State attempts to soothe jittery donju nerves

Seol Song Ah  |  2016-03-09 16:16
Read in Korean  

With China having cut off North Koreas mineral exports, Pyongyangs Central Party propaganda officials have been disseminating rumors that resumption of coal and mineral shipments is imminent in order to dissuade the countrys newly affluent middle class, known as the donju, from halting their investments in related facilities. 

Donju are the fulcrum of North Koreas coal industry, their massive dollar investments propping up foreign-currency earning enterprises tasked with production and export of a product providing North Korea with much-needed cash from a resource-strapped China. These "money masters," as literally defined in Korean, wield their sizable monetary influence to secure the land surrounding coal mines, the ports exporting portions of it, and every logistical detail connecting the two. The greater Jikdong Mine area in South Pyongan Province is known to have a high concentration of such operations helmed by donju from across North Korea.

On news that coal exports have come to a halt, donju, the chief actors in the countrys coal distribution industry, have stopped investing, a source from South Pyongan Province told Daily NK on Tuesday. Some had been thinking of completely giving up their coal handling and storage facilities, but with the rumors of exports starting back up in a few months time theyre now mulling over whether to reinvest. 

This news was corroborated by two separate sources in the same province.

It is important to note that these rumors are not coming from members of the public, but from above (state authorities), the source explained, stating, The Partys Department of Propaganda and Agitation is even creating chatter that people should invest during the temporary suspension so they can benefit from the lower prices. 

Such talk has cast many donju into a state of confusion, scrambling to determine if current circumstances should be considered a perfect opportunity, or a dangerous gamble. Most have solicited trusted Chinese traders with whom they share personal and professional ties to help them arrive at a decision. 

Certainly, such deliberation is distressing for officials, who know full well that a prolonged strangle on donju investment could eventually challenge the operation of the mines themselves, and by extension stymie a robust source of funds buttressing the leadership. Moreover, rations, however meager they may be, are nevertheless anticipated by the workers and miners moored to these enterprises. To cut them off suddenly could sow further discord and have disastrous repercussions for management and further up the chain of command.

For their part, ordinary residents welcome the chance to see coal banned from export trickle down to them for fuel instead. This is improbable, said the source, because "the priority for those above [Kim Jong Un] is securing funds for the Party; theyd never sell it off cheaply."

A major donju-run loading and storage facility for coal around Jikdong Mine.
 Trucks and freight cars tied to foreign-currency earning enterprises are shown coming and
going to transport coal for export.
 Image: Google Earth

*Translated by Jiyeon Lee

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