Interviews and Articles by or about the Author

In August 2016 famous Vlogger Louis Cole with almost 2 million Youtube followers: "I leave you with this final thought: Felix Abt, a business affairs specialist who lived in North Korea for 7 years, once said about the country 'if you have no presence in the country, you cannot influence anything for the better."  Adds Mashable: "This sums up Louis' sentiments."

In July 2016 The Diplomat magazine published a piece by Felix Abt on a period of unprecedented cooperation between the two Koreas, despite being technically still at war. The author lived and worked in North Korea both when the “sunshine” policy of peaceful cooperation and rapprochement between the two Koreas peaked and when it faded away. As he was also involved in North-South projects he experienced up close how it played out.

In June 2016 The Diplomat magazine published a piece by Felix Abt on "North Korea's Illicit Internet" giving an introduction to North Korea's internet and a history of its private intranet. And he explains a surprising anomaly: internet in North Korea is banned by the United States, no less.

In June 2016 The Diplomat magazine published a piece by Felix Abt on the Chinese-North Korean Drug Connection and why and how capitalism came to North Korea.

In May 2016 The Huffington Post published  'Business As Reform In North Korea: An Interview With Felix Abt'

       Topics are business ethics, human rights, sanctions and reforms.

In March 2016 VICE news quoted Felix Abt in its piece Why a Secretive Group of Western Investors Are Bullish on Business in North Korea

       And here we reveal Vice News Q & A with Felix Abt it didn't publish for a reason...

In January 2016 Estonia's leading Äripäev media group interviewed Felix Abt on how to do business in North Korea. Here is the English translation.

In December 2015 Felix Abt was quoted by the renowned Cato Institute, The Korea Times and The Japan Times

In December 2015 Spain's news agency EFE quoted Felix Abt

In November 2015 Abt published the piece "North Korea: stuck in the past or poised for the future? - Working with the North works, coercive demands do not" in NK News.Org

Excerpt: "Undoubtedly, I wouldn’t have been able to co-found North Korea’s first business school: that would have been considered a subversive enterprise aiming to overthrow the socialist system just a few years earlier. Nor could I have set up the European Business Association, the first foreign chamber of commerce in Pyongyang, as it was previously considered a foreign conspiracy. Similarly, advertising was formerly banned and considered anti-socialist, but I was one of the first to utilize it extensively. Even the setting-up of our pharmacy chain would have been unthinkable and considered an unpatriotic sellout to foreigners, out to conquer North Korea’s pharmaceutical market. Other “firsts” I helped to initiate and revolutionary by North Korean standards included the first foreign-invested software enterprise and first e-commerce, which could not have been established without any engagement from the country’s decision-makers."

Fall 2015. Book Review by the academic North Korean Review, Vol. 11, No. 2, 2015, Yonsei Institute for Korean Studies, Seoul

“In conclusion this book represents one account of one individual, and with regard to its contribution to North Korean Studies should be treated as such. Just as one North Korean defector’s account can never provide the full picture of North Korea, this one businessman’s story won’t be able to provide comprehensive insight, and it is a sign of Mr. Abt’s honesty and credibility that he doesn’t try to do so. Contrary to the impression that Abt is trying to compile a well-rounded North Korea book, he does not go into one topic in particular; on human rights he states: “While I clearly disavow any human rights abuse in North Korea and anywhere else in the world, I’m a businessman who has never visited any gulag or prison. I am not a human rights expert” (p. 65).

It is this honesty that makes this book a good read and that immediately illustrates the absurdity of a businessman actually visiting a prison. It is unimaginable that a Swiss businessman based in Washington (or any other Western capital) would approach the respective government officials with a petition to visit the nearest state prison to make up his own mind on the current human rights situation.

Some may question this oversight since the field of North Korean studies focuses heavily on human rights issues. While these are no doubt important, they should be kept in context, keeping in mind that human rights are being violated every day in many places around the world right under our noses. For this reason, as much as we value a human rights expert’s report on human rights issues in or outside of North Korea, one has to equally appreciate this Swiss capitalist’s account of doing business in North Korea”

In August 2018 a new book on International Security was published. Chapter 32: Korea Opportunities: Human, Environmental and National Security in the ROK and DPRK, by Lloyd Pettiford and Felix Abt

Between the 20th and 29th of July 2015 'Delegations For Dialogue' held its "first ever student programme to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea). A total of 11 student delegates, representing 10 different countries joined together to visit the world's most reclusive country. During the programme, the student delegates engaged in a series of discussions amongst themselves, with foreign experts and, most importantly, with the local Korean citizens themselves."

