Nuclear threats to squid hedges: it's hard to get a beer in North Korea

Thu Apr 11, 2013 5:29pm EDT
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By John Ruwitch

TUMEN, China (Reuters) - Setting up a brewery in North Korea seemed like a good idea to Harry Kim and his Chinese friends two years ago. Everyone likes beer, even in one of the world's most closed and least understood countries, they reckoned.

Kim and his partners even got the beer flowing after workers strapped equipment onto a truck in the Chinese border town of Tumen and drove it to the North Korean coastal city of Chongjin. Chinese engineers taught the locals how to brew. City officials loved the taste, he said.

But the small Chinese-North Korean venture ran aground within months after failing to get final approval from authorities in Pyongyang.

Kim's experience is an illustration of both the challenge and the potential of doing business in North Korea, which has grabbed global attention in recent weeks with its threats to wage nuclear war on South Korea and the United States.

"It wasn't rejected. We just waited. The central government didn't come and say 'no', but the documents were just never issued and so we eventually gave up," said Kim, a Chinese national of Korean descent living in Tumen in China's northeastern Jilin province.


Building a brewery in Chongjin, North Korea's third biggest city, made good business sense.

Domestic beer has to be trucked up from Pyongyang, 460 km (285 miles) to the southwest. Terrible mountain roads and the journey takes its toll on the cargo, said Kim, speaking at a restaurant he owns, a few blocks from the icy Tumen River which divides the two nations. One tour operator said North Korean beer in Chongjin was twice as expensive as in Pyongyang.   Continued...

A bottle of beer is seen at a official dinner in Rajin at the Special Economic Zone of Rason City, northeast of Pyongyang August 29, 2011. REUTERS/Carlos Barria