Archive for April, 2015

North Korea Spurring Development of Various Special Tourist Zones

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

North Korea is expediting the development of various ‘Special Tourist Zones’. North Korea is diversifying its tour packages, and have designated Mt. Kumgang (Kumgangsan) and Mt. Paektu (Paektusan) as International Special Tourist Zones. A Special Tourist Zone on the riverside near the Amrok (Yalu) River Bridge is also under construction. This zone is designed to attract foreign tourists including Chinese tourists.

In addition, North Korea and China are pushing forward with the ‘Onsong-Tumen Border Culture and Tourism Cooperation Zone.’ This is intended to be a cooperation zone that integrates tourism, cultural performances, duty-free shopping and serves as a distribution center of tourism products for both countries.

North Korea has also revealed outlines of its plans for the Wonsan-Mt. Kumgang Tourist Region and is pushing ahead with an on-site briefing session scheduled for May 2015. While North Korea repairs and expands the existing road network connecting each tourist site (focusing first on Wonsan), authorities have decided to construct a transportation network by establishing a high-speed railroad between Pyongyang and Wonsan, as well as opening passenger routes between Wonsan Harbor and Rason, and Wonsan Harbor and Vladivostok. They also plan to introduce a series of measures for attracting tourists, including a no-visa system, currently under consideration.

In addition, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) has announced an era of full-fledged international tourism in Mt. Paektu. On April 23, 2015, KCNA revealed that the Mubong International Special Tourist Zone will be built in part of Samjiyon County’s Mubong Workers’ District near Mt. Paektu. The Mubong Workers’ District is 35km away from Mt. Paektu, 60km away from Samjiyon, and 70km away from Taehongdan. Thus, it is considered eligible for designation as a special district.

This location is considered to be relatively well-equipped with tourism infrastructure compared to other regions, and expected to perform favorably in attracting outside investment. KCNA reported that this region has a number of amenities and attractions as a Special Tourist Zone.

For example, two decades ago North Korea prepared to host the 1995 Asian Winter Games in Samjiyon until those preparations came to a halt. However, construction resumed in the 2000s, and since then North Korea has constructed a large-scale winter athlete’s village equipped with facilities such as a ski resort and ice rink. Also, Mubong lies in the middle of Samjiyon, Mt. Paektu, and Taehongdan. From Mubong one can go climb Mt. Paektu and view the entire Samjiyon area, or go to Taehongdan and see the large potato-growing districts.

Since the Kim Jong Il era, potato fields were planted in Taehongdan as a tourist attraction. In Mubong, North Korea built large-scale blueberry production complexes, which have become well-known for their blueberry wine. There are also customs offices in Ssangdubong, making the entry process for foreigners presumably less difficult.


DPRK and Russia ink deal

Monday, April 27th, 2015

According to Xinhua:

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Russia on Monday signed a protocol in Pyongyang, the official KCNA news agency reported.

The details of the protocol, which was signed after a meeting of the DPRK-Russia Inter-governmental Committee for Cooperation in Trade and Economy, Science and Technology, were not disclosed.

The two sides discussed issues of boosting cooperation in trade, economy, science and technology between the two countries, said the KCNA.

The protocol was signed by Ri Ryong Nam, the DPRK’s minister of external economic relations, and Alexandr Galushka, Russian minister of development of Far East.

Officials taking part in the meeting also included Russian ambassador to the DPRK, Alexandr Matsegora, and the Russian government economic delegation headed by Galushka.

On the same day, DPRK Vice Premier Ro Tu Chol met the Russian government economic delegation and had friendly talks with them.

Read the full story here:
DPRK, Russia ink protocol after inter-governmental meeting


North Korean workers in Russia

Monday, April 27th, 2015

According to NK News:

The amount of North Korean citizens officially working in the Russian Federation from the start of 2015 is now 20 percent higher year on year, information from Russian media stated.

A total 47,364 North Koreans are at present working in Russia since the year began, an April 22 report from business daily RBK stated.

