GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 347 June 2010

[“Good Friends” aims to help the North Korean people from a humanistic point of view and publishes “North Korea Today” describing the way the North Korean people live as accurately as possible. We at Good Friends also hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.]
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Central Party Secretly Dispatches Investigative Unit to Report on Peoples’ Living Conditions
Leading Secretary of the South Hamgyong Provincial Party Severely Criticized for Making False Claim: “Nobody died of starvation.”
Central Bank Distributes Newly Minted Currency to National Banks
Over 20% of the Laborers at Saenggiryung Pottery Factory Barely Surviving on Watery Gruel
Democratic Women’s Union (“DWU”) Members Failed to Attend Farming Mobilization at JaeRyong County
Chinese Yuan Rises in June
[Editorial] Urgency of North Korea’s Food Aid Request to International Community
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Central Party Secretly Dispatches Investigative Unit to Report on Peoples’ Living Conditions
After the 12th three-part conference held by the People’s Assembly came to a close on June 7th, the affiliated branches of the Central Party dispatched investigative units to secretly report on living conditions throughout the country. The first report was presented to the Party on June 18th describing the conditions in South Hamgyong Province. According to the report, in each of the following cities, Hamheung, Heungnam, Shinpo, Gohwon, Jungpyung, and Danchun, at least 100 people have died of starvation in three months from March to June. In Hamheung alone, 190 people have died of starvation from March to May. However, the actual number of deaths is suspected to be much higher. In Hamheung, 40 percent of the population is reported to have survived on porridge alone. Military units were also within the scope of the investigation, and it was discovered that not only privates, but high-ranking officers have also died of malnutrition. One public official in Hamheung stated the following: “Despite the number of people dying of starvation, not enough food is being provided; the divorce rate has quadrupled since last year; and people have already sold all of their belongings, and many are now thinking of selling their homes. The City Party is aware of this grave situation, but is failing to take any appropriate action.”

Leading Secretary of the South Hamgyong Provincial Party Severely Criticized for Making False Claim: “Nobody died of starvation.”
Jong-soo Tae, the Leading Secretary of the South Hamgyong Provincial Party was severely criticized after publicly stating that no one has died of starvation in South Hamgyong Province at the Supreme People’s Assembly on June 7th. Mr. Tae reported: “Although food cannot be distributed to the people due to economic difficulties facing the nation, nobody died of starvation thanks to all the hard work of the Provincial Party and officials of all ranks.” However, the report compiled by the secret inquiry commission painted a different story, where starvation turned out to be a very severe problem in the Province. Mr. Tae was also criticized by the Organization and Guidance Department of the Central Party: “The Provincial Party’s Leading Secretary cannot fathom how many people are starving to death because his own stomach is full. He does not know how many people die of hunger every day; how many are at the brink of death; and how many people are barely surviving on porridge alone. Doesn’t this indicate that he who is holding the trust of the Party and responsible for managing his Province, betraying our leader, Kim Jong-il, and the Party’s expectations?”

Central Bank Distributes Newly Minted Currency to National Banks
After the Supreme People’s Assembly meeting on June 7th, the Central Party decided to ease the illiquidity in the economy through the Central Bank distributing up to 100 million and 50 million NK won in new currency to the banks in the cities and in the counties, respectively. The Party determined that after the currency exchange, lack of circulation of the currency brought paralysis to the functioning of the public enterprises upholding the nation’s economy; workers were not receiving their wages markedly reducing their purchasing power of even food and daily necessities. With the additional funding, the public enterprises would be able to pay their workers up to three-months of deferred wages; however, it would not be sufficient for the enterprises to meet their operational needs.

Over 20% of the Laborers at Saenggiryung Pottery Factory Barely Surviving on Watery Gruel
Even the once profitable Saenggiryung Pottery Factory in Kyongsung, North Hamgyong Province is impacted by the food shortage. This company is known for producing high quality pots, which helped to sustain profits for some time. Nevertheless, over 20% of its employees were barely surviving on thin gruel last month and in April, seven laborers reportedly starved to death. As the food shortage worsened, the company secured a contract with a trading company in Ryanggang Province to acquire five tons of food to feed its workers. First, it distributed 10-12 kg of rice to each of the starving workers who could not work, and then 10 kg of rice each to workers who come to work and to the officers such as the company manager and the Secretary of the Party. However, the newly acquired provisions ran out quickly, and on May 11th the pottery company once again engaged in trade with the same trading company for five tons of food.

Although they were able to settle immediate food shortage needs, the manager of the factory and the Secretary of the Party were rebuked for acting on this decision prior to obtaining permission from the government. It was before the 5.26 directive went into effect and at the time bartering pots for food was illegal and punishable by law. The laborers grumbled and complained about this incident at the public prosecutors’ office: “The government had failed to distribute food to us, so many of us could not go to work to make pots. We did not use any illegal or inappropriate materials; we made products with ordinary materials and incorporated our skills.” The public officers refuted this complaint by saying: “The nation controls and manages the pottery factory, and because the company has illegally sold products to a trading company, it interfered with the nation’s development plans. You must not trade with any individual trading companies in secret, or sell items without permission. What you have done compromised our nation’s productivity and well-being.” Laborers angrily retorted to this statement: “If it was a critical crime, does it mean we should starve to death?” However, with the passage of the 5.26 order, the Saenggiryung Pottery Factory can now engage in unrestricted trade with any trading company.

