Archive for the ‘Central Committee’ Category

Autarky, self-reliance and urban privilege in Kim Jong-un’s June politburo remarks

Monday, June 8th, 2020

By: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

On Monday June 8th, the Korean Worker’s Party politburo held a meeting. Kim Jong-un made several interesting remarks about the overall state of the economy, as Reuters reported here. The full Rodong Sinmun recounting of Kim’s statements is interesting and worth reading in its entirety. More and more state rhetoric seems to presume autarky as the default approach for economic development which is somewhat worrying, but perhaps just a reflection of where the country’s economic conditions stand as of now.

It’s also interesting to note Kim’s mention of the situation specifically in Pyongyang. Perhaps he means to signal to the political elites that he is looking out for their interests and quality of life, and that things will improve. What that means for the rest of the country is less clear. Pyongyang is symbolically important, but the growing disparity between the capital city and the rest of the country should concern the government.

Rodong’s rendition below, in both the original Korean and an English translation.

Political Bureau of C.C., WPK Meets under Guidance of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un

The 13th Political Bureau meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) was held on June 6 and 7 at a time when the entire Party, the whole country and all the people have vigorously turned out in the general offensive for glorifying the 75th founding anniversary of the WPK as the great festival of victors true to the great idea and strategy of the Party for making a breakthrough head-on and its action program.

Kim Jong Un, chairman of the WPK, chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and supreme commander of the armed forces of the DPRK, was present in the meeting.

Attending the meeting were members and alternate members of the Political Bureau of the C.C., WPK.

Vice-premiers of the Cabinet, some chairpersons of provincial party committees and leading officials of committees and ministries were there as observers.

Upon authorization of the Political Bureau of the C.C., WPK, Supreme Leader of the Party, state and armed forces Kim Jong Un presided over the meeting.

The meeting discussed in depth some crucial issues arising in further developing the self-sufficient economy of the country and improving the standard of people’s living.

Discussed as the first agenda items were some urgent problems arising in developing the chemical industry of the country in a well-defined framework.

He indicated orientation and way to reconstruct the chemical industry as required by Juche and modernity and put it on a track of sustainable development.

Repeatedly stressing that the chemical industry is the foundation of industry and a major thrust front of the national economy, he recollected that the Party, regarding the chemical and metallurgical industries as twin pillars of the self-supporting economy, set forth the policy of founding the C1 chemical industry to suit to the specific conditions of the country and to meet the world’s trend at its Seventh Congress and has since pushed forward with the work.

Recalling that the Fifth Plenary Meeting of the Seventh Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea discussed the issues of establishing the C1 chemical industry and of building the fertilizer production capacity as core points in developing the chemical industry, the Supreme Leader clarified the plan and will of waging a bold struggle to put the overall chemical industry on a Juche and modern basis.

The premier of the Cabinet made a report on the review by the scientific group of the scientific and technical guarantee and economic efficiency of founding C1 chemical industry, and the present situation of the chemical industry.

The meeting heard suggestions on earlier completion of founding C1 chemical industry and had in-depth discussion of issues of opening a broad avenue to the development of chemical industry.

The chemical industrial field has to be activated first to propel and guarantee the economic development of the country, the Supreme Leader said, setting forth immediate tasks for propping up the chemical industry as a whole.

He stressed the need to give top priority to increasing the capacity for producing fertilizer, to begin with, in the chemical industrial field and push forward this work and put particular emphasis on promptly settling scientific and technological issues of founding potassic fertilizer industry based on our own raw materials.

Indicating orientation and immediate goal for energizing existent chemical factories, the Supreme Leader pointed out the need to conduct in a far-sighted way the work to explore chemical industrial field based on new raw materials.

He underlined the need to actively propel the work to perfect and update in a modern way the structure of sectors of the chemical industry.

He clarified that the new structure of sectors of Juche-based chemical industry should be multi-lateral production system, which is saving energy, labor and natural resources and which is technology-intensive and development-and-creation-oriented, that produces nonstop all kinds of chemical goods enough to meet demand thoroughly based on locally available raw and other materials.

He called for building reliable national level scientific research force, actively pushing forward the development of catalyst and laying a material foundation for developing catalyst technology, catalyst industry.

He stressed the importance to carry out substantial work to build talent force in chemical industrial field and to bring up a greater number of talents of practical type who are development-and-creation-oriented in the field of education.

As the second agenda item the meeting discussed immediate issues of ensuring living conditions for citizens in the capital city.

Pointing out in detail the issues that have to be urgently settled to ensure living conditions of citizens in the city, the Supreme Leader stressed to take strong state measures for ensuring the living conditions of people including the construction of dwelling houses.

Important issues for settling issues arising as regards the living conditions of Pyongyang citizens were discussed at the meeting.

A resolution on the first and second agenda items was adopted with full approval at the meeting.

As the third agenda item, the meeting examined before ratification the suggestion on modifying some rule-related matters arising in the present party work and reflecting them in a draft amendment to the party rules.

The fourth agenda item was an organizational matter.

There was a by-election of an alternate member of the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee. Kim Yong Hwan was by-elected as an alternate member of the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee.

Members and alternate members of the WPK Central Committee were recalled and elected to fill vacancies. Ko Kil Son, Kim Jong Nam, Song Yong Gon were by-elected as members from alternate members while Ri Jae Nam, Kwon Thae Yong and Kwon Yong Jin as members of the WPK Central Committee.

Rim Yong Chol, Kang Il Sop, Sin In Yong, Ri Kyong Chon, Kim Ju Sam, Kim Jong Chol, Choe Kwang Jun, Yang Myong Chol, Kim Yong Chol, Pak Man Ho were by-elected as alternate members of the WPK Central Committee.

The 13th Political Bureau meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the WPK marked an important occasion in further consolidating the foundation and potential of the self-supporting national economy, giving top priority to the people’s dignity, rights and interests under the uplifted banner of people-first principle and opening up a broad avenue to improving the standard of people’s living to meet the requirements of the prevailing situation of the revolution.

(Source: Political News Team, “Political Bureau of C.C., WPK Meets under Guidance of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un,” Rodong Sinmun, June 8th, 2020.)

조선로동당 중앙위원회 제7기 제13차 정치국회의 진행

우리 당의 위대한 정면돌파사상과 전략, 실천강령을 높이 받들고 당창건 75돐을 승리자의 대축전으로 빛내이기 위한 전당적, 전국가적, 전인민적총진군의 불길이 세차게 타번지고있는 속에서 조선로동당 중앙위원회 제7기 제13차 정치국회의가 6월 7일에 진행되였다.

조선로동당 위원장이시며 조선민주주의인민공화국 국무위원회 위원장이시며 조선민주주의인민공화국무력 최고사령관이신 우리 당과 국가, 무력의 최고령도자 김정은동지께서 정치국회의에 참가하시였다.

정치국회의에는 조선로동당 중앙위원회 정치국 위원, 후보위원들이 참가하였다.

내각부총리들과 일부 도당위원장들, 위원회, 성 책임일군들이 방청으로 참가하였다.

당중앙위원회 정치국의 위임에 따라 김정은동지께서 회의를 사회하시였다.

정치국회의에서는 나라의 자립경제를 더욱 발전시키며 인민들의 생활을 향상시키는데서 나서는 일련의 중대한 문제들이 심도있게 토의되였다.

첫째의정으로 나라의 화학공업을 전망성있게 발전시키는데서 나서는 당면한 몇가지 문제에 대하여 토의하였다.

경애하는 최고령도자동지께서는 화학공업의 구조를 주체화, 현대화의 요구에 맞게 개조하고 지속적인 발전궤도에 올려세우기 위한 방향과 방도를 밝혀주시였다.

경애하는 최고령도자동지께서는 화학공업은 공업의 기초이고 인민경제의 주타격전선이라고 거듭 강조하시면서 우리 당이 화학공업을 금속공업과 함께 자립경제의 쌍기둥으로 내세우고 당 제7차대회에서 우리 나라의 실정과 세계적추세에 맞게 탄소하나화학공업을 창설할데 대한 방침을 제시한 후 그 사업을 본격화하여온데 대하여 말씀하시였다.

경애하는 최고령도자동지께서는 당중앙위원회 제7기 제5차전원회의에서 화학공업발전의 핵심사항으로 탄소하나화학공업창설과 비료생산능력조성문제를 취급한데 대하여 언급하시면서 화학공업전반의 주체화, 현대화를 실현하기 위한 투쟁을 통이 크게 벌려나갈 구상과 의지를 표명하시였다.

회의에서는 내각총리가 탄소하나화학공업창설의 과학기술적담보와 경제적효과성을 재검토심의한 과학그루빠의 사업정형과 화학공업부문의 현 실태에 대한 보고를 하였다.

회의에서는 탄소하나화학공업창설을 다그쳐 끝내기 위한 의견들을 청취하고 화학공업발전의 새 활로를 열어놓기 위한 문제들을 진지하게 협의하였다.

