GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 431 November 30, 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] Supporting Overseas Representative Officers Will Ease the Trade
Overseas Representatives Returning Home Subject to Surprise Investigations
Chinese Travelers under 24-hour Surveillance
A Bad Year for Squid Fishing
Selling Vegetables Instead With Lack of Squid This Year

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[Intro] Supporting Overseas Representative Officers Will Ease the Trade

The overseas representative officers do not have a magic wand. They cannot create gold and silver by simply chanting, “Come out, gold; come out, silver.” One should not just impose each officer with the yearly contribution of 50,000 euros for the state’s food budget and badger them about not achieving the goal fast enough. They must find a way to stimulate the trade if they want the officers to secure more food. The aftereffects of inspection at the Ministry of Foreign Trade still continue to this day, and the most urgent issue now is to provide support for the officers working on the frontline of foreign trade. The ministry must have trust in its officials and let them make whatever deal with any business partner they may find. Trust must be given in order to demand loyalty from the officers; summoning them whenever they return to North Korea to conduct an investigation about their overseas activities only undermines their morale. At this point, it is necessary to examine whether the loyalty competition of the security officers is going too far, and if it is the case, stopping them from putting trade officials under too much scrutiny can help revitalizing foreign trade. The North and South Korean governments work together for economic cooperation as soon as possible, starting from the areas that are mutually beneficial. The mineral resources, or agricultural and fishery products of North Korea sold in large quantities to China at an absurdly low price is a disastrous loss for the nation. There are many ways for North and South Korea to coexist, and it is frustrating to see them perpetually in a confrontation that brings loss to both of them.


Overseas Representatives Returning Home Subject to Surprise Investigations

The officials at Overseas Representatives are put under surprise investigations upon their return to North Korea. An official who returned to Pyongyang the end of last month testified that when he arrived at Sinuiju, security officers who were waiting for him took him away for questioning.

“A black sedan came to the bridge, and asked me if I was so and so. When I said that was me, they told me to get in the car and I was taken to a government office building. I was taken into an empty room where a security officer suddenly asked me, “Okay, Comrade, I want you to tell me truth. How many South Korean people have you met until now?” When I said I had no idea what he was talking about, he suddenly became angry: “We know everything, Comrade, so it’s best to tell me everything when I’m in a good mood. Who did you meet, and how many times did you meet them?” I suddenly felt my heart sink. I wondered what they had heard about me, and because I could not pretend not to have met with any South Koreans, I said, “I met some South Korean people a couple of times at restaurants and tea shops.” I said I could not remember their names. When the security officer countered angrily that “it’s ridiculous to think that you don’t know their names after meeting with them several times,” I became angry. I too am in a position of responsibility and hold rank within the government, so I retorted, “Comrade, you are saying that I hung around South Koreans, but what are you basing these accusations on? Show me your evidence.”

The security officer responded by threatening to interrogate me somewhere else if I did not tell the truth. But seeing that they could not provide any evidence, I guessed that they were just putting on a show. With confidence, I replied, “I never met any South Korean people on purpose, nor have I hung around with them.” When the security officer countered with what I had said before about meeting South Koreans at tea shops and restaurants, I replied by saying: “I dined with some of them because they are working with fellow representatives of the Republic, and as for the others, I simply exchanged greetings with them while meeting colleagues in tea houses to discuss projects.” At this, the security officer threatened me again: “Are you crazy, Comrade? You clearly know that as a member of the party, you are forbidden from any unauthorized encounter with South Koreans, but not only did you meet with them on purpose, you also failed to report your contact with them. Think hard about who you met, and what you talked about, and tell me the truth!” In anger, I countered with the following: “Why are you really doing this? Comrades, you would not be saying these things if you knew about how people lived while they are overseas. If meeting with South Koreans is a problem, you would have to interrogate every single overseas restaurant manager and their employees about their daily encounters with South Koreans. Comrade, what in the world are you trying to do?” Some time after I told the security officer my place of work and rank, and that I would be filing a report to the main office, his attitude began to soften considerably. “Don’t misunderstand. I have just been asking these questions as a formality. You are not guilty of anything per se, but we have been ordered to thoroughly investigate all those living overseas who interact with South Koreans or who are involved in trade with the South. You told me yourself that you have been meeting South Koreans, so I was just asking these questions as a formality.”


