SEOUL, KOREA — North Korea has recently opened its first online shopping mall where around 100 products including agricultural products and building materials are sold. Chunrima, the country's official economy news website (http://www.dprk-economy.com/en/Shop/index.php), added an 'e-shop' page to display and sell, in Korean, English, and Chinese, a wide range of products from food and pharmaceuticals to health food, agricultural produce, building material, cars, industrial equipment, stamps, artworks, movies, and computer software. North Korea's latest automobile 'Junma' and Yeonggwang Furniture, in particular, are on the popular products list recommended by the website, which also explains that credit card payment is allowed.
The Internet shopping mall website was built by the North Korean government and in collaboration with the Chinese corporation in Shenyang city of Liaoning.
On Chunrima, customers make an order by entering their contact information such as an email address and then the administrator in China reaches them and asks for their credit card number to finalize the transaction. The North Korean government provided design-related technologies for the website while the Chinese company is lending the Internet server. This is the first time that North Korea is running an Internet shopping mall for the rest of the world.
Apart from the online shopping mall, the website gives relatively detailed explanation in Korean, English, and Chinese on the country's economy, trade policies, and domestic news for foreign customers and investors. The movies are categorized into general, children, and science technology films including 'Chunhyangjeon,' priced at US$ 5, and the animation film 'Smart Raccoon,' at US$ 0.8, and users can read about the plot, screenwriter, director, actors and actresses before purchasing the products. Furthermore, songs of praise for Kim Ilseong, the former head of state, and North Korean marching songs are available on the website, which also offers preview of the albums.
In a bid to attract global investors in the country by cooperating with different countries and international organizations, Chunrima shopping mall was first launched as 'the Economy Homepage of Democratic People´s Republic of Korea' in late 2010 to provide electronic commerce service in Korean, English, and Chinese with information on the country's politics and economy as well as product promotions. In addition to Chunrima, other websites like My Country lately opened an online shopping page that is serviced in many languages such as Korean, Chinese, Russian, English, Japanese, French, German, Spanish, and Arabic.
Notwithstanding their limited Internet system, the North Korean government has been enthusiastic in supporting computer technologies and program development. So far, along with Laos, North Korea was the only country in which the Internet is not connected to the rest of the world, as the web could pose a serious threat to controlling the public within such an exclusive society. It was inevitably seen by the government as a menace to the maintenance of the system.
For that reason, North Korea chose to set up the websites outside the country to send out their information, using the Internet as a means of propaganda. The Chosun Jungang Correspondence and Association of Pan-Pacific Chosun People's Economic Development have run a website in Japan since 1996 whereas the site for Chosun Info Bank was built in China in 1999. Moreover, the websites for organizations such as Kumgangsan International Group, Chosun News, Hyeonhaetan News, and Eunbyul Computer are all located in Japan. The intranet website establishment agency, on the other hand, hosts the websites for organizations like Invention Center, Chosun Computer Center, Pyeongyang Information Center, Kim Ilseong University and Kimchek University. Although North Korea's official country code top-level domain is kp, there is no website registered with that domain code yet.
The intranet within North Korea is mainly used for military or public institutions. Ironically, however, North Korea is the country that most frequently browses the websites related to the US Department of Defense, which shows the government's fear for the Internet spreading among the public. The country's tendency to hold back their information, while persistently collecting many sorts of data from others, resulted in poor Internet infrastructure in comparison to their software industry. It does not mean that the North Korean government does not make any effort for investment in information communication technology, however, or that the computer experts in the country are not aware of the importance of the Internet. At the moment, North Korea is reportedly working on modernizing the telephone network, which forms the basis of the information and communication system.