North Korean elite beating sanctions, one plasma TV at a time

Tue Mar 19, 2013 5:36pm EDT
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By Megha Rajagopalan

BEIJING (Reuters) - North Koreans appear to be having little trouble taking home the latest cameras, flat-screen TVs and other items from China despite U.N. sanctions that are supposed to make it harder for the country's elite to enjoy the good things in life.

Shops selling anything from electronics to perfume near Pyongyang's embassy in Beijing are doing a brisk trade while North Koreans waiting to board flights to their capital can be seen checking in items from refrigerators to washing machines.

To be sure, the new sanctions don't specifically prohibit such items being imported to North Korea as part of a ban on luxury goods. But the extent of the shopping in Beijing suggests the North Korean elite are not being squeezed by the measures.

"The customer can pick big kitchen appliances up here, or we can ship them directly to North Korea," said a store owner surnamed Cao at a shop behind the North Korean embassy. "It's no problem at all."

New sanctions imposed early this month in response to North Korea's February 12 nuclear test included tougher financial restrictions to try to curb Pyongyang's nuclear program.

The March 7 resolution also gave examples of luxury items North Korea could not import, such as yachts, racing cars, luxury automobiles and several types of gems and jewellery. It said luxury goods were not limited to those items.

Resolutions aimed at crimping the lifestyle of the elite were first imposed in 2006 but had never given examples of such goods, leaving it up to individual countries to decide what constituted a luxury product.

Many states, including China, have not made their definitions of a luxury good public.   Continued...

A North Korean uses a mobile phone next to a shop with a signboard written in Korean characters near the North Korean embassy in Beijing March 18, 2013. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon