Archive for the ‘Telephones’ Category

Some “good” news from North Korea

Friday, January 9th, 2009

On market regulations:  North Korean authorities issued three decrees restricting market activity: 1. Markets may only open once every 10 days  2. Only vegetables, fruits, and meat from private citizens can be sold in the markets.  Imported goods and products of state-owned companies are prohibited  3. To reduce the influence and growth of professional merchants, market booths will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis (no fixed locations).

The “good” news is that the authorities are having trouble implementing these rules:

A Pyongyang source said in a phone conversation with Daily NK on the 7th, “Until now, markets in Pyongyang have been opening at 2 PM every day and operating normally. They are only closed once a week, on Mondays as usual.”

However, the sale of imported industrial goods from China such as clothing, shoes, cosmetics, kitchen utensils and bathing products has become more restricted in the market. Subsequently, street markets or sales of such goods through personal networks have become increasingly popular.

The source noted, “Inspection units regulate the markets with one eye closed and the other eye open, so it is not as if selling is impossible. With a bribe of a few packs of cigarettes, it is easy to be passed over by the units. However, the sale of industrial goods has rapidly decreased and, if unlucky, one can have his or her goods taken, so the number of empty street-stands has been increasing.”

So many North Koreans now buy Chinese kitchen utensils in the same way Americans purchase cocaine!

But even in Pyongyang they are having troubles enforcing the new rules:

“Since December, rations in Pyongyang have consisted of 90 percent rice and 10 percent corn and in the Sadong-district and in surrounding areas, rice and corn have been mixed fifty-fifty percent.”

“It has even been difficult in Pyongyang, where rations are provided, to convert to 10-day markets due to opposition from citizens, so restricting sales in the provinces, where there is virtually no state provision, is impossible in reality. It is highly likely that the recent measure will end as an ineffective decree, like the ones to prohibit the jangmadang or the sale of grain”[.]

On North Korea’s information blockade:  Radio Free Asia published an informative article on the ability and propensity of North Koreans to monitor foreign broadcasts.  The “good” news is that access to unauthorized information continues to grow.  

The whole article is worth reading (here), but here is an excerpt:

North Koreans manage to gain limited access to foreign media broadcasts in spite of increasing government crackdowns in the isolated Stalinist state.

“We clamped down on the people watching South Korean television sets, but it wasn’t easy,” a North Korean defector and former policeman who monitored North Koreans’ viewing habits said. He said channels fixed by the North Korean authorities could easily be altered to catch South Korean programming.

“You could watch South Korean television such as KBS and MBC in Haeju, Nampo, Sariwon, even in Wonsan,” he said, referring to regions of Hwanghae province, just north of the border with South Korea.

“They reach also to the port cities near the sea. But you can’t watch them in Pyongyang because it’s blocked by mountains.”

He said the police themselves used to watch South Korean television “all the time” along with their superior officers.

“We would enjoy what we watched, but outside in public, we would praise the superiority of our socialist system. We knew it was rubbish.”

“According to North Korean defectors interviewed who came to South Korea right after living in the North, educated, intelligent people in North Korea do listen to foreign stations despite the inherent danger,” Huh Sun Haeng, director of the Center for Human Rights Information on North Korea, said in a recent interview.

He said he made good money fixing people’s radios, so they could get better reception of foreign broadcasts.

“I made good money readjusting channels on radios, or upgrading them with higher frequency parts for local people who want to listen to broadcasts other than the North’s state-run radios. There were at least a few hundred people that I know of who listened to foreign broadcasts,” he said.

He said no television reception reached the northern part of the country near the Chinese border, so people there watched recorded programs on videotape and video CD (VCD) instead.

Read the full articles here:
Pulling Back from Converting to 10-day Markets
Daily NK
By Jung Kwon Ho

Growing Audiences for Foreign Programs
Radio Free Asia
Original reporting in Korean by Won Lee


Lim Dong Won book published

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

Today, the Daily NK publishes a review of Peacemaker: South-North Relations and the North Korean Nuclear Issue over the past 20 years,  by Lim Dong Won, “evangelist of the Sunshine Policy” and former director of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service.

The book (not available in English) publicizes dialogues between Kim Jong Il and the author when he visited Pyongyang for the first Inter-Korea Summit in 2000 and as a South Korean delegate in 2002.  

