GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 358 July 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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“Restoring international trade is crucial,” Cabinet Officials Say
Laborers at Unsan Mine Sabotage as they get no Rations
Eunsan Mine District Residents Survive on Corn Porridge
Shinpo Cooperative Farms Worry about This Year's Harvest
People’s Safety Dept. Orders, “Make sure those who evade mobilization come to work.”
“Don’t force us to work if you can’t feed us,” Laborers of Kim Chaek Shipyard
County Party Demands Secretaries to Secure Food for Urangchun Brigades
Urangchun Special Labor Brigades Told to Resolve Food Crisis on Their Own

[Investigative Report]
Skyrocketing Prices and Market Trading
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“Restoring international trade is crucial,” Cabinet Officials Say during Working-level Meeting on Economy
On July 5th, economic officials in the Cabinet held the 7th working-level meeting since the 5.26 party directives were announced. The meeting sought to address several economic issues raised following the currency revaluation measure. Officials said the key issue was “to stabilize people’s lives.” Some working-level officials pointed out that light industry and local industry need to be developed to provide sufficient amounts of consumer goods for distribution. They also suggested focusing on items popular with consumers. Domestic production should focus on items in high demand in order to increase the proportion of domestic products in the market. Currently, 80% of daily necessities are made in China. The officials also stated that greater development of science and technology is needed to make mass production possible using only domestic raw materials. To tackle the urgent food crisis, officials said international trade need to be revitalized and “the best way is identifying all exportable resources and trading them for food.” The meeting concluded by emphasizing that “it was the Party’s firm promise to the people when the Party guaranteed a better life and a Strong and Prosperous Nation in 2012. The world is watching us. Everybody needs to work hard to keep the promise that was made to the people.”

Laborers at Unsan Mine Sabotage as they get no Rations
The worker sabotage situation at Unsan copper mine in South Pyongan Province is deteriorating as the food situation worsens. Until August 2009, imported corn was distributed and then discontinued. In January and February 2010, half a month's supply of corn was distributed. The monthly salary was paid only until March. Laborers made attempts of achieving the planned goal at least on the surface in February when ration was provided, but in March they explicitly engaged in strike. Mining work operates in shifts between morning and afternoon, and laborers sabotage the mine vehicle wheels by derailing to slow down the work. When the first vehicle is derailed, there is a delay and the rear vehicles continue to be delayed. This is how laborers pass the time. Workers claim that “Why should we bother to work hard when no food is distributed? We don’t have energy to work even if we tried.” They attribute the sabotage incidents to hunger. Officials such as shaft captains, company commanders and platoon leaders tried to set example by working hard, but workers were not affected in any way and tried to pass the time.

More than Half of Eunsan Mine District Residents Survive on Corn Porridge
Small plot farming in Eunsan mine district in South Pyongan Province is not easy because the land is covered with excavated pebbles. The condition is not good to open a market either. As such, people would die of hunger if food rations were not provided. More than half of the Eunsan mine district laborers survive on corn gruel. Some wealthy officials consume corn rice or unglutinous rice, but their numbers do not exceed 20% of the whole household. The mine officials, law officers, support bureau officials, and fuel oil management office workers eat rice while the rest live off gruel. Even then, the lowest level miners eat porridge made of wild edible green and corn powder.

In the past the Eunsan copper mine was a leading mine and considered a pillar of the second economy (military economy). Because of the high copper content as well as its use as a raw material for cannonball, the second economy did not hold back on assistance. With production came rice and other provisions. How did the Eunsan mine workers fell to such an extent that they have to prolong life with the gruel? A Central Party official said that miners had only dug up from the easy side without digging in greater depth. Boring the mine requires a substantial amount of time and decreases production. With supply decreasing, bores were not the first priority. The official lamented that the abundant copper reserves would be rendered useless, and he blamed poor management of the second economy for the decline of the Eunsan mine.

