Saturday, January 29, 2011

North Korea Today No. 385, January 11, 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.]
Rice is Just a Window Display
Miso Soup with Corn and Rice Mix Meal Makes a Decent Holiday Meal
Overseas Chinese are Best Off in the National Border Area
The Prevalence of Acute Malnutrition among Children Patients in Hamheung City
Children Suffer from Malnutrition and Indigestion
Pyongyang Pediatricians Marvel at South Korean Most Popular TV Drama Series
Rice is Just a Window Display
Food price stays high, and residents are still unhappy after the holiday season. In Hanheung City in South Hamgyong Province, rice price was 1,500 won/kg on January 1st, which was an increase from 1,400 won/kg at the end of December. Hyonseon Seo (alias), who came out to Sapo Market to shop, posited that “rice is just a window display” to those who cannot afford it. In the second week of January, the rice price stayed at around 1,500 won/kg and did not show signs of falling. Even those who are better off are buying corn in place of rice due to the decreased income since last year; those who had secured more than 6 months’ worth of rice are exchanging their rice for corn in preparation for an expected longer struggle. On the other hand, rice merchants are enjoying a high demand for rice that remains strong despite the price rise. The rich have gotten richer, and individuals or organizations that are affluent always prefer rice to corn.

Miso Soup with Corn and Rice Mix Meal makes a Decent Holiday Meal
This New Year, it has been particularly cold for some cities of Hamkyong province. Normally, all the preparations for New Year’s food would have created a festive atmosphere, but it was as chilly as the cold north wind. Scenes of large food purchases from the grocery stores were rarely seen, and most would make a single purchase of 1 kg of unglutinous rice. When asked how many they could feed with the rice, they replied, “of course we had to mix it with corn.” For them, a decent New Year’s meal can consist of plain miso soup devoid of vegetables, eaten with steamed corn meal. 1 kg of unglutinous rice can be a luxury for some households, so most in the community avoid asking each other how their holidays went for fear of embarrassing each other.

Yeyoung Kim (alias), who came to the city of Hamheung from Hamju County to see in the market, said “No matter how hard the situation, I expected to make some money for the New Year. But it ended up not so successful.” She brought some chickens she raised, and eggs, only to find that her profit came out to no more than the transportation cost to Hamheung. She went on to say, “I continuously hear people saying they cannot live like this anymore. They all suffer from the food shortage”.

One official from Hamheung City Party said, “There are many arguments in the City Party over food issue aimed at the central party. Since they said that people need to find their own way to survive, they need to let them do it, without forcing other impositions.” It is becoming so hard to survive since the Central Party mandates contributions to construct Heecheon power plants and others without granting anything. In addition to this, the central government has many restrictions on the issue. The Central Government might proclaim ‘all for the enhancement of people’s lives once again’ all it wants, but the people will complain more loudly if the food problem is left unsolved.

The case is not so different in the cities of North Hamkyong Province. Cheong Inguk (alias) who lives in Dongmyoung-dong, Hoeryong city, answered hesitantly regarding food over the holidays. Instead, he told us that he wants to eat corn rice with miso soup at least, and that is his only hope for this year. One official at Pohang division in Chungjin city said, “In many households, it was fifty-fifty rice (corn rice mixed with unglutinous rice) and Tofu soup for New Year’s day. Fifty-fifty is just a saying, for in reality, they mixed corn rice with less than 1kg unglutinous rice, and it was only for that day. We cannot see rice anymore.”

Overseas Chinese are Best Off in the National Border Area
The overseas Chinese are faring well these days along the border area. The standard of living for ordinary overseas Chinese is even higher than that of high-ranking North Korean officials. The power brokers of the Party used to do better than even the most successful overseas Chinese, but this changed drastically after the failed currency exchange. The overseas Chinese can trade with China legally, and they can receive aids from their relatives much more easily - it’s actually difficult to find an overseas Chinese who does not save several tons of rice stored at home. The house storage is packed with rice and various goods that can be sold in the market at any time. Since the value of the NK won has plummeted and is not credible as a currency, the overseas Chinese only deal in Yuan or dollar. The residents at Hyesan City of Ryanggang Province are astonished, saying that the storage of an overseas Chinese is better stocked than the 1st Department Store at Pyongyang. It is an exaggerated statement, but it shows how range of goods that they are stocking up on. It is because the Chinese trust the overseas Chinese counterparts more than the North Korean trading companies, so the influx of goods is much more stable for the overseas Chinese.

As the trade between North Korea and China by the overseas Chinese becomes brisk, increasing number of North Koreans are getting hired by the overseas Chinese living in the border area. Usually, the overseas Chinese are connected with the ‘transport trucks’ so they load and transport the goods, and each house hires approximately 10 to 15 people. Although the terms of the employment are fair - with 2,500 NK won per day and meals provided – the workers are treated with extreme contempt so the relationship is like that of a feudal landlord and servant. For example, the overseas Chinese have a full-course meal inside of the house and the workers just finish the meal hurriedly in the front yard of the storage shed. As the status of the overseas Chinese went up, they became snobbish. There are loud voices of discontent among the residents and they say the overseas Chinese humiliate people without money, do not bother to acknowledge most party officials, and only treat with dignity high-ranking officials or security agents.

