Rolling Reforms: Reflections on Visits to Kim Jong Un’s North Korea, by Rudiger Frank

[On visits to North Korea since Kim Jong Un came to power, CanKor Brain Trust member Rudiger Frank has seen growing evidence of a more diverse and cash-based economy. These signs of creeping reform are evidence of North Korea’s desire for change, but achieving real transformation remains a long and delicate process. Rudiger Frank is Chair Professor of East Asian Economy and Society at the University of Vienna and Head of the Department of East Asian Studies. He has visited North Korea numerous times. This article appeared in Global Asia, a publication of the East Asia Foundation in Seoul, Vol. 8, No. 2, SUMMER 2013. The full article, as published, with numerous pictures may be accessed here: Rolling Reforms. –CanKor]

Rollerblading has become a hot new hobby on the boulevardes of Pyongyang. (Photo by Rudiger Frank)

Rollerblading has become a hot new hobby on the boulevards of Pyongyang.
(Photo by Rudiger Frank)

Painting a masterpiece and reforming North Korea have a surprising number of things in common. We know the necessary ingredients, tools and available techniques. There are numerous cases for comparison and a large body of literature to study. Still, few if any of us can create art to equal that of old masters such as Rembrandt or Kim Hong-do.

In theory, realizing North Korea’s potential seems easy. State socialist systems have been well researched and understood for decades. We possess a growing amount of empirical knowledge about North Korea. We can look at transformations in China, Vietnam and Eastern Europe for guidance. Incentives have to be set right, so that resources are allocated more efficiently. China has demonstrated that this does not require a fully-fledged Western-style democracy, just a stable currency, markets where demand and supply result in realistic prices, private ownership and an economy that can freely import and export goods, services, capital and technologies.

We know that North Korea has a food, energy and transportation problem. We know that it can, theoretically, produce more food with more inputs of fertilizer, electricity, fuel and machinery, but that, for the time being, importing food would better reflect the North’s comparative disadvantage in agricultural production. We know that North Korea has abundant natural resources, that these are a potential source of hard currency and that a smart strategy would be to process these resources before exporting them. Read the rest of this entry »

KCF appoints new leadership

Erich Weingartner with Rev. Hwang Min U, chief minister of Chilgol Church, and Rev. Ri Jong Ro in Pyongyang, November 2012. (Photo by Stuart Lyster)

Erich Weingartner with Rev. Hwang Min U, chief minister of Chilgol Church, and Rev. Ri Jong Ro in Pyongyang, November 2012. (Photo by Stuart Lyster)

We reported last year on the death of Rev. Kang Yong Sop, Chairman of the Central Committee of the Korean Christian Federation (KCF), the only officially authorized Protestant church body in North Korea. (see “North Korean church leader Kang Yong Sop dies“, 23 January 2012)

For more than a year, this vacancy has been unfilled. This morning I received a fax from Pyongyang announcing the appointment of Rev. Kang Myong Chol as the new Chairman of the KCF. Kang Myong Chol had previously served as Chair of the Pyongyang City KCF.

At the same time, Rev. Ri Jong Ro was appointed KCF Vice-Chairman. Ri started in KCF as an interpreter, accompanying Kang Yong Sop at numerous international meetings, as well as visits by KCF delegations to churches around the world. He later studied theology and was ordained. He subsequently served as Director of the KCF International Affairs Department, maintaining relationships with the World Council of Churches and various denominations such as the United Church of Canada.

Text of his fax reads as follows:  Read the rest of this entry »

How to send your child to summer camp in North Korea, by Justin Rohrlich

[We are pleased to present another article by New York-based Canadian journalist Justin Rohrlich. CanKor Brain Trust member Matthew Reichel is one of the people interviewed in this article, which was featured in the newly-launched NK News Pro on 6 June 2013, and is re-posted here with permission. We encourage you to view the original article on the NK News website, where you can see more pictures and embedded videos from and about Songdowon International Children’s Camp. For those wishing to read more content like this, click here to get a free trial of NK News Pro. –CanKor]

How to send your child to summer camp in North Korea

by Justin Rohrlich , NK News Pro, 6 June 2013

“Parents are responsible for about 300 Euros in fees and travel costs, with all other expenses being met by the Korean side.”

Songdowon International Children's Camp (Photo by Matthew Reichel)

Songdowon International Children’s Camp (Photo by Matthew Reichel)

While some kids are being sent away to summer camps in New England right now, others are on their way to the Songdowon International Children’s Camp in Wonsan, North Korea.

Songdowon is one of the last vestiges of a type of cultural exchange seen in similar countries from across the Communist bloc in decades past, not entirely unlike the Soviet Artek camps and East Germany’s Ernst Thälmann Pioneer Organisation.

Far from just a getaway for North Korean children, thousands of young people from countries including China, Russia, Nigeria, Mongolia, Mexico, Syria (where North Korean military officers have reportedly begun advising Assad’s forces), Tanzania, and Thailand have attended the Songdowon camp since it opened in 1960, which expanded to accommodate 1,200 guests in 1993 “under the special care of President Kim Il Sung and the leader Kim Jong Il.” Read the rest of this entry »

DPRK Business Monthly Volume IV, No.4

The DPRK Business Monthly, an international business report edited in Beijing, has been made available to CanKor readers by its editor, Paul White. Please check the current May 2013 edition here: DPRK Business Monthly Volume IV, No.4

Manpho Yonha Power Station (Photo by KCNA)

Manpho Yonha Power Station (Photo by KCNA)

Titles of articles found in this issue include:

