North Korea Moves to Rake in Higher Revenue From Chinese Traders

A North Korea soldier stands guard as people unload a boat on the Yalu River, which separates the North Korean town of Sinuiju from the Chinese border town of Dandong, Dec. 17, 2013.
Chinese traders who have relatives in North Korea and who travel frequently to the reclusive country to conduct business are facing higher costs under new rules introduced by Pyongyang.

They can stay with their North Korean relatives for only up to 15 days during one visit per year under the recently introduced regulations that would compel them to reside in hotels or other paid accommodations in a bid to boost foreign revenue for the cash-strapped country, sources told RFA’s Korean Service.

One source in North Hamgyong province, bordering China, said that because Chinese “private travelers” have in the past stayed mainly in the homes of relatives during trips to North Korea, the North Korean government has had “little profit” from the visits.

“To solve this problem and to earn more foreign currency, the government has now made rules that these travelers can stay only at hotels or motels for foreigners,” he said.

The rules are intended only for Chinese “private travelers” who have relatives in North Korea and do not apply to North Koreans living abroad, he said.

Though there is still no limit to the number of visits to North Korea that Chinese “private travelers” can make, “they can stay at the homes of family or relatives only once a year, and then for only 15 days,” a source in Yanggang province, also bordering China, said.

“Chinese travelers coming in and out of North Korea more than once a year will not be able to stay at private residences or relatives’ homes, and they will be able to meet local family members only while staying at hotels or motels for foreigners,” he said.

Higher costs, 'surveillance'

The Yanggang source said the restrictions would also make it easier for the authorities to keep track of Chinese businessmen traveling to North Korea for reasons of “private travel,” they said.

“If Chinese ‘private travelers’ can’t stay at relatives’ homes and can only stay at a ‘hotel or motel for foreigners,’ it will be harder for them to come in and out of North Korea,” a source in North Hamgyong province  told RFA.

“There will be surveillance around those places, and the accommodations will be expensive,” RFA’s source said.

China is North Korea’s biggest trading partner and most important ally as well as its main source of food and fuel.

The vast majority of the estimated 250,000 tourists who visit North Korea each year are Chinese citizens, though it is unclear how many have relatives living in the North.

About 10,000 tourists come in from various other countries, including Russia.

North Korea also sends workers to be employed in industries in China to earn precious foreign exchange.

In a bid to diversify away from its traditional key market, though, North Korea has of late rapidly increased the number of workers it sends to Russia and has widened the scope of jobs they can take in the neighboring country.

But the selection process has been tightened to prevent North Korean defections , sources say, adding that some officials have accepted bribes from desperate prospective workers to cash in on the new procedures.

Reported by Sung-hui Moon for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Jina Lee. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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