The Prevalence of Acute Malnutrition among Children Patients in Hamheung City
In Hamheung City in South Hamgyong Province, it is reported that there is a sharp increase in malnutrition cases among children patients. Myong-ok Lee (alias), a pediatrician with 20 years of practice, said that among 150 children whom she saw in the last three weeks, 80 were diagnosed with malnutrition and did not have serious diseases. The situation has worsened over the last two years, with some month recording 100 out of 180 children suffering from malnutrition. Parents bring their inert kids to the hospital worrying about the possibility of medical problems, and the kids only turn out to lack nutrition. Some of the children who can be treated with simple antibiotics are too weak to take the medicine. The doctor said she is cautious about prescribing antibiotics since there were some cases where the patients suffered from the side effect or their conditions exacerbated, due to their already weakened status. In those cases, the doctor recommends the caretakers to feed the children with nutritious food for one or two months before coming back for examination and possible treatment. Needless to say, parents are responsible for providing for their children’s medicine. Dr. Lee regrets, “It is sad to see families who cannot afford simple medicines and have to let the kid suffer. I wish I could buy the drugs for them, but there are so many cases like that and I mostly end up giving up. As a doctor, I feel as much pain as the parents watching children suffering and dying without being treated.

Children Suffer from Malnutrition and Indigestion
On December 22, Hyangmi (alias), a six-year old girl living in Sapo-gu, Hamheung Province, was rushed to the People’s Hospital on her mother’s back. She had been suffering from diarrhea for days. The doctor said he was “surprised when he first saw Hyangmi because she was so dreadfully skinny.” When he asked her mother what caused her to be so weak and frail, she could not answer immediately but only managed to cry. Because of financial difficulty, Hyangmi’s family had started a business in the summer with the money they received from selling their house. But after the business failed, they had trouble providing Hyangmi with even one or two meals a day. Only on holidays could she eat rice with corn, and normally she ate grass gruels and other food substitutes. The mother cried, saying that she is to blame for her child’s illness. The doctor could only console her with a pat on the back.

Pediatricians say that children ranging from newborn to ten years old who come to their hospitals are suffering from severe malnutrition and underdevelopment as in Hyangmi’s case. Indigestion is also a problem. Although children must make a smooth transition in their diet from milk and baby food to the next stage, they are fed indiscriminately in impoverished families, which result in undernourishment and various digestive problems. One pediatrician in Heungnam Gu reassures guardians of his/her patients that “their child is not as bad as others” and that “they should buy some rice instead of medicine and feed their children.” “I don’t tell them that out of spite; it’s the truth. If they could afford medicine, they should instead use that money to buy food and nourish the child, which is most important. If a child is malnourished while growing, he or she will face consequences not only in terms of body, but intelligence as well,” added the pediatrician. The pediatricians all grieved for the children who were born during this time of food crisis. “The innocent children suffer for being born in such difficult times.”

Pyongyang Pediatricians Marvel at South Korean Television Series “Daejanggeum” and “Huh Joon”
According to a pediatrician in Pyongyang, his fellow doctors consider South Korean dramas “Daejanggeum” and “Huh Joon” as the best historical medical dramas. He exclaimed that “the dramas depict the medical practices of our ancestors so vividly and accurately.” He added that most medical school professors in Pyongyang watch them and lament that they cannot watch them again. One professor at Pyongyang Medical School said that “some of the most renowned professors in our school speak very highly of ‘Huh Joon.’ They even think it should be used for educational purposes.” The professors and doctors showed the most interest in the folk remedies that were portrayed in the series. They were greatly dismayed that they could not share these dramas with local doctors since they all watched the dramas in secret.

Friday, January 21, 2011

North Korea Today No. 384, January 05, 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.]

Hopeless New Year
No War on the Korean Peninsula as Long as U.S. is Present
To Strengthen the DPRK-China-Russia Tripartite Structure in Year 2011
North Korea-China-Russia Alliance Difficult to Achieve
Economic Aid will Lower the Possibility of an Armed Conflict

At the beginning of the year, people become hopeful with expectations about the new year even if they are in a bad situation. However, it is hard to see a smile on North Korean people’s faces, which are as gloomy as the cold weather. Pessimism seems to prevail among the people due to their prolonged suffering. The present edition opens the year of 2011 with reporting on North Korean officials’ thoughts regarding how to resolve the current crisis. Note that the statements are the officials’ personal opinions that are difficult to make in public and are not intended to be represent the thoughts of the general public.

Hopeless New Year
A party official in Sariwon, North Hwanghae Province, replied that “the No. 2 military provision storage facility is empty” in regards to a question concerning the New Year’s prospects. He confirmed that after the Party Representative Conference last fall, the food in the No. 2 storage facility were given to the military and, since then, the facility has not been restocked. As a result, government procurement officers were dispatched to farms to obtain grains, but their efforts were hampered by this year’s harvest decreases that resulted from severe flooding. Officers ended up appropriating farmers’ personal stocks, but could not state that their actions were for military purposes because of the order ceasing the collection of rice for military provisions. One official said, “It was one of the cruelest things that could be done to other human beings and it was horrible to see desperate farmers wailing while trying to keep their rice.” “However, this is a military-first era,” he added, “Soldiers have to be a priority.”
Hamheung City in South Hamgyong Province party officials are pessimistic and predict that the dream of becoming a strong and prosperous nation will be unattainable without a significant increase in economic support from China this year. Nonetheless, government officials, who have more opportunities to learn of outside news than ordinary civilians, believe that that even if an independent national economy is achieved, economic recovery will be difficult under current circumstances. Production for Juche Steel and Juche Textiles are lower than expected. In addition, although people are hoping for successful farming yields this year if fertilizers are provided by Juche Fertilizers, they are doubtful that this will ever happen. While the New Year’s Day joint editorial asserts that “brilliant prospects are being opened for the mass production of products from Juche Steel, Juche Textiles and Juche Fertilizers,” one official states that there is a consensus among party members that attracting foreign investment through diplomatic maneuvering is the only way to survive.

