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Collecting Debts in North Korea

News, cover
April 16, 2012
By Chen Yong ( 陈勇)
Translated by Song Chunling
Original article: [Chinese]

When he started trading across the border in North Korea, Wang Xuming (王旭明) never imagined that he would end up as a “petitioner” there.

Only the Yalu River lies between Wang Xuming’s Chinese hometown of Dandong and the North Korean city of Sinuiju. Trade between the two countries totaled $5.6 billion last year, and almost three quarters of China’s exports to North Korea pass through Dandong.

Wang couldn’t speak a single sentence of Korean when he first heard the "deep-fried dough sticks legend," the tale of a man who hid Chinese dough sticks under his coat, crossed the border and sold them to North Koreans for four times the price.  

Now, twenty years later, he has spent eight months waiting to collect his debts. The Korean state-owned Chosun Kwangmyong General Trading Corp. still owes him almost 3 million yuan.

“At first, they provided accommodation to creditors, but now they don’t even issue an invitation letter [which foreigners need to enter the country] when they know you’re coming to collect debts,” he said.

Previously, when was able to travel to the country, receptionists in the government offices in North Korea always politely told Wang that the responsible person is not there.

“Most of the time, you couldn’t get the money back,” Wang said “They would only give you tens of thousands if they owed you millions.” Sometimes, the traders even lose money trying to get their debts back.

“They owe you $30,000 and pay you only $10,000, but you could spend around $20,000 trying to set up the right meeting.” Many traders therefore don’t bother trying to recover small debts, said Wang.

When he was in Pyongyang, Wang was accompanied by a translator, and his hotel room was bugged. “Taxis won’t pick you up there and you can’t get a subway ticket if there’s nobody with you,” he said. Wang also went to the casino in Yanggakdao Hotel, where the only punters that we saw were Chinese or other foreigners.

Unable to recover his debts, Wang tried join up with some other traders and petition at the government office, but they were surrounded by soldiers before they could hang up the banners. Later, when their requests were translated, they were taken to a small room, where an officer treated them with tea and said politely that they weren’t allowed to hang a banner because it would have a bad influence. The official said he hoped that they wouldn’t petition again and that their problem would be handled by the government.

Wang was sent to the hotel a few days later, given $15,000 and asked to leave the country. “In North Korea, when they're using every means to avoid the debt, there's nothing you can do but leave,” said Wang.


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