Archive for July, 2013

DPRK imports from China fall from 2012 levels

Monday, July 29th, 2013

According to Kyodo:

China’s exports to North Korea in the first half of 2013 fell for the first time in four years, customs data showed Monday, a sign that Beijing might have increased pressure on Pyongyang over its continued nuclear weapons program.

During the January-June period, China’s exports to North Korea shrank 13.6 percent from a year earlier to $1.59 billion, mainly due to a drop in crude oil shipments, according to the data released by the General Administration of Customs.

China’s exports of crude oil to North Korea in terms of volume and value declined 14.2 percent to 250,000 tons and 20.2 percent to $270 million, while North Korea’s overall exports to its main economic and diplomatic benefactor rose 5.3 percent to $1.37 billion, the data said.

The last time that China’s exports to North Korea fell in the first six months, as well as for the full year, was in 2009, when global trade slumped in the wake of the surprise collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

China has been urged by many countries to exercise more influence on North Korea, particularly after Pyongyang went ahead with its third nuclear test in February in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

See also Voice of America here.

Read the full story here:
China’s exports to N. Korea fall for 1st time in 4 years


DPRK imports of Chinese grain in 2013

Monday, July 29th, 2013

UPDATE 1 (2013-7-29): DPRK imports of Chinese grain drop 8.4% in the first half of 2013. According to Yonhap:

North Korea’s imports of Chinese grain fell 8.4 percent on-year in the first half of 2013 mainly due to a better harvest last fall, a report said Monday.

The report by the Korea Rural Economic Institute (KREI) showed Pyongyang’s imports of flour, rice, corn and other grain products reaching 124,228 tons in the January-June period, compared with 135,648 tons a year earlier.

The state-run institute said that while the country imported more than 20,000 tons of grain on average from February onward, last year’s better harvest and overall improvements in food supply conditions led to the first-half decline.

“Overall, import numbers indicate supply and demand of grain is very stable in North Korea,” said Kwon Tae-jin, a research fellow at KREI who compiled the report.

He said besides grain, the communist country imported 139,161 tons of chemical fertilizers from China in the first half, a drop of 35 percent from 213,871 tons purchased in the same six-month period last year.

ORIGINAL POST (2013-7-29): DPRK imports of Chinese grain fall 14.2% in 2013. According to Yonhap (via Global Post):

Imports of Chinese grain by North Korea fell 14.2 percent on-year in the first five months of 2013 mainly due to a better harvest last fall, a report said Wednesday.

The findings by the Korea Rural Economic Institute (KREI) showed Pyongyang’s imports of flour, rice, corn and other grain products reaching 101,170 tons in the January-May period, down from 117,922 tons the year before.

The institute said numbers fell sharply in May when total grain imports stood at just 21,142 tons, which represents an 18 percent drop from the previous year and an 18.2 percent decrease from April. The communist country brought in 25,850 tons of grain from its neighbor in the preceding month and 25,788 tons in May of 2012.

Kwon Tae-jin, a research fellow at KREI who compiled the report, said the sizable drop in imports was probably caused by better grain output last year, which made it unnecessary for the country to buy the commodity from China.

“It can be a sign that things have improved,” he said. The researcher also speculated that the harvest of such produce as barley, wheat and potatoes, which grow in spring, may have been better than in the past.

The experts, who checked raw data provided by the Korea International Trade Association, said the North imported 42.7 percent more chemical fertilizers in the January-May period of this year vis-a-vis the same time period in 2012.

The country brought in 129,967 tons of fertilizer from China, compared to 91,096 tons the year before. Such an increase may exert a positive effect on farm output.

Kwon said that the spike in fertilizers is a sure sign that the North is giving top priority to pushing up agricultural output.

Related to the latest data, a government source hinted that North Korea’s emphasis on agriculture may be aimed at trying to strengthen the leadership of its new leader Kim Jong-un, who took power after the sudden death of his father Kim Jong-il in late 2011.

