Kim Jong-un has hugely increased the import of luxury goods into North Korea

Signs of a rise in luxury goods have been creeping out of North Korea since Kim Jong-un took over as last year.

Just recently, KIm's wife Ri Sol-Ju was photographed holding what appeared to be an expensive Dior handbag, worth almost $1,594 — an average year's salary in North Korea. Stephanie T. Kleine-Ahlbrandt, the China and North East Asia Project Director of the International Crisis Group (ICG), noted a rising number of foreign cars during a visit to Pyongyang earlier this.

These instances don't seem to be outliers. On Wednesday South Korean lawmaker Yoon Sang-hyun released new official data that showed analysis of China-North Korea trade revealed a significant rise in luxury goods. From Dong-a Ilbo:

Imports were especially pronounced for high-end cars, TVs, computers, liquor and watches. Inbound shipments of luxury cars and associated components almost doubled to 231.93 million dollars last year from 115.05 million dollars in 2009. Ship exports increased more than 20 times from 17.48 million dollars from 840,000 dollars over the same period.

Artworks and antique imports reached 580,000 dollars last year, more than 10 times the figure of 50,000 dollars in 2009. Perfume, cosmetics and fur saw their inbound shipments double. Among items that saw sharp drops in imports were leather products and musical instruments.

While it may be that Kim's time at school in Europe (and apparent love of Western culture) has prompted the shift, Yoon pointed towards another likely factor: a "gift economy" designed to keep the Pyongyang elites happy despite Kim's weak power base.


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