Some Information about North Korea

By Hal Reid

Hal Reid made this map using ESRI's BusinessMAP World Maps.
North Korea has figured prominently in the news recently, and I realized I didn't know as much about the country as I would like. We have seen some great images of nuclear test sites, nuclear facilities and whatnot. I was curious about North Korea and thought other readers might be as well, so I'm passing on what I'd learned. Here are some sites with North Korea images (1, 2).

You may be surprised to learn that North Korea would be an interesting place to visit. This description, from the Lonely Planet series, piqued my interest.
North Korea has some exquisite national parks, and the country is almost completely unexploited by commercial tourism. From the ultra-clean showcase capital, from which old people and pregnant women are excluded, to Paekdusan, where they're still rewriting history, there's weirdness galore.
National Public Radio has an audio file of the journalist Don Kirk's tourist experiences. He is a correspondent for the International Herald Tribune based in Seoul, South Korea.

North Korea is a very pretty country. A friend of mine in China visited North Korea last summer and sent me some photos of the countryside. I am not sure where these are, but I wanted to include them because they contrast so markedly with what we see on TV. You can click on any of the images for a larger view.

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I found basic info on North Korea's infrastructure and demographics at the AsiaTradeHub.com website.

Population 23.1 Million (an approximate update based on the CIA's World Factbook)
Birth Rate 21.37 births/1,000 population
Land Area 120,410 sq. km.
Net Migration Zero
Literacy 99%
Life Expectancy Male 67.41 years, Female 72.86 years
Natural Resources
Coal, lead, tungsten, zinc, graphite, magnesite, iron ore,
copper, gold, pyrites, salt, fluorspar, hydropower
GDP -$21.8 billion
GDP Real Growth Rate -5% (approx)
Industrial Growth Rate -7% to -9% (approx)
GDP Sector Composition 25% Agriculture, 60% Industrial, 15% Services (approx)
Imports $1.95 billion
Exports $912 million
Trading Partners China, Japan, Russia, Germany, Singapore, South Korea,
Hong Kong

The negative GDP and industrial growth rate, zero migration and the paradox between high literacy rate and relatively low life expectancy all surprised me.

I compared North Korea's literacy rates and life expectancy to other countries currently in the news, as shown in the chart below.

This table was created with information from the CIA’s World Factbook.


Among the four countries, North Korea has the highest literacy rate, the longest life expectancy and highest median age, followed closely by Iran.

Current event and the recent UN sanctions have raised concerns about the nature of North Korean exports. I looked at the country's port information on the AsiaTradeHub website, and found it interesting on two levels. First, it seems North Korea's trading partners are somewhat limited, and second, all of the petroleum products seem to enter at just one port. The chart below shows both imports and exports.

Primary ports and their characteristics.
*This port specializes in crude oil. Undersea pipelines are connected with Seungri Chemical Co. and Seonbong Thermal Power Plant, according to the AsiaTradeHub site.
(Click for larger image)


In addition to the ports, North Korea has major rail connections to both China and Russia. North Korea shared 900 miles of border with China.

I looked at a website maintained by the PRS Group that provides information on risks of doing business in other countries. I couldn't even find North Korea on their list. It appears that North Korea is beyond risk assessment.

You may have seen the news story and image about North Korea's electricity in the Daily Mail on October 12. Quoting the article: "North Korea might now have The Bomb, but it doesn't have much electricity." It shows the degree of illumination in North and South Korea at night.

Other Sources about North Korea


DPRK Studies

North Koreas Strategy by Stephen Bradner (pdf)

North Korea's Nuclear Gamble a Masterstroke

North Korean Intelligence Agencies


Published Friday, October 20th, 2006

Written by Hal Reid



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