GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 109

Research Institute for North Korean Society
http://www.goodfriends.or.kr/eng

North Korea Today
109th Edition January 2008

The Price of Food Has Gone Up Due To the Trade Issues with China
The Price of Flour Gone Up to 700 Won
Increasing Complaints about Rising Non-Tax Payments Instead of Food Rationing
No Food Rations in Wonsan Kangwon Province since Last October 2007
Food Rations Must Be Sacrificed for the Army in Jungpyung County in South Hamgyung Province
Hoeryung Is the Only City Having Food Rations to Its Citizens“South Korea Provides a Large Amount of Food in Aid to North Korea” Mentioned in a Provincial Trade Meeting
Nationwide Control over North Koreans of Chinese Origin
Arrested Chinese Residents of Hoeryung City Sent to the Municipal Re-education Center
Management Team at Soonam Market in Chungjin Overhauled
Interrogation Begins for Officials Connected to the Disgraced Former Manager of Soonam Market
A Tug of War between Authorities and Residents over Age Restrictions for Commercial Activity
“Thank God That the Enforcement Is Not As Bad As Before”
Writing Supply List for the 2.16 Holiday Set Off
Table1. Grain Prices in Five Major Cities as of January 25, 2008.


The Price of Food Has Gone Up Due To the Trade Issues with China
These days, the prices of rice, flour, and corn with the cob통옥수수 keep increasing. This is because the government has adjusted the system regarding trades with China. With the Beijing Olympics ahead China has dramatically increased the duty on food by 5% on rice, 20% on corn, and 20-25% on flour since the New Year. In addition, the Chinese government requires export certification 수출허가증on food. In case of rice and corn, last year’s export certification allows them to export to North Korea, but in case of flour, it cannot get into North Korea because export certification on flour had not been required until now.

The North Korean customs also requires a quality verification report on par with international standards (SGS quality certification SGS검사서) on Chinese food imports from this year. Most of the Chinese food traders do not follow the new standard because it is difficult to acquire those certifications. Thus, the shortage of supply in market keeps increasing the prices of food in North Korea. Currently, it is hard to buy rice even for 1,400 won per kg. The Chinese food traders are expecting that there will be a huge food shortage if the food trading with North Korea stops.

The Price of Flour Gone Up to 700 Won
The price of flour has hiked up within just a month. In December of last year, the price was generally 1,000 won and at most 1,200 won. However, it has gone up to 1,700 won this year due to increased duties on food items by the Chinese government. People who have once sold snacks 꽈배기, bread, and dumplings 만두for a living cannot do business any more because of lack of flour. The prices of rice and corn have gone up by 50 won within a week. People are concerned that the price of corn might become 1,000 won soon considering the current high price, 700 won. They believe that the prices of food will continue to go up.

Increasing Complaints about Rising Non-Tax Payments Instead of Food Rationing
In Giljoo County길주군 of North Hamgyung Province함경북도, residents are complaining openly about increasing non-tax payments 세외부담. In case of the Democratic Women’s Union 녀맹 each member of the Union has to make 2,600 won each to the Organization and Guidance Department 조직부after repeating order for the uncollected pork last year. Besides, the residents are grumbling because of other mounting non-tax payment burdens such as farmyard manure퇴비and iron fragment 파철 . Naturally they complain among their close friends, but when people sitting near them look nervous because of the complaints, they refuse to keep their voice down. Instead, they say, “We have no fear. We will die regardless. Why are they poking us without giving us anything while we are starving? Why are there so many orders to collect things from us even though they do nothing to help us? We cannot live any longer with their exacting demands!”

No Food Rations in Wonsan Kangwon Province since Last October 2007
Wonsan원산 in Kangwon province강원도 has had no food rations to its residents since October 2007. Wonsan has been in a dismal condition because there are no more used goods coming in from Japan since the trade ban with Japan. Once it was a lively city where people from all over the country gathered to buy used goods from Japan. Now there is no trace of the liveliness. The residents’ living condition has deteriorated since they can no longer sell used goods from Japan and trade with other foreigners. Meanwhile there have been no food rations in Pihyeon county피현군, Kwaksan county곽산군 and Yeomjoo county염주군since last October 2007.

Food Rations Must Be Sacrificed for the Army in Jungpyung County of South Hamgyung Province
The food distribution has stopped since last November in Kowon County고원군and Jungpyung County정평군of South Hamgyung Province함경남도. Especially in Jungpyung county, they provides all the produce of its farms to the army stressing that the army provisions군량미 should be guaranteed, even though there is not enough food for the residents. Each farm could not ration the food to its farmers. Farmers are despondent because government procurement officers 수매원 from Grain Policy Division (Local Food Administration Unit)양정사업소 took away all the food by including it in the army food provision plan.

