Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Democratic Peoples' Republic of Leisure Expands

Kim Jong Un may love his nuclear weapons and hasn't shown any intention of closing down North Korea's concentration camp system, but he has been a "builder leader". The country's generation of market activity has meant a new middle class, new expectations, and the money to accomplish them (at least superficially).

Kim has overseen the construction of new ski resorts, expanded airports, and new water parks. He has infused Pyongyang's zoo and museums with additional resources, constructed countless apartments, and now has embarked on the construction of further parks for the amusement of his people. I suppose the thinking goes, if they're distracted by games, they wont call for his head.

Starting in 2017, major cities have had small "town square" parks (as I call them) being constructed.
I can only speculate as to the exact nature of these new parks as I haven't seen any pictures of them from the ground, but they all follow the same basic design and have enough space for gaming stalls and a few small shops. What makes me call them town squares is their resemblance to known urban warfare training centers in the country, which aim to create realistic looking urban areas to train soldiers for fighting in cities. Using Google Earth, I have been able to locate 15 of these parks.

Here is a completed park in Toksong, South Hamgyong Province. (Click on images for a larger view)

As of August 2018, the park in Kimchaek, North Hamgyong is still under construction.

In Unryul, South Hwanghae, the "town" is part of a larger park area.

The other cities where I have found these new parks are:
Kangryong, Munchon, Ongjin, Pukchong, Pyonggang, Sinhung, Sonbong, Taetan, Tanchon, Tongrim, Yongchon, and Yomju.

Such parks aren't without precedent. Folk villages, such as in Sariwon, are common in both North and South Korea. And individual buildings (like restaurants) or even whole sectors of a town that are constructed in traditional styles can be found in multiple places. Perhaps these more modern looking buildings are in tribute to the Kim Jong Un architectural 'revolution'.

--Jacob Bogle, 9/6/2018

Monday, September 3, 2018

The Marketization of North Korea

North Korea as proof that the drive toward freedom is universal, and that economic freedom creates personal freedom.

Libertarians love all kinds of freedom, and we’re basically obsessed with economics. We understand that economic liberty means a person is free to do what they want with their property, their capital, and their ideas. Anytime a new Uber or Airbnb comes along, we hold them up as exemplars of what innovation – and the liberty to utilize it – can accomplish. We also, rightly, become incensed whenever government tries to limit competition and squash innovation for the benefit of one group over another.

When discussing freedom and free markets, socialism and communism are often used as examples of how state control ultimately leads to failure. But no nation in modern history is quite like North Korea. Not only is North Korea among the last Stalinist states, it will also become the longest-lived communist regime on Sept. 9, 2018 when it will celebrate its 70th anniversary (beating the Soviet Union by one year).

North Korea is unique in many ways and has surpassed basically every other totalitarian system in its breadth of control. This is why looking at what the people of North Korea themselves have done regarding market activity and the spontaneous drive for freedom makes North Korea, in my view, the best example of why liberty works and offers the most chances for happiness and well-being for all people.

As the saying goes, “it’s the economy, stupid!” Well, it really, really is. The ability to engage in economics is everything and affects every part of life.

Historical context
Korea had been a unified feudal kingdom for a thousand years prior to 1910, when Japan annexed Korea. Fast forward to the end of World War II, and the Allies have to figure out what to do with all of the places Japan had occupied.

America and the Soviet Union came up with a very hasty and poorly thought out plan in 1945 to divide Korea into two areas along the 38th Parallel. The North would be under Soviet control and the South would be under American control. The plan called for an election in the future so that Korea could be reunified – either along communist or democratic lines. That election didn’t happen.
Not wanting to wait any longer for reunification, North Korea invaded the South in 1950. The Korean War ensued, devastated the country, and killed millions of people. The war ended with an armistice in 1953. North Korea’s attempt to reunite the country under a single system once more has led to these 64 years of division. That division has been so great that even the Korean language has rapidly developed into two very distinct dialects.

It goes without saying, that since northern Korea was controlled by the Soviets, they developed a communist, top-down controlled economic system. Due to the period of Japanese occupation, northern Korea was actually the industrial center of the peninsula, while the southern half was the bread basket. And despite the utter devastation of Korea during the Korean War, North Korea (under Kim Il Sung and with Soviet help) managed to rapidly rebuild their country. North Korea managed to be economically, technologically, and militarily more advanced than the capitalist south all the way into the 1960s.

--- At this point, I feel it’s important to describe just what is meant by a top-down command economy in terms of North Korea. This doesn’t mean the leadership says, ‘we need to focus on infrastructure’ and a spending bill gets passed. It means every aspect of the economy is controlled by the Korean Workers Party, which is itself controlled by smaller organizations that all directly answer to Kim Jong Un. If a new factory needs to be built, or if there’s a shortage of farmers, even things like entertainment and the arts – it only happens once the government says it needs to happen. There is no room for the spontaneous order that makes capitalist systems so adaptive. ---

Division of the economy
The economy can roughly be divided into 3-4 sectors: the official economy, the parallel military economy, and a mix of grey and black markets. And you can further divide the economy into two eras, the pre-famine and post-famine eras.

The famine of 1994-98, to me, stands out as the breaking point. Prior to the famine, everyone received food rations via the Public Distribution System. Everybody received a certain amount of grains and fats on a regular basis (although the amounts and exact products varied according to how important the government thought you were). That system began to slowly erode through the 1970s and into the 1980s, and by the 1990s most people were receiving only a fraction of what they usually got. And instead of getting them once a month, three or four months might go by in between. People would forage for wild foods and engage in very limited market activity (which was generally illegal). But, widespread starvation wasn’t yet happening and the Distribution System was still partially functional.