By nationality, only Chinese and Turkish workers exceed them in terms of numbers, at 80,662 and 54,730 respectively, the report said.

Those three countries also comprise a total 80 percent of the foreign workers in Russia, the report noted.

While North Korean workers within Russia are known largely for working in logging camps throughout Siberia, they are also working in plastering, the RBK report stated.

Demand for North Koreans plasterers have also taken up the majority of Russian work permits in that skill, at 9,026 out of a total 14,783, the report added.

Read the full story here:
North Korean workers in Russia up 20%
NK News
Christopher Rivituso


South Korea allows fertilizer aid shipment

Sunday, April 26th, 2015

According to Reuters:

South Korea said on Monday it has approved a request by a private aid group to send fertilizer to North Korea, the first such move in nearly five years that signalled a slight relaxing of sanctions imposed after one of its navy ships was attacked.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles ties with the North, said it approved the shipment of 15 tonnes of fertilizer as part of a charity group’s project to build a greenhouse farm in the North.

The approval came despite a deadlock in dialogue between the two states and a ban on large-scale public or private aid to the impoverished North since May 2010, although some forms of help such as medicine have been allowed on humanitarian grounds.

South Korea imposed sanctions in May 2010 after a torpedo attack sank one of its navy ships killing 46 sailors, cutting off most political and commercial exchanges with the North. The North denies Seoul’s accusation that it was behind the attack.

Although the approval of fertiliser shipment was symbolic as the first of its kind in five years, a Unification Ministry official said it did not automatically mean the government was considering the resumption of large state-sponsored aid.

“Large-scale fertilizer support for North Korea should take inter-Korean situations and public consensus into account,” a Unification Ministry official said.

Gyeongam Foundation, a charity fund run by bed manufacturer Ace, has been operating the agricultural support program to build greenhouses for North Koreans and providing farming equipment.

During a period of warming ties beginning in 2000, South Korea supplied as much as 350,000 tonnes of fertilizer to the North annually, and up to 500,000 tonnes of rice as a goodwill gesture by the liberal leaders in Seoul in office at the time.

The election of a conservative leader in the South who took office in 2008 soured relations, with aid from the South falling sharply.

Food production in North Korea has improved in recent years largely due to favourable weather and minor changes to its farm policy, but it still relies on foreign aid to make up for the deficit in what is needed to feed its people.

North Korea, already heavily sanctioned by the United Nations for its missile and nuclear tests, is technically still at war with the South after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not with a peace treaty.

After a delegation of high-level North Korean officials made a surprise visit in October last year to the closing ceremony of the Asian Games, South Korea has said it was willing to discuss the sanctions as a way to move forward in their ties.

North Korea has since refused to resume dialogue.

Read the full story here:
South Korea allows first fertilizer aid to the North since 2010 sanctions
Ju-min Park


China tries to involve DPRK in Silk Road Initiative

Friday, April 24th, 2015

According to Yonhap:

China has asked North Korea to join its ambitious Silk Road project to revive the ancient trade route between Asia and Europe.

Chinese ambassador to North Korea, Li Jinjun, made the request on Tuesday when he held a meeting with North Korea’s Minister of Foreign Trade, Ri Ryong-nam in Pyongyang, according to a statement posted on the website for the Chinese Embassy in North Korea.

With a US$40 billion fund, China has aggressively pushed the so-called “One Belt, One Road” initiative aimed at building ports, expressways, railways and other infrastructure with its neighboring countries.

“Ambassador Li introduced the concept and vision of ‘One Belt, One Road’ and hopes the two sides will work together to seize the opportunity to promote China-North Korea economic and trade cooperation,” the statement said.

Li said, “Developing friendly and cooperative relations with North Korea is the unswerving policy of the party and the government of China. China is ready to work together with North Korea.”

The statement did not say how the North Korean minister responded.

Political ties between North Korea and China remain strained due to the North’s defiant pursuit of nuclear weapons, but China is the North’s economic lifeline and diplomatic backer at the United Nations.

