North Korean authorities are implementing measures to ferret out and blacklist business projects with links to South Korea before fully restarting Sino-North Korean trade.

A source in China told Daily NK yesterday that North Korean expatriates, including traders based in Liaoning Province, received orders to avoid contact with Chinese people who had had connections to South Koreans under any circumstances. 

The order reportedly contained the threat that those caught conducting business involving South Korea would receive “more than a slap on the wrist.” 

In the past, there have been many instances where North Korean traders have used Chinese people as middlemen to import South Korean goods into North Korea or to facilitate orders of goods requested by South Korean business people.

Like most North Korean trade, however, the majority of commercial projects with unofficial links to South Korean citizens were suspended after the North Korean authorities shut down the Sino-North Korean border in January of last year to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Yet, North Korean authorities seem to be implementing measures to prevent business with unofficial links to South Korea from resurfacing even after official trade between North Korea and China resumes.

For example, North Korean authorities screened traders and firms when they applied for new waku (trade certificates) last month.

North Korean workers entering a store in Dandong, China
North Korean workers entering a store in Dandong, China (taken in June 2019). / Image: Daily NK


The authorities reportedly used the personal information provided in the waku applications to find traders engaged in activities with connections to South Koreans. Now, they are demanding that North Korean expatriates residing in China not engage in any activities that involve South Koreans.

In addition to ordering North Korean expatriates in China not to go to restaurants or stores operated by South Koreans, North Korean authorities also forbid expatriates from patronizing establishments run by ethnic Korean Chinese citizens married to South Koreans. In other words, all direct and indirect contact with South Korean citizens has been banned.

Interestingly, the authorities have even prohibited North Korean expatriates living in China from using South Korean products. However, the preference for South Korean goods among North Korean expatriates in the country is reportedly so great that some say “there isn’t a single [North Korean] household [in China] that doesn’t use South Korean products.” 

High-ranking North Korean officials are also known to prefer South Korean products such as rice cookers, cosmetics, toothpaste, shampoo, and medicine. Therefore, some say that the authorities may turn a blind eye towards violations of the order to ensure high-ranking cadres acquire products that they want.

“If we really want to cut off the flow of South Korean goods [into North Korea], we should go into the homes of party officials and see if they use South Korean goods or not,” another source in China told Daily NK. “Where there’s demand, there will be supply.”

North Korea has moved to vigorously prevent the flow of outside culture into the country following the December 2020 adoption of the “anti-reactionary thought law,” which targets consumers and distributors of South Korean movies, dramas, and other “cultural content.” 

During the Sixth Conference of Cell Secretaries last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un emphasized the struggle against “anti-socialism” and ordered the strengthening of efforts to “educate” the country’s youth. 

North Korean authorities believe that one way South Korean and “capitalist” culture enters North Korea is through traders and expatriates based in China. Going forward, it appears likely that the authorities will further strengthen efforts to monitor and control the ideology and activities of expatriates as part of efforts to block the flow of information.

*Translated by S & J

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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to