Hoeryung Is the Only City Having Food Rations to Its Citizens
Except Pyongyang평양, Hoeryung회령 is the only city distributing food rations to the citizens. The city had also a special benefit last December 24th because of Kim Jung-Sook김정숙’s 90th birthday anniversary celebration. But another reason for the special benefit is because too many people have escaped to China from this city. After the investigation on the reasons for defection by the central party officials중앙당간부, the main reasons are the poor living condition without food rations and the difficulty in controlling workers who do not come to work.

As a result, the central party exempted Hoeryung City from providing military provisions and ordered food rationing to its citizens for 2 years under the special care of Chairman Kim Jung-Il김정일. According to the central party’s direction, a little amount of corn has been distributed to the people. At the same time, the organizational controls on residents to prevent any fantasy about and/or longing for China have been on residents have been strengthened through laborers and the Democratic Women’s Union. To do this, “you cannot let them have any free time. Continue to discipline people through education. The Democratic Women’s Union should continue social mobilization사회동원 and tighten its organizational life and activity to make sure not a single member deserts and defects to China.”.

“South Korea Provides a Large Amount of Food in Aid to North Korea” Mentioned in a Provincial Trade Meeting
“We do not have to import rice, flour, and corn from China any more. We will remove rice trade from the list of the foreign currency-earning Wak외화벌이와크(Wak: a type of trade permit)” was mentioned in a provincial trade meeting도무역회의, according to a local trade officer무역일꾼. The officer went on to say that North Korea, in other words, does not have to waste its foreign currencies on purchasing food items from China. Instead, we will receive a large amount of food in aid by the United Nations and South Korea. The officer, however, seemed to be wondering if the food aid was actually discussed in the six-party talks and other countries agreed on it. The National Trade Agency국가무역성 which had pressured to make every effort for food purchase until the end of last year no longer mentions about food.

Each province called local trade officers to review the proceedings of a Central Party meeting this year. In explaining and assigning the New Year’s tasks and roles, the food aid was mentioned, and it appeared implausible to officers. Some said that since no details about the South-North talks and six-party talks broadcasted or were publicized, they barely knew about what was actually discussed in those meetings. It is thus difficult for them to believe what the authorities just informed. Many expressed their concerns that a disaster might occur due to serious food shortages if the rumor about the food aid from the international community, including South Korea, is false. Moreover, an officer questioned the credibility of the statement by saying that North Korea needs at least two million (2,000,000) MT of food import. It might be the government’s “empty” propaganda to relieve people’s increasing concerns about food purchase as China tightened its control over the food export to North Korea.

Nationwide Control over North Koreans of Chinese Origin
Starting 2008, the government has tightened its control over North Koreans of Chinese-origin(Chinese residents)화교 nationwide by passing a new regulation enabling the local police 지역보안서 to handle any unlawful activities of Chinese ethnic groups without the bonds of the immigration law외국인관리법. Yet, people rather expressed their sympathy toward Chinese residents on this new regulation: North Korean people have survived many difficult situations with Chinese residents’ help since those days of the Arduous March고난의 행군 (the massive famine of the mid 1990's), but the Chinese in North Korea now seem to have become victims of the diplomatic clash with China.

Arrested Chinese Residents of Hoeryung City Sent to the Municipal Re-education Center
As the Investigation of the Anti-Socialist Activities began in national border areas such as Hoeryung회령and Chungjin청진, at the end of last year, Chinese residents became a main group to be arrested. Kim, a North Korean of Chinese-origin, was arrested by the provincial Anti-Socialist Conscience Investigation Patrol (ASCIP) 도비사회주의그루빠검열 for his illegal activities last year in Hoeryung; Kim had been doing a Songee mushroom 송이버섯business with the chief officer’s connivance at the Pungsan checkpoint풍산초소 during the Songee mushroom season, and sold more than a half of the total Songee mushroom procurement of the Fifth Management Department 5호관리부 to China illegally. Moreover, investigators discovered Kim’s additional illegal activity: Kim had delivered money from South Korean family members to their North Korean family members. With the disclosure of Kim’s illegal activities, ethnic Chinese residents became a target group of investigation. As a result, the border trade변강무역, the main business of the Chinese-ethnic group in North Korea, had been paralyzed. This trade cut with China has caused the increase of the price of particular products, including glucose포도당, injection medicines주사약, and pills알약. The thirty ethnic Chinese arrested by ASCIP last year are still detained in the municipal Re-education Center시단련대. The Hoeryung City Re-education Center even created a new “Chinese North Korean only” work unit작업반. Meanwhile, another Chinese North Korean Kim was arrested by ASCIP in Chungjin simply because he owns a big-size house.