Read the full story here:
China seeks N. Korea’s cooperation in Silk Road initiative


Mubong Special Zone for International Tourism

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015


Pictured above (Google Earth): Mubong Special Zone for International Tour (무봉국제관광특구), AKA Mubong International Tourism Zone

UPDATE 3 (2016-7-11): KCNA reports the following on the Mubong Zone:

Development of Special Zone for International Tour Progresses Apace in DPRK

Big efforts have been channeled into developing Mubong area into a special zone for international tour in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

In this regard, Kye Song Nam, vice-chairman of the Korea Economic Development Association, told KCNA:

The special zone for international tour of Mubong covers an area of 20 square kilometers. It will boast of hotels, a race track, golf course, hot water bathroom, shower bath place and vacationland.

A project for electricity supply system was already finished in the zone in cooperation with a foreign business.

Construction of all infrastructures will be completed in a few years.

Foreigners can carry on business activities solely in the special zone in conformity with the DPRK Law on Economic Development Parks.

The DPRK government has taken a measure to reduce land lease charge and business income tax for foreign businesses which invest in building infrastructures and make high-tech products in the special zone.

Many foreign businesses have already expressed their willingness to take part in developing the special zone for international tour of Mubong, he said.

UPDATE 2 (2016-6-23): The Pyongyang Times reports on involvement of Hong Kong firm at Mubong Tourism Zone:

Hong Kong business monopolizes tourism zone development

The Shengrun Investment Stock Co Ltd in Hong Kong, China, pushes ahead with the two projects for tourism in the Mt Paektu area and development of the Mubong International Tourism Special Zone.

The special zone covers nearly 20 square kilometres in the Mubong workers district, Samjiyon County, Ryanggang Province.

The county is home to a host of scenic attractions and revolutionary battle sites in Mt Paektu, namely Jongil Peak, Lake Samji, Rimyongsu and Mupho. Over 30 000 hectares of blueberry fields sprawl over the Mt Paektu and Mubong areas. Blueberry, a speciality of the Mt Paektu area, is the main ingredient of various drinks, sweet jelly and syrup and other food products.

The project for the international tourism special zone includes the construction of a comprehensive service network embracing hotel, restaurant, production bases and shops.

Shengrun undertakes the development project exclusively, enjoying benefits and favourable conditions guaranteed by the local law on EDZs and the rules on business management.

With the master plan for the zone development completed, it has finished the power grid project in the special zone and started infrastructure construction.

It started tourism in the Mt Paektu area on June 18.

Foreign tourists are to use a border bridge between the DPRK and China, airport in the Samjiyon area and railways.

Another promising investment destination is the Kalma area located in the Wonsan-Mt Kumgang International Tourist Zone in Kangwon Province on the coast of the East Sea of Korea.

By Cha Myong Chol PT

Here is a PDF of the Pyongyang Times article.

Here is coverage in NK News.

UPDATE 1 (2016-2-23): Radio Free Asia published imagery (from me) on new construction at the Mubong International Tourism Zone.

ORIGINAL POST (2015-4-23): According to KCNA:

The Mubong Special Zone for International Tour will be established in the DPRK.

A relevant decree was promulgated by the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK on Wednesday.

According to the decree, the special zone for international tour will cover some areas of the Mubong Workers’ District in Samjiyon County, Ryanggang Province.

The sovereignty of the DPRK will be exercised in the zone to which the DPRK Law on Economic Development Parks and its regulations concerning foreign investment will be applied.

Here is coverage in Xinhua.

Here is coverage in Yonhap:

North Korea said Thursday it has decided to establish a special tourist zone in a district near the peninsula’s highest peak, a move seen as intended to earn hard currency.

North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly on Wednesday promulgated a decree designating some areas of the Mubong workers’ district near Mount Baekdu as the Mubong Special Zone for International Tour, according to the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

The district, located in Samjiyon County, Ryanggang Province, is well positioned for a tourist zone as there are already lodging houses and other facilities located there. A military airport is also located near the county, raising accessibility to the district.