No War on the Korean Peninsula as long as U.S. is present
(1) The mood among Central Party officials is not bright. As they underline the importance of endeavoring to “thoroughly materialize the principle of self-sustainability” in the New Year’s Joint editorial, their major concern is survival. Accordingly, influential Central Party agencies have been traveling abroad to earn foreign money and purchase provisions. However, this has not been an easy task. Several officials affirm that “this should not be the only approach to solve [North Korea’s problems], but all methods of government diplomacy should be considered.” Moreover, instead of offering a direct answer to a question regarding the possibility of military force against South Korea, one official asserted that he thinks that “there will be no war on the Korean Peninsula.”
(2) At this point of time, China neither wants a war on the Korean Peninsula nor a united-Korea hosting American forces on its border. China also assumes that the feeling against war is mutual with America because of their united economic interests. If America engages in a war, it will be only because they feel a need to go to war against China. But North Korea anything within the current framework of having China guarantee regime survival while trying to draw out the U.S. for a dialogue.
(3) Improving relations with America not only serves the purpose to elevate North Korea’s status as a proud member of international society, but is also a prerequisite to attract western investors and rejuvenate its economy. North Korean leaders also believe that an over-reliance on China is negative in the long run in terms of maintaining their regime and exercising sovereignty. On the other hand, relations with America will strengthen prospect for international recognition of their system’s legitimacy.

To Strengthen the DPRK-China-Russia Tripartite Structure in Year 2011

According to the officials of the Central Party, DPRK leadership will continue to pay considerable attention to the DPRK-China-Russia tripartite relationship in year 2011. It is because, the DPRK analyzed, receiving grand scale economic support from China while strengthening the DPRK-China-Russia tripartite relationship to counter the ROK-America-Japan tripartite alliance would be advantageous in maintaining DPRK sovereignty. When ROK and China normalized relations on August 24, 1992, DPRK-China relationship had deteriorated. It was believed that even during the early period of the Chairman Kim Jong-Il era, there existed delicate tensions between the two countries. An official in the Central Party reminisced that at the time, "the alliance with China was in disarray and economic support from China had almost stopped." There was a view that the causes of economic problems were internal ones but that they were aggravated by the collapse of old Soviet Union and East European countries as well as the chilling relationship with China. However, the new Kim Dae Joong administration in South Korea launched the Sunshine Policy that helped improve ROK’s relationship with the DPRK. DPRK's relationship with China began to thaw naturally as a result. It was believed that S. Korea mediated on behalf of North Korea for better diplomatic relations and freer economic activities between China and Western countries. With the Roh Moo Hyun administration, the DPRK took a pragmatic stance in which it would accept everything that the South Korea offered while implementing policies that would prevent any infiltration of “Yellow Wind” and prevent any ideological turncoats among citizens. With the Lee Myung Bak administration, many officials insisted that "because Lee administration attempted to overthrow the DPRK with the assistance from America, it had to align with China." "There is just one goal: to resolve this difficult situation by year 2012. If nothing is feasible there are some who are willing to go to war. However, there are political calculations that even if one is willing to go to war, two strong countries, both America and China do not want war and therefore would stop any all-out war." Among officials, many believe that if the DPRK pushes for war, China would provide all kinds of materials in order to prevent war. Further, if there is a war, it would be an emergency situation, and China would actually provide more material support without any precondition; it might even be easier to maintain ideological discipline among the people because of the war. These are the reasons that the DPRK would concentrate more on cooperation with China this year. As to the relationship with S. Korea, it is believed that the Lee Myung Bak administration would continue to antagonize the DPRK during its remaining period. Therefore it is imperative to strengthen the DPRK-China-Russia tripartite structure to counter the ROK-America-Japan tripartite alliance. An official of the Central Party said that "if South Korea continues to employ harsh policies, our response will have to become harsher. What the Lee Myung Bak administration does not understand is that the Sunshine Policy prevented a second Korean war and it also prevented the DPRK from becoming subservient to China. This cannot be calculated in money alone."