경애하는 최고령도자동지께서는 나라의 경제발전을 추동하고 담보하기 위해서는 화학공업부문이 먼저 들고일어나야 한다고 하시면서 화학공업전반을 추켜세우기 위한 당면과업들을 제시하시였다.

경애하는 최고령도자동지께서는 화학공업부문에서 무엇보다도 비료생산능력을 늘이기 위한 사업을 최우선적인 문제로 보고 대하며 이 사업을 강하게 밀고나갈데 대하여서와 우리의 원료에 의거한 카리비료공업을 창설하는데서 나서는 과학기술적문제들을 시급히 해결할데 대하여 특별히 강조하시였다.

경애하는 최고령도자동지께서는 현존화학공장들을 활성화하기 위한 방향과 당면목표를 제시하시고 새로운 원료에 의거하는 화학공업분야를 개척하기 위한 사업도 전망성있게 벌려나갈데 대하여 지적하시였다.

경애하는 최고령도자동지께서는 화학공업의 부문구조를 완비하고 현대적으로 개건하기 위한 사업을 적극 추진할데 대하여 강조하시였다.

경애하는 최고령도자동지께서는 국내원료와 자재에 철저히 의거하여 각종 화학제품들을 수요대로 중단없이 생산해내는 에네르기절약형, 로력절약형, 자원절약형, 기술집약형, 개발창조형의 다방면적인 생산체계를 갖추는것이 주체화된 화학공업의 새 부문구조로 되여야 한다고 천명하시였다.

경애하는 최고령도자동지께서는 국가적인 과학연구력량을 튼튼히 꾸리고 탄소하나화학공업에 쓰이는 촉매개발을 적극 다그치면서 촉매기술, 촉매공업을 발전시키기 위한 물질적토대를 갖출데 대하여 지적하시였다.

경애하는 최고령도자동지께서는 화학공업부문의 인재력량을 꾸리기 위한 사업을 착실히 해나가며 교육부문에서 개발창조형의 인재, 실천형의 인재들을 더 많이 키워낼데 대하여 말씀하시였다.

정치국회의에서는 둘째의정으로 수도시민들의 생활보장에서 나서는 당면한 문제들이 토의되였다.

경애하는 최고령도자동지께서는 수도시민들의 생활보장에서 시급히 해결해야 할 문제들을 구체적으로 지적하시면서 살림집건설을 비롯한 인민생활보장과 관련한 국가적인 대책을 강하게 세울데 대하여 강조하시였다.

회의에서는 평양시민들의 생활에서 제기되는 문제들을 풀기 위한 중요문제들이 토의되였다.

정치국회의에서는 첫째의정과 둘째의정에 대한 결정서가 전원일치로 채택되였다.

정치국회의에서는 셋째의정으로 현행당사업에서 제기되는 일련의 규약상문제들을 일부 수정하고 당규약개정안에 반영할데 대한 의견을 심의비준하였다.

정치국회의에서는 넷째의정으로 조직문제를 토의하였다.

당중앙위원회 정치국 후보위원을 보선하였다.

김영환동지를 당중앙위원회 정치국 후보위원으로 보선하였다.

당중앙위원회 위원, 후보위원들을 소환 및 보선하였다.

고길선동지, 김정남동지, 송영건동지를 당중앙위원회 후보위원에서 위원으로, 리재남동지, 권태영동지, 권영진동지를 당중앙위원회 위원으로 보선하였다.

림영철동지, 강일섭동지, 신인영동지, 리경천동지, 김주삼동지, 김정철동지, 최광준동지, 양명철동지, 김영철동지, 박만호동지를 당중앙위원회 후보위원으로 보선하였다.

조선로동당 중앙위원회 제7기 제13차 정치국회의는 조성된 혁명정세의 요구에 맞게 자립경제의 토대와 잠재력을 더욱 튼튼히 다지며 인민대중제일주의의 기치높이 인민의 존엄과 권익을 최우선, 절대시하고 인민생활향상의 활로를 열어나가는데서 중요한 계기로 된다.

(Source: Ponsajŏngch’ibodoban, “Chosŏllodongdang Chungangwiwŏnhoe Che7ki che13ch’a Chŏngch’igukhoeŭi Chinhaeng,” Rodong Sinmun, June 8th, 2020.)

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Politburo meets, but SPA postponed (till following Sunday)

Sunday, April 12th, 2020

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

The SPA was expected to meet this past Friday. It didn’t. (Update 13/4/: it instead met on the following Sunday.) Instead, the politburo held a meeting to discuss measures the SPA would be adopting. There were scant but clear references to economic affairs (highlighted below), though the KCNA report is very vague. NK News suggests the SPA may instead convene Monday.

It adopted the joint resolution of the Central Committee of the WPK, the State Affairs Commission of the DPRK and the Cabinet of the DPRK “On more thoroughly taking national measures for protecting the life and safety of our people from the worldwide epidemic disease”.

The joint resolution detailed the goals of continuously intensifying the nationwide emergency anti-epidemic services and pushing ahead with the economic construction, increasing national defence capability and stabilizing the people’s livelihood this year, and indicated the tasks facing every field and every unit including Party and government organs and working people’s organizations and armed forces organs and ways of carrying them out.

It studied and approved “On the execution of the state budget for Juche 108 (2019) and the state budget for Juche 109 (2020)”, the second agenda which is to be presented to the Third Session of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly.

(Source: Political Bureau of C.C., WPK Meets under Guidance of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, Korean Central News Agency,” 12/4/2020.)

Update 13/4/2020: the SPA was held on Sunday instead. KCNA:

The third Session of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) was held at the Mansudae Assembly Hall on Sunday.

The SPA deputies attended the session.

Seen on the platform were Choe Ryong Hae, member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), first vice-chairman of the State Affairs Commission (SAC) of the DPRK and president of the Presidium of the SPA, and Pak Pong Ju, member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee, vice-chairman of the SAC of the DPRK and vice-chairman of the WPK Central Committee.

Also seen there was Kim Jae Ryong, member of the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee, member of the SAC of the DPRK and premier of the Cabinet.

The platform was also taken by Ri Il Hwan, Choe Hwi, Ri Pyong Chol, Kim Tok Hun, Kim Yong Chol and members of the SAC of the DPRK and the Presidium of the SPA.

The chairman and vice-chairpersons of the SPA took their seats.

The opening address was made by Chairman Pak Thae Song.

The agenda items of the Third Session of the 14th SPA of the DPRK were decided at the session:

1. On adoption of the law of the DPRK on recycling resources

2. On adoption of the law of the DPRK on tele-education

3. On adoption of the law of the DPRK on providing living conditions for discharged officers

4. On the work of the Cabinet of the DPRK for Juche 108 (2019) and its tasks of Juche 109 (2020)

5. On implementation of the state budget for Juche 108 (2019) and the state budget for Juche 109 (2020).

6. Organizational matter.

The first, second and third agenda items were discussed at the session.

Deputy Thae Hyong Chol, vice-president of the Presidium of the SPA, made a report on the three agenda items.

He referred to the importance and significance of the laws to be discussed and adopted at the session, and explained the chapters of the laws.

He laid the adoption of the three laws before the SPA.

Ordinance of the SPA of the DPRK “On adoption of the law of the DPRK on recycling resources “, “On adoption of the law of the DPRK on tele-education” and “On adoption of the law of the DPRK on providing living conditions for discharged officers” were adopted with unanimous approbation at the session.

There was a discussion on the basis of an in-depth study of the reports on the fourth and the fifth agenda items.

The speakers said that the work of the Cabinet and the execution of the state budget for last year were correctly summed up, and that the tasks of the Cabinet for this year were clearly set and the state budget was properly worked out in the direction of implementing the decisions adopted at the 5th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the WPK and the joint resolution adopted at the Meeting of the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee. They voiced full support and approval.

In their speeches they analyzed and reviewed the successes, experience, mistakes and lessons in the work of their fields and units last year and referred to the methods of opening a broad avenue to the socialist construction and propping up the self-supporting economic power.

There adopted decision of the SPA of the DPRK “Report on the work of the Cabinet of the DPRK and on approving the implementation of the state budget for Juche 108 (2019)” and ordinance of the SPA of the DPRK “On state budget of the DPRK for Juche 109 (2020)”.

The session discussed the sixth agenda item.

At the request of Deputy Choe Ryong Hae, first vice-chairman of the SAC and president of the Presidium of the SPA upon authorization of the Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the DPRK, Deputy Choe Pu Il and Deputy No Kwang Chol were recalled from the membership of the SAC.

Also recalled were Ri Su Yong, Thae Jong Su and Ri Yong Ho.

Deputies Ri Pyong Chol, Kim Hyong Jun, Kim Jong Gwan, Ri Son Gwon and Kim Jong Ho were by-elected as members of the SAC.

