The North Korean authorities have reportedly begun a nationwide crackdown on Chinese products in the country’s markets. The unprecedented change now puts them in the same category as South Korean products, which are illegal to buy and sell.
“In a meeting last week, People’s Unit leaders informed us that all Chinese food products and home appliances, excluding industrial goods, are part of a new crackdown. Enforcement began immediately afterwards,” a source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK on January 24. “Merchants who make a living selling Chinese products were suddenly very nervous.”
A source in Pyongyang said on January 22 that the effort had begun in the capital city and other regions including the northwest trading hub of Sinuiju by the end of 2017.
A source in Sinuiju confirmed this, saying on January 20 that “from last December, the crackdown on Chinese products in the markets has become more intense with each day. Across town in markets like the Chaeha market, the authorities are preventing merchants from doing any business with Chinese products.”
Over the years, Chinese products have taken over the North Korean markets, accounting for a vast majority of the items on sale. But while manufactured goods have followed this trend, food products have for the most part remained North Korean in origin, although in recent years, fruit, vegetables, and eggs have begun to be imported from China.
Products in the market like paper, office supplies, cosmetics, home appliances, and especially condoms or other items which North Korea would not even imagine trying to manufacture, are for the most part Chinese-made, with some South Korean products also available.
“Although the dominance of Chinese products has been falling recently due to the growing variety of options, the country is absolutely not ready to meet 100% of the market demand through domestic products,” the Sinuiju-based source said.
Taken during the fall of 2017, the image shows the inside of a market on the outskirts of
Pyongyang (which appears quiet as most residents are out on forced mobilization).
Image: Daily NK
Some potential reasons for the crackdown are thought to include an attempt to “boost self-reliance” or as retaliation against China for their cooperation in enforcing international sanctions.
“They are trying to say that we (North Korea) have strong economic capabilities, and that we cannot rely anymore on the ‘American-puppet’ China,” the Pyongyang-based source said.
The crackdown is expected to have a significant negative effect on the livelihoods of North Koreans, particularly for traders and smugglers living in the border region. Residents are reacting to the crackdown, calling it an “imprudent decision” on the part of the government, which could quite possibly lead to public backlash. Until now, traders and the authorities have maintained a symbiotic relationship based on bribes.
“Traders have been bringing products in from China, going around to the farming villages, and selling them to locals on credit, and police have been looking the other way,” said the source in Ryanggang Province.
The question now is how long the crackdown will last and if the country’s bribe culture is strong enough to circumvent the official crackdown orders.