Only at MHI-NK News:
South Korea to push ahead with delivery of $8 million in food aid to North: MOU, By Dagyum Ji
The South Korean government has decided to push ahead with plans to provide over $8 million in humanitarian aid to North Korea via international organizations, the country’s Ministry of Unification (MOU) announced on Friday.
The plans will see Seoul provide $8 million to the World Food Program (WFP) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for projects providing nutritional support for children and pregnant women, among others.
The Moon Jae-in administration on Friday reiterated the need for “continuing humanitarian assistance for the North Korean people regardless of the political situation,” the MOU said in a written statement.
The decision to send the aid, the MOU said, was made at the meeting of the standing committee of the National Security Council (NSC), presided over by director of the presidential National Security Office (NSO) Chung Eui-yong.
It followed a review by government officials of a report by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) issued earlier in the month, which claimed that 10.1 million North Korean people were “in urgent need of food assistance.”
The move also comes amid growing concern over what appears to be a worsening drought in the North, with ruling party organ the Rodong Sinmun reporting on Friday that average nationwide precipitation in the DPRK between January to mid-May was at its lowest since 1917.
Plans for humanitarian aid to the North have been put on hold since their approval in September 2017, when Seoul decided to allocate $4.5 million and $3.5 million to the WFP and UNICEF respectively.
Unification ministry spokesperson Lee Sang-min on Monday told a special briefing that Seoul will push forward with humanitarian aid for children and pregnant women “swiftly, considering the urgency” of the situation. Lee explained that the government would obey the typical protocol for such projects, and, as the decision was originally made two years ago, will seek approval from the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Promotion Council. Seoul has previously expressed some reservations over sending humanitarian food assistance to the North, however.
The timing of the move, too, will likely raise eyebrows, coming as it does just over a week after Pyongyang conducted what it described as a “long-range strike” drill off its west coast — its second such test this month.“We will review concrete aid plans such as assistance through international organizations or direct assistance to the North while sufficiently collecting public opinion on the issue of the food aid to North Korea,” the MOU said in its Friday statement.
The decision notably follows comments by the Blue House’s Chung Eui-yong earlier in the day that the “government’s concrete plan on provision of the food will be open to the public before long.”
Chung said Friday morning that the government “has already finalized the principle of food aid to North Korea, and been in preparation for various means on how to proceed with it.”
Seoul last week officially confirmed plans to provide food aid to North Korea, just days after U.S. President Donald Trump was reported to have given South Korean President Moon Jae-in an informal green light for the shipment to the DPRK.
Seoul gives green light for business visit to Kaesong Industrial Complex, By Dagyum Ji
The South Korean government on Friday said it would permit a group of businesspeople to visit the now-shuttered Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) in North Korea, the first visit of its kind since the complex’s closure in February 2016.
The decision came at a meeting of the standing committee of South Korea’s National Security Council (NSC) presided over by director of South Korea’s presidential National Security Office (NSO) Chung Eui-yong — a meeting which also saw Seoul greenlight $8 million in food aid to the DPRK.
April 30 saw a group of former KIC businesspeople make their ninth official request that the South Korean government allow them to visit their factories at the complex. The government will allow their visit to the North in the context of “protecting the property rights of our nationals,” the ROK MOU said in a statement.
“The government will make the necessary efforts to ensure that the visit by businesspersons of the Kaesong Industrial Complex for the inspection of assets can proceed smoothly,” it continued, adding Seoul will support the visit to ensure it takes place “at an early date.”
Although a total of 193 South Korean businesspeople and nine politicians had last month asked the government to allow them to visit the KIC, an MOU spokesperson said it would not permit the visit by lawmakers.
When asked why Seoul had given the go-ahead to the business trip to the complex, spokesperson Lee Sang-min said Seoul has been handling the issue “comprehensively, considering the various conditions required to permit their visit to North Korea.”
“There have been repeated, eight requests from companies, and they made their ninth request,” Lee told a special news briefing. “But we have made the decision to permit their visit to North Korea, especially taking into account the situation that three years have passed since the shutdown.” The approval notably comes around one week after a meeting of the ROK-U.S. working group on North Korea in Seoul.
Asked if the U.S. had approved of the plans, Lee said Washington “fully understands” South Korea’s position, adding that Seoul has shared necessary details with its American counterparts.
