GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 416 August 17, 2011

[“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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[Editor’s Note] Sending Cookies and Instant Noodles for Flood Victims Regrettable
Nearly 135,000 Acres of Land Flooded by 5 Hours of Heavy Rain
Mounting Casualties from Flood, Victims Plead for Food Aid
Even Bureaucrats Are Stunned
Flood Damage Restoration Mobilization Interrupts Individual Businesses
Farmers Are the Hardest Hit by Flood
Grain Fields of Gangwon Province Also Turned into Wasteland in Split Second
[Editorial] Urgent Need for Emergency Food and Recovery Equipment
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[Editor’s Note] Sending Cookies and Instant Noodles for Flood Victims Regrettable
This summer South Korea suffered greatly from an unusually long raining season, severe torrential downpours, and a series of typhoons. Seoul was not an exception. Some areas of Gwanghwamun, Teheran-ro, and Gangnam were completely submerged under water and a landslide at Mt. Umyeon caused deaths of the residents and severe loss of the properties. The most urgently needed aid items for the flood victims were food, water, medications, disaster recovery equipments and manpower. Instead, suppose the government provided the victims with cookies, instant noodles, and snacks for young kids. How many of South Korean people would think an appropriate action was taken for them?

In response to the request of North Korea, South Korean government decided to support snacks for infants, instant noodles and biscuits. North Korean government has officially asked international community for help because they concluded that it was beyond their ability to deal with the damage caused by the flood. The South Korean government has no reason to hold off the aid since it maintained a policy that it can provide aid to North Korea when there is a request. The issue is what aid items to send for the victims. We urge the North and the South Korean governments work together and make concerted efforts to provide the most urgently needed aid items to the victims.


Nearly 135,000 Acres of Land Flooded by 5 Hours of Heavy Rain
Major farming areas in South Hwanghae Province have been flooded by a downpour of heavy rain that fell continuously for 2 days from July 30th to 31st. In particular, in Gangryeong, Baecheon, and Chungdan Counties, approximately 135,000 acres of land were flooded in only 5 hours. The disaster struck so suddenly that the farmers stood helpless, not able to do anything. The Chungdan County and Namchun-ri cooperative farms were instantly turned into unrecognizable fields as rice plants were pulled out by the roots due to the sudden downpours of rain. One farmer in Chungdan County described the damage, “No matter how much water we pump out, the fields are still under water. The affected farmland totals over 35,000 acres. We tried to dig the rice plants out and wash the mud off but they are already turning yellow and dying of disease.” In Gangryeong County the corn and rice fields that were flooded totaled close to 73500 acres. The crops are buried under huge piles of mud created by flood water and landslides so the farmers are not even attempting to dig them out. Because of the damages caused by the torrential rain the farmers will not have anything to harvest in the fall.


Mounting Casualties from Flood, Victims Plead for Food Aid
The casualties from the flood are quite serious as well. According to the report by the South Hwanghae Provincial party, the number of missing or dead residents in the province is more than 200 so far. In Kangryung, Chungdan, and Baechun counties, the number of completely destroyed houses already reached 2,000. The flood victims rushed off to take refuge in an annex of farm. In Baechun County, disaster recovery work is in much slower progress due to recovery efforts of the bodies found in mire. Many of the bodies are not yet identified and many of the missing people’s whereabouts are still unknown. In order to prevent fouling odor from the corpse and the spread of epidemics, sanitation agencies are spraying antiseptic solutions and quicklime to the residential areas.

In Kangreung County, school buildings were also severely damaged. Students and teachers had to stop classes to take refuge in farm buildings for four to five days because the roof and walls fell down or the classrooms became swamped by water and mud. Those schools damaged from the flood are temporarily using the meeting rooms which the Farm Management Council has provided for classes. Victims cry out that the hunger experienced during spring lean season was painful, but starving without a shelter is even worse. Moreover, there is a case of people dying after suffering from waterborne disease as their immune system weakens in the absence of shelter. Although the South Hwanghae Provincial party is struggling to mobilize measures to support the victims, they are still unable to provide food yet. Kim Panseok (alias) living in Chungdan County expressed his extreme despair by saying, "There is no support from the government. As such, people have to overcome the difficulties by themselves. This is the worst situation I have ever experienced and it is only getting worse."


Even Bureaucrats Are Stunned
The destruction of roads and railways all around South Hwanghae Province has led to large-scale disruptions in the area's transportation network including the train service. Approximately 1,000 meters of road stretching from Gangryeong County to Haeju City is impassable due to flooding, while a 20-meter high pile of rumble has covered a portion of the railway passing through the province. The blockage of roads and the downing of communication lines have made life difficult for investigators from the Central Party's Flood Damage Recovery Bureau. "Right now I am making decisions based on the reports I receive from cadres in the field. But it is hard for me to imagine the level of suffering people are experiencing now. The government ended up requesting help from the international community because we can't deal with all this damage by ourselves," said one Central Party cadre. Currently, provincial and municipal party cadres are heading out into the field to deal with farm damage and displaced citizens, while also spreading propaganda and leading recovery efforts to repair and rebuild destroyed homes.

The Central Party has been working to assist those displaced by the severe weather and encouraging flood recovery efforts. However, they are still unable to provide the resources needed for recovery effort such as food, construction material, and other supplies yet. "There is not enough building material like cement or wood to repair or build houses, so it’s a big problem. There is nothing to eat, and if there was equipment we could use to dig levees currently under water, we could get rid of all the flood water. However, none of these resources are available to help those who have lost their homes. There are no materials readily available to repair anything," a South Hwanghae provincial cadre said, speaking his mind on the difficulties in the recovery effort. Without assistance from the national government, the provincial party is left with their hands tied. "I think that the central government has finally realized that the flood damage is so bad they can't do anything about it. That's why they've requested international support. I hope that this time around the central party tells the world about what kind of damage has occurred so we can get help as soon as possible," he said, pinning his hopes on aid from the international community.


Flood Damage Restoration Mobilization Interrupts Individual Businesses
In Kangryeong, Baecheon, and Cheongdan Counties in South Hwanghae Province, all residents have been mobilized in an all-out effort for the flood damage restoration work. Housewives and students were put into reviving crops and factory workers were mobilized to restore broken bridges and train rails. As there is no equipment for restoration work, the work of filling the ground with soils has to rely solely on the labor of the women and children. Furthermore, the work of erecting and cleaning up rice crop requires manual work. Laborers have been pouring heavy rocks to the broken roads or train rails. Following the order from the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces, military units under the 4th Corps have been mobilized in the restoration work. Soldiers have been put into the hardest work of digging the ground and carrying rocks. However, that is not an easy task even for soldiers since they are not sufficiently fed.

Residents complain, stating, “We need to eat to do the restoration work. How could we work without eating even corn meal?” Cho Soonsil (alias), residing in Cheongdan Town in Cheongdan County rap out her complaints about the lackadaisical of party cadres, saying “Party officials from the province and county visit the restoration work site in the name of giving instructions. However, they never touch the dirt with their hands. All they do is tallying the number of workers.” While residents had to stop their business for the restoration work, the party cadres who can afford more comfortable life never bother to assist the effort by joining the labor work. In case of Cheongdan County, residents could not do their business because the market was closed for the whole week after the flood. Since the starting of restoration work residents had to participate in the labor mobilization from early morning every day. As such, they can only go to market after 2 pm at best. Lee Keumsook (age 39, alias), who sells manufactured materials in the Bacheon Town of Baecheon County, expressed her concerns about the current situation, saying, “I have been going to market every day to sell clothes. However, I have not been able to sell a single piece. I have to pay for the spot every day even though I don’t even earn 100 NKW. I need at least 2,000 NKW a day to make ends meet. If the current situation continues, I would not be able to make a living. To make matters worse, I have to worry about the food price going up since the flood damage will impact this year’s harvest.”


