Hastings details the ingenious ways in which North Korea has conducted foreign trade despite its political isolation. In the 1970s, the country’s diplomatic missions used smuggling, counterfeiting, and weapons trafficking to cover their expenses and send money home to support the ruling Kim family’s lifestyle. In the 1990s, after assistance from the Soviet Union dried up, Pyongyang’s overseas missions and trading companies sold heroin, methamphetamines, and counterfeit cigarettes. In addition, North Korea supplied missile technology to Pakistan in exchange for nuclear weapons technology, and Pyongyang’s diplomats in Europe acquired equipment for the country’s nuclear program from companies in Austria and Germany. Even after the UN levied sanctions against North Korea in 2006, state companies disguised as private firms found ways to access weapons technology and equipment from suppliers all over the world; Chinese and Taiwanese brokers were especially helpful. Meanwhile, Pyongyang lost control over ordinary citizens’ economic lives, so they, too, have taken up smuggling and human trafficking across the Chinese border, a process that contributes to a rising tide of petty corruption. The Stalinist state is rotting from within, but its economy is doing fairly well.
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