The fabulous story of NKorea's fabric made of stone

The fabulous story of NKorea's fabric made of stone

For much of the world, it's a niche product. In North Korea, where winter temperatures are frigid and which cannot produce enough cotton or wool for clothing, the synthetic fibre developed after nylon was glorified as a revolutionary invention.

Known outside North Korea as vinylon, it was christened "vinalon" by founder Kim Il Sung. He ordered it be developed to put clothes on people's backs.

It's a story which reveals much about the history of North Korea.

The state says the fibre symbolises its self-reliance, but diplomatic records show the project was less successful than Kim hoped - Pyongyang was more dependent on others than it claimed.

The North Korean government does not provide foreign media with a point of contact in Pyongyang and the state's delegation to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment.

The global vinylon fibre industry was worth $443 million in 2016 and is projected to reach $539 million by 2022, according to Orbis Research. Swedish outdoor clothing company Fjällräven uses a form of vinylon, Vinylon F from Japan, in products including the Kånken backpack.

Fjällräven does not source material from North Korea, a company spokesman said.

Companies in Japan and China make vinylon based on petroleum. But North Korea has no oil reserves. Instead it makes vinalon from two commodities it has in abundance: coal and limestone.

The process starts with workers mining anthracite and breaking limestones.

Vinalon dates back to 1939, two years after DuPont of the United States introduced nylon, and with it affordable stockings, American glamour and movie stars.

At the time, North Korea was part of Japan and nylon was undercutting Japanese silk and cotton exports. A Korean scientist was on the team that developed an alternative fibre. His name was Ri Sung Gi.

Ri's invention starts out as hard, white crystals that look like sea salt. But once drawn out and spun into a thread, it acquires a texture like cotton. It is stiff and hard to dye, but strong.

It was promising. But two wars interrupted Ri's efforts to develop his fabric.

In 1948, after World War Two, North Korea became a Communist state.

The North Koreans invaded the South and in the ensuing three years, the U. S. bombed Pyongyang. Around 2. 5 million soldiers and civilians died on both sides, according to South Korea's defence ministry.

In 1953, the Korean War paused with a truce.

Ri wanted to help rebuild. He offered to develop his fabric in South Korea. The South, which was allied with the United States, was not interested.

At this time, all Soviet states were driving for technological prowess. The North was courting foreign scientists, and it did what it could to keep hold of them.

Ri defected. North Korea likened him to Marie Curie, the French chemist who developed the theory of radioactivity.

To bore a hole into the heart of U. S. imperialism, I have been peering through microscopes and shaking my test tubes with determination," Ri Sung Gi wrote in his memoirs.

JUCHE!

The Soviet Union was forging ahead. On April 12, 1961 Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin beat America to be the first man in space. Josef Stalin sponsored Kim Il Sung as founder of North Korea.

Under Japanese rule, the North had received more investment in heavy industry than the South and it had ample energy.

But North Korea needed overcoats for its people, Kim told the Soviet ambassador, A. M. Puzanov. If we do not solve the clothing problem it will be hard to compete with the South," he said, according to Puzanov's journal. The Soviet Union could not help supply cotton.

Ri had proven in lab tests that vinalon could be made. Kim saw the fibre as a political tool.

He created an ideology of self reliance known as Juche. The word translates literally as "subject," but stands for the notion that man is the master of his own destiny.

Kim said vinalon was the "juche fibre.

The vinalon industry is the shining fruition that the Juche idea of our Party was reflected in the field of chemical industry," Kim said in 1967.

On May 6 1961, he held an opening ceremony for the February 8 Vinalon Plant in Hamhung, in South Hamgyong province. Kim was telling his allies North Korea could produce 10,000 tonnes of vinalon a year and would soon be producing more than 300 million metres of textiles a year, according to documents in the Wilson Center archive.

The factory, built by a division of the Korean People's Army working on three shifts of 3,000 people, went up so quickly that the triumphal phrase "vinalon speed" emerged in state propaganda.

Looking at the first vinalon strands, Ri said they were "white as snow and lighter than a dandelion puff.

