE 6 (2013-2-27): Koryo Tours reminds us of the first US basketball team to visit the DPRK in June 2012:

 According to the email newsletter:

“The team, Coaches International, conducted 2 training sessions for kids there – one at the Mangyongdae Schoolchildren’s Palace and the second at the Kang Bang Sok [Kang Pang-sok] Middle School. This trip was just the beginning of an ongoing exchange and we’re pleased to announce that Coaches will come back to DPRK in 2013!”

UPDATE 5 (2013-2-27): A couple of colleagues have sent along this image from Japanese media which purports to show a young Kim Jong-un playing basketball in Switzerland.  He is wearing Dennis Rodman’s number, 91. I have no idea if this is actually Kim Jong-un, but I thought the idea was interesting enough to post.


If this is not Kim Jong-un, please let me know. But this Daily NK article from 2009 seems to make the case it is him. Nate Thayer says it is Kim Jong-chol, Kim Jong-un’s older brother.

UPDATE 4 (2013-2-27): In a New York Times article, Shane Smith also speaks about how the plan came together:

“It’s weird because when you go there, it’s all very anti-American,” Smith said. “North Korean kids are fed anti-American propaganda from pretty much the day they are born. But it’s O.K. to like American basketball.”

So Smith hatched a plan to take some of those Bulls players to North Korea for one of the installments of a series Smith will host on HBO, called “Vice,” featuring news and footage from around the world, which will make its debut April 5. Smith did not go through the State Department but received permission through his previous contacts and the North Korean ambassador to the United Nations. Smith said he was sure that Kim Jong-un’s love of basketball was why the trip was approved.

He quickly found that [Michael] Jordan was not likely to be a willing ambassador. “But Dennis is up for anything and everything, ” Smith said. He then recruited the Globetrotters to round out a team, and they offered up Anthony Blakes, known as Buckets; Alex Weekes, known as Moose; and Will Bullard, known as Bull. Ryan Duffy, a Vice correspondent who is on the trip, will also join in on the games to fill out the team.

“The Harlem Globetrotters are known worldwide as the Ambassadors of Goodwill, and we are proud to continue our storied heritage of entertaining families and breaking down social barriers worldwide,” the Globetrotters’ chief executive, Kurt Schneider, said in a statement. “Our aim is to entertain and inspire children everywhere. Every child deserves that opportunity.”

According to the Globetrotters, team members have traveled to 122 countries in the team’s 87-year history. This one might be the oddest trip of all, given North Korea’s isolation.

“It is a bizarre place,” Smith said. “And this is a bizarre idea.”

It appears that after presenting the idea to “the New York Channel”, they were issued an invitation. According to Rodman:

“We got invited and we just came over to have some fun,” Rodman said. “Hopefully, everything will be O.K. and the kids will have a good time with the games.”

UPDATE 3 (2013-2-26): The Rodman/Vice/Globetrotter arrival did not make the evening news in Pyongyang (on February 26th), but the group did get a mention in the Workers’ Party News Paper, Rodong Sinmun (로동신문). See the report here in Korean.

UPDATE 2 (2013-2-26): According to Max Fisher at the Washington Post, Dennis Rodman’s agent claims he will be meeting with Kim Jong-un.

We readers are instructed to take that with a grain of salt.

UPDATE 1 (2013-2-26): Dennis Rodman has tweeted this blog post.  I have to check, but I believe this is a first for NKeconWatch.

Hat tip to Michael Madden, who wrote a comprehensive piece on Rodman’s arrival.

**Seems he deleted the tweet. I guess I offended him?

ORIGINAL POST (2013-2-26): Here  is footage from KCNA:

Here is the announcement in KCNA:

Ex-Player of American NBA, His Party Arrive Here

Pyongyang, February 26 (KCNA) — Ex-player of the NBA of the U.S. Dennis Rodman and his party arrived here Tuesday.

They were greeted at the airport by Son Kwang Ho, vice-chairman of the DPRK Olympic Committee, and officials concerned.

Here is additional coverage in The Guardian.

Isaac Stone Fish has a fun addendum at Foreign Policy.

Associated Press.

Los Angeles Times.