The two Koreas have been in consultation over the visit and the examination of facilities, Lee said, explaining that both sides will continue contact and discussions accordingly. The Corporate Association of Kaesong Industrial Complex — which represents former KIC businesspeople — on Friday said it “greatly welcomed” the government’s decision, saying the group planned a “practical inspection which allows them to check factories and machinery facilities that have been in a state of neglect for more than three years.” Through the visit, businesspeople plan to come up with measures to renovate their abandoned factories and equipment, the statement added. “To this end, we request close consultation with the government on the visit schedule and procedure.”
Friday’s decision, notably, follows commentaries by North Korea’s externally-focused media on Monday and over the weekend slamming the South Korean government for its continued reluctance to reopen the KIC, citing the indecision as proof of Seoul’s disinterest in implementing inter-Korean declarations.
Construction at Pyongyang satellite center progressing apace: photos, By Chad O’Carroll
Construction efforts at a site believed to be directly connected to North Korea’s General Satellite Control Center in Pyongyang are developing in major ways, ground-level photos recently obtained by NK Pro shows. Amid an impasse in U.S.-DPRK talks, the construction raises questions about how North Korea views the future of its space exploration program?
Satellite imagery, vessel tracking shows DPRK vessel moving between bulk ports, By Leo Byrne
North Korean ship sets out from staging ground for previous sanctions evasion operation.
Satellite imagery from Planet Labs and vessel location tracking analyzed by NK Pro show a DPRK ship recently moving between North Korean and Chinese bulk handling ports, facilities capable of processing sanctioned materials like iron and coal.
While North Korean vessels broadcasting their locations in foreign ports is not uncommon, DPRK ships using their Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponders within the DPRK’s own ports is unusual.
But the North Korean-flagged Jin Hung 8 has broadcast its location moving between Longkou, in northeast China, and Haeju, a DPRK port relatively near the Northern Limit Line (NLL).
Satellite imagery of both ports shows they are capable of handling sanctioned commodities, though identifying specific cargos from tracking information and satellite photography remains challenging.
Nonetheless, when combined, the two types of information paint a picture of a North Korean ship ferrying between a large bulk-handling Chinese facility and a North Korean port which has previously acted as the point of origin for a large scale smuggling operation.
To and fro
The Jin Hung 8 leaving the Haeju area on April 22 | Photo: NK Pro ship tracker
The 4870-tonne Jin Hung 8 briefly broadcast its location in North Korean waters twice in recent months, once leaving the Haeju area on April 22, with another brief burst of signals on Tuesday, this time docked in the DPRK’s southern port.
It is the first time the ship has signaled any location data within the DPRK since 2016, when more complete coverage was available around the North’s main port at Nampho.
The Jin HUng 8’s position on May 2 according to the NK Pro ship tracker. Image: NK Pro ship tracker
Such broadcasts to the terrestrial vessel tracking network are now rare within North Korea, as they require a land-based transmitter with limited range and access to the internet.
Both appearances are bookended by broadcasts in China’s Longkou port, a large facility a short distance to the west of North Korea across the Yellow Sea, and on both occasions, the ship spent time loitering near the Chinese port before heading the berth.
A vessel in the same position as the Jin Hung 8 at the same time | Photo: Planet Labs
Imagery captured by Planet Labs on May 2 shows a vessel in a position which corresponds with the coordinates broadcast by the Jin Hung 8’s AIS transponder.While the photograph is not high resolution, shadows in the middle of the vessel could indicate the hold is open and is in the process of loading or unloading cargo.
As previous NK Pro reports have noted, the area seems well equipped to cargos like coal and iron, with piles of what is most likely coal typically piled up nearby.In the Planet Labs image, coal and other bulk cargos surround the area where the Jin Hung 8 docked, though the ship has also previously called in at the northmost berth, where large piles of what may be iron ore are also located.
On its return trip, the Jin Hung 8 returned to Haeju, another port where coal spoils appear piled nearby, though where other bulk products have also been shipped from.The ship’s most recent broadcast shows it apparently headed back toward Longkou, implying the route is becoming an increasingly regular one.
The Jin Hung 8’s position on May 14 in Haeju| Photo: NK Pro ship tracker
According to the UN Panel of Experts’ (PoE) 2017 report, the Haeju area was used to load a shipment of sanctioned iron ore onto a vessel called the Jie Shun in order to conceal a second cargo of rocket-propelled grenades.
