North Korea authorities have asked South Korean enterprises in the Kaesong Industrial Complex to replace popular “chocolate pie” cookies with rice cakes to serve as snacks for North Korean workers there to stop the spread of capitalist culture and boost the sales of its own snack producers, sources with knowledge of the matter said.
North Korea recently started to supply keongdanseolgi, the isolated country’s rice-cake version of the South’s cookies known as Choco Pies, which are similar to Moon Pies in the United States, to some of its 53,000 workers in the industrial zone, the joint inter-Korean economic project north of the demilitarized zone.
Kim Jin Hyang, a research professor at the Graduate School of the Future Strategy at Korea’s Advanced Institute of Science & Technology, who served as a head of corporate support of the Kaesong Industrial Complex Management Committee from 2008 to 2011, said the move is intended to prevent capitalist culture from spreading in the North.
“The influence of 5 million to 6 million Choco Pies provided to North Korean workers a month, doesn’t seem to matter, but if we consider its marketability—that Choco Pies are supplied in the areas around the Kaesong Industrial Complex, it is not negligible that the South Korean brand is circulating in North Korea,” he said.
“I think that North Korea’s take on such measures comes amid worries that capitalist culture may originate in Kaesong,” he added.
Kim’s book, People in the Kaesong Industrial Complex, published in early June, covers everyday life in the zone and argues that 124 South Korean companies that operate there and the 53,000 North Koreans who work there forge small unifications between the two nations every day.
South Korea’s Choco Pies, which were popular among workers from the North in the industrial complex, disappeared earlier this year and were replaced by kyeongdanseolgi, an official with the Kaesong Industrial Complex Association told reporters recently.
He added that North Korean authorities asked the South Koreans at the industrial complex to purchase food products from the North, including the rice-cake snacks as well as instant chicken noodles to replace the South’s ramen noodles.
The North Korean food products have been supplied to the industrial complex since March or April, the official said.
Snack makers get a boost
Besides preventing capitalist culture from spreading to the North through supplies of Choco Pies, North Korean authorities made the move to boost sales of its own snack companies, Kim said.
“Because North Korea has to sell domestically produced items by any means while promoting economic reform, it drove out Choco Pies from the industrial complex,” he said.
In this way, authorities are testing the manner in which North Korean businesses can profit by buying appurtenances and materials at market price and then directly selling complete products at market price, Kim said.
The Kaesong Industrial Complex is serving as a market to which to sell such products, he said.
“Each business is sometimes forced to buy and sell products for itself,” Kim said. “Because customer goods, which have been made to promote North Korea’s economy, should be sold somewhere, North Korea has forced the Kaesong Industrial Complex to purchase the products.”
Previously, each North Korean worker in attendance at the industrial complex received two Choco Pies, and two or three additional cookies were given to those who worked overtime, Kim said.
“[So], the number of Choco Pies that a North Korean worker was given a month was at least more than 100,” Kim said. “Considering there are about 53,000 North Korean workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the number of Choco Pies brought into North Korea was significant.”
If Choco Pies were sold at market price, they could generate at least U.S. $3 million a month in the industrial zone, an official with the Kaesong Industrial Complex Association said.
“This means that North Korea can both block capitalist culture and make a profit by replacing South Korean snacks with North Korean ones such as kyeongdanseolgi,” he said.
The Kaesong Industrial Complex opened in June 2003 for economic cooperation using the South’s capital and technology and the North’s workforce. It employs 300-400 South Koreans and roughly 53,000 North Koreans.
Reported by Song-Wu Park for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Yunju Kim. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.