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Digitalization without Internet in North Korea

A new article in KORUM (Korea Unternehmen Märkte), the monthly journal of the German-Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry (No. 84) by Dr. Bernhard Seliger, the representative of Hanns Seidel Foundation Korea, deals with the issue of digitalization and internet usage in North Korea.

In today’s globalized world, technologies are an integral part of many people’s lives. The new digital era has changed economies and societies worldwide and has given a chance for the less developed countries to become more competitive in the global industry. Despite some countries efforts to limit the access to technologies, the global penetration rate of the internet and mobile phones has grown exponentially. However, one country that stands out with very low rates of internet penetration, among others, is North Korea. In the article Dr. Seliger gives some possible explanations for this matter. He states that North Korea is considered a closed economy where information is kept secret and there are constant fears of information leakages. Furthermore, many citizens think they live in a perfect society where everything foreign is the enemy.


Nevertheless, Dr. Seliger discussed that despite North Korea having one of the lowest internet penetration rates, the country has started to work on its own style of digitalization. Since Kim Jong-Un came to power he has expressed a desire towards stronger modernization and learning, for example with the slogan to promote science and technology. The North Korean digitalization allows more access to knowledge, promotes development, includes company websites, platforms, and various domestic information. People have mobile phones, access to movies and music, online shopping and many more. The Covid-19 pandemic pushed this development further as more educational content about social distancing was released. At the same time, however, information coming from abroad has been even more limited than before. The North Korean “intranet” serves as a platform only for North Korean citizens and foreigners are not allowed to access or use it.


Dr. Seliger points out that there is still a big difference between the intranet and the “real” internet. In North Korea, all access and information are strictly controlled and free use is not possible. While the DPRK has seemingly started to move forward with its development, the rest of the world moves faster, and the technological gap keeps on getting bigger. Any opening of the country could have economic advantages but holds possible risks as well. Thus, a process of further development would possibly take a long time of partial innovation and occasional steps back.

You can view the whole article here.