Koryo Tours news…

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

Comrade Kim Goes Flying
Comrade Kim” can now be seen in the USA. According to a Koryo Tours email:

Miami International Film Festival (screening dates: 8th and 9th March 2013)
San Francisco CAAM Festival (screening dates: 16th, 23rd and 24th March 2013)

Nicholas Bonner (co-director/co-producer of the film) will be at the Miami screenings and the San Francisco screening on 16th March – and would love to see you there.

The film will also be shown at various other festivals throughout the US later in the year – we will add the screenings to our website:

For press please contact the film’s publicist:
David Magdael
[email protected]
Phone (+1) 213 624 7827

Pyongyang Charity Fun Run!

According to a Koryo Tours email:

Koryo Tours are proud to announce the very first charity Fun Run to be held in DPRK (North Korea) on May 1st 2013.

The Fun Run is open to any tourists in Pyongyang at the time so if you’re on the May Day Long Tour or the May Day Short Tour then you can join in! There will be a 5km route as well as a 10km one for those who are up for more of a challenge – we will be running (or jogging/ walking/ limping – delete as applicable) in the Manyongdae District in Sports Street. Tourists taking part in the fun run won’t miss out on any of the other activities – after the run we’ll return to the hotel to freshen up before starting the day’s sightseeing itinerary kicking things off with a visit to the Mansundae Grand Monument before heading to Taesongsan Park where the locals hold May Day celebrations.

The aim of the run is to raise money to buy milk powder for the children in the Nampo Orphanage on the west coast, a place we’ve worked with regularly. There will be a minimum donation of EUR 20 per runner but if you’d like to try and raise more we of course encourage you to do so – and please note that donations from non-participating tourists are also greatly received by us and the children!

The weather on the morning of May 1st should be pleasantly cool, we’ll provide water and a FUN RUN T-shirt so all you need is some suitable footwear/ clothing.

If you’d like to be part of the first ever Fun Run in North Korea or need any more information about our May Day Tours then please send an email to [email protected]


Singaporean tourist ship “Royale Star” operating in DPRK

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013


Pictured Above (Google Earth): The location of the Singaporean ship “Royale Star” at Rason Port (in Yellow).

UPDATE 2 (2013-5-19): The Royale Star has made its maiden DPRK voyage. Here is footage from KCTV. Here is footage from KCNA. Here is text from KCNA:

A departure ceremony of tour boat Royale Star for the first batch of Rason-Mt. Kumgang international tour makers took place at Rajin Port Saturday.

Present there were officials and other personages of the DPRK and Chinese institutions related to tourism, tourists and people in Rason City.

Jon Tong Chol, director of the Rason City Tourist Administration Bureau, and Zheng Yuanhui, owner of the boat, made speeches there.

The speakers congratulated the guests on having an opportunity to tour Mt. Kumgang, world famous mountain and a superb scenic beauty, as the first batch of makers of Rason-Mt. Kumgang international tour by the boat.

They wished the guests pleasant and happy days.

At the end of the ceremony the boat left the port.

UPDATE 1 (2013-3-6):  Yonhap offers more details on the ship and its mission in the DPRK:

Beijing-based Young Pioneer Tours said Pyongyang has authorized seven, four-day tours to the port and resort on its east coast from late April though mid October.

The Royale Star, a small cruise ship owned by a Singaporean shipping company, will be used to ferry foreign tourists, with the company claiming passengers will get a chance to see unique marine vistas off Rajin and Mount Kumgang, one of the top natural tourist destinations in North Korea.

The vessel is 138-meters-long, has a beam of 28 meters and is able to carry a large number of passengers and crew. The ship has a duty-free shop, hair salon, bar, rest areas and a restaurant-theater.

UPDATE 1 (2013-2-27): An update from the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES):

North Korea trying to attract foreign tourists

North Korea is recently expanding its tourism industry, one of its major foreign currency earners.

North Korea is improving its tourism infrastructure to attract more foreign tourists, and recently introduced a new cruise ship to bring in tourists from China and other countries.

Workers’ Party of Korea’s mouthpiece Rodong Sinmun reported on February 21 that an opening ceremony for a Singapore cruise ship called the Royale Star was held at Rajin Port. The Rajin Port staff and government officials in the tourism sector from North Korea and China were in attendance. The new cruise ship is expected to revitalize the tourism in Rason and Mount Kumgang and the Rason Economic and Trade Zone.

