Archive for the ‘Mongolia’ Category

Mongolian HBOil invests in Sungri petroleum refinery

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013


Pictured above (Google Earth): The Victory (Sungri) Refinery in Rason, North Korea.

UPDATE 2 (2016-3-25): NK News reports that HBOil refutes the claim in the Joong Ang Daily:

“HBOil JSC … hereby refutes the South Korean publication known as ‘KOREA JOONGANG DAILY’, for irresponsible reporting and dissemination of erroneous news on 23 March 2016; asserting that HBOil JSC has withdrawn from its joint venture in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” the statement read.

HBOil also confirmed, “that it remains fully committed to its joint venture with Korea Oil Exploration Corporation (“KOEC”) of the DPRK, and continues its tenacious efforts to progress the joint venture’s ambition for exploration and development of hydrocarbon resources onshore North Korea.”

HBOil entered into a joint venture with North Korea in 2013 and has attempted to make inroads into North Korea’s undeveloped oil and gas sector.

The company has since invested in projects that could give it access to upstream oil and gas production and downstream refinery capacity in the coming years. However there has not been much reported movement on their North Korean project, and the outlook will not have been improved by a 70 percent drop in oil prices since last year.

While the statement affirmed HBOil’s belief that North Korea represents an “exceptional business opportunity” it also stated that the company are reviewing the implications of the recently adopted UN Security Council resolution against the country.

UPDATE 1 (2016-3-23): The Joong Ang Daily reports that HBoil is pulling out of North Korea:

A Mongolian oil company recently decided to withdraw from North Korea, a South Korean government source said, amid growing pressure from the international community after North Korea recently conducted nuclear tests and long-range missile launches.

HBOil JSC, an oil trading and refinery company based in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, acquired 20 percent of the North Korean entity Sungri refinery in June 2013, valued at roughly $10 million. In May 2014, the company opened a joint venture in Pyongyang.

The ex-communist country established bilateral ties with the North in 1948, but after this recent decision, the already impoverished North Korea will be further isolated from the international community.

“Mongolia is sending a message to North Korea: don’t fall down the wrong path,” said Nam Sung-wook, professor at Korea University’s Department of North Korean Studies.

North Korea formerly attracted foreign investment to resume operations of the Sungri refinery, which stopped running in 2009, in order to push for economic development. The deal with Mongolia, begun almost three years ago, was taken as evidence that North Korea wass seeking further investment partners-in addition to China.

However, the North Korean government continually delayed the inland oil development project, failing to provide reasonable explanations. Mongolia may therefore have concluded that there was no practical benefit to continuing the project.

Bilateral ties between the two countries recently turned bitter when Mongolian president Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj said Mongolia could not endure the North’s tyranny forever, a remark made during his speech at Kim Il-sung University in Pyongyang at the end of October 2013.

“No tyranny lasts forever. It is the desire of the people to live free, that is the eternal power,” the president said in his speech. After his remarks, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un expressed disappointment and refused to hold meetings with the Mongolian president.

ORIGINAL POST (2013-6-13): Clarification:   “HBOil has 20% of a state-dominated joint venture called Korean Oil Exploration Corp. International, and a formal commitment with Sungri has yet to be made. Another option is to invest in a refinery on the west coast of the DPRK.”

According to Bloomberg:

HBOil JSC, an oil trading and refining company based in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, said it acquired 20 percent of the state-run entity operating North Korea’s Sungri refinery, according to an e-mailed statement yesterday. It intends to supply crude to Sungri, which won’t be fully operational for up to a year, and export the refined products to Mongolia.

“Mongolia has had diplomatic relations with North Korea for many years,” Ulziisaikhan Khudree, HBOil’s chief executive officer, said in a June 12 interview in Ulaanbaatar. “There are certain risks, but other countries do business with North Korea so I am quite optimistic the project will be successful.”

The investment comes as ex-communist Mongolia seeks to power its mining-led boom while offering sanctions-hit North Korea a bridge to economic reforms. Since Swiss-educated Kim Jong Un took over the leadership of the totalitarian regime in December 2011, Mongolia has pledged to help its Soviet-era ally implement an economic transition similar to its own of the 1990s.

