North Korean women in Dandong sojourn
FILE PHOTO: North Korean women leaving a customs office in Dandong, Liaoning Province, China. (Daily NK)

North Korean authorities have sent even more workers outside the country than international estimates suggest. Accordingly, a significant amount of foreign currency may be entering North Korea in the form of contributions to the Workers’ Party of Korea. 

Daily NK recently reported that up to 80,000 North Korean workers currently reside in the Chinese city of Dandong, Liaoning Province. Chinese quarantine authorities confirmed this figure as they were administering PCR tests to all residents of the city.

According to a source in China on Wednesday, the 80,000 figure takes into account only North Korean workers communally living at local clothing companies and electronics factories, and excludes North Korean trade representatives and consulate staff.

An estimated 3,000 to 4,000 staff members of the North Korean trade delegation reside in Dandong.

If trade delegation staff and cadre-level individuals are included, more than 80,000 North Koreans may be residing in Dandong.

In particular, the 80,000 North Korean workers in Dandong alone are sending home millions of US dollars in so-called “party funds” every month.

North Korean workers overseas pay at least 50% of their monthly salary in party funds, which are contributions to North Korea’s communist party. Additionally, they send home a significant part of their salary in the form of various “taxes,” including Socialist Women’s Union of Korea dues and funds for various construction projects.

Given that factory workers in China have made an average of RMB 2,200 to 2,500 a month over the last three years – if we assume that each worker is paying at least RMB 1,100 in party funds a month – this means RMB 88 million in party funds are being sent to Pyongyang on a monthly basis.

Converted into dollars, this comes out to USD 12.28 million a month and USD 147.36 million a year, meaning North Korea is earning a huge sum of money through the workers it sends to China.

However, because this estimate is based on the bare minimum North Korean workers pay in party funds, North Korean authorities may be acquiring much more foreign currency in the form of party funds.

Meanwhile, with word spreading that 80,000 North Korean workers are in Dandong, local Chinese are saying that North Korea “can fire off missiles just from the money they are making by sending workers to China, and still have some left over.”

Meanwhile, North Korean authorities have concluded a new labor contract with Chinese companies that includes a plan to raise the wages of North Korean workers to RMB 3,300 to 3,700 a month. This means that North Korean authorities will likely make even more foreign currency, despite UN Security Council sanctions on the country. 

UN Security Council Resolution 2397, adopted in December 2017, called on UN member states to repatriate all North Korean workers who are earning incomes in their countries by 2019.

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