“Unlike other economic sectors that require time, agriculture is something that can generate results in a short period of time and have immediate impact on everyday lives,” the official who declined to be identified said.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s imports of Chinese grain fall 14.2 pct in 2013
Yonhap (via Global Post)


American Korean War vets touring DPRK

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

UPDATE 4 (2013-7-29): The Americans were unable to make it to the Chosin Reservoir. According to the AP:

A decorated Korean War veteran from Massachusetts left North Korea on Monday without fulfilling his mission: to travel the Chosin Reservoir battleground where he was hoping to locate the remains of a friend who was the U.S. Navy’s first black aviator.

On Sunday, Senior Col. Pak Gi Yong assured Hudner that the Korean People’s Army was committed to helping him find the spot in the area where he and Brown went down. He said last week that the army sent an advance team to Jangjin but that flooding had washed away roads to the site, making travel to the region treacherous.

Hudner, of Concord, Massachusetts, said he was disappointed but hoped to return later in the year to finally fulfill his promise to Brown.

“I have a feeling of great hope as a result of our mingling and meeting the officials here in (North) Korea,” he said before departing. “I feel we’ve accomplished a lot because of the appearance of mutual hope between us and the North Koreans.”

UPDATE 3 (2013-7-25): Two American Korean war vets attended the opening of the Cemetery of Fallen Fighters of KPA. Kim Jong-un was also in attendance:

2013-6-1-KPA cemetery


According to VOA:

Marshal Kim Jong Un cut a red ribbon to inaugurate what is officially known as the Fatherland Liberation War Martyrs Cemetery. Soldiers in dress uniforms briefly goose stepped at the event, kicking off days of commemoration of what the country considers the 1953 victory over U.S.-led United Nations forces on the Korean Peninsula.

At the cemetery’s inauguration were two highly decorated U.S. veterans of that war. Medal of Honor winner Thomas Hudner, who was a Navy pilot, was invited as part of his visit to the country during which he hoped to gain access to the Chosin Reservoir battle site where his wingman, Jesse Brown, crash-landed. Hudner, who is 88, says the ceremony at the cemetery was an emotional experience as he remembered his fallen comrades

“Well it’s a very emotional occasion to be here with so many veterans – not only the veterans but also the people of the nation who turned out to show their support to all of veterans,” he said. “And as an American veteran, I am delighted to see that our former foe and we share some of the same feelings about this. So it is great to be here.”

Hudner added he regards these types of memorials as a tribute to all of the war’s combatants, regardless of which side they were on. The American veteran, who crash-landed his plane in an unsuccessful effort to rescue Brown, intends to return here in September to precisely locate the remains of his fellow pilot. His hopes to reach the site this week were thwarted by severe flooding in the country.

UPDATE 2 (2013-7-22): Pictured below,  Ryongyon-ri in Kujang County (acrocc from the 39th Weapons Factory):


According to VOA:

North Korean military officers have informed VOA News that the partial remains of what appear to be several U.S. soldiers from the Korean War were discovered after severe flooding around July 10.

Villagers are said to have spotted several pairs of American military shoes that led to the human bones at Ryongyeon-ri, Kujang County, in North Pyongan province. Travel from the capital Pyongyang to the area has been restricted because the main and alternate highways have been partly destroyed.

Travelers can see an approximately 50-meter section of one direction of the primary road fully destroyed, the pavement having crumpled away and fallen dozens of meters. At another point, part of the pavement on a bridge has buckled.

Among those traveling on the hazardous road on Monday evening was American, Thomas Hudner, 88, from Concord, Massachusetts. Hudner is back in North Korea for the first time in 63 years. He crashed landed his Navy plane on a slope in the Chosin Reservoir in December 1950, in an unsuccessful attempt to save his wingman Jesse Brown who had crash landed his Corsair F4U jet after apparently being hit by ground fire during a fierce Korean War battle.

Hudner hopes to return to the site to try to find Brown’s body, but the current flooding in the country is likely to prevent him from reaching the site. Hudner is on a private mission to North Korea. U.S. military search and recovery teams have not entered the country in seven years. Since then, tensions between Pyongyang and Washington have increased.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea Flooding Hampers Search for Downed US Pilot
Steve Herman

UPDATE 1 (2013-7-22): Flooding  is hampering the search, but Mr. Hudner became the first American to visit the KPA Exhibition of Arms and Equipment.