Actually, the Daily NK’s article is not so much a review of the book as it is a series of interesting excerpts:

[Kim Jong il speaking] Joint Security Areais a good movie. I showed it to the generals of the military and cadres of the Party.’ All of sudden, [KJI] asked [the] general of the People’s Army Lee Myung Su and secretary Kim Yong Soon how many series of a South Korean historical drama, “Petticoat Government” they had watched. [KJI] said that ‘South Korea produces historical dramas well. I’ve instructed the Director of the Propaganda Department of the Party to learn the South Korean way of making historical dramas.’

Lim Dong Won also revealed that at the Inter-Korea Summit in 2000, Kim Jong Il agreed with Kim Dae Jung’s comment, “Even after the unification, the U.S. military presence in South Korea will be needed.” The former president Kim asked him “Why are you insisting through your media on the withdrawal of the U.S. military from the South?” and Kim Jong Il replied to him that he wanted President Kim to understand it was just to soothe the peoples’ feeling.

When Lim asked Kim Jong Il to visit Seoul in April of 2002, Kim Jong Il said that “In fact, I tried to visit Seoul in the spring of 2001, but the situation was changed due to George Bush, who looked on us as an enemy, being elected President of the U.S. Furthermore, the situation of the South was such that the leftists demanded that the North apologize to them for the Korean War and the explosion of KAL, and my visiting Seoul would have deteriorated the relations between the North and the South. Therefore, my close associates held me back from going to the South.”

According to his book, Lim revealed that a hot line has been set up since the first Inter-Korea Summit in 2000 and has been used when crises happened between the South and the North. In June, 2002, when a battle occurred in the West Sea, the North sent an urgent telephone-notice, saying “I heard with regret that it happened accidently.”

Read the full story here:
Veiled Dialogues with Kim Jong Il Revealed
Daily NK


An In-depth Look at North Korea’s Postal Service

Tuesday, April 8th, 2008

Daily NK
Moon Sung Hwee

April 8th is Postal Service Day in North Korea. Each province has a branch office of the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications and Communication Maintenance Bureau. The postal system manages the distribution of letters, telegrams, telephone calls, TV broadcasts, newspapers and magazines. Additionally, they mint stamps and also operate an insurance agency in name only.

In the late 1990s, the national postal system was completely ruined

In North Korea, postal service offices are set up in each “ri”—a small village unit–, of each county to deliver letters, parcel posts and telegrams. Following the March of Tribulation in the late 1990s, the delivery system was completely destroyed and its formal structure was left in tatters. Even in the 1980s when the North Korean economy and people’s lives were relatively stable, it took around 15 days to two months on average to deliver a letter from Pyongyang to a rural village.

In the case of a telegram, it took generally 3 or 4 days to reach a postal office in a rural area. In the late 1980s, to guarantee efficiency within the telegram delivery system, the authorities supplied the offices with second-hand bicycles from Japan.

After the March of Tribulation, letters disappeared due to train delays and frequent blackouts, and the telegram service was virtually incapacitated due to the lack of electricity.

Telephones were restricted to control the outflow of national secrets

North Korea uses a separate electricity supply for its telephone system. Even if there is a power blackout in a village, villagers can still use the telephone network. In 1993, fiber-optic cables were installed and the use of mail and telegram services began to decline. North Korean people call fiber optic cable a “light telephone.”

North Korea built an automatic telecommunicates system by developing multi-communication technology with imports of machinery and by inviting engineers from China in 1998.

In 2003, authorities allowed cadres to use telephones in their houses and in 2005, they also allowed people to use the telephone at home as long as they paid 2,000 North Korean won (approx. USD0.6) a month (a monthly salary is 1,500 won per laborer).

In August, 2007, the government tightened regulations regarding the telephone system. People could make calls only within their province. Authorities said the reason was to prevent the outflow of national secrets.

The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications controls TV and other broadcasting. There is no cable TV in North Korea. Authorities set up an ultra-short wave relay station in each county to relay television broadcasts.

North Korea signed a contract with Thailand for satellite broadcasting and installed U.S.-made transmission and relay facilities in 2000.

People can now listen to “Chosun Central Broadcasting,” but in rural areas, it is difficult to recieve signals because the broadcasting facilities and cables have already begun to deteriorate.

