Not fairly. Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein provides a wonderful general abstract of this key sector. Peter Makowsky, Jenny City, Michelle Y. Kae and Samantha J. Pitz add extra depth and a wealth of illustrations of the varied cement works and associated mines dotted across the DPRK. They permit that the chicken’s-eye view provided by satellite tv for pc imagery can’t inform us all the pieces: some extent strengthened by Martyn Williams’ vivid screengrabs from Korean Central Tv (KCTV) (Determine 7). Satellites reveal the large image: the lay of the land. However we’d like ground-level information as effectively; and it may be mined.
What else do we all know, or may be identified, about North Korean cement? Doubtlessly, rather a lot. My goal right here is to enhance these glorious items by pointing to extra strains of inquiry, which I hope others will discover additional. (Or possibly they have already got: tell us!)
Broadly, there are three such strands. First, native media, official and unofficial, can add priceless element if used with care. Second, in some situations, historic sources can be found, together with private memoirs. And above all, thirdly, there are foreigners on the market who know loads concerning the DPRK cement business—as a result of they constructed it, put in it, and in at the very least two circumstances really owned a bit of it.
On this occasion, as in lots of, Juche is a lie—or at greatest a half-truth and aspiration. North Korea didn’t construct a cement business by itself. The oldest amenities predate the peninsula’s 1945 partition. The latest, world-class on the time, had been foreign-bought; and later, for a time, foreign-owned.
This brief article attracts on such numerous extra sources. Utilizing them can provide us extra detailed, concrete (sorry) insights into North Korea’s cement business, each traditionally and within the current day. But it barely scratches the floor: I hope this may encourage others to dig extra deeply. To that finish, I recommend pointers for additional analysis—together with international firms concerned, who must be simpler to entry than the DPRK itself.
Utilizing the web to triangulate totally different sources yields fascinating and diverse insights. Take Sunghori, simply east of Pyongyang—or really a part of it till 2010, when the DPRK capital was downsized as an administrative unit by over one-third. Now in North Hwanghae, Sunghori has—or maybe had—a small cement works for 100 years. What will we find out about it?
Missionary nuns, for starters. (You didn’t anticipate that.) Let’s journey again in time to a really totally different Korea: occupied by Japan since 1910, and never but minimize in two. Again then, Pyongyang was called “Jerusalem of the East,” because the Christianity preached by primarily US missionaries because the Eighties flourished, particularly there. It helped that the brand new church buildings additionally pioneered trendy training and well being care. Evoking a Pyongyang childhood in the course of the late Nineteen Thirties on this milieu, the late Dr. Joseph Music, later a distinguished pathologist within the US, mentions in his vivid 2008 memoir My Mom, “three nun-physicians on the cement manufacturing unit in…Sunghori.” Over 20 years, this American trio discovered Japanese, handed medical exams in that language, then sorted the Sunghori cement staff and their households. By 1940 they had been exhausted (no marvel), and Japan—which by no means appreciated the missionaries; it was mutual—wished foreigners out; so again to the US they went. A glimpse of a vanished world.
By then, the Sunghori Cement Manufacturing facility was already 20 years outdated. Established by Onoda of Japan, its early years are tracked in a captivating monograph (partly obtainable online) and article by Quickly Gained Park, targeted on industrialization and labor relations. (She additionally covers post-1945 developments at Onoda’s traditionally vital Samcheok (Samchok) plant in South Korea, later owned by Tongyang and since 2015 a part of Sampyo Cement, the ROK’s fourth-largest producer.)
Onoda constructed two additional cement crops which are nonetheless going sturdy in North Korea: at Chonnaeri in Kangwon, mentioned to have not too long ago doubled output; and Komusan in North Hamgyong, which after issues in 2019 reportedly devised an alternative to gypsum in 2020.
Again to Sunghori. After 1945 the Soviet navy saved on 35-40 Japanese engineers as trainers and supervisors, some for 3 years. The following foreigners on the scene, a decade later, had been Romanians providing post-Korean Conflict reconstruction aid: half of a complete phalanx of Russian, Chinese language and East European help within the Nineteen Fifties. Pyongyang at this time is silent on all that, however students ought to combat this false erasure. If not too late, information and reminiscences from the international locations and individuals concerned could be invaluable: not solely to historians but in addition for understanding North Korea’s industrial panorama at this time.
As for Sunghori Cement, two years in the past, Day by day NK claimed it was “dealing with shutdown”; being outdated, geographically inconvenient, technologically outmoded and overshadowed by the a lot newer Sangwon Cement Complicated—on which extra under. However 2019’s three-month closure, attributed to electrical energy shortages, appears to have been momentary. With at the very least 4 mentions up to now this yr in DPRK media, Sunghori Cement remains to be steaming away in its second century.
But Sunghori has certainly develop into a minor participant. The massive weapons—they like that metaphor—in DPRK cement at this time are at Sunchon and Sangwon, with a reported annual capability of three.5 and perhaps 3 million tons, respectively. The remainder of this text will focus primarily on Sangwon: nonetheless, I feel, the DPRK’s latest main cement facility. Its origins and possession are uncommon, fascinating and promising for researchers—given its successive numerous international connections.
