GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 426 October 26, 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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[Intro] North Korean Minerals Are Valuable Assets for South Korea
First Anniversary of Kim Jong-un’s Official Inception: Focus on Economics

Yes to Exporting Coals, but No to Exporting Management Right
Restricting Mining Is Easier Said Than Done
A Sudden Rise in Overseas Representative’s Tax Liability
Overseas Representative Frown on Arrogant Attitude of New Officials
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[Intro] North Korean Minerals Are Valuable Assets for South Korea
It has been reported that many new economic policies have been proposed at the meeting of the Organization and Guidance Department held a year after Kim Jong-un, the current Vice-Chairman of the National Defense Commission, revealed himself to the world. Although the triple alliance between North Korea, China, and Russia will remain largely untouched, less extensive changes are to be made.

Strengthening regulation on foreign investments in mineral resources and exploiting the resources with North Korean technology is one of the proposed changes. The proposal would likely have stemmed from a growing concern that China may be overexploiting their mineral wealth and depleting it. But restricting foreign ownership or mineral rights will not bring about an immediate decline in exports, since the Party officials will be reluctant to give up such a lucrative enterprise. It is likely that the Central Party officials will not be easy to control.

It is truly a shame that the inter-Korean Economic Cooperation Project has been stopped short when we look at how North Korea’s mineral resources are being sold off at giveaway prices to foreign businesses. Mineral production is a project that is sure to benefit both North and South Korea; it must be partaken regardless of large investments that are needed for the infrastructure. It is imperative that we begin to work toward a cooperative measure with North Korea.


First Anniversary of Kim Jong-un’s Official Inception : Focus on Economics
October 10th of this year, which was North Korea’s Party’s Foundation Day, had a special meaning, since it also happened to be the first anniversary of military commissioner Kim Jong-un’s official inception to the Party. Military commissioner Kim was elected Vice-Chairman of the Central Party Military Commission at the 3rd Party Representative’s Conference held on the 28th of September last year, and inspected the troops at the official Review during the 65th Anniversary of the Party’s Foundation on October 10. This year there were no special external festivities, but internally there was a concentrated discussion on economic policy that would best suit a new leadership program. One Central Party executive said, “Subjects under discussion included an evaluation of this past year and future strategies. Diplomatically, a strengthened political, military and economic cooperation with China and Russia, and especially the alliance with China were highly valued above all else. Even in the times of the Great Leader the North Korean – Chinese relationship was never this close – this is how much the Party’s perception and evaluation of China has transformed since then. In various areas of Commerce, as well as of Trade, Industry, Sport and Health etc., the administrative sectors of the Party are actively making progress, for example by dispatching ambassadors to China and Russia to execute market research,” and essentially confirmed the North Korea – China – Russia triadic alliance and peace negotiations will remain untainted into the future. Since things were not working out with the United States government, he claimed there was no choice but to concentrate on diplomatic priorities with China and Russia to achieve a stabilization of the system and economic recovery.

“For our Republic, the current situation where the whole country is suffering from poverty and economic hardship as well as the international financial crisis leaves only expansion into the Chinese market as the only solution for survival. However there is strong concern about a complete reliance on China. We think participating in a six-party summit to achieve international cooperation and seek economic coordination with the international community will best expedite our nation’s economic recovery. It is only because people who can make proposals to the supreme leadership are so limited that we cannot seek public opinions on this issue; those who are well acquainted with diplomatic affairs, while they do assert that a North Korea- China –Russia alliance is basically the only ‘solution’, warn we must not completely rely on it. They say that we must deviate from a Pyongyang-centered foreign trade, to allow each city, prefecture of each region to make foreign expansion freely, and thereby take steps to resolving this economic hardship.” Such opinions are understood to be at loggerheads with those of the party leadership.


Yes to Exporting Coals, but No to Exporting Management Right
During the economic policy meeting held on the one-year anniversary of the official debut of Kim Jung-un, concerns over the public’s increased dependence on trade with China were expressed. Although it was acknowledged that a strong trade alliance between North Korea and China was unavoidable reality, a voice was raised to discuss a cutback on China’s aggressive investment on North Korea’s natural mineral resources.

