Foreign TV Blocked For North Korean Workers in China

north-korea-restaurant-dandong-sept8-2014.jpg A waitress looks out from a North Korean restaurant in Dandong, northeast China's Liaoning province, Sept. 8, 2014.

North Koreans working in China to earn money for their country’s cash-strapped regime are being banned from watching foreign television shows, with their sets fixed to receive only satellite broadcasting from official sources in Pyongyang, sources say.

The move appears to have resulted from “strong requests” made by North Korean authorities to Chinese employers in order to limit the information given to workers on sensitive political subjects, a source in China told RFA’s Korean Service.

“Most companies that hire North Korean workers provide only satellite broadcasting from the North Korean Central TV Station at the workers’ dormitories,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The channel is fixed so that Chinese shows cannot be viewed, even though the workers are present in that country,” the source said.

Also speaking to RFA, another source said that because of these restrictions, North Korean workers in China have no opportunity “to learn outside information.”

For example, many know nothing about the murder in Malaysia earlier this month of national leader Kim Jong Un’s estranged half-brother Kim Jong Nam, the source said.

Kim Jong Nam, a purported advocate for political reforms in North Korea and open critic of the regime, died on Feb. 13 on his way to a hospital after being attacked with a chemical spray as he prepared to board a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Macau, in China.

Malaysian police have arrested four suspects, including a North Korean national, as suspects in the crime, and have said that four other North Koreans wanted in connection with the case fled the country on the day Kim died.

Movements also restricted

In a bid to prevent news of the killing from reaching North Korean citizens, restrictions appear also to have been imposed on the movements of North Korean traders hoping to travel into China on business or to return to North Korea, sources on the border say.

North Korean restaurant workers in China have meanwhile been forbidden from traveling in groups outside their place of employment for fear they may defect, sources said.

In April 2016, a North Korean restaurant in the eastern Chinese port city of Ningbo made international headlines when 13 staff members escaped to South Korea to seek asylum—a mass defection that Pyongyang condemned as an  “abduction” by Seoul's agents.

Restaurants in Chinese cities like Shenyang and Dandong near the North Korean border also suffered downturns last year as North Koreans working in cross-border trade began to avoid them, fearing that agents of the regime would watch them there and monitor their movements.

Reported by Joonho Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Soo Min Jo. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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