Beijing’s relationship with Pyongyang has sparked protest in some quarters, most recently when the Chinese government announced it would repatriate North Korean refugees. Yet China’s economic ties to North Korea remain strong. Late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il‘s last public appearance was shopping with current leader, Kim Jong-un, in a supermarket that was stocked with Chinese goods and foreign products that were shipped through China. This move was speculated to build up both the image of North Korea’s economy and that of Kim Jong-un. The Boston Herald reports:
The displays boast what North Korea’s newly modernized factories are producing, including perfume, rubber boots, silk blankets and hand towels printed with the words “peace” and “friendship.” What the North Koreans aren’t making themselves is coming in from China: cellphones, laptop computers, cars, Spalding basketballs, bicycles, pressure cookers, karaoke machines, ping pong sets, even Gucci knockoffs.
Business with China, North Korea’s largest trading partner, has boomed in the last two years. In 2010, North Korea did $3.5 billion in trade with China, a 30 percent increase from the previous year. And for the first 11 months of 2011, that figure was up to $5.1 billion, a jump of nearly 70 percent from 2010, according to China’s Commerce Ministry.
The Kwangbok center was born when North Korea recruited China’s Feihaimengxin International Trade Co. to partner with its Korea Taesong Trading Corp. to transform the old shop in the Kwangbok district of western Pyongyang into a gleaming supermarket. Feihaimengxin has a 65 percent stake in the supermarket, according to the Beijing-registered private company — an unusual arrangement for North Korea, where most enterprises are state-owned and the ruling philosophy is “juche,” or self-reliance.
Some analysts see the boom in Chinese trade as a political move motivated by Beijing’s desire to ensure stability in neighboring North Korea and to buy clout in Pyongyang. However, others say it’s pure economic strategy by Chinese companies expanding their reach across Asia.