Archive for January, 2018

Wonsan-Kalma Coastal Tourist Area

Wednesday, January 31st, 2018

UPDATE 6 (2018-3-15): Planet Labs (@planetlabs) has posted some March 2018 imagery of construction of the Kalma Coastal Tourist Area construction site.

There appear to be two staging areas for the construction site where workers live and supplies are stored.

Here are close-ups of the two large staging areas circled in yellow in the image above:


I overlaid recent Planet images onto Google Earth and outlined the building and facility construction site. The coastal resort is taking place in the area outlined in yellow below:

Here are a couple of Planet images of the construction site:

I believe this project is supposed to be completed in about a year, so it will be worthwhile to check in on it periodically with Planet images to see how the project is developing.

UPDATE 5 (2018-2-2): The web page DPRK Today conducted an interview with a North Korean official about the Kalma project.  NK News offers a good English-language article about the interview here.

UPDATE 4 (2018-2-1): The Pyongyang Times offers information on the Kalma tourist area (like construction is expected to be completed in one year):

Wonsan-Kalma area shows promise as seaside resort

The development of the Wonsan-Kalma coastal tourist zone is a priority project in the DPRK this year.

Seaside resorts are tourist destinations that are found by the coast.

The most suitable places for them are those with conditions favourable for such seaside tourist activities as swimming, sunbathing, angling, yachting, boating, motorboating, surfing and scuba diving in terms of the percentage and duration of sunshine, number of days with average temperature of 18-20℃ and with no or weak wind and the condition of seashore. Especially those with sandy beaches are so suitable for coastal tourism that many countries develop such areas into seaside resorts.

Currently, such resorts hold a significant proportion of the world-class natural tourist destinations and most of summer vacationers tour the seaside.

In the DPRK, many renowned seaside scenic attractions, including Songdowon and Lake Sijung of Kangwon Province, Majon of South Hamgyong Province and Ryongsupho of South Hwanghae Province, turned into coastal tourist centres.

The Wonsan-Kalma area in Kangwon Province is also a very promising seaside resort.

The Kalma peninsula in the southern part of the Wonsan Bay is an attached island which was formed by the wave-driven accumulation of granitic sand from the Namdae River.

The northern part of the peninsula which stands long from south to north consists in gently rolling hills and the coastline is mostly straight and smooth.

To the north lies the Hodo peninsula which stretches out from the opposite direction and in between there are Sin, Tae and other islets, serving as a natural breakwater that protects the port of Wonsan.

There is a scenic attraction called Myongsasipri which means a famous sand beach stretching for 4 kilometres in the Kalma peninsula.

A goldenrain tree rare to be found in the eastern coastal areas of the country stands at the entrance to the beach which is dotted with sweet briars. The red flowers in full bloom along the seaside surrounded by tall pines and clear blue waves of the East Sea form a harmonious whole to present a spectacular beauty.

The construction of the seaside resort in the Wonsan-Kalma area with Kalma airport will help satisfy the demands of local and foreign tourists and provide an ideal place for stopover between different tourist destinations and Wonsan-Mt Kumgang International Tourist Zone.

At present, preparations are being pushed ahead to complete as early as possible the Wonsan-Kalma project which will mark a turning point in raising the country’s tourism to the world level.

UPDATE 3 (2018-1-31): The Daily NK reports that construction on the Kalma tourist zone has started, and it looks like they are right. According to a recent article:

The North Korean authorities are mobilizing ordinary citizens and military conscripts alike in a push to accelerate construction of the “Wonsan Kalma Shore Tourist Zone” situated on the country’s east coast. Sources inside North Korea report that the authorities have conveyed their intentions to complete the project before the July 27 “Victory Day” holiday, which is referred to as National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day in South Korea.

The beach resort project, along with Kalma Airport and the Masik Pass Ski Resort, all appear to be part of a larger plan by Kim Jong Un to address economic difficulties by generating more tourism revenue. He made this clear in his 2018 New Year’s address, saying, “This year, service personnel and residents should join efforts to complete the construction of the Wonsan-Kalma coastal tourist area in the shortest period of time.”

“The authorities have mobilized 120,000 military members and 20,000 ordinary citizens for the Wonsan construction project,” a source in China close to North Korean affirms told Daily NK on January 28. “People are worried over implications of another ‘speed battle’ (intense construction mobilization) after Kim Jong Un’s order to complete the project by July 27.”

Read the rest of the article here. 

