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.
Phoenix Commercial Ventures, one of North Korea’s few domestic/foreign IT joint ventures, has reacquired rights to the Sinji brand, trademark and associated intellectual property rights, it said Monday.
Sinji was launched in 2005 as a software development company as a 50/50 joint venture with the Korea Committee for the Promotion of External Economic Cooperation (CPEEC), which reports to directly to the Cabinet.
Phoenix sold off its half stake in the business in November 2010 to an unnamed buyer.
With today’s announcement, the Sinji brand and associated rights are back in the hands of Phoenix, although the company isn’t saying what it plans to do with them.
“Phoenix Commercial Ventures Ltd will issue further updates as to the intended future operations and direction of the newly acquired Sinji brand,” it said in a statement that was issued in London.
At one point, Sinji had big ambitions to become a major player in the computer operating system market and a leading international brand. One of its stated goals was to “become the leading Linux group in the international market, through the development of high-security OS and related software.”
But that never happened.
The company was also promoting several software packages that handled work like facial recognition, voice signal processing and optical character recognition.
While Sinji kept a foot in the IT sector, it also diversified. Upon its sale in late 2010, the company’s business consisted of the following areas:
- Retail (consumer electronics, household necessities)
- Software (eg the innovative web based e-learning platform, learnwithelsi)
- Artificial flower manufacturing for export
- SKD assembly/retail: Renewable energy products (eg small capacity wind turbine generators)
The CEO of Egypt’s Orascom Telecom Media and Technology (OTMT), which owns 75 percent of North Korea’s sole 3G cellular operator, is back in Pyongyang, according to KCNA. [Updated. See below]
The North Korean news agency said Naguib Sawiris arrived on October 4 with four colleagues. It provided a couple of pictures of Sawiris and his party at the airport.
From the airport, Sawiris went to the Mansudae Art Studio where he visited the equestrian statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il and paid his respects. He laid a bouquet and “paid tribute to the peerlessly great persons,” according to the KCNA report.
Later in the day he visited the Pyongyang Children’s Foodstuff Factory and saw production for a bean-flour drink, the state news agency reported on Friday. The also visited the Rungna Dolphinarium.
Sawiris has visited North Korea many times in pursuit of his business interests. In addition to holding a majority stake in the Koryolink cellular network, he also has banking and construction interests in Pyongyang.
His last reported visit was in February this year, shortly after the death of Kim Jong Il.
Sawiris retained control of Koryolink when he restructured his telecom holdings and sold off a large portion of Orascom’s telecom efforts to Russia’s Vimpelcom. However, the restructuring meant Koryolink’s operations in North Korea became much more opaque. Whereas in the past Orascom issued a quarterly English-language report with details of the operator’s business, since the restructuring it has not announced any details of its business there.
[UPDATE] KCNA reported that Sawiris and his party departed Pyongyang on Saturday. Only one other piece of information was reported about the visit: a gift from Sawiris to Kim Jong Un was received by a state official on Friday. The nature of the gift was not reported.
Earlier I wrote about a new Android tablet computer called Samjiyon that was on show at the 8th Pyongyang Autumn International Trade Fair. Some of the images came from a KCNA video that also included some other highlights from the fair, including other pieces of technology.
The fair lasted from Monday to Thursday and including, according to KCNA, “more than 210 companies and entities from 10 odd countries and regions, including the DPRK, China, Netherlands and Germany.”
Here’s some screen grabs from the report (click the images for a larger version).
First refrigerators from what appears to be China’s Shangling Electric Appliances. One of the refrigerators has a TV with DVD player built into the door.
I can’t make out the company name, but they’ve got lots of flat-screen TVs:
Here are some more laptops. In this shot you can see the price of one of the computers: US$ 330.
Japanese prosecutors have indicted two people over alleged exports of personal computers to North Korea, Kyodo news agency reported Wednesday.
The two are accused of exporting 8.2 million yen (US$108,000) worth of computers from Japan in violation of the Japanese government’s trade sanctions. Japan has imposed a complete ban on exports to North Korea since June 2009.
The computers were allegedly sent to the Korea Computer Center, the Pyongyang-based computer research center.
An earlier report by Sankei Biz said the computers were shipped in July and December of 2010 under falsified papers that claimed they were heading to Shenyang, China, and Seoul. The shipment contained about 710 used PCs and monitors, the newspaper said.