North Korea-China-Russia Alliance Difficult to Achieve

North Korea will maintain a political strategy with the goal of consolidating its tripartite alliance with China and Russia in opposition to the alliance between South Korea, the United States and Japan this year, but North Korean leaders question whether this approach will meet their expectations. In 2010, Russia suffered from a severe drought and a series of forest fires caused by abnormally high temperatures. This led to a suspension of grain exports from August 15th to the end of the year, and consequently, a critical situation for North Korean leaders whose prospects for Russian food aid were completely shattered. Economic cooperation with China has also been problematic. Last year, Daepoong Company, which was founded to attract Chinese investment, did not achieve any of its goals. North Korea was also excluded from China’s lists of the 147 and 137 countries recommended for tourism and investments, respectively. In response, the government recently repealed its restriction against exporting rare earth and minerals, though they noted that this will not guarantee Chinese investment. Due to North Korea’s withering alliances with its neighbors, Central Party officials have also considered the possibility of improving relations with the United States. One official stated, “If our economic cooperation with China does not improve, we should have summit meetings with the United States and receive investments from western countries in order to develop our economy.” Although North Korean officials express the importance of an alliance of with China and Russia, an underlying assumption is that the more they rely on China, the less independent North Korea will become. Conversely, improving relations with the United States would foster North Korea’s independence while leaving the regime intact.

Economic Aid will Lower the Possibility of an Armed Conflict

Officials of the Central Party say with confidence that the regime won’t be able to win the support of the people unless the food problem, which has been going on for more than 20 years, is resolved. They believe that the regime can only be sustained with some stability if the economy becomes normalized. Despite the propaganda of a Strong and Prosperous Nation in 2012, solving the issues of eating and making a reasonable livelihood now are not an easy matter. Some say that the economy, which was already in a dire situation, went beyond a reversible point when the currency reform was implemented at the end of 2009. There is a rumor going around that the economic community admits off the record that “The currency reform turned the clock back 10 years.” An official repeatedly asking for anonymity described the badly aggravated public opinions saying, “At this point not even the late Kim Il-sung or his grandfather can allay public opinion.“ He stressed the necessity of immediate breakthrough measures for the economic crisis by saying, “Without a significant improvement in the lives of people, the DPRK will lose people’s support as well support from the officials.”
In this sense, there is an internal evaluation pointing out that the New Year’s joint editorial, like other years, contains no breakthrough measures. Although it stressed “the cutting-edge means to speed up the process of development in every economic field,” designating the defense industry as the pioneer of the cutting-edge breakthrough does not fit with the proposal of developing the light industry that is more closely linked to people’s lives. It is an undeniable fact that the military industry is an important industry in the era of military-first policy. Nevertheless, with scarce materials and lack of resources, the civilian industry sector will inevitably be sacrificed as long as the defense industry is given first priority.
Meanwhile, senior officials in Pyongyang speak about the possibility of armed conflict this year again if the tensions between North and South Korea continue. This is not only because North Korean authorities vow to do it, but also the atmosphere of preparing for war is pervasive among officials as well as among the general population. Since the 2006 flood, the food problem is getting worse and worse without relief. Food aid from the international community has been all but cut off. There is a widespread thought not only among the general population but also among some high ranking officials that a breakout of war may solve all of the problems in one fell swoop. An official claimed that North Korean authorities’ vow of going to war is based on this pervasive sentiment among people. He argues that economic aid from South Korea or from the international communities will lower the possibility of an armed conflict. His position is that resuming support from the international community and revitalizing of economy will resolve the food problem and that in turn will soften the war mentalities among people.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

North Korea Today No. 383 December 29, 2010

[“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.]
Pyongyang Residents Nervous about Repeated Delays in Food Distribution
[Table] Grain Price Change in Chungjin, N. Hamgyong Province
Many Regions are Collecting Military Rice Again
Central Party Official, “Ongoing economic cooperation with China will take time.”
Hwanghae Province Cracks Down on Poor Children
[Investigative Report]
Evaluation of 2010 New Year’s Joint Editorial and Perspective for the Future
Pyongyang Residents Nervous about Repeated Delays in Food Distribution

Residents in Pyongyang, dependent on government’s food rations, say they have never been so nervous about the unstable food supply as they are these days.  Although streets are clean and government run stores are full of merchandise, the food supply is still problematic.  Last November, only a 15-day food ration was distributed, and the rest was not released until December.  The food ration for December is still not released at the time of this writing, the end of the month.  Residents in other regions do whatever they can to feed themselves such as farming in small land patches or selling because they do not have any expectation for government to provide them with food rations.  In contrast, residents in Pyongyang do not have such ability to support themselves.  The 5.26 order this past May mandating self-sufficiency by every unit and workplace made it even more crucial to work for the right organization.  People working for companies that have trade channels with other countries such as China have rooms to wiggle, but others have almost no means to survive this winter.  Concerned Pyongyang residents express their worries; “In summer, we understood the difficult food situation because we knew that there was no food.  Now that the harvest season is over, I really don’t understand why the food ration program is not running well.  Whenever people get together, they talk about their concerns over starvation in the winter.”  As of December 20, the rice price in the Pyongyang market was 1,600 NK won, which had jumped from 1,100 NK won last month.  With some local variations, the rice price is around 1,400-1,500 NK won on average.

[Table] Grain Price Change in Chungjin, N. Hamgyong Province, Second Half of the Year
(Unit: KPW/kg)

Many Regions are Collecting Military Rice Again
In spite of the announcement of the Central Party on October 30 that the military rice remittance obligation will not exist anymore, it was discovered that this did not go into effect in many regions.  In addition, regions that collect military rice to secure the food for the People’s Army are increasing as the food situation has been aggravated recently.  Regions that were obeying the superior authority and were not collecting the military rice began to collect it in earnest as there were no other ways to secure military rice.  For troops residing in the regions of Kangwon Province and North and South Hwanghae Province, a soldier is not even provided of 500g of food per day.  A mixture of corn with a little bit of rice and a salted napa soup is all they receive.  Many people are suffering from malnutrition since the meal is poor and has almost no side dish.  The food situation has not been improved even after a semi-state of war was declared.

