Archive for the ‘Korea Taepung International Investment Group (Daepung Investment Group)’ Category

Kumgang Resort operational status (UPDATED)

Monday, July 14th, 2014

Pictured above (Google Earth): April 2010 satellite imagery of the Kumgang tourist resort

The Kumgang resort was receiving 400,000 visitors per year until in July 2008 it became the scene of a terrible tragedy, the shooting of a South Korean tourist. Following the incident, the South Korean government prohibited its citizens from visiting the resort until the DPRK allowed a joint-Korean investigation of the shooting and made a guarantee of future safety.  The DPRK never agreed to these terms so the park fell idle.

The suspension of the project has cost the DPRK government millions of dollars. In response it has moved to pressure the ROK government to change course and allow the tours to resume. Below I have kept a timeline of the course of these events and their outcomes.


2014-7-14: The Hankyoreh marks July 11–the 6th anniversary of the day when tours to Mt. Keumgang in North Korea were suspended. 

“As a result of the suspension of tourism to Mt. Keumgang, we have lost nearly 1 trillion won [US$981 million], including the 300 billion won [US$294.32 million] invested in the facilities and an estimated 530 billion won in lost revenue,” the investors said. They urged the governments of North and South Korea to immediately hold working-level talks to resume tourism to Mt. Keumgang and to hold reunions for divided families.

“The position of the government is that the issue of the safety of its citizens must be resolved before it can allow tours to Mt. Keumgang to resume. In addition, given the continuing UN Security Council sanctions in response to North Korea’s nuclear and missile testing, which occurred after tours to Mt. Keumgang were halted, we think that the tours cannot be resumed until the government indicates that doing so would not be in violation of UN sanctions,” said Ministry of Unification spokesperson Kim Ui-do during a regular press briefing on July 11.

2012-11-27: The Hankyoreh reports that North Korea provided a written guarantee for the safety of tourists at Mt. Kumkang during 2010 working level talks with the South Korean government.

2011-9-6: South Korea asks foreigners not to invest in Kumgang saying such investments would violate existing property rights.

2011-9-6: Park Chol-su, head of Daepung International Investment Group, said he wants to discuss with South Korea’s Hyundai Asan how to handle its assets at the North’s Mount Kumgang.

2011-8-31: Chinese tourists arrive in Kumgang on Mangyongbong.

2011-8-30: South Korea calls for international boycott of Kumgangsan resort

2011-8-28: Taephung Investment Group outlines new Kumgang business plan

2011-8-24: Kumgang opened to DPRK and Chinese toursits

2011-8-23: South Korean workers leave Kumgang

2011-8-22: DPRK orders expulsion of remaining South Korean staff, auctioning of assets

2011-8-19: Hyundai officials visit Kumgang amid dispute over fate of company assets

2011-8-6: Steve Parks claims he has signed an MOU with the DPRK government

2011-6-2: “DPRK Law on Special Zone for International Tour of Mt. Kumgang” released. PDF of the statute here.

2011-4-29: SPA designates Kumgang special zone

2011-4-1: DPRK rescinds Hyundai’s Kumgang contract rights

2010-11-15: Kumgang re-fozen

2010-10-31: Family reuniuons were held there in October/November

2010-8-7: DPRK using Kumgagn assets to serve tourists in the North

2010-5-16: Taephung shows Chinese investors Kumgang

2010-5-3: Most South Korean and Chinese employees leave

2010-4-25: The National Defense Commission takes over the properties and puts the Korea Taepung International Investment Group in charge of attracting investors and tourists to the resort.

2010-4-23: Seoul denounces the seizure

2010-4-11: Chinese tourists began arriving at the resort (here and here).

2010-4-11: Employees told to leave/sealed up

2010-4-11:The DPRK “seizes” the Hyundai properties in the Kumgang resort

2010-3-24: Investors worried about losing out

2010-3-18: DPRK threatens to seize Kumgang Resort

2010-3-18: Hyundai-Asan’s chief offers to resign

2010-3-10: DPRK threatens to revoke contracts with South Korean partner, Hyundai-Asan


Taepung International Investment Group allegedly dissolved

Friday, February 1st, 2013

According to Yonhap:

North Korea dissolved a well-known state-run company in charge of attracting foreign investment due to its unsatisfactory performance, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said Friday.

“Daepung International Investment Group seems to have been disbanded, probably due to poor performance,” a ministry official said in a briefing on governmental and personnel changes taken under the Kim Jong-un regime over the past year.