Farmers Are the Hardest Hit by Flood
The hardest hit by the recent flood are farmers. Despite the flood, people in other occupations—such as merchants—are still able to make a living, however unskilled they are. Since farmers are unable to engage in trading, the only means of making a living is to rely on farming whether it is individual small land patch farming or working at collective farms, but everything was washed away by the flood. Jung Hee-chul (alias), who works at Shimpyong collective farm in Chungdan County expressed his deep concern saying, “My house collapsed and my plot of land was washed away in the heavy rainfall. We have thus far survived with only two meals of porridge per day. I don’t know how to endure life with no prospect for grain harvest this fall. I have moved to a mud hut for an emergency shelter. While it is barely livable during the summer, I have no idea of where to escape once the temperature begins to drop. I feel so hopeless.” Han, Keum-ok (alias) said, “ I go out to my small land patch farm every day, trying to lift up a few corn cane stems, but come back with nothing but tears in my eyes in despair—even the corn cane I dug out in a mudslide turns out to be inedible. Our agricultural technology officials are in despair, too. It is seriously doubtful that straightening up the rice stalks that were submerged in the flood will help produce any grain harvest. They are worried about the level of drop in harvest caused by the flood.”


Grain Fields of Gangwon Province Also Turned into Wasteland in Split Second
The localized torrential downpour of this summer hit Gangwon Province as well. Landslides occurred throughout Pyung-gang, Chulwon, and Echeon Counties on July 30th due to the downpour of more than 50 mm per hour. In Gaechun Town in Echeon County, 4,900 acres of cornfield were submerged under water and most patch-fields were turned to wasteland due to a landslide. Approximately 1,715 acres of cornfield were turned into ruins in Ryongjung Town. Unlike South Hwanghae Province, Gangwon Province mainly planted corn, sweet potatoes and beans because of its mountainous environment, and the crops have been severely damaged. The corns all died because the stalks were broken. The sweet potatoes and beans were buried under the soil and sand, and there is no trace of them.

Most residents of Pyung-gang, Chulwon, and Echeon Counties have lived by slash-and-burn farming on their small land patch farms. During June and July, the residents who barely survived with only newly planted potatoes, devoted all their energy and resources into the corn farm, which will be harvested starting in August. Nothing is left for them to rely on due to the flood damage, and they are at a loss worring about what to do next. A serious death toll also occurred in Chulwon County. A sudden torrent outburst from a mountain valley swept away approximately 70 households in a flash, with dead or missing persons continually being added to the count. People, who have lost their houses, instantly evacuated to huts and are now starving because there is no food. Children have given up going to school because they are starved and have no energy. Kindergarten and daycare facilities have been swept away as well; currently there is no proper place to take care of infants and toddlers. Kangwon Province Party has started restoration operation hurriedly, but they are also experiencing problems with securing food, restoration equipment and supplies.


[Editorial] Urgent Need for Emergency Food and Recovery Equipment
There is much suffering everywhere in North Korea because of the past month's flood. With the rainy season starting from June, and the Typhoon No. 5 "Meari" as well as the Typhoon No. 9 "Muifa," heavy rain poured down without ceasing. The North Korean government unprecedentedly reported the disaster situation quickly and asked for aid from the international community. The International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) decided to provide 3,000 emergency relief kits, and an additional delivery of other necessary materials. The South Korean government also offered to provide supplies and medicines worth 5 billion won to the North. It is an extremely positive development that the North Korean government asked for help, and the South Korean government responded quickly in turn. Now what matters is the mutual consultation on which supplies and materials need to be delivered and in what manner, and reaching an agreement quickly to deliver the goods as soon as possible.

What is most urgent for the victims is food and water. It has been an exceptionally difficult year with a severe food shortage during last spring. The first half of the year has been difficult for urban residents with the economic downturn continuing from the last year, and for people in rural areas, all they had to eat until potato harvest in June was porridge made with grass. All they looked forward to was to harvest corn in August, but the heavy downpour destroyed cornfields. There is no drinking water as the water supply system became contaminated with the muddy water. People whose bodies have grown extremely weak after the dire food shortage in August need food, clean water, and medicine. In particular, Hwanghae Province urgently needs ways to take care of children, with many of its day cares and kindergartens destroyed.

In addition, construction materials and restoration equipments must be supported along with others so the flooded houses and the public facilities such as roads, railroads and river banks can be repaired. On July 29 when the landslides on Mount Umyeon occurred, Seoul City was able to mobilize approximately 2,000 restoration equipments with the assistance of others such as the Ministry of National Defense. They were able to clean earth and sand, uprooted trees, and gravel in 4-5 days because they had various equipments other than excavators and large trucks, such as fire trucks and approximately 70 pumps and chain saws. Even with such heavy equipments, however, it was not an easy task to clean up large rocks and logs. It is difficult to find proper equipment at North Korea’s flood recovery sites. Everyone, regardless of whether they are adults, children, women or men, just take actions to repair with their bare hands, A-frame carriers, spades and pickaxes. The soldiers who came to assist the civilians are struggling as well since they cannot move heavy rocks with their starved stomachs. Excavators to dig up earth and sand, large trucks to transport the soil, water pumps to pump water from the fields as well as generators are desperately needed. Construction materials such as rebar and cements which are needed in repairing the houses are also needed.

One should put himself into other’s shoes. Let us think about the North Korean brethrens in relation to the current situation in which the flood victims of South Korea have suffered as a result of this flood. The loss and pain of those who suffered the flood can never be healed easily no matter how promptly they are supplied with the best restoration equipments, food and basic medicines. So, how would the North Korean people feel, when they have to confront the wasteland solely by themselves? The foremost formidable enemies for them are immediate hunger and contagious disease. Since they cannot expect any yield for this fall, it is even more desperate when thinking about how to take care of the livelihood in the future. They can take refuge in a temporary shelter or a vinyl hut at this time, but when the season changes, they will be in desperate need of a house which will protect them from cold wind.

The South Korean government is said to send snacks for small children, biscuits, Choco Pies and noodles upon the request of the North Korean government which requested goods and supplies such as food and cements. We should ponder whether we have offered to give them an ointment for minor cut on the finger while the other side was requesting equipment for heart surgery. What is needed to those left in the areas struck by the flood is compassion. Hopefully, the South Korean government and the international community would alleviate the pain of North Korean people as soon as possible by supporting food, drinking water, medicines, construction materials for repairing damages caused by the flood, and heavy equipments.

North Korea Today No. 415 August 10, 2011

[“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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[Editor's Note]
Nothing to Be Expected from This Year’s Harvest
“Having worked so hard on fertilizer purchase, but…”
“They tell us to prepare for the rainy season but…”
Outcries of Desperation from Everywhere
Nothing But Despair for Small-Plot Farmers
Strong and Prosperous Nation with What?
[Editorial] Flood Damage Restoration Is Not Complete until Food Issues Are Resolved
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[Editor's Note]
Adding to the huge damage from the devastating flood last year, another flood this year severely affected North Korea again. The heavy rainfall aggravated the country’s already dire food situation, and the flood damage estimates are expected to rise. Pyongyang sent an unprecedentedly quick emergency request to the United Nations for food aid. In contrast to the international community’s concern about the food situation in North Korea this year and its response with food aid, the South Korean government has maintained a lukewarm attitude toward food aid to the North. This time, however, the South Korean government pledged to provide emergency relief supplies to the North for recovery from the floods, which North Korea accepted. The gravity and seriousness of the flood damage on top of the dire food situation of North Koreans is beyond our imagination. When can their suffering come to an end? Echoing the voices of North Koreans affected by the recent flood as well as the chronic food shortage, we hope to find ways to share their burdens and bring their sufferings to an end.