The farmers who briefly cheered at the news of stoppage of military rice obligations became depressed again.  “My understanding is that instead of collecting military rice from the people, (the Central Party) attempted to trade with China or secure the military rice by spending the military fund”, says an official from the Provincial Party of South Hamgyong Province.  It seems like their efforts to win the hearts of the people by reducing their burden were in vain.  The Central Party is urging the Ministry of Overseas Trade Representative to take extensive action in purchasing food, but the situation is not going well.  An order delivered at the end of last November instructing to purchase materials for constructing Heecheon Power Plant in Jagang Province was already changed into an order to prioritize and focus on the purchase of food with the same money.  However, Ministries of Overseas Representative as well as the foreign currency earning companies in the nation cannot engage in trade even if they wanted to because they have a limited export items to deal with, such as agricultural products or products from mining; moreover, no matter how strong the organization is within the Korean Workers’ Party, foreign companies are not willing to do the business with them unless they have an ability to pay in advance.  The reason that the price of the grain went up from approximately 1,100 NK won to 1,600 NK won in every major market of North Korea is because food was not imported sufficiently and the amount of grain in circulation within the nation decreased as a result.  As the food situation remained difficult in December, each local party delivered its own guideline, asking to collect the military rice where it is possible and to give up doing so where it is appropriate to do so.  The Central Party then issued an order to each local party, stating that the military rice is the first priority and that it must be secured no matter what.

Central Party Official, “Ongoing economic cooperation with China will take time.”
The economic cooperation with China is picking up this year (2010), but the speed is not up to the expectation of the NK government.  In order to ease the tight food situation, the government requested 500,000 tons of food aid from China but received no answer yet.  It is said that the NK government urged China for economic aid when Dai Bingguo, Chinese State Councilor in charge of foreign affairs, visited Pyongyang on November 9.  One official from the Central Party said they had a plan to import 1 million ton of food from China by January 2011 by exporting all of the mineral resources, if necessary.  The export of mineral has been limited due to the argument for the natural resource protection.  However, realizing that it had to loosen the export regulation in order to attract Chinese and Russian investments, the Central Party issued an order early December to “sell everything that can be traded with China to import food.”  This includes various kinds of rare earth metals that have been previously banned from export.  It shows how desperate the situation is.  Up until early this year, the NK government tried to reduce its dependency on China by normalizing its relationship with the U.S. and pursuing economic cooperation with Western countries.  Now, its self-analysis concluded that this attempt completely failed.  Despite its complaints that the Chinese pay only lip service for economic aid and investment in North Korea, the NK government for the moment is determined to make every effort for economic cooperation with China.  It said it would strengthen its diplomatic ties with China and Russia in the future so that it could take time and control the speed of normalization of its relationship with the U.S.

Hwanghae Province Cracks Down on Kkotjebis (homeless children)
Local governments of Hwanghae Province have begun their crackdown on kkotjebies (homeless children, usually orphans, runaways, or deserted) in major cities as winter is approaching.  The increase of kkotjebies is caused by residents moving into urban areas in search for food and livelihoods.  Farmers have been leaving their farms because they do not qualify for food ration although they cannot produce in the winter.  The recent flood has increased the divorce rate and the number of youths deserted by their parents.  In response, the People’s Council reconvened the standing committee to control these kkotjebies.  The kkotjebies caught by the council are turned over to the police if their parents are alive or sent to relief institutions if the parents are deceased.

North Koreans are suffering even more from the food shortage because of the severe cold spell.  The temperature has even dropped to negative thirty degrees Celsious at one time.  The elders claim that it was not this cold even during the Korean Liberation War era, and the youths say that the scenes of people starving and freezing in pre-liberation era movies have become a reality.  The state of affairs is worse in North Pyongan Province and Hwanghae Province, which were especially affected from the flood.  Farmers have not been receiving sufficient ration because the crops were ruined by the flood.  Residents say that they will not be able to survive through the lunar New Year in February.  In agricultural regions in Sariwon, North Hwanghae Province, those who cannot afford to get a second job have been perishing.  South Hwanghae Province and outskirts of Pyongyang are in a similar situation.  Recent inflation that has caused 1 Yuan per 210 won to increase to 1 Yuan per 270 won has worsened the crisis.

[Investigative Report]
Evaluation of 2010 New Year’s Joint Editorial and Perspective for the Future

Let’s Make a Decisive Turning Point in the Life of the People on the 65th Anniversary of the Founding of the Party by Once Again Spurring Light Industry and Agriculture.”

The year 2010 is fading away.  Each year on January 1st, North Korea issues New Year’s joint editorial of North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun, Korean People’s Army Daily and Chongnyon Jonwi.  The New Year’s joint editorial is the only channel through which the Party announces its resolutions and intentions to the people.  This is a useful tool to assess the visions of a new year because it proposes the nation’s goals and declares the directions to take to achieve the goals.  In a few days the 2011 New Year’s joint editorial will be issued, and a lot of attention will be paid to what kind of visions will be proposed in the year 2011.  Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to look back and assess the past year’s joint editorial before the issuance of the new joint editorial in the sense that it allows the chance to evaluate North Korean government’s performance level against the goals and the limitations because we can see what was achieved and what was not.  Our intention in this edition is to make attempts to evaluate some of the major issues based on the joint editorial.

