Monday, July 26, 2004

Cyber One Korea

As soon as I mentioned a report on online gambling in North Korea in my previous entry "North Korea Goes Commercial Online" (July 26, 2004), skeptical readers asked whether it wasn't another myth about North Korea: e.g., "I have gone all over the site and can not find any gambling" (Macdonald Stainsby, Rad-Green, July 26, 2004). The report, however, did not say that online gambling is available at the Naenara ("My Country") site at

The gambling site in question is, reportedly "wildly popular with South Korean Internet users," who wanted not so much to gamble as to chat with North Koreans on its bulletin board:
The online bulletin board of an inter-Korean venture based in North Korea has become wildly popular with South Korean Internet users.

The site in question is a free board open to all users at, a gambling site operated by North Koreans using South Korean technology and capital.

More than 14,000 messages have been posted on the bulletin board since May 2002, two months after the launch of the main site.

Most of them are written by South Koreans, excited by the fact that they can communicate with North Koreans online.

"Can you please tell us your MSN messenger address? I want to chat with a North Korean," wrote one user identified as Hanmoonki.

A site administrator replied offering their address and wishing the user a nice day.

These kind[s] of replies from administrators, who work in shifts 24 hours a day to answer questions even unrelated to their business, are another reason for the site’s popularity.

"Do you think China is justified in claiming Koguryo as part of their history?" a user identified as Diadol asked.

"Of course not. For your reference on our position on the issue, look up at this past article at," an administrator answered.

Some 10 North Korean women, recent college graduates, manage the bulletin board from their office in Pyongyang, according to Kim Bum-hoon, president of Hoonnet, the South Korean company which set up the site jointly with the North.

"When we first proposed to North Koreans to set up an anonymous bulletin board open to non-members, the North said it was impossible. We convinced them by stressing the need to build up confidence," he said in an interview with Mediaonul, a weekly specializing in media news.

However, the site faces closure with South Korea’s Unification Ministry set to revoke Hoonnet’s license to do business in North Korea.

Ministry officials said this is because the company never got the approval from the government to run a gambling site, with its original plan confined to developing computer software.

Hoonnet maintains that the Unification Ministry knew of its plans to open the gambling site beforehand, and is petitioning to keep the site open for the sake of inter-Korean relations.

Articles by Internet users hoping to keep the communication channel with North Koreans are flooding the site.

In addition to salvaging the site, an Internet newspaper specializing in IT,, has kicked off a campaign to legalize inter-Korean communications on the Internet, called "Cyber One Korea."

The anti-communist National Security Law makes all contact with North Koreans illegal unless there is prior approval from the Unification Ministry, but that law has been lost in reality as Internet users have been surfing North Korean sites en masse.

"We know it’s impossible to investigate all of those who logged on the site," a police official said in an interview with, a news portal. (Seo Soo-min, "NK Online Gambling Site Sparks Interest," The Korea Times, January 19, 2004)
It is encouraging to hear so many South Koreans wishing to have conversations with North Koreans, despite the legacy of draconian anticommunist repression in South Korea. Unfortunately, the South Korean government "cancel[led] [Hoonnet's] legal rights for the inter-Korean business altogether," as "the company did not abide by a government order to close down the website," and it "also decided to block access to the gambling site and take legal action against South Koreans using it and sending money to the North," according to an article on (January 10, 2004).

I tried to log onto today, but "the operation [got] timed out" each time. Has it gone belly up, deprived of South Korean customers?

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