Under the transaction, worth as much as $10 million, the Mongolian Stock Exchange-listed HBOil would swap shares for full ownership of Ninox Hydrocarbons (L) Berhad, a private Malaysian company that owns 20 percent of KOEC International Inc., and issue convertible notes to fund investment at Sungri.

The rest of KOEC International is held by North Korea’s national oil company, Korea Oil Exploration Corp., which also has oil production and exploration rights in North Korea.

“This is a chance to take an equity holding in a foreign entity, and will allow us to import petroleum products, which could be lower than the current price,” said HBOil’s Khudree.

HBOil jumped by the daily limit of 15 percent to close at 253 tugrik (18 cents) on the Mongolian stock exchange today.

The deal will be the first purchase by a Mongolian-listed company of a foreign asset, according to Joseph Naemi, chief executive officer of the Ninox parent, Ninox Energy Ltd. The company is in compliance with international sanctions levied against North Korea, he said.

“If the sanctions change, and if they target the oil and gas industry, that would put us out of business, and we will have to comply,” Naemi said. “That is a risk one takes.”

Naemi said he had briefed his North Korean partners on the transaction and that “they are supportive.” No one was available to speak about the deal at North Korea’s embassy in Ulaanbaatar, which is in the middle of a renovation.

North Korea has three onshore oil basins with “proven working petroleum systems” and the country is conducting exploration for new fields, BDSec brokerage, Mongolia’s largest and the underwriter of the bonds HBOil plans to offer, said in a note to investors yesterday.

The Sungri refinery, located in the Special Economic Zone of Rason City in North Korea’s northeast, has a refining capacity of 2 million tons a year and is connected to the Russian railways system, HBOil said in its release.

Read the full story here:
Mongolia Taps North Korea Oil Potential to Ease Russian Grip
Michael Kohn and Yuriy Humber


DPRK asks Mongolia for food assistance

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

According to the Wall Street Journal:

At a courtesy call on the Mongolian president last week, Pyongyang’s new ambassador made a request for food aid, according to the official website for the head of state.

“North Korea may face (a) severe food shortage,” Ambassador Hong Gyu told President Elbegdorj, according to the account. Mr. Hong then asked for Mongolia to consider the possibility of delivering food aid to North Korea, the account said.

North Korea’s toughest part of the year for food begins in April and runs through September, when the annual corn harvest begins. Kwon Tae-jin, a scholar on North Korean agriculture in Seoul said that last year’s yield was moderate, but not sufficient to tide the country over.

“We’ve learned that while rations are being delivered, it varies region by region,” said Dr. Kwon, a director at the Korea Rural Economic Institute in Seoul. “But it isn’t sufficient to go around for everyone.”

Here is some information from the web site of the president of Mongolia:

Today, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to Mongolia Hong Gyu presented a letter of Credence to the President of Mongolia Ts.Elbegdorj. The ceremony of presentation of credentials was followed by brief reception organized in honor of new envoy. At the meeting President Elbegdorj said that this year is the 65th year anniversary of diplomatic relations between Mongolia and North Korea and noted that the bilateral relationship between the two countries will further strengthen. Mr. Hong Gyu conveyed the greetings of the Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un and mentioned of his invitation to visit North Korea. Also, Mr. Hong Gyu noted that North Korea is committed to intensify economic reform. In response, President Elbegdorj expressed Mongolia’s interest to share its experience of economic reform.

At the meeting, both sides exchanged opinion on enhancing partnership in sport and cultural sector and discussed possibilities to bring North Korean basketball, football team and judokas to Mongolia to prepare for the international competitions.

Mr. Hong Gyu said “North Korea may face severe food shortage. Therefore, we ask Mongolia to learn possibilities of delivering food aid to North Korea”.

Read the full story here:
North Korea Asks Mongolia for Food Aid
Wall Street Journal
Jeyup S Kwaak


Rise in popularity of Rajin Port

Friday, November 30th, 2012

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

North Korea has focused on developing Rajin Port, located in the North Hamgyong Province, with the aim of attracting foreign investments.

China and Russia have already secured usage rights to these ports and Mongolia has expressed itsinterest in this endeavor. This indicates a rising popularity and competition to use these ports.