Nothing to Be Expected from This Year’s Harvest
North Korea has suffered a greater damage than last year from typhoon “Maeahri” in June which was followed by a series of heavy rains. North Korean government officially requested the United Nations for aid on July 25th. But they are having trouble grasping the scope of flood damage that hit them in late July, even before they could start recovering from previous damages. The farmlands in South Hwanghae Province and North Pyongan Province have been hit the hardest by the flood, making future harvest impossible. The two provinces, some of the most fertile regions in North Korea, have suffered the most damage two years in a row. “A lot of resources including fertilizers and insecticides were put into the Hwanghae Province this year, so the economic loss is a lot greater,” said a worker. The fields have been completely submerged under water with no visible trace of wheat, and countless fields now lay in ruins.

“I estimate the damage to be multiple times greater than what is being reported on Korean Central Television (KCTV) and Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). Great efforts and workforce were put into this year’s harvest because we predicted the food situation to worsen, but now we don’t know what to do,” said Choi Sung-Chul, a farmer and a resident of South Hwanghae Province, and gave a deep sigh of resignation.


“Having worked so hard on fertilizer purchase, but…”
Since last year, the Ministry of Agriculture and other governmental organizations have reported the dire domestic food situation to Central Party several times. Following a last year’s report that warned, “If the current situation continues, next year will see the worst (food situation) of all,” the Party issued an order stating, “Prepare all necessary materials for the next year’s good agricultural performance.” Accordingly, the Ministry of Foreign Trade has made every effort to purchase fertilizers and pesticides since early this year. An official at the Ministry of Foreign Trade said, “Trade officials have followed the order of the Organization and Guidance Department in the Central Party and worked very hard this year on importing fertilizers and agricultural chemicals instead of food with all the funds we had.” Since there was no food purchase assignment other than the army provisions, they did not purchase food.

However, as food sources got depleted and the reports of food crisis with deaths from starvation poured in from every part of the nation, the Central Party questioned the Ministry of Foreign Trade about the food import situation. The Organization and Guidance Department in the Central Party explained that it is true that they ordered to import fertilizers and agricultural chemicals for next year’s farming, but they have never ordered not to import food. A Foreign Trade Ministry official expressed his frustration over the unfairness, saying that the Organization and Guidance Department changed their own words and blamed the Ministry for food crisis. Now that the inspection on the Foreign Trade Ministry became extremely tightened, he could not say any more.


“They tell us to prepare for the rainy season but…”
Although the Ministry of Foreign Trade imported and generously distributed fertilizers and pesticides to major farming regions and great care was put into farming, all the efforts were in vain because of the disastrous flooding of farmland. Kim Nam-chul (pseudonym) said, “This year, since the time people were mobilized for farming, we have been working frantically. The Trade Office imported fertilizers and pesticides on a larger scale than any other year and generously distributed them to all the farming areas, so we were sure that we would be able to begin harvesting by the end of the rainy season. Current conditions are much worse than those during the Arduous March (the massive famine of the mid 1990's), but I had hoped that the food situation would get a little better this year. When will this life (with food shortage) end?” and hung his head in despair. Farmers in areas flooded by torrential rains should be digging all the fields in preparation for planting winter crops such as cabbages and radishes, but they are too devastated to work because of the heavy rains that have hit them again. Every year during the rainy season, the fields are flooded, and the government has been emphasizing the importance of flood prevention. However, because the country has a large deficit, they have not been able to construct any flood barriers, and their orders to prevent flooding sound hollow.

In Geumya, Jeongpyung and Yodeok Counties of South Hamgyong Province that have suffered damage from heavy rains, the cornfields and rice patties have either been completely flooded or destroyed. According to Moon Oh-Sik (Pseudonym, Age 52), a supervisor at eup Farm in Geumya County, “The Provincial Party and the Provincial Farming Management Commission have taken a special interest in contributing to building a stronger nation through better farming, as pointed out by this year’s New Year’s Day Joint Editorial. Because of the efforts of the farming mobilization and alleviation of the fertilizer shortage, the corn and rice crops were initially doing very well. However, half of the crops were previously damaged by heavy rain and the rest were then completely wiped out by the recent downpour. People are afraid that areas that have not yet been affected by the rain will also be washed away by a torrential downpour.”

Also people say, “Farming divisions are raising the river banks and repairing the waterways in preparation for flooding and torrential rains, as well as building embankments in valleys to prevent landslides. But, they can crumble easily if there is a heavy downpour.” However, there are many farming divisions that have yet to establish preventive measures against flooding. The officials from the Provincial Party and the Military Party Farming Management Commission are supervising the recovery effort in the affected areas, but they have not been able to do much.


Outcries of Desperation from Everywhere
A managerial official working at a collective farm in Yeonan County, South Hwanghae Province said, “A sudden heavy rainfall flooded our farmlands and disrupted grain harvest. I am afraid we can’t get anything from the farmland and all the work we did so far since the all-out mobilization of May went in vain. There have been repeated warnings from the Party and the government to prepare for floods and to launch a campaign of a forced mobilization for that. Easy to say than to get it done. There has been no action for lack of resources. As a result, we are as vulnerable as we have always been to floods. Every year our grain harvest suffers from the heavy rainfall.”

The situation is the same across the region. In Yeonan County and Baechun County, South Hwanghae Province, almost nothing is expected for harvest this fall. This region was flooded last fall as well, and farmers could not get enough food distribution. To make matters worse, most of what was left to farmers was taken to the People’s Army for the army provisions. Farmers in the region complain about the food shortage exacerbated by flood, saying, “Last year we had to live on a ration of a few months for a year. Running out of food early spring, we had to live on wild herbs to survive. And now, we cannot expect any food distribution again this fall.” They share with each other their complaints that they have to survive only on some early harvested potatoes grown in small plots just as they did last year.

Though living in a “food basket”, they have rarely had a chance to eat whole rice. When they get some rice distribution, they sell it to buy a larger amount of whole corn that can last longer. The rate of people getting sick is high especially among children aged 3-4 and elderly people who have difficulty in digesting corn meal.


Nothing But Despair for Small-Plot Farmers
Small-plot farmers are now worrying about how they will eat after the enormous damage done to their crops by the recent torrential rains. The government has no plan in place to help farmers who have suffered damage, reconstruction has not begun on roads and riverside levees destroyed by floods, and farmland covered in mudpiles are not being cleaned up. In Bongsan County and Seohong County in North Hwanghae Province, a large number of corn fields were swept away by landslides, turning the fields into wasteland. Sixty percent of residents in the two counties rely on small land patch farming to survive, but the landslides caused by this year’s rainy season have flooded their fields and left them with nothing to eat. At the beginning of the spring season, the lack of manure forced farmers to cultivate their fields with human waste in an unimaginably difficult effort to survive, but now there is nothing to harvest and many residents are worrying how they will be able to carry on their lives.

Lee Yongcheol (alias, 61), a farmer at the co-op farm in Seohong County, receives senior pension from the government. However, in order to earn a living as a small plot farmer, he tilled and cultivated 700 pyeong (approximately 0.57 ac or 0.23 ha) of land in a nearby mountain, planting soybeans and corn. The recent landslides, however, have swept away everything he created and now he says he is completely uncertain about the future. The other members of his family were only able to eat two meals a day, and they spent their time from seven in the morning until sunset tilling the fields and planting corn and soybeans. His family had taken all the money they had to buy manure and worked hard to produce a good harvest, but now he believes that all their hard work was for nothing.