1. The Major Characteristics of 2010 New Year’s Joint Editorial

A. The titles are very specific compared to the previous years.  The expression of “Let’s Make a Decisive Turning Point in the Life of the People … by Spurring Light Industry and Agriculture” is more specific and commanding compared to the previous expressions of “let’s make a reap,” “let’s achieve a great revolutionary enhancement,” or “let’s demonstrate the achievement of military first policy.”  It shows the underlying confidence of creating a turning point in the life of people.

B. The Background for the Confidence
1) They argue that there is no reason for not achieving progress in light industry and agriculture because of the enormous economical and technological potential demonstrated in the “high-tech breakthrough’s” with the launching of Kwang-myong-sung 2, execution of the second nuclear testing, the completion of Juche steel production system, and the adoption of CNC computerization.
2) They viewed that the four priority sectors of people’s economy, i.e. power, coal, metal, and railroad, could be largely renovated and reinforced through 150-day battle and 100-day battle carried out in 2009.  In other words, they intended to increase production drastically and reabsorb the labor power lost to the market back to the factories.
3) They think a quantum leap has been made in agricultural production and construction in rural areas.  However, there was no specific description about this.  It was simply described as better than the year 2008.

2. 2010 New Year’s Joint Editorial Execution Strategy

A. Military-First Policy based High-tech Breakthrough: They think high-tech breakthrough is required on every front.  The defense industry should be the forerunner.  The victorious sound of cannon knocking at the door to Strong and Prosperous Nation should be initiated by the defense industry.

B. Imbuing of military-first political ideology in the ideology sector – The strengthening of spirits without limits is needed in the ideology sector.  This can be achieved by continuously building up soldiers’ spirits and preventing ideological wavering of party members and the people so that they can stay loyal to the Party and the Dear Leader.  This means that the military should take the initiative as the flag-bearer for the construction of Strong and Prosperous Nation, emphasizing the union between the military and the citizen.

3. Did They Succeed in Creating a Turning Point in People’s life by Putting Spurs to Light Industry and Agriculture?

A. The series of measures of currency reform on November 30, 2009, banning of foreign currency in January 2010, and closing of markets disrupted the economic basis of the country.  The North Korean authorities underestimated the fact that not only the lives of North Korean people, but also the governmental agencies and enterprises are all sustained by the market.

B. The 5.26 Party directive issued in 2010 was asking everyone to provide for themselves.  The government, in turn, lifted the market closure and the ban on international trade completely.  They had no choice but to deal with the aftermath of the failed currency reform.

C. The food problem is in a standstill with difficulties in the supply due to the flood damage during the summer and the importing of food from China is not working out either.

D. In the light industry sector, an exemplary case is the completion of modernization of 2.8 Vinalon Unified Enterprise, which was celebrated in a large scale with a crowd of 100,000 people for the event.  One full year has passed since then, but, there is no news about how much Juche fabric has been produced at the Vinalon enterprise.

E. Based on the Pyongyang City Modernization Plan the capital city is noticeably changing with beautification of Daedong Riverside, construction of modern houses, renovation of lightings of major facilities, and maintenance of urban infrastructure.  The supply of goods to the government-run stores and retail shops is done relatively smoothly, but the gap between Pyongyang and the provinces is widening.  The food situation is not so good in Pyongyang as well.

4. Assessment of Inter-Korean Relations

A. As this year was the historical 10th anniversary of the June 15 Joint Declaration, they firmly believed that ‘Woori-minjok-kkiri’ (among we Koreans only) is the Korean ethnic spirit in the Era of 6.15 Unification as well as the one and only ideology.  Also, inter-Korean relations are in a stalemate as North Korea’s ‘peace treaty first and then denuclearization’ policy and South Korea’s ‘non-nuclear open-door 3000’ policy clash with each other.

B. They strongly expressed their will for improvement of inter-Korean relations by saying, “We should give the mutual interest of all Koreans the first priority, promote harmony, and work together on cooperative projects through exchange and interaction on various levels.  All legal and institutional devices that hinder mutual interest and prosperity should be abolished and free discussions and activities for unification among people from various fields.”  However, with the failed attempt of inter-Korean summit in the beginning of the year it had rapidly dissipated.

C. Their intention was to use both carrot and stick for their South Korea policies, but it ended up with heightened military tensions as a result of military clash.  Their intention to obtain massive economic aid by ways of signing peace treaty through normalizing of relations with the U.S. that can be achieved through improved relations with the South Korean government went awry.

D. Reaffirmation of establishing hereditary succession of power for three generations within the family and opening the doors to Strong and Prosperous Nation through independent national economy has been made.  Nevertheless, their reliance on China has deepened as they failed to improve relations with the U.S.

E. Consequently, with the growing influence of China in the Korean peninsula in the midst of deepening power struggle between the U.S. and China both South and North Korea suffered enormous setback in terms of national status in the international community as well as in the diplomatic community.  The higher the level of confrontation between the two Koreas, the higher the level of reliance to China will be for North Korea, which will inevitably lead to diminishing independence for them.

