China Hires North Korean Guest Workers

While China denies accusations of exporting missile vehicles to North Korea, China is hiring thousands of guest workers from North Korea. The Los Angeles Times reports:

The deal, which has not been publicly announced by either Beijing or Pyongyang, would allow about 40,000 seamstresses, technicians, mechanics, construction workers and miners to work in China on industrial training visas, businesspeople and Korea analysts say. Most of the workers’ earnings will go directly to the communist North Korean regime.

“The North Koreans can’t export weapons anymore because of [international] sanctions, so they are using their people to raise cash,” said Sohn Kyang-ju, a former South Korean intelligence official who now heads the Seoul-based NK Daily Unification Strategy Institute.

“They are already here,” said a Tumen-based businessman, who asked not to be quoted by name. He said he knew of 140 North Koreans who were working in an underwear factory in town.

Under the new arrangement, each North Korean worker should bring Pyongyang cash remittances of about $2,000 per year. Out of salaries of $200 to $300 per month, workers are likely to keep less than $50. Nevertheless, the jobs are considered a privilege because wages at home are well under $10 per month and food is scarce for many families, experts say.

Despite recent tensions with Pyongyang due to North Korea’s missile launch and the detention of Chinese fisherman, the two countries seem to be deepening their ties. Aside from the hiring of North Korean guest workers, China has officially launched a cruise to North Korea’s scenic mountain resort, according to Asiaone:

According to the China News, some 100 Chinese tourists from the northeastern province of Jilin sailed along the North’s east coast to visit Mount Kumgang on a four-day itinerary early Friday.

After crossing the border to North Korea by land from the city of Hunchun in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, the tourists boarded a cruise ship in the North Korean city of Rason, the media said.

The cruise tour illustrates a recent boom among Chinese to visit their communist neighbor. Currently, about 10 such programs are available, according to the report. Previously, North Korea had run only 3 to 5 courses for Chinese visitors.

Experts say launching a series of tourism programs for the Chinese is the North’s apparent bid to earn much-needed hard currency.

According to Arirang, this cruise is only one of ten tours offered to Chinese tourists:

A cruise ship tour from China to North Korea’s scenic mountain resort Mount Kumgang has been launched.

There are now around 10 separate travel programs to North Korea from China.

For a decade, South and North Korea jointly ran a tour program for South Korean tourists who traveled to the Mount Kumgang resort by sea.

But the cross-border tour program came to a halt following the 2008 shooting death of a South Korean tourist by a North Korean soldier at the tourist site.

As Chinese tourists are heading to North Korea, Yonhap News Agency reports that the number of North Korean defectors to South Korea has dropped because of the increased border security between North Korea and China:

The number of North Korean defectors to South Korea tumbled 43 percent in the first five months of 2012 from a year earlier due to increased security along the North Korea-China border, the Seoul government said Sunday.

A total of 610 North Korean defectors arrived in South Korea in the January-May period, down 42.6 percent from the same period last year, according to data from the Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs.

“The reason appears to be stronger crackdowns in the North Korea-China border area following the death of (North Korean leader) Kim Jong-il at the end of last year,” said a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

China has reportedly strengthened crackdowns on North Korean defectors in recent months, after rights groups and lawmakers in South Korea and other countries demanded the Chinese government stop the forced repatriation of North Koreans to their homeland, where they could face harsh punishment and even execution.