KPA-exhibiont-of arms-2013-7-29

Pictured above: The KPA Exhibition of Arms and Equipment

According to VOA:

Flooding may dash the hopes of Thomas Hudner and accompanying Americans of getting to the Chosin Reservoir this week.

They have come to North Korea to try to find and retrieve the body of U.S. Navy pilot Jesse Brown.

Hudner, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for trying to rescue Brown, in the meantime has become the first American through the doors of the recently opened Korean People’s Army Museum of Weapons and Equipment.

The 88 year old Hudner, along with 83 year old Dick Bonelli, a Marine who fought on the ground at the 1950 Chosin Reservoir battle against Chinese troops, were welcomed at the museum by North Korean military officers.

Senior Colonel Jeon HakCheol expressed full confidence in the quality of North Korea’s military equipment to bring about a victory in a war. Tanks on display were painted with the phrase ‘Let’s annihilate the U.S. imperial aggressors, the blood enemy of the Korean people.’

Also on display are scale models of American tanks, ships and aircraft.

VOA News asked the colonel for his assessment of the Abrams tanks of the U.S. army deployed in South Korea. He said their weaponry is excellent and their mobility wonderful, but the rough Korean terrain makes it impossible to use the Abrams for warfare here.

The museum’s gift shop offers for sale small plastic models of several U.S. aircraft. The B-2 bomber sells for $90, and American currency is accepted.

ORIGINAL POST (2013-7-20): According to Voice of America:

A U.S. Navy pilot from the Korean War arrived in North Korea on a commercial flight Saturday to search for the remains of the fellow aviator he unsuccessfully tried to rescue 63 years ago – an act for which he was awarded America’s highest military honor.

Thomas Hudner, who is 88, is part of a private American search team given permission by North Korean authorities to look for the remains of his friend, U.S. Navy Ensign Jesse Brown, and their F4 Corsairs at Hagaru-ri at the foot of the Chosin reservoir.

“Jesse Brown is entitled to every bit of help he can get even though it’s well after death,” Hudner told VOA.

The unprecedented mission in the country, which has no diplomatic relations with the United States, hopes to shed light on a poignant story from combat aviation history.

“When this opportunity came up [to go back to North Korea], at first, I was very skeptical,” he said. “It’s almost unbelievable and I’m delighted that so many people would take an interest in it.”

Risky crash landing in enemy territory

Jesse Brown was the first African-American to be trained by the U.S. Navy as an aviator. On his 20th combat mission in the Korean War, he crash landed his plane on a near vertical snow-covered slope on December 4, 1950.

Brown and Hudner were each flying as part of a mission providing air support for 8,000 Marines badly outnumbered by Communist Chinese soldiers in sub-freezing weather.

From his own plane, Lt. Hudner realized Brown had survived the impact and was alive in the crumpled jet.

Hudner decided to crash land his plane some 100 meters away from Brown. A Marine helicopter, at Hudner’s request, dropped an ax so that he could try to free Brown from the crumpled metal cockpit.

Hudner did not succeed. He was persuaded by Marines to be lifted to safety before nightfall and took with him Brown’s dying words: “Tell Daisy I love her.”

Thomas Hudner was initially reprimanded for deliberately destroying his multi-million dollar aircraft in what some superior officers considered a foolhardy act. But the military later had a change of heart.

President Harry Truman ultimately chose to acclaim Hudner as a hero and award him the first Medal of Honor since World War Two for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life.”

Read the full story here:
US Aviator Returns to N. Korea in Search of Fellow Pilot’s Remains
Voice of America
Steve Herman


Google Earth provides glimpse into North Korea’s latest military parade preparation

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013


Read the full story here.


NPR’s Planet Money request North Korea docs under FOIA

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

From NPR’s Planet Money:

U.S. citizens who want to buy stuff from North Korea have to write a letter to the U.S. government asking for special permission. As regular listeners know, we’re sort of obsessed with North Korea. So we decided to try to get those letters.