Kim Sung-hee, a North Korean who defected to the South, said she attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Inside the factory I saw pink and red jackets. Even after 15 years, the vinalon jackets did not get frayed, although the colours could change a bit," she said.

Defectors born before the 1980s said they used to wear jackets, school uniforms and socks made of vinalon.

The fibre was part of an industrial drive like the one Mao Zedong launched in China. North Korea's effort was known as Chollima. Embodied by a Flying Horse, it galvanised workers into skipping breaks to boost productivity, helped by slogans such as "drink no soup.

In 1961 Kim Il Sung met his Chinese comrade Deng Xiaoping and told him North Korea had "already succeeded" in producing vinalon to ease the country's clothing problem. Deng said the process demanded electricity. But Kim was not worried.

We won't need to use electricity in future. We can use oxygen," Kim said.

In the early 1960s, as an anti-Communist coup in South Korea and the Cuban missile crisis sent North Korea down a path of military buildup, the economy was growing fast.

An economist at Cambridge University in England, Joan Robinson, visited in 1964 and wrote that "all the economic miracles of the postwar world are put into the shade" by what she saw, including vinalon. She recorded the formula for making it.

The North grew faster than the South - a trend which continued into the 1970s, according to U. N. and CIA economic data.

In 1972, the CIA recorded figures from 1956-1971 which showed the North had produced 7 million more metres of textiles than the South. In the early years the North's output of fish products, coal, iron ore, steel, cement, chemical fertilisers and tractors also exceeded that of the South.

The CIA figures show that until the mid 1960s, the North consistently exported more than the South in dollar terms.

North Koreans called vinalon "the King of Fibres" and featured it in cartoons to teach children how independent and successful the country was.

A TV show from 1976 shows Vinalon Man win a race against Mr Nylon.

But in reality, the fabric's limits were emerging. It was not good at keeping people warm. And power was becoming a problem. By now, oil was cheap in the West and the outside world was using it in abundance for energy, transportation and synthetic materials.

North Korea had no oil reserves for making vinalon or powering its factories and Pyongyang depended on oil imports from the Soviet Union. Even so, Kim Il Sung said North Korea must be independent.

It may be cheaper and faster to produce the synthetic fibre using petro-chemistry . But, constructing industries dependent on other countries' raw materials is the same as having others grab you by the collar," he said.

To help make its fabric of stone, the North wanted nuclear power. For years, it asked its Soviet allies to help with generation facilities. It only secured one nuclear power station. In 1967, vinalon inventor Ri was made head of the Atomic Energy Research Institute in Yongbyon. Today, this houses the North's light water nuclear reactor.

In 1973, Kim Dong Gyu, a high-ranking North Korean official, told Romania's leader Nicolai Ceaucescu that North Korea was producing "70-80 tons" of vinalon, and finding that hard to increase.

Presently we are struggling to increase production in vinalon factories up to 50,000 tons per year," he said.

The Hamhung facility was expanded so it could make more calcium carbide, the coal and limestone compound on which vinalon is based. Soviet economies were driven by targets laid down in plans rather than the laws of supply and demand.

Calcium carbide can be used to make many things. Defectors from Hamhung told Reuters that it was thought to make chemical weapons - a claim others have also made and which is technically possible, but which no one has proven.

Every factory in North Korea, whatever factory that would be . had divisions for the Second Economy," said Lee Min-bok, 60, who worked as a researcher at the Academy of Agricultural Science and visited the first vinalon factory.

People in North Korea call the war industry the Second Economy. The first economy is called the People's Economy.

More recently, Western arms experts at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies suggested the vinalon plant might be used to help produce rocket fuel for missile tests. Scientists say this too is technically possible, but unproven.

As North Korea built up its military, its debts increased. It eventually owed a total of $11 billion to Moscow, most of which Russia was to write off in 2012. The North also accumulated debts in the West. They went unpaid year after year, totalling around $770 million in the 1970s.

Soviet support was declining, and China's new leader Deng Xiaoping was introducing market principles. He signed agreements on trade with North Korea in 1982.

North Korea started building a second vinalon factory in Sunchon in 1983, to achieve "a target 1. 5 billion meters of cloth.

