As China began to enforce stricter implementation of imports from North Korea,
Chinese vehicles began to face long lines before passing the customs office in
North Hamgyong Province, Wonjong-ri. Image: Daily NK; Taken on August 15, 2017.
The North Korean city of Rason, located in North Hamgyong Province, used to play host to bustling trade and business collaboration between Chinese and North Korean entities. But now that international sanctions have started to bite, the region is feeling the pain. The mood surrounding Chuseok, which is a cheerful holiday marking the Korean harvest festival, has been dampened this year.
One Chinese merchant with experience doing business in Rason told Daily NK, “The Rason special economic region used to bring in large amounts of funds through fisheries trade with China, but consecutive sanctions targeting Joseon [North Korea] have turned the area into a dreary place.”
According to the merchant, most of the Chinese merchants that had operated fisheries processing plants in the area have left. The Chinese business managers helming textile and sewing factories are also exiting the country, unable to endure the difficult conditions any longer.
Furthermore, owing to spiking gasoline prices, the vehicles operated by Chinese people in North Korea have also disappeared without a trace. North Korea’s Ministry of State Security is reportedly demanding bribes of gasoline from the Chinese merchants.
The merchant continued, “North Korean traffic officers are approaching Chinese business people, saying, ‘I’ll make sure that things are convenient for you when you’re on the road if you get me a speed radar gun and a flash light stick.’ As the economy deteriorates in the Rason region, it seems as if these officers are no longer being supplied with the equipment they need.”
The Rason market is experiencing similar difficulty. In the case of the fisheries market, North Korean merchants are struggling to find customers who were lining up just last year. Scores of people who were working at the fisheries processing plants and textiles factories have lost their jobs. Because of the tough times, fewer people were out in the markets to buy food and products for the harvest holiday.
“A female in her twenties that used to go to the Rason area regularly to work as a restaurant server can now be seen wearing the same clothes every day looking depressed. She said that her wages have been cut, so she doesn’t even have money to buy new clothes. It’s almost winter, and she’s growing concerned that she won’t be able to afford a proper coat,'” another source in the region told Daily NK.
“Servers receive a monthly wage of about 150 RMB (about US $22.50). That is hardly enough to buy food. It isn’t hard to meet North Koreans who are struggling to get by in this way.”
Comparatively speaking, the Rason Special Economic Area is still fairing okay. Just 50 kilometers away, the situation is more dire. One resident from North Hamgyong Province said, “I live on about 50 RMB per month (about US $7.50). In the early morning and late at night, I wander around to gather up ears of corn.”