Management Team at Soonam Market in Chungjin Overhauled
After the recent conviction of the manager 관리소장 of the Soonam Market수남시장 in Chungjin청진 for misappropriation of official funds, all the members of the market management team was exchanged for a brand new team of freshly appointed people. Furthermore, the secretary of the Provincial Party’s Organization and Guidance Department도당조직부has been fired and is undergoing questioning – he has been replaced by someone new from the Central Party’s Organization and Guidance Department중앙당조직부.

Interrogation Begins for Officials Connected to the Disgraced Former Manager of Soonam Market
As the true scale of the former market manager’s wrongdoings is revealed, the investigation into the officials connected to him is also expanding. Besides the secretary of the Provincial Party’s Organization and Guidance Department, the directive officer in charge책임지도원 of the same department and the vice-chief부서장of the Police Station보안서 at Soonam District수남구역are also under questioning. 12 officials from the Provincial Party도당, People’s Assembly도인민위원회and the Police Department도보안서have been fired already from their positions. Besides the people named, other officials who have partaken in the former market manager’s bribery pot are now in a state of heightened anxiety.

A Tug of War between Authorities and Residents over Age Restrictions for Commercial Activity
Although the official directive late last year banned people under 49 from trading in the market, but it has been revealed that some market managers are allowing people from 40 years and above to engage in trade. This is because the demand for market shelf space매대 has been dramatically reduced, negatively impacting the market income stream. Also, the market managers cannot realistically control the flow of younger people coming into the market to trade. Even the officials who are tasked to enforce the restrictions say that, “we all know these people and that they are just trying to make ends meet. If you are too tough on them, all you do is create unnecessary hatred. So we just warn them and send them along.” There have been cases reported of desperate women who physically attacked the officials when the latter was too by-the-book in enforcing the rules. Another woman reports that it’s common to see women ignoring the officials, saying, in effect, “you do what you have to, and I will do what I have to.” Younger women are now bringing along their elderly moms so that they can continue trading. When officials come, the elderly mothers tell them not to touch the merchandise because they are the traders, not their daughters. All the residents agree that the age restriction on market activity is a stupid policy.

In response, the authorities once again reiterated their age restriction policy this past January 6th and 7th. In the city of Hamheung 함흥시, the police officials보안원used a bullhorn to warn women under 40 to quit working in the markets and enter a factory. They threatened with legal punishment for anyone caught trading in defiance of the age restrictions.

“Thank God That the Enforcement Is Not As Bad As Before”
Although residents still complain about the various restrictions on market activity, they thank God that the enforcement is not as bad as before. In markets in the cities of Hamheung, Chungjin, Sariwon사리원, Pyongsung평성, and others, the store hours are usually from 1:30-5:30pm or 2:00-6:00pm. During these hours, the enforcement officials 단속원, although they might see banned merchandise openly displayed on the shelves, usually turn a blind eye. Currently, the North Korean authorities ban on trading cigarettes, cosmetics, provisions, used clothing, leather jackets, women’s straight-leg pants 여성용일자 바지, clothing with South Korea labels, various household items, CD’s, recorders, hand-knives, privately-manufactured medicines, bicycles, food, and more, leading to complaints by the traders that the authorities are basically telling them not to trade. In some markets, the store owners collect anywhere from 300-1,000 won per merchant to buy cigarettes and liquor to give to the market management officials and the market police officials in return for them to turn a blind eye to the violations. Then the officials only go through the motions of enforcing restrictions.

Writing Supply List for the 2.16 Holiday Set Off
In Sunchun순천 and Pyongsung평성 of South Pyongan Province평안남도, the heads of the Neighborhood Units인민반장are checking birth certifications of children. It is to write a present supply list for the upcoming 2.16 holiday, the birthday of Chairman Kim Jung-Il. On February 16th, children will be presented with 8 types of sweets and confections such as candies, cookies, fried glutinous rice confection강정, gum, and starch jelly엿사탕, and bean candy콩사탕. However, because the holiday presents are supplied by local governments, there will not be many regions which can present children with more than 2 items.


Table1. Grain Prices in Five Major Cities as of January 25, 2008.
(Unit: kg / North Korea Won)

City Soonchun순천 Pyungsung평성 Gimchaek김책 Giljoo길주 Chungjin청진
(South Pyongan)(South Pyongan) (North Hamgyung)(North Hamgyung)(North Hamgyung )
Rice쌀 1,450 1,450 1,450 1,450 1,400
Flour밀가루 1,750 1,750 1,700 1,700 1,650
Corn with the Cob 700 700 680 700 630
통옥수수


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