This year’s trade dependency on China was over 80 percent as it was a year before. Minerals – coal, iron ore, and zinc – were the highest exported items to China. Few members of North Korean Cabinet expressed their worries on the sweeping of natural mineral resources by China. Citing an economists’ statement, “all natural resources will be dried up within a few decades if North Korea continuously sells its natural resources as raw materials to China at cheap prices,” the Cabinet members stated that the China’s encroachment had to stop before too late.

A Central Party official who attended the meeting said, “For years, we have had no choices but selling our natural resources to China to overcome economic difficulties and severe food shortages. However, at this meeting, many of us shared an opinion that we cannot keep on selling the resources until there is nothing left to be sold. We must not ignore the scary potential that the whole nation can be besieged by China if we continue to sell our natural resources as we have been doing thus far. Fundamentally, without natural resources, how will our future generations survive? Regarding all these, we agreed that we should produce goods, instead of relying on imported Chinese goods, and sell them at cheaper prices than those of China.”

The aforementioned party official’s statement implied that the North Korean Government’s intention to select Chinese investments on mineral mines in the future. A senior party official at Pyongyang also alluded to the similar ambiance as above. In his statement, the official said, “Due to the limited economic capacity, we were not able to develop mineral mines by ourselves. Unfortunately, this led to sales of the management right of our mines to foreign countries. So far, a huge amount of natural resources have exited North Korea bound for China at cheap prices. Needless to say, a serious concern over the continuous depletion of North Korean natural resources by China was raised by party members.

Furthermore, a voice of criticism was heard. According to the dissenter, the economic relief by trading so much coal and other raw minerals with China was not delivered as it was expected. As a matter of fact, we even sold coal for government agencies’ power plants to China to purchase food. However, we have not been able to solve the food crisis even with this effort. Therefore, there were plenty of similar opinions saying that we should export mined coal and other minerals to China instead of mining rights. Also, we should invest in the development of domestic technologies and economic capabilities so that we could process the raw materials and sell them at higher prices.”


Restricting Mining Is Easier Said Than Done
The incentive to impose restrictions on foreign investments and mining concessions was spurred on by the futility of selling off resources to China, which has not resolved the economic situation nor has it offered a long term solution to the failing economy. However, being more selective about Chinese investments is easier said than done. With economic sanctions continuously imposed on North Korea, unchanging international affairs, and worsening inter- Korean relations, North Korea would have nowhere else to turn. What would fill the economic void created by the absence of Chinese investments? The military, the party, and the cabinet do not have a reason to give up their way of earning easy money. It is likely that the interests of higher ranking leaders will conflict with those of the officials in charge of the infrastructure.


A Sudden Rise in Overseas Representative’s Tax Liability
The Central Party decided in a cabinet meeting that the funding supplied by ore and coal should be paid by raising the Overseas Representative’s tax liability from now on. The decision intends to increase the tax from $20,000 to $30,000. Overseas Representative officers have been astonished by the news. The general understanding among the officers is that they are repeatedly challenged by the rise in tax even before the chaos caused by the recent harsh inspections calms down. They do not think that that the new $30,000 liability makes any sense at all given that the requirement to provide 500,000 tons of food to the government is moving at a snail’s pace, although its due date is delayed by one month from September to October. One official lamented the situation by saying that “I can only smirk at the situation because the government raised the tax liability by $10,000 when I couldn’t even pay for the original amount of $20,000.

On one hand, the government frequently put us under inspection to see how much we keep money set aside, and on the other hand, it keeps raising the amount of tax liability; I don’t see how I can handle this tax liability. Now, every department has been paralyzed by severe inspection, and given that, how can I make money? I barely paid 4,500 Yuan for loyalty funds for the Party Foundation Day, and this tax liability is getting more demanding. When asked whether there was any significant difference since Kim Jong-un’s introduction as the Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission’s official one year ago, he answered, “In the past, Overseas Representatives prioritized political assignments; even when they could not make enough money to pay the tax, they would still be rewarded for successes on political assignments. Nowadays, however, the government only cares about receiving money. The government will not recognize political accomplishments if the tax isn’t paid.” The government is putting emphasis on the economic success over political success. Many think, however, that even with the government’s shift in their priority in consideration, its raise on tax liability is unrealistic especially after the slowing down of international trades caused by the recent harsh inspection. Some officials even say that “this time it is not going to be a problem that can be solved by replacing just a few people.”