Royale Star is expected to attract a large number of Chinese tourists.Although further details were not specified, Royale Star is also likely to travel between Rajin Port and Mount Kumgang in the Gangwon [Kangwon] Province, given the emphasis placed on Rajin-Mount Kumgang tours.

After a South Korean tourist was shot by a North Korean soldier at Mount Kumgang in July 2008, South Korean tours to the mountain resort came to a halt. Since then, North Korea has turned its attention to attracting Chinese and other foreign tourists. In August 2011, North Korea resumed operation of the Mangyongbong cruise ship (which was used to repatriate ethnic Koreans in Japan to North Korea in the late 1950s) as a pilot test for the operation of marine tourism to Rajin and Kumgang.

However, the pilot tour was rated poor due to the cruise ship’s old and substandard facilities. Passengers on the Mangyongbongfor the tour included foreign journalists from China, Russia, and the United States, and Chinese businessman. The ship set sail four times in 2011 from August to October. Four hundred Chinese tourists were said to have taken the tour. However, the cruise failed to attract tourists to operate on a regular basis.

North Korea explored the use of other luxury cruise ships from Hong Kong, as reported by Chinese media last year. North Korean authorities and Chinese travel agents seemingly came to the conclusion that cruise facilities and services must be drastically improved in order to attract more customers,and this has likely led to the recent introduction of the Singaporean cruise ship, Royale Star.

Royale Star is 138m in length and 28m in width, comprising a total of eight floors, and is supposedly equipped with a variety of facilities and services, including luxury rooms and bars, duty-free shops, a hair salon, lounge, and dining halls with live performances.A crew of more than 150 people was hired, including nationals from Singapore, Malaysia, India, Myanmar, Cambodia, Russia, Ukraine, and North Korea.

At the opening ceremony, the captain of the Royale Star announced, “We will accommodate our guests from many countries as a marine hotel. We will operate three days a week to allow our guests to enjoy the beautiful and unique scenery that North Korea has to offer and also sail to Mount Kumgang the last week of every month.”

Authorities also plan to open a hotel in Rajin Port to address the current lodging shortages in the Rason Special Economic Zone, which is under joint North Korea-China development. Last year about 600 to 700 Chinese visited the area during the peak season for tourism and business purposes,but reported to have experienced great difficulty finding accommodations.

As tourism to North Korea is gaining popularity in China, additional tours to Pyongyang, Kaesong, Panmunjeom, and Mount Kumgang are being considered, and new tourism infrastructure is being constructed in the border cities of Dongrim [Tongrim] (North Phyongan Province) and Kyongsong (North Hamgyong Province).

ORIGINAL POST (2013-2-26): According to KCNA:

Singaporean Tourist Ship Opens Business at Rajin Port of DPRK

Pyongyang, February 20 (KCNA) — The Singaporean tourist ship “Royale Star” opened its business with due ceremony at Rajin Port in the northeastern DPRK on Feb. 20.

Present at the ceremony were officials and other people of DPRK and Chinese institutions related to tourism and people in Rason City.

Kim Chun Hwa, director of the Rason International Travel Company, the director of the Yanbian Tianyu International Travel Company of China, and Zheng Yuanhui, owner of the ship, made speeches at the ceremony.

They said the start of business by the ship is of great significance in developing tourism in the Rason Economic and Trade Zone, adding it will contribute to bringing about a turn in the services for tourists.

They expressed thanks to the DPRK for its cooperation in the preparations for the start of the ship’s business.

They stressed the need to improve the services and inject fresh energy into Rason-Mt. Kumgang tour and the businesses in the zone.

At the end of the ceremony its participants toured cabins and other facilities of the ship.

A reception and an art performance were given on the same day.

Here is footage from KCNA:


KoryoLink offers internet access to foreign users

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

UPDATE 3 (2013-3-22): Koryo Tours employee, Hanna Barraclough, has been posing Instagram photos from her most recent trip to the the DPRK. You can see the photos here. She also wrote this blog post about her most recent trip. In the report, she dropped some notable information in the last paragraph:

In other news from the trip – the 3G access for foreigners has now been restricted to long term visitors/residents of Pyongyang only and tourists are not permitted to use this service. They can still buy simcards to make calls but no internet access available.