Mongolian parliamentary speaker, Zandaakhuu Enkhbold,met with the DPRK’s Supreme People’s Assembly Chairman and Korean Workers’ Party Secretary Choe Tae Bok on October 19 on his four-day visit to Ulan Bator, the capitol of Mongolia. The officials from both countries agreed on the future possibilities of bilateral trade and cooperation in the fields of information technology and human exchanges. Mongolia is landlocked and expressed interests in cooperating for port leaseswhile Chairman Choe expressed enthusiasm in cooperation in harbor, coal, and mining industries.

The day after the two leaders met, Choson Sinbo, Pyongyang’s mouthpiece in Japan, directly reported on the results of the talk, exposing North Korea’s positive reaction to leasing ports to Mongolians. According to the newspaper, “Rajin Port is the most convenient sea route for Mongolia.”

Mongolia’s and North Korea’s bilateral cooperation on Rajin Port has been received positively as it fits the economic interests of these two countries. For Mongolia, they are interested in exporting coal and other underground resources overseas, as the country is rich in underground resources such as coal, copper, gold, and uranium. However, these resources arecostly to export since Mongolia has to rely on Chinese and Russian railway systems.

Once it is able to obtain lease rights to the Rajin Port, Mongolia should be able to significantly reduce itsshipping costs. Thus far, Mongolia has exported coal mainly to China, but may intend to diversify exports to other countries once it is able to use the port at Rajin.

Furthermore, once freight trains between Hassan in the Far East region of Russia and Rajin begin to operate, it will make it possible for Mongolia to transport coal directly to Rajin Port.

North Korea is most likely to lease Pier No. 2 and Sonbong Port to Mongolia, which are currently not being usedby China or Russia.

More importantly, North Korea is turning to South Korean participation in the development of future Rajin Port development. Choson Sinbo reportedin an article on October 21 (under the title, “Hwanggumpyong and Rason”)that “We (North Korea) sincerely want North and South to cooperate for mutual prosperity through communication and join forces to advance economic cooperation larger than neighboring countries.”

Once inter-Korean relations improve and South Korea joins China, Russia, and Mongolia in the development of Rajin Port, other economic cooperation between these five countries is likely.


North Koreans working in Mongolia

Friday, October 14th, 2011

Pictured Above (Google Earth): Eermel Factory in Ulan Bator

Simon Ostrovsky, who produced this BBC piece on North Korean loggers in eastern Siberia, has produced a piece on North Korean workers in the Mongolian capital, Ulan Bator. I have posted his article in The Independent as well as a few related pieces and additional information below.

According to his article in The Independent:

Sitting astride rows of buzzing looms and distinguishable from their colleagues by the white make-up heavily applied to their faces, a few dozen North Korean women in a run-down Mongolian clothing factory are busily knitting garments to please minders from their Communist state.

They are part of a North Korean labour force tens-of-thousands strong, put in place across Asia to help the Stalinist regime meet its financial targets. And British consumers are unwittingly filling the dictatorship’s pockets through these workers, an investigation in Mongolia by The Independent and the investigative journalism project WorldView has found.

Sent in their hundreds, under an agreement between Mongolia and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the North Korean workers take jobs on construction sites and in factories across this Central Asian state, where they are closely monitored by overseers from their homeland. Some of them were found to be producing goods for popular UK clothing brands such as Edinburgh Woollen Mill (EWM).

“They’re hard workers, they don’t complain and they get stuck in, they’re quite skilled,” said David Woods, a British textiles professional brought on as a specialist at the Eermel clothing factory in the Mongolian capital, Ulan Bator. North Korea has been able to transplant elements of its highly centralised state to Mongolia, where labourers keep to a tight schedule dictated by their embassy for the duration of their three-year contracts. They also have to seek permission to speak to outsiders, unlike their Mongolian co-workers.

Mr Woods showed a reporter a James Pringle-brand cashmere sweater made for EWM with a £140 price-tag already affixed, ahead of shipment to the UK, as he gave a tour of the factory. He described how its 80 female North Korean employees were housed and fed on site under a scheme managed by North Korea’s embassy, earning up to £200 per month.