Overseas Representative Frown on Arrogant Attitude of New Officials
The officials at Overseas Representative have understandably thrown out complaints about the colleagues who were newly deployed to their offices, such as a deputy restaurant manager who was naturally sent by the Security department. An increasing number of people openly rebuke new colleagues, saying “I can’t stand the new deputy restaurant manager. He is such an arrogant and impudent person. It is obvious that his connection to the new administration brought him to the position despite his lack of skills and experience. He despises everybody else.” Another official said, “I can’t stand him, either. He seems to think he is the great patriot our country needs. I think our country would collapse if someone like him made it to a higher position.”

An official who briefly visited Pyongyang said, “Old colleagues, myself included, rebuke new colleagues (behind themselves,) naming them one by one. I try not to make them upset; however, for fear of retaliation by using their authority to inspect me. Whenever they shoot a suspicious eye at us and treat us like criminals, (presuming we are guilty of inappropriate behavior), I am close to confronting them out of anger.”

The official also talked about Pyongyang’s food situation that has worsened enough to shock him, saying “I came to see (realize) why my family in Pyongyang asked me to send rice instead of money during the last spring hardship season. The rice price in Pyongyang soared to 2,900 won per kg. My family was right to tell me they could not get rice with the money I could have sent to them.” He felt sorry for his family members, who were not fed enough and lost much of their weight. Though hardly pressed to complete food procurement task, he was fortunate to feed himself without difficulty while working overseas.

He added that “It is absurd to expect overseas workers to be loyal to our country while treating them as criminals. (Presuming that they are guilty of inappropriate behavior) We are not asking for recognition (appreciation) of our contribution to our country. My hope is that the newly deployed people lacking knowledge and experience do not despise predecessor or those who has thus far worked overseas without legitimate reason. They will realize how difficult it would be to save face of the higher level officials by completing tasks assigned to them and, at the same time, to feed their family as well.

North Korea Today No. 425 October 19, 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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[Intro] Is Crackdown on North Korean Refugees the Best Way?
Refugees Expected This Winter
Fees for Border Crossing Skyrocket as Surveillance Increases
Border-crossing Families Increase due to Food Crisis
No Means of Asking for Support from Daughter Who Fled to South Korea
Some Increase in Crops in North Hamgyong Farms
Lack of Salt Poses Challenge for Making Next Six Months’ Supply of Kimchi

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[Intro] Is Crackdown on North Korean Refugees the Best Way?
The South Korean government made an offer of 200,000 food aid items such as Choco Pies, ramen noodles, snacks, and nutrition-dense foods to the North after the floods in North Korea. When the North did not respond, the South government withdrew its aid proposal. According to the World Food Program, a third of North Koreans are suffering from starvation, and immediate actions need to be taken. The South Korean government should give food aid as soon as possible to keep in line with the humanitarian principles. As for the North Korean government, it should accept any kind of aid to save people from death by malnutrition and then ask for more aid as needed. It should also allow its citizens to find their own means for survival. What ordinary North Koreans want is simple. They do not have any expectation for food distribution any more. They just want to be left alone by the government control. Suppressing economic activities to curb social disturbances is like burning down the whole house to kill a bedbug. The more control is imposed on the people, the more they want to escape. When people face a dead end, they take their family members and quietly cross the border. Being called traitors is not what they want, but it is the only choice left to them. Those defectors are fully aware of the fact that they will have stay hidden in foreign countries, and their human rights will not be honored. To prevent having more refugees, the regime should relax its control and let the people work on their own. The cold winter has arrived earlier than usual this year. North and South Korean governments need to cooperate to bring relief to the suffering people.


Refugees Expected This Winter
The Central Party has ordered strengthening border control for the possibility that people would try to cross the border over the frozen Tumen River. A Party official said that the Party was concerned about a massive exodus of refugees. These refugees will be different from those crossing the border to China simply to get some help from their relatives with some secondhand clothes or to buy things to sell in North Korea. The concern is that the Party will lose control over those who are risking their lives and leaving the country with thoughts of never coming back.

