The Pyongyang University of Science and Technology turned out its first round of undergraduates last week, marking a significant achievement for North Korea’s first privately-funded university.
The 100 students received their Bachelors degrees in a ceremony in Pyongyang that was attended by the co-presidents of the university and members of the local diplomatic community.
After graduation, some of the students will stay on at PUST to pursue graduate degrees while some others will leave for other state universities in North Korea. PUST said it also actively sends students overseas to universities in Europe and Asia to pursue short- and long-term study.
The students were among those who entered the university when it opened in 2010, studying a year of English and then spent three years majoring in electrical and electronic engineering, computer science, agriculture and life sciences, or finance and management, PUST said.
The university hasn’t published a detailed syllabus for its courses, but said the computer science includes elements on computer hardware systems, wireless communications, data communications and networks, digital communications, pattern recognition (linked to robotics and industrial automation courses), artificial intelligence, data structures, algorithm design, web programming and object-oriented programming.
It’s the second graduation ceremony for PUST. The first, in May this year, conferred degrees on graduate students. Some of those students have gone on to study overseas, PUST said.
Graduate students have access to the Internet at PUST — something that is still unusual in North Korea.
PUST is unique in North Korea. It was established after years of fund raising by Kim Chin-kyung, a Korean-American evangelical Christian who also started a similar university in Yanbian, China.
Kim’s unlikely path to founder of the North Korean university began in 1998 when he was arrested in Pyongyang while on a visit, accused of being an agent for the U.S. C.I.A. After weeks of interrogation, he was released and he returned to China. Two years later, a North Korean official would visit him at his university in China and ask him to consider establishing a similar center in Pyongyang.
The university has attracted attention not just for its unique overseas roots but also the strong Christian ties of many of its teachers. PUST discourages teachers from talking with journalists when they return home so little is known about the university and its inner workings.
A veil was lifted recently with the publication of “Without You, There is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite,” a book by writer Suki Kim that chronicles her time spent teaching at PUST in 2011.
A North Korean state IT company has approached Russia’s Information and Computer Technologies Industry Association (APKIT) proposing a greater working relationship with Russian IT companies.
The country apparently wants to win business from Russian companies and the Pyongyang Kwangmyong IT Corp. held talks with APKIT in July and August, according to the APKIT.
As part of those talks, the North Korean company proposed a number of areas of collaboration and provided details of the skills possessed by its staff in Pyongyang. Those documents were seen by North Korea Tech.
They include development of Windows and Linux software; information security software; embedded software, which is the type of program used in products like network routers and retail terminals; and reverse engineering, which is the process of taking an existing piece of software and working backwards to figure out how it’s written so it can be replicated.
Nine members of the staff hold diplomas from Microsoft, Oracle and/or Cisco and 16 have spoken language qualifications, mostly in Chinese.
A suggested salary of US$2,000 is listed in the proposal, presumably per month but there is no timeframe given.
North Korea has been building its software engineering skills for years and has made several attempts to establish itself as a destination for IT outsourcing, including sometimes working with western IT specialists.
Perhaps the best known of those ventures, Nosotek, offered software development from its launch in 2007 for several years, although the business appears to have closed. Its website has been inaccessible since it was hacked in 2013.
Typically, trade sanctions or the potential bad publicity that could come with being associated with North Korea has put western companies off doing business there, but that could be different for Russian companies.
While the North Korean proposal carried the name and logo of the Pyongyang Kwangmyong IT Corp., it lists an email address and telephone number that is often used by the Korean National Insurance Corp., the government-run state insurer. The reason for this is unclear.
When he wasn’t taking stunning panorama photographs around Pyongyang, Singapore-based photographer Aram Pan had time to visit this year’s Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair (평양봄철국제상품전람회).
The fair was twice as big this year as it had been in 2013 according to state media, and it’s easy to see why when you watch a 3-minute video shot by Pan.
The place is bustling with people browsing and buying all manner of products.
As Pan notes in the opening of the video, all transactions that take place at the event are settled in Chinese Yuan, Euros or U.S. Dollars. In fact, a booth worker can be seen handling U.S. currency in one scene in the video. This isn’t perhaps surprising when many retailers and products have come from overseas.
One of the perhaps most surprising products to see on sale was a robot vacuum cleaner — a pretty luxurious item to own even in richer countries. The price has been reduced from $400 to $350.
It’s the Ecovacs CR120, a Chinese-made vacuum cleaner that appears to be available on Amazon China at an 849 yuan (US$136) retail price. Not a bad profit for the seller in Pyongyang, then.
