April 21, 2024

Turning Chinese money into profit in North Korea

Ethnic Koreans from China, unlike those from Japan, capitalized on the changing economy of the ‘90s

Present-day North Korea is a country where a Stalinist facade hides what can only be described as a booming market economy. A recent visitor to Pyongyang told me how surprised he was when he discovered that a North Korean professor has a salary of 6,000 won, while the visitor’s North Korean business partners took him to restaurants where bills would run into the 200,000 won territory (per person!). To his surprise, such restaurants are full. Indeed, it is now clear that a new rich has emerged in North Korea.

Such people run a wide variety of legal, semi-legal and highly illegal businesses. From bus companies and restaurants, to import/export enterprises and even mines, the sectors they are involved in are legion, but the question remains: Where did their start-up capital come from, and how did they start such businesses?

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