People sarcastically say a “newspaper is not about news but about “olds.” The authorities pay special attention to the successful delivery of the Workers Party Rodong Shinmun bulletin. To deliver Rodong Shinmun from Pyongyang to each province or even to each city and county by train, it normally takes 4-5 days. Sometimes, it takes more than a week.

People also say they use an “oral-paper” to get information because rumors are faster than the Rodong Shinmun.

Postal service workers were dragged to prison camps

In 1992, the Minister and all related officials of Posts and Telecommunications were fired, and the Minister, the Vice Minister and their families were sent to political prison camps for having wasted national finances for the import of factory machinery to produce fiber-optic cables from the U.K.

They submitted a proposal to Kim Jong Il to buy factory machines in order to earn foreign currency through the production and export of fiber optic cables. However, in the end they eventually bought worn-out machines from the U.K. and failed to earn profits. In addition, they embezzled some of the funds.

In 2001, in Lee Myung Soo Workers-District of Samjiyeon, Yangkang Province, two office workers and a manager of a relay station broadcasted Chinese TV programs that they were watching to residents by mistake, so they were sent to a political prison camp and their families were expelled to a collective farm.

Agents of the National Security Agency are stationed at the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications in order to scrutinize mail, parcels, to tap telephone wires and to supervise residents.

The Ministry regularly dispatches professional engineers to the 27th Bureau, to the airwaves-monitoring station, and to the 12th Bureau, which was newly established to censor mobile phones.

On Postal Service Day, Chosun Central Agency often delivers praise for the development of North Korea’s postal system and facilities under the General’s direction.

However, most ordinary citizens will not be able to watch or read about it in time, for the lack of paper, electricity, infrastructure, and delivery systems.


Reporters Without Borders 2008 Report

Thursday, February 14th, 2008


The Reporters Without Borders 2008 Annual Report has been published.  It is not an index (with rankings assigned to each country) but rather a survey that groups nations into one of five quintiles based on the publisher’s perceptions of press freedom: (1. Good situation, 2. Satisfactory situation, 3. Noticeable problems, 4. Difficult situation, 5. Very noticeable problems.

If you read the report (here), it is mostly a qualitative analysis and there does not seem to be any objective methodology for grouping countries into a particular quintile. (Disclaimer: I have note read the whole thing, but usually the methodology is spelled out in its own section for these types of publications, but I have not been able to find it). This worries me because if there is no standard methodology, with relative weights, then the results are vulnerable to questions of subjectivity.

North korea is ranked a “Very Noticeable Problem.”  To read just the North Korea section of the report click: rwb-dprk.pdf


Wireless Comms, Internet in Kaesong Industrial Complex and Kumgang Mountain Tourist Resort

Monday, December 17th, 2007

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 07-12-17-1


North and South Korea are poised to allow Internet, telephone, and cellular services to be available in the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) and at the Kumgang Mountain Tourist Resort beginning next year. The 7th Defense Ministerial Talks opened on December 12 at the ‘Peace House’ on the South Korean side of Panmunjum, and at the meeting, North and South Korea reached an agreement regarding communications, transportation, and customs.

According to the agreement, Pyongyang has given permission for the use of Internet landlines and cellular phones in the two largest inter-Korean cooperative projects. However, while the South Koreans pushed for the inclusion of “mobile phones” in the agreement, the North insisted on “wireless telephone communications”, suggesting that they hope to use dual-use wired telephones rather than mobile cellular phones.

In addition, under the agreement, North and South Korean rail and road traffic will be allowed to cross the border daily from 7:00am to 10pm, with the exception of Sundays and official holidays. Currently traffic in the area is limited to 7am~6pm in the summer, and 8am~5pm in the winter months.

The two sides also agreed to new procedures aimed at simplifying customs inspections and reducing delivery delays. From now on, the two sides will exchange lists of goods being moved, after which time any specific good that is flagged will be inspected. Currently, both sides are required to supply a list of goods to be pass through the area three days in advance, and every piece is individually inspected, complicating customs procedures.

The agreement was signed ROK Defense Minister Kim Jang-soo and Kim Il-chul, minister of the DPRK People’s Armed Forces, and went into effect on December 13. With this agreement, exchange and cooperation in the KIC and Kumgang Mountain resort are expected to even more actively grow.