Laptop PCs were on show and on sale. Here’s a line of them at a Chinese vendor. The one in the foreground is $330 and there was a Sony Vaio on sale for $750.
The Korea Computer Center, which is North Korea’s main IT trading house and development center, had its own booth. The company is usually there and in the past has used the trade fair to launch new models of tablet computer. The devices are made by Chinese vendors, labeled with the KCC logo and have typically run Google’s Android operating system with customization and software from KCC.
This time, tablets were also on show.
Some computer peripherals were also shown in the video, including USB flash memory sticks. These are reportedly popular with PC users because they can be used to store and trade TV shows and movies that are smuggled into North Korea from outside the country.
Here, a 32-gigabyte HP memory stick has seen its price dropped from $28 to $25 and then $20. The same product is $15.80 on Amazon U.S., so the price at the trade fair isn’t unreasonable.
The video also showed several Canon digital still cameras on sale, one of which attracted the attention of at least one potential buyer.
A couple of companies were showing flat-panel TV sets, including cheaper AOC ones from China and much nicer and more expensive ones from Sharp in Japan. The brand label of Sharp can also been seen on a washing machine in the lower left corner of the image below.
North Korean media has recently reported on the development and growing use of LED lights in the country and there were some on display by Pyongyang’s Taedonggang Technology Co.
Windows 8 computers from Taiwan’s Acer were also being promoted and a couple of women were captured walking with what looks like a rather nice Panasonic rice cooker.
The video also enabled me to uncover a few more of the companies that were taking part. The new names are:
- Dandong Chengyuan Import and Export (China)
- Dandong Jinyuan Trading Co. (China)
- Gumunsan Trading Co. Ltd. (DPRK)
- Hamhung Jinxiang Trading Co. Ltd. (China)
- Jangsubong JV (DPRK)
- Korea Computer Center (DPRK)
- Liaoning Huanghai Automotive Import and Export (China)
- Liaoning Shangda Industrial Development Co.
- Parazelsus (DPRK)
- Pyongsu Pharma (DPRK)
- Pyongyang Gemsy Dressmaking Machine Co. Ltd. (DPRK)
- Taedonggang Technology Co. (DPRK)
Here’s his video:
The 17th annual Pyongyang’s Spring International Trade Fair (평양봄철국제상품전람회) was held last week and attracted around 300 companies, according to domestic media reports.
The 2014 fair appears to have significantly grown in size from 140 companies in 2013 and for the first time occupied two halls at the Three-Revolution Exhibition House: the New Technology Innovation Hall and the Heavy Industry Hall.
“The fair is more diverse in style of display than the past, and it witnesses more active consultation among companies for economic and technological exchanges and businesses,” KCNA reported.
In addition to domestic companies, the fair drew participants from China, New Zealand, Germany, Malaysia, Mongolia, Switzerland, Singapore, Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Italy, Thailand, Cuba, Poland and Taiwan, according to a report on state television.
Among dignitaries who attended the opening was:
- Kim Yong Jin, vice-premier of the cabinet
- Ri Ryong Nam, minister of foreign trade
- O Ryong Chol, vice-minister of foreign trade.
- Kim Song Dok, vice-chairman of the Pyongyang City People’s Committee
- Ri Hak Gwon, head of the DPRK Chamber of Commerce
- Pak Ung Sik, director general of the Korean International Exhibition Corp.
A list of exhibiting companies was not released, although state media images and reports revealed the following:
- Beijing Oriental Hughes Cultural Arts Center (China)
- Dandong Yulong Import & Export Co. Ltd. (China)
- Denk Pharma (Germany)
- Embassy of Poland (Poland)
- European Business Association (DPRK)
- HPR Hong Kong Group (Hong Kong)
- Kumunsan Trading Corp. (DPRK)
- Kyongrim Trading Corp. (DPRK)
- Myohyang Chonho JV Co. (DPRK)
- Myohyang General Trading Corp. (DPRK)
- Parazelsus Co. Ltd. (DPRK)
- Phyongson JV Co. (DPRK)
- Ponyong Trading Corp. (DPRK)
- Pugang Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. (DPRK)
- Ryugyong Corp. (DPRK)
- Shenzhen Lonfours Technology Co. Ltd. (China)
- Unphasan Trading Corp. (DPRK)
- XCMG Construction Machinery Co. Ltd. (China)
- Yehung JV Co. (DPRK)
The country became the 98th nation to join the International Maritime Satellite Organization (IMSO) when it acceded on October 15, according to a statement from the organization.
