An examination of U.N. and Chinese trade data reveals that exports to North Korea of products including cars, tobacco, laptops, cellphones and domestic electrical appliances all increased significantly over the past five years. Most items crossed the border from China. The data reveal glaring loopholes in the sanctions regime, demonstrating how China has stepped in as North Korea’s main supplier of goods considered luxuries as other countries have clamped down on such exports.
But the figures also hint at the emergence of a new entrepreneurial class in North Korea rich enough to buy imported goods. Some analysts say this group could represent the strongest impetus for economic reform, and potentially undermine the totalitarian grip of the Kim family dynasty.
I’m not sure I totally understand why this “entrepreneurial class” would be a constituency for reform. A constituency for corruption and misgovernment domestically, to be sure. But you could easily imagine this being a “bootleggers and baptists” scenario where people getting rich breaking the law are the last people who want to see the law changed.