Recently, the North Korean authorities have improved the efficiency of efforts to combat the circulation of South Korean products in the jangmadang, sources report, causing traders to complain increasingly vociferously.
In places like North Hamkyung Province, where South Korean products come in most frequently via China, annoyance is apparently particularly acute.
One such North Hamkyung Province source reported on the 13th, “National Security Agency people responsible for the jangmadang and members of the Worker’s and Peasant’s Red Guard appear every day to examine all goods such as clothes and daily necessities one by one, insisting that they are ‘rooting out capitalist elements.’ All the products labeled ‘South Korea’ are confiscated without compensation.”
“Even (fake South Korean) products made in China are taken away if they have South Chosun words on them,” the source went on. “Shampoo, toothpaste and other daily necessities are all targets.”
Since the start of the 2000s, South Korean products have been entering North Korea thanks to smugglers and traders, and have sold well in the jangmadang at above average prices thanks in large part to their high quality. Smugglers also prefer South Korean products to those made in China because they are more profitable, making them willing to risk punishment to bring such products in.
Sources say that in ordinary times, traders from inland provinces like North and South Hwanghae, South Hamkyung and North and South Pyongan often come as far as border cities such as Onsung, Musan and Hoiryeong in North Hamkyung Province and Hyesan in Yangkang Province to purchase South Korean products for sale further inland.
The North Korean authorities have tended to call this a ‘capitalist wind’ and often range their official crackdowns against it, but this has hitherto only drawn interest toward the forbidden fruit. What is more, the security service agents and soldiers who are supposed to be cracking down on it are prepared to accept bribes to turn a blind eye, and in many cases have shown sympathy for the activities of traders and smugglers.
Therefore, changes have been limited, with traders merely hiding South Korean goods that are branded, or openly sell ones without labeling where possible.
However, it is this that has become more difficult of late, according to sources. One Yangkang Province source explained the current scenario, saying, “If there is no label then they pick on the trader, asking, ‘Why is there no label? Isn’t this just you removing the label from a South Korean product?’ And then they confiscate the items.”
Obviously, this is arousing the annoyance of people in the markets. In particular, it is attracting the ire of those who previously invested in South Korean products, then couldn’t sell them easily, ended up caught in a crackdown and, worse of all, lost their stock without receiving any compensation.
The North Hamkyung Province source explained that when such events occur “people ask, ‘Isn’t this a crackdown against people selling stuff to survive day-to-day?’ and many are even prepared to swear at security agents about it.”
Those whose position is most fragile complain the most, the source went on, saying that such people point out, “The state cannot produce and it cannot give the people distribution, so why are they even stopping us from surviving? Some people have even said wryly, ‘So, this is the strong and prosperous state’.”
According to the Yangkang Province source, “One woman selling bathroom goods started having many people looking for South Chosun products around, and then immediately an NSA agent confiscated everything. Passing traders got pretty angry when they saw that, saying, ‘It’s not a case of waiting for the strong and prosperous state, it is a case of waiting for the day when those guys will die.’”