Several months ago, we filed a Freedom of Information Act request. It worked! We recently got a stack of heavily redacted letters.

On today’s show: we try to figure out who sent the letters, why they wanted to do business with North Korea, and what that tells us about the North Korean economy.

We posted all of the letters here. (Note: It’s a PDF file, and it may take a while to load.)

Listen to the segment here.

Disclaimer: I was interviewed in the segment


North Koreans with diplomatic passports held for smuggling in Mongolia

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

According to Yonhap (via Global Post):

North Koreans carrying diplomatic passports were caught smuggling medicine by Mongolian customs officials, a report said Tuesday.

The UB Post monitored in Seoul said two people caught were on an international train running between Beijing and Ulan Bator. It gave no names, but said inspectors discovered large amounts of products in their baggage, including a thousand boxes of injection medicine, 12 boxes of bear spleen products and 20 bottles of alcoholic beverages.

The English language newspaper said those implicated in the illegal transport could not be identified as being incumbent North Korean diplomats.

The cash-strapped North has used its diplomats in the past to smuggle goods. From 2009 onwards, three cases have been reported with the last scandal involving a diplomat stationed in Pakistan, who was caught trying to sell alcohol.

A diplomatic observer said if the two people who are currently being questioned by Mongolian police are real diplomats it could sour relations between Pyongyang and Ulan Bator.

Read the full story here:
North Koreans with diplomatic passports held for smuggling in Mongolia


DPRK defectors arriving in the ROK: 2013

Sunday, July 21st, 2013

According to Yonhap:

The annual number of North Korean defectors seeking refuge in South Korea, which had been dropping since 2009, took an upturn in the first half of this year, government data showed Sunday.

A total of 717 defectors came to live in South Korea in the first half, slightly up from 710 a year ago, according to a tally by the Ministry of Unification.

North Korea defectors arriving in the South had increased annually to reach 2,929 in 2009, after topping 1,000 for the first time in 2001. But the sum has since dropped drastically with last year’s figure half the level of 2011’s 2,706.

But it was not until the second quarter of this year that the number took an upturn, according to the ministry.

“The number of defectors entering South Korea typically declines during winter season and rises again when weather gets warmer,” a ministry official said.

Here is additional coverage in the Daily NK:

According to figures released by the Ministry of Unification in Seoul on the 21st, 717 defectors entered South Korea in the first half of this year, compared with 710 in the same period last year. However, only 320 of the total number entered in the first quarter, marking a 10% decline year on year. This fact highlights the relative intensity of the second quarter increase.

Among defectors arriving in the first half of this year, 551, or 77%, were women. Last year’s figure for the same period stood at 73%.

Approximately 159 former North Koreans are in the USA.

Read the full story here:
N. Korean defectors in S. Korea on the rise


Kwanliso No. 16 imagery update

Friday, July 19th, 2013

I have previously noted changes to Camp 14 (Kaechon) and Camp 25 (Chongjin). Here we have a look at Camp No. 16, the interior of which to date has not been comprehensively mapped for any publication (Joshua has some info on the perimeter here).

Kwanliso No. 16 lies within the borders of Orang and Myonggan (formerly Hwasong) counties.


The entrance to the prison camp lies just 8km from the outskirts of the town of Myonggan  (formerly Hwasong).

2013-7-camp 16-entrance

First let’s look at new residential construction in the camp.

Area 1 coordinates: 41.317569°, 129.336758°



Between 2011-6-19 and 2013-2-12 the number of housing units in this area increased 18% from 43 to 51. The new buildings appear to be similar to the incumbent buildings, which were constructed before 2004-6-12 (the earliest available commercial imagery). It is impossible to determine from satellite imagery how many individuals live in each building, but the approximate dimensions of each building are 16m x 7m.

Area 2 coordinates 41.313945°, 129.345299°



In this area, 14 housing units were torn down and replaced by 11 housing units sometime between 2008-6-10 and 2010-6-12. These newer housing units seem slightly larger, but it is unclear how they are distinguished from those they replaced.