North Korea had played the Soviet Union and China off each other for decades whenever the two big communist states would have sour relations. This meant North Korea received very cheap fuel, fertilizer, and food subsidies – and consequently lacked the incentive to improve their own agricultural and industrial sectors. It also meant they were incredibly dependent upon those subsidies. Once the Soviet Union collapsed and the Eastern Bloc moved toward integration with the open world economy, North Korea lost its most important patron. China still provided some “friendship aid”, but it wasn’t enough to make up the difference.

--- To help you understand the odd system in North Korea, I need to explain the official political ideology of the country. North Korea began distancing itself from being an official communist or Marxist-Leninist state in the 1970s. They replaced it with something called Juche, which basically means “self-reliance”. It means the country should be self-reliant and that each person is a “master of his own fate”. Of course that push to be self-reliant was happening when North Korea was entirely reliant on outside sources of aid to feed its people. And despite the positively sounding idea of each person being the maters of their own fate, they are only the masters of their fate within the guidance of the Korean Worker’s Party. Your sole purpose for existence extends to fulfilling the quote, unquote “revolution”. The only thoughts and behaviors allowed are those that follow the government. ---

Famine and collapse
At the end of the Cold War, the government began running out of food and fuel reserves. A series of floods then hit the region which compounded problems associated with the very poor soil management system in the North, which then led to the destruction of millions of acres of food and severely damaged their irrigation systems. Without adequate fertilizer and the fields being covered in mud, famine soon began to take hold; hitting the northern regions of the country the hardest.
The famine resulted in 1 million deaths, or almost 5% of the population. It also sank their economy. In order to survive, people started taking matters into their own hands.

This is where that fundamental drive to survive meets with economics and the reclamation of one’s own agency. Ironically, it turned Juche away from meaning total obedience to and reliance on the state into a growing reliance on one’s own efforts. As we will see, it’s also a testament to the power of women to change the lives of countless people.

Under the official system, every man not serving in the military had to work at one of countless state-controlled jobs. Be it at a factory, as a teacher, a farmer, in coal mines, etc. Even when the electricity failed, imports stopped, and the factories were neglected to the point of complete inoperability, all good socialist men reported to work to stand around all day under the ever-watchful eyes of the country’s surveillance system. Despite not producing anything in their factories, they were still paid the appropriate state wages – which amounted to just a few dollars a month.
This money was never meant to be the primary way people got their food, medicine, or other necessities, but with the Public Distribution System now totally collapsed and the currency tanked in value, a month’s wages may be all that a family received and it might not be enough to purchase just a few days’ worth of food.

Black markets and Korean women
Despite the full equality granted to women by the North Korean constitution, North Korea has married communist philosophies with traditional Confucian ones. This means that while women can vote, join the military, and serve in public office, most are still stuck at home or on collective farms with no real ability to step outside the more traditional roles of women.
But with the famine and the failure of the state to provide, and with the men-folk away at work – not doing anything and not earning anything – it was up to wives and mothers to become the true breadwinners, lest their family starve.

Black-markets have existed in a limited sense throughout North Korean history and women have always been allowed to sell things like handicrafts. But selling anything like food, consumer goods, or raw materials was strictly forbidden and could easily result in the seller being sent to prison. What began as trading small amounts of wild herbs or what little food could be grown on the tiny plots of land your house sat on, gradually grew into large informal marketplaces where you could find lots of items.

People started leaving the unproductive collective farms in favor of tending illegal farms high up in the hills. Women not only traded with their neighbors, but began to branch out throughout their city and eventually around the country. Defections also rose significantly in the years following the famine along with the growth of these markets.

At one point, women made up over 70% of defections. One reason for this is because nearly all men have to serve long terms in the military, and so couldn't easily get away. And the other is that those men who aren’t in the military have to maintain a job. This means a woman missing for a day or two can be overlooked. By the time people start noticing, she’s long gone. Men on the other hand are kept under a much more watchful eye.

Travelling outside of your town requires government permission, and that meant bribes had to be paid. The result is that now you have people being able to travel to different parts of the country, and low-level officials turning a blind eye because they were getting more income from bribes than they were getting from the government that was supposed to supply for the needs of everyone.  Naturally, men started getting tired of seeing their wives out preform them, so they started paying bribes to the factory managers in order not to show up for “work” so they, too, could earn money. The array of goods floating around on the black market exploded. Workers would even dismantle their factories and machines to sell parts and as scrap metal (often to China), and the managers would over look this since they were making enough money to pay off their own supervisors, and so on.

The explosion of market activity can readily be seen using satellite imagery. In the early-to-mid 2000s, there were around 100 markets in North Korea, often on the outskirts of town or would pop up on occasion for a day or two before disappearing.  Today, there are over 400 markets. Market activity became so widespread that the government had to allow them. Instead of being shady places in back alleys, they’re now in the middle of town and housed in permanent facilities. Of course the government charges fees, and there are still some rules, but on the whole, the market is where most people go to meet their daily needs. These markets can be relatively small, with just a few stalls, or extremely large, covering an area greater than 67,000 sq. ft. like some in Pyongyang.

This map shows nearly 400 identifiable markets in North Korea. Information is based on the 2017 release of the AccessDPRK Mapping Project.

The fact the government allows markets to exist in the open and that so many people take advantage of having them, shows the power of people. North Koreans who were determined not to die of neglect created a system based on capitalism – even if they didn’t really know the terms, or know that what they were doing was capitalism. Faced with a choice between regime survival or the loss of all control, the government finally relented.

