Some “good” news from North Korea

On market regulations:  North Korean authorities issued three decrees restricting market activity: 1. Markets may only open once every 10 days  2. Only vegetables, fruits, and meat from private citizens can be sold in the markets.  Imported goods and products of state-owned companies are prohibited  3. To reduce the influence and growth of professional merchants, market booths will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis (no fixed locations).

The “good” news is that the authorities are having trouble implementing these rules:

A Pyongyang source said in a phone conversation with Daily NK on the 7th, “Until now, markets in Pyongyang have been opening at 2 PM every day and operating normally. They are only closed once a week, on Mondays as usual.”

However, the sale of imported industrial goods from China such as clothing, shoes, cosmetics, kitchen utensils and bathing products has become more restricted in the market. Subsequently, street markets or sales of such goods through personal networks have become increasingly popular.

The source noted, “Inspection units regulate the markets with one eye closed and the other eye open, so it is not as if selling is impossible. With a bribe of a few packs of cigarettes, it is easy to be passed over by the units. However, the sale of industrial goods has rapidly decreased and, if unlucky, one can have his or her goods taken, so the number of empty street-stands has been increasing.”

So many North Koreans now buy Chinese kitchen utensils in the same way Americans purchase cocaine!

But even in Pyongyang they are having troubles enforcing the new rules:

“Since December, rations in Pyongyang have consisted of 90 percent rice and 10 percent corn and in the Sadong-district and in surrounding areas, rice and corn have been mixed fifty-fifty percent.”

“It has even been difficult in Pyongyang, where rations are provided, to convert to 10-day markets due to opposition from citizens, so restricting sales in the provinces, where there is virtually no state provision, is impossible in reality. It is highly likely that the recent measure will end as an ineffective decree, like the ones to prohibit the jangmadang or the sale of grain”[.]

On North Korea’s information blockade:  Radio Free Asia published an informative article on the ability and propensity of North Koreans to monitor foreign broadcasts.  The “good” news is that access to unauthorized information continues to grow.  

The whole article is worth reading (here), but here is an excerpt:

North Koreans manage to gain limited access to foreign media broadcasts in spite of increasing government crackdowns in the isolated Stalinist state.

“We clamped down on the people watching South Korean television sets, but it wasn’t easy,” a North Korean defector and former policeman who monitored North Koreans’ viewing habits said. He said channels fixed by the North Korean authorities could easily be altered to catch South Korean programming.

“You could watch South Korean television such as KBS and MBC in Haeju, Nampo, Sariwon, even in Wonsan,” he said, referring to regions of Hwanghae province, just north of the border with South Korea.

“They reach also to the port cities near the sea. But you can’t watch them in Pyongyang because it’s blocked by mountains.”

He said the police themselves used to watch South Korean television “all the time” along with their superior officers.

“We would enjoy what we watched, but outside in public, we would praise the superiority of our socialist system. We knew it was rubbish.”

“According to North Korean defectors interviewed who came to South Korea right after living in the North, educated, intelligent people in North Korea do listen to foreign stations despite the inherent danger,” Huh Sun Haeng, director of the Center for Human Rights Information on North Korea, said in a recent interview.

He said he made good money fixing people’s radios, so they could get better reception of foreign broadcasts.

“I made good money readjusting channels on radios, or upgrading them with higher frequency parts for local people who want to listen to broadcasts other than the North’s state-run radios. There were at least a few hundred people that I know of who listened to foreign broadcasts,” he said.

He said no television reception reached the northern part of the country near the Chinese border, so people there watched recorded programs on videotape and video CD (VCD) instead.

Read the full articles here:
Pulling Back from Converting to 10-day Markets
Daily NK
By Jung Kwon Ho

Growing Audiences for Foreign Programs
Radio Free Asia
Original reporting in Korean by Won Lee


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