The country also broke up another extra-governmental organization in charge of trade promotion and foreign investment with its work believed to have been reassigned to the government’s Commission for Joint Venture and Investment, according to the official.

Daepung Group was established at the instruction of the North’s highest political body, the National Defense Commission, in January 2010 as a means to attract foreign investment.

The group oversaw the now-suspended joint tourist program in Mount Kumgang on the eastern coast of North Korea.

The cross-border program had served as a cash cow for the North before Seoul halted it in 2008 following the shooting death of a South Korean tourist at the resort.

Additional Information:

1. Previous posts on the Taepung Investment Group can be found here.

2. NK Leadership Watch has an excellend review of the organization here.

3. The “Commission for Joint Venture and Investment” is also known as the Joint Venture Investment Committee (JVIC). See JVIC posts here.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea dissolves state-run firm in charge of attracting foreign investment: gov’t


North Korea presents favorable conditions to foreign investors

Monday, July 30th, 2012

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

The Beijing branch of the Joint Venture and Investment Committee of North Korea (JVIC), called the Choson Investment Office, announced on July 18 of various preferential conditions to foreign investors and employment conditions on its website.

The Choson Investment Office opened its doors this year and is the only overseas branch of the JVIC, in charge not only of securing foreign capital but cultural and science and technology exchanges and cooperation.

The website posted an article titled, “Problems Investors Face,” which provided useful information for foreign investors in a question and answer format.

In the article, the employment conditions for workers were included. The minimum monthly wage for workers in North Korea was set at 30 euros or about 42,000 KRW. In addition, foreign companies must pay 7 euros to each employee separately as social insurance. Overtime pay also needs to be paid and at the event of work related injuries or illness, the company is responsible for handling the situation with its board of directors.

In comparison, the minimum monthly wage for North Korean employees in the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) is 110 USD or about 125,000 KRW.

As for preferential tax policies, foreign-capital companies that are not joint venture are exempt from certain taxes including tariffs on exports and resource tax for the development of mines.

North Korea will bear the land use tax, which is 1 euro per square meter, and China and other foreign investors will have no restriction for mining the underground resources.

The income tax rate for the foreign capital companies was specified at 25 percent and business tax between 2 to 10 percent will be collected from transportation, power, commerce, trade, finance, insurance, tourism, advertisement, hotel and entertainment industries.

Power is the main concern for most foreign companies and it will be provided at 0.053 euro per 1,000 kilowatt. The DPRK’s central trade guiding organ will oversee the setting of prices of goods while the trademark rights will belong to the company.

The DPRK’s Joint Venture and Investment Committee was expanded and reorganized in July 2010 from Joint Venture and Investment Bureau, with main activities centered around Hwanggumpyong Island and Rajin-Sonbong development.

The main agents for foreign currency earnings are the cabinet, military, JVIC, and Daepung International Investment Group*. Most of the trading companies are affiliated with one of the four groups.

In March, JVIC announced through the KCNA that “As the investment environment is favorably changing, joint venture and investment contracts are increasing. Investment interests from large companies are rising especially in our abundant rare-earth and underground resources as well as building railroads, roads, and power plants.”

*IFES and Choson Exchange previously discussed the merger of JVIC and “Daephung”


North Korea to announce new economic development plan and organizational restructuring

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

North Korea is likely to make an official announcement of its new economic development plan in April to commemorate the centennial anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birthday, which is also celebrated as a national holiday in North Korea as the “Day of the Sun.” In addition to the new economic plan, North Korea is also planning to align organizations and establish appropriate legislations in the foreign economic sector. The Daepung Group was recently consolidated with the Joint Venture and Investment Committee (JVIC).

According to an unnamed North Korean source, “many organizations in North Korea with overlapping functions or with unsatisfactory performance were merged as a part of promotion of North Korean socialism. The Daepung Group was merged as a bureau under the JVIC.”

The two chiefs of the Daepung International Investment Group (Daepung Group) were Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) Unification Strategy Department Director Kim Yang Gun, who served as the chairman of the board, and Pak Chol Su, a Korean-Chinese businessman, who headed the group as the president and elected standing vice-chairman. They were in charge of attracting large foreign investment needed for the “10-Year State Strategic Plan for Economic Development (2011-2020).”

The WPK Director of Administration Jang Song Thaek is in charge of the Daepung Group and the JVIC and is likely to have ordered the merge of the two organizations to increase work efficiency. Kim Yang Gun’s position as the head of Daepung weakened after the souring of inter-Korean relations despite his efforts to bring investment from the South. As a result, Kim will likely step down from his position and Pak Chol Su and the executive management of the JVIC will likely manage the Daepung Group in the future.

