Chinese banks have reportedly banned North Koreans living in China from opening up new accounts, and have ordered existing accounts to be closed.
“The Chinese authorities have made no distinction between North Korean consular officials, laborers, or traders; all are banned from opening accounts,” a local source reported to Daily NK. “Previously, the banks were happy to open accounts for North Koreans living in China for personal reasons (mostly visiting relatives), provided they present their personal identity documents. This practice has ended as well.”
According to the source, the new order applies to the four major state banks, as well as the Construction Bank of China, and regional private banks such as Pudong Bank.
The new measures do not come without precedent. After North Korea’s third nuclear test, China implemented a provision of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2094 that involved suspension of a deal with North Korea’s Joseon Trade Bank. However, the UN resolution did not address individual accounts.
Following this, the North Korean authorities began circumventing international financial sanctions by opening accounts in individuals’ names and remitting investment capital and commercial payments to and from Chinese companies.
Because the bank accounts of North Koreans residing in China are being closed, North Korean laborers are having difficulties remitting money back home.
“Under the old system, the monthly wages of North Koreans working in Chinese factories were transmitted through the bank account of the North Korean factory manager. This is no longer possible, so they are being paid in cash,” the source explained.
Also relevant to the measure is that North Korean-Chinese collaborative ventures have been banned from using bank accounts, so seed money is now required in cash.
“Normally, when North Korean merchants want to start a new business in China, they make a business plan and submit it to Pyongyang. Upon approval, they seek out cooperation and investment from Chinese investors. But now, even if the investment request is approved, it isn’t possible to open a bank account so the investor needs to use a third party to provide cash directly,” the source said.
A March 2017 Radio Free Asia (RFA) investigation reported a similar trend, noting, “Private Chinese banks are beginning to close bank accounts held by North Korean nationals. North Korean laborers earning foreign currency in China have been issued an emergency alert.”
The Chinese Ministry of Commerce announced on August 25th that it is banning new joint ventures with North Koreans in China and additional investments.
“The Chinese government is publicly announcing that they are banning business projects with North Koreans and closing North Korean bank accounts, but many loopholes remain in place. Money can be laundered on the North Korean side and passed through Southeast Asian nations,” a separate source in China with knowledge of the matter said.