Indicted were Lee Mun Ryang, a 61 year-old from Nagoya, and Kaoru Morino, a 44 year-old from Tokyo. Kyodo said Japanese prosecutors quoted both Lee and Morino as saying they knew the PCs would end up in Pyongyang.
Hana Electronics and the Hana Music Information Center, one of the last places reported to have been visited by Kim Jong Il before his death, was one of the locations used on Thursday to mourn his passing.
State TV pictures showed a crowd that appeared to be at least in the thousands standing outside the building on the city’s Tongil Street, south of the Taedong River and next to the Tongil Market.
Hana Electronics is one of Pyongyang’s best known electronics companies and produces DVD players.
A large picture of Kim Jong Il was placed in front of the building.
Kim’s visit to Hana Electronics was his penultimate guidance tour and was reported by state-run media on December 15.
He expressed great satisfaction over the fact that the company has produced many various kinds of articles for cultural use after building the production process of electronic products with an annual capacity of hundreds of thousands of products.
Watching DVDs being fitted in the streamline process, he said that products are of high quality and very perfect.
In particular, portable DVD with function of TV is well designed, he said. — KCNA, December 15, 2011
On the same day he was also reported to have visited the Kwangbok Department Store. It was a photo of him on an escalator at the department store that was the last issued of him alive.
TV images also appeared to show several tens of thousands of mourners on Kwangbok Road, several hundred meters south east of the department store.
The two areas were shown in addition to the main memorial ceremony that was talking place in Kim Il Sung Square in the heart of Pyongyang.
TV pictures showed amazing scenes of tens of thousands of people lined up in the square.
It was during that service that Kim Yong Nam said of Kim Jong Un:
Standing at the helm of the Korean revolution is Kim Jong Un, the successor to the revolutionary cause of Juche.
Kim Jong Un is the supreme leader of our party and army and people as he fully personified the ideas and leadership, personality, virtues, grit and courage of Kim Jong Il. — Kim Yong Nam, Pyongyang, Dec. 29, 2011
A three-minute silence was observed across the country at noon. During that silence trains and ships sounded their horns.
Here are some more images of the memorial service from Pyongyang, as shown on Korea Central Television.
North Korean state media has reported on a visit by Kim Jong Il to the “May 11 Factory,” which it described as “a modern scientific research and production center which researches and develops varieties of electronic goods including liquid crystal display TV sets.”
The KCNA report mentioned the LCD televisions several times and was accompanied with many photos of the TVs, so they appear to be something the North Korean government is proud of. There’s a gallery of stills from the KRT evening news report below.
Look through them and you’ll notice the pictures all appear to show the final stages of assembly where the case is put around the electronics and screen. There are no pictures showing earlier stages in the assembly process or the prior stages to that, such as the fitting of components to circuit boards.
There is also a lack of parts around the workers. In a typical LCD TV factory there would be crates of spare parts and casings nearby, so the workers don’t have to walk far. It’s quite possible the layout of this factory is different, but if so it’s probably not as efficient.
It’s reminiscent of a March television report that purported to show North Korea’s first laptop PC factory. It turned out at least one of the laptops is likely being made in China and shipped to North Korea.
As in the case of the laptops, it’s impossible to tell if they are from an outside source unless someone can identify the televisions on show. The front designs of the TVs are rather generic so they’re difficult to identify. In any case copying of popular designs is rampant in the LCD TV industry.
Perhaps the best clue is picture 17 in the upper right. A TV is lying on its face in the foreground and the rear of the case is visible. The rear panels are mre unique and much less likely to be copied than the front panels.
The factory, said KCNA, “is capable of producing hundreds of thousands of liquid crystal display TV sets in a year.”
Whether or not the factory actually makes the TV sets in question, or other devices, the report underlines it’s part of North Korea’s drive to improve the level of science and technology in the country.
These shining achievements are a clear proof of the validity and vitality of the Party’s policy on taking hold on science and technology as the lifeline for the building of an economic power, he added. – Korea Central News Agency, Pyongyang, July 28, 2011.
Kim Jong Il was accompanied on the visit by next-in-line son Kim Jong Un.
North Korea Leadership Watch also spotted the presence of Jon Il Chun in official photographs. Jon, according to the website, is daily manager of Office #39 under the party’s Finance and Accounting Department. Office #39 is widely believed to be the organization through which North Korea brings in much of its foreign currency. More details on NK Leadership Watch here and NK Econwatch here.