Grey markets
As with every country that experiences dramatic changes, be they the result of a famine, or hyperinflation, or any other examples in history, people changing their behaviors to maximize survival – even if it means ignoring government rules – extends to all levels of a society.
As I mentioned earlier, North Korea’s economy can be divided into a few sectors. Prior to the famine there were only two: the government economy and the military economy. Post famine, the growth of unsanctioned market activity had grown to be a serious competitor with the official economies of state. So much so, that the military and bureaucracies began taking part. After all, no amount of propaganda or loyalty to an abstract ideology will prevent people from seeking out a living when their lives are hanging in the balance. The benefits of engaging in marketplace activity became clear for all to see.

One main difference between black markets and grey markets is that a grey market is an otherwise unapproved economic activity that is done under the color of official sanction. At the same time the markets began to take off, the government began to demand that all the different agencies, departments, and military units come up with ways to pay and feed their own members, as well as earn hard currency for the regime. This was a tacit acknowledgment by the Kims that the government couldn’t fulfill its basic obligations and that they would allow limited trading activities so long as they didn’t cause an overall disruption or threaten the power of the Kim family and the Party. With that change in policy, public-private partnerships began to spring up everywhere.

One major area where this is true is in mining. A group of citizens who has access to unskilled labor will go to the appropriate local official in charge of mining. They will pay the official a large bribe and he will issue them the needed permits in return for future kickbacks. If they have enough money, he will even help them access necessary equipment. Government scientists, like geologists, are also highly sought after for the purpose of locating mining sites. The government agency can now count on receiving regular amounts of currency (which they were required to raise anyway) and the low-level people can earn far more money selling the mined material than they would engaging in more legitimate work – while also having the backing of those officials in the event security agencies start asking questions.

One of the few areas that is strictly off-limits to this, however, is gold mining. If you are caught illegally mining gold, you are accused of stealing from Kim Jong Un himself. Selling gold was one of the reasons Kim’s uncle, Jang Song-thaek, got in trouble and led to his executed in 2013. But there are plenty of other valuable minerals to be mined, coal in particular. The number of small coal mines scattered across the country is immense.  And you can see their numbers rise via satellite as time goes on. This isn’t to say life is easy, especially for the average unskilled worker. Concepts like workplace safety are unheard-of and terrible accidents are common. But the otherwise ever-present specter of malnutrition and living a life wholly dependent on government has greatly diminished.

This mix of markets has created a burgeoning new middle class. While they would be considered poor to Western standards, this cohort has ready access to food, consumer goods, better housing, and can occasionally use their relative wealth to buy their way into the higher ranks of the government’s classification system. This system, called Songbun, stratifies people into three main categories with 50 or so smaller sub-divisions. Moving up levels means your life and your family’s lives will be better off and have greater opportunities, but it used to be incredibly difficult to do. But now, flush with cash, this middle class can change the destinies of their children for the better.

Public-private arrangements have been so successful that they have fueled an enormous construction boom. The skyline of Pyongyang would be unrecognizable to someone living even 15 years ago, and major cities around the country have benefited as well. Many in North Korea’s million-man army are used as laborers in these projects. While that isn’t anything new for North Korea, now specialist military carpenters and other skilled soldiers are paid a premium by the newly rich for their skills at constructing quality buildings and even creating home fixtures.

Marketization and culture
All of this more general economic activity has helped open the door to things that aren’t strictly a matter of finance or infrastructure. Personal freedoms, too, have begun to expand. Cell phones, now numbering over three million, not only facilitate trade, but have obviously had an impact on the personal lives of those who own them.

Prior to marketization and the ability for people to even have a cell phone, communication between average people was generally limited to speaking in person and writing letters. Few people even have landline phones as they require a substantial government approval process. Relationship opportunities were thus limited as well. Even today something we’d consider very trivial, like holding hands in public, is frowned upon. Dating, as we know it in the West, simply doesn’t exist and North Koreans remain painfully na├»ve when it comes to sex. Picking a wife or husband usually involved having the marriage arranged by family, or simply picking a mate based on their good songbun.

Now, however, armed with cell phones and disposable income, a small degree of liberality has set in. Young lovers can now find rooms to rent by the hour – usually in the home of a grandmother who is eager to earn a little extra money. She will often go for a walk or visit the local marketplace for a bit, while the young couple gets to know one another. Even more scandalous activities like prostitution, which was seen as part of the moral depravity of capitalist societies, is now exercised in public. There are even reports of police actually helping protect the women.

On less dramatic topics, the availability of consumer goods like electronics, and the willingness to break the law to watch pirated South Korean TV shows and American movies, has begun to create a population that expects to live a better life; one that includes leisure. Even though the national priority of leisure may seem to belong at the bottom of the list, considering malnutrition is still generally widespread and that thousands continue to languish behind the electrified fences of concentration camps, the government has taken to importing countless electronic items from China. North Korea is even producing their own cloned versions of iPads, Mac Computers, and the Windows Operating System. The government has also begun to build amusement parks and arcades.

Going back to the construction boom, a sort of semi-legitimate housing market has emerged as well. Private ownership of property isn’t possible in North Korea, but people are issued “residency certificates” that, for all practical purposes, are treated the same way a deed would be treated elsewhere. So, when someone makes enough money and they want to move, they simply sell the residency certificate and acquire a new one for their new home. This further weakens the state's control over the lives of the people.

In conclusion
Even in the most oppressive country on earth, where people literally don’t understand that there are different kinds of love (for true love is reserved only for the Kim family), or that using your talents and ingenuity to deal fairly with your fellow man is the basis of capitalism – despite these things, the human spirit endures. The desire for individuality and for forging your way is engrained in our very make-up, and no system of government or amount of repression can fully drive out the essence of liberty.