Felix Abt gave a talk on "business and investment in North Korea" for them.

  On July 17, Felix Abt was quoted in Miracle cures and ‘hot motorbikes’ or black market meds and empty shelves: Pharma in North Korea, by a British pharma magazine.

In May 2015, “North Korea observing circles are finally recognizing the important value of the book” - Ting-I Tsai, The Caijing (Finance and Economics) magazine, Beijing

In May 2015, the Peterson Institute for International Economics, number 15 (of 150) in the "Top Think Tanks Worldwide" and number 13 (of 60) in the "Top Think Tanks in the United States", published a book review

On May 28, 2015, a long interview with Felix Abt was published by Toyo Keizai (週刊東洋経済), a leading Japanese business magazine

  On May 22, 2015, Felix Abt was quoted in Lights out in Pyongyang? North Korea's energy crisis by NKnews

On March 23, 2015 Felix Abt's op-ed piece AUTOMATONS, SLAVES OR MEMBERS OF THE 1% ELITE, published by The Korea Observer

On March 8, Felix Abt was quoted in La Corée du Nord fait les yeux doux aux investisseurs étrangers, published by France's Mediapart

On March 3, 2015 Felix Abt was quoted in On global stage, North Korea’s top diplomat is man of mystery by The Japan Times (and Reuters)

On February 8, 2015 Felix Abt's first Google Hangout

On February 7, 2015 Book review of A Capitalist in North Korea by The Sydney Morning Herald

On January 15, 2015, Felix Abt was interviewed about The Economic Life of North Korea by the BBC

On January 14,  2015 Felix Abt was quoted in A quiet revolution in North Korea by the BBC

On January 10, 2015, Felix Abt was interviewed in its Business Programme by RTÉ Radio 1 (Radio Ireland)

On December 4, 2014 Felix Abt was quoted in the piece End war to improve North Korean human rights in Asian Times online.

  On December 3, 2014 Book review of 'A Capitalist in North Korea' in From Hermit Kingdom to Merchant Kingdom by Mises Daily, publisher Mises Institute

On North Korea Releases Report Accusing US, UN Of 'Fabricating' Human Rights Charges Against It  by The International Business Times

On November 13, Felix Abt was mentioned in Korean Analysts Almost as Divided as North and South by The Diplomat

On October 29, 2014 Felix Abt was (mis)quoted in North Korea: Defectors and Their Skeptics by The Diplomat

  On October 10, 2014 Felix Abt was quoted in Experts Criticize WHO's North Korea Suicide Stats by www.academia.edu / NK News

On October 4, 2014, Felix Abt was featured in Norte-coreanos contam piadas, vão à praia e falam de futebol by Diário de Notícias

On October 3, 2014 book review of A Capitalist in North Korea by The Financial Times

  On September 30, 2014 interview about Contemporary Business Climate in North Korea, by NK News

On September 23, 2014 ‘The Capitalist in North Korea': Felix Abt Reflects On Seven Years in the Hermit Kingdom. Interview by The Galo Magazine

On September 18, 2014 Felix Abt's book was reviewed in The Tao of North Korea by The Huffington Post

On August 12, 2014, on the occasion of the book release an AMA - ASK ME ANYTHING - session with Felix Abt on reddit: http://www.reddit.com/r/NorthKoreaNews/comments/2ddyvb/i_am_felix_abt_author_of_a_capitalist_in_north/

HERE YOU CAN READ ALL QUESTIONS & ANSWERS.

