Talks between North Korean and Mongolia held

Talks took place the talks here Tuesday between Ri Ryong Nam, minister of Foreign Trade who doubles as chairman of the DPRK side to the Inter-governmental Committee for Consultation in Economy, Trade, Science and Technology between the DPRK and Mongolia, and Mongolian Minister of Industry and Agriculture Khaltmaa Battulga who is chairman of the Mongolian side to the Committee. Ri Ryong Nam signd already some agreements with the Mongolian side.

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D’une part Kim Jong-eun s’est entretenu avec le président mongol Tsakhia Elbegdorj (tout en évitant toute conférence officielle), d’autre part les autorités de propagande nordcoréennes se sont fait le plaisir de souligner le rôle de la Chine dans le sanglant conflit avec la Corée du Sud afin de montrer que Pékin reste un allié proche de Pyongyang.

Au final la visite du président mongol en Corée du Nord a eu pour but de montrer que non seulement la Corée du Nord cherche de nouveaux alliés mais que d’autres part la politique militaire de la Corée du Nord n’infléchit pas: en effet les dignitaires mongols et nord-coréens ont eu tout particuliérement l’occasion de regarder des défilés militaires.

Il me semblerait que la Corée du Nord s’ouvre politiquement tout en restant principalement axé sur des partenaires asiatiques (du moins du point de vue politique), ece qui concerne les questions économiques, la coopération entre la Corée du Nord et des pays étrangers, elle ne se limite pas à l‘Asie.

Le président mongol s’est rendu en Corée du Nord

Le président mongol Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj s’est rendu en Corée du Nord dans le cadre d’une visite officielle entre le 25 et le 29 octobre 2013. Lors de celle-ci, il a eu l’occasion de rencontrer Kim Jong Eun, le leader nord-coréen, ainsi que certains membres de la famille des Kims, donc Kim Jong Suk, réputée pour être ouverte aux changements économiques en Corée du Nord. Cette femme est responsable des relations avec le monde extérieur au sein du PTC. Elle a également signé un accord de coopération dans le cadre du tourisme avec Luvsanvandan Bold, ministre mongol.

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Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj (au centre de la photo)

Quant à Ri Ryong Nam, ministre nord-coréen du commerce extérieur c’est avec Khaltmaa Battulga, ministre mongol de l’agriculture qu’il a signé un accord. Jong Song Jang, proche de la famille des Kims a signé un accord avec Manibadrakh Ganbold, l’ambassadeur mongol en RPDC relatif à un partenariat en informatique.

Est-ce la voie à suivre pour s’assurer du développement de la Corée du Nord. Pour cela nous serons dans l’obligation d’observer les résultats tangibles de la coopération entre ces deux pays.

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De gauche à droite : Kim Jong Suk et Pak Kil Yong (proche des Kims, officier du MAE de la RPDC). En train de signer le contrat en question : Ri Ryong Nam

Foire Internationale à Pyongyang

La foire bi-annuelle de Pyongyang a eu lieu en fin septembre 2013. Lors de celle-ci furent présentes des sociétés venat de Chine, Russie, Allemagne, Malaisie, Mongolie et bien entendu de Corée du Nord. Ont pu etre remarqué lors de ces foires les personnes de Pak Pong Ju, premier minister nord-coréen, Kang Sok Ju, vice premier ministre, Ri Ryong Nam et Ri Chol. Tous deux cherchent à attirer des investisseurs en Corée du Nord. Ils sont tout particuliérement liés à des mouvances chinoises. Plus de 57 000 produits étaient présentés lors de cette foire.

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Entourés de rouge de gauche à droite, Ri Ryong Nam et Kang Sok Ju lors de l’inauguration de cette foire

Pak Pong Ju en visite aux complexes d’acier de Hwanghae et à la Foire Internationale de Pyongyang

Pak Pong Ju, le nouveau premier ministre nord-coréen (un civil qui dispose aussi d’un « background » militaire) s’est rendu en visite au complexe d’acier de Hwanghae. Ces inspections ne le différencient pas de son prédécesseur Choe Yong Rim. Quel est donc l’impact de ces visites ? Plus Pak Pong Ju se montrera dans les structures économiques de la Corée du Nord, plus les ouvriers nord-coréens se rendront compte que les hommes politiques s’intéressent a leur sort. Cela peut paraitre banal néanmoins cela signifie que les politiciens nord-coréens sortent de leurs beaux appartements de Pyongyang et que donc quelque chose en Corée du Nord.

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Relever sur cette photographie les caractères en latin de cet outil de production de la société nord-coréenne Ryonhwa (Visite de Pak Pong Ju (en compagnie de Ri Ryong Nam, un technocrate nord-coréen) lors de la foire Internationale de Pyongyang source : nkleadershipwatch/KCNA). Une question se pose : où sont les sociétés françaises en Corée du Nord ? (excepté Lafarge Ciment).

Jang Song Thaek and family (장성택의 가족): could they improve the life of North Koreans ?

My first column for New Focus International, a website focused on North-Korean issues. The text is dealing with the Jang Song Thaek’s family (장성택의 가족)

Jang Song Thaek and family: can these elites improve the life of North Koreans?

Jang Song Thaek is an advisor to Kim Jong Il and probably the second most powerful person in North Korea. It is interesting to see that members of his family also hold important positions. This concerns not only those who are alive, but also those who are deceased. Unlike Jang, who was a civilian officer of the Korean Workers Party – although now a general of the North Korean Army – his older brothers (Jang Sung U, Jang Sung Hyeol, Jang Sung Kil, Jang Sung Seop and Jang Sung Ho) made their career in the North Korean Army.