U.S. denies North Korea diplomatic ties report

Monday, November 26th, 2007


A U.S. embassy spokesman on Monday denied a report by South Korea’s biggest daily that the State Department has stationed an employee in Pyongyang to lay the groundwork for opening a permanent liaison office in North Korea.

The State Department has an employee in Pyongyang but only to manage equipment for a team that is overseeing the disablement of North Korea’s nuclear facilities. The employee will be in the North through the disablement process.

“This is not for normalisation,” spokesman Max Kwak said.

There has been a rise in exchanges between the two countries after reclusive North Korea agreed this year to a multinational deal to freeze and then roll back its nuclear arms programme in return for massive aid and better international standing.

The Chosun Ilbo newspaper quoted an unnamed source in Washington as saying: “A U.S. State Department diplomat who handles administrative affairs has checked into a room in Koryo Hotel and has been using it as an office and accommodation.”

The State Department employee has been acting as an administrative liaison between the United States and North Korea, the source said.

The Koryo is one of the few hotels in Pyongyang open to foreign guests.

The United States has said if North Korea completely ends its nuclear weapons programme, Washington is willing to establish diplomatic ties with Pyongyang.
U.S. Diplomat ‘Permanently’ Stationed in Pyongyang
Choson Ilbo (h/t One Free Korea)

A U.S. diplomat has been stationed permanently at the Koryo Hotel in Pyongyang since mid-November, a source said Sunday. The development comes as U.S.-North Korea relations are improving as Pyongyang implements its promise to disable its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon by the end of the year.

A source in Washington said that the U.S. plans to dispatch another permanent diplomat to Pyongyang soon, with the Koryo Hotel likely to serve as a de facto U.S. liaison office in North Korea. This is the first time the U.S. has ever stationed a permanent diplomat in Pyongyang, and it suggests the possible normalization of relations between the two sides.

The Washington source said, “A foreign service officer in charge of administrative affairs from the U.S. State Department has been staying at the Koryo Hotel in Pyongyang, using his room as both an office and living quarters. He is mainly carrying out administrative liaison efforts between the U.S. and North Korea.”

The diplomat is apparently serving as a liaison officer for U.S. delegations to Pyongyang and figuring out their staying expenses there. The temporary U.S. office at the Koryo Hotel is said to be fitted out with exclusive telephone and fax lines and a computer with an Internet connection.

The U.S. is expected to dispatch a senior diplomat to Pyongyang who will handle political affairs when North Korea completes the disablement of its nuclear facilities. This senior diplomat will also participate in talks with Pyongyang and visit the nuclear sites at Yongbyon on a non-regular basis to inspect the progress of the disablement and dismantlement of the facilities.

Washington and Pyongyang agreed on this through meetings between chief U.S. negotiator to the six-party talks Christopher Hill and his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye-gwan and through “a channel in New York,” the source said.

The U.S. is expected to operate its temporary office in Pyongyang with a staff of two diplomats for the time being, with a view to upgrading the office to a regular liaison office or a permanent mission if North Korea clearly shows its intention to fully dismantle its nuclear programs.

The agreement to operate a de facto U.S. liaison office in Pyongyang suggests that the two sides strongly intend to improve their relations. Washington and Pyongyang agreed at the 1994 Geneva Accords to open a liaison office in Pyongyang upon concluding talks on the first North Korean nuclear crisis, but that agreement was never realized.


Cut the Telephone Cables

Monday, October 29th, 2007

Daily NK
Kwon Jeong Hyun

It has become known that the North Korean authorities’ search for a household that paid 5,000 won for telephone usages per month has come to a close. Upon finding the residence, the authorities cut the telephone lines to prohibit the outflow of inside information.

Kim Choen Mo (pseudonym), a North Korean trader traveling through Dandong, China on business, said on the 28th that “The Social Security Agency, the Postal Service Office and the People’s Unit are cooperatively managing this case.”

Mr. Kim quoted an affiliate of the Postal Service Office saying, “If someone pays a large amount in phone bills, it means that they are making a living in trade. Therefore, the order was made to block the leakage of inside information and to block trade as well.”

