Our products loved by North KoreaWhen Jang Song-thaek, then first vice director of the Workers’ Party of Korea, led a North Korean economic inspection team and visited Seoul in October 2002, he couldn’t take his eyes off one product. It was the kimchi refrigerator produced at an appliance manufacturing plant. He was deeply impressed that the specialized refrigerator kept the taste of kimchi fresh and lasting. It was unlikely for the brother-in-law of Kim Jong-il to become so obsessed with a South Korean product. The Kim Dae-jung government decided to present kimchi refrigerators to all 18 members of the inspection team. A few days later, Korean-made kimchi refrigerators were secretly delivered to the North through the border village of Panmunjom.
In April of the same year, Im Dong-won, Blue House special secretary for unification, foreign policy and security, checked out the movie “Shiri” from a rental shop in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul, upon returning from Pyongyang as a presidential envoy. The film is about a confrontation of a South Korean secret agent and a North Korean sniper trained in the special 8th Division. He hurriedly watched the movie because Kim Jong-il had mentioned the movie during his visit. Im didn’t know what to say when Kim said, “I really liked ‘JSA: Joint Security Area,’ but I wasn’t so thrilled by Shiri.’?”
On March 8, Kim Jong-un, the first secretary of North Korea’s ruling party, watched an archery competition in Pyongyang. He complimented the female archers as “masters” and said the performance would vary drastically depending on what kind of equipment they used. In a picture featured in the Rodong Sinmun, the tag “WIN & WIN” was clearly displayed. The North Korean archers were using products made by a company established by Park Gyeong-jae, former member and coach of the South Korean national archery team.
Upper-class people in Pyongyang and privileged members of the Workers’ Party and the military rave about South Korean goods and culture. The video footage of Kim Jong-un and his wife Ri Sol-ju visiting the new commercial facility in Pyongyang showed a signboard of South Korean cosmetics brand Laneige. Ri is known to use Sulwhasoo, a popular high-end skin care line in the South. A considerable part of 66,400 tons of Jeju tangerines and carrots was reportedly diverted as gifts for party executives.
And the trend is spreading to the average North Korean. Choco Pies and single-serving instant coffee packages were very popular among the 53,000 North Korean workers employed at the Kaesong Industrial Complex. South Korean goods have earned their hearts.
The North Korean authority considered replacing the South Korean snack with Chinese ones but had to scrap the plan because of complaints from the workers. The North Korean workers may be the ones who most wish for the resumption of operations at the industrial complex. Those who watch Korean dramas are sent to the re-education camp, and South Korean goods are controlled in the market. But such measures don’t seem to be very effective.
I wonder if the kimchi refrigerators owned by Jang Song-thaek and Kim Kyong-hui still keep the traditional pickled cabbage fresh after all these years.
I am also curious if Kim Jong-un and his wife Ri Sol-ju have tasted the crunchy kimchi, need any repairs done or are considering replacing the appliances with newer models.
*The author is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Lee Young-jong