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source: blog.unikorea.go.kr

One of the nephews of Jang Song Thaek is Jang Yong Chol, whose father was the late Jang Song U. He is the current ambassador of the DPRK in Malaysia. It is also interesting to note that he was a former officer of the North Korean army. His career in the army was enabled by the support of his father. According to some sources, he is a one-star general. Jang Yong Chol also had a career in the Kim Il Sung Youth League, where he cooperated with Ji Jae Ryong (the current North Korean ambassador to China) and Choe Ryong Hae (the head of the political bureau of the North-Korean Army). Jang Yong Chol’s brother is an officer in a North-Korean trading company.

A son-in-law of Jang Song Thaek, Jeon Yong Jin, is the current ambassador of North Korea to Cuba.  He was previously Vice Chairman of the DPRK Foreign Culture Liaison Committee. Jeon Yong Jin’s father is Jeon Hee Jeong, a close advisor to the Kim family on foreign affairs and a member of the Central Committee of the Korean Workers Party. Jeon Hee Jeong is said to hold a position in the Personal Secretariat of Kim Jong Eun. It should be noted that Jeon Yong Jin was a tutor of economics to the son of Jang Song Thaek: Jang Song Kim. Both of them lived in Sweden. His role should be compared to Ri Chol, the former ambassador of North Korea to Switzerland, who educated Kim Jong Eun (the current leader of North Korea) in economic matters. Jeon Yong Jin is also a trusted advisor of Ri Ryong Nam, the minister of foreign trade of the DPRK.

These elements indicate to us that Jang Song Thaek and his relatives have great knowledge about international economics. Most of them have lived or currently live abroad, and also manage foreign currency businesses. In my humble opinion, I believe that they are key-decision makers with regard to large-scale economical projects that involve North Korea. In this regard, it was not a surprise to see Naguib Sawiris, the CEO of Orascom, with Kim Jong Il and Jang Song Thaek in January 2011.

Another important conclusion may be drawn: in a new North Korea, we could imagine the relatives of Jang Song Thaek controlling the economic direction of the country. Who knows ? They may be the key figures who will introduce dramatic changes into the North Korean economy. Some of Jang Song Thaek’s brothers who served in the army also lead North Korean companies trading under military auspices.

Pyongyang Looking at Moscow

In the Yeltsin era, North Koreans were not welcome guests at the Kremlin. After the break-up of the Soviet empire, Moscow pressed for debt repayment and started to suggest that the North Korean nuclear programme needed to be put under control. But times changed, along with the Kremlin administration.

Vladimir Putin had a different idea for arranging relations with the North Korean regime. Shortly after assuming the office of president he became the first “Western” leader to pay an official visit in Pyongyang. Mutual cooperation flourished. The amount of trade between the two states is now approaching the levels comparable to Soviet times. The figures are compelling: before the collapse of the Soviet state, trade amounted to about one billion dollars, in the early Yeltsin era it fell to just 70 million and after 2000 it soared again and now reaches 800 million dollars. The primary Russian export commodity is oil, providing energy security for North Korea (65% of exports to North Korea), and steel products (10%).
Russia has become a window to the modern world for North Korea, maintaining regular relations with Pyongyang and having an impact, albeit modest, on North Korean elites. Unfortunately, the role of Moscow on the Peninsula is very often ignored and underestimated. Pyongyang is aware that it needs Russia more than Russia needs North Korea.

A few months ago a young leader with no direct links to Moscow assumed power in North Korea. He did not study in Russia, unlike some other important representatives of North Korean elites (such as Jang Sung-taek and Kim Kyung-hee). Kim Jong Un was not born in Russia (unlike his father and the former ruler Kim Jong Il), he does not speak Russian (unlike his brother Kim Jong Nam), he had not been a Soviet agent (unlike his grandfather Kim Ir Sen, founder of North Korea). And therefore Kim Jong Un will treat Russia purely instrumentally rather than sentimentally like his father, who liked to travel there.

The North Korean establishment is aware that it must rely on the support of the Russian Federation, for Pyongyang is on the brink of bankruptcy: economic aid is a factor making the North Koreans want to deepen their cooperation with Russia. In contrast to the new leader Kim Jong Un, the elites also have sentimental connections with Russia. Jang Sung Thaek, the de facto ruler of North Korea, studied in Moscow where he met his current wife and Kim Jong Un’s aunt, Kim Kyung Hee.

The couple are aware of the importance of Russia and personally look after the interests of Russian companies in North Korea. The politicians who are currently in charge of the North Korean economy (Ri Ryong Nam, Pak Sung Kil) frequently visit Russia and try to persuade the Russian business circles to invest in the north of the Korean Peninsula. The army commanders are also strongly attached to the Russians: the top echelons of the Korean People’s Army earned their education in the country of the Northern neighbour. We could name here Kim Jong Chun (who studied at the Frunze Military Academy in Russia) or O Kuk Ryol, a personal adviser to Kim Jong Un who studied in the Soviet Union and speaks fluent Russian. We must also remember that Russian specialists teach at North Korean military academies.

Rather terrifyingly, the cooperation between Moscow and Pyongyang is not limited to economic or military contacts. About ten thousand North Koreans, arbitrarily selected by the government, work in Russian labour camps as part of debt repayment. The camps are currently located in the Russian Far East, where the Koreans work all year long. They are allowed only two days off annually.

Unfortunately, it seems that the number of such forced labour camps in Russia will grow, for the North Korean debt with Russia stands at almost four billion dollars.

This text was originally published with New Eastern Europe, a Polish magazine focused on Russian issues.