5. Perspectives for 2011 New Year’s Joint Editorial

A.  It is expected that they will propose a new direction for ‘Chosun’ as the New Year marks the 100th anniversary of Juche ideology, and come up with a catch phrase of strong confidence, emphasizing that 2012 Strong and Prosperous Nation is not far away.

B. Nevertheless, the format is expected to be stressing confidence and hopes using only adverbs and adjectives rather than proposing specific quantitative milestones.  It is also expected that they will envision big progress in all sectors in contrast to the year 2010 where only the agriculture and light industry were given much weight.

C. It is expected that a strong emphasis will be given to the goal of constructing Strong and Prosperous Nation in 2012 with demonstrations of pride and confidence through the expressions such as the 100th anniversary of Juche ideology, the year before the realization of Strong and Prosperous Nation, the base year for unification, military power with nuclear weapons, and a vanguard nation with strong Juche ideology.

D. Delivering of a message conveying the belief “unification is nearing as the republic is standing tall in the center of the world because of the leaderships of Kim Jong-il, the great Sun of the 21st century and the young general Kim Jong-un” is expected.

E. It is expected that they will issue a message of warning that the cause of the current deadlock between South and North Korea as well as heightening tensions of war in the Korean peninsula is none other than American imperialists and South Korean regime, and reemphasize the necessity and legitimacy of a peace treaty.

F. It is expected that they will call for a rising by the South Korean people and uniting of those who desire unification across the society, imparting the conviction of unification that they can crush any threat and liberate South Korean people as long as they have the military armed with strength and the military-first ideology.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

North Korea Today No. 382 December 22, 2010

[“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.]
Renminbi (Chinese Yuan) and US Dollars Take the Place of North Korean Won
Renminbi Used even in the State Stores
Renminbi Accepted for Bribes
Bribe Needed to Sell Firewood
“No problem walking 20 km to sell firewood”
Head of Military Mobilization Dept. of Chungjin Arrested for Stealing Supplies
Yonsa County Getting Extra Cash Due to an Abundance of Mushrooms
Renminbi (Chinese Yuan) and US Dollars Take the Place of North Korean Won
Currently, transactions in the major North Korean market places, such as Sunam Market in Chungjin, Chupyong Market in Hamheung, Chaeha Market in Sinuiju and Sinheung Market in Hyesan, are primarily taking place with either the renminbi or other foreign currencies, most likely the US dollar. Wholesalers selling to retailers are reluctant to deal in North Korean won due to its unpredictable exchange rates. Moreover, although retailers accept won from consumers for minor purchases, larger purchases require US dollars or renminbi. Retail prices are also commonly marked in renminbi, which may lead to misunderstandings.
Last November at Sinheung Market, a farmer who was not familiar with current market trends thought that the price of rice had plummeted. He handed 700 won to a rice vender and asked for seven bags. The merchant was shocked and told the farmer that one bag was 100 won in renminbi. The merchant mocked the farmer, asking him where he was from and telling him that he “must have come from somewhere deep in the mountain where no one lives.” The farmer angrily retorted that because they are in North Korea, it is expected that one would be speaking in terms of North Korean won. The merchant continued to tease the farmer in front of a laughing crowd that gathered in reaction to the commotion. “You don’t even know what’s going on in the world,” he yelled, “What kind of person still can’t calculate prices in dollars or renminbi.”

Renminbi (Chinese Yuan) Used even in the State Stores
Recently, the renminbi has gained preference over the won not only in market places but also in the state operated stores as well. Previously, one could only use dollars or renminbi in foreign currency stores, but now their use has spread throughout North Korea. It is now natural for people to use dollars or renminbi to pay for televisions, recorders, bicycles, washers, electronics, etc. For instance, when a clerk asks for 700 won for a television set, urban residents know that clerk is speaking in terms of yuan without being told so. Although the prices of goods often change because of the volatile exchange rates that accompany the dollar and renminbi, people do not seem to trust or widely use the North Korean currency, which shows that it is not widely trusted.

Renminbi (Chinese Yuan) Accepted for Bribes
The renminbi is accepted as tender not only in market places but also by police officers who readily take bribes from those conducting illegal activities. They prefer the U.S. dollar but renminbi is the currency they accept the most. They used to take North Korean won, but it’s no longer welcome due to its devaluation. Officers secretly ask for bribes from family members seeking acquittals of their detained loved ones. In Hoeryong City, North Hamgyong Province, security officers freed criminals sentenced to 6 months of labor for 600 yuan at the rate of 100 yuan per one month sentenced.

Bribe needed to Sell Firewood
Residents of Sukmak-ri of Booryong County, North Hamgyong Province, are busy collecting firewood in this winter. Sukmak-ri is a farming area near the Chungam District, but over 95% of the residents maintain their livings by selling firewood from nearby mountains. Sometimes people grow grains on the small patches of field, but the soil is poorly suited for even corns, so many of them usually plant sorghum, millet, and beans for tofu. In winter, however, most residents try their best to chop and collect firewood in the mountains and walk 30 Li* to sell them at Soonam Market in Chungjin or Namhyang Market in the Pohang Distict.