The factory was to be the biggest chemical industrial complex in the country and be controlled by the military. Kim's talk of running it on oxygen never materialised. Despite the reported $10 billion investment, the complex was never fully completed.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, North Korea lost all its Soviet funding. Chinese imports entered ordinary North Koreans' lives. China has exported hundreds of thousands of tons of textiles and clothing to North Korea, customs data show.

In the 1990s, North Koreans relied mostly on Chinese fabric for their clothes. Since then, enormous amounts of Chinese fabric have been imported into North Korea," said Choi Goog-jin, a South Korean entrepreneur who tried to import North Korean vinalon in 2011.

On July 8, 1994, Kim Il Sung died from a heart attack. His son Kim Jong Il took over, but within a year, Pyongyang was forced to ask international humanitarian agencies for aid.

Hamhung was hit by a flood and received no coal. It suspended fibre production.

There was no work. Residents from Hamhung said vinalon became the basis of an exchange scheme to survive. It was a similar story across the country.

Famine killed as many as 3 million North Koreans. North Koreans still call those years the "Arduous March," a term introduced by the official media to stir the starving.

Defectors say people took machine parts, as well as pure nickel and copper from wires and pipes, to informal markets.

People ripped machines into metal parts from the vinalon factory, smuggled and sold them . some of them were publicly executed. Production lines stopped rolling . workers starved to death," said Jeong Jin-hwa, 53, who defected to the South in 1999.

By 1996, when vinalon's inventor Ri Sung Gi died, even party cadres loyal to the socialist system had turned to trading - a form of capitalist "self-reliance.

In 2001, Choi Goog-jin, the South Korean entrepreneur, created a company, Korea Vinylon Co Ltd, to import North Korean vinalon. After one year of sample tests and negotiations, the business failed.

Vinalon doesn't have competitiveness in clothing," said Choi. If you look at vinalon suits in North Korea, they are rough and heavy.

In 2002, in Onsong County, North Korea, a high school student also called Choi said he bought a fake Adidas t-shirt and short pants from a market. The blue clothes were made of vinalon.

I wore that fake Adidas kit until I came here," said Choi, now 30, who defected to the South in 2006. The colour did not change. It was quite sturdy.

We have this expression - socialism during the day and capitalism at night," Choi said. That is, politically and what is seen on surface is socialism but beneath the surface, everything people do is capitalistic.

In 2010, Kim Jong Il reopened the February 8 Vinalon Complex.

This is an extra-big event, as important as launching a new type A-bomb, and represents a great victory of socialism," he said.

The next year, he died suddenly on his private train. His son, Kim Jong Un, took over and in 2012 introduced economic changes, including turning a blind eye to the informal markets.

There was demand for vinalon - in those private markets.

Jung Min-woo, 29, served as a military officer before leaving North Korea in 2013. He said some ranking military officers bought custom-made shiny vinalon uniforms from private markets to look cool.

Many ranking officers wear them. but they are not good for a war," he said.

If war breaks out lots of sparks and bullets go back and forth. Cotton tends to melt and vanish but vinalon burns you because it sticks to your skin," Jung said.

Entrepreneur Choi agreed. The uniforms made of vinalon are not suitable for combat," he said. When it rains, the uniforms soak up water and become very heavy, which inevitably makes it difficult for soldiers to move. After a while, the uniforms turn very stiff.

By now, instead of producing vinalon, many North Koreans made clothes for China. Kang Eung Chan, who defected in 2013, said he hired 40 local seamstresses and used imported fabrics - including nylon - to make jumpers for Chinese customers. He paid locals $40-50 a month.

Who wears vinalon now? Almost no one," said Kang.

Even so, North Korea says it still produces the fibre. In his 2017 New Year's speech, Kim Jong Un laid out a plan to revamp the vinalon complex.

This sector should revitalise production at the February 8 Vinalon Complex, expand the capacity of other major chemical factories and transform their technical processes in our own way," he said.

If the new leader manages to drive North Korea's vinalon output with as much vigour as its missile tests, the fabric made of stone may yet find a new lease of life.