The JVIC has also faced changes in its organization with the appointment of Ri Gwang Gun as the new head of the JVIC. Other foreign investment companies and related organizations were merged and the roles of the directors were revised.

The Beijing office of the JVIC has opened its doors in December 30 last year. North Korea is likely to dispatch experts and professionals from various organizations to provide “one-stop service” to attract more investment to North Korea, starting from this April.

Kim Chol Jin is the person in charge of the JVIC Beijing Office. The Rason Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and Hwanggumpyong SEZ will have a change in leadership, as Hong Suk Hyong will replace Kim Il Young as the new vice-chairman.

The previous chairman of the JVIC, Ri Su Yong, who was also the former ambassador of the DPRK to Switzerland, is now serving as the new advisor to Kim Jong Un at the Secretary’s Office.


*Addendum: Choson Exchange has been talking about this for a couple of months.  See posts here (2012-3-4),  here (2010-2-13) and here (2012-1-10).


Choson Exchange with a JVIC update

Monday, February 13th, 2012

According to Choson Exchange:

As we mentioned recently, Ri Chol, the broker of the Orascom deal, has moved on from JVIC. Where he has gone is not yet certain, but the choice for his replacement is interesting.

Ri Gwang Gun is the new head of JVIC and was introduced as such to the CEO of Orascom last week. Ri Gwang Gun has held various positions related to trade, including executive positions at state owned enterprises and as Minister of Foreign Trade. He apparently reports to Kim Yang Gon.

He was (is?) a Daepung Investment Group man. We’ve speculated that the existence of both Daepung and JVIC reflected a kind of “competition at the top” for influence in attracting and managing investments. They were both formed around the same time in 2009/2010 and have similar charges. Therefore, Ri Gwang Gun’s promotion could indicate a potential harmonizing of this competition.

Of course, the contours of this are difficult to see. Daepung, with stronger ties to the NDC, could be construed as taking over the JVIC from the top; perhaps the military has been able to exert itself to make sure that in the new leadership era, it does not get shut out of the investment game. (JVIC has become the more active and influential of the two groups.)

It could also be seen as a victory for JVIC, with Daepung being left to crumble and the top talent from that group being brought across. It remains to be seen if there will be some kind of exodus from either group.

Perhaps, also, it is some kind of compromise and a merger of sorts, with competing groups of elites ‘buying in’ to a unified system of investment management under the JVIC brand. They may see this as a way to increase effectiveness, avoid the negative outcomes of unfettered intra-elite competition and therefore encourage stability overall.


Daepung International Investment Group established in North Korea: Goals for economic development from 2010 to 2020 set

Friday, October 14th, 2011

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

North Korea’s Daepung International Investment Group, Ltd (Daepung Group) has announced its “Main Target Areas for Economic Development,” with plans to attract foreign investments for the next decade.

Daepung Group presented the “The DPRK’s Main Areas of Economic Development (2010 to 2020)” which included an outline of “Main Targets of Economic Development.” In it were specific plans outlining economic development projects. The projects are separated into industrial, transportation, energy and agricultural development sectors.

North Korean media has reported on the “Ten-year Strategy Plan for National Economic Development,” which was passed by the DPRK Cabinet earlier this year. As a part of the national economic development strategy plan, North Korean authorities commissioned the Daepung Group to fully take the lead in achieving the major targets of the national economic development plan which include substructure construction, agriculture, power, coal, oil, and metal; with heavy emphasis placed on basic industries and regional development as the main sectors for development.

The industrial districts under the target for development are Kim Chaek Mine and Refinery Complex, Chongjin Heavy Industrial Complex, Nason [Rason] Petrochemical Industrial Complex, and Nampo IT Industrial and Technology Complex.

Among the four, Chongjin Industrial Complex will be developed in an area of 50 square kilometers and investments running over 18 to 20 billion USD will be brought in over the next ten years for the construction of a shipyard, automobile manufacturing, electric equipment, and machinery factories and as well as a heavy industrial complex. As for the Nason Petrochemical Industrial Complex, it will be developed in an area of 20 square kilometers over the next ten years with similar amount of investments put in to construct a 20 million-ton capacity oil refinery, 1.2 million-ton capacity ethylene factories, and 1 million-ton fertilizer factories. The initial investments for the following projects are expected to be worth 1.5 million, 1.4 billion, and 8 billion USD, respectively.

