Intelligence Note - 25 November 2014
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Money-making in North Korea

Although it provides no exact figures or evidence, an article in the South Korean newspaper Choson Ilbo published on 24 November makes the eye-catching claim that North Korea is seeing the emergence of a class of young entrepreneurs “who make hundreds of thousands of US dollars from private businesses”.

The paper quotes an anonymous source who says that “North Koreans who were born in the 1980s and 90s are becoming more active making money as they [have been] able to embrace a wave of changes caused by a nascent market-based economy there”.

The report says these burgeoning entrepreneurs “use smartphones and other gadgets to gather information they need for their businesses and have formed nationwide sales networks”.

Quoting this same anonymous source, the report says: “In major cities like Pyongyang, Hamheung, Chongjin, and Wonsan, these up-and-coming [business people] sell smartphones and real estate, run gas stations, lend money, and run coffee shops and retail stores -  a significant change from the pursuits of the older generation”.

It is said that “young property developers” are buying apartments, fitting them out with materials imported from China, and selling them “for a hefty profit”.  They also “set up gas fill stations in major cities or open rest-shops along highways”.

Quoting “one recent North Korean defector” (who may or may not be the source quoted above) the report repeats that money-lending is a popular money-making activity.  However, another source is quoted as saying that “there are as yet few places where the nouveau riche can spend their money”.

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