Hanna, Jean Lee, and David Guttenfelder are the only individuals of whom I am aware that have used Instagram/Twitter from inside the DPRK. Since they regularly enter and DPRK, they might get a pass as “long-term visitors”. It looks like the idea of thousands of tourists instantly uploading images to the web was a little more than Pyongyang could handle for the time being.  Still, we know the capacity is there, we just have to wait for them so flip the switch again.

UPDATE 2 (2013-3-7): Here is CCTV (China) coverage (in English) of the new cell phone policy:

UPDATE 1 (2013-3-4): Koryo Tours has posted all the details about mobile phone use in the DPRK.

ORIGINAL POST (2013-2-26): In January the DPRK began allowing foreigners to bring mobile phones into the country. These cell phones were not compatible with the DPRK mobile  network (Previously, foreign VIPs could only make mobile phone calls through the old Loxley network).  However, it later emerged that visitors could buy SIM cards which would allow compatible mobile phones to make international phone calls–but not domestic calls.

Last week, Jean Lee (Assiciated Press) reported that international visitors/expats will soon have access to the internet through their mobile phones with KoryoLink SIM cards:

North Korea will soon allow foreigners to tweet, Skype and surf the Internet from their cellphones, iPads and other mobile devices in its second relaxation of controls on communications in recent weeks. However, North Korean citizens will not have access to the mobile Internet service to be offered by provider Koryolink within the next week.

Koryolink, a joint venture between Korea Post & Telecommunications Corporation and Egypt’s Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holding SAE, informed foreign residents in Pyongyang on Friday that it will launch a third generation, or 3G, mobile Internet service no later than March 1.

The announcement comes just weeks after North Korea began allowing foreigners to bring their own cellphones into the country to use with Koryolink SIM cards, reversing a longstanding rule requiring most visitors to relinquish their phones at customs and leaving many without easy means of communication with the outside world.

The two changes in policy mean foreigners in North Korea will have unprecedented connectivity while living, working or traveling in a country long regarded as one of the most isolated nations in the world.
However, wireless Internet will not yet be offered to North Koreans, who are governed by a separate set of telecommunication rules from foreigners. North Koreans will be allowed to access certain 3G services, including SMS and MMS messaging, video calls and subscriptions to the state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper — but not the global Internet.

Chinese-made Huawei cellphones sold by Koryolink are not cheap, with the most basic model costing about $150, and the governments restricts North Koreans from phoning abroad or foreigners from their cellphones. Still, mobile phones have become a must-have accessory among not only the elite in Pyongyang but also the middle class in cities such as Kaesong and Wonsan.

Foreigners, meanwhile, can now purchase SIM cards at the airport or at Koryolink shops for 50 euros ($70). Calls abroad range from 0.38 euros a minute to Switzerland and France and more than 5 euros a minute to the U.S. Calls to South Korea remain prohibited.

Starting next week, foreigners will be allowed to purchase monthly mobile Internet data plans for use with a USB modem or on mobile devices using their SIM cards. Prices for the service haven’t been announced yet.

It now appears that the service has been activated. Jean Lee, who wrote the article above has been tweeting and using Instagram (and here)and Loopcam. She may be the first customer to use the service.  Dennis Rodman may be the second.

Xinhua (Via North Korea Tech) has some financial details on the new project:

“We will provide both a USB modem and your current own SIM card to get access to Internet, respectively costs 75 euro and 150 euro upon registration, with different levels of charge standard, from 400euro/10G, 250euro/5G, to 150euro/2G for USB and 10 euro for SIM card per month,” he said.

The Xinhua article also claims the number of domestic mobile phone users has increased to 1.8 million. The Daily NK offers interesting information on how all these users are able to power their phones.

Choson Exchange first reported on the development of this technology back on 2011-10-16!


Phoenix Commercial Ventures Ltd reacquires Sinji Brand

Sunday, February 24th, 2013



Phoenix Commercial Ventures Ltd is pleased to announce that it has reacquired the Sinji brand, trademark and associated intellectual property rights.

Sinji JVC was a 50/50 joint venture between Phoenix Commercial Ventures Ltd and the Taegyong Economic Group.

Phoenix’s share in the company was sold to a third party in November 2010.

Sinji (pronounced “shinjee”) was a lieutenant of Tangun, the first king of Korea in around 3,000 BC, and his mission was to relay communications between the king and his people. In the absence of a written script, he invented one. Sinji dates from ancient history, all Koreans will recognise the name. Sinji symbolises the human intellectual, and he can be considered to be the original Korean IT developer.

