A picture of Musan, taken from the Chinese side of the border. An iron mine is located in a mountain to the left. November, 2012 ISHIMARU Jiro

■"I cannot eat and live"- Abandonment of Duty

Trade statistics and local evidence in China and Russia clearly demonstrate that North Korea's foreign currency imports have sharply decreased. What is important though is what kind of influence this is actually having in North Korea. Is the North Korean regime capable of enduring the sanctions? Or is Kim Jong-un’s regime being hit hard enough to be put under real pressure? Over the last year, our North Korean partners visited mines, trading companies, fisheries and markets to investigate.

From our partners’ observations, we can conclude that North Korean cities specializing in export-related industries are being hit the hardest. Meanwhile, the situation is rapidly deteriorating in other areas as well. In addition, the sanctions are also being felt strongly by those in Pyongyang and the military primarily responsible for maintaining the North Korean system. Lastly, the affluent elites of Pyongyang are also being hit.

Musan-gun, North Hamkyung, is a medium sized city facing the Tumen River with an estimated population of 100,000. During the Japanese colonial era, this city developed alongside the trade of iron ore.As trade with China expanded, iron ore became the country’s second highest export, bringing in $ 219.9 million in 2014 and $ 74.41 million in 2016. (Source: Global Trade Atlas 2017 edition).

As several Chinese companies had entered into joint ventures to mine in North Korea, the Chinese government expressed interest in 2013 in building a railway to cross the Tumen River. This interest has dropped, however, since iron ore exports have been completely cut off since the end of last year. Our partner living in Musan-gun gave us the following description of the local situation.

"We are mining a small amount to supply the domestic steel mills but they too are almost shut down. Cars aren’t being driven because there is no one has the money for gasoline. Workers' food rations have been suspended since March. Some of the workers have had no choice but to look for other jobs and to abandon their posts. 30 to 40 percent of workers just register their attendance before leaving work early.

The rising abandonment of duty is a major problem for the Kim Jong-un regime. In North Korea, adult males are assigned employment by the government. During the famine of the 1990s, when most workers at factories and companies lost their salaries and food rations, they were still required to go to work for political gatherings or service work. One of the most important instruments of the North Korean government’s control is organization through the workplace. To safeguard this mechanism of control, the security office checks workplace attendance sheets each morning. Those who are caught with many unauthorized absences are sent to the training camp, a short-term forced labor camp.

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