Democratic Women’s Union (“DWU”) Members Failed to Attend Farming Mobilization at Jaeryong County
According to the data reported by the Democratic Women’s Union (“DWU”) town office at Jaeryong County, South Hwanghae Province, approximately 380 DWU members did not participate in the farming mobilization due to lack of food. Jaeryong County is a very important region in the nation because it is a granary that engages in rice farming. However, officials of the County Party and the People’s Assembly went to each neighborhood unit to investigate the actual conditions and submitted the report because women’s participation rate in the farming mobilization was very low. A decision was made at a countermeasure meeting of the South Hwanghae Province Provincial Party to quickly release some of the army provisions and the food earmarked to send to the Mount Baekdu special labor brigade because of a report informing them that women could not come to work due to starvation. The provincial party distributed 10 days worth of food at the end of May to the regions inside the South Hwanghae Province which have the most serious food problems such as Jaeryong County and Taetan County. Each family in the region received approximately 7-9kg of corn. The Provincial Party’s action, however, provides very little help because more than half of the people in the region at issue do not have any food to eat or eat only one or two porridges a day. People in the western seashore regions of the South and North Hwanghae Province are anxiously waiting for the potato harvesting that will happen around June 20th. Farmers are anxiously waiting for the newly harvested potatoes saying that now is the most difficult time and when the newly harvested potatoes are available then they can survive. In the mean time, weak people are silently dying from starvation.

Chinese Yuan Rises in June
The value of Chinese Yuan noticeably rises since the middle of June. Since the early June, regional parties instructed relevant departments and institutions about the 5.26 Party Directive, and this seems to impact the market price since the middle of June when the news spread all over the society. Since the majority of goods circulating in the nation are Chinese made, the market prices respond very sensitively to the value of Chinese Yuan. In Chungjin City, North Hamgyong Province, 1 Chinese Yuan per 110 NKW was maintained in May, but it went up to 120 NKW in early June and again rose to 130 NKW in the middle of June. Finally, the value of Chinese Yuan went up everyday since the end of June. Namely, 130 NKW on exchange rate in June 22nd rose to 140 NKW the next day, and the next day it jumped to 155 NKW. Merchants anticipate that prices of goods and foods imported from China will also increase given that the value of Chinese Yuan increases by 10 won per day. Markets do not have a fixed price concept yet, thus the prices of goods are determined by the value of Chinese Yuan. People worry that the food price may increase even further given that they already cannot afford to buy food.


[Editorial] Urgency of North Korea’s Food Aid Request to International Community
North Korea’s Central Party has recently conducted a secret survey on the condition of livelihood of provincial population. The survey is said to be focused on the number of deaths by starvation and food situation among people. This implies that the Central Party is seriously concerned about the acute food shortage problem of the people. This rare move by the government is highly welcomed although conducting surveys to examine the food crisis and to try to address the problem is mandated to a government by default.

Actually, the Central Party has previously taken this type of measure in last January through its Economic Policy Censor Department. With reports from various regions revealing significant number of people dying from starvation, the Cabinet convened for an emergency response and yielded a policy that practically allows markets. It also tried to contain civil discontent with a statement about the currency reform, saying that “the policy itself was designed in the right direction, but we recognize the confusion in the society.” Now it went even further to give a Party Directive of May 26th which asked people to be ‘Self-support for food’, along with allowing of full market opening, and abolition of various trade restrictions and regulations. This is to admit the government’s inability to provide food and let people do whatever they can do to survive. This action is a positive step in the sense that the government changed its control-driven policy to allowing more autonomy to businesses and individuals. Moreover, it rationed 40 to 60 thousand NK won to state-run companies and 5,000 won to 100 million won to regional banks for their operation. All these measures represent breakthroughs from the previous responses.

The Central Party leadership officially admitted incidents of deaths by starvation through this survey. However, the actual number of deaths will be much higher than the data Party collected. The Central Party organization department’s criticism against wealthy high officials is right in that they do not know the dire situation of the people. Since food shortage is absolutely critical in North Korea, the government should step forward to secure food resources from abroad. It should not sabotage its responsibility by pushing it to individual government officials and letting loose people to survive on their own. It does not matter if the food is coming as aid or as loan; the government must bring food to its people by any means. The capacity of individuals or units of departments and regions is not comparable to that of the government, and the amount of food they can manage to secure is limited.

Therefore, the government should request international food aid and commit to the actions the international community is calling for. Foremost, it should request the Chinese government’s cooperation and humanitarian aid. In the recent North Korea-China summit, the Chinese government expressed its willingness to cooperate and make an alliance. At the North’s request, the Chinese government can quickly respond with humanitarian aid and economic cooperation. At the same time, the North government should communicate with the international community and South Korean government about its humanitarian crisis and ask for help. The South Korean government has already made a statement ensuring its continued humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable population of the North regardless of the sinking of the Cheonan. The international community also recognizes the need of continuation of humanitarian aid despite the UN Security Council’s resolutions 1718 and 1814 against North Korea in response to the North’s nuclear experiment. A special attention is required from the United States because 2/3 of its pledged food aid of 500,000 ton is still pending since it stopped last year. If the North Korean government commits to cooperate the US’ monitoring procedure, its humanitarian aid may resume without delay.

In the current tension amid the international sanction on North Korea and the sinking of Cheonan, it is understandable that it must be difficult for the North government to request humanitarian assistance. However, it is nothing to be ashamed to ask for help when in a desperate situation. A great general puts every effort not only to win the war but also to prevent unnecessary deaths of his soldiers. Time is short for the North to solve its serious food crisis only by its own effort and through agricultural reform. Foreign food aid is necessary to avoid further innocent deaths. To facilitate the aid, the North Korean government should accept the demand of international community to certain extent. If the North responds to its food crisis proactively, it will be able to take advantage of the momentum and induce more international cooperation.


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