North Korea Today No. 233 - Oct 2008

The Residents of Kaesong City Except for Those inside Kaesong Industrial Complex Are Experiencing Serious Food Shortage

The food shortage situation is very serious among the residents of Kaesong city. The people say in consensus, "With the exception of people inside the Kaesong Industrial District (Kaesong Industrial Complex) the food situation is unimaginably difficult." The people in rural towns can at least eat porridge because they handle the crops. However, in the case of mining town with heavy population concentration all they have are rocks. Therefore, it is impossible for them to obtain food without assistance from outside. Sambong-ri and Hwagok-ri are mining towns, and people in these towns are barely surviving on few kernels of corn.

Exemplary workers in Pyongyang Engage in Local Trading

In September, Pyongyang city distributed 10 days' food rations to its residents. Those living in the central district are able to stock up 6 months' food, while people in the outer area must divide 10 days' ration into 30 daily rations. Their conditions are worse than some local residents. Due to the age limit for trade, more tightly controlled than any other city, those who do not receive rations or wages must live in harsh living conditions. That is why the exemplary workers admired by colleagues at work often skip their work and engage in local trade. Usually they go to nearby Pyongsung market, sometimes alone or sometimes in a group of three or four, by a car rented with pooled money

During the harvest season, only those who are older than 55 years can do trade in Pyongyang city. Market managers and officers inspect trader's identification card everyday. Residents go to a market after farming mobilization, usually crowding the grocery display spaces, leaving clothing or other miscellaneous display spaces relatively quiet.

Gimchaek Still Mill in Chungjin Has Completed Rationing In Early October

Gimchaek Still Mill in Chungjin city of North Hamgyong Province has received corn from the farm and distributed 15 days' ration, thus completing a full month's rationing. However, some workshops could not distribute allocated quota due to shortage of corns received. It occurred because of a miscalculation of rations based on the production quota of a cornfield per a unit of work, a total number of workers and their family members. The amount of corn received from the farm was far below the amount expected by the factory. The workers who have received their full portion seem satisfied while those who received less than full portion had many complaints.

"Don't just say wounded veterans will be given with Special Treatment'"

There is a company hiring wounded soldiers at Gimchaek, North Hamgyong Province. This factory employs disabled veterans injured in accidents or through carelessness during their military service. They have not received any food distributions this entire year and are facing much difficulty. Many workers do not go to work as there has not been food distributed even after the harvest. When some disabled soldiers sent a letter to the City Party to request food, the Party responded to them saying that the company was told to "Provide the soldiers with special treatment." However, there have been no follow-up actions as the soldier's discontent continues to rise.

Lee Seok-joong (41) criticized saying, "Officials of the city should reconsider the problems and work hard for the food distribution, but they are just concerned with themselves." He sincerely appealed to the City Party for aid, "Although we have requested several times, they did not respond. Don't just say 'provide disabled veterans with special treatment,' give us food. How can we survive if the City Party does not help disabled veterans who got injured for their nation? Since the situation was too tough and sad to endure, we just cried and yelled together."

A Rumor of Increasing Rice Price up to 5,000 NK won Next Year Has People Disturbed

As members of the Democratic Women's Union are participating in farming mobilization for harvest at North Hamgyong Province, a rumor has widely spread among them: 'Because they failed this year's harvest, the price of corn will be 3,000 NK won and the price of rice will be over 5,000 NK won next year.' This rumor seriously disturbed these women who can barely endure difficulties of their current situation. Kim Keum-dan (34) living in Sariwon said, "This is just a rumor"; she deplored and said, "We have only barely survived by eating gruel with grass this year and we are exhausted. If this situation gets even worse next year, we will surely die." Song Hwa-ja (41) was envious of people who went to China and said, "We can rarely contribute money to our nation, and we cannot live if the prices of crops increase. I want to find every possible way to feed my children white rice before I die. I heard that people living in northern areas went to China by crossing the border and they are able to make money as much as they put in effort. If only..."

[Opinion] Expectations for a New Transition in the US-North Korea Relations

The United States had decided to remove North Korea from a list of state sponsors of terrorism after 20 years. There are many strong criticisms stating that the U.S. voluntarily violated the principles of North Korean nuclear problems, that the U.S. made excessive concessions, or that the U.S. succumbed to North Korea's cliff-hanging diplomatic maneuvers. Some are also worry that it would serve as a bad diplomatic precedence for countries like Iran, while others express their concerns about the South Korean government's loss of influence in the North and South Korean relations. Nevertheless, the United States has carried out what was agreed at the six-party talk between the U.S. and North Korea based on the bilateral principle. It is not an excess concession or a type of surrender on the part of the U.S.

As such, one should not use their own personal political stand to misinterpret or overexaggerate the implications of this action. For the last 3 years, the relation between The U.S. and North Korea have at times been like walking on thin ice or driving through heavy fog and have come a long way to get to this point. It is nearly a miracle to have come this far. Therefore, it is not possible to declare any one side a "winner" or "loser" considering all that has happened between them.

The fact that the two countries are continuing the dialog is a big step forward considering that the two counties never hesitate to bluntly express their distrust of each other. On top of North Korea's test firing of missiles and nuclear testing, some U.S. government officials' claim of using force to bring about regime change in North Korea raised the possibility of war in the Korean peninsular, and created fear among many people. Now, after all those confrontations the two countries are making efforts to reach mutual agreement through compromise instead of unilateral victory for one. Today's mutual agreement was achieved based on the realization that hostile confrontations can never bring peace in Northeast Asia. On that regard, removing North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism is a big progress toward building mutual trust.

Despite several unresolved issues the U.S. and North Korea should take more mature stance and work together to bring about denuclearization, peace settlement, and normalization of relations. Under the bilateral principle, the agreed items within the frame of six-party talk should be carried out one by one. The problems we should be concerned about are not limited to the nuclear issues. There are many other issues that need to be resolved such as the food shortage problem, economic aid, exchanges and cooperation, human rights issues, and peace settlement.

The transition in the relationship between North Korea and the U.S. and subsequent staging of North Korea in the international community is an important concern to the international community. The international community is on the look out to see what will be the impact of removal of North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on North Korean society, and what influence it will have on the political situation in Northeast Asia. So far, North Korea has blamed outside for all of its internal problems. Now, the ball is back in North Korea's court. We look forward to seeing North Korea taking a little more flexible and responsible attitude in the international community.