Monday 18th January 2021

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  • North Korean restaurants in China feeling the weight of UN sanctions

    18 August China-Two North Korean waitresses serve food at Beijing’s Pyongyang Ryungyong, a North Korean restaurant during lunch. They are both in their 20s, and will return to North Korea after serving as waitresses in China for three years. Photo: Zhao Yusha/GT

    North Korean restaurants, one of Pyongyang’s main sources of foreign currency, are feeling the pressure of the new UN Security Council sanctions.

    China’s Ministry of Commerce and the General Administration of Customs on Monday jointly released a notice, declaring that China would impose an import ban on coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore and seafood from North Korea as stated in UN Security Council Resolution 2371, which was unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council on August 5.

    The sanctions also prevent countries from having more North Korean laborers.

    But before the new sanction was implemented, North Korean are already leaving.

    An employee at the North Korean restaurant Pyongyang Moranbong in Beijing told the Global Times that their North Korean chefs and managers left two months ago, and they have hired local cooks to serve Chinese food instead of Korean food.

    Li Zhengmin, an ethnic Korean who works as a freelance tour guide in Beijing, said South Korean tourists have stopped visiting North Korean restaurants in the past few months.

    “South Korean visitors have grown more wary of North Korean restaurants amid the intense political atmosphere, and they try to avoid engaging with North Koreans to stay out of trouble,” Li said.

    South Koreans used to be the major source of customers of North Korean restaurants in China.

    There are about 130 restaurants run by the North Korean government outside the country, many of which are in China, according to Reuters. The South Korean government estimates that Pyongyang makes around $10 million every year from them.

    Jin Qiangyi, director of the Asia Research Center at Yanbian University, in Northeast China’s Jilin Province, said that the new sanctions will put more pressure on North Korea’s overseas restaurants

    A private room in Beijing’s Pyongyang Ryungyong, a North Korean restaurant, where guests can enjoy traditional Korean style performances. Each private room costs at least 3,000 yuan ($448). Photo: Zhao Yusha/GT

    No place like home

    Kim Nam-ok (pseudonym) left her hometown in North Korea a year ago to work as a waitress in the restaurant Pyongyang Ryungyong in Beijing’s Chaoyang district.

    For customers in China, North Korean restaurants are known for their nightly performances, food and young, pretty waitresses, dressed in colorful hanbok, the traditional Korean dress.

    A meal in these restaurants costs over 100 yuan ($14.95) per person. Kim said that if guests want to enjoy the nightly performances, they have to reserve private rooms starting from 2,800 yuan.

    Compared with other restaurants in the neighborhood, Ryungyong receives fewer customers for lunch. When asked on the impact of the latest UN sanctions on their restaurant, Kim shook her head and whispered, “we are forbidden from answering that question.”

    “We are expected to work in China as waitresses for three years before returning to North Korea,” the waitress said.

    Jin Qiangyi said that these restaurants will suffer from a manpower shortage because they cannot hire new employees when the previous ones leave China.

    In April 2016, 13 North Korean  workers from a restaurant in Ningbo, East China’s Zhejiang Province fled to South Korea. Pyongyang claimed they were kidnapped by South Korean spies and demanded their return.

    Jin said that the new sanctions will affect relations between China and North Korea.

    In February, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), North Korea’s state-run media outlet, published a critique of China, without directly mentioning its name, for having “unhesitatingly taken inhumane steps” to suspend North Korean coal imports. The article also said that Beijing’s criticism of Pyongyang’s missile test is “dancing to the tune of the US” and tantamount to the actions of the enemy state.

    In May, a KCNA commentary said, “China should no longer recklessly try to test the limits of our patience,” and blamed the People’s Daily and the Global Times for “making reckless remarks” undermining China-North Korea relations and attempting to “shift the blame to Pyongyang” for deteriorating relations.

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