“The government only distributed several months of food to us after the damage the weather made last year destroyed all of our crops,” he said. “Now we have to farm on small plots in order to eat. This year, however, all the small plots we had worked so hard to maintain were completely swept away. How are we expected to survive next year? It’s clear to me what will happen. Sinc my family can’t run our own businesses, what the government gave us and the farming we did was our only hope, but now we have nothing to look forward to,” he continued, trying to fight back tears. “There is no future, no hope…all day, everyday I keep on thinking that if I have to live this way I would rather die.”

Unfortunately, human waste cannot be used as manure for corn, so many farmers had sold their belongings in order to buy farming manure. The recent storms, however, rid farmers of any chance to harvest their crops, and there are many people who shed tears at the thought that selling their belongings for manure was, in the end, a wasted effort.

Farmers in this area have so little to eat that most people are eating two meals a day of potatoes or barley. The vast majority of people do not even have corn meals, so they are forced to survive on porridge.

Corn fields in South Pyeongan Province have also been severely damaged. Fields in the Mundeok County co-op farm have been completely covered by mud and sand and the rice paddies are almost all underwater, making them impossible to harvest. Flood damage last year also caused poor crop yields, and because the remaining grain was collected for the military there was nothing left for the farmers.

With nothing to eat, farmers are surviving precariously on potatoes and barley from this year’s harvest. “The food all ran out in April so we’ve been surviving by picking vegetables up in the mountains and eating potatoes,” said co-op farmer Lee Hyeongsuk (alias, 39). “We worked with anticipation for the fall season, but we ended up getting hit by the weather hard again this year. Every year it's the same situation, and with all the energy it saps up I don’t think I can do this anymore,” Lee lamented. While looking out over the water-covered fields, one farm official had this to say: “We had just been able to take a break after the end of the mass mobilization when we were hit again with floods. Just like last year, I don’t see us getting anything from the government.”


Strong and Prosperous Nation with What?
Now the spring lean season is over and early crop of potatoes are out. Nevertheless, domestically produced rice is not in sight in the markets of South Pyongan, North Hamgyong, and North Hamgyong Provinces. The food that is being sold or traded by food merchants is all imported rice from China, but even that is far from sufficient for consumers. The imported rice from China in the market has been stocked for several years so it is not fresh and lacking stickiness. However, since the amount of import is small the market merchants cannot afford to sell in large quantities. Up until May food ration has been given to officials of the Central Party and other government and Party agencies, but food distribution could not have been made since June. Therefore, the food condition has reached the worst level. The food shortage problem is so serious that food distribution could not be done even for the elites in Pyongyang. As such, the food situation for ordinary people needs no description. At this point people are feeling extremely insecure and already worried about how to survive in the following year as large areas of rice field in the granary have been damaged by flooding caused by heavy rains this year. The government has proclaimed around the country that it will open the door of Strong and Prosperous Nation in the year 2012. However, people are questioning and criticizing with what and on what economic basis they can bring about Strong and Prosperous Nation. Even officials are questioning how Strong and Prosperous Nation in the next year can be achieved when crop yields are at dismal level every year.


[Editorial] Flood Damage Restoration Is Not Complete until Food Issues Are Resolved
Seoul, South Korea, in late July 2011 was scorched by the heaviest rainfall in a century. Experiencing climate change, North Korea was not exceptional from massive rainfall damages. Continued on last year’s flood damages in the area of Hwanghae and Pyongan Provinces, North Korea has been again suffering from a flooding this year by typhoon and rain during the raining season in middle of June as well as heavy rainfall in July. This year damages were much severer than last year. The North Korean government quickly apprised United Nation (U.N.) of flood damages and asked for support on July 25, 2011. The damages in the area of Hwanghae, Pyongan, and Hamkyung Provinces were so bad. The farmland flooded and was buried, banks and levees were disrupted, residential houses flooded, and railroad and highway were washed away. Although the scope of damages hasn’t been accurately examined as yet, actual damages can be surmised from the flood damages in South Korea that it could be much severer than reports by Korean Central Television and Korean Central News Agency in North Korea.

Since last year, the North Korea government has been trying to address the food shortage, expecting that this year would see the worst food supply conditions. Nonetheless, the food shortage is reaching its worst point; many people have died from starvation since this spring and the food ration has completely stopped even to officials since June. The fact that North Korea immediately asked the international community for help and accepted the South Korea’s offer despite a political tension between the two indicates how serious the situation is that North Korea is undergoing now. As the flood damages exacerbated the already dire food shortages, North Korea is in a very difficult situation that can’t be possibly handled by North Korea alone.

The flood and landslide in Seoul's Gangnam with the heaviest rainfall in a hundred years was effectively dealt within a few days’ time with the availability of various equipments and heavy machinery. Still, more time was needed for those who were affected to resume their daily domestic lives with others' help. However, in North Korea, where there is a lack of equipment and machinery, manual work is the only reliable source of repairment. In the footage of flood repair released by North Korea's Korean Central TV, no heavy-duty machinary that is commonly seen in Gangnam's flood repair is seen. It is hard to predict how long the repair will take, when the long list of everything that needs to be done, such as taking care of the crops that had fallen, cleaning out the mud from the house and cleaning out household utensils, repairing the damaged rods and re-building is to be completed only by the human hand with lack of food.

Food can provide consolation and hope for North Koreans who are suffering from the flood and food shortage. With the shortage of food, it is difficult to get involved with repairing the damages from the flood. To provide the food, cement, and equipment requested by North Korea is to provide its people with a new hope in the face of such a disaster, and also to relieve them of hunger and to ensure them the basis for a new life to be rebuilt. The government must allow food aid to North Korea by private organizations, and also consider an additional provision of emergency foodstuff and materials and equipments for flood repair at the government level. The emergency necessities, such as blankets and clothes, as well as medicine, nutritional food, and instant noodles promised by the South Korean government would be of a great help to those in need. However, what must be done more urgently is to ask those who need help about what they think is the most necessary. It is unlikely that the damage from the flood will be repaired without an adequate supply of food. A more proactive and generous aid from the South Korean government is the way to help the North Korean in need as well as to facilitate a faster recovery from the damage. We hope that this event will prove to be an opportunity ease the hostility between the North and the South.


North Korea Today No. 414 August 3, 2011

[“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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[Editor's Note] The Ministry of Foreign Trade: "Finding a solution to food shortage is a matter of life or death"
Ministry of Foreign Trade Says, “We stake all on the food tasks”
“Let’s show our sincerity with at least 100 tons (of food assignment).”
Special Districts Hoping for Reform and Opening
“Why did they sell Hwangkumpyung if they are not even going to give us rations?”
Chinese Investment in North Korea Going Slowly
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[Editor's Note] The Ministry of Foreign Trade: "Finding a solution to food shortage is a matter of life or death"
Everyone thought it was impossible from the beginning. The Ministry of Foreign Trade had a difficult time even procuring last winter's military provisions assignment. Some say it is because the Ministry only pretends to try, because it used to be the case that when the Ministry got its hands on a task, no matter how dire the condition was with food shortage, there was at least a temporary relief. It seems that the leadership in North Korea has decided that the mere 60% accomplishment in procuring the provisions for military was due to the lack of effort on the part of the ministry.

