GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 456 May 23, 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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A Special Amnesty Granted to Six Hundred Government Officials Under Revolutionization  Punishment
Export of Marine Products Banned, Except for North Hamgyong Province 
Three Major Steel Mills Experiencing Severe Food Shortage
Soybean Oil Byproduct Import Emergency in the Mines of Gangsung Unit 54
People Swarm to Rajin Sunbong in Search of Food
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A Special Amnesty Granted to Six Hundred Government Officials Under Revolutionization  Punishment
     Six hundred government officials under a so-called revolutionization punishment were pardoned under a massive amnesty on April 15, 2012. The pardon was ordered by North Korean leader Kim Jung-un. Revolutionization is a type of punishment banishing officials who commit errors to distant mines or farms in a set period of time and have them repent their wrongdoings. In preparation for the transition of power to Kim Jong-un, more than 1,000 government officials were allegedly charged with economic crimes and dismissed or expelled to local agencies, public enterprises, mines, coal mines or rural communities over the last two or three years. It was a major shake-up in order for newly appointed officials to recruit new officials from their own personal pools.

Kim Jong-un ordered government officials re-investigated who had been sentenced or were under pretrial interrogations since 2009. His order was to reappoint them if there was no clear charge or sufficient evidence. “Even when General Kim Jong-il carried out large scale purging of political troublemakers, he allowed them to have political life again if they were found competent and win their loyalty back after his new leadership became stable. As chiefs of ministries were dismissed on a large scale, competent officials working under them were also charged in order to prevent trouble. Although they were sentenced or underwent pretrial interrogations, they were always monitored for re-appointments later. However, those who were sent to reeducation centers or those who could not be traced were not freed,” said a Central Party official. Although most of the pardoned officials were sent back to their positions, about 100 officials were demoted to a lower position or sent to different ones. Those whose positions had already been replaced by others could not be reappointed and became unemployed.   


Export of Marine Products Banned, Except for North Hamgyong Province 
     The export of marine products has been banned throughout the country with the exception of North Hamgyong Province, which is being allowed to export processed marine products. This exception is the result of a barrage of protests and complaints from Chinese merchants who invested in the Rajin Marine Productions Factory. North Hamgyong Province also complained of the hardship resulting from the drastic reduction in foreign trade. One official of the Central Party reported, “We received a report from the People’s Assembly of North Hamgyong Province that poor foreign currency earnings would cause a huge setback in solving the food crisis. Furthermore, many people will starve due to the province’s infertile soil and small amount of arable land, and they worry about an increase of desperate defectors putting their lives at risk despite heightened border regulation. North Hamgyong Province is allowed to export processed marine products rather than being banned from export of all marine products like the rest of the country, but if their situation worsens, it might be unfavorable for the domestic situation because it is near the border area.” On the other hand, trading companies and processing companies involved with marine products elsewhere in the country are facing hardship because their foreign currency earnings are presently interrupted. Doing business with the domestic market alone cannot provide for wages and maintenance of fishing equipment including ships. Providing food for the fishermen seems to be an especially serious issue.   


Three Major Steel Mills Experiencing Severe Food Shortage
     Three major steel mills in North Korea are suffering from food shortages. A large number of people are dying of hunger at the Hwanghae steel mill in North Hwanghae Province and also at the Nampo steel Mill and Gimchaek steel mill also in North Hwanghae province. Even Gimchaek Steel Mill in Chungjin, which is in the best situation, many workers have recently been on sick leave. As the Chinese government limits the export of the corn, powdered corn has been imported to North Korea as an alternative food and grain powder has been imported instead. Only a few kilograms of food can be allocated to individual workers because of the limited availability of the food. The other two steel mills are in a worse situation. Residue from bean oil and corn powder is hardly obtainable even with all possible efforts.

“In the case of big enterprises with large number of workers, many people are dying of hunger regardless of the fact they are mines, coal mines, or the three major steel mills. One official in the Central Party, emphasizing the seriousness of food crisis extending to special enterprises stated that, “Even factories or enterprises, which previously managed their operations by contributing their output to the government or selling to buyers abroad, are experiencing a food crisis.”

One of the main reasons for this food crisis lies in the increased censorship against the Department of Trade. During the process of inspection and reshuffling the Department of Trade, the situation of the domestic economy has been aggravated. More than 90 percent of CEOs and managers of domestic enterprises have been replaced. However, the efforts of newly replaced CEOs and managers rarely work since foreign trade is dominated by the confidence of buyers in China and other countries. Since companies rely heavily on colleagues or employees who are newly dispatched abroad, both the newly sent employees and the companies in the North Korea are facing challenges. Basically the buyers in China do not trust North Korean traders. The Chinese buyers clearly draw a line at trading when the newly dispatched North Korean traders ask for a business deal on credit even at the promise of a higher rate of interest. They are reluctant to make a contract of deferred payment. A party official grieved that he was, “skeptical of the operation of companies in this situation since the path for obtaining food is almost non-existent.” 


