Category Archive: Russia

Jul 04

The current food situation in North Korea–and why no one knows much about it.

Last week, a collection of smuggled clips of daily life in North Korea was released by Australian media outlet ABC. The footage was only available for 24 hours, but other mirrors exist such as the one embedded below.

From ABC:

Shot over several months by an undercover North Korean journalist, the harrowing footage shows images of filthy, homeless and orphaned children begging for food and soldiers demanding bribes.
The footage also shows North Koreans labouring on a private railway track for the dictator’s son and heir near the capital Pyongyang.
Strolling up to the site supervisor, the man with the hidden camera asks what is going on.
"This rail line is a present from Kim Jong-il to comrade Kim Jong-un," he is told.
The well-fed Kim Jong-un could soon be ruling over a nation of starving, impoverished serfs.
The video shows young children caked in filth begging in markets, pleading for scraps from compatriots who have nothing to give.
"I am eight," says one boy. "My father died and my mother left me. I sleep outdoors."

In the footage, a party official is demanding a stallholder make a donation of rice to the army.
"My business is not good," complains the stallholder.
"Shut up," replies the official. "Don’t offer excuses."
It is clear that the all-powerful army – once quarantined from food shortages and famine – is starting to go hungry.
"Everybody is weak," says one young North Korean soldier. "Within my troop of 100 comrades, half of them are malnourished," he said.

The source of these images is AsiaPress’ Rimjin-gang magazine. The project employs citizens journalists in North Korea who receive hardware like cellphones or digital cameras and training on how to use them, and smuggle the images captured back across the border.

The situation is perpetually bleak, but an international debate over how to, or even whether to, support North Korea with humanitarian food aid rages on.

The first place to look for humanitarian aid should be the United Nations’ World Food Program. Joshua Stanton on his blog One Free Korea hosts an interview with Marcus Pryor, the spokesman for WFP Asia. It’s hard to disagree with Stanton and his suspicion of WFP’s monitoring rigour. For more perspective from a World Food Program monitor in the late 90s towards the end of the ‘Arduous March’, read Erich Weingarten’s story of his first aid monitoring trip in North Korea on 38 North. It’s well worth the read on exposing the dilemma facing inspectors who are unable to interact with anyone or anything the government doesn’t present them with.

The Christian Science Monitor echoes the sentiment from the US and South Korean leadership, which both agree that North Korea cannot adequately guarantee that food is going to the right places, and therefore should not receive said food aid. The South Korean government has also maintained its stance that it will not be providing its rival brother with aid.

China has been importing grain in greatly increased numbers in the past year, not as aid, but presumably at a greatly discounted rate. Chinese-DPRK relations are at a high right now, following a highly publicized meeting between Kim Jong-Il and Chinese President Hu Jintao, as well as the establishment of many new economic ventures between the neighbour countries.

The European Union has announced a 10 million Euro ($14.5 million USD) aid package as well. From the Associated Press:

"The purpose of this aid package is to save the lives of at least 650,000 people who could otherwise die from lack of food," Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said in a statement.

EU experts on a recent mission to the country determined that state-distributed rations, which provide food to two-thirds of North Koreans, have been cut by more than 60 percent, to about 400 calories, the EU said.

Even severely malnourished children in hospitals and nurseries are not getting any treatment and many citizens have grown so desperate that they are eating grass, the EU added.

A nice gesture, but the intention is for the aid to be “strictly monitored” by the existing unreliable methods employed by the WFP.

Can there ne any reasonable way to monitor the distribution of aid in North Korea? This is likely impossible with the current, long-standing regime, where anywhere and everywhere can be made to be off limits to foreign eyes. A destabilized North Korea is probably the first step required to see that the people most in need receive vital nutrition.

Source: ABC / One Free Korea / World Food Program /Yonhap (1) (2) / Associated Press / Christian Science Monitor

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May 10

North Korea and China to cooperate on joint border island project on the Yalu River.

Something to keep an eye on, North Korea and China are quickly developing a free trade zone on the Yalu river that separates the two countries. I don’t have any specific details, but it seems likely that it will be close to the Friendship Bridge (and Broken Bridge) connecting the Chinese city of Dandong to Sinuiju in North Korea. From AFP:

North Korea and China will start work on developing a river island on their border this month, a report said Tuesday, amid an international drive to coax Pyongyang back to nuclear disarmament talks.