Shinpo Cooperative Farms Worry about This Year's Harvest
People at village cooperative farms in Shinpo town, South Hamgyong Province are already raising concerns about this year's harvest. That’s because transferring of rice seeding has not been done well. When the transplanting of rice seeding was in full swing last May, the work unit 2 and 5 could not do irrigation properly because soldiers from the neighboring army base stole the water pump. The women mobilized for rice seeding transplanting did not do a thorough job for the task that requires time and effort because they had to finish the field work in haste so that they can do trading at the market in the afternoon. Concerned farm members looking at the situation said, "Judging from the past experience the harvest yields drops by 30-40% when transplanting is done with immature rice seeding. The harvest yield is likely to be even worse this time."

The Yanghwari farm in Shinpo town also had problems with transplanting of rice seeding and decided to re-cultivate the field in the case of work unit 5. They planned to use compost to enrich the soil of the transplanting field during the transferring of rice seeding to the field. However, they could not supply the compost due to a delay in making and transporting the compost from the mountain. Rice seeding infected with disease spread and mature seeding ready for transplanting was hard to find. As such, the Shinpo town farm management committee, South Hamgyong Province agricultural researchers, and Hamjoo field farmers in Hamjoo County conducted field investigation and examined the condition of the diseased rice plant. The result of investigation indicated that "In case of a good harvest the rice grain will be premature, otherwise even harvesting a single grain will be difficult." As a result, they have decided to re-cultivate the whole 20 jungbo (2.45acres) of field. The rice field will be drained and dried up and it will be reconditioned to plant cabbages and radishes beginning mid July.

People’s Safety Dept. Orders, “Make sure those who evade mobilization come to work.”
Department of People’s Safety ordered provincial police stations to establish measures to deal with a recent phenomenon where people who make living mainly by trading are evading farming mobilization for weeding by bribing. In North Hamgyong Province, each local police station visited every household and took those who stayed home to district administration office to question the reason. Those residents who were not officially permitted to stay at home were sent to police substations. The substation called supervisors of those who were caught. The supervisors promised to keep their workers at work and brought them back. Most of the merchants who were caught are members of DWU (Democratic Women’s Union). They express discontent with the repressive treatment saying “it is very annoying that they drag us out as if they caught a big criminal.”

In Shinheung 1-dong, Sungchun River District, Hamheung City, South Hamgyong Province, the chair of DWU strongly called for participation in the full mobilization at a meeting of heads of Neighborhood Units and members of DWU. The chair emphasized, “Have a clear understanding of the full mobilization. No matter how serious the food situation is, you should show up at the mobilization. Take a strong measure to allow all women to be able to participate.” However, the chair also added, “Those members of DWU who are absent for even one day should contribute some money to feed those who show up,” since in reality, there is a high number of absenteeism for reasons such as trading. To be exempted, people should pay 500 won a day, but women pay 200-300 won on average saying that business is slow. The money is collected regardless of the reason for absenteeism, and economically disadvantaged women are suffering. In the first week of July, about 4,000 won was collected for 5 days, and the chair of DWU and the primary party secretary took and spent 2,500 won and 1,500 won for themselves respectively. Members of DWU are raising questions saying, “They told us to pay money for feeding people who are working, but they use it for making propaganda materials or the money goes to the chair’s pocket. I don’t see a reason to pay.”

“Don’t force us to work if you can’t feed us,” Laborers of Kim Chaek Shipyard
Laborers at Kim Chaek Shipyard are suffering because of a food shortage so severe that it prompted workers to say, “Do not force us to show up at work if you cannot provide food.” The situation appears quite serious because the shipyard is pressuring laborers to rush its renovation project so as to invite Kim Jong-Il this year. Out of 550 total laborers, as many as 300 are absent. Most of them are absent without notice or pay their supervisors 5,000 won so that they can earn money through a sideline job. The shipyard is in an awkward position because its leaders lack an immediate solution to tackle the food problem despite the need to raise the attendance rate. The laborers are firmly resisting, saying that they will not return to work until food provisions are resumed and any attempt to control them will fail.