“Departing Haeju port on 23 July 2016, the vessel passed through the Straits of Malacca and was interdicted in Egyptian territorial waters south of the Suez Canal,” the PoE wrote.
The vessel was later interdicted by the Egyptian authorities, revealing how networks facilitated by Chinese nationals moved illicit cargo via the North Korean port all the way to the Middle East.
A vessel aligned with the Jin Hung 8’s position on May 14| Photo: Planet Labs
Higher resolution, historical satellite imagery also shows other vessels in Haeju loading or unloading numerous bulk products, often in the same place or immediately adjacent to the area where the Jin Hung 8 was photographed.
Although ascertaining the exact cargo is difficult from external sources alone, the DPRK traffic between two bulk handling facilities comes in the context of a sanctions regime that prohibits a wide array of cargo types which are typically processed by these ports.
UN member states are currently prohibited from importing DPRK coal, iron, gold, silver, nickel, copper, titanium, vanadium, and rare earth minerals.
The most recent sanctions passed in December 2017 also added North Korean produced timber, earth, stone, and magnesia to the list of prohibited commodities.
A 2016 image of Haeju port’s coal handling area, with coal likely being loaded onto the vessel on the easternmost berth| Photo: Google Earth
While North Korea’s coal smuggling operations currently seem more complex than direct transfers between two ports — involving faked documentation and transhipment through third countries — it would not be the first time China has allowed prohibited DPRK raw materials to flow through its borders.
A 2017 report from NK Pro highlighted how two DPRK ships had sailed into a Chinese port, with satellite imagery revealing they opened their cargo holds, indicating that some trade had occurred.
Beijing responded to the report by claiming that the North Korean ships were dangerously low on supplies and had to be allowed entrance on humanitarian grounds, despite them being only a short distance from their home port of Nampho.
Average rainfall this year at its lowest in a century, North Korean media says, By Dagyum Ji
Adverse weather conditions expected to continue until early June, ruling party organ reports.
Average nationwide precipitation in North Korea between January to mid-May was at its lowest since 1917, the country’s Rodong Sinmun reported Friday, with the change in climate said to be resulting in difficulties in rice planting and in the water supply. An average of 56.3 millimeters of rain fell across the country between January and May 15 this year, section chief of the DPRK’s State Hydro-meteorological Administration Dr. Pang Sun Nyo said in a recent interview with the newspaper, which serves as the chief organ of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK).
“This is the lowest-level rainfall for the same period since 1917,” Pang said, stressing that figure represented just 39.6 percent of the DPRK’s average annual precipitation.
Pang said it is expected to rain twice by the end of May due to the influence of a trough of low pressure, while adding that the amount of rainfall would not be sufficient to “overcome the drought.”“The weather conditions are expected to continue until early June,” she added.
The Rodong’s coverage comes just two days after the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that “severe drought has been lingering in all parts of the DPRK,” and that the national average rainfall from January to early May was 54.4 millimeters — the lowest since 1981. The media also warned that the average precipitation from January to May will be the “lowest figure since meteorological observation” if rainfall in the last ten days of the month failed to reach 50 percent of average rates.
Friday saw the North Korean daily newspaper devote the entirety of its third page to the drought, with a headline calling on citizens to “turn out in the struggle to prevent drought damage vigorously.”
In an interview with the Rodong, department director at the Ministry of Agriculture Ju Chol Gyu also said the problems were being compounded by a lack of water in lakes and reservoirs. These circumstances, Ju added, were “creating difficulties in transplanting rice and ensuring water supplies.”
“The drought is also having a huge impact on the cultivation of farm products including wheat, barley, corn, potatoes, and beans,” he continued, reporting that “drought damage” has been observed in regions with low rainfall including North and South Hwanghae provinces. The DPRK Ministry of Agriculture has stressed securing water as a priority to prevent drought damage to crops, the Rodong reported.
“Meanwhile, efforts and means are being fully mobilized into irrigating the fields of wheat, barley, and corn which have begun to be drought-stricken,” the article stated. Entire units of agricultural production were required to “re-establish a plan for rice planting realistically and concretely in accordance with the conditions of water supply and growth state of rice seedling.”
Head of the Academy of Agricultural Science Kim Song Jin was quoted as stressing the “importance of actively adopting advanced farming methods and use the water more effectively.”
Friday’s report also comes amid a spate of articles in the ruling party organ calling on the public to take action to prevent the drought from devastating the country’s agriculture.
