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Luxury Goods in North Korea: Tangible and Symbolic Importance to the Kim Jong-un Regime
Author: Soo Kim
Region: Asia
Location: Korea, North
Published January 22, 2014
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The North Korean government pursues illicit avenues to satiate the appetites of its top leaders, continue to develop Pyongyang’s weapons programs, obtain currency, and strengthen the elite’s allegiance to the Kim regime. One such way the Kim Jong-un regime achieves these aims is through the acquisition of luxury goods. High-end items such as caviar, wine, liquor, jewelry, and automobiles are acquired through third-party countries to fulfill Kim’s penchant for luxury goods and bribe the upper echelons of North Korean leadership to maintain their loyalty to the Kim regime. North Korean elites have no trouble acquiring these goods as long as they have the money to purchase them. The international community has become increasingly aware of the DPRK’s surprisingly easy access to these goods, as well as the regime’s dependence upon these items to maintain stability and further its political objectives. As a result, sanctions have been imposed on several occasions, both at the multilateral and bilateral level, to restrict Pyongyang’s access channels to luxury products and curtail the regime’s provocative behavior. The effectiveness of sanctions has been debated by many North Korea watchers, for these regulations often lack consistency and uniformity in definition and application among participating countries. Yet, because there is still a symbolic, messaging value in these punitive measures as well as the potential for sanctions to be more effective with the proper application and participation from countries crucial to clamping down on the North Korean regime, there is still value in implementing and applying sanctions.

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