Pyongyang recalls many trade officials in China

Seol Song Ah  |  2016-08-30 09:23
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Pyongyang is recalling a number of its high-ranking trade officials currently dispatched to China. Those subject to the latest recall, however, are not individuals with poor foreign currency earning performance, but instead those who have successfully grown their businesses.

Recently, foreign currency workers dispatched to Chinas Guangzhou and Shenzhen were summoned back to the North, a Daily NK source based in North Pyongan Province reported in a telephone conversation. These individuals are being recalled even though they have far exceeded their designated quotas for foreign currency earning, likely as a result of political scapegoating.

Additional sources in South Pyongan Province and Pyongyang corroborated this news.

Among those ordered to return to the North are trade company heads who have earned in excess of 10 million RMB (1.8 billion KRW, or 1.6 million USD) through their business endeavors. Despite this, they have been summoned back due to rumors about their personal lives spread by other trade officials looking to challenge their status. In other words, this latest recall can be seen as a form of political infighting instigated by underperforming trade workers.

Trade officials who earn significant sums of money are dispatched to China with preferential treatment from the state, but once a foreign currency goal is met, theyre often recalled or relocated, the source said, explaining that in order to remain trading in China for as long as possible, and therefore reap the most personal profit while fulfilling state duties, maintaining only a moderate level of performance is essential.

North Korean traders in the larger cities such as Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen play different roles from those located in the three northeastern provinces bordering the North. These individuals secure funds for the Partys Office No. 39, and are tasked with drawing up Memorandums of Understanding [MOU] with Chinese traders, as well as receiving permission from the Central Party. For this reason, most trade companies in the major cities are affiliated with formidable bodies like the General Staff Department of the Korean Peoples Army and the State Security Department.

Once trade deals are approved by the Central Party, the feasibility of a proposed MOU is reviewed by Pyongyangs trade office in Shenzhen. After the assets, liquidity, and scope of business with their Chinese counterparts is examined, the final step is receiving an import-export license from the Norths State Planning Commission. During this process, multiple entities including the customs office and central quarantine office must sign off on specific authorization procedures, creating a complex web of underlying interests and political maneuvering between different parties. 

For trade company heads, it is not only important for them to bring in a lot of foreign currency but also to know how to deal with other government agencies, the source said. From the states point of view, having agencies compete with and keep tabs on each other helps to control them, so they dont raise issue with these power battles. 

When asked whether the recent summoning of trade officials may have something to do with the defection of Pyongyangs Deputy Ambassador to the UK, Thae Yong Ho, the source answered that she is not sure. 

However, she added, people in the North are not openly discussing the defection and that not many would be interested even if the news were true, as Thae was a diplomat dispatched overseas and not well known to the public. 

*Translated by Jiyeon Lee
*Edited by Lee Farrand

 
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