GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 447 March 21, 2012

[“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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Sufficient Electric Power Supply, a Key Factor for Stabilizing North Korean People’s Lives
March 25, the End of National Mourning Period
New Policies to be Implemented after March 25
If National Defense is the First Priority, then What is the Second Priority of the New Policy?
Electricity is Supplied for Two Hours a Day in Pyongyang
The Farming Areas of Hoeryung are Supplied with Electricity from Backeum Hydraulic Power Plant in China ___________________________________________________________________________

Sufficient Electric Power Supply, a Key Factor for Stabilizing North Korean People’s Lives
The current issues that the new North Korea government focuses on are sustainable food supply and normalization of light industry. In order to solve these two issues, the government needs to take care of four important problems as a top priority: electricity, coal, metal and railway. Above all, electricity is the key to make things possible. Electricity was often understood simply as one of administrative projects that the North Korea government stressed on. However, truly speaking, the issue of electricity includes other complex problems such as coal, metal and railway issues. Last October when the new Organization and Guidance Department was launched, the electricity was regarded as the highest priority among many administrative issues. The Organization and Guidance Department announced confidently that normalization of food and 24-hour electricity supply would be accomplished by New Year’s. However, it was not as easy as the government boasted. There are no easy solutions. First of all, there is a widespread expectation that the Heechun power plant can play an important role in electricity shortages. Although completion of constructing Heechun power plant in Jakang-do could help to solve the lack of electricity supply, actually, the plant seems to have a lot less power capacity than people’s expectation because of frequent system operation failures derived from poor construction. Secondly, a thermoelectric power plant can be another option. However, most thermoelectric power plants in North Korea are not operated properly. Lack of coal and deterioration of facilities prevent the plants from performing to their full capacity. Only 20 to 30 percent of those plants are operated now. Regarding the lack of coal, the government can increase the amount of domestic coal supply by prohibiting coal export to China. However, it is not possible for the government to give up such an easy cash-cow item like coal, which brings money to North Korean economy. Lack of electricity means less coal mining creating. There is a vicious negative cycle between electricity and coal production. Reopening economic cooperation with South Korea can be a wonderful option to solve the issues; however, a firm political determination is necessary to make this possible.


March 25, the End of National Mourning Period
Government offices will return to normal on March 25th at the conclusion of the 100-day mourning period for Kim Jong-il. During this mourning period, the government asserted more control over individual activities and movements, and asked civilians to be more prudent in their behaviors. Due to the increased restrictions imposed during the mourning period, people have tried to remain quiet despite suffering miserable living conditions. However, as the period of national mourning neared its conclusion, government control had become unbearable and people across the nation have started to file complaints. The public distribution of food and supplies on Kim Jong-il’s birthday, normally celebrated on February 16th, was unsatisfactory if not disappointing. The Pyongyang government was able to distribute rations for 15 days in February to Pyongyang residents only. With the exception of a few powerful or influential institutions, most of the local governments distributed almost nothing to their people during the month of February. Previously, during the Lunar New Year’s Day festival in January, the local government officials tried to comfort their people with a promise that the food distribution would be better on the holiday of Kim Jong-il’s birthday in February. Yet the officials have failed to keep this promise and are now feeling very uneasy because of having to postpone the distribution of rations until April, in order to calm the extremely disappointed population. Local officials concur that the national authorities should ease restrictions over the citizens at the end of the mourning period so that people can prepare for the farming season. The central government officials also expect the tighter restrictions to be relaxed after the mourning period and that government departments will resume normal operations. It should be noted that, due to the relationship with China, restrictions along the shared border are not expected to be relaxed in the near future.


New Policies to be Implemented after March 25
It is expected that new policies will be implemented in each government department after the mourning period ends on March 25. Normally, February 16th, Kim Jong-il’s birthday, serves as the turning point for a new fiscal year. Around this time, government offices close their books and announce new fiscal plans for the coming year. However, due to Kim Jong-il’s death, this accounting process has been delayed for a month. According to officials in the central government, they have been focused on maintaining the stability of national politics and international relations during the mourning period. They have also agreed that, while keeping the main policies and Juche policies constructed during Kim Jong-il era, they are engaged in the process of reformulating detailed regulations and bylaws.


If National Defense is the First Priority, then What is the Second Priority of the New Policy?
The most important issue for the Organization and Guidance Department is maintaining the stability of the regime, as one may have expected. They plan to prioritize strengthening national defense to promote the slogan of the Military First Policy. The following issues pertain to the people’s livelihood in the order of priority: to resolve the food shortage problem; generate more electric power; and allow for conditions for the full capacity operation of the factories. To justify listing national defense as its first priority, the Central Party has assessed that the “various problems that are currently breaking out in every part of the world, such as economic warfare and territorial encroachment by superpowers, may lead to regional or world war at any moment.” Since the establishment and reinforcement of national defense is the only way to defend the homeland and the people, the budget for military expenditures was increased this year.

