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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Trends in North Korea to Strengthen Its Informatization Drive (H/W.S/W)

ROK Ministry of Unification
2004-03-30

1. Overview

 o North Korea has begun making concentrated efforts to promote informatization following visits by Kim Jong-il, chairman of the North Korean National Defense Commission, to two Chinese information technology research complexes in 2000: the Zhongguancun Science Park in Beijing in May 2000, and Shanghai's Pudong District in January 2001.

   - North Korea is focusing on developing the software sector, which offers more favorable requirements in terms of capital and technology than the hardware sector and is more likely to be developed over a short time period.

         The 21st century is an era of the information industry in which the level of advancement of a country's information industry determines its economic development and national might. (Apr. 27, 2001; Rodong Sinmun)

         Since we are living in an era of computers and informatization where we can reap enormous profits by using computers, we must occupy the fortress called the information industry, riding on a fleet steed. (Apr. 20, 2001; Rodong Sinmun)

2. Status of H/W Development and Dissemination

North Korea remains at an embryonic level in terms of development of the hardware sector.

 o Although it launched hardware research efforts at a relatively early date, such factors as the Wassenaar Arrangement and financial distress prevented the country from advancing beyond the assembly of low-grade computers. Since 2003, however, North Korea has been assembling and producing Pentium IV (586) computers jointly with China.

   - Following its assembly and production of Jeonjin-5500, a first-generation PC in 1969, Yongnamsan No. 1, a second-generation PC in the late 1970s and Bonghwa 4-1, an 8-bit PC in 1982, North Korea embarked on the assembly and production of Pentium IV PCs by setting up the Achim-Panda Computer Joint Venture in cooperation with China.

Despite the country's determination to accelerate informatization, the ratio of computers to the general population remains at a low level.

 o Most PCs in North Korea are of either 286, 386 or 486 grade. Only organizations such as core government agencies, some universities and research institutes are given limited access to Pentium-grade PCs.

   - With North Korea's computer dissemination ratio at a low level, the flow of Chinese-produced 386 and 486 models into North Korea has grown due to the expansion of computer production and dissemination in China.

         In January this year, North Korea imported 200 computers from China. (Feb.19; Heilongjiang Newspaper)

The North Korean government endeavors to expand introduction of computers to its manufacturing processes/management systems.

 o The country is pressing ahead with a basic informatization drive, in which computers are used to improve productivity in high-priority sectors such as power generation and to help in providing adequate food, clothing and shelter to its populace through enhancement of agriculture and light industries

   - In some exemplary cases, the country introduced computers to establish a computer network between factories and companies (Nov. 2002), to establish a nationwide electric power network computer system (May 2003), to computerize footwear factories in Shineuiju, Pyongyang and Haeju (July 2003) and to improve agricultural production.

         In the era of the information industry in the 21st century, the industrial structure must be improved in the direction toward informatization of all production and business activities. (Aug. 12, 2001; Rodong Sinmun).

3. S/W Development Status

North Korea has adopted a policy of aggressively promoting software development.

 o After designating the software industry as a strategic IT industry for short-term growth commensurate to its current conditions, North Korea has been enacting policies to create an environment that is favorable for software development.

   - Examples are: holding software program-related events, setting up and expanding specialized software development institutes, operating a program information center in each province, enacting a four-year (1999-2002) program development plan and establishing an IT educational system.

North Korea tends to focus on developing marketable software that can contribute to its foreign currency earnings.

 o Faced with an inadequate hardware infrastructure and domestic market, the country is developing game, language processing, recognition and animation software products that would generate practical economic benefits, and stepping up related publicity and sales efforts.

   - Held the first exhibition of the North Korean Computer Center (Apr. 2002; Beijing), participated in an international software exhibition (Sept. 2003; Dailian) and opened a specialized online software sales site in Singapore (Nov. 2003)

   - Pursued software joint ventures with more than 10 South Korean, Chinese and Japanese companies Joint development, technology acquisition, sales, etc. (Products: See Attachment No. 2).

North Korea concentrates its efforts on developing programs that are virtually operable at industrial sites. 

 o The country is expanding the scope of software usage as part of restoring production at dilapidated factories and industrial establishments, bringing technological advances to industrial sites, carrying out science and technology R&D projects and so forth.

   - Its development of programs that can support manufacturing at factories and industrial concerns, aid in cyber architecture/mechanical design, and assist science and technology research has been on the rise.

4. Evaluation

 o Defining the 21st century as the era of the information industry, North Korea has been carrying out multipronged efforts to promote informatization across every facet of its national economy in the shortest possible time.

   - Through focusing on hardware and software development as core programs to bring about informatization, North Korea has been producing tangible results in software program development, in particular.

   - The number of beneficiaries of informatization in the country is limited, however, owing to a low computer dissemination ratio and a political system that controls information flow.

   - Apparently, the North Korean software industry is manifesting the limitations of its development because of the capital imbalance between the software and hardware industries and difficulties associated with tapping foreign markets.



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