Soybean Oil Byproduct Import Emergency in the Mines of Gangsung Unit 54
     The soldiers working at the mines affiliated with Gangsung Trading Company Unit 54, a typical trading company of the People’s Armed Forces, are being supplied with the cheapest soybean oil byproduct and corn powder. The situation is as bad as the late-1990’s period of mass starvation, when soybean oil byproduct was imported as a food substitute for new mothers who had just given birth.

One trade officer reported, “Sugar and soybean oil are luxury foods, and they go only to officials and higher agencies because they are in short supply. Corn powder, noodles, and soybean oil byproduct are provided to private soldiers and laborers, who mix soybean oil byproduct and corn powder for their meal. Most people are eager to obtain soybean oil byproduct because of its cheap price in China, where it is used as animal feed. However, obtaining soybean oil byproduct is not as easy as we might think due to stiff competition among the trading companies, even though they are all affiliated with the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces.”

Trade officials stationed in China have been actively importing soybean oil byproduct since the second half of last year, but they worry about the country’s wounded pride from having to import something that hardly deserves to be called food. One trade official of the Ministry of Foreign Trade expressed his concern, saying, “We pretend that we purchase this for animal feed to save face with the Chinese, but it seems that the Chinese traders have figured it out already. Word has been circulated to every Chinese soybean oil factory, so they usually ask us if people are using the byproduct as food. I think they know the truth already, even though I keep saying no. It would be okay if the shame was only mine, but I feel so heavy in my heart because this brings disgrace to our country.”    


People Swarm to Rajin Sunbong in Search of Food
     Food shortages in the North Hamgyong Province are leading residents to swarm to Rajin Sunbong (also known as Rasun), many without a pass attempted to enter the special district. Some give up going past the heavily guarded fences and instead resort to staying in nearby mountains. It is a widespread feeling that Rasun is just as prosperous as Pyongyang with investments from foreign businesses. However poor they may be, a Rasun resident could still afford to eat crushed corn, which is deemed a luxury in many areas. Many people believe that entering the district would provide them food. Obtaining a pass into Rasun is getting much more difficult in response to the growing number of people trying to get in. Residents of Rasun have no way of reaching out and helping their relatives who live outside the district. “I want to send over some corn to my mother who lives in Chungjin but there is no way out. They restrict not only entering Rasun but leaving it too. No one is really starving here and corn is affordable, so it vexes me to hear that my mother is living on corn powder and gruel,” said Misuk Ko, a Rasun resident.

North Korea Today No. 455 May 16, 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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Homeland Convention Held on 8-9 May, “Carrying on the Will of Great Comrade Kim Jong-il” 
Central Party Moving Away from Its Reliance on China
North Korean Elites Believe "China is Essential for Our Survival"
Delicate Tension between North Korea and China
First Secretary Kim Jong-un to Party: “Don’t Get Involved in the Economy.”
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Homeland Convention Held on 8-9 May, “Carrying on the Will of Great Comrade Kim Jong-il”
     On May 8 and 9, a grand ‘Land Management Mobilization Campaign Enthusiasts Convention’ (also called ‘Homeland Convention’) was held at the People’s Palace of Culture in Pyongyang. The convention agreed to set an annual Land Management Mobilization Period from November to March to reinforce national afforestation efforts. Its resolution includes: historical sites and the areas accommodating statues of the Great Comrade Kim Il-sung or Comrade Kim Jong-il should be taken special care of, and the period from March to July to be set as a special protection period for useful animals such as green frogs and other wild animals. In response to food shortage, it ordered to analyze the reasons for the farm land shortage and increase food production by cultivating any possible land into farmland in every region.

One Party official from Pyongyang said, “Comrade Kim Jong-un made a special order that Pyongyang should be developed into the center for Military First culture with beautiful scenery. Our city will inevitably get involved with reforestation projects for several years.”

In the Homeland Convention, Kim Jong-un presented his essay entitled “About Bringing the Proper Revolutionary Change to the Land Management to Meet the Needs for the Construction of the Strong and Prosperous Socialist Country”, which was then given to the attendees. An official from the Central Party said, “It has been 28 years since the Great Comrade Kim Jong-il presented his essay on national land management. Comrade Kim Jong-un’s recent work is significant in that he is carrying on the Great Leader’s will.”


Central Party Moving Away from Its Reliance on China
     On April 13, the North Korean Government held the Supreme People’s Assembly and thoroughly reviewed its international and domestic policies. This was also to solidify policy initiatives discussed and decided on in the new leaderships’ internal meeting held from January 8, the birthday of the First Secretary Kim Jong-un, through January 10. On April 18, only the officials closest to Kim gathered together and extensively discussed the new regime’s political direction.