One Pyongyang security officer who made an inspection in the border area said, “The residents were barely surviving. Pyongyang officials need to witness the tragic lives of these people firsthand. Telling these people to stay and endure this pain is the same as telling them to die. If there is any chance for a survival, anyone would try to cross the border and never give up.”

An official from the Central Party said, “There is no question about the direness of the situation when even a security officer is concerned about the lives of the people. The potential sudden influx of refugees into China might not be as large as the one during the Arduous March, but a great number of people are likely to make a life or death decision this winter. China should protect them, or at least provide shelters for the refugee children. There number of refugees will increase in the near future, and I hope concerned people overseas will show some interest and support.” He also expressed his concern that even if they successfully crossed the border, they would need the help of the international community in order to survive in China.


Fees for Border Crossing Skyrocket as Surveillance Increases
As the surveillance on border crossing and cell-phone usages in the border area strengthens, border crossing fee is increasing as well. Professional brokers also say that it has gotten much harder to get a contact in North Korean and Chinese Border Security units. A soldier of the Chinese border security unit said that there was a sudden increase in requests by Korean-Chinese in China to help the border crossing of their relatives living in North Korea. Many requests are still coming from professional brokers to bring over young women from North Korea, but an increasing number of Korean-Chinese people, who can no longer stand aside and watch their relatives dying of hunger, are asking for help. An official who had inspected the border area returned to Pyongyang and said, "The purpose of punishing those who had crossed the border, the military personnel who helped them cross, and the cell phone users was to prevent a larger scale exodus by blocking the route. However, according to the officials in the border area, this policy only helps the brokers because the brokers now charge higher fees for the increased risk. Many local officials tent to be cautious in fear of the punishment when caught receiving bribes from the brokers. However, others seem to be bold enough to help border crossings in order to make a huge sum of money at once. Unless the current food shortage is addressed, there is no way we can prevent illegal border crossings, no matter how hard we try."

In the meantime, the search for cell phone users in the border area is continuing. In places like Hoeryung, Onsung, and Musan, cell phone users are getting arrested and sent to the Provincial Safety Bureau. Those who are arrested this time are said to be undergoing a thorough investigation for border crossing and smuggling charges, and their deeds in the last 10 years at the very least will be examined.

Border-crossing Families Increase due to Food Crisis
The phenomenon of family disintegration began to appear across the nation was at peak during last spring’s food shortage, and it has come again this fall. Food shortage is in the core reason for the disintegration, causing families to fight over food, parents to go separate ways with different children in order to keep the hungry children alive or sell everything including the house to pay for food and then get divorced as a result. Many families are disintegrating, and this phenomenon is most prevalent among the poorest. Scattered family members become kkotjebi, wandering around as beggars. When the local party workers find these wanderers, they arrest them and try to send them back to where they came from. As the majority of the kkotjebis come from other cities or villages, it is not an easy task to send them back. If the wanderers are from the area they are found in, the neighborhood unit is to take care of them. The chief of the neighborhood unit is responsible for a couple of these families, and there are usually two to three wandering families within a neighborhood unit.

Recently, the number of families fleeing from North Korea has been increasing. The rationale of such families is that they would rather die together than be broken up as Kkotjebi (Homeless). Since the border security measures in the area of Heoryong and Onsung in North Hamgyong Province are very strict, defectors try to find new escape routes. Kim Young-Cheol (Alias), interviewed in the border area before fleeing over to China, said, “I don’t see how we are going to survive. I am doing this for my children. Although we have a new leader, nothing has changed, except for the increase in government control and oppression. How am I going to live without food rations when even Chinese imports are banned? I have been forced to go to work every day for a despicable wage and no food ration. My small farming lot failed this year because I had no money to buy fertilizers. My corn harvest was only about 50 kilograms. Some of them were stolen, and some were spent for a loan payback. My family cannot survive this winter with the corn we have left. We will die from starvation if I don’t take any action. Either way we will die, so I decided to cross the border. I will ask my distant aunt in Heilongjiang Province in China for help. If I stay here, my children will die before me.” Whether he has safely made into China is unknown, but the evidence that an increased number of families are crossing the border can also be found in a neighborhood unit’s lecture. Choi Soon-Nam (Alias) said that she felt more urge to cross the border with her family after attending neighborhood unit meetings every day to hear repeated criticisms against disappeared families. “I don’t pay attention to the Party’s criticism and punishment on the defectors. The only things that gets my attention is those families who succeeded in border crossing and the family living well with the money sent by their daughter who fled from North Korea. Frankly, I envy defectors for their ability to take action. If I ever decide to cross the border, I need to take my whole family with me because family members left behind will be severely punished”, she said.