“It is worth noting that the nation’s most authoritative media outlet Rodong Sinmun is mentioning drought damage to crops almost daily,” Minyoung Lee, an analyst for NK News‘s sister site NK Pro, said. “However, we should also note that the overall message is focused on farmers’ efforts to prevent drought damage and not on the extent of the damage itself,” Lee continued. “This suggests the North is concerned but remains confident about situation management, at least for now.”
Thursday also saw the state-run Korean Central Television (KCTV) air footage showing progress in rice planting in North and South Hwanghae provinces.
The South Pyongan province’s irrigation management office had provided water for farming “at the right time” establishing plans on water supply “precisely” in accordance with the fall in precipitation, the anchor reported.
KCTV on Wednesday also broadcast an interview with Jon Kwang Hyok from the Academy of Agricultural Science discussing “agricultural and technological measures in response to recent growth conditions of major crops and weather conditions.”
The official shared ways to prevent damage to crops, emphasizing that farmers should reduce water consumption as much as possible to overcome the ongoing issue. Jon, notably, said the growth of rice seedlings across the country appeared to be better compared to the previous year, though some areas were reported to have underperformed due to low temperatures and strong winds in April.
What a series of North Korean missile tests means for South Korea’s defense, By Chun In-bum
The new weapons pose a major threat — and undermine efforts towards peace on the peninsula.
The “tactical guided weapons” fired by the North Koreans on May 4 and 9 are now at the center of attention here in South Korea. At first glance, the tactical guided weapon is a more mobile and capable weapon system than the DPRK’s previous SCUD series, using a transporter erector launcher (TEL) and solid fuel.
This is a marked improvement, and will likely provide better survival odds and give the North the ability to strike without warning. This improvement in first strike capability will be a significant challenge for the defender.
The North also demonstrated 240 mm and 300 mm multiple rockets and a new self-propelled artillery vehicle. Although South Korea has long known about the improvements being made to the DPRK’s artillery, it was the first time that the 300 mm rocket/missile was tested in public.
The new self-propelled artillery vehicle was not expected. Again, North Korea has gained overkill capability against South Korea, and most of us are not impressed.
Still, there are some things to consider.
First, the 300mm rocket is actually a guided missile. Unlike its sister-types in other countries, the North Korean version appears to have a longer range. They seem to have achieved this by adding a terminal guidance system that allows for a smaller and lighter warhead, which could lead to the longer range.
They also demonstrated that they are intent on firing a mix of 240mm and 300mm rockets/missiles — another challenge for the defender.
This author’s main concern is that North Korea now has the ability to bombard the South Korean Tri-service headquarters in Daejeon, not to mention U.S. forces, with conventional weapons.
Another part of this story is the new self-propelled artillery (SPA) vehicle. First, the fact that North Korea is investing in such a system is surprising: one would think that they already have enough, and that with their nuclear capability these kinds of conventional force upgrades would take a back-seat. It makes one wonder if their economy is really in hardship.
The new vehicle has a hard turret, which is also a new trend for North Korea, and will provide more protection for the crew. Mobility is likely better than older systems, as is fire control and set up. All of these developments could mean a new trend in how North Korea thinks about warfare, but further analysis must be conducted to figure out their intent.
The North Koreans also have a long history of weapons trade with foreign nations that are destabilizing influences — it should come as no surprise to anyone if the new guided rocket/missile shows up in another part of the world. The implications of such a development should not be overlooked. The proliferation of conventional weapons and related technology is a real danger, especially in the hands of non-government entities.
The North Koreans fired four short-range missiles this month: each must have cost at least a million U.S. dollars. Therefore, the artillery training exercise must have cost North Korea something between five to ten million dollars. That’s a lot of money for a country whose people are in economic hardship.
This is a very unfortunate development, especially at a time when South Korea is trying to establish peace and a lasting solution to the security issue on the Korean peninsula.
On a brighter side, these efforts will divert resources from improving long-range missile improvements, as well as other strategic initiatives.
Finally, protecting South Korea from these new North Korean capabilities will require more defense spending. The evasive capabilities of the North Korean missile will complicate alliance defenses, but developing a response is not impossible.
The most challenging aspect for defending against a threat like this is the need to maintain a constant readiness posture — in other words, keeping your radars on. More defensive radars and people to operate them will be required, as well as more missiles.
It seems that North Korea thinks it can intimidate the world and “force” South Korea and the U.S. to accept its demands. All this shows Pyongyang’s misunderstanding of the world around them and their inability to tell it like it is to the great leader.
