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25 April 2011 / SP

Weekly News Brief – 24 April 2011


  • Mobile phone usage on the official Orascom/koryolink network seems to be growing exponentially, topping 430,000 in Q4 2010 (1.8% of popn). Network coverage now reaches 91% of the NKorean population, there are 18 shops in Pyongyang and 8 further shops in the next 8 main cities. koryolink introduced a cheaper rate plan in Q2 2010 that was successful in attracting lower-end customers outside Pyongyang. 2010 revenue was 66.4m USD, an 156% increase on 2009, despite insufficient handset supply (if only we could send all those second-hand SKorean phones to NK). koryolink also launched video-calls in Q3 2010 and reported high demand for it, especially from young users. More value-added 3G services are to be launched in 2011. How very capitalistic. (Video here). Orascom holds exclusive rights until 2012, at which point competitors may enter the NK market which has proved to be profitable.
  • The travel permit system used by the NK Govt to control its people is being challenged by corruption, leading to countermeasures from the Govt including changing the resident ID card system and beefing up its public surveillance system.
  • Video of NKorean woman smoking meth, called bingdu (빙두) in NK. The video says that NK sells 2 tonnes of high quality meth to China per year. NKoreans make their own equipment for smoking meth, and according to a 2008 report there are around 200,000 users of meth in the country (0.8% of popn) and 500,000 users of opium (2% of popn).
  • Further details on the Bonghwajo – NK’s ‘princelings’ that earn foreign currency and finance KJU’s activities.
  • Daily NK reports on an outbreak of paratyphoid fever in Pyongyang. The disease is caused by salmonella bacteria transmitted via contaminated food and water.
  • A new outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease infected nearly 300 pigs and cows last month.
  • NK organised a press conference with 10 of the 27 NKoreans whose boat drifted into SKorean waters (video here). They predictably alleged that they were abducted and then beaten and pressured to defect, and that the 4 that had defected were being held against their will. Journalists from China, Russia and the US were present. KCNA report: “they clearly realized in the enemy-controlled area that they could not live even a moment without the care of Kim Jong Il and the socialist homeland is the best. Before the press interview was over, the inhabitants sang in an excited tone the song of the immortal famous masterpiece ‘Where Are You, Dear General?’”
  • NK again called for face-to-face talks with the 4 NKoreans that chose to stay in SK, but this was again rejected by SK.


  • The SK Govt approved 2 more NGOs to send limited amounts of aid to NK. Okedongmu Children in Korea will send 73,000 USD worth of medical supplies and the Korea Association of People Sharing Love will send 15,000 USD worth of food for orphans. Six NGOs have now been granted permission to send aid totalling 580,000 USD. Applications from 20 further groups are still pending.
  • Peter Lee examines the reasons behind NK’s food shortage and the NK Govt’s perspective on it.
  • Bruce Klinger argues that Pyongyang’s refusal to implement economic reforms and its belligerence should preclude it from receiving large-scale aid.
  • Haggard examines the argument around food aid, and asks “even if food aid did free up resources for other purposes—and even military ones—would it be wrong to give it if it also saved innocent civilians?”
  • Former USG official Dorothy Stuehmke advocates for resuming food aid, describing the progress made towards humanitarian and diplomatic objectives made by previous aid to NK in 2008-9, whilst also addressing concerns about monitoring.


  • NYT describes how loans from SKorean chaebol (conglomerates) are helping NK refugees take advantage of their entrepreneurial spririt.



  • After being accused of a military provocation by NK, the SK defence ministry admitted a soldier accidentally fired 3 machine gun rounds towards NK during a routine drill on KIS’s birthday. SK’s military said it immediately notified the NKorean side of the accident via loudspeakers and there was no return fire.
  • Both Koreas, the US and China have all given the green light to inter-Korean nuclear talks. The chances for real progress still do not look great and SK’s National Intelligence Service head has said that NK may conduct a third nuclear test or missile tests if the current track of dialogue fails.
  • President Carter and 3 other former statesmen/women are due in Pyongyang on Tuesday. The Elders said that the trip will aim to discuss ways to ease tensions and address human rights concerns in NK.
  • SK’s Ministry of Unification said that loans agreed with NKorea in 2000 under the Sunshine Policy are due to be repaid starting with 6m USD next year, and despite NKorea’s food security situation “the food loans must be repaid according to the food loans contract”. The loans totalled 942m USD and repayment is scheduled over 20 years at 1% annual interest with a 10 year grace period.
  • President Obama signed an executive order that “neither strengthens or weakens” but “rationalizes” restrictions on imports from NK. This probably means that goods from Kaesong will not be permitted for import under the KORUS FTA. NKorean beer imports are safe.
  • NK detained 3 Japanese men working at a food factory in the Rason economic zone on drug smuggling charges, but released one of them. According to the report in the Japanese media, NK demanded a large bail for the two remaining detainees.
  • NK again threatened to attack sites used to send propaganda leaflets in SK with “full-scale strikes”.
  • Joel Wit on the usefulness of track II negotiations with NK.
  • Aidan Foster-Carter on Israel-NK relations.
  • Cuba announced economic liberalisation and political reform plans, which were welcomed by China.


  • Videos: Footage from a magic show in NK.
  • Kim Jong-il walked into a bar…: Live stand-up comedy in NK. There’s no translation, but most of the jokes are about the relationship between the young man (recently discharged from the military) and the young woman (a middle-school teacher).
  • A SKorean man was convicted for retweeting pro-NK tweets from Uriminzokkiri, under the archaic National Security Law. Such incidents provide propaganda opportunities for NK. A recent Freedom House report said that SK engages in “substantial political censorship” of the internet, blocking around 65 NK-related sites.
  • I’m pretty sure KCNA’s standard of English is deteriorating. “Popular chewing gem… prevents caries of the teeth.”
  • Chang-rae Lee’s The Surrendered, a novel about a wartime NKorean refugee and an American GI, just missed out on the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

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