PIIE Blog | North Korea: Witness to Transformation
The Peterson Institute for International Economics is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan
research institution devoted to the study of international economic policy. More › ›
Subscribe to North Korea: Witness to Transformation Search
North Korea: Witness to Transformation

The Little Smartphone That Became an International Star

by | August 24th, 2013 | 07:00 am
|

It has captured our imaginations and – like the tender folk song the name is based on – it has stolen our hearts.

arirang-smartphone-625x417

It’s the Arirang, North Korea’s first official smartphone and the latest sign that Kim Jung Un ain’t your daddy’s crackpot dictator. He’s got an European education, tech savvy, and between this flagship smartphone, the Samjiyon tablet, and posh new Pyongyang malls selling Laneige and Cartier, he’s got his country on track to accommodate a new age of high tech manufacturing and modernist consumerism.

At least, that’s what the KCNA would like us to believe. No sooner was the supposedly all in-country produced Samjiyon released than it was cracked open by a skeptical sleuth to expose guts virtually identical to components produced by a Hong Kong manufacturer. Similarly, numerous commentators have pointed out that the smartphone “factory” Un toured (above) is probably not the real deal: why not show an actual production floor rather than a dozen people staring blankly at what are clearly out-of-the-box finished products?

And yet, in a strange way, we are not immune to a propaganda piece targeted perhaps as much at its domestic audience as it is to an international one. The Arirang sent the Twitter-verse abuzz (well, abuzz considering I have all my keyword filters set on various iterations of “North Korea”), and CNN, BBC, NBC, and other 3-letter news outlets ran their own stories to get in on the action. Yes, the Arirang elicited responses that are that special mix of skepticism and condescending bemusement reserved for all things North Korea, but one thing is for sure: whether it’s nuclear holocaust or a little smartphone with “high pixels”, the state propaganda machine knows the stories that will get our attention.

The Arirang even got the loftiest piece of international recognition one could ever bestow: its very own political cartoon in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser…

 

beeler