The North Korean leadership, on one hand, started using the threat of inspection, and on the other hand, ordered all its overseas representative offices to procure 5,000 tons or more foodstuffs. There are many evidences that hint that this round of inspection is not what is usually considered normal. With the rumor that Minister of Foreign Trade Ri Ryong-nam may be purged, the officials at the Ministry have further hastened the effort to find a solution to the food shortage. It is not an exaggeration that it is a matter of life and death for them.

It is a great challenge for overseas representatives to procure foodstuffs on the front line of foreign trade. Some are overwhelmed even with procuring just 50 tons, let alone 5,000 tons, but it seems that everyone is more motivated than ever. We hope that their hard effort faced with a difficult climate for foreign trade will be rewarded with satisfying results.


Ministry of Foreign Trade Says, “We stake all on the food tasks”
As the censorship hysteria dominates the atmosphere, the Ministry of Foreign Trade is on the busy move. Even Ri Ryong-nam, the Minister of Foreign Trade, is visiting Beijing back and forth and holding several meetings repeatedly to discuss how to obtain the food. On July 8, Ri visited North Korean Embassy in Beijing, held an urgent gathering of trade advisers and main officers of the Trade Representative, and directly requested them to accomplish the food task. At the same time, he repeatedly encourages to accomplish the food task to other officers of the overseas trade representative who work in various countries.

“I heard that the food task which was delivered to the overseas representatives this time was not for the purpose of obtaining army provisions, but to obtain food that can be distributed to the people. It was said that they expected to resolve the food crisis to some extent after the farming mobilization is finished and new crops are produced, but the crop yields were too small than the expectation. So the food tasks were assigned urgently because the people were suffering food shortages for too long. One officer from the country said that the people’s food situation is a few times more difficult than the period of the Arduous March. He said it was not just because of the food shortage, but it was because the regulation became more intensified. Even if people want to resolve the food problem on their own, such pursuit is not allowed, so it is now us who end up having difficult times over this,” says one of the officials who participated in the meeting with the Minister of Foreign Trade.

When asked whether any measure was prepared at the meeting, the official testified how desperate the Ministry of Foreign Trade is to achieve the food task and said, “The Minister of Foreign Trade even suggested that if we don’t really have enough money, some portion of it may be provided. He said to pull some food in advance by offering Chinese traders to pay after two months, and that the Ministry will pay for the cost later. He emphasized that we must meet the quantity although it does not necessarily have to be rice.” The official was told that if the task is not completed by September, the main officials will have to take the responsibility and resign from the post. He stated how significant this matter was: “Now is the time to lie low as we plead humbly that we will do better. The current atmosphere is such that the country keeps blaming the Ministry of Foreign Trade for this dire food situation. Everyone is all tensed up, fearing that the Minister of Foreign Trade might also suffer the same fate as what happened to Pak Nam-gi last year, who was the former Director of the Planning and Finance Department. If the Ministry of Foreign Trade collapses, we who belong to this organization may end up collapsing together. Talking about how we must complete the task regardless of the condition is not just an empty word.”


“Let’s show our sincerity with at least 100 tons (of food assignment).”
Overseas representative officials are crying foul at the government’s demand to secure 5,000 tons of food before the start of this coming September. They question how a task difficult to complete even given several years can be done in just two months, and are sure that is an impossible job. However, nothing the officials can do to extend the deadline will lead to the retraction of the order, and they are well aware that any break from the ranks will lead to undesirable consequences for themselves. Approximately two thousand dollars, or 13,000,000 yuan, is needed to secure 5,000 tons of food. “This is totally out of the blue,” said one official. “We have a hard enough time just getting 50 tons of food, but 5,000 tons? That’s crazy! In the past, many of us have just obtained what we could get and hoped for the best, but this attitude has changed considerably with news of the political situation at home.” Here he is referring to rumours that the Minister of Foreign Trade is next in line to be purged.

Employees of the Ministry of Foreign Trade are aware that the political situation in North Korea is troublesome, and are pressing each other to complete the order successfully no matter what stands in their way. In Beijing, some officials have already presented 1,000 tons of food, and countless others have followed by preparing 200, 300 and even 500 tons. Most of these trade officials have received food from trusted Chinese sources who have received promises of pay at a later date. Other officials admit that they have difficulty obtaining 5,000 tons of food immediately, but say they will present at least 100 tons when they can get it. Still others say they will obtain foodstuffs worth 100-200 thousand dollars. “I am trying to help the Minister of Foreign Trade because I know that the minister and the officials are on thin ice,” said one official working at a representative office in Shenyang. Despite these efforts, however, there are far more trade officials that find themselves asking in despair how such an order can be fulfilled unconditionally by the end of September.

While all representative officials are gloomy about fulfilling the completely impossible order, they are largely making a sincere effort to at least try and complete what they have been ordered to do. One official at a trade representative in China was asked how much food would be considered ‘sincere’ by government authorities: “I think that around 500 tons would do it. We might get into trouble for not bringing in the rest but it can’t be helped. The best thing to do in my opinion would be to first get around 100 to 200 tons and then gradually secure the rest.” One official, completely in despair, said, “I could get around 50 tons if I go scurrying around begging for it, but I know I couldn’t get the rest. I just don’t care anymore… Let them curse me, let them punish me!”


Special Districts Hoping for Reform and Opening
The residents are buoyed up with a dream for reform and opening by the news of development plan of Hwangkeumpyeong and Rasun. In case of Rasun, the expectation started to grow as the Rasun Economic Trade Zone Act was amended and the city was raised to the status of Special City from Directly Governed City. Once the groundbreaking ceremony was held on June 8th and 9th, the anticipation of residents has changed to confidence. Residents are assured saying, “You will see that our country will develop like China in the near future. We will get better off soon.”

The hopeful expectation was also revealed in the changes of perception among government cadres. When Kim Jong-il, the Chairman of the National Defense Commission, recently visited China several times, government officials in charge of the national economy in the cabinet accompanied him. They were all astonished by the development that China has made. Many of the Ministry of Foreign Trade officials have been to abroad so far and watched the developed aspect of China. However, the high level government officials staying only within the country had yet realized the progress China has achieved. One party official who accompanied the Chairman Kim Jong-il three times to China said, “My attitude has changed since the trip to China. My ideas about economy were changed, and I became more convinced that we need to learn from China. Now I speak with more confidence when I say something on economy.” After watching the development of China, he is also assured that they could achieve economic development with the investment from China. The government cadres say in chorus that it is important to create a trade-friendly environment in order to attract more investment. This is a significant change compared to the past.

Twelve customs in national border areas are actually seeing some changes. The most noticeable case is that customs rules that used to be rigorous were revised favorably to Chinese traders. Most of the merchandises coming from China pass the customs these days with the exception of South Korean products. Meanwhile, food and goods aid from UN or South Korean government are no longer easy to find. Instead, the level of dependence on China has increased.


“Why did they sell Hwangkumpyung if they are not even going to give us rations?”
Public opinion is deteriorating as the spring food crisis intensifies. In Sinuiju, rumors are circulating of people complaining that rations have not resumed despite the sale of Hwamgkymjpyung and Wehwado to China. Chung Eun-sook (pseudonym), a black dollar dealer at Chaeha Market complained, “The government has loaned Hwamgkymjpyung and Wehwado to China, but I heard that the money obtained will be invested in the military industry rather than rationing food to the people. We are all dying from starvation, but the government doesn’t give the slightest thought to our suffering. The government says that improving the lives of the people is its most important task, but it’s just talk. Is buying warship such an urgent matter?”

