GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 456 May 23, 2012


[“Good Friends” aims to help the North Korean people from a humanistic point of view and publishes “North Korea Today” describing the way the North Korean people live as accurately as possible. We at Good Friends also hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.]
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A Special Amnesty Granted to Six Hundred Government Officials Under Revolutionization  Punishment
Export of Marine Products Banned, Except for North Hamgyong Province 
Three Major Steel Mills Experiencing Severe Food Shortage
Soybean Oil Byproduct Import Emergency in the Mines of Gangsung Unit 54
People Swarm to Rajin Sunbong in Search of Food
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A Special Amnesty Granted to Six Hundred Government Officials Under Revolutionization  Punishment
     Six hundred government officials under a so-called revolutionization punishment were pardoned under a massive amnesty on April 15, 2012. The pardon was ordered by North Korean leader Kim Jung-un. Revolutionization is a type of punishment banishing officials who commit errors to distant mines or farms in a set period of time and have them repent their wrongdoings. In preparation for the transition of power to Kim Jong-un, more than 1,000 government officials were allegedly charged with economic crimes and dismissed or expelled to local agencies, public enterprises, mines, coal mines or rural communities over the last two or three years. It was a major shake-up in order for newly appointed officials to recruit new officials from their own personal pools.

Kim Jong-un ordered government officials re-investigated who had been sentenced or were under pretrial interrogations since 2009. His order was to reappoint them if there was no clear charge or sufficient evidence. “Even when General Kim Jong-il carried out large scale purging of political troublemakers, he allowed them to have political life again if they were found competent and win their loyalty back after his new leadership became stable. As chiefs of ministries were dismissed on a large scale, competent officials working under them were also charged in order to prevent trouble. Although they were sentenced or underwent pretrial interrogations, they were always monitored for re-appointments later. However, those who were sent to reeducation centers or those who could not be traced were not freed,” said a Central Party official. Although most of the pardoned officials were sent back to their positions, about 100 officials were demoted to a lower position or sent to different ones. Those whose positions had already been replaced by others could not be reappointed and became unemployed.   


Export of Marine Products Banned, Except for North Hamgyong Province 
     The export of marine products has been banned throughout the country with the exception of North Hamgyong Province, which is being allowed to export processed marine products. This exception is the result of a barrage of protests and complaints from Chinese merchants who invested in the Rajin Marine Productions Factory. North Hamgyong Province also complained of the hardship resulting from the drastic reduction in foreign trade. One official of the Central Party reported, “We received a report from the People’s Assembly of North Hamgyong Province that poor foreign currency earnings would cause a huge setback in solving the food crisis. Furthermore, many people will starve due to the province’s infertile soil and small amount of arable land, and they worry about an increase of desperate defectors putting their lives at risk despite heightened border regulation. North Hamgyong Province is allowed to export processed marine products rather than being banned from export of all marine products like the rest of the country, but if their situation worsens, it might be unfavorable for the domestic situation because it is near the border area.” On the other hand, trading companies and processing companies involved with marine products elsewhere in the country are facing hardship because their foreign currency earnings are presently interrupted. Doing business with the domestic market alone cannot provide for wages and maintenance of fishing equipment including ships. Providing food for the fishermen seems to be an especially serious issue.   


Three Major Steel Mills Experiencing Severe Food Shortage
     Three major steel mills in North Korea are suffering from food shortages. A large number of people are dying of hunger at the Hwanghae steel mill in North Hwanghae Province and also at the Nampo steel Mill and Gimchaek steel mill also in North Hwanghae province. Even Gimchaek Steel Mill in Chungjin, which is in the best situation, many workers have recently been on sick leave. As the Chinese government limits the export of the corn, powdered corn has been imported to North Korea as an alternative food and grain powder has been imported instead. Only a few kilograms of food can be allocated to individual workers because of the limited availability of the food. The other two steel mills are in a worse situation. Residue from bean oil and corn powder is hardly obtainable even with all possible efforts.

“In the case of big enterprises with large number of workers, many people are dying of hunger regardless of the fact they are mines, coal mines, or the three major steel mills. One official in the Central Party, emphasizing the seriousness of food crisis extending to special enterprises stated that, “Even factories or enterprises, which previously managed their operations by contributing their output to the government or selling to buyers abroad, are experiencing a food crisis.”

One of the main reasons for this food crisis lies in the increased censorship against the Department of Trade. During the process of inspection and reshuffling the Department of Trade, the situation of the domestic economy has been aggravated. More than 90 percent of CEOs and managers of domestic enterprises have been replaced. However, the efforts of newly replaced CEOs and managers rarely work since foreign trade is dominated by the confidence of buyers in China and other countries. Since companies rely heavily on colleagues or employees who are newly dispatched abroad, both the newly sent employees and the companies in the North Korea are facing challenges. Basically the buyers in China do not trust North Korean traders. The Chinese buyers clearly draw a line at trading when the newly dispatched North Korean traders ask for a business deal on credit even at the promise of a higher rate of interest. They are reluctant to make a contract of deferred payment. A party official grieved that he was, “skeptical of the operation of companies in this situation since the path for obtaining food is almost non-existent.” 


Soybean Oil Byproduct Import Emergency in the Mines of Gangsung Unit 54
     The soldiers working at the mines affiliated with Gangsung Trading Company Unit 54, a typical trading company of the People’s Armed Forces, are being supplied with the cheapest soybean oil byproduct and corn powder. The situation is as bad as the late-1990’s period of mass starvation, when soybean oil byproduct was imported as a food substitute for new mothers who had just given birth.

One trade officer reported, “Sugar and soybean oil are luxury foods, and they go only to officials and higher agencies because they are in short supply. Corn powder, noodles, and soybean oil byproduct are provided to private soldiers and laborers, who mix soybean oil byproduct and corn powder for their meal. Most people are eager to obtain soybean oil byproduct because of its cheap price in China, where it is used as animal feed. However, obtaining soybean oil byproduct is not as easy as we might think due to stiff competition among the trading companies, even though they are all affiliated with the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces.”

Trade officials stationed in China have been actively importing soybean oil byproduct since the second half of last year, but they worry about the country’s wounded pride from having to import something that hardly deserves to be called food. One trade official of the Ministry of Foreign Trade expressed his concern, saying, “We pretend that we purchase this for animal feed to save face with the Chinese, but it seems that the Chinese traders have figured it out already. Word has been circulated to every Chinese soybean oil factory, so they usually ask us if people are using the byproduct as food. I think they know the truth already, even though I keep saying no. It would be okay if the shame was only mine, but I feel so heavy in my heart because this brings disgrace to our country.”    


People Swarm to Rajin Sunbong in Search of Food
     Food shortages in the North Hamgyong Province are leading residents to swarm to Rajin Sunbong (also known as Rasun), many without a pass attempted to enter the special district. Some give up going past the heavily guarded fences and instead resort to staying in nearby mountains. It is a widespread feeling that Rasun is just as prosperous as Pyongyang with investments from foreign businesses. However poor they may be, a Rasun resident could still afford to eat crushed corn, which is deemed a luxury in many areas. Many people believe that entering the district would provide them food. Obtaining a pass into Rasun is getting much more difficult in response to the growing number of people trying to get in. Residents of Rasun have no way of reaching out and helping their relatives who live outside the district. “I want to send over some corn to my mother who lives in Chungjin but there is no way out. They restrict not only entering Rasun but leaving it too. No one is really starving here and corn is affordable, so it vexes me to hear that my mother is living on corn powder and gruel,” said Misuk Ko, a Rasun resident.

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