Upon authorization of the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee, Deputy Ko Kil Son was by-elected as the secretary general of the Presidium of the SPA and Deputy Kim Yong Hwan as a member of the Presidium of the SPA.

Members of the Cabinet were newly appointed.

Upon authorization of the WPK Central Committee, Deputy Yang Sung Ho was appointed as vice-premier, Deputy Kim Chol Su as minister of Natural Resources Development, Kim Jong Nam as minister of Machine-building Industry, and Ri Song Hak as minister of Light Industry.

Chairmen of the Subcommittees of the SPA were recalled and by-elected.

Deputy Kim Jong Ho was by-elected as chairman of the Legislation Committee of the SPA, Deputy Kim Tok Hun as chairman of the Budget Committee and Deputy Kim Hyong Jun as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Chairman Pak Thae Song made a closing address.

(Source: “Third Session of 14th SPA of DPRK Held,” Korean Central News Agency, 13/4/2020.)

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North Korean State Party’s CC meeting: of fired officials and coronavirus efforts

Monday, March 2nd, 2020

By: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

On Saturday February 29th, the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Korean Worker’s Party held a so-called “enlarged” meeting. According to the KCNA report, the meeting dealt primarily with purges of corrupt officials, and coronavirus measures:

At the enlarged meeting acts alien to the party, abuse of power, practices of privileges, indulgence in bureaucracy, corruption and irregularities revealed among senior officials of the Party Central Committee and officials of the Party cadre training institution were harshly criticized and their gravity and consequences were sharply analyzed.

The Supreme Leader clarified the analysis of the issues by the Party Central Committee and its stand on them, and dealt strong blows at the acts alien to the party and unpopular and anti-socialist acts brought up for discussion at the meeting. He called on all the Party officials and organizations to draw a serious lesson from the recent incident, to make steady efforts to revolutionarize themselves and their units and bring about a new turn in the Party work.

The Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee dismissed Ri Man Gon and Pak Thae Dok from the posts of vice-chairmen of the Party Central Committee.

The meeting adopted a decision to disband the party committee of the Party cadre training base which was involved in the practices of corruption and irregularities, and to impose relevant penalty.

It’s not clear precisely what “strong blows at the acts alien to the party and unpopular and anti-socialist acts”, but presumably it refers to corruption. Corruption is one of the most common acts for WPK-officials to get purged (or fired) over, and the formulations indicate that this is indeed what happened here. Some have suggested it may have had to do with shoddy work in the country’s coronavirus measures, but even reading carefully between the lines, I can’t see enough evidence to back that up. “[A]cts alien to the Party” [비당적 적행위],  I would argue, is a clear statement about specific acts particularly alien to the Party’s values. Shoddy handling of specific policy implementation related to the virus does not fall naturally into that category. Moreover, the antivirus measures were praised at the very same meeting. North Korean politics is full of contrasts and mixed messages, but this would be a stretch too far.

The problem with these methods, of course, is that they do nothing to address the long-term issue of corruption. The WPK (and the North Korean state for that matter) lacks institutions for accountability and independent oversight. There is no proper justice system in any reasonable sense of the term. So scare campaigns and setting examples, like the CC meeting in question did, really is the only avenue available. These measures might have some positive impacts in the short run – we don’t know – but in the long run, they make little difference. Kim Jong-un has ostensibly made anti-corruption a priority, but so far, campaigns and sporadic crackdowns are the only visible results. Corruption is obviously bad for the economy, but if it helps people get around draconian laws (as is the case in North Korea) to do business, it might be a net positive for the economy.

The meeting also dealt with North Korea’s efforts to contain the coronavirus. There’s a lot to say about the text, I’ve highlighted (in bold) the part relating to economic affairs:

Discussed at the meeting were issues of taking nationwide top-class anti-epidemic steps in a more thorough-going way and strictly putting them into practice in order to cope with the viral epidemic spreading rapidly around the world.

In case the infectious disease spreading beyond control finds its way into our country, it will entail serious consequences, the Supreme Leader said, noting that the strong measures taken by our Party and the government from the beginning have been the surest and highly reliable, preemptive and decisive preventive measures as this viral infection spreads so rapidly, its incubation period is uncertain and its contagion route is also scientifically uncertain.

An urgent task at present is to supplement and complement the law on the state emergency anti-epidemic and to readjust state crisis control regulations in an orderly way, the Supreme Leader said, emphasizing that the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, the Cabinet and other related institutions must further strengthen the state anti-epidemic force immediately and push ahead with the work for supplementing and complementing anti-epidemic means, system and laws based on the experiences gained through the on-going enforcement of preemptive and powerful anti-epidemic measures to cope with infectious disease.

The enlarged meeting also discussed measures to deter the influx and spread of the infectious disease in a scientific, preemptive and lockdown way.

No special cases must be allowed within the state anti-epidemic system, the Supreme Leader said, stressing the need to set up a strict discipline by which all the fields and units of the country unconditionally obey to the command and control of the Central Headquarters for the emergency anti-epidemic work and thoroughly execute instructions from it, and to further tighten the system of reporting to the Party and legal surveillance.

He instructed the Cabinet and the Central Emergency Anti-epidemic Headquarters to seal off all the channels and space through which the infectious disease may find its way, and strengthen check-up, test and quarantine under the work system and order already in place.

The meeting also stressed the issue of tightening economic organization and anti-epidemic work under the prevailing situation and conditions so as to accomplish this year’s goals without fail and to thoroughly ensure the life and security of the people.

It is important for the Party organizations at all levels to have clear understanding of the intention of the Party Central Committee and put it into practice, the Supreme Leader said, urging the need for the Party to provide an impetus so that the Cabinet and the economic institutions at all levels could provide proper economic operation and command under the present situation.

The anti-epidemic measures being taken by us is a crucial state affair for the defence of the people and a heavy responsibility of the Party Central Committee, not just the prevention of the disease, the Supreme Leader said, underlining the need for all to thoroughly carry out the decisions and instructions of the Party Central Committee and direct all-out efforts to the security of the country and the life and safety of the people.

The question is, of course, what this means in practice. There is no doubt that the economy is suffering, and not just in terms of sheer growth numbers or the like. Much of North Korea’s imports from China are blocked due to the border closure, and even smuggling is facing heavy clampdowns. Internal travel and movement of goods is heavily restricted. There is, it seems to me, fairly little that the state can really do to balance this all in terms of economic measures, but of course, the state must tell the population that it is doing things and taking action.

(Source: Korean Central News Agency, “Enlarged Meeting of Political Bureau of C.C., WPK Held,” 29/2/2020.)

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Washington Post interviews Ri Jong Ho

Friday, July 14th, 2017

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

A little over a week after theKyodo News interview, Washington Post has also talked to Ri Jong Ho, the former official from Bureau 39 who now lives in Washington DC. The main takeaway from the interview I think, from an economic point of view, is just how far the North Korean economy has gone in its adaptation to its international environment. Rigidity through flexibility, one could call it:

We were never in pain or hurting in our trade business because of the sanctions. Instead, we conducted our first nuclear test in 2006, Ri said in an interview near Tysons Corner.

The 59-year-old, whose job had been to raise money for the North Korean regime, and his family live in Northern Virginia, having defected to South Korea at the end of 2014 and moved to the United States last year.

I used to be sanctioned, as a North Korean who led trade at the front line, but I never felt any pain from the sanctions. The sanctions were perfunctory, Ri said.

He described being able to send millions of U.S. dollars to North Korea simply by handing a bag of cash to the captain of a ship leaving from the Chinese port city of Dalian, where he was based, to the North Korean port of Nampo, or by giving it to someone to take on the train across the border.

In first the nine months of 2014 he defected in October that year Ri said he sent about $10 million to Pyongyang this way.

[…]

Unless China, Russia and the United States cooperate fully to sanction North Korea, it will be impossible to hurt them, Ri said.

Chinas interest in North Korea is well known, butRussias rolein supporting the former Soviet client stateis often overlooked.Amid calls for China to limit oil exports to North Korea, Russia has dramatically increased the amount of oil it has sent some reports suggest exports have quadrupled to North Korea this year.

North Koreas financial networks, moreover, are intentionally murky. The U.S. Treasury has sanctioned more and more North Koreans and North Korean companies by name to try to cut them off from the American financial system, but few, if any, have any exposure to the United States.

For this reason, Ris insights are widely sought after in Washington, where successive administrations have been trying to find North Koreas pressure points.

[…]

Ri said he worked as president of a shipping companyand was chairman of Korea Kumgang Group, a company that formed a venture with Sam Pa, a Chinese businessman, to start a taxi company in Pyongyang.Ri suppled a photo of him and Pa aboard a jet to Pyongyang.

He was awarded the title hero of labor in 2002 for his efforts, and said he lived the good life in Pyongyang, with a color TV and a car. I was very loyal to Kim Jong Il, so I was rewarded by him, he said. I was rich.