If North Korea was engaging in this sort of work, we should see evidence of it–and we can via Planet Labs. Pictured below is a plot of land on the south end of the Kalma Airport runway. On the top is the Google Earth image dated 2017-5-19. On the bottom is the Planet Labs image dated 2018-1-31:

The bottom photo clearly shows a large compound of temporary housing for construction workers. This kind of facility can be seen at all of North Korea’s large scale construction projects. The coordinates are  39.144608°, 127.503932° for those that are interested.

It is still difficult to see any significant construction taking place on the northern end of the peninsula. Planet imagery in this case is rather limited, but it also appears the construction project itself is rather recent. In the Planet image below, dated 2018-1-12, we can see just how much worker housing has been constructed in just the last two weeks.

(Note: Planet Labs created a .gif of the construction site. You can see it on Twitter here.)

If the Daily NK is correct, and this is the “Wonsan Kalma Shore Tourist Zone,” and not part of the “Wonsan-Mt. Kumgang Tourist Zone,” then this indicates that plans for the area are still changing. This will be an interesting area to watch.

Here are previous posts I have done on the Kalma Peninsula and Wonsan-Mt. Kumgang International Tourist Zone. Here is a relevant article I wrote for NK News back in 2013.

UPDATE 2 (2018-1-31): KCNA releases some propaganda posters for the Kalma project:


These posters  give the impression that this project as ambitious as any of the major construction projects they have done in Pyongyang (Mansudae parts 1 and 2, Unha Scientist Street, Satellite Scientist Street, Mirae Scientist Street and Ryomyong Scientist Street). I previously posted about Part 2 of the Satellite Scientists Street, but it looks that that project will take a back seat to this one.

The previously announced (2015) “Kalma Street” project appears to have stalled in 2017, and this new tourist zone is apparently unrelated. It is unclear if the Kalma Street project will be completed or if it has been scrapped.

UPDATE 1 (2018-1-25): KCNA announces more information on the Wonsan-Kalma Coastal Tourist Area:

Wonsan-Kalma Coastal Tourist Area to Be Built in DPRK

A tourist resort is to be built in the Wonsan-Kalma coastal area in Kangwon Province, the DPRK on a large scale.

The Wonsan-Kalma area is good for coastal tourism.

The Kalma Peninsula in the southern part of Wonsan bay is the connecting bar formed with granite sand.

The northern part of the peninsula ranging north and south is low hill and its coastline is straight and smooth as a whole.

It faces the Hodo Peninsula to the north and Sin, Tae and other islets are located between them which serve as seawall of Wonsan Port.

There are four-kilometer-long famous sandy beach resorts called Myongsasipri and modern Kalma Airport in the peninsula.

When the tourist area is built, it will satisfy the demand of domestic and foreign tourists and will be the most ideal place to link various tourist destinations to the Wonsan-Mt Kumgang international tourist zone.

Now, a preparatory work is brisk for completing the construction of the Wonsan-Kalma coastal tourist area, a radical turn in putting the country’s tourism on world level.

ORIGINAL POST (2016-7-15): KCNA announces new special economic zone:

Kalma Area of DPRK to Turn into Tourist Resort

Pyongyang, July 15 (KCNA) — The Kalma area, located on the central east coast of Korea, will be turned into a tourist resort.

The area boasts of four-kilometer-long beach resort, not far away from such scenic spots as Mt. Kumgang, Lake Sijung, Chongsokjong and Lagoon Samil and the Masikryong Ski Resort.

The DPRK Law on Economic Development Parks, enacted in May Juche 102 (2013), is applicable to the area. Under this law, foreign investors are allowed to conduct their business activities independently in the area.

An international friendship air festival is to take place in Wonsan City, adjacent to the Kalma area, at the end of September.

The official media hinted at this project a few days prior in a report on the Mubong Mubong Special Zone for International Tourism.


UNICEF warns of child malnutrition in North Korea following sanctions

Tuesday, January 30th, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Few or no policies come without unintended consequences. For aid institutions such as UNICEF, sanctions have led to goods being more difficult to bring to North Korea, since both banks and transportation companies are reluctant to have anything to do with the country:

Under United Nations Security Council resolutions, humanitarian supplies or operations are exempt from sanctions, Omar Abdi, UNICEF deputy executive director, said.

“But what happens is that of course the banks, the companies that provide goods or ship goods are very careful. They don’t want to take any risk of later on being associated (with) breaking the sanctions,” Abdi told a news briefing.

