north korea

Always keen to impress an image of strength and prosperity upon his countrymen and the international media in general, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was photographed operating a newly made smartphone at a factory in the notoriously guarded country earlier this week, with the Korean Central News Agency claiming the device to be entirely the country’s own work. But experts elsewhere suggest that this technological achievement may not be quite what it seems.

Although the images that have appeared both online and in print show the tubby leader examining and operating the device–labelled “Arirang” after a well-known North Korean folk song–pundits have been quick to point out that the phone is only visible in its finished form, complete with packaging. It is curious that not a single photo exists of the phone’s production line or its individual components, and reports suggest that the devices were likely made in neighbouring China, as was the case with the tablet computer North Korea unveiled last year.

This is not the first time that Kin Jong-un’s country has half-heartedly embraced mobile phone technology, however. Back in 2008, the country’s own mobile network went live, but quickly blocked access to the internet, limiting the handful of privileged users to the country’s intranet, with phone calls closely monitored. If the Arirang, home-grown or not, falls victim to the same restrictions, one can only surmise that this is yet another show of bravado on the country’s part and an attempt to show the world that North Korea is by no means being left behind when it comes to must-have gadgets.

The device is thought to be running on a modified version of Google’s Android operating system. Even so, owning a smartphone that bars access to the internet, and thus the wealth of data and applications available on it, would essentially be like rolling out a fancy new sports car with nothing but a rough dirt track to run it on, and we have to wonder what the point would be.

Source: AFPBB News via Hachima Kikou (Japanese)
Top image via Hachima Kikou