August 2014, INTERVIEW FROM HELL
'This is Hell' radio, the US radio show based in Chicago, is famous, or possibly infamous, for its merciless grilling of great and famous personalities (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/This_Is_Hell_%28radio_program%29.).
Put on the spot was Felix Abt, author of “A Capitalist in North Korea”, perhaps not a household name as yet, but he was treated no differently to his more well-known predecessors on the show.
The potentially ‘hellish’ experience was exacerbated when it was not possible to make a land-line connection. The live interview, with its host’s characteristic long and challenging questions, was made across half the globe (from Chicago to Vietnam) by mobile phone. The connection was unstable and at times it was difficult for the author to fully hear and understand the questions, but he gamely responded to everything thrown at him and stood by the theses put forward in his book.
Judge for yourself how Felix acquitted himself:
https://soundcloud.com/this-is-hell/811felixabt

On August 3rd, 2014 (Tendentious) book review: A Capitalist in North Korea by The South China Morning Post, written by Julian Ryall, a not particularly serious journalist who 'reports' his opinions as 'facts' in The Telegraph. Unfounded claims include 'former ex-girl friend of North Korea's leader was executed' or 'North Korea supports Scotland's independence' or in July 2015: 'North Korean defects with data on chemical warfare tests on humans'  to Finland, a claim subsequently rejected by the Finnish government. More about Ryall in the piece The Telegraph's Low dedicated to him

August 12, 2014 Announcement of release of hardcover in NEW YORK, TIMES SQUARE

   

The book is now in the bookstores in North America, Europe and Asia and can be ordered from Amazon as well.

In January 2014 NKNews published an article on How to do business in North Korea. An inside look at how foreigners conduct business in North Korea quoting Felix Abt

In January 2014 NKNews published a piece on Christmas and New Year in North Korea quoting Felix Abt and showing a photo of Felix Abt and his wife at a Christmas party in Pyongyang.

In December 2013, Berlin's Tagesspiegel wrote about the purge of Jang Song Thaek, uncle of North Korea's leader, and quoted Felix Abt here

In December 2013, Italy's newspaper Formiche quotes Felix Abt in connection with the political purges:

"UNA NUOVA GENERAZIONE
Come scrive su Facebook l’imprenditore svizzero Felix Abt, autore di A capitalist in North Korea, l’esecuzione di Jang e quella di alcuni suoi collaboratori, di cui si è parlato nei giorni scorsi, non sono una pietra tombale sulla possibilità di cambiamenti. Al loro posto potrebbe forse arrivare una nuova generazione di funzionari votati agli affari. Ma si resta sempre nel campo delle ipotesi e delle speranze."

In December 2013, Vietnam's large newspaper Thanh Nien quoted Felix Abt

In October 2013, Lifeboat.com published an interview with Felix Abt entitled: "Ruling the Rhetoric on North Korea: A Pedagogical Perspective"

In October 2013, GlobalPost published the article "Wanna do business in North Korea? Good luck!" and quoted the "Capitalist in North Korea"

In October 2013, Italy's newspaper Il Manifestro introduces Un capitalista in Nord Corea

"Per saperne di piùUn capitalista nel regno dei Kim, come si descrive nel libro in cui racconta la sua esperienza in quello che è considerato il più irriformabile tra i regimi al mondo."

In June 2013, South Korea's official news agency Yonhap published an interview with Felix Abt: "NorthKorea's Kim Jong-un may bring more reforms in coming years: Swiss businessman"

In April 2013, GlobalPost published a photo from the book "A Capitalist in North Korea"
 
☆  In April 2013, Reuters quoted the author in a North Korea report.

☆  In its April 2013 issue, The Banker, a prestigious publication of The Financial Times in London quoted “A Capitalist in North Korea” in its April 2013 issue as follows:

quote

INFORMAL MARKET ECONOMY

Felix Abt, former managing director of PyongSu Pharma and author of A Capitalist in North Korea, lived in North Korea for seven years and argues that a middle class has emerged over the past decade.“ After the big famine in the 1990s, where the public food rationing and distribution collapsed, an informal market economy emerged. Most North Koreans started engaging in some kind of trade and other business to make ends meet,” he says. “Today, more than 1.5 million North Koreans have a mobile phone. More and more have computers and other electronic devices. Shops and markets sell platform and high-heel shoes, Minnie Mouse bras and DVDs with Western cartoons. I’m now living in Vietnam and watch rising sales of products made in Vietnam in North Korea, from edible oil to instant noodles to shirts to shoes to cigarettes,” says Mr Abt.

