Daily NK: The value of special pin badges featuring KlS and KJI, once symbols of power and prestige in NK, has reportedly declined so markedly that they can now be bought freely on the black market. Source: “Recently, ceremonies for April 15th have seen model workers in factories get the twin badges for 100% attendance, and others have been given to model Women’s Union members. But the badges are then going straight onto the black market and getting traded for necessities. Don’t hungry people need rice, not badges?” Most of the badges go to middlemen for 80-90,000 NK Won, enough to purchase 20kg of rice. These middlemen resell them at a higher price to donju [members of the new moneyed class], who wear them just to “show off.”
AP: Runners from 27 countries participated in the annual PY marathon, which was opened up to foreign amateurs for the first time. Foreigners were instructed not to carry U.S. or Japanese flags, or wear clothing with large writing or that was deemed inappropriately attention-getting or political — though one wore blue jeans.
RFA: Authorities in PY have been cracking down on taxis violating a midnight curfew, in an apparent bid to maintain order around politically sensitive holidays.
Daily NK: The term “Highest Dignity” has entered common use among the NKorean populace and state media referring to KJU. However, a source reports that “In the weeks after the guidelines were issued the term spread quickly among cadres and the public. People started joking around as they watched TV, saying, ‘Who is that person seated next to the Highest Dignity?’ Agents cannot tell people to stop even when they are using the term in jest, because it was coined by the Party.”
Daily NK: As even special holiday rations decrease, loyalty to the KWP is threatened. Instead, loyalty is shifting to non-state enterprise employers who do provide rations on public holidays. Defector: “When employees are happy their employers are elevated as a function of their economic privilege. People know that this system is what feeds them, not the state.”
ECONOMY & FOOD SECURITY
WSJ: NK’s finance minister reported details of NK’s budget over the last year: PY allocated 45.2% of its total spending to “economic construction to consolidate the foundation of the self-supporting economy,” with a focus on agriculture and construction. Social projects including education, healthcare and sports and arts promotion took up 38.8% of total expenditure, while funding for national defense was 16%.
Daily NK on rising property values: “Rice is stable, and so more and more people are looking to buy houses. I looked for a place, and found it was impossible around the jangmadang [markets] and train stations; they’re all gone. Last autumn there were lots of people wanting to sell apartments near the train station but now market food prices are stable and not one of them wants to sell.”
Xinhua: A new rail route opened from Ji’an City to NK, making it the second Chinese city to have a train service to NK after Dandong.
INTERNATIONAL POLITICS & SECURITY
Chinese ambassador to DC: “These problems cannot be resolved by China alone… We are very often told that China has such an influence over the DPRK and we should force the DPRK to do this or that otherwise the United States will have to do something that will hurt China’s security interests. You are giving us a mission impossible. You are telling us, ‘If you cannot do it, I will do something that will hurt your interests.’ I don’t think that this is very fair. I don’t think that this is a constructive way of working with each other.” (Video).
China publicly warned NK not to carry out a nuclear test. Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman: “We do not support the joint [ROK-US] military drills and do not support the threat of a nuclear test [by NK].”
NK’s NDC accused the ROKG of fabricating evidence that NK had sent surveillance drones to SK, offering to conduct a joint investigation. ROK MOD: “NK’s offer to launch a joint investigation into the drone incident is a mean psychological tactic to divide South Korea, which is unworthy of consideration.”
KCNA reported that KJU has sent 2.1 billion won (US$2.02 million) to pro-PY Japanese group Chongryon. The funds are reportedly earmarked for scholarships and “educational assistance,” including the “democratic, ethnic education of the children of Korean-Japanese.”
Unification Minister Ryoo: “We have an intention to lift the [May 24] sanctions… There are a lot of business projects in the idea proposed by the president, and among the projects, we can carry out some of them even right now… In terms of the large-scale infrastructure projects, as the president also said, we need North Korea to take steps toward denuclearization. In order to lift the May 24 measures, there are some steps that North Korea should take.”
PGH apologised after three NIS agents were charged with forging evidence against alleged NKorean spy, Yu Woo-sung: “Regrettably, the NIS’ wrongful practices and a system of lax oversight were revealed and caused concern among the public, and I would like to apologize for this. If such an event that deepens public distrust happens again, then it will be strictly held accountable.” NIS director Nam: “We will take this opportunity to re-evaluate our investigative methods, root out wrong customs and conduct a bone-crushing overhaul of our system, so that things like this will never happen again.”
PGH will meet Obama during his visit to Seoul, on April 25.
Russia’s deputy PM may visit NK soon, and is expected to continue recent discussions on expanding economic cooperation.
ANALYSIS & OPINION
Lankov: “It is curious, though, why the growth of the private economy has not produced an economic boom, let alone an economic miracle a la China. The main reason seems to be that the state and its officialdom have done their best to impede the growth of this economy; they are attempting to prevent the entrepreneurial class from becoming too powerful.”
Sheena Chestnut Greitens’ new HRNK report, ‘Illicit: North Korea’s Evolving Operations to Earn Hard Currency.’: “No longer limited to elites, the drug trade and other illicit activities now encompass a broader swath of North Korean society than before. This means that a wider array of North Koreans, elite and ordinary, have opportunities for economic activity that is not dependent on the state and benefit economically from illicit trade. The gap between the North Korean state and society appears to be bigger now than it has been previously.”
Choson Exchange’s Abrahamian: “Technically everyone is a government employee, but some people are starting their own companies or looking for ways to start their own companies… You can start a private business if you have a connection to a ministry or government body who will host it under their umbrella. In the 1990s everyone had to find some extra money, so even the National Library has a trading company… We are trying to help support a constituency of more progressive people taking a more pragmatic approach so they can advance for change and when it happens, there will be people ready to step up.”
NK News: Norwegian artist and theater director Morten Traavik attempts to bring NKorean and Norwegian performers together in what he calls “artistic interventions” by inviting students from Kum Song Music School in PY to take part in his version of an Egner play, dubbed “Cardamomyang.” Traavik, being a theater director, says he is able to recognize a staged scene when he sees one, and calls NK “the world’s largest and longest ongoing performance.” The premiere of “Cardamomyang” is set to take place in Bergen May 22.
Pew Research: 27% of SKoreans surveyed in 2013 answered that they think of China as more of a partner, compared to an enemy (17%) or neither (53%).
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