  • Sanctions on NK’s Foreign Trade Bank Could Affect Millions
  • UNFPA Provides Medical Aid to NK mothers
  • Sanctions Hit Humanitarian Funding
  • Inter-Korean Business at a Standstill
  • Manpho Yonha Power Station Opened
  • June 28th New Management Methods in Force
  • Rason Could Be NK’s Shenzhen
  • Sinuiju Open to Western Tourists

…plus a number of other items, including a selection of North Korean tours by various tour operators. Read the rest of this entry »

Remembering the RAC, by Justin Rohrlich

[CanKor Editor Erich Weingartner talks to New York City based journalist Justin Rohrlich about the early days of the RAC, an expatriate bar and social club that attained a surprisingly worldwide reputation as a must-visit venue for foreign visitors in Pyongyang. This article was published on 23 April 2013 in NKNews.org. –CanKor]

Remembering North Korea’s ‘Random Access Club’

Canadian Erich Weingartner recounts how he helped set up an exclusive foreigner only bar in Pyongyang

“This was the T-shirt we produced back then,” Weingartner says. “Don’t know if it was ever repeated. As you can see, no reference to ‘Random Access Club,’ haha. On the back of the shirt were the names of the agencies, both UN and NGO who were resident in North Korea at that time. 20 in all.”

“This was the T-shirt we produced back then,” Weingartner says. “As you can see, no reference to ‘Random Access Club,’ haha. On the back of the shirt were the names of the agencies, both UN and NGO, that were resident in North Korea at that time. 20 in all.”

Mirroring the experience of other expats that have lived in North Korea, Erich Weingartner says that when he arrived in Pyongyang in 1997 to head the Food Liaison Unit, a division of the UN World Food Programme, “there was literally nothing for foreigners to do” outside the Munsudong compound within which virtually all of them reside while in-country.

“In those days, they had a bowling alley, which still exists, and we used — we had our daughter’s birthday party there,” Weingartner tells me. “They had a couple of amusement parks in the city; there were some classical concerts you could go to; they had a zoo. I never went, it was apparently pretty sad to see the animals there, but it was available. Other than that, we mostly played volleyball and soccer and so on in the diplomatic compound.”

“The Russians had more access, for example, to a golf course, occasionally some hunting,” he remembers. “They’ve been there so long and have such a huge embassy, they have extra privileges in certain areas.”

But even though Weingartner, now Editor-in-Chief of CanKor, an Ontario-based initiative “seeking rational North Korea policy,” managed to obtain a North Korean driver’s license (the saga involved an interpreter who “sweetened” Weingartner’s incorrect answers to ensure he passed the oral portion of the exam and a road test that tested his ability to drive up a winding hill and halfway into a circular driveway, then back down to the bottom of the hill in reverse), his movements were still restricted. Read the rest of this entry »

Canadians not about to leave or stay away from South Korea

[Canadians don’t seem too worried about war on the Korean Peninsula, judging from interviews with Canadians living in the Republic of Korea, and a group of Canadian Korean War veterans who are leaving on a tour to South Korea. We feature three articles that have appeared in the Canadian media recently. The first, distributed by The Canadian Press is taken from CTV News, 18 April 2013. The second appeared in numerous Canadian newspapers, such as The Chronicle Herald of Halifax, on 11 April 2013, with files from The Associated Press. The third is from QMI Agency and was published by various newspapers in the Sun News Network on 13 April 2013. –CanKor]

Canadian vets to tour South Korea despite threats from North

The Canadian Press, Ottawa, 18 April 2013
Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay looks on as Minister of Veterans Affairs Steven Blaney speaks with Korean War veteran Douglas Barber during an event on Parliament Hill, Tuesday, 16 April 2013. (Photo by Adrian Wyld, The Canadian Press)

Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay looks on as Minister of Veterans Affairs Steven Blaney speaks with Korean War veteran Douglas Barber during an event on Parliament Hill, Tuesday, 16 April 2013. (Photo by Adrian Wyld, The Canadian Press)

Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney is preparing to lead a delegation to South Korea next week, despite bloodcurdling threats by North Korea against its neighbour. Blaney and a group of 36 veterans of the Korean War are to leave this weekend for a commemorative tour of battlefields and cemeteries.

He says Foreign Affairs is keeping a close eye on the Korean peninsula, where North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has been threatening nuclear war against South Korea and the United States. Blaney adds that the South Korean government hasn’t raised any red flags over the trip.

The five-day visit commemorates Canada’s contribution to the 1950-53 Korean War. About 26,000 Canadians took part in the conflict and 516 were killed. Read the rest of this entry »

Nightlife in Pyongyang, by Justin Rohrlich

[CanKor Editor Erich Weingartner and Brain Trust member Kathi Zellweger were among former residents and frequent visitors to North Korea that were interviewed by a New York City based journalist Justin Rohrlich about nightlife in North Korea. The resulting article was published on 19 April 2013 in NKNews.org. The full text, with NKNews photo, follows. –CanKor]

North Korea’s Nightlife Scene: The Pyongyang Perspective

Justin Rohrlich speaks to former residents and regular visitors to learn more about nightlife in North Korea

Pyongyang-NightlifeThough it sounds like the start of a bad joke, North Korea does, indeed, have a nightlife.

“It’s not just going to rallies,” says Simon Cockerell of Koryo Tours, a Beijing-based travel outfitter specializing in North Korea. “There is such a thing as leisure time, at least for people in Pyongyang and in certain other parts of the country. North Koreans are not the Taliban; they do things that most westerners can relate to: having too many drinks, having a singsong, having a night out — these types of things do occur.”

A night on the town wasn’t always so easy for Pyongyangites — or the 200 or so resident foreigners living there; diplomats, aid workers, and the odd European or Asian investor. Read the rest of this entry »

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