Pyongyang has an App for That: Sanctions and Luxury Goods in North Korea


Despite years of sanctions and isolation, foreign goods and modern consumer technologies continue to flow into North Korea providing elites with luxury goods and fueling the fragile economy. Countries such as China, Malaysia and Singapore serve as important conduits for trade. The reality of North Korea’s economic situation became clear as I and a group of U.S.-based researchers travelled to North Korea in early June 2011 for a week-long trip to Pyongyang and four other cities. The purpose of the trip was to observe the country and talk with citizens, business people, and locally based foreigners. Among the many questions the team sought to answer during the visit were on the availability of foreign goods (e.g., luxury, consumer and machinery goods) and the level of advancement in their information technologies? We were astounded by what we learned.

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