The determination of the people to live their own lives spurred on the marketization of the country. That, in turn, provided enough pressure to “encourage” the government to accept the markets, the slightly freer movement of people within the country, and provided the incentive needed to modernize and upgrade certain areas of the infrastructure (which had previously been kept limited and served as a means of defending against an invading army).

For those of us in the United States (and the rest of the world), it isn’t simply enough that we fight to be allowed to rent a room to a stranger, or be allowed to buy and sell online with a level of privacy. As North Korea shows, creating and forcing economic freedom from the bottom up forces governments to change and provides the environment needed for greater personal freedoms. However, the inverse is also true. When government seeks to limit either personal or economic freedom, it begins to impinge on the other liberties we have.

Things like privacy rights helps ensure a confident consumer; be they a consumer of Walmart or a consumer of  government services. The protection of free speech enables concepts like Wikipedia to turn into a reality that can actually challenge authoritarian systems around the world. Defending free association and ending access barriers to technologies that were once inaccessible to the private sector, like the exploration of space, makes things like Google Earth and reusable space craft a reality. The benefits are endless.

If the people of North Korea can crack the heavy veil of 70 years of oppression and servitude, we can and we must do all that’s possible to prevent the erosion of the liberties we have enjoyed for over two centuries.

(This was originally presented to the Rutherford County Libertarian Party on Sept. 5, 2017.)

--Jacob Bogle, 9/5/2017

Thursday, May 17, 2018

NK's Construction Boom Continues

As I noted with Pyongyang, North Korea has embarked on a multi-billion dollar construction campaign since Kim Jong Un assumed power in December 2011. From new and improved airports, to expansive tourist developments, and more, the construction boom is continuing apace.

While most of the attention is given to Pyongyang and Wonsan, the large east coast city of Hamhung is receiving its fair share of upgrades. Current changes include hundreds of new housing units, a new orphanage, and the complete reconstruction of an underground complex. Other projects completed since 2011 include a new rocket engine test facility, a water park, and additional housing throughout the city.

Click on any image for an enlarged view.

There have been three large sets of family housing constructed between 2015 and 2017. The yellow area was constructed from 2015-2016, the two blue areas in 2016, and the red between 2016 and 2017.

Additionally, Hamhung now has its own version of Pyongyang's Mirae Street - new large apartment blocks and tall buildings lining a major road. For Hamhung, they're located across from the National Science Academy on Jongsong Street. The initial planning for part of these apartment blocks began sometime before 2007, as foundation excavation can be seen, but the project stalled and construction didn't resume until 2010. The southern half of the project didn't get its start until 2015, and the whole row of buildings weren't completed until late 2017-early 2018.

New orphanages, nurseries, and retirement facilities have been constructed in many of the largest cities in the country, with Hamhung recently completing its new orphanage and nursery.

The nursery also has 8 small sets of solar panels. Some are in the yard and others are on the roof.

Based on historical Landsat imagery, this underground complex and its associated external buildings were constructed around 2003. Beginning in 2016, major renovations and reconstruction could be seen. The different buildings are in various stages of work.

Hamhung has a long history of playing a role in North Korea's nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs. Undoubtedly such a large underground facility is part of a major research program. Unfortunately, I have not been able to positively identify the site. If you know what purpose it serves, please leave a comment or contact me directly!

Here is a close-up of the Hamhung water park that was constructed in 2013. Since coming to power, Kim Jong Un has devoted a large amount of resources to constructing leisure facilities like water parks, amusement parks, ski resorts, and upgrading open spaces and athletic facilities.

Finally, located less than 2 miles (2.8 km) down the coast from the "No. 17 Explosives Factory" in southern Hamhung, is the Magunpo Rocket Engine Test Facility. Construction of the site began in 2013 and was completed by the end of 2014-early 2015. The focus of the facility is to test solid propellants, and the last test occurred in October 2017.

--Jacob Bogle, 5/17/2018

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Rockets and Runways

Kim Jong Un observing the Sept. 15, 2017 launch of a Hwasong-12 ICBM at the Pyongyang-Sunan International Airport. (Source: KCNA)

Kim Jong Un is well on his way to becoming the most prolific builder since his grandfather, Kim Il Sung. There are the new roads, the billions spent on construction projects in Pyongyang and in other major cities, modernizing airports and constructing new ones, and much more. Kim Jong Un has been busy as he enters his seventh year in power.

Those further changes to North Korea's military airbases and other runways, as well as the stunning advancement of their ballistic missile program makes it necessary for me to write, once more, about the ever progressing nature of North Korea's military. There are three main areas of focus for this post. The first is the construction of multiple new aircraft parking revetments at new and older emergency runways. The second is the construction of more emergency runways. And the third deals with the possibility of the merging of North Korea's major airbases and ICBM program.

North Korea has 111 airports, airbases, heliports, emergency highway runways, and other landing strips. Particularly since 2016, nearly all of their emergency highway runways (straight sections of road that have been widened for use by aircraft in the event of a war) have had aircraft parking revetments constructed to augment each site. Additional basic runways have also had revetments constructed. In all, 15 airfields have had new revetments constructed. The number of revetments varies between one and four (most have three), but there is a grand total of 39 individual revetments which could support a combined 75 aircraft (at least) depending on type and parking arrangement.

It's important to note that not all of the satellite imagery of all of the different air facilities in North Korea has been updated to include either 2016 or 2017 imagery, so it's possible there are other sites that have had revetments constructed. I just can't yet see them.

