South Koreans in China sense wind of economic change in NorthBEIJING ― South Koreans in China’s northeastern provinces along the North Korean border have been receiving frequent and unexpected phone calls recently from North Koreans promoting capitalist-style business proposals. The calls, from people who are based either in North Korea or in China, the North’s communist ally and business partner, reflect recent changes in the North Korean economy, the South Koreans said.
A South Korean restaurateur in Shenyang, Liaoning province, said he was really surprised to receive a call from a North Korean. “The North Korean told me that he could supply organic food ingredients to my restaurant,” the businessman said. “He told me that he owns a farm in the North.”
In July 2002, North Korea adopted a plan to revamp its economy, adjusting prices to reflect market prices and introducing a capitalist-style management structure for companies.
But Is North Korea really changing?
Scores of South Koreans in China who had contacted North Koreans said they indeed have noticed changes, citing as one indication the sprouting of North Korean restaurants in northeastern China. “Since North Koreans have nothing to sell and no cash to invest, restaurants seem to be the easiest business option for them,” a South Korean in Beijing said.
A North Korean restaurant in Beijing has been buying an advertisement in the Beijing Journal, a South Korean newspaper in the city. A group of South Korean reporters was also invited to the restaurant.
Patrons of North Korean restaurants also have noticed improved customer service, reflecting the North Koreans’ awareness of the simple capitalist principle that good service draws business and money, customers said.
A South Korean executive of a company in China dealing with North Korean businesses said he also noticed a difference. “In the past, North Korean business partners were busy demanding many things,” he said. “These days, I don’t see such an attitude anymore. They are looking for feasible business ideas and listening carefully to South Koreans’ advice.”
A South Korean embassy official in Beijing said he had sensed changes in corporate management, manufacturing, distribution and farming techniques in the North. “Such changes are evidence that capitalist mechanisms have been afoot in the North and the North Koreans are now attaching importance to profits,” he said.
by Yoo Kwang-jong
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