“That is what makes it more difficult for us to bring things. So it takes a little bit longer, especially in getting money into the country. But also in shipping goods to DPRK. There are not many shipping lines that operate in that area,” he said, referring to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Sanctions on fuel have been tightened, making it more scarce and expensive, Abdi added.

Reuters, citing three Western European intelligence sources, reported exclusively last week that North Korea shipped coal to Russia last year which was then delivered to South Korea and Japan in a likely violation of U.N. sanctions.

“We are projecting that at some point during the year 60,000 children will become severely malnourished. This is the malnutrition that potentially can lead to death. It’s protein and calorie malnutrition,” said Manuel Fontaine, director of UNICEF emergency programs worldwide.

“So the trend is worrying, it’s not getting any better.”

In all, 200,000 North Korean children suffer from acute malnutrition, including 60,000 with the most severe form that can be lethal, according to UNICEF.

UNICEF had projected 60,000 children would suffer severe acute malnutrition last year, and reached 39,000 of them with therapeutic feeding, spokesman Christophe Boulierac said.

“Diarrhoea related to poor sanitation and hygiene and acute malnutrition remains a leading cause of death among young children,” it said in Tuesday’s appeal to donors that gave no toll.

UNICEF is seeking $16.5 million this year to provide nutrition, health and water to North Koreans but faces “operational challenges” due to the tense political context and “unintended consequences” of sanctions, it said.

It cited “disruptions to banking channels, delays in clearing relief items at entry ports, difficulty securing suppliers and a 160 percent increase in fuel prices”.

“It’s a very close, and tightly monitored intervention which is purely humanitarian in its essence,” Fontaine said.

Full article:
60,000 North Korean children may starve, sanctions slow aid: UNICEF
Stephanie Nebehay


Is North Korea scaling back winter exercises because it lacks fuel and food?

Tuesday, January 30th, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Much has been made of North Korea’s apparent decision to scale back its annual winter military exercises. Some have concluded it’s a sign that sanctions are working: the army lacks both fuel and food, and has therefore had no choice but to change the scale of the exercises.

While this may be true, I haven’t seen anything in the data that proves it. Take food prices, for example. The average rice price among three North Korean cities, according to the latest observation by Daily NK, is 4853 won per kg. It’s declined pretty strongly over the past few months, which isn’t unusual for this time of year. In the comparable period last year, the same price was exactly 800 won lower. In other words, food prices, as measured by rice prices, often used instead of a CPI-basket for the North Korean market, are 20 percent higher today than they were in the comparable period last year.

That isn’t negligible, but I would still say a large part of the price difference falls within the margin of error. Prices can fluctuate heavily on the North Korean market, and the results might have been different even had prices been measured on a different day. And for most of the past few months, prices have pretty much looked seasonally normal.

Lack of fuel is a much more plausible explanation. Prices have steadily climbed since early 2017 and according to data from NK PRO continue to rise. But part of the reason for the increased prices is, likely, that the military has been soaking up more fuel than usual from the market. I don’t think there’s much reasonable doubt that fuel has been more difficult to acquire since sanctions began to be enforced more strictly by China. But we also know that North Korea has continued to import fuel by circumventing sanctions. Some of these methods have been publicly exposed by US intelligence but there’s likely much more going on that we don’t see. If full-scale military exercises were a priority for the leadership, I doubt that it would be impossible for agents and enterprises further down the line to somehow acquire the fuel it needs.


Authorities initiate nationwide crackdown on Chinese products in the markets

Tuesday, January 30th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

The North Korean authorities have reportedly begun a nationwide crackdown on Chinese products in the country’s markets. The unprecedented change now puts them in the same category as South Korean products, which are illegal to buy and sell.

“In a meeting last week, People’s Unit leaders informed us that all Chinese food products and home appliances, excluding industrial goods, are part of a new crackdown. Enforcement began immediately afterwards,” a source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK on January 24. “Merchants who make a living selling Chinese products were suddenly very nervous.”

A source in Pyongyang said on January 22 that the effort had begun in the capital city and other regions including the northwest trading hub of Sinuiju by the end of 2017.

A source in Sinuiju confirmed this, saying on January 20 that “from last December, the crackdown on Chinese products in the markets has become more intense with each day. Across town in markets like the Chaeha market, the authorities are preventing merchants from doing any business with Chinese products.”

