North Korea's Party publication reduces criticism of South Korea

[As Heard in North Korea]
Unification Media Group  |  2018-05-02 17:41

"As Heard in North Korea" articles contain radio programming content broadcast by Unification Media Group [UMG], an independent multimedia consortium targeting the North Korean people.

Unification Media Group (UMG): Its time for another weekly update and were speaking with reporter Kang Mi Jin to hear about the newest social and economic trends in North Korea. Mi Jin, can you tell us the latest? 

Kang Mi Jin (Kang): Recently, North Korea has been projecting itself as a normal country in state propaganda, and part of that involves a conspicuous reduction in the level of criticism aimed at South Korea in state media. Since April, the publication put out by the Workers' Party, the Rodong Sinmun, has ramped up its criticism of Japan and while reducing criticism of South Korea. The sheer level of intensity of the criticism has also weakened. This reflects the changing relations between the North and South following the Moon-Kim summit meeting. In the wake of these developments, many North Korean residents are feeling hopeful. 

When I was still living in North Korea, the sections of the Rodong Sinmun that I read the most carefully were Page 5 and 6, because thats where I was able to learn about the outside world. Reflecting on those times, I think the rapid changes occurring at the moment might be confusing for the residents. 

UMG: Are ordinary North Korean residents really able to learn about the outside world from reading the Rodong Sinmun? 

Kang: From the point of view of North Koreans, who have been shut off from the world for decades, their only legal avenue to learn a little bit about South Korea and the outside world is to follow state media, such as the Rodong Sinmun. 

For this reason, residents tend to pay a great deal of attention to these particular pages. And they can learn important details from them. For instance, many previously saw pictures of South Koreans protesting in the streets and learned that South Korea is a place where citizens are allowed to engage in civil disobedience. 

Now that the Rodong Sinmun is no longer criticizing South Korea, I wonder if the residents are bored of the content. However, the improvement in relations between North and South Korea are making them think about unification and exchanges with the South, and its a good thing. 

UMG: Is there any other news to report?

Kang: The start of the spring semester has brought with it an increased demand for school supplies in the markets. Although the semester began on April 1, it seems that some students werent able to purchase everything beforehand. Consequently, school supplies are still selling strong. 

Also, the spring weather brings people into the markets who are searching for new summertime products. One trend on the rise is products with bright colors. One source reported that the sheer number of brightly colored products on display has the effect of lifting ones spirits. Recently, we have been hearing reports that residents were struggling during the farm hardship period, so this good news goes a long way.   

UMG: Weve been hearing reports lately that Chinese-made products have become less popular and North Korean-produced goods have been on the rise. Is this the case with school supplies? 

Kang: Yes, thats correct. The last few years has seen an influx of domestic goods into the markets, and school supplies are no different. Notebooks, pencils, colored paper, bookbags, and other items are made with design in mind and are capturing consumer interest. 

There are still lots of good Chinese products available, but the North Korean products tend to be more sensibly priced, and this is important because North Korean consumers are generally very careful with their money. North Korean manufacturers respond to the demand by making pencils, bags, and notebooks that are of similar quality to their Chinese counterparts but cost less. 

UMG: What are the hottest products in the markets these days?

Kang: Theres a diverse range of goods out there these days, but inside sources say that electronic scales are quite popular. In most cases, there are two different types available. The first is able to weigh items up to 7 kilograms, and the second is able to weigh items up to 50 kilos. 

I left North Korea just eight years ago, but at that time it was totally different. We were using manual scales. But now most merchants use electronic scales, according to inside sources. It makes a helpful difference for sellers who quickly need to weigh goods like grains, tofu, or meat. 

The source who reported this information said that, in the past, using the imperfect manual scales often led to miscalculations and mismanagement. Thats why the residents prefer the electronic scales. 

UMG: So these merchants got different weights for the items when they weighed them at home and then at the market using the manual scales?

Kang: North Korean merchants will know this all too well, but it is commonplace to spend a day in the markets and come back without much profit. So some merchants try to advertise fake weights in order to increase their profit margins. I fell victim to this kind of scam multiple times myself. In particular, this form of deception is common outside the official markets when people sell on the streets. 

I thought that it was odd, so I did a little experiment. By measuring things quickly, its possible to get a different weight, by a difference of about 300 to 500 grams. By using beam balance scales, there were other ways to trick the customer as well. But this is all less common now that electronic scales are the norm. Customers prefer to buy from merchants who use them, which is causing a surge in demand.   

UMG: How much are these scales?

Kang: According to recent information, electronic scales that weigh up to 7 kilograms in North Hamgyong Province, Chongjin City and Ryanggang Province, Hyesan City sell for 19,500 KPW.  Leaf tobacco and pepper merchants are among the vendors who use the smaller scales. 

But the smaller scale is not suitable for other vendors, like rice vendors. They tend to use the 50 kilogram version. These tend to sell for about 190,000-200,000 KPW. They are definitely on the expensive side, but the fact that they are popular nonetheless is testament to the development of the markets. 
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