From “heavy” to “light”: North Korea’s light industry development policy and effectiveness

In recent years, readers who follow North Korea’s domestic political and economic trends will feel that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un frequently inspects and directs economic production activities in Pyongyang and other cities, many of which are light industry sectors and enterprises. Many factories and enterprises newly built and renovated in North Korea are also light industrial production enterprises. Indeed, in recent years, Kim Jong-un and the Workers’ Party of Korea have actively implemented economic improvement policies, dealt with various difficulties and challenges, and achieved a series of important results. One of the most typical areas is light industry. At present, in various department stores in Pyongyang, you can see light industrial products such as North Korea’s beautiful fashion, fine food, and durable daily necessities everywhere. The light industry priority development policy implemented by Kim Jong Un after he took office has obviously achieved results.

The introduction of the light industry priority development policy
Since 2012, North Korea has entered the era of Kim Jong Un. In his New Year’s message in 2013, Kim Jong-un mentioned that “light industry is the main area of ​​economic construction this year. The country will concentrate its efforts to ensure the raw materials and materials needed by light industry manufacturers, and will produce more high-quality consumer goods.” Since then, on March 18, 2013, North Korea held the National Light Industry Conference. Kim Jong-un gave a programmatic speech at the meeting, again emphasizing the priority of the development of light industry. The main contents include: First, to improve the people’s material and cultural living standards, we must use our strength Focus on light industry. The light industry front is currently the main direction for North Korea to build an economic power and improve people’s living standards. Second, the primary task of the light industry sector is to restore the production of factories and enterprises to normal levels, and to produce large quantities of consumer goods urgently needed by the people, especially to increase the output of food and primary consumer goods. Third, the light industry sector must realize modernization and scientification, transform the outdated and backward equipment and production technology of existing light industry factories, and gradually build a batch of modern consumer goods production bases with advanced equipment and production technology. Fourth, in order to make new breakthroughs in the development of light industry, it is necessary to improve the sense of responsibility and work ability of the cadres in the light industry sector.

Since then, in April 2013, North Korea has introduced the “North Korean-style economic management method” with “decentralization of power and profit” and “distribution according to work” as the core in the entire industrial field. On the basis of adhering to the socialist ownership of the means of production, enterprises Carry out business activities independently and innovatively, and vigorously stimulate the spirit of ownership of the workers. On May 30, 2014, Kim Jong-un published the article “Working in order to establish a Korean-style economic management method in line with actual development”, granting companies product development rights, quality management rights, talent management rights, etc., and encouraging companies to actively develop new technologies , New products, improve product quality, and enhance corporate competitiveness.

In recent years, with the development and changes of internal and external situations, the Central Committee of the DPRK Party has successively proposed the line of “Nuclear and Economic Development” and “Concentrating All Forces to Develop the Economy” and gradually determined that improving the people’s living standards is the most important and most urgent task of the DPRK. In April 2018, North Korea announced that it would carry out a major strategic transformation and implement the new strategic line of “the entire party and the country must concentrate all efforts to develop the socialist economy.”

Factory renovation and new construction projects in the light industry sector
Under the guidance of the policy of attaching importance to improving people’s living standards and giving priority to the development of light industry, since 2013, North Korea has actively built and renovated many factories and enterprises in the light industry sector. For example, the Pueraria lobata food factory was built in 2014, the Pyongyang corn processing factory was built in 2015, the Liujing Kimchi Factory, the Dandelion Learning Factory, the Longyue Mountain Soap Factory, and the Chongjin Bag Factory were newly built in 2016, and Jinshan was newly built in 2017. Po Fish Sauce Processing Factory, Sam Chiyeon Potato Powder Production Factory, Pyongyang Dental Hygiene Products Factory, etc.

At the same time, North Korea has also rebuilt and technically transformed some old factories. For example, the Pyongyang Basic Food Factory was rebuilt in 2013, the Pyongyang Children’s Food Factory and Wonsan Leather Shoe Factory were rebuilt in 2015, and the Jinbei Sportsman Comprehensive Food Factory and Pyongyang were rebuilt in 2016. Guchan Factory, Pingseong Synthetic Leather Factory, Longyue Mountain Spring Water Factory, Manjingtai Revolutionary Base Souvenir Factory, Lelang Honorary Soldier Resin Commodity Factory and Liuyuan Shoe Factory were rebuilt in 2017, and Pyongyang Cosmetics Factory and Wonsan Honor were rebuilt in 2018 Military bag factory, etc.