Han Sung-ho (pseudonym) got angry at the question whether he earned enough to live on because it was obvious from his appearance that he wasn’t. His eyes were sunken and the skin seemed to hang on his bones. When asked whether he knew that the government had loaned Hwamgkymjpyung and Wehwado to China, he said he had never heard of it. He said that he was so busy looking for food to feed his family that he did not even have time to listen to such news. Then he suddenly asked, “When will we get some rations?” When he was told nothings was heard about the rations, he asked me in an irritated voice, “Why did they sell Hwamgkymjpyung when they are not even going to give us rations?” and turned his back, suggesting he had nothing more to say.

According to a city party official of Sinuiju, “The central party sends down orders to the city and military parties to solve the food shortage problem independently. The key point here is how much resource for trade each party can secure. However, since the stronger party units get first pick of the few special local products available to trade, not every party can secure food. Who has time to look out for ordinary people when even officials like us have trouble feeding our families?” He concluded that ration for residents are actually hard to come by.


Chinese Investment in North Korea Going Slowly
Although the opportunity for Chinese companies to invest in North Korea has been widely expanded, the actual investment has not been so active. The reason is that many companies have experienced failures from the previous investments. Companies, therefore, want to be careful on making investment decisions and try to proceed step by step. The failure was mainly due to the inconsistency in North Korean Government's attitude. Rumors have been circulating that many Chinese companies made investment only to have their money missapproprated by North Korean Government without a particular reason. Another reason is that the demand in North Korea is very low compared to other countries. A Chinese businessman who once thought about opening a restaurant in Hyesan in Ryangang Province said, "North Koreans are so poor that only a limited number of people would be able to come to the restaurant. This makes the restaurant impossible to be profitable." Only government officials or the wealthy people would visit a restaurant. For general people, eating at a restaurant is something that they could do only in a dream. Another Chinese who opened a restaurant at Chungjin had to give up the business only after ten days. The owner started the restaurant with enthusiasm by renovating the interior and replacing the cooking wares. He also scheduled to get the food products directly from China. However, he was discouraged by the chefs and staffs who stole meats, rice, vegetables and even seasonings. Even the customers stole the store properties. Above all, there were too few customers. Chinese restaurateurs who opened their business in Pyongyang are said to be successful with many customers but there has been no such case in other regions due to the low demand.

North Korea Today No. 413, July 27, 2011

[“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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[Editor’s Note] Minister of Foreign Trade Ri Ryong-nam: The next Park Nam-gi?
Ministry of Foreign Trade Sitting in the Eye of a Storm - Bone-Chilling Inquisition Looming
Beleaguered Overseas Representative Offices Sigh
Overseas Representatives in China Burdened by Officials’ Visits from North Korea
Family and Relatives of Park Nam-gi Mostly Deceased
Housing Assignment to Single Women above 35
[Special Series] Conditions for the Strong and Prosperous Nation, 2012 (3)
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[Editor’s Note] Minister of Foreign Trade Ri Ryong-nam: The next Park Nam-gi?
The ministry of foreign trade is under inspection. All attention within the ministry is directed to the question of who the next target of the inspection would be. A popular rumor has it that in the end it will be Minister of Foreign Trade, Ri Ryong-nam. Although if it happens, the punishment will be accounted to his alleged lack of dedication about resolving the food shortage problem, the dominant view is that it'd be the case of Ri being a scapegoat in the effort for the generation transition to implement a smooth succession. That the story of ex-director of the Planning and Finance Department Park Nam-gi is brought up again is also because of this prediction that Ri would be a scapegoat. Thus it only makes sense that people who work for Ri are terrified. When the head goes, his team would also follow that footstep. There already are rumors about the next target, which is the reason why the general atmosphere at Ministry of Foreign Trade is tense. With this prelude to a massacre foretold, the efforts to survive are inevitably desperate. The Central Party has assigned the Ministry of Foreign Trade the food assignments ‘beyond their capability’. The persecution for Ministry of Trade employees is hence about to start.


Ministry of Foreign Trade Sitting in the Eye of a Storm - Bone-Chilling Inquisition Looming
In the Ministry of Foreign Trade (MoFT) located in the center of Pyongyang, one can feel highly-charged anxiety: a damaging, if not fatal reshuffling is expected following an investigation in various areas in the Ministry. “When the investigation starts, some of the officials will be inevitably banished from the Ministry,” one official from the ministry commented. Public Prosecutor’s Office and the National Defense Committee are jointly investigating Customs offices and trading companies including overseas representative offices of the MoFT. The official reason for the investigation is to crack down any government officials’ activities in espionage or bribery. The central government believes that, while officials are sent abroad to fulfill their duties for the country, they are in fact busy taking care of their personal interests.

Even though it is not spoken, the officials from the ministry must feel like walking on thin ice these days. They do not know who will be a scapegoat of this politically-driven exercise. Fear is mounting among the officials with the speculation that whoever is to be accused will face the same punishment as the former director of the Ministry of Planning and Finance Park Nam-gi and the former deputy director of the National Security Agency Ryu Kyong. “Overseas offices are blamed for not having been able to complete the military provision assignment. In the beginning, they tried to resolve the problems at the level where the outcome would please the higher officials. Eventually, the officials started complaining openly that they could not do it anymore. Due to severe complaints, the assignment was waived, but now the central government is taking the MoFT to be accountable for the military provision shortage and there are several names mentioned for the accusation,” mentioned one central government official. He also said that Ri Ryong-nam, the minister of the MoFT, seems to be the ultimate target for this investigation. Ri started his career in the ministry as an assistant to the minister, became a deputy minister in April 2011, and assumed the role of the minister in 2008.

The reason for the speculation about Ri is that he failed to accomplish the mission on army provision, and there’s a purely political reason as well. In the process of a power shift from the father to the son, the minister is one of the old guards to go. Regarding the military’s food shortage, the central government has grown doubtful about the minister’s loyalty to the authorities. MoFT’s used to outperform its duties on army provision—its overseas offices contributed twice as much of the required amount. However, since last January, the offices started complaining about this task and asked the central authorities to exempt the duty. The central authorities are questioning whether Ri has put enough efforts to calm his subordinates and suspecting that he actually encouraged the offices to rebel behind the scene.

The central authorities remain convinced that the MoFT did not do a good job in motivating its overseas offices for the army provision project. The central authorities believe this attitude clearly shows its lack of loyalty or commitment. With this reasoning, the central authorities blame the overseas offices for the food shortage in the military. They argue that if the offices had done their jobs dutifully, the situation would have been better. Such behavior in the overseas offices may set a bad example for loyalty to the new leadership. “The overseas offices only completed 60% of its assigned target on army provisions. This result can suggest that they do not take the assignment, and the new authorities, seriously. Heecheon Power Plant Project and Pyongyang Housing Project (building 100 thousands housing units for the residents of the city) have not made much progress due to a lack of funds. And it seems that the blame will also go to Ri,” commented an official. He also added that Mr. Ri’s frequent visits to China and his extraordinary effort to solve the food shortage problem all resulted from the fear that he may get banished otherwise.