Another Eermel employee told The Independent that the women’s labour fed the coffers of the North Korean regime, echoing the North Korean practice across Asia where tens of thousands of North Koreans are estimated to be employed on behalf of their government. “We are paying to Korean workers like Mongolians, the same salary,” said Bayar, Eermel’s director for exports, who like many Mongolians uses only one name. “But… we are transferring the money to the account of the [North Korean] embassy. How they split the salary, we don’t know.”

It’s a surprising move for a regime that regularly tries to keep its citizens in the dark about world events and strictly controls access to information at home. The fact that North Korea has allowed so many of its citizens to leave and glimpse the outside world reflects the severe economic situation the country has faced since the collapse of its one-time sponsor, the Soviet Union, and, more recently, international sanctions over its nuclear-weapons programme. It’s also an example of how Pyongyang has been able to adapt and continue profiting from a globalised economy while keeping most of its population at arm’s length.

In Mongolia, the practice goes back to 2004, according to leaked US embassy cables released by WikiLeaks in August. The cables, penned in 2006, describe how a representative of North Korea, who was “extremely professional in both manner and appearance”, approached a Canadian-owned gold mine to offer workers for $1.50 (90p) per day.

Another 2006 cable says: “The working and living conditions of these labourers raise the concern that they are subject to coercion, and are not free to leave their employment… the DPRK workers are monitored closely by ‘minders’ from their government, and many are believed to be subject to DPRK government pressure because of family members left behind in North Korea. The workers reportedly do not routinely receive direct and full salary.”

North Korea watchers warned that the work-abroad programmes should not be seen as a step by Pyongyang towards more openness. “As far as the regime is concerned, sending groups of people to foreign countries where they don’t speak the language and can be sequestered in barracks or factory dorms is a much safer option than granting to foreign investors in North Korea the kind of freedom and mobility they demand,” Brian Myers, a Seoul-based North Korea analyst, said.

The scheme has been hugely successful with businesses in Mongolia, which are attracted by the North Koreans’ rock-bottom labour costs and an unparalleled work ethic. One of the few countries with warm ties to the Stalinist state, Mongolia has increased its quota of North Koreans allowed to work in the country from 2,200 to 3,000 in 2011, according to the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare.

The workers are even more popular in Russia, where 21,000 laboured in the first quarter of 2010 alone, according to the Russian migration agency. And many more are believed to be working in China, where the statistics are not made public.

Part of that army of workers are the seamstresses at Eermel, a hulking Soviet-era cashmere factory in the Mongolian capital that produces sweaters and other cashmere garments for the EWM retail chain and a number of lesser-known UK labels including Hush, Moray and Brodie. Clothing racks in Germany, Italy, Australia, Japan and beyond are also stocked with Eermel garments, according to Mr Woods. That means international isolation has not stopped North Korea from tapping global consumer markets.

North Korea’s culture of secrecy makes it difficult to get accurate data on the workers’ contract terms. The private interests using its labour force seem to understand that continued co-operation depends on maintaining the code of silence. After a short phone call to the North Korean embassy, Eermel factory officials refused to allow The Independent to interview any of its North Korean employees.

And at the Mongolian foreign ministry, officials were tight-lipped about how much the North Koreans’ labour is worth to Pyongyang in cash transfers, preferring to focus on benefits to the individual labourers. “For the families of the individuals who work [here] that could be helpful,” State Secretary Tsogtbaatar Damdin said. But when asked if he knew what portion of their salaries the North Korean labourers were allowed to keep, he said: “If they owe some commitments to their county we would rather not intervene in that area.”

The deal could be worth over £7m annually to North Korea if the Eermel factory workers’ wages are representative of those across Mongolia. It’s no small sum when compared to North Korea’s gross national product, estimated by the CIA to equal only $40bn in 2008. EWM, for its part, confirmed that it was supplied by the Eermel factory in Mongolia and that there were North Koreans among the workforce there, but said it was told by the factory that the North Koreans’ wages were paid directly to the workers, not the North Korean government.

The Scottish company quoted Eermel as telling it: “We do not pay any commission to the North Korean government, any North Korean Agency or anyone else. We pay the workers directly.” That stands in stark contrast to what The Independent was told by factory officials in Mongolia. But even though their contract terms are secret and are likely in violation of a raft of international agreements on workers’ rights, the practice has its supporters among North Korea watchers. They believe North Koreans working abroad will share their experiences of the outside world when they return home, perhaps in the long run leading to social and political change within the country.

