North Korean local officials wooing foreigners, easing restrictions in bid for assistance

Ha Yoon Ah  |  2018-04-06 17:03

North Korean officials in small towns in the country's northeast are reportedly hosting foreign guests and asking for their assistance in helping to solve the regions worsening economic problems.

A source in China familiar with North Korean affairs told Daily NK on March 3 that officials in small towns and districts of the Hamgyong region have recently invited Chinese and other foreigners, wining and dining them and asking them for assistance. 

"They are being greeted by many people, taken to dinner, told of the difficult economic conditions, and asked if they would kindly help," he said, explaining that this sort of activity is usually rare, even at the Rason (Rajin-Sonbong) Special Economic Zone, which is more well-known for attracting foreign capital investments. 

"Even when asking for foreign assistance in Rason, there is always the suspicion that the foreigners could be spies. But in this case, there is not the same level of suspicion in the small towns of the region, and they are treating them with sincerity," he said.

The foreigners entering the country for this purpose are reportedly being treated differently by State Security agents than in the past. "Usually foreigners are followed by State Security, but this time the tails are nowhere to be found," the source said. "I asked a local official why that was the case, and they explained that it was because 'State Security trusts the people we are doing business with.'"

According to a source in North Hamgyong Province, border customs have also relaxed searches and restrictions on possessions for these foreign visitors.

Despite repeated emphasis on the power of 'self-reliance' to resolve the country's economic woes, this development signals that at least some local government administrations are turning to foreign sources to help overcome their problems. 

But the move also raises the question of just how severely the situation has deteriorated in the North Korean countryside that such restrictions would be lifted for the sake of attracting foreign assistance. 

"The electricity problem is not as bad in places like Pyongyang and Rason where there are solar panels on most buildings, but its harder to see them in smaller towns where theres practically no access to electricity. Those with money may be able to purchase solar panels, but people in small towns live in poverty with no disposable cash," " the North Hamgyong-based source said.

"Officials in these small towns and districts may have cars, but with no money for fuel, they are now unashamedly asking foreigners for the fuel instead."

*Translated by Colin Zwirko

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