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Pyongyang’s new weapon:‘soft power’

Nov 03,2017
In addition to nuclear weapons and advanced missiles, North Korea is apparently also bent on developing its “soft power” by filing international trademarks with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

According to WIPO’s global brand database, three North Korean factories - Rhyukyong Kimchi Factory, a bag factory named Sonamu and Kalma Food Factory - filed applications this summer, and the first two have since been approved.

“During Kim Il Sung’s time,” a North Korean official said, “the North was busy trying to stabilize its government, and adopted an isolationist policy towards the international community. But it seems like [North Korean leader] Kim Jung-un is trying to shed the nation’s isolationist image by developing areas such as sports, trademarks and other forms of soft power.”

The official also said Kim has ordered that products made in North Korea “matches the international level.”

“With this mascara,” Kim said at a Pyongyang cosmetic factory in 2015, “users will turn into raccoons after yawning.”

He reportedly told the factory to produce “world-level cosmetics,” and in June 2016, it registered a cosmetics line through WIPO named “Unhasu.”

After registering as a WIPO member state in 1974, the North has filed 61 trademarks, compared to South Korea’s 3.3 million, some of which are still pending. Some North Korean products, however, have been evaluated as inadequate compared to those from the South.

Unhasu cream, for instance, was poorly evaluated in May, when the Amore Pacific Research and Design Center detected parabens that had not been listed on the ingredients label. Parabens are preservatives thought to disturb human hormonal activities.

While registering international trademarks may be a form of soft power abroad, the party official believes Kim’s recent visit to the Pyongyang cosmetic factory with his wife and sister is also meant to maintain a positive image among Pyongyang elites.

BY JUNG YONG-SOO, LAURA SONG [song.hankyul@joongang.co.kr]