Resolving the agricultural problems was placed as the second most important issue because they wanted to pacify the agitated public in the near term. In order to resolve the food shortage problem, the agricultural sector will be supported to the maximum extent this year so basic food can be produced while fish, chicken, and pig farms will be extensively constructed and additional food will be imported from abroad. The Central Party expresses its will to “succeed in meeting the basic food demands this year through food production and pig farms.”

Third, since generating electricity is the most basic issue for every sector to make the jump forward, they plan to resolve the electric power shortage issue. Finally, stabilizing the production of the factories (full operation) is on the priority list in the state affairs. Armaments factories aside, the priority is placed on the stabilization of light industry. The plan was to stabilize the factories which produce goods needed to sustain lives such as clothes, shoes, cosmetics, soybean pastes, soy sauce, salt, and soap by raising domestic production levels to fulfill 70% of the demand in three years. They also plan to reduce imports of daily necessities to less than 30% at most. The North Korean authorities had urged in the New Year’s Day joint editorial this year that “more quality-oriented light industry commodities which accommodate the public’s demands should be produced.” “Since October 10 of last year, the basic framework of the state affairs was launched and continues to be maintained unchanged, but some of the details will be changed in the process of executing the policy in the future,” says an officer from the Central Party. On the other hand, the Central Party is demanding that every sector work in solidarity and cooperate with each other to improve the quality of the people’s lives while strengthening the ideological framework of the party and encouraging the strict monitoring of the people’s status.


Electricity is Supplied for Two Hours a Day in Pyongyang
This year, electricity is provided for two hours a day in the city of Pyongyang. It was a cut-back from four hours of supply, from 6 to 10 p.m. which started in mid-November. One official of the Central Party says, “the supply of electricity was improved as coal was used in domestic power plants instead of being exported to China. But coal exports continued despite the ban, and electricity supply has become unstable as a result. The Central Party officials also feel troubled about this.” During the Party Foundation Day (October 10th) ceremony last year, the Central Party ordered the party of Pyongyang city to provide 24 hours of electricity. From year 2012, the first year of Strong and Prosperous Nation, 24 hours supply of electricity and normalization of food ration were promised to demonstrate the Vice Chairman Kim Jong-en’s leadership. The plan was to use coal domestically instead of exporting to China and to draw electricity from Jagang’s Heechun thermoelectric power plant to normalize the supply. But, Heechun facility is only in testing stages and coal continue to be exported as it is the easiest and most available material for trade. Therefore, nothing is being done as the Party planned.

During last year’s meeting, the decision to normalize electricity and food supply in Pyongyang was warmly welcomed by the party officials, but no one actually believed that it would be realized. Pyongyang residents did not expect 24 hours of supply, but just wished that it could at least be provided during mealtimes. From April 15th (Day of the Sun, the birthday of Kim Il Sung). Heechun power plants will be running, but it is unsure how much the plant would be able to contribute. Thirty thousand kilowatts of electricity is expected to be produced, but since the construction was done in hurry, taking only 3 years (out of expected period of 10 years), and low-quality machines were brought in due to lack of funds, it is expected that only 5,000 to 10,000 kw would be produced. Pyongyang, Dongpyong, and Bookchang power plants are old facilities and have to be renovated without delay. The new leadership defined recovery of electricity supply as one of four major national tasks, but there are still many hurdles to overcome.


The Farming Areas of Hoeryung are Supplied with Electricity from Backeum Hydraulic Power Plant in China
In North Korea, except from Pyongyang, it is generally hard to get electricity unless it is a national holiday. Even factories have to wait their turns to be provided with electricity for a few hours per day. People of higher status or wealth use their own generators, and some people collectively pay a bill of 2000 to 3000 won to the electricity distribution department to get electricity. However, people who have no electricity supply accept this reality by assuming that having electricity is just for holidays. However, residents close to the Chinese-Korean border can use some electricity from China. Hoeryung in North Hamgyung province uses electricity from Hwaryong Bakgeum hydroelectric power plant in China which is right across from the Tumen river. Bakguem power plant is the only hydroelectric power plant in the region and took 10 years during the 1960s to complete the construction. They were forced to build the electricity poles at the Kyesangli power distribution station in North Korea in order to connect wires from the power plant to Bakguem city due to the natural curve of the Tumen river. North Korea agreed to allow the electricity poles inside North Korea in exchange for a supply of electricity free of charge. Afterwards, areas of Hoeryong city such as Keysangri, Gyehari and Songhakri were provided with electricity. However, over time, the original relationship changed. Now, the Chinese officials oftentimes request cattle such as goats and lambs or produce in exchange for the electricity supply. One worker complained about the difficulty; “If we don't accept their requests, they cut off the electricity, so we have no choice but to give them what they want. I feel aggravated with the fact that we are now the more disadvantaged country. They forgot about the past when they needed us to cooperate with them and now they look down upon us for being poor. But, as we need it desperately, we have to just give them what they want.”
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