In 1997, North Korea started introducing a telephone system using fiber-optic cables in big cities such as Pyongyang, Shinuiju, Chongjin, Hamheung, Sariwon and Pyongsung. Under the orders of Kim Jong Il to modernize the telecommunication system, the cables from China were set up in Pyongyang and other big counties and provinces. People were permitted for the first time to install telephones in their houses, and residents in big cities became increasingly reliant on phone usage.

After 10 years, however, the order was handed down to cut the cables off houses where phone usage exceeded 5,000won a month.

In 2002 North Korean authorities introduced a mobile communication system, but since the Yongchoen explosion incident in 2004, mobile phone usage has been banned.


Kaesong factory-apartment opens new horizons for inter-Korean cooperation

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

Lee Joon-seung

A newly opened factory-apartment at the Kaesong Industrial Complex promises fresh possibilities for inter-Korean business cooperation, the developer of the facility said Tuesday.

The state-run Korea Industrial Complex Corp. (KICOX) said the dual-purpose manufacturing and residential facility is specifically designed for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that are currently being phased out of South Korea due to the lack of workers and high labor costs.

At the formal opening ceremony of the factory-apartment, KICOX President Kim Chil-doo said, “The new facility provides an ideal business model for South Korea’s labor-intensive SMEs trying to stay afloat, and is an ideal means to start off business in North Korea.” About 300 people from South Korea were present at Tuesday’s opening in Kaesong, including lawmakers and Vice Industry Minister Oh Young-ho.

The 32 companies that will use the new facility are generally small clothing companies that were at the critical juncture of deciding whether to move to China and Southeast Asian countries, or close their businesses altogether. The factory-apartment provides an alternative means to continue making goods and is beneficial to all sides, the developer said.

By moving to Kaesong, the companies can stay in business by hiring workers for about US$60 a month, while 2,700 North Korean workers benefit from new jobs. In addition, the dual arrangement permits cheaper operating costs, a better working environment and allows companies to cooperate with each other for logistics support, said the developer.

The corporation, which runs 11 similar factory-apartments in South Korea, said the five-story building covers 27,880 square meters and was built in 14 months at the expense of 21.1 billion won (US$22.8 million). It is equipped with a storage area, a training center, a product display room, two dining halls, a store and fitness center. The new building is equipped with 71 dormitories for South Korean workers and various support staff.

The monthly rent in the factory-apartments is 4,500 won (US$4.9) per square meter, and there are six different floor arrangements available, ranging from 396 to 1983 square meters.

KICOX said that based on the projected success of the first factory-apartment, up to seven more will be built in Kaesong by 2010. It said 19,489 square meters of land were reserved in May 2007 for the project.

A second factory-apartment is being built the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee (KIDMAC), and is scheduled for completion by late 2008.

Companies that have moved into the new factory-apartment, meanwhile, said they are satisfied with the proficiency of workers and cheap labor costs.

Ok Sung-seok, president of Nine Mode Co. and chairman of the corporate management committee at the KICOX factory, said Kaesong plants cost a third less to operate than similar plants in China. He added that his shirt-making company should turn a profit by next year.

“I ran a factory in Qingtao, China for four years, but the operating cost there is skyrocketing,” the businessman said. He said Nine Mode closed its Chinese factory and plans to downsize its operations in Seoul so it can concentrate on its efforts in Kaesong.

Ok said that depending on the type of business and size, four or five factories in the factory-apartments should turn a profit by the end of the year.

The Kaesong complex lies 60 kilometers northeast of Seoul, and is hailed as the crowning achievement of the historic 2000 inter-Korean summit. It has played a key role in expanding two-way economic exchange that stood at just $300 million in 1999 to $1.35 billion last year.

Construction of the industrial district began in June 2003, with 3.3 square kilometers of factory land have been built to house up to 450 firms. By 2012, 11.6 square kilometers of industrial park is to be laid down that can hold several thousand South Korean factories and hire over 200,000 North Korean workers.

There are at present about 13,000 North Korean workers employed by 57 South Korean firms in Kaesong that have churned out garments, watches, kitchen utensils, auto parts and other labor-intensive goods since 2004.

The complex just north of the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas has been in the spotlight after the second inter-Korean summit. South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il agreed to build a region of peace and prosperity centered around Kaesong and the North Korean city of Haeju, 75 kilometers west of Kaesong.

