GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 460 June 20, 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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Food Rations Suspended for Families of Police and Security Officers
An Official in South Hwanghae Province Tearfully Pleads for Emergency Food Supplies
“Hwang-geum-pyong Development Project Is Unlikely to Proceed”
Illicit Trading Continues Despite Bans on Marine Product Trade Between China and North Korea
Okryu-gwan Restaurant Jumps into Foreign Currency Earning Business
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Food Rations Suspended for Families of Police and Security Officers
     As North Korea’s food crisis intensifies, even the Police Department cannot provide food rations to employees’ families. With an exception of Pyongyang, food ration is given only to police officers; their families get nothing. The concerns of provincial security officers and police officers are rising. A police officer in Pyongsung, South Pyongan province said, “We used to be able to keep six months worth of food, but these days we barely have a month supply. I can handle not getting a ration for myself for a month if my family gets the food ration. However, even people like us have difficulties if there is no ration for the families.” Some security officers are openly pessimistic, thinking that they will be given the overdue rations when the food crisis is resolved. “If someone believes that he will receive the overdue portion of food ration someday, then he is simply naïve. We could be dead by the time arrears of rations are provided. At this point, the only way we can survive is by making money any way we can.”          


An Official in South Hwanghae Province Tearfully Pleads for Emergency Food Supplies
     Day-by-day, food shortages grow worse in South Hwanghae Province. A Haeju City official expressed frustration repeatedly: suffering – due to chronic food shortages every year since the mid-2000s – is worse than during the Arduous March. He tearfully appealed for food aid: “Because of severe flood damage in 2007, there were many starvation deaths during 2008’s “Spring Hardship Season”. Officials were scared by the rise in the number of deaths. On top of that, we were hit by floods in 2008. Since we have to provide rice to the military – and so send rice to the military before distribution – two straight years of poor harvests left farms with little to distribute. Worse yet, after 2008, output has been far from adequate, trapping farmers in a vicious cycle of starvation. Living on the edge of starvation, farmers are too weak to start work this year. Hundreds of tons of food, released by the Central Party for emergency relief for farmers, are not enough to matter, given an already-critical situation. Further, months of severe drought have left fields completely dried-out, so planting is futile. Farmers are mentally and physically exhausted: nothing can motivate them. No words can describe the seriousness of this crisis. I feel like begging people to see for themselves and earnestly ask for help.” 


“Hwang-geum-pyong Development Project Is Unlikely to Proceed”
     An official in Sineuiju, North Pyongan Province, affirmed that projects at Hwang-geum-pyong and Wi-hwa-do are unlikely to proceed.  Because no work had been done under the Authorities’ plans, farmers started to plant rice at these sites. “Chinese will not invest, having concluded that profits will be slim. Chinese investors say the situation is very different from that at Kaesong Industrial Park. Chinese firms cannot control the workforce. Further, the Chinese government does not protect them against the risks involved. By contrast, the South Korean government backs-up companies in the Kaesong industrial Park, e.g., with money and other help. A Central Party official offered a similar analysis. “Our government thinks we should pursue the development of Hwang-geum-pyong and Wi-hwa-do, despite the lack of progress so far. Chinese statements suggest they want to invest, but think that is not really the case. Their priority is to build the New Amrok River(also called Yalu river) Bridge, to ease trade in goods and manpower.”


Illicit Trading Continues Despite Bans on Marine Product Trade Between China and North Korea
     It seems North Korea and China are measuring each other’s strength in a conflict over the import and export of marine products. In June, China issued an order to suspend the import of marine products from North Korea. This was a big blow to all North Korean workers from the Ministry of Fisheries and to trade officers, since their revenue stream will be immediately cut off if marine products cannot be exported. North Korean government officials are wondering whether the sudden ban is not an act of retaliation for the incident a month earlier in which the North Korean military seized a Chinese fishing boat. A government official from Sinuiju, North Pyongan Province said, “Officials from the Dandong Department of Fisheries told us that from now on they wouldn’t import any marine products from North Korea. When I asked why, they snapped, 'You’re asking us this when you already know yourself?' Because of this, our marine products and foreign currency earning businesses have suffered a serious setback. Our province in particular has many trade companies that handle marine products, and tension there is high.”

In fact, it is the North Korean government that first prohibited the export of marine products. Last April 15, after the Day of the Sun festival ended, the First Chairman Kim Jong-un issued an order, stating, “The people have nothing to eat, so from now on do not export marine products.” The intention was to use marine products for domestic consumption, but there weren’t many enterprises that acted accordingly. They are reluctant to relinquish one of the few business opportunities to earn foreign currency. The more difficult legal trade becomes, the more illegal trade is bound to prosper. One Central Party official predicts, “While China and our government continue to squabble with each other, saying, 'We won’t import' or 'We won’t export', illicit trading will continue.” Meanwhile, the Ministry of Fisheries also expects great losses due to the import and export bans of both countries. With export to China in mind, the Ministry of Fisheries has been investing much in the cultivation of shellfish and shrimp in the tidelands of the Yellow Sea coast.


Okryu-gwan Restaurant Jumps into Foreign Currency Earning Business
     The famous Pyongyang Okryu-gwan Restaurant, a pride of Pyongyang and known as the best maker of traditional food, has eagerly joined the foreign currency earning business. Pyongyang Okryu-gwan is the top restaurant in Pyongyang, where people dine on foods such as Pyongyang nangmyun (cold noodles), Pyongyang onban (warm noodles), and green bean pancakes. In the past, the restaurant’s business model was to serve Pyongyang citizens, from which it acquired its reputation as “the Grand Hall of Serving the People”. Theoretically, typical Pyongyang citizens could receive a ticket (a kind of meal coupon) to eat there, dispensed in order to exemplary families. These tickets are so popular they are sold at high prices in black markets. However, these tickets do not actually go to average citizens because officials and wealthy people usually manage to keep them for themselves. Moreover, as Okryu-gwan has started its foreign currency earning business in recent days, the opportunities for the general citizen to eat there are now even fewer.

One official of the Central Party said, “Pyongyang Okryu-gwan extended its second floor in order to serve more foreign customers. Previously, foreign customers could eat only in a small space on the second floor. As a matter of fact, the Koryo Hotel started its foreign currency earning business first, with a nangmyun (cold noodle) restaurant for foreign customers. Later Okryu-gwan came forth to compete with Koryo Hotel for foreign customers. Okryu-gwan charges $3.00 for nangmyun soup because this is the price the Koryo Hotel charges, and tray noodles is $4.50. I received a bill of $10.00 for a double order of tray noodles and green bean pancake the last time when I went there with foreign customers. The bottom line of the Party is that Okryu-gwan operates its business for the benefit of Pyongyang citizens not for the sake of earning foreign currency. Currently, it appears they are quietly extending their business to attract foreign currency without official permission.”

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