North Korea is ramping up efforts to earn foreign currency through the conduct of tours within China rather than in North Korea. The North Korean authorities have proposed the program to the Chinese authorities, and it is rumored that attractive tour guides have been recruited for the program.
The North Korean authorities are reportedly planning to establish a travel agency in cooperation with a local travel company based in Hunchun City, Jilin Province (China), to promote tours within China.
Sources close to North Korean affairs in China told Daily NK that the travel agency has plans to recruit attractive female North Korean tour guides with a strong fluency in Mandarin.
International tourism to the North has come under scrutiny following the death of Otto Warmbier, who visited the country and was detained before his sudden release back to the U.S. in a coma, whereafter he shortly died. Against this backdrop, the North Korean authorities appear to have decided that earning foreign currency through tourism in China may be more viable than in North Korea.
“A plan to establish a tourism company in China has already been permitted by the North Korean Embassy in Shenyang and is awaiting Pyongyang’s final approval,” a source in China familiar with the situation told Daily NK.
“As North Korean people cannot establish a tourism company in China, the head of the company will be Chinese in a nominal aspect. But the actual management including employment issues would be handled by the North Koreans.”
In addition, the authorities believe that the tour program may not only attract local Chinese people but South Korean tourists as well. However, the source believes that this is highly unlikely.
“Who would want to participate in a tour program guided by foreigners in their own country? Also, South Koreans will be reluctant to join the tours considering the position of the South Korean government and international society,” he pointed out.
There is also a possibility that the Chinese authorities will reject the program as China is actively participating in the sanctions against the North.
In regards to this, Wenhui Ribao (a Chinese state-run newspaper) reported on July 4 that Quan Shunji, the head of an international travel agency in Dandong and a heavyweight in the North Korean tourism business in China, was arrested on suspicion of money laundering and bribery of government officials.
Meanwhile, the North Korean authorities are also planning to increase the number of laborers sent to China to earn foreign currency. A separate source in China said, “There are now about 6000 North Korean workers in Hunchun City, and the number is expected to increase by more than 2000 this year. It seems that the North Korean authorities are trying to increase the number of workers dispatched abroad as UNSC sanctions are greatly impacting its foreign currency earnings.”