SEOUL, Nov. 9 (UPI) -- There are now more than 380 "gray" marketplaces in North Korea where trade occurs at a brisk pace and currencies ranging from the Chinese yuan to the U.S. dollar are accepted as forms of payment.
The markets, also known as "jangmadang" in Korean, are literally transforming the face of an increasingly less isolated country, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported. Recent satellite images, taken in September, showed that in Kaechon, in North Pyongan Province, a white roof had been built over what is presumed to be the city's market center after 2013, when the last image was taken.
According to data on the marketplaces from Seoul's Unification Ministry, North Koreans began to engage in private enterprise in the 1990s, when famine stalked the country and millions died, according to U.N. estimates.
Defector sources have said in testimony the markets sell a wide array of goods that are changing the lifestyle of ordinary North Koreans. According to Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, a nonresident fellow at the Pacific Forum CSIS in Washington, D.C., cities lying in coastal areas are taking advantage of maritime trade and their marketplaces are visibly growing, according to satellite images taken on Oct. 5.
The goods available for purchase are becoming more diverse, according to sources. Everyday food staples like corn, soybeans, instant noodles and dried meat are available, along with medicine for the common cold and diarrhea. Suits for men and women, Japanese Zojirushi rice cookers, German Siemens refrigerators and consumer electronics also are available for purchase, and the U.S. dollar and the Chinese currency are accepted -- though the yuan is the most preferred method of payment.
The data come at a time when Kim Jong Un is changing his father's military-first policies, and focusing on plans for economic growth. North Korea, however, does not mention the rapid growth of gray markets in its announcements because they exist outside the state's planned economy.
Kim's policies have puzzled outside viewers, most recently when Choe Ryong Hae, a powerful aide who has represented Pyongyang in China and Russia, was not in attendance at a funeral on Saturday for a veteran "revolutionary."
Concern is growing after Yonhap reported North Korea state television has been airing re-runs of Choe accompanying Kim to a construction site, similar to the way images of purged Defense Minister Hyon Yong Chol remained undeleted from North Korea broadcasts, weeks after his disappearance.