Security Agents and Police Officers are responsible for the security enforcement in the border areas. When more than three defectors are caught in their control area, the director of the security agency and the chief police officer get blamed and punished. When defectors flocked into Musan area due to the strict border control in Hoeryong and Onseong, the director of Musan security agency got blamed and fired by the Central Party. As a result, the security agents and police officers are strictly enforcing all the security measures, keeping tight surveillance and executing harsh punishment on defectors in order to avoid getting punished themselves by the Central Party.


No Means of Asking for Support from Daughter who Fled to South Korea
Jeongnim Kim (Alias) from Saebyul Gun, North Hamgyung Province, has managed to make ends meet thanks to her daughter, who fled to South Korea a couple of years ago. However, she recently lost everything as a result of the currency reform. She had saved most of the hard cash she received from her daughter, because she could not easily spend the money knowing what hardship her daughter had to go through in a foreign country to make the money. The savings were for her youngest daughter and son’s marriages in the future, so the loss was more painful to her. On top of this, the whole family recently got arrested and interrogated for 40 days about her defector daughter. They were able to get released only after offering some bribe, for which they had to sell all their household goods. Now she desperately needs her daughter’s help, but there is no way of contacting her. Due to the strict ban on cell phones since the end of last year, she was unable to find anyone with a cell phone. Therefore, she has not been able to keep in touch with her daughter for over a year. The broker who helped her daughter cross the border also fled to China, and there is no way of finding him either. Rumors suggest that he has gone to South Korea to avoid getting caught. Ms. Kim suffers knowing that with no help from her daughter soon, all three people in her family will die.


Some Increase in Crops in North Hamgyong Farms
In some farms in North Hamgyong, there are smiles on farmers’ faces with the increase in crops this year. An official from the North Hamgyong provincial party said that the farms that had enough fertilizer imported from China this year seem to have benefitted. The farms that had a sufficient supply of the fertilizer in fact had more crops than privately owned small plots. A worker at a farm in Hoeryong, North Hamgyong said, “This region with its mountainous terrain does not have much cultivatable land, but it still makes me incredibly happy, even in the middle of my sleep, to think about this year’s crops which we had waited for so long.” Farmers are also elated to see the result of their hard work on an empty stomach this year. However, Kim Pansok (alias), the manager at a cooperative farm in Hoeryong was worried despite the successful harvest of this year: “It is not entirely a good thing that we had a good year while the harvest in other major rice producing areas suffered from the flood this year. We haven’t even started threshing the crop, and there already are people coming in from everywhere to get their hands on it. I don’t know with all these people we’d have half a year’s supply of food left to us.” On the other hand, even in the same province, the farms that did not have enough supply of fertilizer did not have good yields. In Kyongsong county, there are a lot of farms that had a bad year with disease and insects as well as the drought, and farmers are dismayed by the lack of crops to be harvest. Still, North Hamgyong farms are having better harvests in comparison to those in other regions.


Lack of Salt Poses Challenge for Making Next Six Months’ Supply of Kimchi
In North and South Hamgyong Provinces, the lack of salt throughout the region imposes an emergency on making kimchi for the upcoming winter months. An official at South Hamgyong provincial party says, “We tried to import it through the North Hamgyong trade office, but it didn’t work out. Because of the food shortage, we are not permitted to import nothing but food, and it’s hard to get the approval for importing salt. We could only import about 200 tons so far.” The head and the deputy head of the provincial trade office went to China and made several attempts to import salt, but they have had a hard time with finding companies that accept deferred payment. On top of the salt shortage, the vegetable crops this year are bad, which means that it will be hard to have enough supplies to make kimchi for the upcoming winter months. Garlics and pepper powder by kilogram are more expensive than five kilograms of rice or eight kilograms of corn. The party officials are likely to have vegetables and supplies needed for making kimchi distributed to them in any case, but for most others, it will be hard to make kimchi for this winter.
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