Thursday, October 6, 2022
Home BUSINESS Lockdowns in China and North Korea deal a double blow to Bridge...

Lockdowns in China and North Korea deal a double blow to Bridge City

SHENYANG, China — There are many reasons why business has been lousy recently at Steven Wen’s clothing store in Shenyang, northeast China’s largest city.

Local officials locked down the city for a month this spring after detecting only a few dozen coronavirus cases among its nine million residents. Residents have kept a close eye on their spending since the lockdown was lifted. And in a region often referred to as China’s Rust Belt, the local economy had already been shaky for years.

Possibly the main problem, however, is that Ms. Wen’s core customer base has all but evaporated.

“With North Korea closed due to the virus, they can’t go in or out at all,” he said from behind the counter of his store in Shenyang’s Koreatown, where signs announcing deep discounts on styles imported from South Korea had made little to attract attention. buyers “Before, we had maybe dozens of North Korean customers every day. Now you don’t even get 10.”

China’s continued strict coronavirus controls have hit local economies across the country. But Shenyang has suffered a double whammy. Just 150 miles from the North Korean border, it suffers not only from restrictions in China, but also from the even more isolated country next door.

Before the pandemic, Shenyang was a rare bridge between North Korea and the outside world.

It was a prime destination for the select number of North Koreans allowed to work abroad, who then sent home the money they earned in factories or restaurants to bolster the country’s foreign exchange reserves.

It was also a launch pad for foreign tourists, mainly Chinese, looking to visit North Korea. Multiple flights each week connected Shenyang with Pyongyang, or travelers could take a one hour high speed train to the Chinese border city of Dandong, then enter North Korea over a bridge.

The city’s Koreatown is home to Pyongyang Restaurant, a multi-story venue that features a giant image of the city’s skyline that gives it its name. Alongside smoky Korean barbecue and fresh kimchi street stalls, shops advertise red ginseng, a North Korean specialty, and traditional medicines labeled “Made in DPR Korea.” Not far away is the Chilbosan Hotel, founded as a joint venture between Chinese and North Korean companies.

There are no exact figures on the number of North Koreans in Shenyang, but North Koreans made 165,200 visits to China in 2018, the last year China published statistics. Many of those visits, and many North Koreans who are long-term residents of China, were concentrated in the northeast of the city, including Shenyang and Dandong, in a region that is also home to a sizeable population of ethnic Korean Chinese.

Those close ties carried risks even before the pandemic.

When the United Nations imposed sweeping sanctions on North Korea in 2017, China, by far the country’s largest trading partner, said it would shut down North Korean companies and joint ventures and send North Korean workers home. Still, many North Koreans remained in china on short-term visas that allowed them to circumvent the restrictions, according to analysts other foreign governments. Chinese tourism to North Korea grew after the sanctions.

But then the pandemic came along and it did what the sanctions couldn’t. In 2020, both China and North Korea halted virtually all international arrivals, restrictions that neither country has significantly lifted. Shenyang in particular had perhaps the most extreme quarantine rules in China: until the end of Junerequired all international arrivals to undergo 28 days of centralized quarantine, followed by 28 days at home.

The change was immediately noticed by Ms. Wen, the clothing store worker, who said she could easily identify her North Korean customers. Their dialect is different from that of South Koreans living in Shenyang, said Ms. Wen, who is ethnically Korean. They paid in cash. And they were willing to buy the most expensive deals that Chinese buyers sometimes shunned, Ms. Wen said, noting that many appeared to be businessmen.

“Now there are far fewer customers,” he said. “Sale clothes will sell out from time to time, but regular-priced ones won’t budge at all,” he added, pointing to racks of spring dresses still on display, even though the season has long since winded down. turned into summer.

For other Shenyang business owners, the problem isn’t one of demand: They don’t have the supplies to meet the needs of North Koreans still unable to return home.

In a small Korean convenience store, there would normally be North Korean beer or dried vegetables, said the owner, who gave only her last name, Zhou. But the supply had been depleted since the borders closed.

For a while, North Koreans in Shenyang would come asking when more would be available. “Now, they don’t even come to ask,” Ms. Zhou said. “They know there are none.”

As for the rest of the products, a colorful array of South Korean instant noodles and bottled drinks, there was little demand, said Huang Panyue, a store clerk who was sitting outside, absently watching the thin trickle of passersby as he It was normally the peak summer season for tourism.

“All of our stocks are about to expire,” Ms Huang said, adding that China required imported products to be quarantined, which would further reduce their shelf life.

While the disappearance of most North Korean customers has been a challenge, for many here that’s simply an addition to the main issue: how China’s own Covid restrictions have affected business.

Before the pandemic, many Chinese visitors to Shenyang flocked to the Pyongyang restaurant, eager to see North Korean waitresses and their twice-daily singing and dancing performances.

But on a recent Friday lunchtime, the gold-upholstered banquet tables were empty except for a trio of diners. There have been no performances during the day since the pandemic began, a waitress said. The only conversation came from an old North Korean movie playing on a wall-mounted television, showing a man embracing a tearful woman, which another waitress said was a classic from her childhood.

Back outside and a few stalls down the convenience store, Zhu Hongmei paused before touting the contents of her display cooler (several varieties of pickles, a real barrel of kimchi) to lament the 50 percent drop. in business since the pandemic began. The closure had been bad enough, but even after it was lifted, authorities closed one end of Specialty Street, the main drag in the city’s Koreatown, obstructing foot traffic. Ms. Zhu said. It had only recently reopened.

She had tried to make up for the drop in visitors by turning to online sales, promising to mail her products, in vacuum-sealed bags to ensure freshness, she added, anywhere in the country. But many cities had their own lockdowns, making it impossible to send packages there.

“This pandemic has really screwed us over,” he said.

Che Mingji, who owns an indoor golf course on the top floor of a shopping mall on Specialty Street, said his income has dropped 30 to 40 percent in recent years, largely because his South Korean customers South, which once accounted for about half of its customers, had left China.

Still, at least the few North Korean clients he had continue to show up.

“They still come,” he said. “I guess because they can’t go back.”

liu-yi contributed to Shenyang research, and li you from shanghai

RELATED ARTICLES

A 95-square-foot apartment in Tokyo: ‘I wouldn’t live anywhere else’

TOKYO — At the end of a long day at work in the offices of Japan's professional baseball league, Asumi Fujiwara returned to her...

These job training programs work and can show others the way

For Amber Mitchell Ikpe, learning computer software skills was just one part of the experience at Year Up, a nonprofit job training program.The course,...

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

- Advertisment -

Most Popular

Progressive See extremism only elsewhere

The 9/11 elections in Sweden shocked intellectuals across the West. The Sweden Democrats, a nationalist-populist party founded in 1988 with neo-Nazi loyalties but...

Dr. Oz Closes in on Fetterman in Pennsylvania Senate Race: POLL

Republican candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz is narrowing the Democratic lieutenant's lead in the polls. government John Fetterman in the Pennsylvania Senate race, according...

In a new book, Nikki Haley criticizes the ‘hypocrisy’ of modern feminism

"Women fought for so long to have the freedom to make their own decisions," but now, every thought in their lives is "boxed in...