GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 463 July 11, 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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North Korea Emphasizes the Importance of a Favorable Relationship with China
Atmosphere along National Border Areas Still Brutal
Bigger Companies Have More Serious Food Shortage
As Living Conditions Worsen, Crime Rates Increase
Residents of Songpyong District in Cheongjin Survive on 1Kg of Corn per Week
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North Korea Emphasizes the Importance of a Favorable Relationship with China
     The subtle tension between North Korea and China appears to have subsided. One of the Central Party officials stated, “Some of the government officials believe that China rarely supports North Korea properly when help is needed. However, North Korea will not gain anything by creating friction with China. For instance, the capture of a Chinese fishing boat by North Korea or the launch of Kwangmyongsong-3 Satellite must have made China uneasy. Now we postponed the second satellite launch in an effort to preserve North Korea-China relations. It is true that there has been some tension between the two countries, but it is not as bad as it appears on the surface. Even though the progress of Wihwado and Hwanggumpyung development projects has been very slow, it does not mean that the relationship between North Korea and China is crumbling. It is just a rumor created by people who want to play North Korea against China. Our government announced, “It is the enemies who try to break North Korea’s close ties with China by spreading false information.” Some officials in the Party warn against Chinas influence if we get heavily dependent on it. And yet, the Party is emphasizing that we should refrain from any words and actions that might have a negative impact on the relationship between the two countries. Considering the severe drought and food shortage in the country, the governments urging people to take precautions is the correct course of action. The North Korean government has issued repeated orders to all departments, businesses, and other units to refrain from any conduct that might harm the NK-China relations.


Atmosphere along National Border Areas Still Brutal
     The tightened security along the national border between North Korea and China has been extremely harsh since the end of last year. In fact, the Chinese government has issued repeated orders to pre-empt North Korean defectors at border areas such as Jilin and Liaoning Provinces.  An official of Hyesan City, Ryangang Province, described the situation saying, “According to the news from Changbai area, the Chinese government seems to have a strong will to root out North Korean defectors. The Chinese police, border patrols, rangers, and even small police stations in rural areas, have intensified their investigations. Chinese national security agents and public prosecutors are investigating and arresting Chinese citizens or any officials who might have helped North Koreans cross the border or assisted foreign countries and organizations in the border crossings. The Chinese Central Party has persistently issued orders to inspect foreigners and monitor their behavior.”

An official at the North Korean Central Party stated, “Many Korean-Chinese live in cities in Jilin and Liaoning Provinces that are close to border areas, so the Chinese government is especially concerned with these areas. The Chinese government’s diligent patrolling its border is good for our government, but it also hurts our pride. Not long ago, a Chinese official told me, ‘It is very likely that the food shortage will get worse in the future. We cannot help worrying about problems with North Korean defectors.’ I maintained my manner, but I felt quite humiliated by his condescending attitude towards our country.” He added that the Chinese government’s tightened border control seems to be a long-term policy. It has almost finished installing barbed wires along the national border areas, and it continues operating intense investigations on brokers and assistants for North Korean defectors in China.


Bigger Companies Have More Serious Food Shortage
     Bigger factories seem to be suffering from even more serious food shortage. To date, big factories in Hangheung, Cheongjin, and Wonsan have occasionally distributed food to their employees by selling their pig iron or machinery. The premium company of Kimchaek Steel Mill in Cheongjin used to buy corn by selling some of their products. This year, even that became difficult because they lost many overseas sales channels. One official of the Central Party explained the big companies slow sales as the results of the last years investigation on the Ministry of Trade. Since the investigation on the Ministry of Trade, the newly appointed officials have not yet settled properly into their positions. Foreign trade was widely shaken by the replacement of officials. Foreign trade takes up a large portion of business in big factories, and as the trade officers could not do their job properly, the domestic production and the workers livelihood were deeply damaged. Even in Pyongyang Textile Factory and the three major steel mills, the food rations for the employees are almost stopped, let alone small factories across the nation.

The workers are surviving on anything they can come by, such as rice wine draff, tofu-dreg, corn husk, or corncob powder, barely managing day by day. Faced with the miserable reports coming from all parts of the country, a Central Party official commented, The investigation on the Ministry of Trade started in July last year. Back then our foreign trade was at the historic peak, and we all thought we were making a real progress if we worked just a bit harder. We had a blue print of business cooperation with China. Nonetheless, there is no economic breakthrough this year, the foreign trade isnt going well, and the food crisis is getting worse. I think thats why people started to pick up on the investigation of the Ministry of Trade again. I understand that replacing people was a necessary step to take before the new leadership was formed. However, as the old saying goes, even a decayed tooth is worth keeping to protect the gum from the cold. We should have kept the old officials and used them as much as we could. It is a real shame. I think no one could foresee the back blast of the investigation.  


As Living Conditions Worsen, Crime Rates Increase
     The gap between the rich and the poor in North Korea is getting wider. A few rich people get richer, and the poor continues falling into a worsened situation. The families of employees of Kimchaeck Steel Mill, who live in Lanam District of Cheongjin, North Hamggyong Province, are selling their furniture because of their difficult economic situation. The items are bought by merchants and then sold at the Chinese border areas. Due to their hardship, various crimes occur even in the broad daylight. A policeman from Cheongjin City said that three cases of bicycle theft occurred on the 7th in the vicinity of Sunam Market. The occurrence of three bicycle thefts in just one day is not common. In another case, a band of three burglars robbed a food vendor, beating him up at Subukdong in Pohang District. Kkotjebis (homeless youngsters) were the initial suspects in the attack, but the real criminals were jobless young men who were caught after two days of the police investigation.

At the end of June, a band of five burglars broke into a government store, threatening three guards with weapons, and stole eight video recorders and three bicycles. The guards were severely injured, beaten by the burglars with a coal shovel in the kitchen. The store had not had much to display on the shelves, and to make matters worse the robbery happened. Now the employees of the store worry about the reimbursement for the lost items. One policeman from Cheongjin said, “In fact, they were lucky that the incident ended at that level. Because of the hardship of life, a lot of horrible crimes like murder happen these days. Such crimes are increasing due to difficult living conditions.”    


Residents of Songpyong District in Cheongjin Survive on 1Kg of Corn per Week
     Residents of Sonpyong District in Cheongjin City, North Hamgyong Province, are running the “Earn 1Kg of corn a day” campaign. One kilogram of corn costs around 2,000 – 2,500 NK won. Geum-young (alias), who runs a second-handed clothes business in Soonam District, said it is hard to make 2,000 won a day. In the past, it was not hard to earn 1Kg worth of rice a day, but rice, currently selling for more than 4,000 won per kilo, is impossible to even dream about eating these days. Because she cannot earn 1Kg of corn a day, her family eats wild-grass porridge for breakfast, skips lunch, and eats some corn noodle for dinner. The families who cannot even afford this eat only two meals a day consisting of watered-down grass porridge mixed with corn powder and wild plant. An official from the People’s Committee in Songpyong District said, “You can think that one third of our district residents are barely getting on with their lives by eating wild plant porridge. Last year, a family of four consumed one kilogram of corn for three days. Now, we have to use food more sparingly than that. Many are suffering from malnutrition, which easily leads them to diseases and death. Still, our Province (North Hamgyong Province) is better than others. I heard that southern provinces (for example, Hwanghae, South Pyongan, and Gangwon Provinces) are worse off than us so that they are barely surviving day by day”. He sighed, adding that Songpyong residents’ living conditions are better than that of those in the South.
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