“People at Kaesong expect progress to be made in such areas as communications and travel, which had previously been an obstacle to the development of the industrial district,” said a KIDMAC official. The prime ministers of the two sides are to meet in November to implement follow-up measures to the summit.

There is only one telephone line linking Kaesong with Seoul, while no mobile phones are allowed in the area. People and materials are also prevented from moving in and out of the complex.


Privileged Pyongyang Citizens No Longer Enjoy Privileges in the Market.

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

Daily NK
Lee Sung Jin
(Click on image for original size)

dprkmarketprices.jpgAccording to DailyNK’s research on prices in North Korea conducted in late September, the prices in Pyongyang are similar to the prices in other parts of the country. The finding shows that Jangmadang (markets) economy has been going through integration and similar distribution process across North Korea.

In the past, domestic commodities were sold cheap, and foreign products were sold expensive in Pyongyang.

DailyNK has been conducting quarterly research on prices in the central such as Pyongan Province and Hamkyung Province and northern areas.

This time the research result shows that the price of rice in a Jangmadang in Pyongyang is 1,350 won/kg, which is similar to the price of rice in Sinuiju, 1,400won/kg. In North Korea, the rice price serves as a gauge for price trends.

In Pyongyang, the exchange rate is about 330 thousands won to 100 dollars, which is the same as the exchange rate in other places. The most famous imported cigarettes, Cat (Craven A) is sold at the same cost of 1,500 won in Pyongyang and other areas.

Subsidiary food is more expensive in Pyongyang. The price of cabbage is 400 won/kg, 50 won/kg higher than cabbage price in Sinuiju. The price of pork ranges from 3,500 to 4,000/kg, 500~1,000 won/kg higher than the pork price in other areas.

The prices of seafood such as brown and green seaweed, and dried Pollack are cheaper in Pyongyang. Seafood caught in Kangwon Province and neighboring areas is transported to markets in Pyongyang in refrigerator car. Since the demand is high, seafood is sold in great quantities, and the price remains low in general.

Movie ticket prices range from 200 to 400 won. Telephone service is charged five won per minute. Overall, the price range for each commodity is high, and many different kinds of goods are available in Jangmadang.

Imported items from China such as socks, sports shoes, or underwear are expensive being sold at a cost of 1,000 won in Pyongyang. That is because there are extra shipping rates and labor costs imposed on Chinese goods transported to Pyongyang. On the contrary, in Sinuiju, imported goods from China are circulated on the market right away.

Often, retail prices are higher in Pyongyang because of high levels of consumption among Pyongyang citizens. However, cigarettes or liquor produced in Pyongyang, or clothes from South Korea circulated to other areas via Pyongyang are sold cheap in Pyongyang.

However, in these days the differences in regional price levels have almost disappeared.

A defector from Pyongyang, Ahn Chul Min (a pseudonym) who came to South Korea in 2006 said, “Prior to 2002, there were individuals who hung around from place to place and made money on price differences. But nowadays, the retail prices are almost uniform across the country because people just use a telephone and find out where to get items they want at what prices.

“Since there is no big difference in retail prices, retailers are not doing well in business,” Ahn added, “Instead, individuals driving a truck and selling goods wholesale are making good money.”

Ahn said, “Not everyone who lives in Pyongyang is well-to-do. Despite of their locations whether in Pyongyang or Chongjin, all markets have goods from South Korea and China. The poor people even if they live in Pyongyang should buy cheap and low quality of products from China. In contrast, those who live in Chongjin and have money can buy goods from South Korea anytime.”

Market Prices Consistent Throughout DPRK
Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 07-10-25-1


The results of a survey conducted by Daily NK on the price of goods in Pyongyang at the end of September show that prices in the capital were similar to those in rural areas. This is an indication that markets throughout the country are integrated, and evidence that goods can be circulated from region to region.

In the past, the price of domestic goods in Pyongyang was relatively cheep, while imported goods were sold at high prices. During that time, Daily NK carried out local price surveys in central regions such as Pyongan and Hamkyung provinces, as well as in northern areas. According to this latest survey in Pyongyang, the cost of one Kg of rice, the standard measure of the cost of goods in North Korea, was 1,350 won, similar to the 1,400 won price in Sinuiju, and the 1,250 won cost in Hyeryung. An exchange rate of 3,300 won per USD is also in line with rural exchange rates, as is the 1,500 won price tag on a pack of Craven A cigarettes, the most favored imported cigarette in North Korea.

