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The Pyongyang Restaurant, a now-shuttered Jakarta eatery that was effectively directly managed by North Korea.
Business

North Korean businesses abroad struggle amid backlash

Pyongyang faces loss of big income source in aftermath of Kim's murder

JUN SUZUKI, Nikkei staff writer | North Korea

JAKARTA -- North Korean businesses in Southeast Asia are suffering as people and governments sour on the country, with eateries closing and laborers facing deportation amid acrimony stemming from the killing of leader Kim Jong Un's half brother.

United Nations sanctions have shackled North Korean trade, as have unilateral sanctions by Japan, the U.S. and South Korea. China has announced a halt to coal imports from its neighbor through the end of the year. Losing another source of hard currency in a region generally friendly to Pyongyang would deal a heavy blow.

The Pyongyang Restaurant in northern Jakarta closed its doors Tuesday. It had become unprofitable, according to a source affiliated with the restaurant. The North Korean women employed there will return home.

Customer traffic had faded as anti-Pyongyang sentiment grew in Indonesia, where public opinion holds that countrywoman Siti Aisyah -- charged in Kim Jong Nam's murder in Kuala Lumpur -- was tricked and used by North Korean agents. National police and intelligence agencies have also identified the restaurant as a base for North Korea-run businesses and stepped up surveillance.

Pyongyang operates around 130 such eateries in China, Southeast Asia and elsewhere. In the wake of the North's nuclear testing and launches of long-range missiles, South Korea urged citizens last year not to patronize these restaurants. Around 20 were driven to cease or suspend operations after that, according to Agence France-Presse.

Many Southeast Asian countries have been on good terms with North Korea. Pyongyang operates a number of businesses there on top of its restaurants and labor exports, including trading companies. But since Kim Jong Nam's assassination, even legal overseas businesses have been caught in the firestorm.

Malaysia had by early this month arrested 37 North Koreans working there, on suspicion of offenses including overstaying visas, local media report. The country said this month that it would deport 50. A number of Malaysian states have agreements with North Korea to accept laborers, such as for work in coal mines, but many apparently stay longer than legally permitted.

Deteriorating relations with Southeast Asia spell trouble for North Korea's tourism industry as well. Malaysia hosts a regional tourism office for the country, which had attracted visitors from neighboring countries as well as India. But since the Kim Jong Nam incident, Malaysia has canceled visa-free entry for North Korean citizens, and many travel agencies there have apparently discontinued North Korea-bound tours.

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs advised citizens Friday to reconsider traveling to the North, citing "recent developments and heightened tensions."

More than 50,000 North Korean laborers work abroad, earning the country as much as $2.3 billion a year, according to a U.N. report. Women employed in North Korean restaurants get no holidays and work at least 10 hours a day. Coal miners get only one or two rest days a month and must hand over at least 90% of their pay to their government. Human rights groups have condemned these conditions as violations of basic rights.

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