“It’s every North Korean worker’s dream to be selected [to work abroad],” Andrei Lankov, a professor of Korean studies at Kookmin University in Seoul, said. “They cannot make even remotely as much inside North Korea. And on top of that, they are coming back and they bring knowledge about the outside world. They are closely supervised and they have to be very cautious, because their families back in North Korea are essentially hostages, but… this knowledge in the long run is going to change North Korean society.”

There is evidence that the North Korean workers will go to extreme lengths to avoid going home and live in perpetual fear that their minders will make them do so. “I met one man who broke his arm and was hiding it from his superiors for over a month because he was afraid he’d get sent back to North Korea if they found out about it,” said Koh Kwang Sub, a member of the South Korean business community in Ulan Bator. Mr Koh, who owns a local pharmacy, said he was able to meet workers and hand out medical supplies every few weeks when their managers were away. “It would be nice if they could work here and go back home safely, but they have no medical help and sustain a lot of work-related injuries,” he said.

The fully stocked store shelves and proliferation of mobile phones here must come as a surprise to a first-time visitor brought up to think North Korea is the world’s most advanced nation. Has the realisation led many of the workers to try defecting? “I really can’t talk about that,” said Ha Kyeong Yun, a South Korean entrepreneur who employs 30 North Korean army veterans at his farm in the northern Mongolian town of Sharin Gyol. But the answer is probably that very few, if any, have. “Their hierarchy is very rigid. They’re from the military and they maintain their rank relations.”

It’s also no coincidence that all of the male North Korean workers are at least 40-years old. All have families back home who would pay the price for what amounts to a crime against the state under the country’s system of hereditary discipline.

All of this makes the North Koreans very dedicated workers. At Eermel, Mr Woods said he was very proud of the company’s hard-won relationship with EWM and praised the North Korean staff. “Why they come over from North Korea to Mongolia I’m not entirely certain,” he said. “They work hard and we’re happy to have them here.”

A global market

Mongolia The practice of using North Korean workers goes back to at least 2004. A new deal was signed in 2008 that allowed for more than 5,000 workers to come to Mongolia until 2013. There are currently around 3,000 in the country.

Russia There are some 21,000 North Korean workers in the far east of the country, where they work in logging camps. They reportedly have just two rest days a year.

China No reliable statistics exist, but there are thought to be thousands of North Koreans working in China. The numbers in Dandong, a city close to the border, is said to have soared in recent years.

Here is a related story in the Daily NK.

Here is some information on Eermel (Evseg):

Founded in 1982 and privatized in 1994, Eermel (Evseg TM) is on its way to becoming a strong competitor in the world market of quality cashmere and camel wool products. Today, it is the second largest manufacturer of Cashmire in Mongolia, after Gobi Cashmere Industry.

Presently, Eermel has over 600 workers and has capacity of washing 500.0 tons and de-hairing 90.0 tons annually, making it highly efficient in key segments of Cashmire production. The company now has four production lines of textile, knitting, sewing and quilting, and produces more than 380 different types of end-products available for customers to purchase at prestige stores throughout Mongolia. The company exports dehaired cashmere to Switzerland, China, United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan and the USA, and exports knitted yarns to Japan, Italy, China, United Kingdom and Mexico. Russia continues to be the largest recipient of Eermel Cashmire exports.

In addition to Cashmire, Eermel is Mongolian trading company that trades in coal, cobalt and copper and is also an importer of consumer goods to Mongolia. 50 percent of Eermel’s shares are owned by the everyday workers of the plant.

The company has been selling public shares since November 28, 1992 with the initial price of 100 MNT per 1 unit of stock.


Jin Hualin, Yanbian University, on Chinese investment in DPRK.

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

Jin Hualin, dean of the College of Economics and Management at Yanbian University, talks about Chinese investment in Rason in China’s Global Times.  Here is an excerpt:

GT: If China does continue to rent Rajin harbor for another 10 years, what will the effects be?