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Apple plans to open new US campus

Apple plans to open new US campus

Apple Inc will open a new campus as part of a five-year, $30 billion US investment plan and will make about $38 billion in one-time tax payments on its overseas cash, one of the largest corporate spending plans announced since the passage of a tax cut signed by US President Donald Trump.

The company has been under increasing pressure to make US investments since the 2016 presidential campaign, when Trump targeted the iPhone maker for making products in Asian factories.

While Apple has announced no plans to change that practice and experts say it would be economically impractical to make iPhones in the United States, the company has begun to emphasise its US economic impact, from developers who sell software on its App Store to the tens of billions of dollars per year it spends with US suppliers.

Between the spending plan, hiring 20,000 people, tax payments and business with US-based suppliers, Apple on Wednesday estimated it would spend $350 billion in the United States over the next five years.

It did not, however, say how much of the plan was new or how much of its $252. 3 billion in cash abroad - the largest of any US corporation - it would bring home. In addition to the $38 billion in taxes it must pay, Apple has run up $97 billion in US-issued debt to pay for previous share buybacks and dividends.

Some investors said the US investments would give the company room to make more stock buybacks or pay dividends without criticism. Apple shares on Wednesday closed up 1. 7 percent to $179. 10.

Walter Piecyk, managing director for TMT Research at BTIG Research, said he could not yet tell whether the US expansion was an increase from a previous plan or meant investment abroad was being refocused in the United States. Reuters Breakingviews estimated that Apple could have increased US headcount by 24,000 in the last five years.

Trump described the move by Apple as a victory for his efforts.

I promised that my policies would allow companies like Apple to bring massive amounts of money back to the United States. Great to see Apple follow through as a result of TAX CUTS,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

Asked in an interview with ABC News whether the job creation announcements were directly related to the Republican tax plan, Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook gave a measured response.

Let me be clear: There are large parts of this that are a result of the tax reform, and there’s large parts of this we would have done in any situation,” Cook said in the interview.

About a third of Apple’s new spending will be on data centers to house its iCloud, App Store and Apple Music services, a sign of the rising importance of subscription services to a company known for its computers and gadgets. Apple has data centers in seven states.

The announced U. S spending would be a significant part of Apple’s overall capital expenditures. Globally, the company spent $14. 9 billion in 2017 and expects to spend $16 billion in 2018, figures that include both US-based investments in data centers and other projects and Asian investments in tooling for its contract manufacturers.

If Apple’s overall capital expenditures continue to expand at the same rate expected this year, the $30 billion investment in the United States could represent about a third of its capital expenditures over the next five years.

The announced tax payment was roughly in line with expectations, said Cross Research analyst Shannon Cross. The tax bill requires companies to pay a one-time 15. 5 percent tax on foreign-held earnings whether they intend to bring them back to the United States or not.

Apple had set aside $36. 3 billion in anticipation of tax payments on its foreign cash, meaning the payment would not represent a major impact on its cash flow this quarter.

James Cordwell of Atlantic Equities said Apple’s US investment plan could make it easier for the company to give more cash to shareholders.

Being seen to just hand the cash back to shareholders could spark some political sensitivities,” and the spending announcement could be part of Apple’s efforts to manage this issue, Cordwell said.

Apple also said it would boost its advanced manufacturing fund, used to provide capital and support to suppliers such as Finisar Corp and Corning Inc, from $1 billion to $5 billion. Apple said it planned to spend $55 billion with US-based suppliers in 2018, up from $50 billion last year.

Apple joins Amazon. com Inc in scouting for a location for a new campus. Amazon finished taking applications from cities in October for its second headquarters.

Amazon set off a scramble between cities across the nation to host the headquarters, and Apple’s announcement stirred broad interest. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel told reporters on Wednesday, “We’re going to go compete and we’re going to put our best foot forward” to compete for an Apple campus. adelphia Department of Commerce spokeswoman said the city would submit a proposal if Apple opened the process for bids.

Apple has not said whether it had settled on a new campus location yet, and it did not make any commitments on the size of new spending or hiring specific to the campus. It did say it would initially house technical support for customers and would announce the location later this year.

The facility would be in addition to its “spaceship” Apple Park headquarters in Cupertino, California; a campus in Austin, Texas, that houses customer service agents and some manufacturing; and an Elk Grove, California, unit with several thousand customer service agents and iPhones refurbishing technicians.