Beleaguered Overseas Representative Offices Sigh
The mood of the trade offices is very tense. The first reason is that people were shocked that each office was ordered to send 5,000 tons of food to North Korea. The other reason is that they didn’t know how extensive the aftermath of the recent inspection of Department of Foreign Trade would be. This year, there was a massive replacement of high-ranked party, political, military officials with a younger generation. Therefore the department is expecting similar replacements. People feel that they should lay low in times like these. According to one Department of Trade official, “One wrong word could destroy a family for 3 generations. From the beginning of the audit they set out to prosecute people for even the slightest offense. People will get fired if the office doesn’t meet the food quota. Additionally, people will be harassed if the amount of money wired is less than expected. At times like these there’s no knowing who will be victimized so everyone keeps quiet despite being dissatisfied. But it’s not that they don’t have anything to say. Whenever political, party officials demand something from the comfort of the offices in North Korea we have to comply no matter how unreasonable. If we don’t give them what they want we are sent back to North Korea, so we have to spend part of the profits to give them what they want. If we fail to appease them we are subject to unreasonable tasks.” “The central party declared, ‘The reason for the investigation was that the trade offices were hurting the national finances by filling up their own pockets.’ Our country hasn’t done anything for us, we can’t even buy a bottle of liquor with our salaries. Things get out of hand when we have a large stream of visitors from North Korea like these days. It’s dumbfounding when we are accused of corruption and graft when the government hasn’t even given us salaries, let alone trade funds. I don’t know how we are accused of embezzling when we have been going through all kinds of trials and working ourselves to death to send food and construction funds to North Korea. Are we not even supposed to eat or drink?” asked a trade official despairingly.

Also, some overseas trade officials demur whether appropriating a little money for living expenses should be a crime. They claim that the officials who bring party funds overseas to purchase large quantities of goods and appropriate them are the ones to be investigated. An official lamented, “My second child has to go to college, but he cannot attend because we don’t have the money to pay the tuition.” “Being already depressed and anxious, trade officials are even more worried waiting to see who will be fired. Because there is talk of purging at a time when the party should encourage the loyalty of the officials, everyone is unstable and nervous. I don’t know what the central party hopes to gain by alienating the trade officials. The party’s current actions will only strengthen distrust of the trade officials who are likely to turn their backs on the party,” the official added.


Overseas Representatives in China Burdened by Officials’ Visits from North Korea
In addition to the assignment of obtaining 5,000 tons of food, overseas representatives in China have one more burden—dealing with North Korean officials visiting China to find Chinese investors. The majority of officials come visit China, without any specific business deals. It’s become too much work for the representatives to organize meetings with investors, as well as taking care of their accommodation and entertainment. Whether or not they accomplish business deals, the representatives are even required to prepare gifts for the officials to bring back to the homeland.

Overseas representatives commented, “The hospitality costs for visiting officials are more than the money that we send back to the government. They shouldn’t come here unless they have business deals.” A couple of months ago, the representatives pretended that they were out of office to avoid visiting officials, but now some are purposely ignoring them, saying “I don’t care. They are on their own.” One oversea representative, working in Shenyang, expressed his frustrations: “I deal with at least three to four groups per month. I spent 60,000-70,000 Yuan last month for their entertainments. Actually, this was less than the other times. It’s too hard for me financially to cover their hotel, meals, air tickets, train fares, and even gifts that they could bring back home. Officials who visit one month come again the next month. If it continues like this, I will be out homeless soon. I told the visiting officials last month that I will do it this time, but I can’t do it next time.”

Beside the expenditures, this creates a problem in relationships with Chinese businessmen. “I informed Chinese investors about the North Korean officials’ visit, and arranged meetings with them. But investors don’t like these invitations anymore, because they feel that they just spend money without any business deals accomplished. In the beginning, they treated the North Korean officials to dinner, but now they assert that they can’t do business with us unless there’s an actual business deal. After they spent money on North Korean officials, buying them gifts, entertaining them, and even giving them bribes with no gains, the investors complained what a nonsense it was. I was so embarrassed so many times. Some never come back to do business with us, and some don’t even pick up the phone or make up excuses saying they are too busy to meet with us. Now, I am pleading officials not to visit unless they have specific business deals. Every time they come, we have to come up with 1,000 Euro per person, which we work so hard to earn. They can’t waste our money like that. They probably have no idea how hard we work to earn that money,” vented one official at an oversea representatives office.

Another official, working in Dandong, also pointed out that it damages their actual workflow and business relationship with the Chinese. He stated, “I don’t want to pick up the phone anymore, because there are so many officials wanting to come just for tourism. Chinese investors that I’ve had relationship with don’t want to meet up with North Korean officials anymore. The entertainment cost is relatively high—200,000 Yuan—especially compared to the business deals they’ve gotten out of it. The relationships I’ve developed over years are now jeopardized.”


Family and Relatives of Park Nam-gi Mostly Deceased
Most of the family and relatives of the late Park Nam-gi are known to have died after being transferred to labor detention centers. The former director of the Planning and Finance Department was executed on charges of causing the national crisis by taking the leading role in introducing and implementing the currency revaluation measure. His family and relatives, who had enjoyed their well-off life in Pyongyang before the imprisonment, could not endure the appalling conditions at the detention centers and most of them died after suffering from illness or malnutrition. Thirty-eight people in total are known to be sent to the centers, and only two females survived among the late Park’s immediate family. These two women, known for their good looks, managed to maintain a good relationship with the officials in charge. Many of the others either committed a suicide after suffering from the harsh persecution or died from severe malnutrition and various kinds of illness.

People related to the other officials who were executed with Park are in the similar condition. Those deported to the labor detention center under the jurisdiction of Yoduk County Police Department in South Hamgyong Province and No. 22 Detention Center in Hoeryong City mostly deceased after suffering from severe malnutrition.

Upon hearing the news, Pyongyang officials were enraged. They are saying that how foolish it would be to remain loyal to the country when a person (referring to the late Park) who devoted himself to the affairs of the nation ends up being executed and their innocent family and relatives have to face the tragic ending.


Housing Assignment to Single Women above 35

There was an announcement that there will be housing assignments for single women above the age of 35 from this year on, and it will be also possible for them to be the head of one-person household. A party official said the decision was made because of the increase of unmarried women in Pyongyang, and expected that housing assignment for single women will be easier once the project for building apartments for 100,000 households is successfully completed. For reference, it is extremely difficult for people who are not married to be assigned housing. Sometimes single men are assigned housing after a long wait, but it used to be the case that single women were not eligible for housing assignment to begin with.


[Special Series] Conditions for the Strong and Prosperous Nation, 2012 (3)
Editor’s Note:

The D-day is April 15, 2012. Less than a year left. Can North Korea really open the grand door of the Strong and Prosperous Nation? More than any others, those responsible for it must be extremely anxious under the scrutiny of North Korea watchers. They soon have to come up with something tangible that signals the opening of the Strong and Prosperous Nation to their domestic and international audience. We have asked North Korean officials what are the conditions for the Strong and prosperous Nation. They mentioned three things in common: food, electricity, and the completion of the 100,000 housing unit construction in Pyongyang. These are the conditions directly linked to livelihoods and economic development. In principle, the Strong and Prosperous Nation is another name of a rich and solid nation based on the security of the current regime. We are launching a series of three editorials that examine the direction for the Strong and Prosperous Nation the North Korean leadership has set.

We have recently observed a very busy movement of the North’s leadership. It seems that a series of new policies are announced after many rounds of meetings. One can detect some sense of solemn determination in the new orders, but the reactions of the hands-on officers are not really enthusiastic. It might be that it is difficult to complete all the assignments only with the strong ‘protect the Great Leader with death’ spirit. The reign of terror has limitations. What kind of leadership will the North government take to open the door of the Strong and Prosperous Nation? Here, we try to analyze the challenges they are facing through their views. When understanding their contradictions and limitations clearly, we can better figure out our roles for unification.

1. We must solve the food problem.
2. Make every effort to supply electricity.
3. Dream of building 100,000 housing units in Pyongyang.

