The North Korean authorities have developed a new messenger application called “Sae Byeol,” spurred by concerns about shrinking trade volume and tapering foreign currency streams in the wake of sanctions. By encouraging foreign-currency earning companies to use the service, Pyongyang hopes to energize trade with China.
“The ‘Sae Byeol’ (New Star) chat service was developed by North Korea and is being put to use by the trading companies. The application allows traders to connect with their counterparts in China. It also facilitates the transfer of pictures, text files, and audio recordings,” said a source in North Pyongan Province on July 29.
Not surprisingly, access is restricted to trading companies–ordinary residents are not permitted to use “Sae Byeol”–and the content of the messages, monitored at all times by the State Security Department, must not diverge from topics related to trade operations. More specifically, the service does not allow traders to exchange messages with any users unaffiliated with their specific trading enterprise.
While the application’s functionality obviously requires an internet connection, surfing other sites remains strictly off limits. Daily NK spoke with multiple North Korean trading cadres in the Chinese cities of Liaoning and Dandong who confirmed these developments. When asked if the introduction of “Sae Byeol” means that the internet will eventually become more freely available to North Koreans, one cadre responded, “Not a chance. Right now, we can’t even watch foreign movies. Even those who do get access to the chat application need to first seek permission from the Ministry of Trade and the State Security Department.”
He added, “Until now, traders communicated with their representatives in China primarily via international phone calls, discussing current trends, prices, and products to help them make decisions. But there was a limit on how much information could be exchanged on the calls.”
On the other hand, he agreed that the use of this new chat service should help streamline the process significantly, allowing traders to exchange information on international prices and even send pictures of specific products.
“Right now, ‘Sae Byeol’ is being used to quickly exchange market information between traders in Pyongyang and Chinese cities like Dandong and Beijing. [China-North Korea] bilateral trade decreased following the sanctions placed on North Korea by the international community. [United Nations Security Council Resolution 2270 contains the harshest sanctions ever aimed at North Korea]. However, I think that we’re seeing a bit of a rebound taking place,” he concluded.