Full article:
Authorities initiate nationwide crackdown on Chinese products in the markets
Kang Mi Jin
Daily NK


McDonalds advertising on Uriminzokkiri Youku Channel

Monday, January 29th, 2018

Last year Google and Youtube took the draconian measure of deleting approximately seven years of video footage posted to Youtube by North Korea and its agents (learn more here). The video footage was invaluable to North Korea researchers and it generated no revenue for the North Korean government.

Shame on them.

However, the story does not stop there. North Korea continues to post video content to the Chinese version of YouTube, called YouKu. Videos posted to Youku DO earn ad revenue for the North Koreans through advertising. So by banning video on YouTube and pushing viewers to YouKu, the company is creating a perverse outcome that makes North Korea better off in two ways: 1. North Korea gets more money and 2. We are ableo to learn less about North Korea from its official media (and yes, you can learn a lot about the country from its official media)

Today I was sitting through an advertisement on Youku’s Uriminzokkiri channel waiting for the North Korean evening news to start, and low and behold, I found myself watching an advertisement for McDonalds produced by their Chinese division. I have no idea how advertising decisions are made at McDonalds China, or at Youku for that matter, but I am sure their American parent company does not want this to happen.

Here is the screenshot taken just a few minutes ago:

And for what it is worth, the McDonalds advert is followed by one from Toyota.


Interesting new underground facility

Friday, January 26th, 2018

I was going over new Google Earth imagery of the east coast and saw an interesting new underground facility  (UGF) near Tanchon (40.409103°, 128.842130°). Based on Google Earth imagery, it appears to have been built sometime between 2015-7-8 and 2017-11-10. Based on @Planetlabs imagery it appears construction was carried out in the latter half of 2016, though I cannot say with precision owing to image quality.

This UGF is constructed in an abandoned railway tunnel, construction of which was halted at a time that pre-dates commercial satellite imagery (i.e. the tunnel was really old). Utilizing the plan for the original tunnel we can speculate about the size and shape of the UGF in this hill, but there is no evidence to conclude that the tunnel has not been altered as it was converted to meet its new purpose.

There are several other abandoned railway tunnels throughout the DPRK, but this is the first of which I am aware that has been converted to an alternate use.

It may be military related, but not necessarily. It could be a mushroom farm or it could be an underground document storage facility (both of which can be found all over North Korea)–or something else.

Interestingly, the road running into it has not been renovated all that much, and as of yet, I cannot see any power transmission lines running here.


Patent registration soars in North Korea

Thursday, January 25th, 2018

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

While public interest in patent registration is growing in North Korea, the Pyongyang IP Center (PIPC) has emerged as a pioneer among the agencies that provide services for patent applications, the Japan-based Choson Sinbo reported from Pyongyang on January 22.

The center was first established as the Pyongyang Patent and Trademark Agency in 1982 and renamed as the PIPC in 2004.

North Korea joined the World Intellectual Property Organization in 1974 and signed the Patent Cooperation Treaty in 1980. Two years later, the PIPC became the first agency in North Korea to specialize in patent and trademark services.

Reportedly, the workload of the Pyongyang Intellectual Resource Exchange Center has been increasing every year. The increased interest in patent registration is due to a policy that requires factories and enterprises to creatively manage their business activities—having the actual right to manage based on the socialist ownership of the means of production under the ‘responsibile management system of socialist enterprises’.

One of the important tasks for them is to develop new products by technological innovation. Factories and enterprises must focus their efforts on producing goods that may represent their production units and would not suffer by comparison with any other product in the market. To develop proprietary indices that are not found in other production units, they have to find technical solutions on their own. Such efforts have led to accomplishments in technological innovation as well as to their continued interest in patent registration and the pursuit of patents.

In 2014, an exhibition hall for intellectual products was built in Pyongyang. Managed by the State Invention Office, the exhibition hall displays various inventions, patents, and scientific and technological achievements, and other intellectual products, which are highly valued and widely circulated in the country. The hall also promotes the diffusion, exchange, and distribution of new technologies through the exhibitions.

As the role of science and technology grows more important in North Korea, inventors are emerging not only from the specialized scientific research institutes but also from the factories and enterprises themselves.


Friday fun: More North Korean “viagra”

Friday, January 19th, 2018

Here is the scan of a box of North Korean “viagra” tablets:

I am not a pharmacist, so I cannot speak to the efficacy of the product. However, the Washington Post reviewed a similar product back in 2016 and concluded it may actually work because it contained sildenafil. This product also claims to contain sildenafil, though we do not know how it is formulated.