Nampo IT Industrial and Technology Complex is expected to be developed at a 30 square kilometer site and is expected to receive 10 to 12 billion USD worth of investment over the next ten years. The development plans for Nampo will mainly focus on research and a combination of different industries in the areas of optical science, microsystems, information media, environmental biology, microelectronic and electronic information, energy science, and renewable energy development.

Kim Chaek Mine Refinery is expected to occupy about 500,000 square kilometers of land and 8 billion USD worth of investment will be brought in to build large-scale facilities such as a 120 million-ton harbor and 5 million-ton iron manufacturing factories. In the first stage of its development, Kim Chaek Iron and Steel Complex was to receive a capacity upgrade of 3 million tons, its harbor a 200,000-ton upgrade, and Musan Iron Ore Mine a 7 million-ton reconstruction upgrade from 2009 to 2011, with the cost expected to be worth 3 billion USD. However, the status of these reconstruction projects has not yet been confirmed.

According to the source, construction of transportation network will take place over the next ten years which includes building of double tracks in the railroad stretching 2,386 km, with the total distance running at 4,772 km. It is expected to cost about 9.6 billion USD. The specific route plans include tracks running from Pyongyang to Nason (780 km), Kim Chaek to Haesan (180 km), Pyongyang to Kaesong (186 km), for trains to run at the speed of 120 to 140 km/hr. In addition, other railroad linking projects are underway.

As for the highway routes, the Pyongyang-to-Nason highway will run about 870 km, Pyongyang to Shinuiju 240 km, Pyongyang to Kaesong 180 km, and other connection roads to mines are expected to stretch about 1,200 km. The entire cost of construction and reconstruction of highways is estimated to be about 15 billion USD.

Although most of the railway and roads have already been built, they are in serious need of repair and widening. This also includes linking the Tumen and Tonghua cities of China to North Korea.

In addition, there are also plans to upgrade Pyongyang International Airport, with an investment of 1.2 billion USD to be used to expand the airport’s capacity to accommodate up to 12 million people a year.

Agricultural development will mainly focus on increasing the size of agricultural pesticides factories to a capacity of 30,000 tons as well as improving the farming machinery and livestock industries.

As for electrical power development, 4 billion USD will be invested over the three years to develop coal mines which will be capable of producing 40 million tons. Specifically, mines in Anju will be upgraded to produce 30 million tons, mines in Bukchang 5 million tons, mines in Ryongdong 2 million tons, and mines in Onsong 5 million tons.

In addition, ten 60 kW thermoelectric power plants will be built across the nation including two in Pyongyang, two in Chongjin, four in Bukchang, two in Anju, one in Kim Chaek, and one in Najin. The plan is to secure 600kW of electric power over the five-year period by investing 50 billion USD.

In a written document, out of a total of 100 billion USD of investments, Daepung Group is planning to allocate 10 billion USD to the Industrial Development Bank, 54.5 billion USD to the Industrial Bank and 35.5 billion USD to basic energy and power sectors. The Industrial Development Bank was established in 2010 and has registered capital of about 10 billion USD and loan volume of 120 billion USD.

North Korea’s Daepung Group is pursuing the economic development plans under the guidance of the State General Bureauof Economic Development, as a part of the larger effort of the “Ten-year Strategy Plan for National Economic Development.” Although it is premature to measure the specific results of the plan, it is clear that focus has been placed on attracting more investments from China.


DPRK courting Coca Cola?

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

Pictured above, the DPRK’s local cola logo. Image source here.

UPDATE 1: Stephan Haggard believes this is a non-story.

ORIGINAL POST (2011-10-5): According to Forbes:

Global capital is an inherently lonely trade, but as Gabriel Schulze ambles into the conference room of Yanggakdo International Hotel, a towering edifice separated by a ring of water from the rest of Pyongyang, the most impenetrable capital in the world, it’s hard to imagine a more isolated business meeting.

“We warmly welcome you, the Coca-Cola delegation, with Mr. Schulze as your leader,” says Park Chol Su, the president of North Korea’s Taepung International Investment Group, singling out the 6-foot-7 American from his entourage of four people. “I hope this will be a good opportunity to make progress in the relations between the U.S. and Korea.”

Why is a U.S. businessman in Pyongyang pitching America’s most iconic consumer brand to the world’s most inhospitable marketplace? Because, surprisingly, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is ready to buy, and eager enough to flex its atrophied capitalistic muscles that it let a FORBES reporter follow along–and record everything–as the Coca-Cola discussions heated up.

