According to South Korea’s National
Intelligence Service [NIS], at least 20 overseas restaurants operated by North
Korea have either been shut down or gone out of business in the aftermath of
international sanctions implemented against the country..
“These restaurants were struggling from an
abrupt decline in customers, and we’ve seen 20 places in China, the UAE, and
other countries close their doors temporarily or shut down completely, and this
trend is spreading elsewhere,” NIS Director Lee Byung Ho said at a
parliamentary briefing on North Korean affairs, according to Saenuri Party
lawmaker Lee Cheol Woo (who was in attendance).
The NIS chief also reported that the
participation of each country in the implementation of UN sanctions against
North Korea is proving effective. There have already been visible results in
the fields of shipping and tourism, and gradual effects are starting to show in
trade and finance. He added that fishing and cargo vessels from North Korea are
more frequently being denied port entry, and ship registrations are being
In addition, the NIS chief stated that the
group of 13 North Korean employees at the Ryugyong Restaurant in Ningbo,
Zhejiang Province who defected on the 7th of April were originally planning to
flee with seven more workers, which would have put the total at 20. However,
the remaining seven backed out at the last minute due to concerns about
retribution toward their families.
The NIS chief also dismissed Pyongyang’s
allegations that the defection a mass kidnapping orchestrated by Seoul’s spy
agency. Rep. Lee confirmed that the director told the meeting that the workers
were holding legal North Korean passports and left on their own will.
Director Lee also explained why the NIS
chose to report the defection at an early stage, saying, “North Korea already
knew the defectors had gone to South Korea, and because it was a large group
and unusual in nature, we had no reason not to disclose it.” He added that it
was in no way an attempt to rally support for the ruling party ahead of the
On the upcoming Party Congress in the
North, the NIS chief said he believes it will end up being an internal
festivity and not much more.
According to Rep. Lee, the NIS chief
confirmed that North Korea did not invite any foreign delegates to the event,
and the NIS believes this is due to the fact that there are no significant
economic achievements to tout and that conditions are not conducive to publicly
laying out the country’s future vision.
Earlier in the week, a senior official from
Seoul’s foreign ministry said, “North Korea does not seem to be interested in
inviting a lot of foreign guests and throwing a huge celebration as it did
during the 6th Party Congress.” The official added that the ministry is not
aware of any countries with delegates that are planning to attend, and the few
invited have notified Seoul that they will not go.
Regarding the likelihood of a fifth nuclear
test, Rep. Lee said the spy chief stated that North Korea was believed to have
prepared for the fifth test while conducting the fourth, meaning that it is
ready to carry out another test upon orders from Kim Jong Un at any time.