County Party Demands Secretaries to Secure Food for Urangchun Brigades
On June 19th the County Party leadership of North Hamgyong Province which is in charge of construction at the Urangchun Hydroelectric Power Plant demanded for the eleventh time that the County party secretaries secure all food and commodities for the Special Labor Brigades. Special Labor Brigades are sent from cities and counties, with those cities and counties also providing the Brigades with food and supplies. The County Party asserted that the Special Labor Brigades must be fed in order to work and that secretaries of the cities and counties take responsibility to provide the construction site with food and other goods. It demanded that the Brigades be fed with rice and corn mixed in 50:50 ratios, provided with pork soup two times a week and 100g of liquor every two days and constantly supplied with bean oil. The County Party warned that food and supplies for the Special Labor Brigades will be strictly evaluated starting July 1st. The city and county secretaries who fail to meet the requirements will be penalized.

Urangchun Special Labor Brigades Told to Resolve Food Crisis on Their Own
The County Party Leadership ordered the Special Labor Brigades of Urangchun Power Plant to secure food on their own as the responsibilities of the cities and counties to provide food and supplies were not met. The Brigades were provided with 2.5 acres of land each, and began to grow various crops including corn and potatoes. However, working for 10-12 hours, and cultivating crops at the same time was too much for the workers. They complained that although they were grateful for the plots of land they were too hungry to work. The County Party grilled the City and County secretaries again, and the City and County secretaries responded by imposing duties on factories, businesses, the Democratic Women’s Union, Neighborhood Units and schools. Residents of Songpyong, Chungjin City showed strong dissent. They said, “It is ridiculous to impose duties on the people after seeing what has happened after the currency revaluation. The government is not taking any action to relieve people’s hunger, but instead demands they give money to some project that was started to satiate the authorities’ own greed.”

[Investigative Report]
Skyrocketing Prices and Market Trading
Recently, the rice price at Chungjin Market went up by more than 400 NKW, the prices of corn by 270 NKW, Chinese Yuan by 52 NKW, and Dollar by 480 NKW respectively. People are anxious about how much the prices would go up as food and commodities become less affordable on top of difficult livelihood due to skyrocketing foreign exchange rates and food prices. In the midst of all this, a lot of people are dying of hunger. The rumor of July-September Crisis is fast approaching as a reality.

On the surface, the sudden increase of food price and foreign exchange rate appears to be a function of rising of food price and market prices triggered by skyrocketing prices of foreign currencies. In reality, foreign currency is needed to purchase goods from foreign countries such as China due to lack of goods. Accordingly, the price of foreign currency skyrockets due to a high demand and short supply, and this in turn affects food price and market prices as a chain reaction. Since importing is inevitable the foreign exchange rates are not likely to stabilize for a while. As another reason, it appears to be an inflation effect caused by government’s excessive release of currency during a short period of time in terms of providing fund directly to enterprises, releasing 50 to 100 million NKW to city and county banks to assist enterprises indirectly, and making payments for the money people were required to save at the banks during the currency exchange period. Since the merchants cannot set the prices due to rising foreign currencies they either stop selling or arbitrarily set the prices. The market management office employees and the police officers stationed at the market enforce the activities of merchants who inflate prices by confiscating the goods and charging 500 NKW fine.

However, it should be understood that price hike due to lack of goods in a way is a principle of supply and demand in the market. Lack of supply leads to price hike and excessive supply leads to price drop. Despite price hike those who can afford the goods will make the purchase and that allows market to function. The merchants who made profit from high price make procurements for other items and bring them to the market to sell. Interfering with market price and enforcing price hike will discourage merchants even more and they would refuse to engage in market trading as their motivation to make trading is likely to decline. Market can function when there is supply of goods even at high price. As a recent example, with the aggravating food situation the authorities have issued a directive banning importing of non-food items through the customs. It looked like a reasonable measure in the sense that it can discourage purchasing of luxury items or consuming of non-food items when there is not enough food. Nevertheless, this measure resulted in lack of supply for various goods and subsequent contraction of market.

For the sake of national economy officials ought to seek ways to secure goods and supply them in the market rather than engaging in market crackdown. Once goods are supplied to the market those who have money, those who make things and sell, and those who provide porter service can make living in their own way. The government and officials should take the initiative in securing goods that will stabilize the market and they need to understand that it is as important as making efforts to stabilize the soaring prices. Already the government provided funds to the enterprises and banks at cities and counties throughout the nation so that laborers’ and residents’ lives can be stabilized. Officials must understand the cause of price hike and seek ways to lower the prices through securing goods rather than relying on market crack downs.

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