One Central Party official reported that the subject of the nation’s bilateral relationship with China had led to the most heated debate. Up to now, the North Korean policy toward China was to ensure Chinese support for the regime security and increase cooperation with it in every domain including economic exchange. However, even the current food crisis has yet to be resolved, let alone any economic development. Many raised their voice to claim that China was no longer trustworthy. The assembly was prevailed with the opinion that North Korea should find a new way to achieve its goals rather than allow China to influence its state affairs while getting no apparent economic benefits from China. Their concern has grown that the country might fall into a bottomless pit if it continued to rely on China. Since the passing of the Great Leader, the country has experienced a series of political and economic crises. The government made great efforts to sustain good terms with China all the while adhering to the socialist principles even under the pressure of the international community and surviving through natural disasters almost every year. There had been no room for dispute about the continued relationship with China until recent while the Great General was alive. However, concerns began to rise about the economic cooperation with China that comes with conditions and costs, which in turn was not helpful anyway for building North Korea into a strong and prosperous country. Furthermore, more people believed that North Korea cannot get out of the economic crisis without the help from the Western world, especially without improving its relationship with the U.S. The majority believed that the country should no longer look to China in helpless hopes when the only way to become a strong and prosperous socialist country is to ensure social stability and economic growth based on strong national defense. The officials are in agreement that the new leadership needs to focus on recovering its relationship with the U.S. to draw economic cooperation, technology and capital from the Western countries, following its past efforts to improve its relationship with the U.S. 

Meanwhile, some of the officials unofficially stated that progress in the Inter-Korean relationship should not be precluded, citing that the food and fertilizer support from South Korea following the 6.15 South-North Joint Statement and the economic cooperation played a big role in domestic economic growth.


North Korean Elites Believe "China is Essential for Our Survival"
     Although the leadership is leaning away from its dependence on China, the North Korean upper class seems to think otherwise. They believe that they cannot afford to lose Chinese support. A Central Party official said, “Our dependence on China was predictable from the beginning when the leadership decided to look to China for its regime security. Rich people living in central Pyongyang keep piles of food stock imported from China and make their living by trading with China. Many people believe that North Korea would have already collapsed if it were not for China. Another point is that the leadership is taking caution because of the prevailing public opinion that China is absolutely essential for the survival of North Korea. The new leadership is planning on reducing the ratio of Chinese goods traded in the market to below 30% in the next two to three years. To make up for the reduction in imports, the regime is encouraging the restoration of the national supply system, ordering companies to “produce good quality domestic goods instead of wasting foreign currency on low-quality Chinese goods.” Due to the food shortage, the government ordered that imports from China should be restricted to food items only and the purchase of other goods, with the exception of strategic supplies, should be delayed or avoided.


Delicate Tension between North Korea and China
     One Central Party official claimed that the changed attitude of Chinese government influenced the subtle changes in the direction of the new leadership’s policy toward China. “On the outside, the relationship between China and North Korea seems closer than ever, but this is not necessarily the case under closer examination. China seems to believe it will be inevitable that some form of political reform will take place once the 18th Party Congress ends this year, and there is no reason to conflict with the United States in East Asia because China will soon become a superpower. China is telling us that there is nothing bad about cooperating with the U.S., and with the world moving toward pluralism, there is nothing that would contradict with their unique socialism. China is pressuring us that it may change its attitude toward us if we don’t move to actively introduce reforms like it has done.” He added that “China is pressing us at least to refrain from conducting a nuclear test and raising tensions even if we don’t start reforms right away.” It seems that the Central Party officials, after closely watching the Chinese internal political trends, agree that China’s policy toward Korean Peninsula is changing.


First Secretary Kim Jong-un to Party: “Don’t Get Involved in the Economy.”
     The First Secretary Kim Jong-un, while emphasizing the separation between the Party and the government, has reportedly ordered that “The Party should not involve itself in the economy.” A Central Party official reported that Kim Jong-un emphasized several times during a high ranking cadre meeting that “Party officials must not use the power vested to them by the Party to involve themselves in economic activities for personal economic gain.” The official said that First Secretary Kim’s point was to say that Party officials should focus on management control while economy officers should focus on the work they are responsible for. It was common that Party officials demand cash from economy officers for personal gain or interrupt their business under the pretext of economic control. The economy officers had to show their loyalty to the Party, and they had been greatly burdened while dealing with work given to them for political reasons from higher-ups instead of being able to focus on their work at hand. The First Secretary Kim’s goal is to move toward greater economic development by enabling these economy officers to focus on their work.

One Central Party official said that “this was a decision made to eliminate disruptions in economic development caused by Party officials who involve themselves in economic matters despite their ignorance in economic affairs and also to remove individual corruption.” He added, “This is a part of a plan to boost economic growth by allowing economy officers to display their prowess in their respective fields.” However, Central Party officials can influence the economy at any time if they wield ideology as a pretext. It seems that the Party and the economy are unlikely to be separated as long as the ideology can be used as a critical issue