If North Korea keeps to this trend it will only lead to more demonstrations of improved capability on their part and make it harder to achieve peace.
Castles in the air: North Korea’s delusional economic “strategy”, By Aidan Foster-Carter
I don’t know Cho Yun-yong. But I’m ever so jealous of her. And I bet every other DPRK watcher is too.
A South Korean journalist based in Japan, Ms. Cho somehow got her hands on Pyongyang gold. Not literally, but meaning one of the many official documents that any normal country would publish – but which North Korea prefers to keep secret.
In May 2016 at the Seventh WPK Congress (the first full Party Congress for 36 years, you’ll recall), Kim Jong Un announced a “five-year strategy for the state economic development from 2016 to 2020.” Naturally, that got attention, although some headlines were misleading.
“N. Korea leader lays out 5-year vision to boost economy at party congress”, reported Seoul’s Korea Herald. Actually, he didn’t lay out a thing. He just mentioned it, and – this being North Korea – told everyone it was “imperative” to carry it through. Whatever ‘it’ might be.
What then is Kim’s new five-year plan? Not a plan, for starters. North Korea used to have Five Year Plans, back in the day. Or Three, or Six, or Seven, at various times. Those were official and public documents, which set output targets – until non-fulfillment made this embarrassing.
SAY STRATEGY, NOT PLAN
Maybe that’s why North Korea didn’t actually call this new one a “plan,” although quite a few foreign media headlines did. Not to split hairs, but for whatever reason, DPRK media always refer to it as the “five-year strategy for national economic development.” No P word there.
And refer to it they do. Putting that clunky phrase into a KCNA Watch search yields no fewer than 627 entries in three years. No, I haven’t read them all. But those I’ve seen are uniformly unenlightening, in that special North Korean way.
Like the Leader himself, infuriatingly, they never ever tell you what the 5YS4NED actually is. Only that it is being fulfilled, or – slight contradiction, surely – everyone must strive to fulfill it. Whatever it is.
But now we know. Or rather Cho Yun-yong does, lucky her. She has 157 pages of documents, which only she has read – and Yonemura Koichi of the Japanese daily Mainichi Shimbun, which last month published a tantalizingly brief account, as did Seoul’s Hankyoreh. These were picked up on NKEconWatch. And that’s it, as far as I know.
Understandably, so I hear, Ms Cho is keeping the documents to herself until she gets a book out – at which point they may be published, or shared. I can hardly wait.
Meanwhile, even the tip of the iceberg that we have is revealing. For it shows how unrealistic and wrong-headed what passes for economic strategy in North Korea remains. Kim Jong Un may be young and educated abroad.
But he, or his advisers, seem to have learned nothing from his father’s and grandfather’s mistakes – those, of course, can’t be admitted, which in itself is a big problem – nor from the dire straits the DPRK economy is in, due to those terrible errors.
Let’s start with GDP growth. Kim’s strategy set a tough target: 8% annually. Few countries manage that, except those bringing natural resources like oil or gas reserves onstream.
South Korea famously did this of course, over quite a long period (1962-89), thanks to wise policies and a favorable global environment. But that was highly exceptional.
Two-thirds into the 2016-20 period, is the 8% goal being achieved?
We could never know for sure, as the DPRK publishes no regular national income statistics; they stopped in the 1960s. To fill the gap, the ROK Bank of Korea issues annual estimates. Their methodology has its critics, but this is all we have.
For the first two years of the strategy period, BOK reckons the Northern economy grew 3.9% in 2016: less than half Kim’s target rate. But then in 2017 it lost nearly all of that, shrinking by 3.5%. (Figures for 2018 won’t be out until July.)
For your weekend listening:
Moon Chung-in on economic cooperation and unification – Ep.71
The influential Blue House advisor talks summits, sanctions, and diplomatic strategy
One of South Korea’s most prominent experts on North Korea, Moon Chung-in has observed and crafted North-South Korea relations for decades and has extensive knowledge of all three iterations of the Kims in Pyongyang.
This week on the podcast, we sat down with Moon to discuss unification scenarios, his assessment of Kim Jong Un’s leadership style, why the Hanoi summit failed, and why Yongbyon is worth bargaining for.
Moon Chung-in is a distinguished professor at Yonsei University and a special advisor on foreign affairs and national security to South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in.