Here are some examples of these sites. Click on any image to see an enlarged view.

Since my 2015 article on the North Korean Air Force and the changes that have happened under Kim Jong Un to the physical infrastructure of the Air Force and general aviation, at least three additional runways have been constructed.

Changdo, Kangwon Province (38.67993°, 127.72681°)

This runway is also approx. 3 miles (4.8 km) north of a military training base that underwent fairly substantial expansion in 2013.

Chongjin, North Hamgyong Province (41.80234°, 129.85480°)

This small auxiliary runway was constructed in early 2016.

Sunchon, South Pyongan Province (39.44058°, 126.03576°)

This runway is being constructed across from the large Sunchon Cement Factory. Curtis Melvin at North Korean Economy Watch believes that this will be a new 'executive' runway for use by Kim Jong Un and other high ranking officials. What makes it odd, in my mind, is the fact there are two large military airbases (and a helicopter base) within 12 miles (19 km) of this new runway - after all Sunchon is an important industrial city.
Perhaps the 30 minute drive was a bit too much for the Supreme Leader.

North Korea has a history of testing missiles from their airports, particularly at Wonsan (Kalama) and Pyongyang International. During the modernization and expansion of Wonsan, an observation facility was constructed as well as two concrete launch pads on the beach. And as you can see in the opening image of this article, Kim Jong Un observed the test of a Hwasong-12 ICBM from Pyongyang International. But unlike Wonsan, the Pyongyang launch was carried out on the bare ground.

Along the line of launch pads, there has been a curious development at 19 of North Korea's major air facilities. Starting in 2015 and extending into 2016 (such a busy year), twin squares of concrete began to pop up at these airbases. Unlike the small launch pads seen at Wonsan or other sites, which are approx. 60 x 80 feet (18 x 24 meters), these new pads are each roughly 165 x 140 feet (50 x 43 meters). All but two airbases has two of these pads, one at each end and directly inline with the runway's path, but not connected to it. The other two just have a single pad. Most are made of concrete, but a few are simply areas of cleared land and compacted dirt.

My initial thought was that these were helipads, but they're much larger than most helipads in the country. Additionally, these are military bases and space already exists for helicopters. Furthermore, Pukchang Airbase (near Sunchon) has an adjacent helibase with dozens of helicopters stationed there, yet the main airbase also has these new pads. Use of these sites for helicopters is also lessened because the pads aren't directly connected to the runway and are separated from them by around 170 feet (51 m).

I am not an aviation expert, but I have explored the globe via Google Earth (and been to a few airports) and I have yet to see this layout anywhere else. My second thought then became, what if these are actually meant to allow rapid deployment of various missile systems? (Their size would accommodate everything in North Korea's arsenal.) I have asked for the input of others but wasn't able to get much more than "that's plausible", with no other firm alternative explanations. So perhaps North Korea now has 36 new ICBM launching sites, or maybe its something else entirely. The fact these things popped up across the country, basically over night, are fairly uniform in size, and are only located at major military sites, impels me to at least bring attention to them.

These two images shows the pad area at Kaechon Airbase before and after construction.

This next set of images is just a sample of different bases with the pads.

Here is the list of coordinates for each of the airbases with these pads.
Changjin: 40.36680°, 127.26304°
Hwangju: 38.65468°, 125.78629°
Hyon-ni: 38.61354°, 127.45410°
Iwon: 40.36044°, 128.71995°
Kaechon: 39.76226°, 125.91326°  (only has one pad)
Koksan: 38.68810°, 126.60147°
Kuum-ni: 38.86713°, 127.90625°
Kwail: 38.42360°, 125.02213°
Nuchon-ni: 38.23767°, 126.11891°
Onchon: 38.90914°, 125.23311°
Orang: 41.43005°, 129.64906°
Panghyon: 39.92883°, 125.20714° (Panghyon is near the site of the July 4, 2017 ICBM test)
Pukchang: 39.50491°, 125.96567°
Sondok: 39.75929°, 127.47621° (only has one pad)
Sunchon: 39.41134°, 125.89543°
Taetan: 38.13016°, 125.24616°
Toksan: 39.98743°, 127.60276°
Uiju: 40.15111°, 124.49965°

My ego isn't so fragile that I can't handle correction. If you think (or know) I have misidentified these sites or can offer a plausible alternative, please let me know!

--Jacob Bogle, 1/30/2018

Thursday, January 18, 2018

North Korea's Great Barrier

I first wrote about North Korea's caged population in 2013, where I showed the fences that surround the country. Since then, I have been able to map the full system of fences, guard posts, and gates. And since the general situation regarding population movement has changed since then as well, I want to revisit the topic and also provide you with the Google Earth file so you, too, can explore the miles of fences and blocked off beaches, as well as to provide added evidence of the horrific human rights situation that exists. If you're primarily interested in getting the KMZ file, click here.

Guards maintaining a section of border fence along the Yalu River. (Source

First, a quick refresher. Much of North Korea's coastline and land borders are fenced off. According to multiple defector and media reports, some portions of fence are electrified while others are simply guarded by police. Of course the southern border (aka, the Demilitarized Zone/DMZ) has been turned into, perhaps, the most impenetrable 820,210 feet (155 miles) of border in the world. Ever. Apart from the hundreds of thousands of troops stationed along the DMZ, it has over 1,000 observation towers and forward military posts. Finally, the border with China (and the small section with Russia) is protected by large reservoirs, rivers, and in many places, fencing as well.
The purpose of these barriers is to keep people inside the country. Construction was sped up during the famine as the regime tried to cope with the mass movements of people, risks of defectors stealing boats, and as the government struggled to maintain their control in all sectors of society.