North Korea Today No. 454 May 09, 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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Gwangmyungsung 3 will be Launched for the Second Time Soon
Serious Food Crisis at Hwanghae Steelworks
A Ban on Exporting Marine Products in Effect from April
“The Food Export Ban Won’t Be Lifted Easily” 
Food Purchasing Emergency, Even Soybean Oil Byproduct Is Precious 
Many Automobile Accidents in Pyongyang’s Downtown
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Gwangmyungsung 3 will be Launched for the Second Time Soon
     It has been reported that North Korea is preparing for a second launch of its failed long-range rocket “Unha-3” (“Galaxy-3”), which was intended to launch the Gwangmyongsong-3, satellite into orbit on April 13. One Central Party official said that the same team of technicians from the first launch is currently working on it and they will launch again at the Tongchang-ri launch pad in Chulsan County, North Pyongan Province. “Outside of North Korea there has been widespread speculation that there will be a third nuclear test, but this is a tactic to attract their attention to Punggye-ri in Kilju County. There will be no such nuclear test prior to the second launch. Even if it fails again and that we are forced to the brink of war, that still might be better than doing nothing due to our desperate domestic situation. We currently have several long-range rockets in the Tongchang-ri area and a nuclear test is being prepared in Punggye-ri, Kilju County. The nuclear test can be aborted if we are able to resume talks with the United States after the rocket launch is successful, and the relationship will improve if we receive economic aid. Once we have received economic aid, we won't have to conduct the nuclear tests and taking the risk of worsening relationships with the United States and China” he explained. 


Serious Food Crisis at Hwanghae Steelworks 
     Starvation continues to claim victims throughout South Hwanghae Province. Since food situation at such large enterprise is in such difficult condition, it is needless to say how serious the situation in rural areas can be. Hwanghae Steelworks, located in Songlim City, North Hwanghae Province, is the second largest in North Korea after the Kimchek Steelworks in Chongjin. Along with the other large enterprise Nampo steelworks, it is one of the three premium enterprises in the nation. Employees have been dying since January this year because food rations stopped last year. An official working at Hwanghae Steelworks pleaded for help saying, “About 60,000 employees are in a dire situation because all provisions have been completely cut off since January this year. Since March, there have been 50-60 people collapsing everyday and not recovering from it, and 5-6 out of them are dying. We desperately need an emergency food aid.” One official of Central Party bemoaned, “It is not only a problem at Hwanghae steelworks. The food crisis in the entire country is extremely alarming and it is difficult to find a place without people starving to death. The situation in North Hamgyong Province is least serious followed by Ryanggang province. However, it doesn’t mean that those people eat enough, but they are able to eat at least a few potatoes per day. More people are dying from starvation in other areas. In the current situation, no one can predict how many more people will die if an urgent aid isn't received”. There is a pessimistic outlook which says, mass starvation cannot be avoided without a large-scale government food supply.


A Ban on Exporting Marine Products in Effect from April
     Marine products are not passing through customs in North Korea due to a ban which became effective on April 15. An official of the Central Party said that, due to an exacerbated food shortage, marine products were to be consumed within the country only. As exporting was banned, aquatic-based food companies across the country, such as in Raseon, Chungjin, Sinuiju, Wonsan and Nampo, told their Chinese trading partners to wait for a bit. They explained that, due to the government’s recent order to systemize the management of marine product exports, new arrangements were being made with individual companies nationwide. Chinese companies are suspicious of these words, asking North Korean companies to send the products or return their money. Workers, dealing with marine product exports, are also asking Chinese companies to be patient as the products are being held up at customs. However, they are not sure about how much longer it will take. Foreigners, who invested in marine product infrastructure, could be compensated with other products. However, North Korean agencies are now worried because there are no alternatives to replace the marine products. The money holders who invested in marine product infrastructure are frustrated at the financial loss.


“The Food Export Ban Won’t Be Lifted Easily”
     It has been reported that the recent ban on the export ban on marine products was implemented at the internal meetings of the Central Party that were held on January 8 and February 16. One Central Party official said that, “The ban on exports of marine products, fruits, and other food items has been implemented so that people of the country are supplied first.” He also mentioned that this was the decision of the First Chairman, Kim Jung-un. Some heads of marine products enterprises are hopeful that the ban will be lifted soon as many previous such orders lasted only for a short period of time. The officials of the Central Party as well as other officials participating in this decision, gloomily predict that it could take “at least 2-3 years, at the very least, to lift the ban.” They believe that the official reopening of trade will take some time. Their explanation is that the ban will not be easily lifted until the new leadership settles, finds some stability, and the food crisis is attenuated. On the other hand, many people welcome the ban saying “Why is the food to be sent overseas even when we have nothing to eat right now. This ban is the best action ever.” According to a recent comprehensive report on people’s opinion, one Central Party official said that, “after listening to Kim Jung-un’s address on the 100th Day of Sun, people thought his voice sounded much the same as Kim Il-sung which left them with a good impression. Lately, people are showing strong interest and attention since an amnesty was granted, people-favored policies, such as supplying marine products and mineral resources, like coal, to people, are being implemented. There is an expectation, growing amongst the people, that good times will come if they endure just a little while longer.” 


Food Purchasing Emergency, Even Soybean Oil Byproduct Is Precious
     While deaths from starvation continue to increase across the entire country, the only exceptions being North Hamgyong Province and Ryanggang Province, all agencies and institutions are finding themselves in a state of emergency over food procurement. Many purchase cornmeal, soybean byproducts, and instant noodles because of the unavailability of rice and flour. The real need is grains such as dried corn, but in reality they have to import junk food because of monetary constraints. Agencies with more power are able to procure snacks and bread, but struggling agencies are importing things that hardly deserve to be called food, such as “bean doobak”. “Bean doobak” is the dregs left over after squeezing oil from soybeans. It had been imported during the Arduous March and is now being used again as a food substitute because there is nothing else to eat. One Chinese trader chuckled, “I didn’t know what ‘doobak’ was the first time they wanted to buy it from me. In China, it is called ‘doobyung’, and these days it is not used even as feed for cows or pigs. Do people really eat such a thing? Things must be very bad for people to be willing to consider this food.” The North Korean trade officers explain the desperate food situation this way: “If you need something to eat, but have no money, you need to find something available in large quantities at a low price. You will have no regrets about eating anything that is available in unlimited quantity, even if it is doobak.”