Through new construction or reconstruction, the above-mentioned factories have basically realized production automation, assembly lineization, sterilization, and dust-free. At the same time, other traditional light industry factories are also actively engaged in technological transformation and the introduction of new production lines.

Kim Jong-un has stated many times that “the first national issue among tens of thousands of national affairs is the issue of people’s lives.” In his frequent inspection and guidance activities, on-site guidance to factories and enterprises in the light industry sector has undoubtedly become the focus. Since 2013, Kim Jong-un has successively instructed several companies including Kim Jong-suk’s Pyongyang Textile Factory, Kudzu Hemp Food Factory, Jinbei Sportsman Comprehensive Food Factory, Pyongyang Children’s Food Factory, Ryugyong Kimchi Factory, Pyongyang Cosmetics Factory, Wonsan Leather Shoe Factory, etc. Ten factories in the field of light industry. Several on-site guidance has been given to some factories, such as the Kim Jong Suk Pyongyang Textile Mill.

In January 2015, Kim Jong Un inspected the reconstructed Wonsan Leather Shoe Factory.

The author has visited Jinbei Sportsman Comprehensive Food Factory and Pyongyang Children’s Food Factory many times from 2016 to 2018. They are also factories that Kim Jong Un inspected and directed. The directors of the two factories who are in charge of receiving said that the changes in the factories have been particularly great since Kim Jong-un took office. First, the expansion of plant and equipment and technological upgrading have been carried out, the proportion of automation and production efficiency have been greatly improved, and the output has increased rapidly. Second, after the implementation of the “Korea-style economic management method,” all the profits of the company, except for part of the benefits paid to the country, are under the control of the company. As a result, the wages of workers have generally increased by several tens of times, and the enthusiasm for production has naturally increased. The third is to actively expand sales channels and expand corporate efficiency. Jinbei Sportsman Comprehensive Food Factory has set up a product wholesale sales shop at the entrance of the factory, and a large number of wholesalers come to make purchases every day; Pyongyang Children’s Food Factory has set up a “Bei Lei” wholesale sales shop on Liming Street to actively expand the market. Obviously, the changes in the field of light industry are significant and multifaceted.

The social supply of light industrial products has increased significantly
North Korea’s economic foundation is relatively weak and funds are short. Under the circumstances of international sanctions, Kim Jong-un chose the light industry priority development policy with relatively small investment and quicker results. This is different from the heavy industry priority development policy that North Korea has always implemented in the past. Therefore, despite the fact that international sanctions have become more and more serious in recent years, the border has to be sealed off due to the global spread of the new crown epidemic in 2020, and natural disasters such as typhoons and rain have been encountered many times. However, North Korea has not reproduced the scene of the “suffering march” that year. On the contrary, the overall standard of living has improved, and the social supply of light industrial products has increased significantly.

In July and December 2019, Pyongyang’s No. 1 Department Store held two merchandise fairs. A survey of these two trade fairs reveals that the varieties, styles and quality of clothing, shoes, hats, cosmetics, daily necessities, food and beverages, wood products, etc. produced by factories across North Korea have significantly increased and improved compared to 2013 and 2014 during the early years of Kim Jong-un’s administration. The competition among the various factories is becoming more and more fierce.

The development of light industry in various countries will present a major feature, which is to promote the development of local economy. North Korea is no exception. Two-thirds of North Korea’s light industry output value comes from local industries. The central government also pays special attention to the “parallel development of central and local industries”, while local governments actively advocate the development strategy of “relying on mountains to eat mountains and relying on the sea to eat the sea” and encourage local industrial enterprises to actively develop local characteristic industries based on local resource endowments. As a result, North Korea has emerged many famous light industry brand products with local names, such as “Jiangxi medicinal water”, “Kaesong Korean ginseng”, “Yongaksan soap”, “Sinuiju cosmetics”, “Daedongjiang beer”, and “Baekdusanwu rice wine” , Etc., which promoted the local economic development and was also loved by residents in big cities such as Pyongyang.

At the beginning of 2021, North Korea will convene the 8th National Congress of the Workers’ Party and will formulate the “Five-Year Plan for National Economic Development from 2021 to 2025.” It is believed that North Korea will produce more light industrial products that meet the daily needs of the people, improve the people’s living standards, and enable the North Korean economy to continue on the path of healthy development.