Jin: China has reached an agreement to rent a pier at Rajin Port for another decade. A Dalian-based Chinese company has invested 26 million yuan ($3.8 million) in the reconstruction of Rajin Port No.1 Pier. Park also said that China may enjoy more favorable conditions there, such as more berths.

I think Chinese companies’ participation is good for promoting the North Korean economy and building logistical infrastructure in the area, which is beneficial to China, North Korea and the Northeast Asian countries.

When the Sino-Mongolia route is finished, raw materials and natural resources from Mongolia can be shipped to Japan and South Korea via Rajin harbor, and then China’s northeastern regions and North Korea can both benefit.

GT: What should China do to promote Northeast Asian cooperation and devel-opment?

Jin: I suggest Chinese governments at all levels consider the following issues. They should accelerate trade and tourism and build cooperation on logistics, and support Chinese companies going global and investing in North Korea.

Actually, China now has many companies capable of investing abroad. The point is foreign countries’ investment environment.

We should strengthen cooperation on education with North Korean universities and colleges, sending students to study there and exploring research in new areas together.

We can also strengthen regional cooperation. We can designate China’s Hunchun city and North Korea’s Rason city as pilot cities and permit China’s commercial banks to open yuan-based accounts in Rason’s commercial banks.

Relations between Northeast Asian countries are subtle and complicated because of geopolitical contradictions, different political systems, the influence of the Cold War, historical issues, territorial disputes and sentiments caused by historical and territorial issues.

Mutual distrust fundamentally hinders cooperation. China needs to take the responsibility to promote regional cooperation and make it institutionalized and legally guaranteed as soon as possible.

GT: How do you evaluate the political and economic risks for Chinese companies going into North Korea? What advantages do Chinese companies have?

Jin: There are always political and economic risks involved in trade between different countries. The first major solution is to establish a mutual investment guarantee agreement, so that the two countries’ economic cooperation will be protected legally.

We hope that North Korea can keep the stability and consistency of its policies and issue development policies that is in line with international conventions. As long as North Korea adopts consistent policies, Chinese companies won’t encounter great political and economic risks there.

China and North Korea are believed to enjoy good mutual trust. China has experience from its reform and opening-up and plenty of investment capability. North Korea has a good educational foundation, low labor costs, and rich natural resources.

Chinese companies are active participants in investing in North Korea and I believe they’ll do well there.

Read the full interview here. Hat tip to Adam.


Mongolia to hire North Korean workers

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

From Daily Business News Mongolia:

At the submission of the Government of Mongolia, the Parliament ratified Mongolia-North Korea Inter-governmental Agreement on exchanging work forces on the 20th of July, 2007. According to the Agreement, Ministry of Social Welfare and Labor of Mongolia is to negotiate in the near future with Foreign Trade Ministry on realizing the agreement and exchange of work force, especially number and need of work force, the minimum wage /by USD/, labor conditions /normal and abnormal/, social welfare /social insurance/ and therefore those interested in employing North Korean wok force in 2009 should formulate their TORs accurately as well as submit them to the MSWL within 23 July. Currently orders should be submitted on the basis of position vacancy since number of workers is not specified yet.

Read more here.


IFES Monthly report

Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)


Following two days of talks between economic representatives of the two Koreas at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, South Korea announced on July 7 that it would begin shipping raw materials to the North in exchange for DPRK natural resources. South Korea shipped 800,000 USD of polyester fabric on July 25, and is set to send the rest of the materials by the end of November. North Korea accepted South Korean prices for the goods, and will pay transportation, cargo working, and demurrage costs, as well. South Korea will pay for shipping, insurance, and the use of port facilities. On 28 July, a South Korean delegation left for the North in order to conduct on-site surveys of three zinc and magnesite mines. The team will spend two weeks in North Korea.

It was reported on 17 July that North Korea proposed a joint fishing zone north of the ‘Northern Limit Line’ dividing North and South territorial waters to the west of the peninsula. Seoul turned down the offer.

Inter-Korean military talks broke down early on 26 July after only three days of negotiations as North Korea insisted on the redrawing of the Northern Limit Line.

North Korea demanded on 27 July that workers in the Kaesong Industrial Complex be given a 15 percent pay raise. The North Korean workers will not work overtime, weekends or holidays beginning in August unless the raise is granted.

