Saturday, August 8, 2020

Report: Kim Jong-Un Gives South Korean Luxury Cosmetics to Favorite Party Officials

Trusted high-ranking officials in North Korea’s communist Workers’ Party received gifts this month of luxury cosmetics from South Korea, a sign of gratitude from dictator Kim Jong-un that defies government propaganda’s incessant demands that North Korean civilians eschew the comforts of capitalism, a report revealed Wednesday.

The conservative South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbocites a source familiar with Workers’ Party leadership who said that party officials visiting China in November bought large quantities of South Korean cosmetics and brought them home to distribute among the most loyal officials’ families. The gifts were reportedly intended to ring in the new year. Most East Asian countries celebrate both the calendar new year and the Lunar New Year, which will occur in early February this year.

“The regime regularly showers senior officials with gifts to buy their loyalty. Gifts normally included liquor and meat, as well as Swiss watches, home electronics, and cars in special cases,” Chosun Ilbo explains, adding that Western goods are typically preferred over South Korean goods.

South Korea has a booming cosmetics industry, however, pioneering various forms of make-up, face masks, and other luxury items that have become commonplace in Western countries. Some have dubbed South Korea the “beauty capital of the world.”

This, Chosun explains, has created what the unnamed source called a “craze for South Korean cosmetics in Pyongyang.”

The move of distributing South Korean products also appears to contradict attempts by the Kim regime to establish a North Korean equivalent industry. In 2015, Kim handed out make-up sets to military pilots, telling them to pass the gifts on to their wives for International Women’s Day. Two years later, North Korean government media – the only media legally allowed in the country – published images of Kim touring a North Korean cosmetics factory with wife Ri Sol-ju and sister Kim Yo-jong, believed to run the regime’s Propaganda and Agitation Department. Kim described the products manufactured there as “world-level,” a sign he anticipated competing with South Korea.

In September, North Korea opened the Pyongyang Cosmetics Factory, which Kim ordered to make the “world’s best cosmetics.” The factory apparently failed given the need to smuggle South Korean cosmetics into the country for the nation’s most powerful families.

The United Nations sanctions regime currently imposed on North Korea bans the exporting of “luxury goods” to the country, though it does not list cosmetics among them. Instead, the sanctions ban selling or gifting the regime items like luxury cars, jewelry, tapestries worth over $500, and porcelain or bone china worth over $100.

This has done little to stop the influx of such goods into North Korea however, where the Kim family and its loyalists ravenously consume them. In 2017, an independent North Korea monitor revealed the existence of a secret Pyongyang department store for the nation’s elite selling jewelry, particularly watches, and items like cars and expensive whiskey. North Korean diplomats working in embassies are believed to be in charge of smuggling the goods; that year, Pakistani police detained a North Korean diplomat after law enforcement entered his home and found hundreds of boxes of liquor, diamonds, and a significant cash reserve.

In October 2018, the government of Singapore arrested two people for amassing and exporting luxury goods to North Korea from the city-state, which enjoys good relations with Pyongyang but nonetheless is subject to U.N. sanctions.

The raids did not stem the flow of luxury goods to the most powerful people in North Korea. Chosun Ilboreported in October, shortly before the Singapore arrests, that the Kim regime had spent $640.8 million on luxury goods in 2018, and a total of at least $4 billion on these goods since Kim Jong-un took over for his father in 2012. Among the goods identified were “$2 billion worth of electronics, $1.4 billion worth of luxury cars, $165 million worth of liquor, $147 million worth of optical equipment, $52.5 million worth of cosmetics and perfume,” and tens of millions on several other categories.

What North Korea does not smuggle into the country for its leaders, it demands of other countries as part of its “diplomacy.” China, North Korea’s most loyal ally, appears also the most willing to comply. During Kim Jong-un’s first visit to Beijing – and his first international trip as dictator – he received an estimated $400,000 worth of gifts, including some believed to violate U.N. sanctions such as expensive liquor, jewelry for Ri Sol-ju, and expensive teacups. Kim returned to Beijing this January for “diplomatic” reasons, accepting a lavish birthday bash thrown in the capital’s Great Hall of the People in his honor.

Kim returned to China last year after his Beijing trip to tour Dalian, a seaside resort city. His diplomats, meanwhile, worked to demand riches from the United States. Kim Yong-chol, Kim Jong-un’s most trusted representative to Washington, traveled to New York last year for negotiations with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Those talks apparently necessitated expensive whiskey and a dinner menu that included “shaved crudité; filet mignon with corn puree and blanched celeriac; and a chocolate soufflé with vanilla ice cream.”

Kim Jong-un has scheduled a second summit with President Donald Trump for late February, according to the White House. While neither side has announced an official venue, many have reported that Danang, Vietnam, a coastal city Vietnam reportedly wishes to sell as a tourist destination, will host the event.

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Frances Martel

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