His last position was running the Dalian branch of Daeheung, a trading company involved in shipping, coal and seafood exports, and oil imports.The company was given targets to meet in terms of profits, he said, declining to go into details.

Butin 2014,Ri grewincreasinglydisillusioned afterKim Jong Un suddenly denounced his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, as a traitor for all ages and had him executed at the end of 2013.

Jang had been leading economic cooperation efforts with China, and dozens of people who worked for him were also purged at the time, Ri said. He worried that his family would be next. They escaped to South Korea before moving to the United States, where his two children, now in their 20s, plan to go to college.

[…]

Ri said North Korea has repeatedly found ways to circumvent whatever sanctions are imposed on it.

North Korea is a 100 percent state enterprise, so these companies just change their names the day after theyre sanctioned, he said. That way the company continues, but with a different name than the one on the sanctions list.

Ris Chinese counterparts werent bothered, either, he said.

My partners in China also want to make a profit, so they don’t care much about sanctions, he said. When the Chinese government orders them to stop, they stop for a few days and then start up again.

Growing impatient with Beijing, Washington is increasingly targeting Chinese companies that help North Koreawith what are called secondary sanctions.At the end of last month, the Trump administration blacklisted the Bank of Dandong, located on the border between the two countries, for its dealings with North Korea.

But without knowing how to really hurt North Korea and teaming up to do it, it will be impossible to change Pyongyangs calculus on the nuclear program, Ri said.

Full article:

He ran North Koreas secret moneymaking operation. Now he lives in Virginia.
Anna Fifield
Washington Post
2017-07-13
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DPRK possbly renames KWP financial agency to attend to wider economic affairs

Monday, February 6th, 2017

According to Yonhap:

North Korea renamed its financial planning department in an effort to empower the government ministry to newly take charge of practical economic affairs, a Pyongyang source has said.

“The Financial Planning Department under the Workers’ Party of Korea was renamed last year as the Department of Economy,” the source told Yonhap News Agency.

O Su-yong, a vice chairman of the ruling party’s Central Committee is heading the renamed ministry, the source said.

The rebranding broadened the department’s scope of duty from economic planning and budget setting to wider economic issues like railroad, construction and coal mining and processing, which were previously supervised by the cabinet, the source said.

Still, the supervision of the light industry and agricultural affairs is in the hands of the cabinet, the source noted. “In the seventh party congress last year, (North Korean leader) Kim Jong-un empowered the cabinet to take charge of economic affairs, but (he) again reversed course to choose a party-centered management style after the cabinet’s administrative orders failed to impact provincial economies,” according to the source.

Nam Sung-wook, professor at Korea University, said, “The move has something to do with maintaining consistency and continuity of economic policies.” He said the renaming may have been intended to expand economic supervision and shift the control of economy to the party.”

However South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said the renaming has not been confirmed and more information is needed to verify it.

In March 2010, the head of what is now the economy department, Pak Nam-gi, was executed for botching a reform program.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea renames financial ministry to attend to wider economic affairs
Yonhap
2017-2-6

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North Korea’s 7th Party Congress and the economy

Saturday, May 14th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

The 7th Party Congress is over, and it turned out to be an affair focused on personal appointments and formalities rather than concrete policy. This post is an attempt to gather some of the news about the congress, some international but mostly domestic coverage and Kim Jong-un’s speeches, particularly that pertaining to economic matters.

Day 1  (5/6/2016) and before 

The congress opened on Friday May 6th. This is how Rodong Sinmun covered the opening:

The Seventh Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) opened here with splendor Friday.

Kim Jong Un, first secretary of the WPK, was present there.

The congress was attended by delegates with the right to vote and speak elected at the provincial party conferences and officials of party, armed forces and power organs, economic organs, working people’s organizations and those in the fields of science, education, public health, literature and arts and media nominated at the provincial party conferences as observers.

Also present there were congratulatory groups of Koreans in Japan and the General Association of Koreans in China for celebrating the Seventh Congress of the WPK.

Kim Jong Un made an opening address.

He in his address, reflecting the infinite loyalty and ardent reverence of the delegates, Party members, service personnel of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) and all other people across the country, extended the noblest tribute and greatest glory to the great Comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

[…]

The congress sent congratulatory messages to the service personnel of the Korean People’s Army and the Korean People’s Internal Security Forces who performed distinguished feats in defending the party congress and to the working people and officials of the institutions, industrial establishments and cooperative farms who performed brilliant labor feats in the 70-day campaign of loyalty.

The congress approved the following agenda items:

1.Review of the work of the C.C., the WPK.

2.Review of the work of the Central Audit Commission of the WPK.

3.On revising the Rules of the WPK.

4.On electing Kim Jong Un to the top post of the WPK.

5.Election to the central leadership organ of the WPK.

The congress started the discussion on the first agenda item.

Kim Jong Un began the report on the work of the C.C., the WPK.

The presentation of the report will go on at the second day-sitting.

In his opening address to the congress, carried by KCNA, Kim Jong-un highlighted both national prosperity and hardship:

Today we are holding the historic Seventh Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea amid the grand struggle in which the whole Party, the entire army and all the people, filled with iron nerves and confidence to achieve the final victory of the Juche revolution as soon as possible, are making an all-out, general onward march courageously, thwarting all manner of threats and desperate challenges by the imperialists.

[…]

The Seventh Congress of the WPK has been convened at a historic time when the phase of leap forward in implementing the cause of the Juche revolution is being opened up.

The last decades since the Sixth Congress of the WPK were characterized by grim struggle and glorious victory on the part of our Party and people.

During the period under review the situation of our revolution was very grave and complex.

In the unprecedentedly hard times when the world socialist system collapsed and the allied imperialist forces concentrated their anti-socialist offensive on our Republic, our Party and people were compelled to fight against them single-handed.

The imperialists strained the situation constantly for decades to keep our people from living at peace even for a moment and blocked all the pathways to economic development and existence through all manner of blockade, pressure and sanctions.

In the face of harsh and manifold difficulties and ordeals and the hardships and sufferings worse than those during a war, our Party and people were united more firmly around the Central Committee of the WPK, holding the President and the General in high esteem as the centre of unity and leadership, and made strenuous efforts to defend and advance the socialist cause, following only the revolutionary line of Juche put forward by the great leaders as they braved the storm of history without the slightest hesitation or vacillation.

[…]

This year when the Seventh Congress of the WPK is held, our service personnel and people achieved great successes in the first hydrogen bomb test and the launch of earth observation satellite Kwangmyongsong 4 which served as landmarks in the nation’s history spanning 5 000 years, thus raising the dignity and might of Juche Korea to the highest level possible; in high spirits, they conducted a dynamic 70-day campaign of loyalty to perform great feats and make unprecedented labour successes in all fields of socialist construction.

All the service personnel and people throughout the country displayed the spirit of carrying out the policies of the WPK to the death in response to its militant call for launching the 70-day campaign, thereby making the greatest successes and leap forward in all sectors of the national economy and achieving the brilliant result of exceeding the targets of the campaign set by the WPK.

[…]

Kim also spoke about economic achievements, and said that North Korea’s economic plans had been fulfilled ahead of schedule (my emphasis):

During the campaign, the electric-power, coal-mining and metallurgical industries and rail transport sector strove hard for increased output and transport to bring about a surge in production, and many units in different sectors of the national economy including the machine-building, chemical, building-materials and light industries and agriculture raised a strong wind to ensure modernization and domestic production of our style and bring about an upswing in production, thus making the distinguished achievement of carrying out the first half-year and yearly national economic plans ahead of schedule.

Our heroic working class of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, scientists and technicians waged an unyielding struggle on the principle of giving priority to self-development to develop and manufacture new machines and equipment based on local efforts and technology, thereby presenting them as gifts to the Congress of the motherly Party. Others across the country wonderfully completed lots of major construction projects, which will be highly conducive to developing the economy and improving the people’s living standards, in a short span of time before the Congress to send reports of loyalty to the Central Committee of the WPK.

But reporters from abroad were in Pyongyang a few days before the congress opened and delivered some interesting dispatches. The Washington Post’s Anna Fifield, for example, visited Jangchon Cooperative Farm near Pyongyang on May 4th. Note that no one at the farm seems to have spoken to reporters about Kim Jong-un’s experimental agriculture reforms — if they have been implemented on a large scale, this would seem a good opportunity to express gratitude and pride in them.

The farm, which Kim visited in June, was deemed to be a shining example of progress, given that it is apparently used as a model for other agricultural cooperatives across the country. So reporters were taken down roads bustling with people to the conspicuously deserted complex.

[…]

Apparently, a total of 3,000 people live in this cooperative. But apart from a few people working in greenhouses and a handful more repairing roofs or painting lampposts, almost no one was around. Inside a science building, lab equipment sat like museum pieces.

[…]

What about these garden plots in front of the houses? They were household gardens, the minders said. Never mind that one house had a garden of only cabbages, another of only cucumbers, the next entirely squash.

