North Korea Showing Signs of Capitalism, Materialism

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While the Kaesong Industrial Park remains shuttered as North and South Korean officials conduct seesawing negotiations, North Koreans will soon have access to a swanky new shopping mall in Pyongyang.

The Haedanghwa Mall, the Chosun Ilbo reports, sells South Korean brands such as Laneige and Kerasys and even well-known global ones like Chanel, Lancome, L’Oreal’s and SK-II. Other names include Cartier, Swarovski, Rolex, Omega and various Italian designers.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his wife Ri Sol-ju visited the mall in April, before the official opening. They might as well have been in a mall in South Korea, as the shopping center also includes restaurants, karaoke rooms, a massage parlor, sauna, café, cyber café, billiard hall, hair salon and gym.

North Korean defectors say these facilities are being built for the rich, not only in Pyongyang but also in other parts of the country. Fitness clubs are appearing due to an apparent diet fad among the elite, while international brands like Coca Cola and KFC are opening outlets in what was previously a country that banned all forms of capitalism.

As much as international brands may be gaining a careful foothold, the North Korean regime is attempting to keep a strict tab on South Korean goods and pop culture — to not much avail, as the Chosun Ilbo points out in another related story. Defectors say South Korean goods pack the North Korean black market, from DVDs and clothes to appliances and food items, and demand is running high, even though the goods may be pricier than their Chinese counterparts.