North Korea Axes High-Tech Gift Scheme Ahead of Ruling Party Anniversary

The regime had planned to put a tablet PC in every home, sources say.

This undated picture released by the official Korean Central News Agency on Aug. 11, 2013 shows Kim Jong Un (C) inspecting the 'Arirang' touch-screen mobile phone at an undisclosed location in North Korea.

North Korea’s regime has reneged on a plan to provide every household in the impoverished nation with high-tech products as a gift to commemorate the upcoming 70th anniversary of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party (KWP), sources inside the country say, citing a lack of financial resources.

In May, supreme leader Kim Jong Un ordered “special gifts” to be distributed nationwide ahead of the Oct. 10 celebrations marking the founding of the party in 1945, a resident of the capital Pyongyang recently told RFA’s Korean Service on condition of anonymity.

After much discussion, the North Korean Cabinet decided to give the country’s citizens “high-tech electronic products” to ensure the gifts were seen as higher in value than two previous giveaways and avoid public ridicule, the source said, adding that rumors suggested authorities had chosen to distribute tablet PCs.

However, with only two months until anniversary celebrations, the regime withdrew its plans earlier this month “due to a mix-up in North Korea’s rare-earth exports” that left the regime unable to afford importing parts needed for the electronic products from abroad, he said.

“The regime is facing financial difficulties as foreign companies importing rare-earth resources from North Korea rejected Pyongyang’s request for an advance payment,” the source explained, adding that the North’s rare-earth exports had been nominal so far this year, making matters worse.

He said it is more likely that the regime will resort to presenting families with electronic watches, rather than the rumored tablets, though it is possible that local authorities will be forced to come up with an alternative gift themselves.

According to the source, North Korea has only distributed gifts to the people twice before: Japanese blankets to mark the 70th anniversary of Kim’s late grandfather and former president Kim Il Sung in 1982, and electronic wall clocks in 1992 on the 50th birthday of his late father and predecessor, Kim Jong Il.

A second source from Yanggang province, near the border with China, suggested that the burden of gift-giving has already been shifted to regional authorities, with the central government urging provincial party committees to prepare the distribution of sweets to all children of elementary school age or younger ahead of the anniversary.

The source, who also declined to provide his name, told RFA that party officials in Yanggang were “randomly selling such minerals as molybdenum … and tungsten” from local mines in order to fund the purchase of “10 daily commodities, including liquor and cooking oil” as gifts for local residents.

Earlier this month, sources told RFA that authorities in North Hamgyong province have been punishing misdemeanors with labor duty as they race to complete unfinished development projects.

Reported by Sung-Hui Moon for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Hee Jung Yang. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.