All of this means North Korea's population really is caged. A more colorful description of the country would be as an open-air prison.

The following images show the extent of the national fence system. Click on images for an enlarged view.

I was able to map nearly 1,400 miles (1,399.36 to be exact) of fencing. There are lots of small coastline sections where the paths of fencing can still be seen, but the fence itself is gone - likely pillaged for scrap metal by locals, however, most of the gaps you can see (and all of the large ones) are due to either natural barriers or where direct access to the sea/border is blocked by an industrial site, military base, or other construction that serves as a barrier.

Many coastal towns and villages lack a fence and instead the coastal portion is lined with dockyards and factories which requires locals to go through any number of gates or checkpoints, if they're permitted through at all. I've tried to map as many gate houses as possible that provide direct access to the coast. Ones that simply allow access to a factory or other site adjacent to the sea are not marked.

This next image shows the reason for each of the the major gaps in the fence system.

This image shows 837 identifiable police border guard posts and 434 stand-alone watchtowers along the the DMZ.

Under Kim Jong Un, miles of new fencing have been erected as well as older fencing upgraded in certain areas. A large number of additional watchtowers have been added along the fence routes as well, particularly in the northern regions. However, border controls extend well beyond fences and watchtowers. Cell phone single jamming towers, cameras, and other surveillance equipment have been deployed along both borders, but efforts have particularly increased along the Chinese border (which is the route most defectors take).

A related issue is the increased border protections China has been implementing. As with North Korea, China has begun to build fences (of a far greater quality than the DPRK) along certain key border sections to stem the flow of defectors. They have also constructed signal jamming towers and increased police and military patrols. China's active attempts to catch defectors by checking train stations, setting up road blocks, and patrolling neighborhoods, occur not only in the immediate border region, but far into the interior in major cities like Jilin.

The following series of images clearly show the individual fence posts and come from different parts of North Korea. Additional images can also be found in the original 2013 post, A Caged Population.

As both Kim Jong Un and China have taken a much harder line regarding border security, there has been a real and measurable effect on the numbers of successful defections. In 2017 there were 1,127 defectors who made it to South Korea, which is a decline of 27% from 2016. That was the lowest figure since 2001. The total number of defectors peaked around 3,000 in 2009, meaning there has been a decline of ~62% overall.

Despite the barbed wire fences, guards with automatic weapons, the high risk of women being sold into sexual slavery, and the risks of repatriation and imprisonment (or execution), people still brave the cold waters of the Yalu River and the forests of northern China to find their way to a better life. Even soldiers posted along the DMZ, who tend to belong to elite families and are generally more well off than soldiers stationed elsewhere, accept getting shot at 40 times (or even kill other DPRK soldiers) to cross into South Korea.

Kim Jong Un may have been successful in curbing overall defections, but the drive to feed one's family and the desire to experience the freedoms of the outside world (that North Koreans are increasingly being exposed to) will continue to inspire and embolden people to take the risks and seek a better life.

To download the full KMZ file and explore the sites yourself, click here. (Must have Google Earth to access.)

--Jacob Bogle, 1/18/2018

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

AccessDPRK 2018 Update

2017 was an incredibly busy and important year for all things North Korea. From the murder of Kim Jong-nam, the unprecedented number of nuclear and missile tests, and even to the large construction projects that were seen in Pyongyang, last year certainly kept analysts and watchers chugging the coffee. Last year was also a big year #AccessDPRK: web traffic was more than double that of last year (for which I thank my readers very much!), I had the opportunity to give multiple radio interviews on different DPRK topics, social media presence grew, and most importantly, I was able to release the completed version of a very big map.
I intend 2018 to be a busy and big year, too. Let me tell you what I've been working on and about some future plans for this new year.

I published Phase I of the #AccessDPRK Mapping Project in March 2016 and Phase II was published a year later, in March 2017. Phase II became the largest and most comprehensive map of North Korea ever made public with over 53,000 locations mapped; far surpassing any previous public work. In the time since the initial publication, I have continued to highlight important and interesting finds via this blog and social media. I have also been working on the "topic specific" files that I mentioned in the Phase II release post. At the same time, I have continued work on keeping the main project up-to-date and have added scores of new sites of all types: military, monuments, and domestic.

It wouldn't quite be accurate to call this beginning a "Phase III", but I want everyone to know that I am certainly not finished with this undertaking and a true Phase III will be forthcoming at some future point. Over the course of this process I will be re-categorizing hundreds of "compounds" to reflect the greater importance they may now hold, I will be working to resolve a long-standing issue in identifying many interior HARTS locations (are they artillery sites or simply tunnels?), I will keep marking places that were inadvertently missed the first time around (like a monument or irrigation pumping station), and of course work on the topic specific files will continue.

Additionally, it's important to realize that all of the articles on this site are part of the broader #AccessDPRK project and are meant to enhance the work by giving it greater depth. There are a number of articles that I am currently drafting, and I have begun to use a range of new resources which will allow me to use more recent satellite images in a number of cases. That means I can provide you with better information and occasionally even help break some news.

Considering all of these things and the amount of time and effort it requires (I am just an individual and not backed by any organization), I am also thinking about setting up a Patreon (or similar) account to enable those who appreciate and enjoy what I produce to take part and assist. I'll have more on that later.

So I am looking forward to this new year and anticipate North Korea will provide us with ever more things to talk about and analyze. I appreciate your continued interest and all of the emails, comments, and interactions on social media. If you haven't already, please follow me on Twitter @JacobBogle and you can add me on Facebook, too. If you'd like to email me, the address is I'm always open to suggestions on what topics to cover.