Agriculture has been one of the areas where there has been significant change in recent years. Kim Jong Un’s regime has changed the quota system to allow farmers to keep between 30 and 60 percent of their crops, either to eat or to sell for profit in the markets. Economic analysts have been watching these changes­ keenly, part of a broader, if tentative, move toward marketization.

Full article:
A model farm – with few farmers – in North Korea 
Washington Post
Anna Fifield
2016-05-04

On the first day, the congress also sent a congratulatory message to “working people and officials” who participated in the 70-day campaign, carried by KCNA:

The 70-day campaign was a great one for consolidating the single-minded unity of the party, army and people of the DPRK as firm as a rock, bringing about a great innovation and leap forward in building a thriving nation, foiling the vicious moves of the hostile forces to put pressure on the DPRK and stifle it and fully demonstrating the dignity and might of the great Paektusan nation, the message said, and went on:

The Central Committee of the WPK together with its Central Military Commission made public joint slogans in order to glorify this year in which its Seventh Congress is to be held as a year of great heyday in building a thriving nation, ardently appealed to all party members to stage the 70-day campaign in the letter to them and clearly indicated the orientation and ways for winning victory in the on-going general advance.

Unprecedented achievements have been made in the above-said campaign thanks to the heroic struggle of the working people and officials who turned out to greet the Seventh Congress of the WPK out of their boundless loyalty and warm patriotism toward the party.

The Seventh Congress of the WPK extended warm congratulations to the working people and officials of the institutions, industrial establishments and co-op farms who creditably fulfilled the tasks before them during the campaign by sharing the thought, will and pace with the party and fully displaying matchless heroism and self-sacrificing spirit.

Day 2 (5/7/2016) 

On the second day of the congress, Kim gave a report on the work of the KWP Central Committee:

The demise of Kim Il Sung was the biggest grief and loss to our party and people and the biggest trial for our revolution.

After the greatest loss to the nation, the imperialists and their followers have reached the height in their political and military pressure, moves for provoking a war and economic blockade. To cap it all, the country was hit by severe natural disasters, bringing untold hardships and trial to the economic construction and people’s living.

When the world was concerned about the fate of the DPRK and when the imperialist reactionaries were foolishly trumpeting about “change in line” and “collapse of social system”, leader Kim Jong Il solemnly declared his iron will to invariably defend and carry to completion the revolutionary cause of Juche started by the President no matter how arduous the road of the revolution might be, and wisely led the revolution and construction only as intended by the President and the way he did.

By carrying forward the cause of the President under the wise guidance of Kim Jong Il, the WPK has firmly maintained the Songun revolutionary line, the path of winning the steady victory of the Korean revolution, and enforced the Songun politics in an all-round way.

[…]

As required by the prevailing situation and the developing revolution, the WPK advanced the strategic line of simultaneously pushing forward the economic construction and the building of nuclear force and worked hard for its implementation.

The WPK organized and waged an all-people general onward movement for building a thriving people’s paradise as planned and desired by the great leaders and thus ushered in the new era of the prosperity of the country.

The entire party and all the people have achieved the single-minded unity of the whole society in which they are united closely around the leader in thinking and purpose and sense of moral obligation. This is the great success and feat achieved by our party during the period under review.

Our party and people dynamically waged the drive to implement the strategic line of socialist economic construction to lay firm material and technical foundations of self-supporting national economy and provide a springboard from which to build an economic giant.

In delivering this report, Kim mentioned (for the first time during the congress) the new 5-year plan (2016-2020) (emphasis added):

In order to successfully build a socialist power under the banner of modeling the whole society on Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism, it is necessary to strengthen the people’s government and enhance its function and role and, at the same time, thoroughly carry out the general line of our party to dynamically conduct the three revolutions–ideological, technical and cultural.

It is imperative to carry through the five-year strategy for the state economic development from 2016 to 2020.

Kim had a busy second day, and also delivered a review of the KWP’s work (also carried by KCNA):

As required by the prevailing situation and the developing revolution, the WPK advanced the strategic line of simultaneously pushing forward the economic construction and the building of nuclear force and worked hard for its implementation.

[…]

A big stride has been made in the economic and cultural construction.

Raw materials, fuel and power bases of the self-supporting economy have been reinforced and Juche-based production processes introduced into core fields and the structure of industrial sectors further improved.

Is Kim perhaps alluding to changes in agricultural management in the following section? (my emphasis):

 A successful innovation was witnessed in the development of communications service and production processes, technical equipment and operation means have been further modernized in various fields including transport and building-materials industry.

A high-pitched campaign for bringing about a radical turn in seed selection, potato farming, double cropping and scientific farming was waged in the field of agriculture to provide a guarantee for increasing grain production.

Modern stock-breeding bases, fish farms, vegetable greenhouses, mushroom farms and vast thriving orchards were built across the country.

In fisheries a campaign for carrying out the Party’s idea of creating a new history of sea of gold has been waged to make a breakthrough in the development of the fishing industry.

Technical updating and the work for ensuring the local supply of raw and other materials has been positively conducted in factories and enterprises in the field of light industry to ensure increased production and supply of quality consumer goods for people.

Many monumental edifices representing the era of the Workers’ Party to which the Juche-oriented architectural idea was applied were built to lay a solid foundation for socialist economic construction and improvement of the people’s living standards.

Able scientists and technicians grew in number while the material and technical foundation for the scientific researches was consolidated despite economic hardship, bringing about radical development of the science and technology.

Fresh progress was made in the education as required by the IT era with the enforcement of the universal 12-year compulsory education and the establishment of the remote education system.

In another speech, Kim “set forth tasks for completing [the] socialist cause.” KCNA published the speech the same day it was given, and Kim does mention some goals connected to economic matters. This is, to my knowledge, the first statement where Kim actually elaborates somewhat on the five-year plan (my emphasis added):

We should attach importance to talents and attain the goal of turning all people into scientific and technological talents.

It is necessary to lay a firm material and technological foundation of the state and bring about a turn in improving the people’s living standard.

It is necessary to work out a phased strategy for the development of the national economy in a scientific and realistic way and carry out it without fail.

As an immediate task we should thoroughly carry out the five-year strategy for the state economic development from 2016 to 2020.

Note that Kim mentions “external economic relations” before any other matters when discussing the priorities of the five-year plan:

It is necessary to expand and develop external economic relations.

One could speculate whether the following pronouncement alludes to the enterprise management changes under Kim Jong-un — the true meaning of the statement seems to hinge on how one interprets “responsible”:

We should conduct the state unified guidance and strategic management of the economic work in a responsible manner.

The two statements above are the only ones that directly concern economic policy. They are fairly vague, but Kim’s expansions of special economic zones and management reforms come to mind.

Other parts of the speech are not necessarily interesting because of their connection to the economy. This is presumably a reference to the problem of people illegally watching foreign movies and tv-series (my emphasis):

We should usher in an overall efflorescence in the socialist literature and arts.

It is necessary to shatter the imperialist ideological and cultural poisoning and strictly preserve our socialist culture and lifestyle.

We should establish strong moral discipline throughout the society.

It is necessary to further increase the might of the politico-ideological power and military power.

We should more firmly cement the harmonious whole of the party and the popular masses.

We should detect and shatter all moves of the enemies to destabilize our socialism in good time and firmly defend our ideology and social system, class position and single-minded unity.

During the second day, Kim continued his review of the KWP’s work in another speech, and was no stranger to recognizing North Korea’s problems. In affirming North Korea’s “independence,” Kim struck a familiar chord and repeated a suspicion against foreign “aid” that both his grandfather and father often spoke of (my emphasis):

He noted that in the period under review, a radical change was made in the world political structure and correlation of forces and the international circumstances of the Korean revolution remained very complicated.

[…]

For global independence, it is important for each country and nation to maintain their sovereignty, holding aloft the banner of independence against imperialism.

The core of the struggle against imperialism is to frustrate the moves of the U.S. and its followers for aggression and war and defend the global peace and security.

Underscoring the need to conduct a vigorous struggle to get the aggressive military blocs, the root of military confrontation and war, dissolved and the military bases for aggression removed from other countries and thus build a new peaceful world, he continued:

All countries and nations aspiring after independence should never harbor any expectation and illusion about the imperialists’ cunning double-dealing tactics and hypocritical “aid”, but preserve the Juche character and national identity.

The progressive mankind of the world should vigorously struggle for international justice, irrespective of differences in political view, religious belief and economic and cultural development.

It is sometimes difficult to understand how the North Korean regime conceives of the logic behind Byungjin (parallel development of nuclear weapons and the economy), but the following passage gives a hint — with nuclear weapons, the country will be in a stronger position to negotiate its standing in all other areas as well:

Since it retained the status of a full-fledged independent power, a nuclear power, the DPRK will develop its external relations in conformity with the status.