Park says his Taepung Group, established by Kim Jong Il himself, wants to bring market principles to a planned economy, even down to setting what price a bottle of Coke made in Pyongyang would go for–sort of. “Costs are based on the demands of the market, but we will respect your price,” Park tells Schulze’s delegation. “If the price is too high, it will be restricted.”

North Korea, the most hidebound and repressive of socialist states, is slowly inviting not only China but also the wider Western World to invest in its near-moribund economy. Officials claim the country is open for business with outsiders, and that the political stripes of the investors do not matter as much as the money in their pockets and the willingness to deal. Chinese companies have signed a number of multimillion-dollar deals to extract resources and build and repair infrastructure, such as making port improvements in the northeastern region of Rason and paving a road from there to the Chinese border. Taepung also claims to have inked billiondollar contracts, including one to develop a huge coal mine, but those deals haven’t been nailed.

American signature brands may actually be most welcome, despite or perhaps because of decades of propaganda casting the U.S. as the devil incarnate. Pyongyang’s economic representatives made clear in this and other meetings, with focus and determination, that they want Yum Brands to open up KFC franchises.

Extreme wishful thinking though this may be, it’s linked to a planned ten-year revamp of the North Korean economy to expand national GDP from a meager $30 billion last year to $1 trillion by 2020. (The country can’t even feed its people; there is severe malnutrition in the countryside.) That all but impossible goal cannot be approached without an unshackling of enterprise, which may never occur, and massive help from the outside world, which may never come. The expression “reform and opening,” so familiar in China, is not yet politically acceptable language in Pyongyang. But North Korea’s courtship of the West has begun.

“Coke is strategic. I hope that Coke will serve as a bridge for relations between the two governments,” says Park, a slight man with a toothy smile and a taste for liquor, over a traditional Korean hot pot lunch and beer. Then, perhaps, sanctions could be lifted and more substantial investments could follow. “The door will be open to the whole world, not only China–even the U.S., even Western countries.”

But so far the West hasn’t come calling. North Korea remains in the dysfunctional totalitarian grip of Kim Jong Il. The regime is a defiant nuclear provocateur linked to proliferating weapons, drugs and counterfeit cash abroad, while operating a terrifyingly effective police state at home. Western companies will require more than the usual amount of persuasion. They will want something the North Koreans can’t possibly provide: a blessing from the White House.

That’s where Gabriel Schulze, scion of the Newmont Mining fortune, with a prospector’s taste for risk and opportunity, comes in. He has been surveying this forbidden market on the strength of informal connections to Coke and one of its bottlers, SABMiller, without either company’s toplevel approval–a Cold War-style mission that affords the higher-ups plausible deniability.

SABMiller sent a regional executive, at Schulze’s invitation, to the May meeting with Taepung Group, adding in a statement for this story, “We have no plans to invest in North Korea.” Coke turned down a request from Taepung Group (via Schulze) to visit this summer, and distanced itself from the remotest hint of soft-drink summitry with this statement: “No representative of the Coca-Cola Co. has been in discussions or explored opening up business in North Korea.”

Coke’s skittishness is striking from a company with a history of selling into almost any market–including such villainous or pariah states as Hitler’s Germany in the 1930s, Franco’s Spain and Pyongyang’s historical sponsors, China and the Soviet Union, in the 1980s (though Pepsi got to the Soviet Union first). North Korea is one of the last frontiers. “That is your task, to become a pioneer,” says Jang Gwang Ho, the senior North Korean official in the coterie greeting Schulze’s group.

Tall, blue-eyed and devout, Schulze is full-blooded pioneer. The great-great-grandson of Newmont founder William Boyce Thompson, he runs a family investment office out of Beijing, Schulze Global Investments, which specializes in China and difficult emerging markets.

While he has close ties to Republicans in U.S. politics, Schulze’s forays abroad, such as a cement plant in Ethiopia, are far from conservative. Schulze Global seeks “double bottom-line returns,” he says, profiting while helping poor emerging markets develop. Bringing Coke to North Korea would be historic, but he knows engagement with Pyongyang might be seen as a folly back home, both financially and politically.

“We understand that there’s a high likelihood that there could be all sorts of trouble and that we could end up losing money,” Schulze tells me after his trip. “There’s a lot of [U.S.North Korea] mistrust, there’s a lot of gamesmanship, and for us it’s not about pretending that that’s not there. We’re not in a little bubble of happiness.”

Would it even be legal for Coca-Cola to do business in North Korea, given international and U.S. sanctions? Those sanctions have proven to be narrow and permissive in practice, and there is no stricture against soft drinks (a sip of CocaCola is already imported, mostly from China, and sold to the few with disposable hard currency).