Finally, here's a small New Year's Bonus. (As always, click on the image for an enlarged version.)

A small military training base was recently constructed and it is one of several to be built over the last few years.

Located 7.8 miles (12.6 km) east-northeast of Sariwon, N. Hwanghae, it is situated in a valley that also holds multiple other small military sites like tunnels and munitions/equipment storage depots. The location of the base is marked with a star icon and labeled, and all of the small yellow markers are the numerous other military sites in the region.

This next image shows the immediate area surrounding the training site. The several storage sites and tunnel group have also been marked out.

This is a 2014 image of the area, before the training facilities were constructed. Based on satellite data, the facilities were constructed between October 2016 and April 2017. I'm using a 2014 beforehand image because it's the best looking image showing the area.

In the latest satellite image, a number of changes to the old base can be seen. An assembly/parade ground has been established, new barracks constructed alongside the old observation hut, a small training site for fighting in trenches was set up, the water course has been updated, and a vehicle training course has been constructed.

Here is an enlarged version to make some of the details more visible. (Click on image for larger view.)

--Jacob Bogle, 1/3/2018

Monday, December 25, 2017

Pyongyang's Thirty Years of Growth

Image of Mirae Scientists Street along the Taedong River. (Image Source: Rodong Sinmun.)

Like any national capital, Pyongyang is a dynamic and growing city whose fortunes rise and ebb as the fortunes of domestic and international affairs fluctuate. Pyongyang was founded in 1122 BC (according to legend) and served as one of the capitals of ancient Korean kingdoms. Over the course of the Korean War, the city - like much of the peninsula - was completely destroyed. Kim Il Sung spent enormous resources rebuilding the nation and redesigning Pyongyang into a showcase capital.
The attempt to use the capital to project power and showcase the miracles of socialism resulted in massive 'people's palaces' and numerous monuments, and peaked with the construction of the Ryugyong Hotel. Construction of the hotel, which was to be the tallest hotel in the world, was halted in 1992 (it still sits unfinished to this day). The fall of the Communist Bloc between 1989-1991 and the following famine of 1994-1998 resulted in the near total collapse of the North Korean economy.

Pyongyang itself suffered stagnation and large swathes of the city degraded. In the early 2000s, as gray and black markets began to rise, so too rose the fortunes of Pyongyang and the government has since embarked on a modernization program. The process was relatively slow under Kim Jong Il, but Kim Jong Un has overseen one of the largest building booms in North Korea's history.

One good and simple measure of the growth and strength of a city is population, unfortunately, population statistics are considered a state secret in North Korea, so getting accurate figures can be difficult - especially when you consider the widely varying figures concerning the number of deaths during the famine and the fact that there have only been two national censuses since 1980. Fortunately, the use of satellite information can help fill in some of the gaps by showing which areas have undergone urban growth. Contrary to what one may expect, despite all of North Korea's economic problems and the vast sums spent on military projects, the change in Pyongyang over the past 30 years is pretty astounding. A resident from 30 years ago would scarcely recognize the Pyongyang of today.

Thanks to Google Earth, historical Landsat and Copernicus satellite imagery dating as far back as 1984 is now easily available and covers most of the planet. Using this resource one can see the growth of cities and the spread of human development; an asset for studying a large number of topics. The outlines in the images below are densely populated urban areas that are contiguous within the outlined area. In other words, if there are two urban spaces separated by a large area of forest or farmland, they won't be included within the same outline.

In 1984, Pyongyang had an urban area of approximately 70.2 square miles (+/- 1 sq. mi) and by 2017, Pyongyang's urban area had grown to 103 square miles (+/- 1.5 sq. mi). At this point it's important to make the distinction between the capital region of Pyongyang and the core city of Pyongyang proper. The Pyongyang region is 1,233 square miles and has a population of over 2.5 million. However, within the region are 19 wards and two counties, and within all of those are dozens of smaller towns and villages. One of the larger areas within the region is Kangdong, which has a population of 221,000 and is around 20 miles away from downtown Pyongyang. So when considering population and population density of Pyongyang proper, it's necessary to exclude the populations of these satellite areas.

Here is a map showing the nine largest urban/industrial areas within the Pyongyang capital region as of 2017.

Outside of the city of Pyongyang and the growth of the airport, little has changed in the expansion of other urban areas with the exception of the city of Sangwon, which largely grew up as the Sangwon mine was established and the cement complex opened (in 1989).

To determine the land area of urban spaces, I outlined the areas and cut them into easily measurable geometric shapes. The white area is Pyongyang's main urban coverage in 1984, and the yellow represents 2017. It required over 200 individual measurements. You may find some areas that look like irregularities (yellow lines inside of white areas), and that's due to the fact that the image resolution for 1984 is much lower than that of 2017, making the 1984 area slightly less precise. I have tried to correct for this.

Beyond the simple growth of urban boundaries, the density of buildings has also changed drastically, particularly in a few key areas of the city. The change in total area of Pyongyang from 70 to 103 square miles is a comparatively slow growth rate when you look at other major world cities. Even my own medium-sized town has doubled in land area over the last 30 years. One reason for this limited growth is, of course, that residency in the capital is tightly controlled and has tended to stay at 10% of the national population. Another reason is the fact that there is no private land or home ownership (officially), so there aren't the endless subdivisions of single-family houses as seen in the US and other countries.

Pyongyang in 1984 showing some of the major areas of future construction. The Mansu Street area is already under development by this time. Image based on Google Earth and Landsat/Copernicus. 

