North Korean authorities crack down on spread of market data

Market official on patrol in Sunchon, South Pyongan Province
Market official on patrol in Sunchon, South Pyongan Province. Image: Daily NK

The North Korean authorities are targeting individuals collecting commodity prices in North Korea’s markets, sources in the country say.

“Market officials are citing the fact that commodity prices are being leaked and appearing in South Korean media in their warnings,” a North Hamgyong Province-based source told Daily NK.

North Korean authorities have long warned residents about giving away too much ‘internal information’ and since 2014, have ordered residents not to talk about the prices of rice and other commodities.

The government appears to believe that the spread of internal information through phone calls will threaten the stability of the regime.

It has been rare, however, for them to prevent individuals from trying to collect commodity prices in the markets.

The North Korean authorities appear intent on putting up a smokescreen to foil efforts by outsiders to analyze market prices and the impact of sanctions on North Korea.

“Authorities are reacting to the quick spread of market price information into South Korea and the rest of the world,” said a source in North Pyongan Province. “Officials are investigating people who seem suspicious or ask a lot of questions about the prices of things at the markets.”

The authorities, however, have a difficult road ahead of them. The increase in mobile phone usage means that people can share prices more quickly than ever before.

A source in Ryanggang Province added that it was “ridiculous” for the authorities to crack down on people who collect price information.

“Consumers ask for prices before they buy something. There’s no stopping that,” she said. “The authorities are just posturing to make it look like they’re doing something. The crackdowns will soon pass.”

North Korean authorities are also monitoring the price information that external sources are collecting. Daily NK will continue to report on rice prices and the dollar/won exchange rate in Pyongyang, Sinuiju and Hyesan once every two weeks.

Sang Yong Lee is editor-in-chief of Daily NK and previously spent a number of years working as one of the publication’s foreign correspondents in China. He can be reached at