Many Automobile Accidents in Pyongyang’s Downtown
     In Pyongyang these days many cars are driven with headlights turned on even during daylight hours. Because there are so many traffic accidents happening in the city, the North Korean government has ordered drivers to turn on their headlights at all times to help avoid accidents. A Central Party official observed, “In Pyongyang alone there are more than 200 car accidents every year, and many people are injured or die in these accidents. Europeans drive with their headlights on during the day to decrease the risk of accidents, and so we are adopting the same strategy as well. We will crack down on those who violate the headlight law.” Reasons for the increasing number of car accidents are a greater number of new cars on the streets in Pyongyang and the fact that luxury cars especially tend to ignore regulations and speed excessively. Although traffic accidents have been decreasing with the new law in effect, drivers are complaining of eye strain, shorter car battery life and headlights burning out more rapidly.

North Korea Today No. 453 May 02, 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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The Whole Nation in Tears of Joy for April 15 Massive Amnesty 
National Level ‘Homeland Meeting’ to Convene in Early May 
Big Disappointments in Rationing for the 100th Anniversary of Day of the Sun 
“Food Importation Disrupted” 
Salt Procurement Emergency in North Hamgyong Province 
Overseas Dispatchment of People's Livelihood Team: "First, Find Foodstuff" 
Hwanghae Province, "Hamkyong Province is Complaining with its Stomach Full.”
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The Whole Nation in Tears of Joy for April 15 Massive Amnesty 
     The North Korean government granted a massive amnesty in celebration of the Day of the Sun (the birthday of Kim Il-sung) on April 15th. About 7,000 people in Pyongyang and 60,000 to 70,000 people nationwide were absolved of their crimes. Most of their crimes were for misdemeanors and political prisoners were excluded from the list. “Many families were seen exulting with joy, crying and laughing at their reunions with separated family members thanks to the grant of amnesty. People met their fathers, mothers, and other siblings who returned alive after suffering in prisons for years. They cried with happiness and embraced each other. Can you imagine how deeply they felt when meeting family members whom they never considered seeing again? The whole country was full of cries for a couple of days because the absolved people visited their relatives and cried after the amnesty was granted. I received a report that party officials themselves were deeply touched as well as neighbors while seeing those family members reuniting, all crying and embracing with each other. As Tens of thousands of prisoners were released nationwide, the new leadership is gaining a favorable image among residents,” said a Central Party official. 


National Level ‘Homeland Meeting’ to Convene in Early May 
     The new North Korean leadership will convene ‘Homeland Meeting’ in Pyongyang in early May to come up with measures to tackle the food shortage problem that has recently been getting worse. Three to four officials from relevant offices in each county and more officials from the cities are converging on the capital city to attend the meeting. Officials from city parties, county parties and political agencies, not to mention the Ministries and the central agencies, are summoned, making the scale of the conference close to that of the Party Representatives’ Meeting on April 11th. It is reported that the ‘Homeland Meeting’ will discuss ways to cultivate mountainous areas and abandoned lands for securing farmland and other measures to increase food production.

Added to the agenda is the farming labor shortage issue. Farms are suffering from a labor shortage due to the significant death toll among the farmers in breadbasket regions including Hwanghae Province and the high rate of absenteeism among the surviving farmers who are busy seeking grassroots and wild greens to eat in the mountains. One Central Party official said that the Supreme Chairman of National Defense Committee Kim Jong Un “instructed to convene the meeting in order to find fundamental solutions to increase food production. It reflects the Party’s determination to resolve the food shortage problem that is increasingly worsening. North Korean people are gradually warming towards the party leadership, hoping for some real changes to happen this time.”


Big Disappointments in Rationing for the 100th Anniversary of Day of the Sun
     Special food rations for the 100th anniversary of Day of the Sun (the birthday of Kim Il-sung) on April 15 were hardly distributed to civilians, except in Pyongyang and to high-ranking officers. It was a huge disappointment to the people considering that there were no rations for the New Year and Day of the Shinning Star (Kim Jung-Il’s birthday) either. In North Hamgyong Province, 5 kilograms of beans and 7 kilograms of corn were rationed out to each household and an additional 1-2 kilograms of rations were given to families with more people for April 15 holiday. However, there were no rations handed out to civilians in other areas.

