A new breed of conglomerates is helping to prop up North Korea

Jan 25, 2018

“A UNIQUE and sweet taste,” says a poster describing a new brand of soju, a local firewater, made by Naegohyang. The North Korean company started out making cigarettes (reportedly puffed on by Kim Jong Un, the country’s dictator). It has branched out into a thicket of unrelated items, including playing cards, sanitary towels, sports kit and electronics. It advertises them in the stadium of the women’s football team it sponsors.

Naegohyang, which means “My Homeland”, is one of what appears to be a growing number of large and diversified businesses in North Korea. In Kwangbok Area Shopping Centre in Pyongyang, the capital, Naegohyang’s “7.27” cigarettes compete with “Hanggong” (meaning “airline”) brand, produced by Air Koryo, the national carrier. The latter, too, appears to be expanding into several industries, from making potted pheasant and canned mackerel to operating taxis and petrol stations.

Such conglomerates are often compared to the...

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