NK NEWS BRIEF | Nov 21, 2012
Posted November 21, 2012
Hill-side propaganda praising KJU in Ryanggang Province, reading “선군조선의태양김정은장군만세! / Long live General Kim Jong-un, the sun of military-first Korea!” | Photo: Google Earth via NK Econ Watch
- Naguib Sawiris, holder of a 75% stake in Koryolink through Orascom Telecom Media & Technology (OTMT), revealed that there are currently over 1.5m subscribers on the mobile network and that they are expected to hit 1.7m at year-end 2012 (up 79% on year-end 2011, representing steady growth along 2011 trends). Sawiris reported projected revenues of 186m EUR (145m USD) for 2012, with an average revenue per user of 8.6 EUR (presumably per month). Koryolink’s exclusivity in the NKorean market has been extended 3 years to 2015, and OTMT is “continuing to expand our network and services to further solidify our position [in order] to be ready for any possible competition… We are planning to relocate Koryolink headquarters into the [Ryugyong Hotel] tower very soon to bring life to the building… Orabank, our banking arm in DPRK, is actively working towards developing mobile-related businesses and projects… They are keen to attract foreign investors and they are definitely taking reformist steps but they are still hesitant and slow steps.”
- Chosun Ilbo: According to an NIS source, former army chief Ri Yong-ho is under house arrest in N. Hamgyoung Province. Two business fronts of the NK military that were responsible for bringing in hard currency by selling coal and gold to China have reportedly also been consolidated and placed under state control.
- Donga Ilbo with more on KJU’s moves to reduce the role of the military: “Military units that lost their revenue sources after their money-making powers were taken by the Cabinet have been seen looting civilians and disobeying orders from superiors,” a SKorean official said. “We understand that the North is getting its officers and men to promise not to loot civilians.”
- A ROK MOU official claimed that KJU is “conducting a task to verify loyalty or (existence of) corruption of key figures” in the cabinet govt, party and military and is reshuffling his regime according to the results, indicating that it is aimed at elevating people loyal to KJU.
- Daily NK: NK is raising the importance of physical education grades as part of their push for more sporting success. “The sports sector is one in which small investments can reap big rewards, while sports exchanges are an apolitical activity that can be employed for political ends. That’s why they are doing this.”
- KJU found his dad’s sunglasses and went for some elite horse play. KCNA: “Roller skating wind is raging after the creation of skate parks in different parts of Pyongyang, [KJU] said, noting that same thing will happen after the creation of horse-riding club.”
- Yonhap on the growing KJU personality cult, including a new book describing KJU as a worldly man well-versed in international politics and military affairs, and hailing him as a child prodigy able to fire guns and drive at a young age (surely that’s illegal).
- Daily NK source on the demand for SKorean baby products in NK: “Not only do [Pyongyang cadres] want the best products for their children; they are also competing with others to see who can get the best products. That’s why South Korean baby products are in high demand.”
ECONOMY & FOOD SECURITY
- IFES with more on last week’s Choson Sinbo reports regarding the increasing role and authority of the Cabinet in planning and implementing economic policies.
- CNN video on NK’s potential economic reforms. Judging from the clip (01:22), NKorean migrant workers in China are big fans of Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson.
- Daily NK source on a cabbage shortage affecting kimjang (annual kimchi production period): “Before people used to get 20-40kg of cabbage per head from their workplaces, but this year there’s been nothing. Workplaces normally distribute cabbages grown in-house as a sideline, but we’ve heard nothing this year so we aren’t making kimchi.”
- The Russian ambassador visited Pyongyang Biscuit Factory to formally hand over a donation of 6,000 metric tons (5m USD worth) of Russian wheat flour to WFP’s work in NK.
- GIEWS food security snapshot: Despite localised dry spell and floods in the country improved harvest of 2012 main season food crops is estimated. Cereal import requirements for 2012/13 (November/October) are estimated to be the lowest in several years but still remain fairly high at 507,000 tonnes. About 2.8 million vulnerable people are estimated to face severe food insecurity situated mainly in the northeast provinces of the country.
- Point of comparison: SK’s rice production is at its lowest for 32 years, attributed mostly to the typhoons which hit the country in the summer at key times in the growing process. Average rice production per hectare was down 4.6% compared to 2011.
