One defector living in South Korea, who escaped through China in the early 2000s, uses a clandestine funding channel to send hundreds of thousands of dollars to help dozens of North Koreans open small businesses, such as noodle shops and grocery stores.
Under Kim Jong Un, North Korea has allowed a growing number of semi-legal markets known as jangmadang, where individuals and wholesalers buy and sell goods they have produced themselves or imported from China. The markets have improved the quality of life for many but also makes them less reliant on the Soviet-style planned economy, undermining the power of the state.
“The North Korean business owners I am helping can be an alternative group to build sound capitalism,” said the defector, who is in his 40s and declined to be named fearing for his safety and that of his partners in the North.
He uses a clandestine money channel typically works with middlemen who wire money to banks in China, where it is collected by agents and carried across the border. He vets prospects through his relatives and acquaintances.His brokers on the ground send photographs to him of businesses the defector has funded, using cellphones connected to China’s mobile network.
The defector, who does not seek a profit, tells the North Koreans he helps “not to be greedy, help other poor North Koreans and gain respect,” he said. “This is [effective] because it directly supports livelihoods.”