North Korean Traders Shun Restaurants in China Run by Their Government

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 Korean restaurants operating in China that have faced a recent downturn in business have another reason to worry—even the North’s own people avoid patronizing them, fearing that such places make it easier for monitors to follow their movements, North Korean sources said.

The restaurants, many of which are located in cities like Shenyang and Dandong in northeastern China’s Liaoning province where there are growing Korean communities, are permitted to operate in China to pull in foreign currency for leader Kim Jong Un’s regime.

Until recently, the restaurants attracted a decent flow of ethnic Korean customers in the cities, who were drawn to them because they serve Korean food, offer service in the Korean language, and provide entertainment in the form of song and dance.

But North Koreans who work in cross-border trade in China told RFA’s Korean Service that they avoid the eateries for security reasons, knowing that if they visit them, agents of the regime will likely observe their every move and may follow them after they leave to record their routes.

“The North Korean traders avoid going to their homeland restaurants because they well know their activities are being carefully monitored,” said a North Korean living in Shenyang who frequently deals with North Korean traders.

Many people assume that North Korean traders will patronize the restaurants especially when business isn’t going well, but that’s not the case, he said.

“When we ask North Korean trade workers to go eat at a North Korean restaurant, they don’t like it,” he said.

North Korean traders, whose moves in China are observed by monitors, do not reveal their activity plans and routes to their coworkers, and avoid going to the restaurants so as to not expose their routes, the source said.

Avoid at all costs

North Koreans who visit traders in China are just as vehement about staying out of such places, said a North Korean source in Dandong.

“Even when North Korean traders treat guests who have come from North Korea, almost none of them go to the restaurants,” he said.

Chinese traders who live in North Korea and move in and out of China for small-scale business, as well as North Korean managers of foreign currency stores, also avoid visiting the North Korean restaurants that operate in China, he said.

North Korean restaurants in China have been struggling because of financial difficulties resulting from strained relations between the two allies after the North’s nuclear test and missile launch earlier this year.

Pyongyang’s moves led to condemnation by the international community and harsh new sanctions by the United Nations Security Council, prompting Kim Jong Un to order his military to be ready to use its nuclear weapons at any time.

Although they are finding it difficult to pay their rent because of falling numbers of customers, the restaurants have been allowed to remain open because they also provide valuable business contacts for Chinese partners seeking trade across the border, sources told RFA in April.

“North Korean authorities are often ready to start a ‘battle,’” said another North Korean source in China, in reference to the regime’s threats of launching strikes against South Korea or the United States.

“I don’t understand why they are not starting a ‘battle campaign’ to help North Korean restaurants in China,” he said.

Reported by Joonho Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Jackie Yoo. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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