It was reported by the Korea International Trade Association on 26 July that inter-Korean trade was up 28.6 percent in the first six months of 2007, totaling 720 million USD.


It was reported on 19 July that Russia and North Korea have agreed to connect Khasan and Najin by rail, enlisting investment from Russian oil companies interested in an inactive refinery at Najin Port capable of processing up to 120,000 barrels per day. The project is estimated to cost over two billion USD.


During a four-day visit to Mongolia by Kim Yong-nam beginning on 20 July, the two countries signed protocols on cooperation on health and science, trade and sea transport, and labor exchange issues. This follows on the heals of an agreement to allow South Korean trains to travel through North Korean territory on to Mongolia in route to Russia and Europe.


Japan took one step further to recover abductees in North Korea this month when the government began broadcasting propaganda into the DPRK intended for Japanese citizens. The broadcasts are made in Korean and Japanese (30 minutes each) daily, and updated once per week.


U.S. Ambassador to the ROK Alexander Vershbow stated that Washington was prepared to negotiate a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula by the end of the year if North Korea were to completely abandon its nuclear ambitions.



The Egyptian company Orascom Construction Industries announced a 115 million USD deal with North Korea’s state-owned Pyongyang Myongdang Trading Corporation to purchase a 50 percent state in Sangwon Cement. To put this in perspective, the deal in worth more than four times the amount of frozen DPRK funds that had caused six-party talks to break down and delayed the implementation of the February 13 agreement.


The Economist reported on 7 July that, according to foreigners living in the North’s capital, concern for petty law appears to be weakening. Citizens are reportedly smoking in smoke-free zones, sitting on escalator rails, and even blocking traffic by selling wares on the streets.

It was reported on July 11 that a letter sent earlier in the year by the North Korean Red Cross indicated severe shortages of medical supplies. The letter stated that North Korea would accept any medicine, even if it was past expiration, and accept all consequences for any problems that arose from using outdated supplies. The (South) Korea Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association had no choice but to reject the request.

Events were held on July 11 in North Korea in order to promote women’s health and well-being issues. Marking World Population Day, a North Korean official stated that the DPRK has cooperated with the UN Population Fund since 1986, and is now in the fourth phase of cooperation.

Seeing entertainment venues as a “threat to society”, North Korean security forces have been implementing a shutdown of karaoke bars and Internet cafes. These venues mainly cater to traders in the northern regions of the country.

It was reported on July 13 that construction of North Korea’s first all-English language university was nearing completion. The Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, funded largely by ROK and U.S. Christian evangelical groups, will hold 2600 students and offer undergraduate and post-graduate degrees in business administration, information technology, and agriculture.

Local elections were held on 29 July for DPRK provincial, city, and country People’s Assemblies. 100 percent of 27,390 candidates were approved with a 99.82 percent turnout reported.


UNDP Tumen River Program

Saturday, December 9th, 2006

Official Web Page:

Northeast Asia can be considered the last major economic frontier on the Asian continent.  The region has enormous economic potential, but this potential can only be realised through dynamic cooperation and sharing of resources.

Recognising Northeast Asia’s considerable potential and geopolitical significance, UNDP in 1991 agreed to support the initiative of the countries in the region to establish an institutional mechanism for regional dialogue and further cooperation.   For the past twelve years, the Tumen River Area Development Programme has facilitated economic cooperation among the five member countries: China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Mongolia, the Republic of Korea (ROK), and the Russian Federation.  The member countries are equally represented in the Consultative Commission for the Development of the Tumen River Economic Development Area and Northeast Asia, which meets annually at Vice Ministerial level.

The main objectives of the Tumen Programme are to:

  • attain greater growth and sustainable development for the peoples and countries in Northeast Asia, and the Tumen Region in particular;
  • identify common interests and opportunities for cooperation and sustainable development;
  • increase mutual benefit and mutual understanding;
  • strengthen economic, environmental and technical cooperation; and
    work to ensure that the Tumen Region is attractive for international investment, trade and business.