- The ROKG told reporters that just 1,202 NK refugees have arrived in SK this year, and the MOU estimates that the total for 2012 will be just 1,400, approximately half of last year’s 2,706. The ROKG source said, “Surveillance of defectors has been stepped up a lot, and the authorities have really cracked down on the major routes used as defection paths across the river to China… Overall monitoring and control of defectors in North Korea has been strengthened, and the same is true in China, notably in the three northeastern provinces,”
- Daily NK: Redefector Koh was an NSA agent. “The fact that she brought her child to China this time seems like something done under orders from the NSA. In the words of the source, “The NSA called Koh back on the basis that she had gotten married and had a child, meaning she had lost her value as an agent.”
- Report of the USG Special Envoy on NKHR Issues (2012) available here.
- Natsios: “For 18 years the USG and SK have engaged with the NKoreans on their nuclear weapons development programs. The talks have been an abysmal failure: They have produced little or nothing. It is time the U.S. and SK expand the agenda for any talks with NK to include its horrific treatment of prisoners, conditions in the NKorean penal system generally, and the appalling human rights record of the regime.”
- LMB speaking at the East Asia Summit: “The NKorean nuclear issue is a priority issue. However, from the standpoint of more than 20 million NKorean people, human rights and freedom are also pressing and significant issues… I take this opportunity to once again call on NK to focus on improving the human rights and lives of NKorean people by abiding by international conventions and joining the international community.”
INTERNATIONAL POLITICS & SECURITY
- Obama, speaking in Myanmar, sent an explicit message to PY, saying, “I want to send a message across Asia: We don’t need to be defined by the prisons of the past. We need to look forward to the future. To the leadership of North Korea, I have offered a choice: let go of your nuclear weapons and choose the path of peace and progress. If you do, you will find an extended hand from the United States of America.” Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, added that “We’ve had a dialogue with the Burmese government about the need to reduce their relationship with NK.”
- US ambo to SK Sung Kim declared that SK and the U.S. are ready to talk to NK if PY shows a sincere commitment to dialogue.
- Japan Times: The first senior-level talks between Japan and NK since Aug 2008 resulted in an agreement to continue discussing the abduction issue. “Noda quickly needs to realize significant achievements as his ruling DPJ heads toward a general election it is widely forecast to lose. Impoverished NK, meanwhile, is counting on future economic aid from Japan to restructure its hobbled economy, and is also hoping to keep the door ajar for possible future dialogue with the U.S.”
- Choe Tae-bok visited Mongolia and the two sides pledged to boost bilateral cooperation. Choe stressed that NK is interested in working with Mongolia in regional economic development, as well as ocean port, coal and mining sectors.
- KCNA reported that KJU sent his support to Syria’s Assad on the occasion of the 42nd anniversary of the rectification movement, saying (seemingly without a sense of irony), “I wish you success in your responsible work, reiterating the firm solidarity of our people with the struggle of the Syrian Arab people to defend the sovereignty, peace and stability of the country.”
- ROK authorities reportedly seized NKorean missile parts heading to Syria on a Chinese-registered freighter which docked in Busan in May.
- Activists have agreed to “not openly carry out the distribution of anti-North leaflets [by balloon]” following requests from the ruling Saenuri Party, so as to not give PY an excuse to interfere in the SKorean presidential election.
- The ROKG demanded NK suspends foreign tours at Mt. Gumgang, because SKorean firms’ property rights were violated when assets were seized. However following a visit by Hyundai Asan’s president, Hyundai Asan and NK’s Asia Pacific Committee have reportedly agreed to work together to resume tours. The tour suspension has cost the ROKG and SKorean companies an estimated 1.55b USD over the past four years.
ANALYSIS & OPINION
- Andrei Lankov: “A small secret of North Korean watchers: we, the outsiders, don’t know much about what is happening in the corridors of power in Pyongyang. Frankly, most of the time we are entirely ignorant, and a very large part of what is reported in the media is based on unreliable hearsay.”
- WSJ on NK’s impact on SK’s credit rating: NK “remains a moderate event risk for SK,” according to Moody’s Investors Service Senior Vice President Byrne, acting as a restraint on the ROK’s rise up the ratings scale. “How can North Korea improve the economic and financial fundamentals of South Korea? There is no way that it can improve the fundamentals. It can only harm the fundamentals. So, the issue for us is: can any harm be contained?” S&P upgraded the ROK’s credit rating by one notch to A-plus and cited the “smooth change of leadership” in PY as the reason for its decision.
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