More on the market closing measure

Barbara Demick has an informative article in the Los Angeles Times.  The whole piece is worth reading but here are some themes and excerpts.

Market restictions ordered

In the markets of Kilju, a city of 100,000 near North Korea’s eastern seacoast, the ruling Korean Workers’ Party has ordered the removal of Chinese-made cookies, candies and pharmaceuticals.

Even soybeans, many articles of clothing and shoes are now forbidden.

It is all part of a great leap backward taking place in the secretive autocracy. North Koreans interviewed in China in recent weeks say that the regime of Kim Jong Il has made a concerted effort to roll back reforms that had over the last decade liberalized the most strictly controlled economy in the world.


So many Chinese goods are now taboo that markets stock only about 35% of the merchandise previously available, some say.

Import substiution policy implemented?

“They want to promote our own products made in North Korea, but since everything is ‘made in China,’ there is nothing to buy,” said Kim Young Chul, a civilian working for the North Korean military who had come to China to sell wild ginseng on behalf of his employer.

Exports curtailed

Kim Chol Hee, a trader from Yanji, a Chinese city near the border with a large ethnic Korean population, said it was harder now than at any time in the 10 years he’s been in business to import from North Korea.

“I used to bring in squid, crab, steel parts from Chongjin. We can still buy seafood, but the North Korean government won’t let us buy steel,” he said Kim. “They say they need to keep all their resources for themselves.”

Restrctions inefective

Kilju residents have not dared to hold public protests against the restriction. But the Korean Workers Party nonetheless might be fighting a losing battle. Much of the trading is done by people with powerful connections in the provincial government and the military. Many state-owned enterprises do illegal trading to raise cash for their operations.

For example, trader Kim Young Chul says he is responsible for raising about $900 each year for his work unit by selling ginseng, while he and his partners keep any additional profits.

“I have a lot of freedom. They don’t dare ask me too many questions in North Korea, because I work for the ministry,” said Kim.

Just as quickly as the Korean Workers’ Party issues a decree, people find a way to circumvent it. Vendors banned from the market bring out their mothers and grandmothers, while secretly running the businesses from behind the scenes. Others sell banned good from their homes, or simply stash it behind other merchandise.

“If you want to buy cosmetics in Kilju, you still can find them, but they are usually hidden underneath the table,” Lee said.

Once a loyal member of the Workers’ Party, Lee said she had remained devoted to Kim Jong Il up to her departure from North Korea in May, vowing that she would return home as soon as she got money for her family.

“Even the day I left, I was singing songs about Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in my house,” said Lee. “Now that I’ve come to China, I’m not so sure.

Read the full article here:
North Korea moves to restrict economy
Los Angeles Times
Barbara Demick


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