The first phase of the Tumen Programme involved extensive planning and background studies.  An interim phase focused on investment promotion and development initiatives designed to build momentum for the region as a growth triangle.  The second phase built on the institutional framework for regional cooperation created by the multilateral agreements concluded in 1995.  The third – and current – phase continues to address factors fundamental to regional economic cooperation and is designed to ensure the sustainability of this regional cooperation framework.

Why the Focus on the Tumen Region?
The Tumen Region has great potential as a major entrepot for international trade because of the strategic location of the Tumen transport corridor, the strong complementarities of the Tumen River Area, vast natural and human resources, and the area’s accessibility to the resources and markets of Northeast Asia.

Northeast China and Mongolia are landlocked and therefore have a strong interest in access to ports in DPRK and the Russian Far East.  Overseas shippers also have a stake in the Tumen transport corridor, for it offers a much shorter route to affluent and new markets, and facilitates transit trade to a number of destinations.

The local governments in the Tumen Region have been steadfast supporters of the Tumen Programme since its inception.  It appears that central governments in Northeast Asia are now re-emphasising the value of the Tumen Region, particularly its strategic transport corridor.  Northeast Asian governments are rapidly improving the Tumen Region’s infrastructure network and transport services.  They are also working to create legal and institutional mechanisms conducive to cross-border trade and transport.  The Tumen Programme is actively facilitating the creation of an enabling environment through “soft” infrastructure and human capacity building.

Why is Regional Cooperation so Important?
Regional cooperation is a vital part of the development process and a building block for effective participation in world trade and capital markets.  For the Tumen Region, which partly consists of small and remote areas of large countries, economic cooperation is an effective way to avoid marginalisation.  Cross-border cooperation also helps resolve environmental issues and facilitates the adoption of international environmental standards.  Most importantly, enhanced economic cooperation in Northeast Asia helps improve political relations and stability, in turn vital elements for investment and economic growth.

It is worth recalling how remote and closed the Tumen Region was just a dozen years ago, to appreciate the full significance of its role as a frontier for economic cooperation in Northeast Asia.  Much has been achieved during the Tumen Programme’s existence, particularly in terms of opening borders and increasing interaction in a region that was, until recently, tense and largely closed.  A new trade and transport corridor has been created, which will – in time – evolve into an economic corridor with a significant impact on poverty reduction and improved living standards in the region.

The Future of the Tumen Programme
The prevailing political and economic climate in the region has altered dramatically since the start of the Tumen Programme in 1991.  The Soviet Union has dissolved, China and ROK have established diplomatic relations and a major trading partnership, and there has been a degree of rapprochement between DPRK and ROK.  The transition to stronger economic systems in the countries that relied on the Soviet Comecon trading system has reinforced the logic of economic cooperation in the Tumen Region.  The increased participation of DPRK, Mongolia and the Russian Far East, combined with the rapid expansion of the Chinese economy, will help the Northeast Asian economy grow.

Dynamic cooperation has found increasing expression in Northeast Asia, and relations in the region continue to improve, helped by stronger economic links.  Despite major improvements in the geopolitical circumstances of the region, however, much remains to be done.  The Tumen Programme is the only initiative that brings the member countries together on a sub-regional basis, and its existing institutional structure and multilateral agreements should be utilised to maximum effect to help Northeast Asia achieve peace and prosperity.



N. Korea inks cooperation pact with Mongolia

Tuesday, September 12th, 2006

From Yonhap:

North Korea on Tuesday signed an agreement on diplomatic cooperation with Mongolia, the North’s state-controlled media said.

The agreement was signed by Kim Yong-il, North Korea’s vice foreign minister, and Mongolian Ambassador to Pyongyang Janchivdorjyn Lomvo, reported the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), monitored here.

The news agency, however, failed to provide details on the contents of the agreement.

North Korea and Mongolia established diplomatic relations in 1948. Mongolia closed its embassy in Pyongyang in August 1999 before reopening it five years later.

The KCNA also reported North Korean parliamentary representatives held a meeting with an Indonesian parliamentary delegation to discuss ways of promoting bilateral cooperation.

“Both sides exchanged views on issues of mutual concern and ways of furthering the relations between the parliaments of the two countries amid growing bilateral cooperation in various fields,” the news agency said.

The Indonesian delegation arrived in Pyongyang on Monday.