Residents in Pyongsung, South Pyongan Province, said, “We used to get sugar and soy bean cooking oil even in difficult times, but we got nothing this year. This year’s Day of the Sun was supposed to be special and the biggest holiday for our nation to celebrate the Great Leader’s 100th birthday. But no rations were distributed despite large publicity promoting of the event. We wondered what’s happening,” and they expressed their disappointments. Some people understand that the preparation was incomplete since this was the biggest event for the new leadership, but the majority of the people were disappointed. A central party officer who looked at the trend reports from provincial cities mentioned that “people expected food rations this time after holding many big events like the 100 days mourning, the National Party Conference, the Supreme People's Assembly and the 100th anniversary of Day of the Sun. Civilians and middle-ranking officers seemed disappointed with the lack of rationing.” On the other hand for the celebration of 100th Day of the Sun, a one-month worth of foods and necessities were rationed out in Pyongyang.


“Food Importation Disrupted”
     An official in the Central Party reports being overwhelmed by the food problem, as complaints come in from all over the country. He receives so many requests for something to eat, even for edible grass roots, and the news about people dying of hunger in parts of North and South Hwanghae Provinces as well as South Hamgyong and Kangwon Provinces adds to his stress. Regarding the increasing food problem, he explained, “Food importation has been disrupted. In order to declare this the first year as a strong and prosperous nation, our Great General took much trouble personally leading the economic revival and visiting China many times. The plan to import 500,000 tons of food from China, however, did not work out as planned. Overseas trade officers worked zealously on this matter, but in vain. Then the General passed away unexpectedly, and trade transactions almost came to a halt for the 100 day period of mourning, so food import has been seriously disrupted.”

Another problem is that the people’s ability to generate a livelihood has been seriously weakened. As market transactions were restricted during the mourning period, the livelihood of those who live from day to day suffered severely. “For city laborers who live from hand to mouth, the initial 10 day mourning period alone was like a death sentence. The arrival of the Lunar New Year’s holiday barely seemed to ease things, but then the 100 day mourning period was announced. Regulation and control were tightened in every market, so the spring period of hardship began earlier than other years. These laborers who live from day to day had difficulty preparing money to start doing business again since they had to use the little money in their possession to feed themselves. The middle class people were able to withstand the difficulties at first, but eventually they had no option but to eat what reserves they had, and everyone ended up like Kkotjebi [homeless beggars],” explained an official in the Central Party. One official from Haeju City of South Hwanghae Province says, “There usually is something to eat in rural areas after the harvest, but the grain fell earlier than usual in our province because of the severe flood damage. The whole nation is suffering financial difficulties, but there are more people dying in our province especially because of this early crop damage.”


Salt Procurement Emergency in North Hamgyong Province
     The People’s Committee of North Hamgyong Province has been put on emergency alert for procuring salt. They have been trying to buy salt since last fall, but so far their effort has been unsuccessful due to a shortage of funds. Although they keep begging the officers who trade with China to procure salt, the only answer they receive is that a deferred payment contract is not available even if the highest interest were to be paid. Some military-aligned companies import salt and sell it in Chungjin at a high price due to the short supply. The salt price used to be 700-800 won per kg in markets through the end of last year, and it rose to the 900 won range early this year. Lately it has leaped to higher than 1,000 won. Under these circumstances, some people worry that the price of salt might become higher than the price of corn. Since salt is in short supply, soybean paste, soy sauce, and other basic foods are hard to find. Basic food factories do not produce sufficiently due to shortages of money, electricity, and the main raw materials such as soy beans and salt. Rich people will stock up a year’s worth of soybean paste and soy sauce in advance, but most people buy those basics from markets each time they need them. The days of receiving basic food provisions are now history in the past.

Cho Sunhae (alias), who works at a hospital, is concerned: “Various diseases are going around due to malnutrition caused by the food crisis and the high price of salt compared to corn. The unavailability of salt, bean paste, and soy sauce is not just an inconvenience; rather, it is a dangerous situation since serious health problems can occur. Salt has to be secured promptly without delay.”

One Central Party official said, “Salt shortage has been around for a while. Also, it is not only a concern for North Hamgyong but a national problem.” Over recent years, the salt works of Hwanghae and Pyongan Provinces were seriously damaged by repeated floods. Importing salt is the way to compensate for the shortage of domestic salt production, but currently there is only frustration over the shortage of funds with which to buy it.


Overseas Dispatchment of People's Livelihood Team: "First, Find Foodstuff"
     In most areas excluding Pyongyang, the pain of food shortage is getting more and more grave with the lack of basic condiments, such as salt, soybean paste, soy sauce, and hot pepper powder. The shortage is so severe that even when one tries to buy it from a market the price is shocking.

The North Korean government ordered that ‘people's livelihood teams’ are organized at a unit, organization, and public enterprise level to go overseas to purchase living essentials, mainly foodstuff. Currently at the end of April, an official from the Central Party reported that 80 percent of the imports is foodstuff. Factory-made goods are about 15 percent, and the remaining five percent are other miscellaneous goods including military goods.

Foodstuff from China is mostly distributed to restaurants and government-run shops in Pyongyang, supply chain and provisions for officials. An official from the Central Party said that farm crops such as nappa, spring onions, and radish are about 30 percent of the imports, and that "There is such shortage that we import 60 tons of cabbage - about two truck's load - from China daily, and it is quickly sold out."


