This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
North Korean authorities have recently allowed a state-run store in a northern province to carry U.S.-made laptop computers in a reversal of long-standing orders forbidding their sale, according to North Korean sources.
The laptops are now drawing public attention in the department store in South Pyongan province’s Pyongsong city, a source in South Pyongan province told RFA’s Korean Service this week.
“The state-run department store suddenly began promoting U.S. products because the Central Committee has now officially allowed the sale of U.S. products,” RFA’ s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The change in policy may result from government hopes for better relations with the United States, RFA’s source said.
“It is probably because the Central Committee is hoping for improvements in the North Korea-U.S. relationship, but it is surprising that they are not still controlling the sale of U.S. products,” he said, adding that the sale or use of such products had been punished in the past.
Laptop brands on sale in Pyongsong include HP, Dell, and T400, and are smuggled into the country from China, the source said.
“Previously, the Pyongsong department store sold U.S. laptops that were assembled in China,” he said.
“However, they disguised them as Chinese laptops because they were afraid of being caught violating the government’s anti-U.S. line.”
U.S. brands more reliable
Also speaking to RFA, a source in North Pyongan, bordering China, said, “There are many colleges and provincial administrative offices in Pyongsong, so laptops are in demand by officials and students in the schools.”
“So the Pyongsong department store manager is having merchants from [the border city of] Sinuiju bring in used HP and Dell laptops and is selling them for $300.00,” he said.
North Korean laptop computers are also available, but they have smaller storage space and frequently break down, “so college students do not prefer them,” he said.
“People use South Korean MP3 players, USB drives and SD cards, but they use them with U.S. laptops because South Korean laptops are still restricted,” the source said.
Meanwhile, wealthy North Koreans and high-ranking officials will often show off their wealth by using U.S.-made Apple brand Macbooks, he said.
North Korean residents using laptops must still register their computers at a local State Security office, he said, adding, “Laptops that don’t show a State Security Department inspection stamp on the back can be seized from them at any time.”
Reported by Hyemin Son for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Richard Finney.