Because of those facts, most residential units are in apartment complexes and single-story multi-family houses. There are three areas that really stand out to me as seeing the most growth and change over time: Ryomyong Street (which recently was 'opened'), Mirae Scientists Street, and the Tongil Street area which has been growing for the entire 30 year period.  A quick comparison of satellite images from 1984 )above) and 2017 (below) clearly shows the expansion of these and other areas, but I will only go into detail for the three I mentioned.

Pyongyang in 2017. You can see the large amount of development in the Tongil and Kwangbok regions as well as other changes such as the construction of the Ryungyong Hotel, the expansion of the Palace of the Sun, and the May Day Stadium which was built in 1989.

I'll begin with Tongil.
Tongil Street is a major road that runs east to west on the southern side of the Taedong River. Planning for the construction of the street (and associated buildings) began in the early 1980s along with several other smaller "street projects" like An San Taek, Munsu, Kwangbok, and Yanggwang streets. However, Tongil didn't see much real construction until 1991 when a speed campaign turned the area from farmland into a booming work site.

The Tongil Street area in 2017. 

As you can see in the 1984 image of Pyongyang, nothing existed in this area at the time. Since construction first began in the 1990s, Tongil Street has undergone almost continual growth. Other areas have also grown out from Tongil and now include the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), Chollima Building Materials Factory, and the Pyongyang Catfish Farm.

Google Earth image of Mirae Street on May 10, 2001.

The next street is Mirae. Mirae runs along the northern bank of the Taedong River, across from Yanggak Island. "Mirae Scientists Street" was developed to house faculty and their families as well as various institutions of the Kim Chaek University of Technology. The development included over 2,500 apartments and boasts one of the tallest buildings in Pyongyang, the 53-story Mirae Unha Tower. However, many of the apartments on higher floors of the various buildings remain uninhabited due to a lack of electricity to power elevators and heating units, despite being completed in 2015. Additionally, the development came after a 23-story apartment building collapsed, killing dozens of people. These two factors have likely played a role in the slow pace of occupancy.

This brings me to a larger issue that plagues North Korea. The country has relied on Stakhanovite mass-mobilization speed campaigns (like the Chollima Movement) to construct large projects at a neck-break pace. From hydroelectric dams to large buildings, the government forces their completion within a year or two at most (if they get their way) when in reality, these things should take upwards of 5 or 10 years to be done safely. While Pyongyang may now be bustling with rather striking looking and shiny new buildings, the soundness of their construction and long-term safety is deeply questioned.

Google Earth image of Mirae Street on May 1, 2012. You can see some apartment buildings have been built since 2001.

Modern Mirae Scientists Street, also nicknamed "Pyonghattan".

The last major development I am going to focus on is Ryomyong Street, which was only opened in April 2017. Running roughly southwest to northeast, the street connects the 15 April House of Culture and the 92-meter (302 foot) tall Tower of Immortality with Kim Il Sung University and the enormous Palace of the Sun, which now serves as a billion dollar mausoleum for Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il's bodies. The new towers offer thousands of additional housing units.

The bright buildings of Ryomyong Street at night along with the newly renovated Tower of Immortality. (Image Source:

Kim Jong Un ordered the construction of the area's redevelopment in March 2016, meaning the multiple residential buildings (including one that has 70 floors), stores, and restaurants were all completed in less than 13 months - which again calls into question the quality and safety of the buildings. There is a second phase of the project, which is still ongoing, that is expanding Kim Il Sung University and constructing new housing further up the street. Funding for the "200 day speed battle" to build the area came (at least in part) from the government's demand that families hand over $50 to pay for it. While $50 may not sound like much to us in the West, it's enough to purchase 80 kg (176 pounds) of rice on the market. It's also the approximate equivalent of 2 weeks pay. These funds are on top of a seemingly never ending demand for "loyalty payments" and other fees citizens are required to regularly come up with.

There has also been inevitable change to the more rural areas of Pyongyang. Multiple small villages have been demolished and rebuilt along more efficient lines. Not only does this help with local housing shortages and the badly needed replacement of dilapidated homes, but the greater efficiency of the layout results in more usable farm land in the aggregate, even if it's just a few added acres here and there. 

Some of the rural areas with newer housing.

Here is a close-up example of the demolishing of a small village, with its older housing and more haphazard layout, and at the same time, the construction of modern houses in another village about a kilometer northeast.

Unnamed village in Pyongyang that was demolished in 2017.

Finally, here's a map showing many of the areas of Pyongyang that have experienced major new construction or redevelopment since 2009 (includes some industrial areas). I chose 2009 because that was the first year after Kim Jong Il's stroke and the year Kim Jong Un officially began to be groomed to take over for his father.

Pyongyang, like the rest of the country, continues to grow despite sanctions or the highly unstable and wasteful model of having parallel military and domestic economies which has governed the country since the early days of Kim Il Sung. The rise of markets and an unofficial middle class means that there is more individual interest in living in nice apartments - and that there's money to go around to make construction happen. Additionally, Kim Jong Un is keen to make his mark in all areas of concern, with major construction projects being seen in every large city across the country. Kim III will undoubtedly go down in history as the man who brought North Korea's nuclear program to completion, but he will likely also be noted for spending billions on national construction; perhaps the largest builder since his grandfather. However, history will also mark whether or not all of the energy and wealth poured into these projects was worth it, or if it had no net positive effect on the people and only served to drain badly needed resources as the skyscrapers of Pyonghattan eventually collapsed one by one.

--Jacob Bogle, 12/25/2017

Additional reading
1. 2008 DPRK Census Report (PDF)