Hwanghae Province, "Hamkyong Province is Complaining with its Stomach Full.”
     One official from South Hwanghae Province who came back from a trip to China to procure foodstuff said that South Hamkyong Province and its officials who are in a desperate search for salt are "complaining with their stomach full."

"For us, it's not really the matter of finding salt - it's the matter of finding anything that we can put in our mouth that will not kill us immediately. It doesn't matter if it has passed the expiration date or junk food. I just want to find more foodstuff from China, whatever that may be," said he, describing the level of desperation.

"Since the beginning of the 100-day mourning period, the poorest of all started dying of sickness from mid-January. From February on, we have urban laborers and farmers dying of starvation. Even now, the number of patients who die in hospitals is increasing. But the government, by tightening control in fear of political chaos during the mourning period, worsened the food shortage," expressing his frustration.

North Korea Today No. 452 April 25, 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.]

The Ministry of Agriculture Orders Purchase of 200 Thousand Tons of Fertilizer

200 Million Dollars Allocated for Repairing Agricultural Equipment

North Hamgyong Province in Better State as Crisis Continues to Worsen Nationwide

“Do Not Ignore” the Hostile Remarks from North Korea, a North Korean Official Said

“The Possibility of North-South Dialogue Had Been Open since May”


“A Monk’s Earthly Mission: Easing North Koreans’ Pain”
by Choe Sang-hun (April 27, 2012, NYT)
Venerable Pomnyun, Chairman of Good Friends, speaks on North Korea Today in his recent interview with New York Times.  Follow the link to read the article on NYT’s website:
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/28/world/asia/venerable-pomnyuns-earthly-mission-is-to-aid-north-korea.html?_r=1



The Ministry of Agriculture Orders Purchase of 200 Thousand Tons of Fertilizer

North Korea’s Ministry of Agriculture has ordered the Ministry of Foreign Trade officers stationed abroad to purchase 200 thousand tons of fertilizer.  There are about ten officers of the Ministry of Foreign Trade currently stationed abroad to buy agricultural input materials including fertilizer.  According to one officer from the Ministry of Foreign Trade, it has been virtually impossible to buy Chinese fertilizer, lately.  China, with a purpose of restricting fertilizer export, adjusted its import and export tariffs starting on January 1st this year, with a special tariff imposed during seasons of high demand.  The special tariff rate of 75% is imposed between January to May and again from October to December on a number of fertilizer products, including chemical fertilizers and ammonium chloride.  The Ministry of Foreign Trade officers are looking into buying Russian fertilizer, and it would cost one hundred million dollars just to purchase.  North Korea’s annual fertilizer need is approximately 500-600 thousand tons and its output is known to be about 50 thousand tons.  After construction of Hungnam Chemical Fertilizer Company, the output may have gone up to 100 thousand, but is still far below the amount needed.





200 Million Dollars Allocated for Repairing Agricultural Equipment

The Ministry of Agriculture allocates two million dollars for repairs of plowing tractors and other agricultural equipment that are aged or broken.  Most of the tractors found on the collective farms are not in good condition as they were mostly made in Russia back in the 1950s or 1960s.  The Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Foreign Trade are working hard to purchase tractor parts to make the most use of the existing ones.  However, one staff at the Ministry of Foreign Trade had stated that:  "Even in Russia, these parts are hard to find.  Due to the age of the equipments, there are very few people who recognize the parts, and we need to find retired mechanics to ask about the parts.  Many factories have been closed.  Even the ones that still make parts, unless it's a big order, they hesitate to commit as it may not be profitable.  We could buy new ones from China, but we have no money.  Although the archaic Russian tractors are not gas efficient, the machines are sturdy and strong as long as their parts are replaced properly, hence we continue to seek new parts in Russia."       





North Hamgyong Province in Better State as Crisis Continues to Worsen Nationwide

As deaths from starvation due to the ongoing food crisis continue to be reported across the country, one official of the Central Party had expressed concern that even in Pyongyang the food situation was worsening.  "The South and North Hwanghae Provinces currently have nothing to eat, not even plant roots.  People who have returned from those areas have said that there seemed to be more suffering than during the Arduous March.  Even the granary areas are so horrible, it is needless to state the severity of the food situation in other areas.  The mountain areas of Kangwon and South Hamgyong provinces have been in a food shortage for a long time, and the current food situation in Pyongyang is no better.  People are constantly dying across the country; furthermore, I’m afraid to even think about the number of lives that would be lost once the spring lean season befalls."  According to this official, the situation in the border areas is better than that of the interior.  The livelihood in North Hamgyong, Pyongan and Ryanggang Provinces is relatively easier, thanks to the peddler businesses with Chinese.  An official of the Central Party stated that:  "The country would reach a pivotal moment this Fall.  If there are no aids or no rations, it may lead to either deaths of a great number of people or a mass defection.  Depending on the Government's action or inaction, public sentiment can either turn against the state or remain calm."  He added that resolving the food crisis needs to be made the top priority of the new leadership.   





