South Korean cookware seized illegally by North Korean authorities after the Kaesong joint industrial park was closed last year are being found for sale in large quantities in Chinese cities near the North Korean border, sources say.
Formerly viewed as a symbol of cooperation between the two halves of the divided Korean peninsula, Kaesong was closed in February 2016 after North Korea ordered all South Koreans out of the complex, seized South Korean assets there, and declared the area under military control.
The move came a day after South Korea announced it was pulling out of Kaesong in retaliation for North Korean nuclear and long-range missile tests earlier in the year.
Now, electric rice cookers produced by South Korean firms in Kaesong are turning up for sale across northeastern China, a source in Kaifeng, in central China’s Henan province, told RFA’s Korean Service.
“North Korea began to sell South Korean products left behind in Kaesong starting in mid-December,” said the source, familiar with trade in the northeast and speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Their exact number is unclear, but it’s known to be in the hundreds.”
Electric cookers bearing the Kaesong markings “Made in Korea” are among the most popular items offered for sale in Korean stores located in cities in China’s northeast, sources said.
“Those buying the cookers are mainly South Korean businessmen. Then resell them to Korean merchandise stores located in Shenyang, Yanji, and other places,” RFA’s source in Kaifeng said.
'A complicated problem'
Speaking separately, the operator of a shop in China near the border with North Korea told RFA that he was approached in early December by four North Koreans he had never seen before.
“They asked if I would be interested in buying electric cookers made in Kaesong for a low price,” the source said, also speaking on condition he not be named.
“They said there were about 6,000 of these that they could sell.”
“At first, I thought that I could make a lot of profit by selling them, but then I refused the offer because I thought this could become a complicated problem for me later on,” he said.
While the same rice cookers are also made in Qingdao, in China, and labeled “Made in China,” those made in Kaesong are more popular with consumers because of their “Made in Korea” markings, he added.
Reports had already circulated several times in the last year that South Korean-manufactured products left behind in Kaesong were being traded secretly inside cash-strapped North Korea.
“Some people in South Korea claim that the factory equipment and product stocks are still being kept at Kaesong,” a North Korean defector living in the South told RFA.
“However, they say this only because they don’t know the nature of the North Korean regime,” he said.
“This is just wishful thinking."
Reported by Joonho Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Soo Min Jo. Written in English by Richard Finney.