SEOUL, Sept. 27 (UPI) — A North Korean restaurant in Bangkok that suspended operations in March may be reopening in another location despite international sanctions.
The move to reopen the restaurant, which was heavily dependent on the patronage of South Korean tourists, could have been motivated by pressures to earn foreign currency for the Kim Jong Un regime, a source in Thailand told Yonhap news agency.
Many of Pyongyang’s restaurants overseas have closed or are struggling financially since South Korean expatriates and tourists in Southeast Asia began visiting the restaurants less frequently.
The tourists have been discouraged by North Korea’s provocations and South Korea travel advisories from visiting the establishments, where North Korean waitresses serve food and also perform musical numbers for the guests.
In Bangkok, the new restaurant is in a quiet residential neighborhood that is about 20 minutes from the closest subway station, according to Yonhap.
Pyongyang Arirang Pavilion includes billboards with photographs of hot pots, barbecue and other menu items. It appears to have replaced a North Korean restaurant that closed in the spring that was located in the bustling district of Sukhumvit.
North Korea may also be looking to expand its customer base beyond South Korean diners.
A Yonhap reporter who called a second North Korea-run restaurant in Bangkok was told the establishment no longer serves South Koreans.
North Korea’s restaurants and their workers have been at the center of press coverage since the defection of 12 waitresses and their manager from a restaurant in Ningbo, China.
After their departure from China, North Korea accused Seoul of abducting the group. Some South Korean civic groups have also questioned the motives for the defection.
On Tuesday, Chae Hui-jun, the chairman of unification issues at the progressive organization Lawyers for a Democratic Society, told South Korean lawmakers the young women left China involuntarily, News 1 reported.
Their manager appeared to have defected voluntarily, but the waitresses did not know the purpose of their departure, Chae said.