Students at University of Coal Mining in Pyongsong frustrated about their futures

A truck transporting coal and a servi-cha transporting people from Musan Mine in North Korea
A truck transporting coal and a servi-cha transporting people from Musan Mine. Image: Daily NK Photo Archive

One area impacted by continuing international sanctions on North Korea has been the country’s coal industry. Now students at the University of Coal Mining in North Korea are expressing frustration about their futures.

“University of Coal Mining students are asking themselves whether what they’re studying is totally meaningless,” a South Pyongan Province-based source told Daily NK. “The halt in coal exports means that there’s no professors who can guide them and they aren’t finding any answers through discussions with their fellow students. They’re frustrated.”

The University of Coal Mining in Pyongsong, South Pyongan Province, cultivates future members of the country’s coal industry and include programs focused on the fields of mining, refining, equipment development and energy-related research. North Korea has large stores of coal and the country has focused on developing these resources for some time.

Since the Kim Il Sung-era, North Korea has placed importance on the coal industry and coal-friendly energy policies have long been in place. The export coal has also been a source of foreign currency for the regime’s coffers. A Korea Industry Trade Association (KITA) report states that North Korea’s exports of coal to China reached 1.18 billion USD (around 22 million tons) in 2016.

The UN Security Council’s Resolution 2371, which was adopted in response to North Korea’s launch of a ICBM in 2017, prohibited the country’s export of coal and disrupted the regime’s money-making activities.

North Korea is now attempting to use coal to produce thermal energy and natural gas for domestic energy consumption. Korean Central TV (KCTV) and other state-run media outlets have recently placed emphasis on the expanded use of coal and increases in its production.

North Korea’s emphasis on coal shows that the country’s coal industry is stagnating, the source pointed out. Students also realize that the North Korean government’s policies to enhance coal production and expand its use are due to the cutoff of coal exports.

“Students say that they feel the world is changing around them, but their field isn’t,” the source said. “They’re frustrated that the North Korean state is simply emphasizing coal production increases given that coal exports are no longer possible and the world’s energy sources are shifting elsewhere.

China, the largest importer of North Korean coal, is noticeably importing less of it recently. China is shifting its focus to renewable energy production and this suggests that the lifting of sanctions on North Korean coal might not lead to a complete rebound in the country’s coal exports.

University of Coal Mining students are also frustrated about the poor conditions they live in. “More than 70% of the students live in dormitories. The dormitories are in really bad shape. The rooms are dark and small and aren’t provided with tap water or even electricity,” said a separate source in South Pyongan Province.

“The authorities are placing an emphasis on self-sufficiency through the increased production of coal, but the University of Coal Mining’s dilapidated conditions show that the coal industry is really just stagnated.”

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