PRECEDENT WITH CHINA’S PAST

Mr Abt describes doing business in North Korea as a déjà vu experience for those who worked in China or Vietnam when those countries were opening up. “Like in China or Vietnam in the past, the business failure rate is relatively high, but I observed an improvement over the past five years. I’m a shareholder at joint venture companies in North Korea and they generate some profit, which is not huge, but the longer-term potential of these investments looks good,” he says. Of the business opportunities in North Korea, Mr Abt says: “With rising labour and other input cost in China, North Korea has become very competitive for its processing activities in garments, shoes and bags. There has been a significant increase of Chinese companies moving production capacities to North Korea,” he says.

“Low to medium technology items, encompassing the manufacturing of artificial flowers, dentures, furniture and toys, can be a profitable investment as well. Indeed, such items are already being produced on behalf of foreign investors. Higher energy cost and cost due to infrastructure shortcomings are largely offset by low-cost labour and a fast increasing productivity thanks to very diligent and fast-learning workers,” says Mr Abt.

unquote

Apart from American media, "A Capitalist in North Korea" was mentioned in 2013 in newspapers of the following countries:

Italy, Romania,Sweden,France, Germany and Vietnam.  Greece's second largest newspaper published in April 2013 a long interview.  Spain's most influential business newspaper mentioned the author and his book, too. Two of Switzerland's largest newspapers published an interview in May 2013. More interview links will be published here. Stay tuned!

Felix Abt gave a long interview to South Korea's governmental news agency Yonhap. It is well known that South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak's administration tried hard to suppress any criticism. The Yonhap interview with Felix Abt contains subtle criticism of the way Lee and his administration dealt with North Korea. Yonhap was not allowed to publish that. Yet, you can still read the interview here and see for yourself how dangerous it is...

Voice of America, however did publish an interview with Felix Abt in Korean language, see here

Interview: A Capitalist in North Korea (Yes, They Do Exist...)

"Though far from becoming a beacon of freedom anytime soon, entrepreneur Felix Abt says that, 'by North Korean standards, there has been quite a practical change in society and the economy'."

Read the full interview here

It was published on Minyanville's World In Review, the world's first (and only) animated business news as well as on other sites such as Atlantic's Quartz, the 'digitally native news outlet for the new global economy' that has reached, few months after its launch in 2012 already more than a million visitors per month.

  READ here on "38 North" (John Hopkins University) the author's amazing story: "North Korea out of the Dark: The Story of the Pyongyang Business School. How a promising reform project brought good business practices to the world's most isolated country."

  AN ARTICLE in October 2012 with a different perspective:

Let’s Go Beyond Refugee Tales

Most of what we hear about the Hermit Kingdom comes from defectors, but there's a lot more to the country.

Felix Abt,

GlobalPost, October 31, 2012

NHA TRANG, Vietnam — A peculiar strand of literature on North Korea has been published in recent years, with the authors drawing heavily on interviews with defectors. Sure, North Korea has been a horrific place with famine and prison camps, but these books reveal a single slice of North Korean society. And it's dangerous that they're taken so frequently at face value when they remain unverifiable.

The stories these authors tell are indeed heart-wrenching. Journalist Blaine Harding, formerly at the Washington Post, wrote a biography of Shin Dong Hyuk in the 2012 book "Escape from Camp 14." Shin was a famous defector born and raised into the brutal environment of a labor camp from where he later escaped.

Unfortunately, there's a big flaw. The defector initially presented his story differently from what he later told to the author. Harden acknowledges in his book that the defector lied to him about his experiences, but decided to believe him anyway.

For seven years, I made a living in the world's most closed off communist country as — of all careers there — a businessman. Now living a comfortable life as an entrepreneur in Vietnam, I have all sorts of stories to tell that contradict these tales.

One of the most widely acclaimed works was Barbara Demick’s 2010 book "Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea." She tells the stories of six different refugees who had lived through the hermit state's famine, known as the "Arduous March," during the 1990s, and who came from one of its poorest industrial cities, Chongjin. During the late 1990s, this city with no arable land was one of the most afflicted regions and witnessed mass starvation.