Sinji’s main areas of operations at the time of disposal were:

• Retail (consumer electronics, household necessities)
• Software (eg the innovative web based e-learning platform, learnwithelsi)
• Artificial flower manufacturing for export
• SKD assembly/retail: Renewable energy products (eg small capacity wind turbine generators)

Phoenix Commercial Ventures Ltd will issue further updates as to the intended future operations and direction of the newly acquired Sinji brand.

Here is a PDF with more.


North Korean products in department stores on the rise

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

The number of North Korean made products is increasingly on the rise at North Korean department stores. Reportedly, 70 percent of the merchandise on the shelves in North Korea’s largest department store, Pyongyang Department Store No. 1, is North Korean made.

Japan-based pro-North Korean newspaper Choson Sinbo reported on February 13 that the bestselling item is apple juice made from the Taedong River Combined Fruit Farm, sold from the kiosk located on the first floor of Pyongyang Department Store No. 1. Sonhung Food Factory products, especially bread and confectionaries, are also said to be very popular.

The newspaper commented that the regularly held product exhibition shows at the department store have created competitive environment for local factories and companies and contributed to the production of high-quality products. They also emphasized that exhibition of products began on account of recommendations of the former North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il.

It further added, “The product exhibition invites participation from light industry factories and enterprises and its affiliated units from central and regional areas as well as department stores in Pyongyang and general stores that sell industrial products.” It commended the expos to be well received by the local people for filling the shelves with local products.

The first exhibition began in December 2010, and the second and third exhibitions were held in July 2011 and January 2012, respectively. Selling of Taedong River Combined Fruit Farm products began from the third exhibition.

In an interview with Choson Sinbo, Kim Miyoung, commerce director of Pyongyang Department Store No. 1, said the following: “Employees of the department stores and our patrons never imagined a day like this would come where our department store shelves are filled with North Korea made products, especially when we were going through the difficult economic times.”

The news also reported the opening of North Korea’s first 24-hour pharmacy. Pyongsu Pharmaceutical, a joint venture company between North Korea and Switzerland, has claimed to have opened North Korea’s first 24-hour pharmacy, called Taedongmun Pharmacy, in Pyongyang last August. Pyongsu pharmaceutical joint venture company was established from September 2004 between InterPacific Group of Switzerland and Pyongyang Pharmaceutical Factory under the Ministry of Health of the DPRK. They both produce and sell pharmaceutical products in Pyongyang. Its homepage introduces nine operating pharmacies in Pyongyang. (See Pyongsu’s website for details:

The first pharmacy by Pyongsu was built near the Pyongyang’s Arch of Triumph in 2006 and expanded the number of pharmacy to nine, including the Taedongmun Pharmacy. In addition, Kangan Pharmacy was highlighted in its website, boasting that all the pharmacists working at this pharmacy are graduates of Kim Il Sung University. It also boasts that it is the first pharmacy to have been equipped with blood testing equipment.


KPA senior staff paid with debit cards

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

According to RFA:

North Korea’s regime is distributing special monthly payments in U.S. currency via a cash card system to high-ranking military officers in a bid to maintain loyalty, according to a source inside the country.

The payments can be spent at stores and restaurants equipped with card readers which accept foreign currency, the source told RFA’s Korean Service Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Since last year, North Korean generals in the military have been receiving a U.S. dollar cash cards every month,” said the source, who claims to have wide knowledge of the North Korean military.

“This is Kim Jong Un’s new instruction to guarantee a good lifestyle for the generals,” he said, referring to the country’s young “Supreme Leader” who took power after his father Kim Jong Il’s death in December 2011.

According to the source, four-star generals in the North Korean military receive around U.S. $1,200 each month on their cards, while three-star generals get U.S. $1,000 and two-star generals make U.S. $700. These payments are on top of their monthly salaries.

The special payments drawn by the generals dwarf the average government worker’s monthly salary of about 2,000 to 6,000 won (U.S. $0.70 to $2 based on prevailing market rates).

“The amount of cash on the card depends on the person’s level in the military,” the source said.

“When you have spent all of the cash, the card gets recharged again the following month. I’m not sure whether the provider is ‘Office 39’ of the Workers’ Party or the General Logistics Bureau.”