Hundreds of foreign businesses, most of them Chinese, have come into North Korea despite cautionary tales of investments gone bad, of officials changing the terms or the rules, soliciting bribes, demanding substantially higher payments or expropriating joint ventures.

And these businesses have made money. In a 2007 survey of 250 Chinese operations in North Korea, scholars Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland found 88% saying they could turn a profit. (A majority also reported paying bribes.) Enterprises routinely encounter difficulties, yet many persist, hopeful for economic liberalization.

At least one American investor has profited in North Korea as well: Schulze Global. Three times in 2008 it made loans of hundreds of thousands of dollars to mining companies to buy equipment and expand, and each was repaid. This summer Schulze lent an additional $1 million to finance a North Korean conglomerate’s purchases of corn to feed its workers. (He consulted with sanctions lawyers in America before making the loans and has filed notices with the U.S. Treasury Department.)

“That opened the doors” to the Coke project, Schulze says. Making the world’s favorite carbonated beverage in Pyongyang would be quite another matter, though. The country still operates on a planned economy and has difficulty even manufacturing plastic bottles and cans. The government barters for sugar from Castro’s Cuba and would probably have to import steel to build a Coke factory. And although the estimated per capita income is $1,200 a year, the Coke factory’s workers would be paid barely more than a dollar a day (low wages are a key selling point to foreign investors). Further, the nation is plagued with persistent food shortages that force the regime to rely on international aid. Does a country this poor have consumers for the iconic American drink?

The answer is yes, at least in the capital. Home to the privileged upper crust, or an eighth of the nation’s 24 million people, Pyongyang has a visibly robust elite economy. The city’s wide Stalinist thoroughfares, bereft of private automobiles five years ago, are now filled with tens of thousands of foreign cars, including American and Japanese brands.

Mobile phone use is common, with more than 300,000 accounts in the capital using the 3G network built by Egyptian telecom Orascom. That includes some of the city’s traffic women, famous for white gloves and powder-blue uniforms. With traffic lights now doing most of their work for them, one was spotted on the sidewalk jabbering into her cellphone.

The city’s new Pothonggang Department Store was fully stocked with imported fare to be had at prices in North Korean won that are affordable only at the black-market exchange rate (2,500 won to the dollar at the time, compared with the official rate of 100 won). Name brands like Heinz Ketchup (the equivalent of $4 a bottle), Mars bars (a little more than $4 per bag) and all manner of high-end liquors and cigarettes are on offer, usually imported from Europe or Asia. On another floor you can find imported sweaters, dresses and shoes.

The checkout lines run briskly in midafternoon, the shopping done mostly by women, many of them likely the wives of government officials and army officers. (Kim Jong Il showcased the store with a visit in December.) Out on the streets the proles shop for snacks and locally made sodas–typically fruity concoctions in glass bottles–at hundreds of kiosks throughout the city, mostly priced at the black market rate of 20 cents to 40 cents.

Those prices would be 25 times higher at government exchange rates and thus out of reach for almost all North Koreans on their official salaries–but hard currency is flowing into the capital, “through this and that channel,” Jang says, and is spent. “Although officially they are not receiving the salaries from the government in hard currency, they have! So they like to spend the hard currency for their children because the children like to drink the Coke,” he explains.

Jang, of course, is not a commoner or for that matter a typical North Korean apparatchik. He speaks fluent if idiosyncratic English, was educated partly in the U.K. and is married to a doctor. First vice president of Taepung Group, he has a dual appointment on a government body overseeing economic development. Over two days of meetings Jang exudes an almost relaxed air of detachment. He typically parries questions with humor and stories while puffing on Dunhill cigarettes and flashing a Longines watch. (The president of Taepung, Park Chol Su, is a Chinese national, chosen in part for his Chinese contacts and experience.)

Do North Koreans like to drink beer? asks Anton van Heerden, a South African who runs SABMiller’s Asian supply chain. Yes, especially a growing cadre of retirees. “I can see so many old men, over 60, normally in the evening if we look around the city, they are making a queue to buy the beer,” Jang says, adding with a laugh: “There are crazy people! A lot of people drink the beer–30 bottles in the evening! I don’t know how.”

Friendly though they are with Schulze, Jang and Park both make clear that they answer to a higher power, the leader they refer to only as “the top man,” “the General” or the “Dear Leader”: Kim Jong Il. Park was born to Korean parents in northeastern China in 1959, as Kim Il Sung’s regime recovered from the Korean War. Park built relationships with North Korean officials by selling them much-needed gasoline in the 1990s. He is a salesman again, puffing up his chest as he blusters about the will of the General to change North Korea’s economy, led by his Taepung Group.