Apple also has built its own data centers in North Carolina, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona and a recently announced project in Iowa, and leases data center space in other states.

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Students of 7 DU affiliated colleges block Nilkhet intersection

Students of 7 DU affiliated colleges block Nilkhet intersection

Vehicular movement through Nilkhet intersection in Dhaka came to a complete standstill as hundreds of students of seven Dhaka University affiliated colleges blocked the road since this morning demanding publication of second-year exam results by this month.

Around three hundred students of 2014-15 sessiontook position in the middle of the intersection around 11:30am blocking all sorts of traffic movement in the area, our DU correspondent reports from the spot.

The second-year final examination for the session was held on January 7 last year.

A huge traffic jam has been created on the all four connecting roads of the intersection due to the student protest, he said.

The protesters are also seen blocking pedestrians from their way crossing the intersection when this report was updated at 1:09pm.

In a five-point demand, the protesting students demanded the publication of the second-year result by January.

  • Third-year honours final year examination for 2014-15 session should be held by March.
  • Publication of an academic calendar for the seven affiliated colleges.
  • All examinations of 2012-13 sessions should be held as soon as possible.
  • All the examinations of the sessions under degree pass course should be held and its results published as early as possible.

A huge traffic jam has been created on the all four connecting roads of the intersection due to the student protest, he said.

The protesters are also seen blocking pedestrians from their way crossing the intersection.

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5 held over Ctg schoolboy murder

5 held over Ctg schoolboy murder

Among them, four 2nd year students of Hazera Taju Degree college - Sabbir, Fahim, Aabu Sayed and Arman --were arrested from Fatikchhari upazila of the district while Muntasir from the port city's Badurtola area.

A blood-stained knife which was used in the killing was also recovered, said officer-in-charge of Kotwali Police Station Md Jasim Uddin.

On January 16, Adnan Isfar, 15, a class-IX student of Chittagong Collegiate School and College, was stabbed to death by some youths in the city following dispute over a cricket match.

At one stage of an argument, Isfar's friends stabbed him, said the OC adding that the boy started running after being chased and collapsed at Jamal khan.

Being rescued, he was taken to Chittagong Medical College Hospital where doctors declared him dead.

The OC said they collected a video footage which showed the schoolboy was running in an injured condition while some others were chasing him.

Following the incident, a case was filed with the police station.

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NKorea prepares grand military parade on eve of Olympics

NKorea prepares grand military parade on eve of Olympics

Pyongyang, which has rattled the international community with its nuclear and missile tests in recent months, has agreed to send athletes to the Games and march with the South under one flag at the opening ceremony.

But the North has also vowed to press ahead with commemorations marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of its military, with the South's Yonhap news agency reporting that it is planning a major parade on February 8 -- a day before the Olympic opening ceremony.

Some 12,000 soldiers, artillery and other weapons will feature at the spectacle in an airfield near Pyongyang, Yonhap said, quoting an unidentified South Korean government source.

We believe the North will hold a military parade on February 8th to mark the anniversary of the birth of its regular forces", the source was quoted as saying.

A South Korean defence ministry spokesman said the ministry does not comment on "any matters of military intelligence".

While North Korea often holds military parades to mark a variety of anniversaries, the country varies the dates it marks from year to year.

In 2017, leader Kim Jong-Un staged a giant spectacle showcasing a range of weaponry, including what appeared to be a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), in an event on April 15 marking the 105th anniversary of the North's founder.

Kim, who launched a flurry of missiles and the North's sixth and largest nuclear test last year, mentioned plans for a large celebration of the army's 70th anniversary in his 2018 new year address, urging the military to "organise combat drills like real battles".

He also used the speech to offer to take part in the South's Pyeongchang Games, billed by Seoul as a "Peace Olympics", which will be held some 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the heavily fortified border.

The outlook for the sporting extravaganza has brightened since North Korea confirmed its participation, easing security concerns over nuclear-armed Pyongyang.

The neighbours, which opened long-dormant communications to organise the North's participation, have agreed to field a united team in the women's ice hockey.

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