“Do Not Ignore” the Hostile Remarks from North Korea, a North Korean Official Said

The ferocity of North Korea’s declaration of war against South Korea is getting more aggressive.  The President Lee Myung-bak’s radio address and the series of anti-North Korea rally that had been held in Seoul before and after the 100th commemorative ceremony of the Day of Sun were picked as issues.



On the 13th, members of a conservative organization had an event of missile intercepting performance at Gwanghwamoon Plaza in Seoul; following this, college students from a conservative group held a flash-mob event censuring North Korea’s third hereditary succession and the likes on the 15th.  On the 16th, President Lee Myung-bak criticized North Korea’s Kwangmyongsong-3 launch in his radio address.



Through the statement by spokesperson of the People’s Army Supreme Command on the 18th, North Korea denounced the evil deed that dashes cold water on the celebration mood of the 100th Day of Sun and defiling the supreme dignity, and they escalated their degree of fury adding the comment, “whoever he is, wherever he is, a merciless revenge will be given upon him. Even if it is a center of Seoul, a special action will be conducted to blow the whole thing up.”  The next day, on the 19th, [North Korea] issued a statement that demands an apology for the serious crime that gravely blasphemed the Day of Sun in the name of government, political party, and organizations.  In this statement, [North Korea] points out the President Lee Myung-bak’s mentioning of the missile launch cost in his radio address on the 16th, and rebukes it as an “intolerable insult and most vicious provocation raising a fury.”  President Lee has said, “It is assumed that North Korea spent $850,000,000 directly on launching this (Kwangmyongsong-3).  With that much money, 2,500,000 tons of corn could be bought and 6 years of food shortage could be solved.”



On the 20th, the anti-South Korea protesting rally by the military and civilians of Pyongyang City was held at the Kim Il Sung Square.  At last, on the 23rd, the Supreme Command of People’s Army Special Action Unit predicted a provocation to South Korea by saying “Soon special actions of revolutionary power will commence.”



An official of the Central Party warned “not to ignore” the North Korea’s daily and continuing hostile remarks.  [According to him,] These are not an ordinary response.  Another Central Party official said, “The External Communication Unit and External Intelligence Agency had already received reports about the enemy’s move on February 16 Holiday and the 100th anniversary of the Day of Sun since end of last year, and they had sent letters to ask South Korean government to stop it through many channels.  We have been making it clear that we will even wage a war if South Korean government encourages rather than controls the anti-North activities by the groups mostly consisted of North Korean defectors,” and said that waging war is not a just political rhetoric.  Since the end of last year the North Korean Security Agency obtained information that anti-North activities will occur in both North and South at the same time by the anti-North organizations including the defectors group on 2.16 and 4.15 holidays, and they have been devoting their efforts on disclosing the spy connection in the country.  At the time, North Korea had warned, “Scattering fliers and setting up a broadcast for propaganda may be overlooked, but the anti-North rally can never be overlooked," and that they would consider it a war waging conduct.  





“The Possibility of North-South Dialogue Had Been Open since May”

One official of the Central Party criticized South Korean government’s bellicose attitude against the North Korea’s major agenda such as the recent Kwangmyongsong-3 launch, the memorial event of the Day of Sun, and the likes.  North Korea issued warnings several times by letter, and at the same time kept the door open for dialogues, but South Korea never accepted that, according to the official.  He said, “We were about to start the dialogue with them from May if South Korea government banned the anti-North activities acknowledging the gravity of the situation, but they ignored.”



He also said that the plan has been prepared already since the October of last year, even before the death of Chairman Kim Jong-il, that “Keep on the hard-line to South until April, then after the general election of South Korea, get into the soft-line by opening the window of North –South dialogue.”  He said that the further plans have been prepared by considering both domestic and international variables.  The Central Party official reported, “Our government thinks that Lee Myung-bak government intentionally irritates us to wage a war.  It will hold South Korean government responsible for local skirmishes if any of it happens in the future.”

North Korea Today No. 453 Priority Release May 2, 2012


National Level ‘Homeland Meeting’ to Convene in Early May

The new North Korean leadership will convene ‘Homeland Meeting’ in Pyongyang in early May to come up with measures to tackle the food shortage problem that has recently been getting worse.  Three to four officials from relevant offices in each county and more officials from the cities are converging on the capital city to attend the meeting.  Officials from city parties, county parties and political agencies, not to mention the Ministries and the central agencies, are summoned, making the scale of the conference close to that of the Party Representatives’ Meeting on April 11th.  It is reported that the ‘Homeland Meeting’ will discuss ways to cultivate mountainous areas and abandoned lands for securing farmland and other measures to increase food production. 

Added to the agenda is the farming labor shortage issue.  Farms are suffering from a labor shortage due to the significant death toll among the farmers in breadbasket regions including Hwanghae Province and the high rate of absenteeism among the surviving farmers who are busy seeking grassroots and wild greens to eat in the mountains.  One Central Party official said that the Supreme Chairman of National Defense Committee Kim Jong Un “instructed to convene the meeting in order to find fundamental solutions to increase food production.  It reflects the Party’s determination to resolve the food shortage problem that is increasingly worsening.  North Korean people are gradually warming towards the party leadership, hoping for some real changes to happen this time.”
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