Nearby, six housing units were added between 2010-6-12 and 2011-6-19.



Just 700m southeast of here, construction on another 17 housing units were completed sometime between 2008-6-10 and 2010-6-12.


New Facilities:

Area 1:  41.305616°, 129.420913°

There is also some  new non-residential construction inside the camp’s perimeter the purpose of which remains unknown to me.



I suspect that this is a fishery and agricultural site, but I am not sure at this point. Construction started sometime between 2010-8-14 and 2013-3-21.

Area 2:  41.309849°, 129.347631°

This is a new building for a purpose that remains unknown.  The building was constructed between 2010-6-12 and and 2011-6-19:



The perimeter is 75m x 42m.

Area 2:   41.315346°, 129.342687°

A building appears to be under construction at this site. As of February 2012, not much progress has been made.


Area 3:  41.259485°, 129.373353°

This coal mine has been growing consistently between 2008 and 2013. It is unclear what happens to the coal.



Foreign Exchange

Unfortunately satellite imagery also reveals that the camp likely earns hard currency by exporting timber, which it has been doing since at least 2004:



I do not know where the timber goes once it leaves Camp 16. Those with deeper pockets than me can purchase satellite imagery of the trucks hauling it away or try to obtain information from the handful of North Korean defectors that may know the answer.


UN offers DPRK flood relief

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

According to Yonhap:

The United Nations has decided to provide North Korea with US$6 million in emergency aid by the end of this year, a report said Thursday, in a bid to relieve fund shortages at U.N. agencies operating in the isolated country.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told the Washington-based Voice of America that U.N. bodies operating in the North will receive this aid through a pool of reserve funding known as the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).

The CERF was established in 2006 to provide quick assistance to countries in severe humanitarian crises. Funded by donations from governments, the private sector, foundations and individuals, it already allocated $7 million to North Korea this January in an attempt to boost humanitarian efforts in neglected countries.

Under the new plan, the six U.N. agencies operating in North Korea will negotiate with the resident coordinator of the U.N. Development Programme in Pyongyang to come up with a detailed list of expenditures, the report said.

The announcement comes after five out of the 14 food processing factories in the impoverished country were reportedly shut down in June due to grain shortages, hurting ongoing efforts to nourish people in the communist country.

As of May, OCHA said it had received just over 17 percent of the $147 million needed to operate U.N. agencies in the North this year. In 2012, it allocated a total of $12.92 million from its CERF funding to North Korea.

Read the full story here:
U.N. to send US$6 mln in emergency aid to N. Korea


2013 DPRK aid update

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

According to Yonhap (via Global Post):

The Washington-based Voice of America said the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has set aside US$1.07 million this year for repairing 14 schools and kindergartens in the communist country, in addition to buying textbooks and school supplies for 350,000 North Korean children.

“Our school is 33 years old and has not had any large-scale renovations,” Ri Kyong-hui, a school principal in North Hwanghae Province, was quoted as saying. “Thanks to the new windows (supplied by UNICEF), our classrooms are 5 degrees warmer in the winter, which the students really appreciate.”

North Korea was slapped with tougher U.N. sanctions earlier this year for conducting a satellite launch in December and a nuclear test in February, stoking concerns that the move may affect relief efforts there.

Danish humanitarian group Mission East, however, said the health of 750 children at three orphanages in North Hwanghae Province has significantly improved following its food assistance program that began last summer.

Earlier this month, the German branch of the international Catholic relief group Caritas said it has vaccinated 430,000 North Korean children against Japanese encephalitis, with the French government weighing in with its own $500,000 aid this year.

Some humanitarian groups, however, reported roadblocks in carrying out relief efforts in the isolated country.

The World Food Program told Radio Free Asia earlier this week that a lack of donation has pushed it to scale down its food aid to North Korea by 85 percent. The U.N. food agency has halted operations in June at five of its 14 food factories in the North due to grain shortages.

Read the full story here:
Int’l community continues aid to N. Korea despite sanctions
Yonhap (via Global Post)