[imText1]It is a well known fact that goods made in China are sweeping across North Korea with Chinese merchants taking the role of distributor.
However, Chinese merchants are not only exporting goods into North Korea but are also importing goods made in North Korea such as seafood, medicinal herbs, coal and minerals back to China.
Particularly, dried shellfish sells very well in China. As more and more Chinese merchants buy dried shellfish from North Korean markets, they play a critical role in the lives of North Korean citizens as sellers who are then able to raise the price due to demand. Every year, from April~Sept, people from the North and South Pyongan provinces, collect shellfish along the shore. 10kg of rice can be bought with 1kg of shellfish meat. Consequently, citizens of other regions also come to the beaches to collect shellfish.
If Chinese merchants did not import any goods and North Korea’s finest goods were not exported to China, the cost of goods at Jangmadang would increase exponentially. This is how close the relationship between the lives of North Korean citizens and Chinese merchants have become interconnected.
Significance of information runners
Though Chinese merchants are currently contributing to market stability, it does not necessarily mean that their existence will continue to be positive to North Korean authorities.
The people first to inform news of the Yongchun explosion in April 2004 to the outside world were Chinese merchants.
At the time, after confirming the lives their family members in North Korea, Chinese merchants who heard the explosion in Dandong gathered information about the explosion details from relatives in Shinuiju and Yongchun over mobile phones. Undoubtedly, news spread instinctively. The economic development zone, Dandong, which is at the mouth of the Yalu River is merely 10km from Yongchun.
Due to this incident, Kim Jong Il banned the use of mobile phones in North Korea. Chinese merchants have played a great role in the outflow of inside North Korean issues, a problem feared by North Korean authorities that contributes to the inflow of foreign information.
Recently, Chinese merchants have been charging a 20% fee involved in remitting dollars to defectors wanting to send money to family in North Korea. For example, if a defector wishes to send $1,000 to family in North Korea, a merchant will extract $200 and transfer the remaining $800 to the family.
As long as Chinese merchants have a specific identification card, they are free to travel between the North Korean-Chinese border and hence many defectors prefer to use Chinese merchants as the intermediary. Thanks to these merchants, many people can convey money and letters to family within North Korea.
In these respects, Chinese merchants are not only selling goods but are acting as information runners transporting news of the outside world into North Korean society.
As more and more North Koreans rely on markets as a means of living and trade between China and North Korea, the North Korean market will only continue to expand. We will have to wait and see whether or not Chinese merchants will have a healing or poisonous affect on the Kim Jong Il regime from here on in.