Kumya Youth Coal Mine in South Hamgyong Province. (Yonhap)

Although North Korea likes to play up the results of its drilling operations as well as its coal mining performance, the country is reportedly facing considerable difficulties in achieving its production targets. One of the main sources of these difficulties seems to be related to the poor quality of North Korean machinery and equipment, the use of which has been promoted in the name of self-reliance. 

A source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK on Monday that questions were raised at a self-criticism session on Mar. 21 at the Kaechon Area Coal Mining Complex regarding the deteriorating performance in drilling. “The criticism sessions took place in a very serious atmosphere,” the source said. 

In contrast, an article in North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun on Mar. 23 stated that, “The fierce competition around drilling in the coal industry is clearly pushing forward [efforts] to acquire reserve coal mining fields.” The paper added that, “According to collected data, hundreds of reserve coal mines were set up by Mar. 20 owing to the coal industry’s performance.”

However, despite North Korean propaganda praising the progress made in the coal mining industry, it seems that original production goals have not been met. It is not known, however, to what extent these goals have not been achieved.  

“During the self-criticism session, it was pointed out that one of the reasons for failing to reach the production targets was because the use of equipment [by workers] decreased as rock drilling machines started to break down,” the source explained. “In fact, rock drilling machines used by mining companies generally perform poorly.” 

According to the source, most of the drills used at coal mines in Kaechon are produced at the Jonchon Rock Drill Factory. This machinery, however, reportedly lacks precision and is of low quality, which has had a negative impact on mining performance. 

“Even if newly produced parts are put into the machines, they break down after a few hours of running,” the source explained. “There are many cases where a new drilling machine cannot even be used for one year.” 

The source went on to say that the quality of the materials used to make these drilling machines is a major problem. “Parts that are made using domestic materials are not strong nor are they made that well,” the source said. 

Although North Korea is producing its own equipment, parts, and components under the banner of “self-reliance,” the quality of these products appears to be poor. 

Due to international sanctions and the prolonged border closure with China, it has been challenging for the country to import steady supplies of raw materials. This, paired with the fact that the country lacks enough people with technical skills, means that there is a limit to the quality of products that North Korea can produce domestically. 

Since low quality rock drills are distributed to various mines throughout the country, mines nationwide may face similar issues regarding performance and productivity. 

North Korea is also experiencing disruptions in coal production because the border closure has made it difficult to bring in parts necessary for maintenance of existing mining equipment. 

Daily NK reported at the end of last year that the Sunchon Area Coal Mining Complex produced only about 50% of its November production targets due to a shortage of materials such as parts needed for rock drilling machines.

Translated by Gabriela Bernal

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Mun Dong Hui is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.