Day 3 (5/8/2016)

On the third day, one of the main statements concerned the work of the auditing commission of the KWP. If one were to speculate, it may not be completely far-fetched to connect this emphasis on internal financial control with the anti-corruption drive launched earlier this year. This is what the designated rapporteur had to say about the work of the commission:

The reporter said the Party Central Auditing Commission confirmed that the party finance has properly performed its mission and duty and all financial activities have been conducted correctly on the principle of the party in the period under review on the basis of the audit data and reports of the review of the work of the auditing commissions submitted to the provincial party conferences.

He underlined the need to steadily improve the party’s financial management as required by the new era of the Juche revolution.

Kim Jong-un made a concluding review on the last day of the congress, also carried by KCNA (emphasis added):

It is necessary to continue to carry out the party’s strategic line of simultaneously pushing forward the economic construction and the building of nuclear force [byungjin].

This strategic line is the most revolutionary and scientific one reflecting the lawful requirements of building a thriving socialist nation and the specific conditions of our country.

Byungjin was also front and center in the decision adopted on the review of the Party by the congress (also carried by KCNA) (emphasis added):

We will consolidate the position of the political and military power and fly the flag of victory on the eminence of the scientific and technological power, an economic giant and a highly civilized nation.

We will take the general line of socialist construction and the principle of self-development as the constant strategic line, win a great victory in building a thriving socialist nation and successfully realize the historic cause of modeling the whole society on Kimilsungism and Kimjongilism.

We will make a new leap forward in the development of the country’s science and technology, open up an era prospering with science and bring about a revolutionary turn in socialist construction in a short span of time.

We will work out the phased strategy for the national economic development in a scientific and realistic manner and carry it out without fail and carry through the five-year strategy for the state economic development from 2016 to 2020 for the present.

We will accelerate the building of a highly civilized socialist country and thus bring up all the people to be able men for the socialist construction with profound knowledge and cultural attainments, and provide them with conditions and environment for leading a wealthy and a highly civilized life to their heart’s content.

International media was not allowed in to witness the congress proceedings for most of the event, but that probably made for more interesting dispatches anyway. Reuters noted the increasing prevalence of electric bikes in Pyongyang:

While pedal-powered bikes still predominate on Pyongyang’s wide avenues, the electric bike trend began in the last year, locals and foreign residents of the North Korean capital said.

On Saturday, a Reuters journalist covering the congress saw six of the bikes in the space of 10 minutes.

“You can carry luggage,” said Kim Chol Jin, a computer science student at Kim Chaek University of Technology, who was riding his electric bike along Mirae Scientists Street.

“My wife bought me this to help shorten my commute,” he told Reuters journalists, who were accompanied by a government guide.

The proliferation of electric bicycles follows another recent local consumer trend: a surge in residential usage of LED light bulbs and solar panels, to get around the country’s chronic electricity shortage.

A bike made by a Chinese company called Anqi was for sale this week in Pyongyang’s Kwangbok Department Store for 2.62 million won – around $330 at the unofficial exchange rate of 8,000 won to the dollar. While that is well beyond the reach of the average North Korean, an expanding gray market economy has given rise to a growing consumer class known as “donju”, or “masters of money”.

Full article:
Power to the people: electric bikes take off in North Korea
Reuters
James Pearson
2016-05-08

Day four (5/9/2016) 

The 7th Party Congress concluded with a statement calling for a “general offensive toward complete victory of socialism,” also carried by KCNA (emphasis added):

It stressed that the main idea of the decision made at the 7th Congress of the WPK is to arouse the entire party, the whole country, the entire army and all the people again to the struggle for winning the final victory in the building of a thriving socialist nation as soon as possible [a rather ambiguous timeline, to say the least…] and thus make them wage a general offensive in the period up to the 8th Congress.

The 7th WPK Congress called upon all the servicepersons, youths and other people to launch a Mallima speed campaign of rapid progress and innovation for the implementation of its decision in every sector and unit, the appeal said, adding:

The entire party, the whole country and all the servicepersons and civilians should dash toward the high eminence of a thriving nation at the speed of Mallima.

And if anyone ever thought that the core characteristics of North Korea’s political system were ambiguous:

Never tolerate but mercilessly squash any element contrary to the idea and intention of the respected Comrade Kim Jong Un and any slightest act of breaking our single-minded unity and backbiting at our Party’s policies.

Science and technology were prevalent themes in much of the rhetoric from the congress:

Let us build an economic and highly-civilized power by dint of science and technology and thus make the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, our beloved motherland, the envy of the whole world.

This whole paragraph is one sentence:

Let us put the nation’s industry and agriculture on a modern, scientific and IT basis our own way and at the earliest date with our technology, efforts and resources and thus raise the level of the national economy to that of the most developed countries under the banner of self-development-first principle for turning everything of the country into wealth of socialism hard to find in other parts of the world, making the latest science and technology our possessions and creating everything with our materials.

Byungjin again:

Let all the people implement more thoroughly and steadily the Party’s line of simultaneously developing the two fronts, each holding arms in one hand and a hammer or a sickle in the other.

The cooperative farm that Washington Post visited got a special shot-out:

Let us raise the level of every factory and farm to that of the January 18 General Machinery Plant and the Jangchon Vegetable Co-op Farm and build every structure into such spectacular edifice as the Sci-Tech Complex and Mirae Scientists Street.

Beyond the congress

How much did this all cost the North Korean state? A Korea University scholar has attempted a calculation, as reported by Yonhap, and lands at a figure of more than $200 million, placing policy choices such as not increasing imports to close the gap between food need and availability, for example:

North Korea probably spent more than US$200 million on the just-ended ruling party congress, which will further burden the already impoverished country, a local scholar who keeps track of developments in the reclusive country said Friday.

Korea University’s Nam Sung-wook made the claim in an analysis of the four daylong Seventh Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) that ended Monday. He described the rare convention as a “political show.”

[…]

n the assessment, the academic argued the communist country spent at least the amount he estimated in the past six months for the “self coronation” of leader Kim Jong-un.

He said the move’s sole aim seems to be the consolidation of the hereditary power succession. The current leader inherited the country after the sudden death of his father in late 2011, while the late Kim Jong-il took over after his own father, the North’s founder Kim Il-sung, died in July 1994.

“Ultimately, the huge amount of money spent will result in a greater burden for North Koreans,” he said.

[…]

In another paper, professor Yang Moon-soo of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul said the Pyongyang regime will likely pursue a market-friendly economic policy for the time being.

Cho Bong-hyun, a researcher at the state-run Industrial Bank of Korea (IBK), on the other hand, said the five-year economic development plan issued by Kim Jong-un at the party congress will turn out to be a failure and will eventually come to haunt the regime down the road.

Full article:
N. Korea spends over $200 mln on Workers’ Party congress: scholar
Yonhap News
2016-05-13

This blog looks forward to closely following the implementation of the five-year plan!

UPDATE 1: The National Committee on North Korea has posted all of Kim Jong-un’s speeches.

UPDATE 2: Bob Carlin writes about his thoughts on the congress in 38 North.

UPDATE 3: Ruediger Frank writes about the economic aspects of the congress here. Here is the speech (PDF) to which Dr. Frank refers.

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Kim Jong-un’s Party Congress prep: construction projects

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Kim Jong-un has made at least two announcements recently, as the Korean Worker’s Party heads for its 7th Party Congress in May, about construction projects to be done. One of them is an orphanage in Ryanggang province, Daily NK reports:

Projects underway to promote Kim Jong Un’s legacy as a leader ahead of the 7th Party Congress in May are said to be in full swing across the nation. One such project taking place in Ryanggang Province calls for the full mobilization of residents to build an orphanage as an expression of the leader’s “love for the next generation,” Daily NK has learned.

“Authorities have recently been harassing residents saying that the orphanage under construction next to Kim Jong Suk Teachers’ College in Yonbong-dong needs to be ready for the Marshal’s (Kim Jong Un) inspection by the time of the Party Congress,” a source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK on Thursday. “The provincial party office has been hurrying people along, claiming the construction must be completed before the event.”

Progress was said to be slow during the winter, which was unseasonably cold, but construction efforts are now appearing to ramp up.

The project is being driven by the provincial head secretary and other cadres from the provincial Party and People’s Committee and is being promoted as a means to express loyalty to the leader, who has emphasized his “love for children,” said the source.

She added that cadres associated with the efforts, who have confidently stated that the facility will see completion before the Party Congress, have also been intensifying crackdowns on those seeking to avoid mobilization, out of concern that failure to complete the project on time may lead to issues of accountability.

“Vendors who are busy trying to make a living in the market were often able to get out (of mobilization) with bribes, but even that isn’t easy now,” a separate source in Ryanggang Province explained.

“The price for skipping a day of mobilization is now up to 10 RMB (13,000 KPW) a day per head, so some find it more affordable to just go to the construction site.”

The 13,000 KPW demanded is enough to purchase approximately 2kg of rice based on current prices, which is far from negligible for most members of the public. The higher price tag in effect acts as a tool to turn up the heat on people for mobilization.