Chinese Travelers under 24-hour Surveillance

Recently, the North Korean authorities have been putting some Chinese travelers who are in the country for a personal trip under a 24-hour surveillance. Among these Chinese travelers who entered North Korea this year, approximately 60 were arrested, and it is reported that some of them were released after admitting their charges and taking an oath to cooperate with the Security Department. An officer in the Central Party acknowledged that there are some Chinese (ethnically Korean) brokers who work as the informants for the Security Department. He said, “My understanding is that from April to the present, more than 100 people (North Korean defectors in China) were repatriated through the Chinese travelers who were released after agreeing to participate in the Security Department.” He said that even those who took the oath have probably paid more than 50,000 yuan in fine. He was reluctant to comment on the question whether the people who could not pay the fine, saying that “I do not know everything that the Security Department does. I do not know any further.” The inquiry was made through another officer, and it was found that there has been a series of deaths; a woman in her fifties was interrogated for espionage in the Security Department for more than 20 days and died from severe torture, and at least three people, including the woman, were dead.

A Bad Year for Squid Fishing

Winter is the season for squid fishing, but this year, the harvest is not as good as it used be. Some even say that there is no more squid in the ocean at all. Kim Kwang-oh (alias), a squid fisherman in Chungjin, North Hamgyong Province, says, “It seems that the harvest decreases every year. Squid fishing is the only way I can earn my living. However, starting from a few years ago, the number of days without any harvest has increased. It is very difficult to see even a single squid this year. This year’s harvest is less than one-fifth of the last year’s.”

One city official states, “It is true that the number of squids have decreased, and the matter is made worse by Chinese fishing boats whatever squids that are left in the ocean. Our fishermen’s boats and their equipments are old, and they don’t function well. They are also short on oil; things are just not great for them. In contrast, Chinese boats function well, so they fish better. The fishermen also pointed out that the government’s tougher restriction on going out to the sea is another reason for the difficulty in squid fishing. It has become more difficult to get a certificate for the sea access, because there have been cases of North Korean fishing boats crossing the sea border to South Korea. All these factors have played their part in making this year the worst year for the squid harvest, to the distress of fishing villages.


Selling Vegetables Instead With Lack of Squid This Year
Shim Minhui (alias), from Undok, North Hamkyung Province, is a brave 25-year old woman who is the breadwinner of the family. She was looking after her father who was suffering from a liver failure until his recent death, as well as earning living to sustain her mother and her older brother. She has made living by selling whatever item that makes a profitable business. Around this time of the year in the past, she normally sold a lot of squids, getting it from fishing villages in Chongjin, Hoeryong, or Onsong. However, she says that this year is different: “This year I can’t afford squids, because the price went up so much with the lack of squids in the ocean. Now that I have to sell something different, I started selling vegetables which I grew at home to the Sunam Market in Chongjin.”

She also sells her neighbors’ crops as well. She says she had sold eggplants that cost her somewhere around 200-250 won in kilogram at a price as high as 700 won at Sunam market. The high retail price is due to the heightened demand for vegetables in late fall for making the reserve of kimchi for wintertime and this year’s dismal vegetable harvest. Vegetables are sold for more than double their usual price, sometime even triple, as long as there is a supply. Cucumber, normally priced at 150 won, is sold at 500-600 Won these days; and a green pepper, normally priced at 300-350, is sold at 700-800 won.

With a smile, Ms. Shim said that she is almost done paying back the 300,000 Won loan she had. She also said that she feels like she can sustain her three-person family as long as she can cover the cost for the ride to and from Chongjin. When asked about maintaining her official job, she answered that she was okay with her bribe payment of 20,000 won to her boss every month. “Selling squid is more profitable than selling vegetables. According to the fishermen, the next year is not likely to be any better, and it’s a source of concern for me that I might have to find alternatives to selling squids again next year,”said Ms. Shim.

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