North Korea’s sovereignty will be exercised in the special tourist zone where the North’s laws and regulations on economic development zones and foreign investment will also apply, according to the KCNA.

The Mubong zone will be the second special zone for international tour in the North, along with a special zone at Mt. Kumgang, a scenic resort on the North’s east coast.

Experts said that the latest move is aimed at luring the dollar from foreign tourists by boosting tourism at Mt. Baekdu at a time when inter-Korean exchanges have been suspended since 2010 following a deadly warship sinking.

Near Mubong, the North Koreans built a border crossing sometime between 2009-6-19 and 2014-7-27, but it is unclear if this is to support the Mubong zone or tourism to Samjiyon more generally:

Mubong-border-2009 Mubong-border-2014

Read the full story here:
N. Korea creates special tour zone near Mt. Baekdu


Mudubong news (UPDATED)

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

UPDATE 3 (2015-8-4): US group seeks seizure of Mudubong. According to the Financial Times:

The family of a South Korean man believed killed in North Korea are trying to seize a Pyongyang-owned vessel being held in Mexico, in a new sign of how legal snares are complicating the regime’s international trade.

Kim Dong-sik, a 53-year-old pastor, was abducted by North Korean agents in China in 2000 and can be presumed dead, a US court ruled in April. It ruled that Pyongyang should pay $330m to Mr Kim’s family, who are US citizens.

The family have seen an opportunity to secure a first instalment of this sum, in the form of the Mudubong, a North Korean cargo ship held by Mexican authorities since colliding with a coral reef last July.

On Tuesday their lawyers vowed to appeal after a Mexican court declined to consider their petition to place a lien on the Mudubong, which would give them the legal right to seize it. The court ruled on Monday that the case did not fall under its jurisdiction.

“We want to get the boat into our hands and sell it, and put the money towards the judgment against North Korea,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the family’s lead lawyer, who represented the family in the successful US action and who has previously won cases resulting in the seizure of Iranian-owned assets in the US.

Some legal experts consider the move a long shot, given that the US ruling would first have to be recognised in Mexico — an opinion seemingly endorsed by the Mexican court’s initial ruling. However, Alberto Mansur, the lawyer representing the family in Mexico, maintains that the case is on firm ground.

“This has never been done when the defendant is a sovereign nation but the recognition procedure is pretty straightforward,” he said.

The North Korean embassy would be the defendant in the case, he said. “Our laws provide for the attachment of assets when enforcing a claim,” Mr Mansur added.

The lawsuit brings a new twist in an affair that reflects the complexity of efforts to implement UN sanctions against Pyongyang. Two weeks after the Mudubong ran aground off the Mexican coast, the UN Security Council and US Treasury issued new sanctions against Ocean Maritime Management, which was accused of involvement in illicit arms trading. OMM is the Mudubong’s ultimate owner, according to a panel of experts appointed by the Security Council.

In an attempt to sidestep this measure, the panel of experts reported in February, North Korea has attempted to conceal the fact that OMM controls Mudubong. The registered owner, Mudubong Shipping Company, was quoted by North Korean media in May as saying: “Our company is a corporate body independent of [OMM] . . . There is . . . neither reason nor ground . . . to make the ship subject to ‘sanctions’.”

But the experts’ report said they still considered the Mudubong an asset of OMM, and had conveyed this to Mexico’s government. The report criticised weak implementation of sanctions against OMM, with at least six nations inspecting OMM vessels but failing to impound the ships.

“The Security Council confirmed on May 6 the Mexican government’s obligation to continue freezing the Mudubong. Mexico will continue to abide by this decision for as long as it is not modified or withdrawn by the Security Council,” the Mexican foreign ministry said in an emailed response to questions.

The ministry did not respond to a question about what it planned to do with the ship.

UPDATE 2 (2015-7-17): Mexico has repatriated the remainder of the crew. According to UPI:

All 33 North Koreans on board a ship that had drifted into a coral reef near Mexico have been repatriated after a year of custody.

Mexico media outlet E-veracruz reported Friday a port operations manager in Tuxpan, Veracruz said 13 remaining North Koreans were sent home on Wednesday.