The pressure to complete the project before the major political gathering has led to mobilization of students in the afternoons and workers at state-run factory as well.

The near full mobilization also involves specialized colleges, meaning that among the younger generation, stormtroopers (who are working on a railway project in Samjiyon) are seemingly the only group among ordinary residents that are exempt from the orphanage project.

Full article:
Kim Jong Un calls for construction of new orphanage in time for Party Congress
Kang Mi Jin
Daily NK
2016-04-19

IFES at Kyungnam University has also published an analysis of the news about the Ryomyong street project, which Curtis has already written about in this blog. They note that the recent sanctions do not seem to have altered plans for the project. Kim Jong-un’s rhetoric instead highlights the project as a blow against the international community and the US — North Korea will go full steam ahead on its own policies and no outside pressure can hold them back (my emphasis below):

On March 18, the state media Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that Kim Jong Un declared the construction of ‘Ryomyong Street’, which is to be built between Kumsusan Palace of the Sun and the Ryonghung Crossroads in Pyongyang. The street’s name signifies a place where ‘the dawn breaks in the Korean revolution’. Kim also mentioned that the area is to be surrounded by magnificent skyscrapers and multi-level buildings that fit the geographical characteristics surrounding the palace, displaying the Party’s idea of giving importance to science and talents in socialist Korea.
[…]
Along these lines, Kim put emphasis on the policy of securing building materials in constructing the new street and to diversify the size, design and color of decorative objects on the exterior of buildings. He also instructed for the mobilization of ‘soldier-builders’ who previously worked on the construction of Mirae Scientists Street. The construction of the new street shall be carried out with “Mallima speed” during the country’s ‘70-day campaign’ in run-up to the Party Congress scheduled for this upcoming May. The news report also stated that “the party, state, and society should render positive assistance to the construction and the Cabinet, commissions, ministries and national institutions take the lead in this work.”

According to the report, Kim Jong Un also said that “The construction of the street is not merely for formation of a street but serves as a political occasion of clearly showing the spirit of the DPRK standing up and keeping up with the world, despite all sorts of sanctions and pressure by U.S. imperialists and their followers, the appearance of the country advancing to realize the great ideal of the people and truth that the DPRK is able to be well-off in its own way and nothing is impossible for it to do.” The construction of the street appears in part as a means to show off the strength of ‘Songun’ Korea, following in the footsteps of Kim Jong Il’s policy.

Despite the strong sanctions imposed upon the country by the international community, North Korea is striving to achieve some form of economic success. The 70-day campaign has been initiated in the run-up to the Seventh Congress of the Workers’ Party. North Korean media are boasting about the country’s successes on the production front since the campaign’s initiation, saying “under the Juche ideology, people are working hard especially in the fields of electricity, coal, metal, and railroad transportation that they have achieved great success in the [campaign’s] first week.”

Full article here:
North Korea to Construct ‘Ryomyong Street’ Despite Sanctions
Institute for Far Eastern Studies
03-29-2016

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The UNSC sanctions and the North Korean economy

Friday, March 11th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

In the past few days, Daily NK has carried a number of interesting reports on how the latest round of UNSC sanctions have impacted the domestic economy in North Korea. Below, I’ve gathered a compendium of sorts. I’ll continue updating it as more stories surface.

Only a short while after the sanctions were announced, trucks carrying mineral exports were blocked from entering China. Some businesspeople were apparently surprised at China’s relatively forceful implementation of the sanctions, given that little impact had been seen from past sanctions:

Chinese authorities began prohibiting mineral exports from North Korea on March 1st in a move not strictly related to the passing of UN Security Council Resolution 2270, which outlines sanctions against North Korea. North Korean authorities and foreign-earning currency enterprises tied to the military did not see this move coming and expressed embarrassment and shock.

In a telephone conversation with the Daily NK on March 4, a source from North Pyongan Province said, “Beginning on March 1, mineral exports such as coal and ore have not been allowed to pass through Chinese customs into China. Trucks loaded with mineral deposits have been idly waiting in front of Chinese customs near Dandong. The foreign trading companies are simply waiting for instructions from the higher authorities.”

Full story:
Trucks loaded with mineral exports blocked from entering China
Seol Song Ah
Daily NK
2016-03-07

A few days later, Daily NK reported that “panic” had begun to set in, not just among high-level businesspeople and traders involved in the mineral extraction industry, but also among market vendors who worry that they won’t be able to buy products for import from China:

“The news that the UN resolution containing sanctions against North Korea passed unanimously is spreading like wildfire through [domestic] cell phones. People in the North had little interest in sanctions in the past, but these days they are expressing concern that ‘this time things are going to be different,’” a source in South Pyongan Province reported to Daily NK on March 7.

A source in North Hamgyong Province corroborated this news, reporting the same developments on the ground in that region.

“Sinuiju is known as the gateway to China and the ultimate symbol of friendly relations between our two nations. That’s why news of its closure to mineral exports is causing dismay,” she explained, adding that a rumor has also taken off that international customs offices in other border towns such as North Hamgyong’s Rajin and Hoeryong will be shuttered.

Further anxiety is being stoked by the fact that trusted allies such as China and Russia are participating in the sanctions and the fact that residents are getting detailed information about the resolution’s specific clauses.

“People are further concerned because things have apparently changed significantly since China helped the country to overcome the difficulties during the ‘Arduous March,’ [famine] in the mid 1990s. People from all over the country are concerned that China might shut the border down totally. If that happens, it will become difficult for everyone to make a living,” the source indicated.

“Wholesalers and market vendors are feeling the most vulnerable to the UN sanctions. Their greatest fear is that they won’t be able to buy products. Merchants who have been selling Chinese products at cheap prices are expecting a cost increase and have momentarily discontinued sales.”

Full story:
Panic sets in as sanctions specifics circulate 
Daily NK
Choi Song Min
2016-03-08

Not just mineral exports to China have taken a hit. Food products specialties like hairy crab, frequently imported to cities like Yanji in China from North Korea’s northern fishing cities like Rajin, are now being sold at domestic markets instead:

“These days items that were previously hard to find because they were earmarked for export are suddenly emerging at the markets,” a source from North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Thursday. “The price haven’t gone down enough yet, so you don’t see too many people actually buying them. But you do see flocks of curious people coming out to the markets to see all the delicacies for sale.”

She added, “High-end marine goods like roe, sea urchin eggs, hairy crab, and jumbo shrimp and produce like pine nuts, bracken, and salted pine mushrooms were once considered to be strictly for export, but now they’re easy to find. The number of such products, referred to as ‘sent back goods,’ at Sunam Market and other markets around Chongjin is growing by the day.”

Additional sources in both North and South Hwanghae Provinces reported the same developments in those regions.

Despite the sanctions that have already kicked in, products from China are still flowing into North Korea. however, the goods sold in bulk to China–minerals like coal, marine products, etc.– have nowhere to go and are therefore making their way back into the country.

Full story:
Would-be food exports to China popping up in jangmadang
Choi Song Min
Daily NK
2016-03-11

Politically, too, the topic of sanctions has become highly sensitive. According to reports by Daily NK, surveillance authorities have increased their focus on certain groups that they deem as more likely than others to speak out about the added pressures from the sanctions:

The boost in surveillance is interpreted as a move by the regime to nip in the bud any rumblings of political unrest engendered by members of society more likely to speak out about the pressure squeezing North Korea. Those tracing the lines of the circumstances leading to this pressure, namely a volley of sanctions lobbed at North Korea by the international community in response to its nuclear test and rocket launch, are a threat to the regime’s authoritarian grip over the population.

A source with the Ministry of People’s Security [MPS, or North Korea’s equivalent of a police force] informed Daily NK on March 8 that internal orders came down at the beginning of March for the MPS to survey and track the recent movements of those anyone ascribed to the “wavering” cohort. Two separate sources in the same province verified this information, but Daily NK has not yet confirmed if the same orders are in effect in other provinces.

Full story:
MPS steps up surveillance to suppress potential ‘pot stirrers’
Kang Mi Jin
Daily NK
2016-03-11

(UPDATE 2016-02-18): a couple of days ago, Daily NK published another piece on this topic. They note that market prices have remained relatively stable, and that many people don’t seem to treat this sanctions round as anything out of the ordinary:

Market prices in North Korea have remained relatively stable despite stronger sanctions enforced by the international community, including China, as well as greater limitations on market operationsdue to nationwide preparation for Pyongyang’s May Party Congress.

Multiple Daily NK sources within the country have confirmed that rice prices in Pyongyang, South Pyongan Province’s Sinuiju, and Ryanggang Province’s Hyesan are trading at 5,100 KPW, 5,150 KPW, and 5,080 KPW per kilogram, respectively, similar to levels before sanctions were stepped up (5,100 KPW, 5,100 KPW, 5,260 KPW).