The two countries plan to hold a groundbreaking ceremony on May 28 for development of the island on the Yalu River, the South’s Yonhap news agency said.

Pyongyang has reportedly worked out a special law to set up a free trade zone on the island, which is separated by a narrow waterway from the Chinese city of Dandong.

The North’s state media disclosed a deal last year to build a new cross-border bridge on the Yalu River as part of a major economic package announced by Beijing.

The two sides have agreed to turn the island into a base for logistics, tourism and manufacturing that would be linked to China’s industrial complex to be built in Dandong, Yonhap said.

From Dandong, China looking towards Sinuiju, North Korea. Souce: Wikipedia

Of course, this sort of free economic zone has been experimented by North Korea in the past, but ultimately their demanding conditions and a typically poor return on investment from foreign interests has met with mediocre results. Existing free trade city Rason was an experiment with Russia and China (the countries sharing a border with Rason in the northeast) that was mostly a failure, businesses and deals exist but are not profiting either side. Development is allegedly picking up in that city as well, but this new island will be something to keep an eye on (keep updating, GeoEye!)

Source: AFP

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Dec 18

North Korea vows harsh retaliation if Yeonpyeong drills begin


South Korea this Saturday has delayed planned artillery drills from Yeonpyeong Island, the contested island near the Northern Limit Line battered by North Korean artillery on November 23rd. The cause of the delay is “bad weather”, however South Korea has been under a lot of foreign pressure from Russia and China to scrap the drills in order to ease tensions on the peninsula. The North has been very vocal over their protesting of the drills, but despite military threats, the drills are said to be proceeding regardless sometime before Tuesday.

The citizens who haven’t already evacuated Yeonpyeong are understandably nervous; if South Korea goes through with these drills, there can be no saying if North Korea won’t stick to its words and attack again. North Korea’s state news mouthpiece, KCNA, accused the US of using the remaining civilians on the island as a “human shield” against a North Korean attack. Such a provocation could ignite further disputes and potentially lead to all out war between the Koreas. Both sides have a lot to lose from a rekindled war.

Source: Associated Press / Yonhap News / KCNA

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Nov 04

North Korean PDA device demo’d by Russian who leaked Red Star Linux OS

The Russian blogger who leaked the state sanctioned DPRK Red Star Linux OS is wowwing us again with another modern technological leap from the DPRK. The device functions as most traditional Personal Digital Assistant devices do, offering music and video playback, USB connectivity to Windows or Linux PCs, mapping applications, games, dictionaries and more. From the impressions in the blog post, this device would have the capability of a Palm Pilot release from ~2004. As mobile cellphones bring about a technical renaissance in Pyongyang, it is likely that only the higher class citizens could afford the reported $140 (USD?) pricetag for the device.

Source: via the North Korean Economy Watch

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Aug 23

Foreign Accounts – Westerners in the DPRK

These are folks who have travelled through North Korea whether as tourists, undercover journalists, or businessmen. Their tales give you a real feeling for what it must be like as an outsider inside the reclusive country. Reading these accounts is an easy way to get an idea of North Korea’s isolationist principles if you’re new to the subject. And I will update and bump this post as I come across more!

Five Days in Pyongyang – An American businessman is on a White House assembled business delegation to Pyongyang. Interesting for his insights and observations.

Don Parrish, a man who has been everywhere, gives his account of the typical “Arirang” tour through Pyongyang. Chock full of good information for newcomers on the subject. Great photos too.

The Forbidden Railway: Vienna – Pyongyang – As the title suggests, this unique trip involved taking a series of trains from Vienna, through Russia, straight into North Korea. Typically, such methods of travel for Westerners is forbidden, but this brave/crazy guy slipped under the radar and managed to spend 36 hours in the isolated state.

DPRK Travel – 2004 If you’ve watched the “Friends With Kim” documentary from the Documentaries section of this site, this is the photo blog from one of the featured tourists.

DPRK Travel – 2005 The first year NK opened up to American tourism for the Arirang Mass Games. Our friend from the North Korean Economy Watch returns to the DPRK after just one year.

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