33 North Korean nationals were on board the Mu Du Bong when the ship had fallen off its designated sea route, and 20 detainees were released earlier this year, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.

Two members of the North Korean embassy in Mexico had visited the port city to urge the release of the remaining 13 on Tuesday.

The 6,700-ton Mu Du Bong had left from a Cuban port in July 2014 before it was stranded on the reef 9 miles from Tuxpan.

Mexico had detained the ship’s personnel because the two countries were in disagreement over the ownership of the Mu Du Bong.

Mexico had said the ship belonged to North Korea’s Ocean Maritime Management, a firm blacklisted by the U.N.’s North Korea sanctions committee for engaging in illicit arms trades in the past.

In response, North Korea’s top envoy to the U.N. denied any links between the Mu Du Bong and the blacklisted company.

Read the full story here:
Mexico repatriates all 33 North Koreans on board ship Mu Du Bong
Elizabeth Shim

UPDATE 1 (2015-5-9): DPRK unhappy with UN freeze on Mudubong. According to Xinhua:

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) slammed the United Nations Security Council on Friday for slapping sanctions on “Mudubong,” a DPRK’s cargo ship that has been held for almost ten months in Mexico after it struck a coral reef off the coast.

The UN Security Council decided to freeze the Mudubong ship on Wednesday because it believed the ship belongs to Ocean Maritime Management (OMM) Co., Ltd, a company blacklisted by the United Nations in July 2014 for shipping embargoed arms.

But the manager of Mudubong Shipping Co., Ltd., whose name was not given, claimed that Mudubong is a legitimate commercial ship operated by Mudubong Shipping Company and has no links to the OMM, according to the KCNA news agency.

“Our company is a corporate body independent of the Ocean Maritime Management Co., Ltd. as it is a social cooperative organization established according to relevant laws of the DPRK,” the manager said in a statement.

“I vehemently denounce the step as a provocation of the hostile forces to lay a hurdle in our shipping business, a wanton breach of international law, undisguised disregard of domestic laws of the sovereign state and … a grave encroachment on the sovereignty of the DPRK,” the KCNA quoted the manager as saying.

The manager insisted Mudubong is “a peaceable civilian trading ship which has neither violated international law nor handled any prohibited cargo,” adding that the Security Council has no justification to impose the sanctions.

The manager requested Mexican authorities to provide cooperation on the principle of humanitarianism in letting free the ship together with its crew members.

Read the full story here:
DPRK slams UN freeze on Mudubong cargo ship

ORIGINAL POST (2015-4-23): McClatchy post solid summary of Mudubong case:

The cargo holds were empty and the 430-foot-long North Korean freighter Mu Du Bong was riding high in the water when the vessel slammed into a coral reef in Mexican waters in the Gulf of Mexico last July 14, thudding to a halt.

The freighter did more than tear up staghorn and elkhorn coral. It also crashed into U.N. sanctions that have trapped it in the hands of the Mexican government.

Salvage vessels pulled the freighter off the reef 12 days later and brought it to port in Tuxpan, where it’s been idle for nine months, moored to a wharf on the Tuxpan River. North Korea has declined to repatriate the 33 crew members, and they occasionally can be seen fishing off the freighter’s deck.

Earlier this month, North Korea’s deputy representative to the United Nations made some slightly menacing remarks demanding that Mexico terminate what he called a “complete abnormal situation.”

“We will take necessary measures to make the ship leave immediately,” envoy An Myong Hun said at a news conference April 8 in New York.

It’s an odd standoff in a corner of the world far from North Korea and the chambers of the U.N., where diplomats knowingly mention 1718, 1874 and 2094, the Security Council resolutions aimed at shutting down North Korea’s nuclear program and reining in its weapons proliferation efforts.

It was those arms-trafficking practices that led the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on a North Korean concern, Ocean Maritime Management Co. Ltd., that counts the Mu Du Bong among its 14 oceangoing freighters.