The Dream of Building 100,000 Housing Units in Pyongyang
Can North Korea achieve its dream of building 100,000 housing units in Pyongyang, another symbol of the Strong and Prosperous Nation? This spring, while everyone in the nation was mobilized to work in collective farms, residents in Pyongyang, including members of universities, factories, and other business organizations, were sent to the construction sites of 100,000 housing units. In this year’s New Year’s Day Joint Editorial, the government, emphasizing the importance of building 100,000 housing units in Pyongyang, stated, “With our everlasting deepest love for our country, we must guarantee the highest quality of the construction outcome” as it ordered to increase the production of construction materials. While only a fraction of the workforce from large factories and business organizations participated in the construction, all the university students were mobilized to the construction sites following the Party order that said the robust young soldiers, the columns of national protection and construction of socialism, “should be present in every site of nation building battles and exhibit the heroism of the people, wielding the flag of Kim Il-sung Socialist Youth Alliance.” Now, the question is this: Is the progress of the construction on track?

Each ministry responsible for the 100,000 housing construction
There was the news circulating recently that the goal of the construction was revised to 2-30,000 housing units due to the shortage of construction materials. When asked about this, an official of Central Party immediately denied it. He said, although foreign investment was desperately needed, he had never heard of any decision on reducing the number of housing units to be built. Rather, he said there was an order giving construction assignments to each ministry due on October 10th, the anniversary of the establishment of the Party. Currently, every work unit is assigned with certain number of housing units and responsible for providing financial resources for their construction. These assignments are given to all across the board, including the Ministry of Foreign Trade, the Ministry of People’s Security, the Ministry of Business, the Ministry of Electricity, Coal and Industry in the cabinet, and all the other organizations and units including the Department of National Security, the Public Prosecutors Office, universities, and hospitals. This means each organization and business unit has to mobilize construction laborers and the food for them as well as cement and other construction equipment. The original plan was to construct 35,000 housing units in Yongseong, Seopo, and Yeokpo Districts in Pyongyang by April 2012 and 30,000 housing units in Mangyoungdae District by this year and additional 35,000 by April next year. It was known that there was a decision at the Supreme People’s Convention on April 10th to increase the construction budget by 15% for Heecheon Power Plant and the 100,000 housing units construction out of this year’s total national budget of 5,700 million dollars. However, the current situation cannot be improved by such a small increase in the budget.

An instructor at Kim Il-sung University that was assigned with completion of one building in Mangyongdae District said, “We are ordered to finish the construction planned for this year by October at any cost, and we are working towards it day and night. The Party, without supplying any food and construction materials, puts all the responsibility on us to complete our assignment no matter how we do it, be it collecting money within the unit, borrowing or stealing from somewhere else. They just push us to complete our assignment, and there is no way the construction can be done properly.” Only the Ministry of Foreign Trade and the Ministry of People’s Security are providing food to their workforce and making some progress. People mobilized for the construction from other units are having hard times without any food supply. At the news of the order given to overseas representative offices to bring food in, the instructor expressed his frustration with sarcasm saying, “What a quick response! They should’ve done this long before. We cannot provide with money and equipment only with our enthusiasm and loyalty to the Party. It is so frustrating that the Party constantly pushes us to bring something out of nothing just with our loyalty. They should at least provide us with food. Now that I am so hungry, I cannot do anything with enthusiasm. It is not only me. This is the general sentiment of the people mobilized for the construction.”

The key is to attract foreign investment
After all, the key to all the solutions is to attract foreign investment. Solving the food and electric power problem and realizing the dream of 100,000 housing unit construction are only possible if North Korea can attract foreign investment. This is why it created the Joint Investment Committee. China being the only way out, it is obvious that North Korea’s dependency to China will seriously deepen. In trade, the general analysis is that North Korea – China trade is replacing North – South Korean economic cooperation. Although some people anticipated the North Korea – China trade would decrease after the May 24th measure, the actual North Korean export to China in 2010 was 1,190 million dollars with 49.9% increase compared to the last year; and the increase in export was exceptionally high in the second half of the year. The export of some items that used to be major exporting items to South Korea, such as clothes, seafood, and mineral resources (anthracite), greatly increased. The low-cost North Korean labor export is also getting prominent. It is known that the North is negotiating a deal with China to send laborers to the Chinese economic development zones in Tumen and Hunchun. This signals the possibility of weakening the position of Kaesung Industrial Complex with the establishment of the Special Economic Zone linked to the Chinese development plan of three Northeastern provinces.

Following the order early this year of launching full scale joint businesses with China, there is a clear trend of all domestic organizations and business units trying to do business with China. A permission to go to China is easily being issued not only to trade officers but also to ordinary workers of restaurants and shops, provided that they pay 1,000 euro per month regardless of their status and business title. That means literally anybody who can afford 1,000 euro can go to China. Now, more than 100 people are crossing the border through Dandong customs office a day. North Koreans are desperate in trying to reach Chinese businesses and just want to set their feet in China regardless of the result of their business trips. It is not an exaggeration to say the streets of Shenyang and Dandong in China are crowded with North Koreans. North Korea is letting its people out hoping that this can solve the food situation or bring the needed money for the construction of Heecheon Power Plant and the 100,000 housing units.

Building 100,000 housing units, whose dream is it?
Most of all, the perception of China and the reality of North Korea has changed aggressively among the members of cabinet including ministers. In the past, when someone who had been to China talks about its development, they would simply ignore it and say, “There is nothing to see and learn in China. Our country is the best.” After visiting China a few times accompanying Chairman of National Defense Committee Kim Jong-il, their attitudes have changed. Seeing and hearing a lot in China, they came to realize the necessity of economic development, which made them more vocal in meetings. Members generally kept silent during cabinet meetings in the past, but now they tend to eagerly express their analysis of the problems and opinions as to which direction the country should move to. “You can clearly see their eagerness when they speak,” it is said of the ministers. Cabinet members say in one voice, “We will not open our door. Reform is the only way for us to go.”

The Organization and Guidance Department of the Central Party anticipates that next year is the best time to strengthen the next generation of leadership in North Korea because the international tensions will be kept low while the leaderships change in China, Japan, the U.S., and South Korea all in next year. The department tries to convince party members, saying “Our ultimate goal is to make a stable social environment and a pure and clean (with no rebels) revolutionary army. Making our society strong and stable at the cost of our lives and opening the door of a new era is the responsibility of every member of the Party. Let’s continue our loyal support to General Kim Jong-eun as we have done to our Great General and be pioneers of the era of our nation that will be stronger than ever. Let’s open a new era of Chosun which no one can dare to touch and show a new strong nation to the world.”

How can this goal be reached? One of the officials who attended the meeting of the core members of the Party and the government said, “We should quickly build a stronger relationship and trust with China to keep our friendly and special relationship. With China’s trust in us, we should launch full scale joint businesses with it not only in economy but also in politics and military operations. It is true that one of the reasons we have given the Rajin-Seonbong Special Zone, Wihwa Island, and Hwangguempyong to China was to overcome the foreign currency crisis caused by the international sanction against us, but it was also to make a closer relationship with China so that they can see our business is directly linked to their profits.” This means that North Korea’s plan is to make a link with China to pursue two rabbits of regime security and economic development.

Based on the blood alliance with China, North Korea also has a strategy to bring Russia on board to form a triangular alliance against that of South Korea, the U.S. and Japan. While keeping the tight tension between the two alliances, it will seek to quickly build up its national economy and strengthen its national security. The plan is in next year, while major countries are busy with their domestic presidential elections, North Korea will proceed with its own power succession process smoothly and solidify the new power structure. That is why the housing unit construction project is regarded as so important. It is not just to solve the housing problem in Pyongyang. The completion of the project is a declaration to the world of a new leader opening a new era as well as a great opportunity to exhibit a great achievement of the new leader to his people. Then, the dream of building 100,000 housing units in Pyongyang clearly does not seem to be the one that the city’s residents are dreaming of.
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