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North Korea orders diplomatic staff to donate $100 each for new subs

North Korea chairman Kim Jong Un. (Kremlin/Released)
September 30, 2023

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Kim Jong Un has submarine envy, so every North Korean attached to diplomatic missions abroad has been ordered to “donate” US$100 to a new fund that will go toward the construction of “cutting-edge” submarines and other warships, sources in China told Radio Free Asia.

The donation mandate was the first order of business after Kim returned from his summit in Russia with President Vladimir Putin, where the two countries agreed to strengthen ties. 

During that trip, Kim toured military facilities including a naval base for Russia’s Pacific Fleet and was “shocked” by Moscow’s high-tech weaponry, especially submarines, the sources told RFA.

“Yesterday, Pyongyang sent an order to the North Korean Embassy here in China to raise the necessary funds to build new submarines and warships,” a source in Beijing who is familiar with the situation, told RFA Korean Sept. 23 on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

“The instructions state that the members of all overseas diplomatic missions must donate $100 each before Party Foundation Day on Oct. 10,” he said, adding that the ambassador in Beijing had sent the same order to North Korean consulates in Shenyang and Dandong. Personnel working in overseas companies are also considered part of the mission.

“The order states that the construction of new warships and submarines is a top priority that can no longer be postponed, considering the current situation,” the source said. “The members at the embassy all gave $100 as soon as they received the instructions. Most of them seem to understand that the leader gave this order after being quite shocked by Russia’s advanced weapons.”

Not cheap

Even though the stated purpose is to raise money for warships and submarines, the source said that the order is also a test of loyalty, and likely that future instructions will continue to ask for funding. 

“Some of the people responded to the order by saying ‘New submarines and warships are high-tech, and require expensive materials and equipment. They are not children’s toys. I don’t understand how it will be possible to build them by saving just $100 per person.’”

Indeed, submarines are not cheap, and such donations would seem to hardly make a dent in the overall cost. 

Construction costs for the type of nuclear-powered submarine North Korea could build, such as the French-designed Barracuda-class, run about $1.19 billion each. 

When the orders reached the consulates in the northeastern cities of  Shenyang and Dandong and the former British colony Hong Kong, the officials there “looked dejected,” a source in Shenyang told RFA on condition of anonymity for personal safety.

Companies there are used to getting orders to donate a specific amount of money from their revenue, but this order appealed to them to “exhibit a high level of loyalty in response to the Marshall’s instructions to build submarines and new warships,” the Shenyang source said. In official communications, Kim is often referred to by his military rank.

Companies did not force the workers to donate, he said. Instead, they anticipate that some of the workers will demonstrate their loyalty with a large donation, and then the pressure will be on for the rest of the workers to better or match that amount. 

“The workers could not hide their sense of dejection at the instructions,” the Shenyang source said. “The workers are saying, ‘We have been tightening our belts to develop nuclear weapons for decades as we were preparing for war. Now we are building new submarines and warships.’”

“It was foolish of us to expect that [the government] would finally address the country’s food problems.”