Another of the company’s vessels was intercepted in Panama nearly two years ago, its cargo holds piled high with sacks of Cuban sugar. When inspectors removed the sacks, they discovered two MiG-21 fighter jets, 15 jet engines and radar control systems for missile launches. The freighter, the Chong Chon Gang, had left Cuba bound for North Korea and was about to transit the Panama Canal when Panamanian inspectors boarded it. Cuba claimed the war materiel was being sent to North Korea to be refurbished and was to be returned.

The harbormaster at the Port of Tuxpan, Alberto Orozco Peredo, said the captain of the Mu Du Bong had a far humbler mission than smuggling weaponry.

“He was coming for fertilizer,” Orozco said, adding that the freighter had been chartered in Cuba for a single excursion to Tuxpan to pick up the shipment and return to the island. “Maybe they (the North Koreans) offered to do the shipping for cheap.”

Orozco said he’d accompanied members of a U.N. Security Council sanctions committee when they inspected the moored ship. He said they’d found nothing.

“For a 30-year-old ship, it was in a good state of repair. You can see that it’s clean,” Orozco said. “The vessel complies with all security standards.”

The crew members have shore passes but rarely leave the vessel. When six months had passed, their temporary visas expired. In recent days, immigration officials have begun the work of granting them indefinite humanitarian visas.

While North Korea can’t dislodge its ship, the reason it keeps all the crew members in Mexico is unclear.

“From day one, they have been free to move wherever they want to go, within or outside Mexico,” Ricardo Alday, political coordinator of Mexico’s mission to the U.N., said in an email.

A local shipping agency, Tajin Consignaciones, arranges through the North Korean embassy in Mexico City to provide food to the crew. Agency director María de los Ángeles Monsivais declined to speak to a reporter.

The U.N. Security Council hit Ocean Maritime Management with sanctions last July, and the company scrambled to keep its ships on the high seas without seizure, often with their maritime transponders turned off.

“Thus far, 13 of the 14 vessels controlled by OMM have been renamed, their ownership transferred to other single ship-owner companies . . . and vessel management transferred to two main companies,” said a preliminary U.N. report dated Feb. 23.

The freezing of the Mu Du Bong has put Mexico in a tough position.

“There is no set procedure for what to do once they seize the ship,” said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Non-Proliferation Program at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, part of the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California.

Some experts think that going after North Korean freighters engaged in ordinary trade is only likely to drive Pyongyang away from any negotiations.

“That’s a misguided effort. People have to make a distinction between things that are prohibited and normal commercial activity,” said John Merrill, a former chief of the Northeast Asia division of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. “It seems a little bit ridiculous to keep holding these guys, and it’s going to have consequences.”

Others disagree, saying economic pressure on North Korea is the only way to get its attention and force concessions.

“The purpose of the sanctions is to buy time for diplomacy. If the sanctions are not being enforced, then there’s no pressure at all on North Korea,” said William J. Newcomb, a visiting scholar at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University who’s a former member of the U.N. Security Council’s panel of experts on North Korea sanctions.

Newcomb noted that the Mu Du Bong’s travels were similar to the activities of the Chong Chon Gang before it was caught carrying Cuban weapons.

“It had all the earmarks of an arms transfer,” he said.

Mexico reportedly was about to free the ship late last year, but An, the North Korean envoy, said the nation had received a warning from a senior U.N. official.

“Suddenly, the Mexico government revoked its position. They said they have received advice from an unnamed undersecretary-general of the United Nations for the continued detention of the ship,” An told reporters.

Now, Mexico’s posture is that the ship will be retained indefinitely.

“The ship will be held (as long as) the company that owns it remains under U.N. sanctions,” Alday wrote in his statement, noting that Mexico “is obliged to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions.”

A former senior Mexican diplomat, Andrés Rozental, said Mexico wasn’t worried about any possible retaliation from North Korea.

“They’re obviously not going to send their military here to free that boat,” he said.