Office 39 of the ruling Workers Party is believed to maintain a foreign currency slush fund, while the General Logistics Bureau controls logistics, support, and procurement activities for the massive North Korean military.

The source said that recipients of the cash card are not limited to generals, but also include other high-level officers from a unit that directs infiltration activities by North Korean military agents in South Korea and another unit that is in charge of “electronic combat” in the General Reconnaissance Bureau.

“A colonel in the General Reconnaissance Bureau is able to spend up to U.S. $400 a month on the card,” the source said.

“A high-ranking military officer who is not a general can receive U.S. currency on a card if he is in charge of an important duty.”

There are a number of stores and restaurants where recipients can spend their cash in the capital Pyongyang, the source said.

Generals can also use their cards at guesthouses in seaside resort cities like Cheongjin in North Hamgyong province and Hamheung in South Hamgyong province, which only cater to officers of their rank.

For their convenience, card readers have been set up at places where foreign currency is traded, he said.

I have previously posted on the DPRK’s debit card system here, here, and here.

There are a number of reasons why this makes a particularly effective control tool.  To begin with, the military senior staff are dependent on the party to receive their elite consumer goods.  Additionally, these money balances cannot be directly spent in the markets or easily transferred to third parties.  Finally, in theory, all purchases can be audited. FECs (FOreign Excahnge Certificates) on speed.

Read the full story here:
North Korean Generals Get Cash Cards for Loyalty


DPRK life expectancy declines

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

According to Yonhap:

North Korea’s life expectancy backtracked after 60 years of free medicare services, local analysts of the communist country said Wednesday.

The claims by Pyongyang observers comes as the latest United Nations Population Fund data showed the combined average life expectancy for men and women in the country stood at 69 in 2012, five years lower than a tally taken in the early 1980s. The average North Korean man is expected to live just 65.9 years according to last year’s findings, while the life expectancy for women reached 72.1. Both numbers placed the country in 117th place among countries checked.

Despite the regression, North Korean media such as the Rodong Sinmun, an organ of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, said in an article carried on Tuesday that the free universal medical care system has become the envy of countries around the world.

It added that the service reflects the will of the people and leadership to build an economically strong nation. The system was implemented in 1953.

The daily newspaper said because of the service, the size of country’s medical related spending surged 112 fold from 1940 to 1980.

The paper also said there was a 15.7 year rise in the country’s average life expectancy during the cited period. It claimed that the country’s life expectancy reached 74 in 1980, which is a different figure from the data provided by the U.N. organization for roughly the same time period. North Kore generally does not release life expectancy data, with the paper giving no numbers regarding life expectancy during the 1990-2000 period.

Related to Pyongyang’s insistence on maintaining the system and hailing it as a success, North Korean analysts said that the communist country’s free medicare is part of the political landscape that sets it apart from capitalist countries.

They said that despite what North Korean news outlets are saying, many defectors have argued that they paid money to be looked after by medical personnel while in the communist country.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s life expectancy backtracks after 60 years of free medicare


US visas issued to DPRK in 2012

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

According to Yonhap:

According to the data compiled by the U.S. State Department, a total of 87 visas were issued for North Koreans in the 2012 fiscal year running from October 2011 to September 2012. This represents a 22 percent decrease from a year earlier.

The drop is mainly attributed to the soured relations between Washington and Pyongyang after the communist country launched a long-range rocket last April in breach of an earlier agreement to stop nuclear tests, uranium enrichment and long-range missile launches.

North Koreans were issued more than 200 visas per year during 2003-2005, but the figure has been on a downward trend since then, with 148 cases in 2006, 150 in 2007, 137 in 2008, 76 in 2009 and 53 in 2010, according to the official data.

The notable falls in 2006 and 2009 show a correlation with Pyongyang’s first and second rounds of nuclear tests, experts say.

By type of visa issued in fiscal 2012, short-term business and travel visas of B1 or B2 took up the largest share with 50 cases, followed by 32 G-type visas for representatives of international organizations and their immediate family members. There were also three F-type visas for students and two C-type visas issued for short-stay visitors, the data showed.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government issued a total of 90,927 visas to South Koreans in fiscal 2012, down 15 percent, the data showed.

Read the full story here:
U.S. visa issuance to N. Koreans drops last year