Perhaps most humorously, the dosage instructions caution the consumer to “take one or two capsule [sic], 30 min to an hour before married life”. Presumably “married life” is a euphemism for sexual intercourse. There is a great joke here but you have to actually know me to hear it.

The pills are manufactured by the Tongyang Koryo Medicine Factory (pictured below):


The name Tongyang shows up in several industries, so if they are all linked, the company may also be involved in mineral water, alcohol, building materials, and retail.

Have a good weekend.


North Korea opens its first toll expressway

Thursday, January 18th, 2018


Pictures above via @EricTalmadge (Jan 26, 2018)

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

According to the Russian embassy in Pyongyang, starting January 20, 2018, North Korea will begin collecting tolls on the expressway between Pyongyang and Wonsan—a first time for the country to collect such tolls.

According to the Seoul-Pyongyang News, the Russian embassy explained in its Facebook on January 17 that it would be “the first time for the North Korean drivers to pay 8 euros (equivalent to 10,450 won in the South Korean currency) to take the Pyongyang-Wonsan Tourist Motorway.”

This recently resurfaced motorway first opened in September 1978, connecting Wonsan (Kangwon province) on the east and Pyongyang City on the west.

The recent photos provided by the embassy reveal an electronic payment station collecting the toll at the entrance of the expressway. They also reveal a map showing the Pyongchon Kwangmyong Technology Exchange Station, where drivers can purchase (or recharge) electronic payment cards and Mirae electronic cards issued by Mirae Bank.

In the meantime, more than one foreign diplomat in Pyongyang said that the North Korean authorities had sent a letter to the foreign missions and the representatives of international organizations in Pyongyang on January 15 to inform them of the new policy, Radio Free Asia reported.

Another Western diplomat in Pyongyang, who wanted to remain anonymous, said that the letter included the highway toll policy and detailed regulations, which explained that it would cost about 8 euros (0.02 euro per kilometer) or about USD10 for a total of 194 kilometers round trip between Pyongyang and Wonsan (or 3.88 euro for one way), if one is traveling by ordinary passenger car. However, large-sized buses will be charged a toll of about 27 euros for a roundtrip—Pyongyang to Wonsan and back—or 13.58 euros for a one-way trip.

The new tolls are expected to be applied to not only foreign residents in Pyongyang, such as diplomats and the agents of international organizations, but also the general public.

UPDATE: Here are most of the images posted by the Russian Embassy Facebook Page:

The toll fees are being managed by “Mirae Bank”. Mirae Bank Cards are available on Mirae Street.


This is the first toll booth outside of Pyongyang:



The strange history of the Pyongyang Teacher Training College

Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

Today North Korean media reports that Kim Jong-un visited the newly renovated Pyongyang Teacher Training College (평양교원대학).

According to Rodong Sinmun, “[Kim Jong-un] noted that the Party remodeled Pyongyang Teacher Training College with much care as it attaches importance to the teacher training colleges, a pedigree establishment for training teachers in charge of the education of children, and instructed that every province should spruce up the teacher training colleges with it as a model.”

Despite the glowing description of this model school in the official KWP paper, the school’s history has been a textbook case of “Our-style economic mismanagement” [(CR) Curtis Melvin 2018].

Up until early 2010, the Pyongyang Teacher Training College was located at the foot of the Ryugyong Hotel:

However, as work to complete the exterior of the hotel picked up, the school was torn down. In the image below (dated April 10, 2011) the school has been completely removed.

A new location for the school was selected in Mangyongdae District–the site of the old College of Mechanical Engineering. However it took nearly two years for renovation work to begin at the site (in May 2013). In the image below, dated June 1, 2013, you can see that renovation work has begun.

Renovation work on the Pyongyang Teacher Training College seems to have been completed by 2016, and it was featured on KCTV on December 20 (I could link to the actual video, but Google and Youtube have chosen to censor it).

I am not sure where or if the Pyongyang Teacher Training College was operating between April 2011 (when the old campus was torn down) and December 2016 (when the new building was apparently opened).

But we are not finished.

Although renovation work on the school was completed in December 2016, satellite imagery on Google Earth indicated the school was torn down again sometime after January 16, 2017 (Picture below dated April 21, 2017), and a second round of renovations had been launched. This wasteful economic management is apparently what the party refers to as “remodeled with much care.”

So Kim Jong-un’s visit in January 2018 indicates that the second round of renovations took just about a year to complete. Below are images of both renovations placed next to each other.

Unfortunately there are other examples of this type of economic mismanagement.