‘High-temperature air-combustion technology’ developed

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

At the Third Session of the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) held on April 9, Premier Pak Pong Ju of the DPRK Cabinet delivered a progress report on the Cabinet’s performance for the previous year and goals for this year. He said, “High-temperature air-combustion technology and other technologies that do not require the use of heavy oil should be introduced into various fields of the national economy.” As North Korea is a non-oil producing country, such technology would be beneficial. But whether this technology is possible requires careful consideration.

According to various state media reports, “high-temperature air-combustion technology” maintains the internal temperature of the furnace by combusting gas or liquid raw material into the air by heating it to high temperature, wherein high temperature needed at the time is acquired through the gasification of anthracite. Respectively, this technology is also called the high-temperature, air-combustion technology by the gasification of anthracite.

This technique is known as energy-saving advanced technology that manages the thermal efficiency which greatly lowers the heat loss that occurs from the used gas discharge. This technology is characterized by its wide range of application that includes heating of the metal factory that uses heavy oil as fuel, as well as glass melting furnace, furnace refractories (or kilns), pottery baking furnace, and heat treatment furnace.

For the production or heating of rolled steels, application of this technology allows for effective production without the use of heavy fuel oil.

Accordingly, the Ministry of Metal Industry has begun to implement projects with major metal industry enterprises such as Kim Chaek Iron and Steel Complex, Hwanghae Iron and Steel Complex, and Chollima Steel Complex. This technology is being introduced into various enterprises including all steel production process and refractories that use heavy oil.

In 2011, North Korea emphasized “vanguard technological breakthroughs” and constructed heating furnace equipped with high-temperature air combustion technology at the Kim Chaek Iron and Steel Complex for the commemoration of Kim Il Sung’s 100th birthday. It was widely publicized that introduction of this technology has put an end to the steel billets production system that uses heavy fuel oil.

In this regard, Rodong Sinmun reported on January 11 that Kaesong Insulator Factory in North Hamgyong Province succeeded in the complete domestic production of high-speed transfer switch and thermal mass which is the core of the high-temperature air-combustion technology. It also drew particular attention as the news touted that this was the first successful introduction of “large-scale continuous furnace.”

The newspaper boasted that, “the introduction of the high-temperature air combustion technology was introduced with a small investment into the heating furnace and kilns in each sector of the people’s economy,” and evaluated this as a result of “our capabilities and technology that proceeded in accordance with the principles of ‘our-style’ modernization.”


Solar panel boom in North Korea

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015


Pictured Above: Solar Equipment Center in Pyongyang

According to Reuters:

In a country notorious for a lack of electricity, many North Koreans are taking power into their hands by installing cheap household solar panels to charge mobile phones and light up their homes.

Apartment blocks in Pyongyang and other cities are increasingly adorned with the panels, hung from balconies and windows, according to recent visitors to the isolated country and photographs obtained by Reuters.

“There must be at least a threefold increase in solar panels compared to last year,” Simon Cockerell, who visits North Korea regularly as general manager of Beijing-based Koryo Tours, told Reuters from Pyongyang. “Some are domestically made, so that may have driven prices down.”

North Korea has long suffered from electricity shortages which plunge large parts of the country into darkness, providing a stark contrast in night-time photos taken from space to prosperous and power-thirsty South Korea.

The soaring sales of cheap and easily-installed solar panels reflect rising demand for electricity in North Korea as incomes rise and people buy electronic goods like mobile phones and the “notel” media player that need regular charging. North Korea, one of the poorest countries in the world, is home to 2.5 million mobile phone users, about 10 percent of the population.

Once reserved for Workers’ Party cadres, solar panels and voltage stabilisers are now sold openly both in markets and the hardware section of Pyongyang department stores, where small 20 watt panels cost just under 350,000 won – $44 at the widely-used black market exchange rate where a dollar is about 8,000 won, instead of the official 96 won.

Obtaining accurate data from North Korea is difficult, but roughly 10-15 percent of urban apartments in a series of recent photographs in North Korean cities obtained by Reuters appeared to have small solar panels attached to windows or balconies.

Whether that number translates nationally is unclear, but regular visitors have noted a significant increase in solar panel use across the country in recent months, either in urban areas or in one case in the backyard vegetable plot of a rural house.


