N. Koreans increasingly seek out homegrown electronics

Shift in buying habits is being encouraged by the government, which has long criticized its people's preference for imports

homegrown electronics

North Korea is seeing an increase in demand for homegrown electronics, outpacing past preferences for Chinese or South Korean products, Daily NK has learned. 

North Koreans have long purchased TVs, electric rice cookers, refrigerators, fans and heaters imported or smuggled from China or even South Korea.

South Korean products sold in local markets typically have had their brand names obscured or forged to look like they came from China. Sellers would generally verbally tell buyers where the products really came from. 

North Korean products are now increasingly sought out by locals, however, partly because of their cheaper prices and growing variety; other times, they are the only products available because of international sanctions and – more recently – the shutdown of the Sino-North Korean border. 

INCREASING PREFERENCE FOR HOMEGROWN PRODUCTS

“There are now TVs branded with the names of North Korean manufacturers like Arirang, Mallima and Yomyong,” a South Pyongan Province-based source told Daily NK on Mar. 31. 

“There are a wider variety of North Korean mobile phones available now, too, from the Arirang flip phone to the Pyongyang 2425 smartphone, the Phurun Hanul, the Jindallae series and more,” he added. 

Homegrown solar panels, electric bicycles and water purifiers have also been spotted being sold at Pyongsong Market, located in South Pyongan Province near the capital Pyongyang. Although North Koreans still reportedly prefer South Korean electronics products – if they can afford them – many also see Chinese and North Korean products as acceptable alternatives. 

Pyongsong Market’s electronics wholesalers typically have a list of products in stock for potential buyers and will lead interested buyers to separate storage facilities to view the products. Now, however, the quantity of homegrown electronics products has reportedly increased significantly at these storage centers.

In the past, Japanese-made products dominated the markets before consumers increasingly turned to products made in China and South Korea. Now consumers are opening their wallets to buy more and more North Korean-made products. 

“Families will purchase appliances that consume large amounts of electricity, such as air conditioners, refrigerators and washing machines,” one source told Daily NK. “They’ll purchase the appliances they need according to how many people are in their family, and according to how much they can spend.”

BASHING THE “IMPORT DISEASE”

With the rise of coffee and tea culture in North Korea, locally-manufactured water purifiers and electric kettles have also become increasingly popular.

“Smoke detectors and burglar alarms are a given for city-dwellers, who will sometimes purchase electronic appliances to brew their coffee or tea,” the source said. 

“It’s pretty normal for one household to have about five electronic appliances. The better-off households will have, at minimum, a refrigerator, a heater and washing machine. And, given that many women are breadwinners, massage machines for tired muscles, beauty appliances like hair dryers and kitchen appliances are also quite popular,” the source added. 

This noticeable shift in consumer buying habits has been egged on by the North Korean government. In 2015, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un criticized North Koreans’ preference for imported products (calling it an “import disease”) and has since stressed the country’s need to be self-reliant by encouraging the use of domestically-produced goods.

*Translated by Violet Kim

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Kang Mi Jin
Kang Mi Jin is a North Korean defector turned journalist who fled North Korea in 2009. She has a degree in economics and writes largely on marketization and economy-related issues for Daily NK. Questions about her articles can be directed to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.