Parse the bombast and you get a rare glimpse inside the complexities of power relationships. Park says he has never met the top man and instead takes his instructions from a close Kim confidant, 73-year-old Kim Yang Gon, who is chief of the United Front Department, an intelligence arm of the Korean Workers’ Party, and chairman of the Taepung Group. Still greater power at Taepung likely lies with another member of the board of directors, Kim Jong Il’s brother-in-law Jang Song Taek, who as vice chairman of the National Defense Commission is considered North Korea’s second-most-powerful man. The National Defense Commission, chaired by Kim Jong Il, is also Taepung’s controlling shareholder.

To some Western analysts the tight control of Taepung signals that Kim’s coterie is not an agent of change and reform but precisely the opposite–a means to tighten its grip over the North Korean economy. The reasoning: Kim wants Taepung to bring in multibillion-dollar deals for resources, power plants, ports and roads, they say, so that he and his cronies can control the spoils.

Schulze hears the skeptics. But he notes that a Coca-Cola investment would be far more symbolic than lucrative. The total ante probably wouldn’t exceed $10 million (with Schulze Global’s share at $2 million)–tiny by comparison with some resource deals. He also argues that the only realistic way to engage with North Korea is precisely through those in power. “People say this is the leadership looking to benefit itself, and I would say yes, that is absolutely true.” But, he adds, “it doesn’t negate the fact that selfish ambition can still drive positive change and development, particularly in the economy, which can make a real difference in the lives of North Koreans.”

His groundwork laid in North Korea, Schulze will continue his quixotic quest to lobby not only Coke but also Capitol Hill and the Obama Administration. He is, in a way, following in the footsteps of his great-great-grandfather Thompson, the mining magnate. Thompson shocked his friends in the business establishment when, after returning from Russia after a trip in the fall of 1917, he urged that the U.S. and Britain engage with the new communist regime there to moderate the impulses of Lenin and Trotsky. No one, obviously, followed that advice.

Read the full story here:
Invading North Korea
Gady Epstein


Taepung Investment Group outlines new Kumgang business plan

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

According to Yonhap:

North Korea unveiled Sunday its business plans to redevelop a troubled mountain resort in the isolated country, after seizing South Korean properties in the complex once considered a symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation.

The move is expected to further deepen the dispute over the resort at Mount Kumgang, with South Korea vowing to take all possible measures, including legal action with an international tribunal, against the North’s decision to “legally dispose” of Seoul-owned assets there.

The business plans were presented to Yonhap News Agency by Park Chol-su, head of Daepung International Investment Group, which serves as a window to North Korea to attract foreign capital.

Daepung invited this week a group of foreign business executives and journalists to the resort to explain the business plans. During the four-day trip beginning Sunday, the group will visit Mount Kumgang via ship after departing from the northeastern port city of Rason.

The plans call for North Korea to redevelop the resort into an international tourist and business zone by building golf courses and hosting casinos from China and Western nations.

Using a railway linking Beijing to Pyongyang and the resort, North Korea plans to attract tourists from the United States, Japan, China and Hong Kong, Park said.

The North is also seeking to run tours linking Rason and Mount Kumgang by ferry, with an eye to woo Chinese tourists.

Under the first-stage plan, the North’s state agency will build energy and electricity facilities at an area of 60 square meters in the resort and let foreign business partners develop part of the area with their own projects, Park said.

North Korea plans to collect taxes from foreign partners to operate their facilities, according to Park. The area will be open to foreigners, but remain off-limits to ordinary North Koreans.

Additional Information:

1. According to the JoongAng Ilbo, the ship that will be used to ferry travelers from Rason to Kosong (Changjon) is the Mangyongbong 92. The ship will have to use a dock built by Hyundai-Asan. Hyundai is known to have spent around 170 billion won ($157,000) on the pier and the roads linking the pier to the resort.

2. The Daily NK adds a few additional details on the investment zone.

3. A timeline of Kumgang events, from the shooting until today, can be found here.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea unveils business plans for troubled mountain resort


Economic performance and legitimacy in the DPRK

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

Geoffrey See and Andray Abrahamian (both representatives of Choson Exchange) wrote an article in the Harvard International Review which asserts that economic successes are becoming more important to the political narratives that reinforce the DPRK leadership’s claims to legitimacy. Below is an excerpt from their article:

North Korea’s most important domestic policy statement comes each New Year, when the major newspapers publish a joint editorial. The editorial often signals where government priorities will be in the coming year. In 2010 the newspapers spoke of “Bring[ing] about a decisive change in the people’s lives by accelerating once again light industry and agriculture.” Similar themes were echoed in 2011. This is opposed to the joint editorials of the past few years, which have focused on the more traditional themes of military strength, revolution, and socialism.

