April 23, 2021

How to do business in North Korea

An inside look at how foreigners conduct business in North Korea

Two years ago when visiting North Korea, I struck up a conversation with a Western businessman in the Pyongyang bowling alley. Over beers, he told me he preferred doing business in the DPRK over China because the people were more direct and he felt like he didn’t need to worry as much about getting swindled. He’d built good relationships.

This was just one man’s anecdote, and not representative of every experience – certainly not for Xiyang, a Chinese company that invested $40 million to build a mine and reportedly lost tens of millions when North Korean partners didn’t honor payment agreements. And certainly not for Jang Song Thaek either, whose fishing and shellfish interests ended reportedly with a firefight at the fishing grounds between his supporters and the North Korean military before his speedy execution last month.