Non-essential food goods are more expensive in Pyongyang than in outlying areas, with one Kg of lettuce selling for 400 won, 50 won more than in Sinuiju. Also, pork in the capital runs between 3,500 and 4,000 won per Kg, which is 500 to 1,000 won more than it would cost elsewhere in the country.

On the other hand, seaweed, dried Pollack, and other marine products are cheaper in Pyongyang than elsewhere. Ocean harvests from Kangwon and neighboring provinces are brought to Pyongyang markets by way of refrigerated trucks. Because of high demand, a variety of goods get delivered, yet overall, prices are held fairly low.

Overall, the price range on a particular ware was very wide, indicating that there was a variety of products available in the markets. The survey found that goods such as undergarments, socks, sneakers imported from China were selling for the high cost of 1,000 won each. In Sinuiju and other northern areas, goods from China are brought directly to markets, but by the time these same goods reach Pyongyang, additional labor and transportation costs force prices up. Pyongyang residents typically have more money to spend than those in rural areas, also leading vendors to raise prices on some goods, however cigarettes and alcohol produced in Pyongyang and distributed to rural areas, as well as South Korean goods which reach DPRK markets by way of Pyongyang, are slightly less expensive in the capital.

Recently, regional price differences have nearly disappeared. Prior to 2002, some traders earned their living traveling from region to region exploiting price differences. However, now with one simple phone call, North Koreans can find out where and for what price goods are being sold, leading the majority of retail prices to be similar throughout the country.


200,000 Won Cell Phone Call with South Korean Defector Families

Friday, August 24th, 2007

Daily NK
Kim Young Jin

An inside North Korean source relayed that along the North Korean-China border region, businesses connecting North Korean civilians with relatives in the U.S. and in Japan charging exorbitant usage fees are receiving the spotlight.

Choi Yong Nam (pseudonym, 37), residing in Moosan, North Hamkyung, in a phone conversation with DailyNK on the 23rd, revealed, “International cell phones calls are directly made from North Korea or there are cases where North Koreans are directly brought to China to call their relatives in foreign countries.”

Choi added, “In order to be connected to families or relatives in South Korea, at least 200,000 won in South Korean currency (around US$215) is needed. To communicate with families in the U.S. or in Japan, at least 400,000 to 500,000 won are used up.” He minimizes the essential element of risk, but denounced that the price is baselessly expensive.

Choi explained, “However, China or regular phone calls are not charged such fees. Separated families, cases of requesting huge amounts of remittance from relatives in the U.S., Japan, or in South Korea, or the process of relatives trying to bring the families in North Korea to foreign countries require a high fee.”

Such a costly fee seems to be due to the control of cell phone use in North Korea. In order to prevent information leaks to the outside, the North Korea’s authorities have stepped forward using equipments such as “cell phone detectors.”

Another source said, “Getting caught while using cell phones is rarely pacified on the spot as it used to be before. Inspection and punishment are severe, but one can escape through bribery even though there is a difference in the amount.”

After inspections, the violators are taken to the police station and have to go through basic investigations.

Regarding the content of investigations, he said, “They investigate the place of usage, past call history, whether or not the calls are related to foreign countries (South Korea, Japan, and the U.S.). Then, they investigate whether or not the person has a previous conviction.”

Kang Soon Young (speudonym, 44) who is visiting relatives in Yanji, China, said, “There are at least 100 North Korea-born people who are making a living doing various kinds of projects (work) along the border area in Yanji alone.”

The border area project refers to the remittances for money sent to South Korea or abroad or river-crossings, smuggling, phone connections and various projects that are becoming active in Chinese cities sharing the border with North Korea.

He relayed, “Nowadays, the border patrol has been toughened, so crossing the river without going through people who work in such border area projects is almost impossible.”

On one hand, Mr. Kang relayed, “There was a public execution along the Hoiryeong Riverfront on the 10th. The executed was a man in his 50s with the crime of aiding and abetting river-crossings (defecting) and was charged with smuggling.”