Another public sign of a shift towards focusing on economic issues is the type of official visits and inspections carried out by Kim Jong Il. Following in the footsteps of his father, Kim uses these visits to signal emphasis or encouragement of specific industries, activities, and policies. According to a report by the Institute for Far Eastern Studies, the first six months of 2011 have seen Kim exceptionally busy, participating in 63 official activities. Unlike previous years, however, the number of military visitations has dropped off: only 14 visits were military related, the lowest number ever recorded. By contrast, 28 visits were economic related.

In terms of policy, North Korea has been haltingly experimenting with Special Economic Zones (SEZ) since the mid-nineties, but has recently built a bit more momentum in this area. Rason, an SEZ in the far northeast, is finally seeing some basic infrastructure upgrades that were long talked about but always delayed. Government investment bodies have started to promote the idea that Rason will be the “next Singapore,” an ambitious marketing claim to anyone who has been to Rason. With both Russia and China leasing port space, it seems more likely to be transformed into a regional transportation hub. Meanwhile, along the Chinese border in the northwest, the Hwanggumpyong SEZ recently held a groundbreaking ceremony, attended by high-ranking North Korean officials and Wang Qishan, China’s commerce minister.

Senior politicians in North Korea are increasingly judged by their ability to bring in foreign direct investments. These efforts appear to be competitive rather than coordinated. North Korean leaders associated with the National Defense Commission, the highest level policy body, have been meeting with visiting foreign investors. In 2009, the Daepung International Investment Group was re-purposed along the lines of a holding company model as a vehicle for attracting foreign direct investment l with “27 joint ventures planned and to be managed by the Group.” Daepung Group is backed by specific high-level individuals. Jon Il-Chun, reportedly the Director of Office 39, a murky international trade and finance organ, is definitely involved with the Daepung Group. Media reports also indicate that Kim Yang Gon, Director of an organization tasked with managing contacts with South Korea, the United Front Department of the Workers’ Party, is also behind the group.

In July of the same year, the Joint Venture & Investment Commission (JVIC) was established. Instead of a holding company model, JVIC is a government institution modeled as a “one-stop shop” for investors – that is, JVIC is meant to “seek out investments and assist investors in setting up operations in North Korea.” While multiple institutions claiming to hold such authority have always existed in North Korea, many of these institutions have been merged into JVIC and long-time investors have been directed to liaise with JVIC as their primary government contact. JVIC’s nominal and public head is Ri Chol, a high-ranking North Korean government official.

In August of 2010, we received credible reports that foreign investors were approached to help set up a group similar to Daepung that would be backed by another member of the National Defense Commission. Given this proposed initiative’s similarities to Daepung, the prior establishment of JVIC, and that all three groups do not appear to communicate with each other, we surmise that these various groups have a competitive relationship with the support of different patrons. Investment officials with whom our teammates have met confirm that the relationship between the agencies is “very competitive.” If this is the case, it is a signal that influential groups in Pyongyang sense that future power bases will require the ability to attract and deploy capital.

The full article is worth reading here:
Harvard International Review
Geoffrey K. See and Andray Abrahamian
August 23, 2011


Western Aid: The Missing Link for North Korea’s Economic Reviva

Monday, May 9th, 2011

AEI Working Paper
Nicholas Eberstadt

Download PDF here

[T]his past January, for the first time in over two decades, Pyongyang has formally unveiled a new multi-year economic plan: a 10-year “strategy plan for economic development” under a newly formed State General Bureau for Economic Development. The new economic plan is intended not only to meet the DPRK’s longstanding objective of becoming a “powerful and prosperous country” [Kangsong Taeguk] by 2012 (the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung), but also to promote North Korea to the ranks of the “advanced countries in 2020.”

Details on the new 10-year economic plan are as yet sketchy. South Korean analysts report that the plan envisions massive amounts of new investment in North Korea: up to $100 billion, by some accounts.3 But even if the investment target is more modest than such rumors suggest, North Korea will be counting on more than just domestic capital accumulation to secure this funding. It will have to rely upon major inflows of both foreign private capital–and foreign aid.

Additional Information:

1. This report has been added to the DPRK Economic Statistics Page.