About 300 markets are doing lively business throughout North Korea despite the regime's attempt to suppress them, according to data an intelligence agency submitted to Grand National Party lawmaker Yoon Sang-hyun of the National Assembly's Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee on Wednesday.
"Markets in the North are places where goods are transacted and information is exchanged at the same time, Yoon said. "They pose a threat to a regime that is hostile to markets."
The regime has tacitly allowed markets to expand to make up for the shortage of daily necessities in the wake of a botched currency reform and international sanctions, but they have boomed alarmingly.
Typical examples are the Tongilgori and Jungang markets in Pyongyang. The Tongilgori Market, in Rakrang District, opened in August 2003. It has three buildings and a parking lot. The Jungang Market in Jung District is a single domed building with a parking area.
There are two famous markets in South Pyongan Province: the Kangso Market, which opened in 2004, and the Doksan Market, which opened the following year. The Doksan Market is the largest center of wholesale and retail goods in the North and has played a role as a distribution point of goods from Rajin-Sonbong, Sinuiju and Wonsan. But it was reportedly closed down during a crackdown in June last year.
The Chaeha Market in Sinuiju, near the Chinese border, is a distribution point for goods imported from China. Goods bought there are distributed throughout the North.
The Hoeryong Market in Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province across from China, was established by the regime to secure financial sources and put foreign goods under easy control. The regime has allowed Chinese vendors to sell goods there.
In a bid to rein in the markets, the regime set out one control policy after another, including the ban on grain transactions in the markets in October 2005, a crack-down on illegal markets in 2007, and an attempt to turn general open-air markets into farmers' markets in late 2008, but apparently failed to achieve tangible results.
Last year, the regime banned the sale of industrial products and the circulation of foreign currency. But it had to begin relaxing the bans in February in the face of protests and violent attacks on market control officials.
"We have to pay attention to what happens in North Korean markets because that is where a change will occur first and they will be the first places where we can see the impact," Yoon said.