This is also the case on the foreign exchange front, with 1 USD trading for 8,150 KPW in Pyongyang, 8,200 KPW in Sinuiju, and 8,170 KPW in Hyesan, showing some signs of strengthening for the local currency from pre-sanction rates (Pyongyang 8,200 KPW, Sinuiju·Hyesan 8,290 KPW).

“There had been concern we would see fewer goods in the market because of UN sanctions, but in reality, there hasn’t been much difference,” a source from North Pyongan Province told Daily NK in a telephone conversation on Sunday. “The state is placing restrictions on opening hours for the market for the ‘70-day battle’ (mobilization for the Party Congress), but the markets have remained lively, and there’s not much change in terms of market prices.”

Further confirming trends previously reported by Daily NK last week, an additional source in North Hamgyong Province reported yesterday that some people had stocked up food worried about sanctions from the UN, but that this hasn’t led to a violent gyration in prices. “Actually, in some regions, we’re seeing prices of certain products drop,” he noted.

This price stability seen in the marketplace, in spite of the sanctions having kicked in earlier this month, can be attributed to the fact that most products are still trading as they would have save one of the North’s main export items: minerals.

The simple reality that people have experienced similar times before is also at play. “In the past, people who had stockpiled food during other sanctions discovered that after the political climate evened out a bit they were unable to get their money’s worth for everything they bought. This is why we’re seeing less of it,” a source from Ryanggang Province explained. “Initially there was a little bit of noise, but in general people are remaining calm.”

Full article:
Market prices so far showing resilience against sanctions
Daily NK
Kang Mi Jin
2016-03-14

Also, Marcus Noland recently launched a “Black Market Contest” at the Witness to Transformation blog, letting readers bet on what will happen with the unofficial exchange rate as a result of the sanctions:

The exchange rate issue has re-emerged with the imposition of sanctions. My colleague Steph Haggard leans toward the view that the imposition of a broader set of sanctions, particularly with respect to mining, together with enhanced Chinese enforcement will generate a balance of payments cum financial crisis with uncertain implications for political stability. I am more skeptical of both the additional coverage and the likely Chinese rigor in enforcement.

But this is an empirical issue. If the sanctions bite, then one would expect to see their effects manifested in the black market rate on the won. So we decided to offer up this conundrum to the wisdom of the crowd, or at least of our readership, in this Witness to Transformation Black Market Contest. Yes, you can ply your wits against North Korean loan sharks and black market traders. Or maybe the North Korean monetary authorities. Here’s how it works.

Steph thinks that within two months, evidence of the impact of sanctions should begin to emerge. So the object of the contest is to guess the black market won-dollar rate two months hence. Since the sanctions resolution passed 2 March, we will use the first DailyNK average rate applying to the post-2 May period as the reference. So you have the next month to analyze trade data, contact spies in Dandong, or call in favors in Switzerland to inform your estimate. Whoever guesses closest to the May black market rate wins. In the event of a tie, whoever submitted their entry first wins.

Please list your estimate in the comments section below. The entry period closes 15 April.

Full article:
Witness to Transformation Black Market Contest
Witness to Transformation blog
Marcus Noland
2016-03-16

(UPDATE 2016-05-02): DailyNK continues to cover domestic prices in the context of the sanctions. In late April, vegetable prices rose, but rice prices remain notably stabile:

Despite these high prices, movements on the rice and foreign currency front have remained relatively stable, leading people to believe the spike in vegetables will be short lived.

“Vegetables are not export items and therefore their prices are determined by domestic supply and demand,” the Pyongyang-based source noted. “However strong the sanctions may be, rice prices have nonetheless remained the same and, under these conditions, not many will choose to eat expensive cabbages over rice,” the source added, suggesting that prices are likely to return to normal as the markets readjust for supply and demand.

Full article here:
Vegetable prices spikes, rice remains stabile 
Daily NK
Kang Mi Jin
2016-04-28

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Friday fun with North Korea’s new slogans

Friday, February 19th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

What better way to start off the weekend than to go through North Korea’s latest batch of political slogans (“Joint calls/공동구호”)? These were issued collectively by the Central Committee and the Central Military Commission on Wednesday February 17th, and printed on the frontpage of Rodong Sinmunas part of the run-up to the 7th Party Congress to be held later this year.

Below I have gathered those that relate to the economy, and a few other interesting ones, with brief annotation:

The calls underlined the need to make hurrah for the WPK and socialism resound far more loudly this year when the Seventh Congress of the WPK is to be held by staging an all-out death-defying struggle for building a thriving nation and improving the people’s living standard.

The Byungjin line is alive and well.

Let’s dynamically wage this year’s general advance in the same spirit as shown in succeeding in the H-bomb test!

Let’s build an economic giant as early as possible with the strength and the spirit of Korea and at the Korean speed!

Send more satellites of Juche Korea into space!

As often before, the satellite launch and the hydrogen bomb test are tied into the theme of economic development: both are technological advancements, showing the overall progress of the economy.

Produce more new-generation electric locomotives and passenger cars!

A shout-out to the domestic car industry?

Put the manufacture of Korean-style world-class underground trains on a serial basis!

The domestically manufactured subway cars haven’t been forgotten. One wonders if people living outside Pyongyang feel as strongly about them.

Step up the modernization of the mining industry and keep the production of nonferrous metal and non-metallic minerals going at a high rate!

Provide more resources for building an economic giant by channeling effort into prospecting underground resources!

At least now Jang Song-taek can’t touch them anymore.

Make the foreign trade multilateral and diverse!

This is interesting, and a clear statement about an important rationale for the SEZs: North Korea will remain politically and economically vulnerable as long as China continues to be its single largest trading partner by a large margin.

Let’s greet the 7th Party Congress with proud achievements in the improvement of the people’s living standard!

The people “will never have to tighten their belts again”, as Kim Jong-un said in his first public speech in 2012.

Achieve a great victory on the front of agriculture this year!

Which the regime has already claimed it did last year. The UN doesn’t agree.

Let’s give a decisive solution to the problem of consumer goods!

Let’s produce more world-competitive famous products and goods!

North Korean media has highlighted strides in consumer goods production several times this year.

Make Wonsan area an icon of city layout and build it into a world-level tourist city!

A shout-out to the Wonsan tourist zone, presumably.

Establish Korean-style economic management method guided by the Juche idea in a comprehensive manner!

Sounds like the management reforms, with greater autonomy for enterprises, are still on the table.

Let the entire party and army and all the people turn out in the forest restoration campaign!

And make sure they “properly conduct fertilizer management“. This is the only reference among the slogans to the forestry campaign, where the regime has publically acknowledged some crucial and systemic problems, but is yet to find a credible solution.

Put an end to proclivity to import!

Does this tell us something about North Korea’s trade balance that the numbers aren’t showing?

The Korean People’s Internal Security Forces should sharpen the sword for defending their leader, system and people!

Note that “people” comes after both “leader” and “system”.

Let us thoroughly implement our Party’s policy of putting all the people under arms and turning the whole country into a fortress!

Enhance the fighting capacity of the Worker-Peasant Red Guards by intensifying their drills as the anti-Japanese guerillas did in Mt. Paektu!

Develop and produce a greater number of various means of military strike of our own style that are capable of overwhelming the enemy!

Enhance the fighting capacity of the Worker-Peasant Red Guards by intensifying their drills as the anti-Japanese guerillas did in Mt. Paektu!

These four slogans seem to be saying that the Four Military Guidelines, adopted in 1962 by the Central Committee, are still very much in play: 1) arming the population, 2) fortifying the country, 3) establishing a cadre-based army, and 4) modernizing military equipment. Mao would probably have been happy to know that his People’s War Doctrine lives on in North Korea.

The whole list of slogans is very long, and saying that policy areas need to improve, or that production in a certain area needs to go up, isn’t much of a policy line. Still, it’s interesting to see what areas are highlighted.

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Economic reforms to come at North Korea’s Party Congress, Daily NK says

Monday, January 11th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Daily NK today carries a piece reporting on economic reforms to potentially come at the Korean Worker’s Party Congress coming up this year:

In terms of the possibility of declaring new economic reforms, the source explained he would announce reform measures that stay within the overall framework of socialism. Taking an extra step forward from the new economic management system’s ‘June 28 Measures,’ which pertained to agricultural policies, the pending package of reforms will include provisions authorizing individuals to directly manage factories. In practice, this would enable the state to collect more taxes from the donju [newly affluent middle class] by providing them with more freedom to make money.

Aspects of these changes are already underway in select locales. “In some regions, municipal People’s Committee business offices have been granting donju increased license to earn money,” he said. “Provided that people can offer up the initial 6,000 RMB fee and build their own factories with basic infrastructure such as sanitation facilities they are relatively uninhibited in their business operations.”

Hints at reforms like these were largely absent from Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s Address, I argued in an earlier post.

Read the full article:
Major organizational changes to be announced at Party Congress
Choi Song Min
Daily NK
2016-01-11

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