Sangwon, It’s Been Good To Know You
I visited the Sangwon Cement Complicated in 1990, when it was new. Even to a non-expert eye, it appeared impressively trendy, if much less so than Posco’s jaw-dropping steelworks within the ROK. Since I used to be nominally a vacationer, my request had raised eyebrows at Ryohaengsa—“A cement works? Why a cement works?”—however my information, Mr. Kim, was a born fixer, and off we went.
Sangwon was fascinating due to its provenance. From the Nineteen Seventies, the DPRK realized it wanted higher applied sciences than the Soviet bloc may provide, and sought them within the West (in addition to Japan). Shopping for totally on credit score, it quickly fell into arrears. By the Nineteen Eighties, the world had wised up: phrases for Pyongyang had been fee upfront, in full. So to get an ultra-modern cement works from West Germany’s KHD, they paid cash: $160 million, if reminiscence serves.
It ought to due to this fact be straightforward in precept to method KHD, and/or former employees members who organized the sale, put in the tools, and maybe had a unbroken function. Perhaps that has already been finished; maybe there are books, PhDs or different research in German on the market. But when not, somebody ought to get to work earlier than these concerned go to the good blast furnace within the sky—as should already be true for lots of the a whole bunch (1000’s?) of East European and Soviet comrades who helped rebuild the DPRK within the Nineteen Fifties. Hopefully, these too have already got their chroniclers, in Russian and different languages. And little question the Korean Central Intelligence Company (KCIA) was on the case. Does its successor, the Nationwide Intelligence Service (NIS), ever unlock a few of its older, much less compromising archives? Presumably, these type a part of what the Financial institution of Korea (BOK), the ROK central financial institution, attracts on when compiling its personal estimates of DPRK financial information.
The Nineteen Eighties develop distant now, however Sangwon Cement’s first international hyperlink was not its final. Quick ahead 20 years. In July 2007, Egypt’s Orascom paid $115 million for a 50-percent stake. A uncommon occasion of inward international direct funding (FDI) by a significant multinational, Orascom’s first North Korea enterprise has garnered a lot much less scrutiny than Koryolink, its cell phone foray, which started a yr later. Telecoms was the large prize for Orascom, although it will additionally show a headache. Perhaps beginning with cement was a sweetener or loss-leader, to indicate Kim Jong Il that the Sawirises had critical cash to take a position and meant enterprise. It labored.
But this proved short-lived. Simply months later, in January 2008, Orascom bought its stake in Sangwon to France’s Lafarge, the world’s largest cement maker. Removed from a DPRK play as such, this was a tiny a part of a really massive deal: Lafarge bought Orascom’s complete international cement portfolio, paying $15 billion. The Center East was the primary lure, however Lafarge didn’t neglect its barely unintentional North Korean acquisition. In 2015, DPRK media praised it for including two new furnaces at Sangwon. However in 2017, what was now the Franco-Swiss LafargeHolcim made its exit. Particulars had been sparse, however little question the rationale was 2016’s tightened United Nations (UN) and different sanctions; presumably, a DPRK entity purchased it again. In any respect occasions, a big Western firm has a wealth of latest first-hand information on the DPRK’s flagship cement plant. All this might and must be explored by researchers. Or possibly the analysis is on the market en français?
Sangwon’s international possession episode is exclusive within the cement sector, and really uncommon—even earlier than sanctions—for the DPRK general. Overseas know-how, nonetheless, is one other matter. In response to one business yearbook, the Sunchon Cement Complicated—North Korea’s largest, inbuilt 1977 with an annual capability of three million tons—makes use of a dry-process plant equipped within the Nineteen Eighties by Denmark’s FLSmidth, one other main international firm. In contrast to KHD’s transaction with Sangwon, this isn’t well-known. If confirmed, presumably FLSmidth too was paid an enormous sum in money. Was there a unbroken relationship? All this may and must be explored.
Not A lot, Not A lot Good
Lastly, the 2 Qs: Amount and high quality. How a lot cement does North Korea produce? And is it any good? Brief reply: Not loads, and never very. OECD’s helpful 2020 working paper on the DPRK economic system contains 28-year information runs (citing BOK) for coal, metal and cement.
Having produced six million tons of cement in 1990 already, the disastrous famine of the Nineties meant this was not re-attained till 2006. Since then, output has fluctuated within the six-seven million ton vary. As Silberstein observes, Kim Jong Un’s goal of eight million tons is thus not overly bold. In stark distinction, South Korea’s annual cement output is 52 million tons, nearly 9 occasions extra.
Silberstein additionally cites an in depth ROK analysis (textual content in Korean, tables in English) which discovered northern cement poor in high quality in comparison with southern. That’s unsurprising, and maybe unimportant. With scant likelihood of exports and plentiful demand at house, cement is above all a home business. All they want is sufficient, and adequate. On amount, it stays to be seen if improvements touted in latest media stories achieve elevating output. Insofar as these contain sanctions-related substitutions (e.g., lignite for anthracite), skepticism appears so as. As for high quality: the Pyongyang skyline is kind of spectacular, even when on nearer inspection a few of the end (and more) could be a bit slapdash. However that’s Juche and pace battles for you.
To conclude: As usually with North Korea, there are extra questions than solutions. But by utilizing sources as but little mined, we will cement our data and render it ever extra concrete.