- Title: North Koreaâ€™s â€œmiracleâ€ fabric unspools the thread to its nuclear ambitions
- Date: 17th January 2018
- Summary: (SOUNDBITE) (Korean) 66-YEAR-OLD NORTH KOREAN DEFECTOR FROM ONSONG COUNTY, KIM SUNG-HEE, SAYING: "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." NORTH KOREAN DEFECTORS SEATED GOYANG, SOUTH KOREA (FILE - JULY 25, 2017) (REUTERS) HEAD OF KOREA VINALON, CHOI GOOG-JIN, SEATED IN HIS OFFICE AND VINALON CHIPS AND WOOL ON DESK VARIOUS OF VINALON WOOL CHOI SPEAKING CHOI EXPLAINING ABOUT VINALON MANUFACTURING PROCESS (SOUNDBITE) (Korean) HEAD OF KOREA VINALON, CHOI GOOG-JIN, SAYING: "In the 1990s, North Koreans relied mostly on Chinese fabric for their clothes. Since then, enormous amount of Chinese fabric have been imported into North Korea." VARIOUS OF CHOI DROPPING VINALON CHIPS VINALON CHIPS IN BAG (SOUNDBITE) (Korean) HEAD OF KOREA VINALON, CHOI GOOG-JIN, SAYING: "The uniforms made of vinalon are not suitable for combat. When it rains, the uniforms soak up water and become very heavy, this inevitably makes it difficult for soldiers to move. After a while, the uniforms turn very stiff." SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (FILE - SEPTEMBER 2, 2017) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF NORTH KOREAN DEFECTOR, CHOI SEONG-GUK, SPEAKING AND HOLDING ROPE MADE BY VINALON (SOUNDBITE) (Korean) NORTH KOREAN DEFECTOR WHO LIVED IN PYONGYANG, CHOI SEONG-GUK, SAYING: "I could not remember wearing Vinalon clothes because I loved foreign-made goods and almost everyone prefers to have it. But the Vinalon mops are widely used."
- Embargoed: 31st January 2018 10:22
- Keywords: North Korea synthetic fibre Vinalon Kim Il Sung Kim Jong Un Ri Sung Gi rocket fuel missile
- Location: UNIDENTIFIED FILMING LOCATIONS, HAMHUNG CITY, SOUTH HAMGYONG PROVINCE, PYONGSONG, SOUTH PYONGAN PROVINCE, NORTH KOREA/ SEOUL, GOYANG, SOUTH KOREA/ MONTEREY, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES
- City: UNIDENTIFIED FILMING LOCATIONS, HAMHUNG CITY, SOUTH HAMGYONG PROVINCE, PYONGSONG, SOUTH PYONGAN PROVINCE, NORTH KOREA/ SEOUL, GOYANG, SOUTH KOREA/ MONTEREY, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES
- Country: North Korea
- Topics: Conflicts/War/Peace,International/National Security
- Reuters ID: LVA0047YI1M4L
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: The synthetic fibre 'vinalon' was invented after 'nylon' was glorified in North Korea as a miraculous invention and supported by the state founder Kim Il Sung. Today North Koreans say no one wears vinalon anymore, however Kim's grandson and current leader Kim Jong Un had called for more production, leading to experts saying the vinalon factories could be used to produce rocket fuel.
Since Kim Il Sung championed vinalon in the 1960s, North Koreans have called it "the King of Fibres" and even published cartoons to teach children how independent and successful the country is. In the animated film named "Who is the king of fibres?", shown by the North's state-run KRT, two figures representing vinalon and nylon race against each other to become the king of all fibres. As expected vinalon beats nylon in the race.
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.
Vinalon dates back to 1939, two years after DuPont of the U.S. introduced nylon, and with it affordable stockings, American glamour and movie stars.
Korean scientist Ri Sung Gi developed the fibre in Japan, during the Japanese colonial era. The fibre he invented 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.
After the Korean War ended with a fragile truce in 1953, Ri offered to develop his fabric in South Korea. However the South, which was allied with the United States, was not interested.
That is when North Korea stepped in, who was actively courting foreign scientists. The country did what it could to lure the scientists and so Ri defected to North Korea.
Less than ten years after Ri's defection, on May 6 1961, Kim Il Sung held an opening ceremony for the 'February 8 Vinalon Complex' in Hamhung, in South Hamgyong province.
The factory was built with such speed and vigour that the phrase "vinalon speed" emerged in state propaganda.
North Korea's old defectors remember vinalon as an innovative fabric. Kim Sung-hee, a North Korean defector who attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony in 1961 said she saw colourful jackets inside the factory, adding that the vinalon jackets did not get frayed even after 15 years. The fabric was even popular with foreigners who bought vinalon to bring it back to their countries.
However the fibre's fate changed in 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed and funding to North Korea stopped completely. Left with lesser resources for the production of vinalon, North Koreans had to rely mostly on Chinese fabric for their clothes. Since then, an enormous amount of Chinese fabrics have been imported into North Korea, said South Korean entrepreneur Choi Goog-jin, who created a company, Korea Vinylon Co. Ltd. in 2001, to import North Korean vinalon.
Instead of clothing, he planned to turn it into high-value added items such as artificial bones or films for LCD panels. But after one year of sample tests and negotiations, the business failed.
Now North Korea's young generation uses vinalon in the production of mops or ropes rather than clothes. Choi Seong-guk, a Pyongyang native who defected to the South in 2010, said he barely remembers clothes made of vinalon.
In 2010, Kim Jong Il reopened the February 8 Vinalon Complex. The next year, he died suddenly on his private train.
His son, Kim Jong Un, took over and laid out a plan to revamp the vinalon complex following its renovation in 2011, stressing the importance of self-reliance.
Western arms experts doubt this theory though. They say the vinalon plant might be used to produce rocket fuel for Kim Jong Un's 85 missile tests since he took power in late 2011. In September, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at Middlebury Institute of International Studies identified the 'February 8 Vinalon Complex' as a potential source of unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine, or "UDMH." The substance was used by the Soviet Union to produce a propellant so potent and toxic that Soviet scientists nicknamed it the "Devil's Venom."
Jeffrey Lewis, Director of East Asia Nonproliferation Program (EANP) at Middlebury Institute of International Studies, is one of the team who has been looking for hints of UDMH production in North Korea. Lewis said that the vinalon factory is located in a very large chemical plant that makes a lot more than just vinalon, adding that one of the things it makes is probably rocket fuel.
The finding could provide important information about the extent of North Korea's progress. North Korea said it successfully tested a powerful new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on November 29 that put the entire U.S. mainland within range of its nuclear weapons.
After North Korea released video footage and photographs of Hwasong-15, U.S. based experts said it appeared North Korea was indeed capable of delivering a nuclear weapon anywhere in the United States and could only be two or three tests away from being combat ready.
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