Private solar panels are not illegal in authoritarian North Korea, where in recent years the government has tacitly allowed greater economic freedoms. However, some local authorities may demand a bribe for permission to install them, a defector said.

Electricity supply in North Korea is prioritised for factories or areas of political importance, but those with money or connections are often able to tap those lines illegally.

The country could be generating about 33 terawatt-hours of electricity a year, or just 7 percent of what South Korea generates, according to Tristan Webb, a former British Foreign Office analyst who visited North Korean power plants in 2013.

North Korea suffers from dry winters where Siberian winds can keep temperatures below freezing for months. The state exports much of its mined coal and relies heavily on hydro power, meaning electricity is in especially short supply in winter.

“We can heat our homes with a heater powered by a solar panel,” said Kim Yeong-mi, a North Korean defector who came to the South in 2012.

Pyongyang is home to a solar panel factory, and state propaganda has said the technology is in “effective use” in solar-powered lamp posts in other cities. North Korea is trying to use renewable energy to “make up the shortage of electricity,” state media said on Tuesday.

“Develop and make effective use of wind, tidal, geothermal and solar energy!,” was one of a barrage of slogans released by the ruling party in February.

A typical solar power set-up includes a panel, battery, and inverter for charging phones or powering appliances. Private car ownership remains rare in North Korea, but car batteries are popular in households to store power for blackouts.

In the Chinese city of Dandong on the frontier with North Korea, large red signs outside shops advertise solar panel and battery kits, aimed at traders from across the border. At one shop, the largest set-up on sale produces enough power to run a TV, laptop, mobile phone, fridge, washing machine, rice cooker and even an electric blanket – all increasingly common household goods for moneyed North Koreans.

“North Koreans didn’t really buy solar panels from us until two years ago,” said Yang Yanmeng, a trader in China’s Shandong province who has been selling solar panels since 2012.

“Now, up to 80-90 percent of our company’s products are sold to North Koreans,” he told Reuters by phone.

Read the full story here:
In North Korea, solar panel boom gives power to the people
James Pearson


North Korea to concentrate state budget towards economic construction

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

North Korea has drafted a budget that emphasizes improving the lives of its citizens and the establishment of an economic power this year.

The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that on April 9, 2015, North Korea held the 3rd Session of the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA), where authorities balanced accounts from last year’s spending and decided the budget for this year.

“This year the state budget was designed to further strengthen the self-defense capabilities of national defense while putting technology firmly at the front and bringing about a transformation in the building of an economic powerhouse,” North Korea’s head of the Finance Ministry, Ki Kwang Ho, explained at the session.

First, North Korea decided to raise the entire budget expenditures over last year by 5.5 percent to celebrate the 70th anniversary this October of the establishment of the Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK).

This year the national defense expenditures represent 15.9 percent of the budget, the same as last year. Meanwhile, authorities decided to increase investment in the technology sector over last year by 5 percent.

The following areas were also increased over last year: forestry (9.6 percent), basic construction (8.7 percent), physical education (6.9 percent), education (6.3 percent), culture (6.2 percent), general industry and light industry (5.1 percent), fisheries (6.8 percent), agriculture (4.2 percent) and health (4.1 percent).

Every aspect of the budget is designed to improve the citizens’ lives and further economic development. Finance Ministry Director Ki Kwang Ho explained, “[the budget] enables the state to raise the entire People’s economy and drastically improve the lives of the people while fully engaging in the forest restoration battle and the construction of monumental building projects.”

North Korea, however, did not disclose the full amount of the budget. Based on the budget, it is predicted that North Korea will concentrate state management this year on improving the people’s quality of life.

In his New Year’s address, First Chairman Kim Jong Un intimated his intentions to better the lives of the people through economic reform this year.

“We need to solve the people’s food issue through the three axes of agriculture, livestock and fisheries and bring the food situation to the next level […] We need to encourage businesses to be proactive and creative to take the lead in business activities,” he proclaimed in his address.