The IMSO is charged with overseeing public safety and security services on the Inmarsat series of satellites. Inmarsat operates a global network of satellites primarily aimed at the world’s oceans, which are areas where traditional satellite services don’t have great coverage.
Among the services under the remit of the IMSO is that of the Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) system used by ships worldwide.
Established by the International Maritime Organization in 2006, LRIT requires passenger and cargo ships automatically report their identity and location at least four times a day. The system was intended to aid in the global identification and tracking of ships and is part of the shipping industry’s answer to piracy.
North Korea might have something to gain from participating in an international monitoring system for shipping. Much like it notifies authorities of satellite launches, adding satellite tracking to its ships enables the country to claim it follows international rules and regulations.
Back in 2011 a North Korean LRIT website appeared, but at the time it wasn’t functioning properly.
The IMSO also overseas the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS), maritime safety information broadcasts, some aeronautical safety services, and distress alert and search and rescue coordination.
North Korea began construction this week on a new industrial zone in Kaesong that it hopes will attract high-tech companies.
The ground-breaking ceremony for the Kaesong Hi-Tech Industrial Park took place on Monday, less than a month after three foreign companies signed a deal with the government to work on design and construction of the park.
North Korea’s state media hasn’t said much about its plans for the zone since it announced it at an international conference on special economic zones that took place in Pyongyang in October.
But this week, state media reported on both the high-tech park and ground breaking.
“The park will have an IT center, hotel, dwelling houses, school and other buildings, as well as a power plant,” the Korean Central News Agency said in a report.
A month ago when the project was first disclosed, KCNA named three companies that had signed on to design and develop the park. They were Singapore’s Jurong Consultants, a building design and management company, and OKP Holdings, a construction and road maintenance company, and Hong Kong’s P&T Architects and Engineers.
This week, KCNA said the park is being built by an organization called the “Peace and Economy Development Group.” The group, the news agency said, is made up of companies from Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, the Middle East and Africa.
It named two staff members of the group. Jang Su Nam, who was named a “representative,” and Heh Teck Siong, the general manager.
The exact location of the high-tech zone wasn’t disclosed in a Korean Central News Agency report, but it would make logistic sense for it to be within reach of the infrastructure built for the general-purpose Kaesong Industrial Complex, which opened in 2005.
North Korea recently reopened the existing Kaesong Industrial Complex after a five-month long work halt prompted by tensions between North and South Korea.
The North Korean government appears to be planning a high-tech industrial park close to the current industrial park at Kaesong, on the North-South border.
No official announcement of the project had been made, but on Thursday the state-run Korean Central News Agency said several foreign companies would be investing on such a park.
The companies listed in the brief news article include Singapore’s Jurong Consultants, a building design and management company, and OKP Holdings, a construction and road maintenance company, and Hong Kong’s P&T Architects and Engineers.
To-date, none of the companies have the project listed on their websites and attempts to contact them for information were unsuccessful.
“The consortium agreed with the DPRK’s related organs on collaboration in building the Kaesong Hi-Tech Industrial Park and Highway Toll Road from Capital Airport to Pyongyang City,” KCNA said. “The projects will soon begin.”
The announcement by KCNA comes as an international conference on special economic zones was wrapping up in Pyongyang.
The newly formed Korea Economic Development Association (KEDA) ran the conference, which brought domestic participants together with attendees from several overseas universities.
“The conference takes place at a time when the DPRK is paying deep attention to developing special economic zones in local areas, as the Rason Economic and Trade Zone,” KCNA quoted Ri Chol Sok, vice-president of KEDA, as saying.
A high-tech industrial park at Kaesong would appear to be an attempt to bring some of South Korea’s tech manufacturing industry to the city, which lies just over the border and was a former capital of Korea.
LG Display, the flat-panel display manufacturer associated with LG Electronics, has one of the world’s biggest LCD (liquid crystal display) factories just south of the border in Paju so high-tech manufacturing in the border zone isn’t unheard of.
However, the North Korean government might find it difficult to attract companies given the summer’s problems at the existing Kaesong Industrial Park. The park has only just begun operating again after being closed for five months as the result of North Korea’s withdraw of workers in May.
Competition in the high-tech industry is cut throat and companies cannot typically afford a single day’s shutdown without incurring sizable losses. A multi-month shutdown could spell disaster for a company’s market share.