They are poor, so they cannot use any vehicle. Most people walk to Chungjin City and carry firewood by carrying them on their backs or using handcarts. While people collect firewood to feed their family and themselves, the local government is faced with a serious situation about the illegal firewood collection. Forest rangers of Industrial Forest Management Department affiliated to the Chungam Environment Protection Bureau regulate firewood traders at the crossroads from Sukmak-ri of Booryong County to Chungjin City. However, these officials are obsessed with taking bribes, so anyone can avoid this regulation by giving them a pack of “Cat” cigarettes.

Some people try to bribe them with “Sunbong” brand of cigarettes instead of “Cat” to save money, but the officials refuse them saying, “I don’t smoke this. I hate it.” The “Cat” brand’s real name is “CRAVEN A” which Chosun Seokyong International Co. and BAT (British American Tobacco) of England have manufactured together since September 2001. A cat’s drawing is on the pack, so people call it the “Cat” cigarette. “Sunbong” is cigarette jointly produced by North Korea and China, and it is cheaper than Chinese brands. “Cat” is the best brand for bribes. Although most of “Cat” cigarettes are fakes, its’ quality is better than “Sunbong” and it is more expensive than its counterpart, so “Cat” has been regarded a good item for bribery over 10 years. Some people who cannot afford to give bribes every time give firewood instead to these officials.

*Li: a distance unit in Korea and 1 Li is around 393 m, 25 Li is approximately 10 km.

“No problem walking 20 km to sell firewood”
Not many people can afford Cat cigarettes (over 300 NK Won a pack) for a bribe to sell firewood, especially in these times whereby even a single meal is hard to come by. As the crackdown on logging and wood selling tightens, many residents in Sukmak-ri leave their house around 2 AM when the police officers are not yet around. They need to get out of the town before 4 AM to get to Chungjin Market by 9 AM. If lucky, they can sell their load during the morning, buy some rice or corn, and head home early. If the selling doesn’t go well, they often arrive home after 9 or 10 PM.

Sukmak-ri residents make a round trip of more than 20 km round on foot every day to sell firewood. They say they are now used to it because they have been doing this since the Arduous March. The division of labor is well set out for every household – the father and children go to mountains to get firewood, and the mother walks and drags the wood to Chungjin City and sells it in the market. If one of the parents is sick or absent, the remaining parent collects firewood and the children carries it on a cart and sell. Therefore, many children in this village often skip school to go and sell firewood. Now that it has been ten years after the Arduous March, it is hard to collect firewood in the nearby mountains. Imprudent logging has made mountains almost bare, and people have to go farther and farther to get firewood. Accordingly, the price of firewood is going up every year.

In Chungjin city, a bushel of ten branches sells for 200 NK won, which translates into 5,500 – 6,500 NK won a cart on average. Cold winter weather helps the sale of firewood for heating, and those with good sales skills can find a regular customer among restaurants in the city. This means that they do not have to stand in the cold wind in the market until the wood gets sold; they just bring the wood to their customer and get paid right away. Quite a few ‘well-off’ households live in this way – living on their own produce from small land patch farming and selling firewood to buy necessary items and save money. Some households even have a color TV set and VCR, which are rare in rural areas. However, poor households and those with patients or college students struggle to earn money for daily survival.

Head of Military Mobilization Department of Chungjin Arrested for Stealing Wartime Supplies
The head of Military Mobilization Department (MMD) of Chungjin City, North Hamgyong Province, was fired and arrested because he embezzled wartime supplies. He had stolen gasoline and diesel stored in Sukmak Laborer’s District of Buryung and accumulated a large amount of money since last year. Last year when the military storage had oil items, such as 500 tons of gasoline and 600 tons of diesel oil, he sold oil to fishing boar owners from May to September of last year and made five million North Korean Won before the currency reform. The season was prime time of fishing cuttlefish, so many ship owners needed oil. With his downfall, officials in the department must have felt extremely nervous because they systemically helped their boss conduct illegal business and also stole a lot of oil. Each department has to try to survive by themselves, but officials of MMD are particularly well-positioned to embezzle military supplies stored in the storage. Of these supplies, they can sell gasoline and diesel at a good price, and illegally selling tires and other auto parts has become customary in this department. These illegal items are usually traded at Soonam market in Chungjin. Because the situation is so prevalent, punishing the department head won’t solve the problem. At the same time, the city police authority sent young female security agents between the ages of 18 and 22 to guard the wartime supplies. The agency organized 7 to 8 agents as one unit with women who graduated middle school serving for four years. Most of these members are usually daughters of officials.

Yonsa County — Getting Extra Cash Due to an Abundance of Mushrooms
Thanks to the significant amount of rain runoff this year, Yonsa County residents in North Hamgyong Province have profited by collecting and selling oak tree mushrooms, black mushrooms, acorns, pine nuts, etc. While skillful collectors made over several hundred US dollars, even the worst made at least some money. Residents are more focused in such collateral income because Yonsa County’s mountainous landscape and limited amount of farmable land is generally ill-suited for agriculture. Accordingly, they collect mushrooms or other marketable products in the fall and hunt wild boars, deer and wild rabbits in the winter. Residents comfort themselves through poking fun at primitive nature of their hunter-gatherer lifestyle by saying, “just as the wild boar digs with its mouth and the chicken kicks dirt backwards with its feet in search of food, everybody (each person) finds his own way to survive.”

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