Bloomberg praised Demick’s account of Nothing to Envy as a “superbly reported account of life in North Korea." That's a misnomer. The book is an oral history — not a marker of current events — and I would call it “superbly reported account of life in a single city, Chongjin, in the 1990s."

During the Cold War, Chongjin was a hub for steel, machinery and ship manufacturing and its port saw significant trade with the Soviet Union. I have visited numerous cities in North Korea, but no other city suffered such a massive industrial decline and ensuing mass unemployment after the Soviet collapse.

About six years after the six defectors suffered through food shortages, I visited Chongjin for the first time. Badly damaged infrastructures during the floods had been repaired, a number of withering and dilapidated factories had resumed operation after being abandoned, street markets had expanded and a good number of new buildings had been built.

Chongjin, no doubt, was still a poor and rugged city. But the residents told me that the 1990s had been the worst period in their lifetime — worse than the Korean War — and that the situation had improved considerably. Even the prolific North Korea historian Andrei Lankov wrote in Asia Times Online in September 2011 that:

        ... actually, from around 2002-2003, we have seen a steady but clear improvement in North Korea’s economic situation. North Koreans are still malnourished, and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, they are not starving anymore — at least not in significant numbers.

There are other examples of blatant academic deception. In 2012, Stanford professor Adam Johnson wrote the novel "The Orphan Master's Son" set in North Korea, but included just about every negative generalization he could find on the country. So much for "insight": he claimed, in a blatant and poorly researched falsehood, that in North Korea "no one has read a book that's not propaganda for 60 years."

Sure, propaganda abounds in North Korea, but patronizing literature like this doesn't give credit to the North Korean people where it's due. When I traveled around the countryside, school children narrated old Korean folktales to me, rather than regime propaganda. And my staff, along with all sorts of other North Koreans I’ve met, have read foreign books such as Alexandre Dumas’s thriller "The Count of Monte Cristo" or Ernest Hemingway’s "Men Without Women." Some of them could even recite lengthy passages from the works. At home and sometimes at their universities, they watched foreign movies like "Gone with the Wind" and "Titanic."

Journalist Melanie Kirkpatrick, a longtime member of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, published another North Korea book in September 2012 called "Escape From North Korea." She portrays North Korea as a “hellhole" that is “rife with suffering and starvation.” The country, she added, “keeps its citizens in the dark ages." “Foreigners and foreign goods are kept out," was another tall claim of hers.

Had that been true, I would, of course, not have been able to sell foreign goods like mining equipment, foodstuffs, and medicine in North Korea. I once even met an unemployed steel worker who migrated from an industrial city to the countryside, where he began cultivating his own private plot on a slope. He proudly told me that his family now earns enough money so that, within two years, they could buy a motorbike. Even though that's not a sign of enormous wealth, it puts North Korea on par with other developing countries like Cambodia which have undertaken market reforms.

Had I told my friend that, in Kirkpatrick’s words, North Koreans were “rife with suffering and starvation,” he would have felt insulted.

Felix Abt, a Swiss businessman, lived and worked in Pyongyang for seven years. He helped found the Pyongyang Business School, the European Business Association of Pyongyang (a de facto Chamber of Commerce), and other ventures. He has visited seven out of nine provinces and more than two dozen cities in North Korea.

  THE WASHINGTON POST reacted to this piece and called Felix Abt “outlier”. It sided with “foreign visitors to North Korea that call it a repressive hellhole”. Obviously, long years of experience on which to base observations versus no or little first-hand knowledge by sensationalist book authors and journalists count for little. Months later, the newspaper publishedthe “10 illuminating books about North Korea”. The most horrific defector tales were, of course, included. And guess what: “A Capitalist in North Korea: My Seven Years in the Hermit Kingdom” was, of course, not mentioned at all...

  READ here: A NEW NORTH KOREA BOOK - A  NEW PERSPECTIVE Article by nknews.org on December 21, 2012

  VISIT the author's Facebook page here

  FOLLOW the author's other tweets here

  THE VERY FIRST TWEET by the author about his self-published e-book A Capitalist in North Korea on December 18, 2012:

    "My story is out but I won't get praise and won't make money with it as, unlike most North Korea books, it's NOT sensationalist and polemical."

      An updated version of the e-book and the hardcover will be released in August 2014.