There has always been a kind of curious association between Nepali communists and members of the Workers Party of Korea, North Korea’s ‘eternal’ ruling party. While Nepali communists derided South Korea for coming under the influence of the capitalist Americans, the North Koreans were seen as bravely fighting the imperialists with the help of communist China. This fascination with the brand of North Korean communism endures.
The farther on the left a political party in Nepal, the greater its admiration for “Eternal President of the Republic” Kim Il-Sung and his descendants. This is why Maoist leaders like Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Ram Bahadur Thapa were absolutely fascinated by how North Korea has managed to retain its sovereignty and model of government against all odds. But there is perhaps no communist outfit in Nepal that has not had a soft spot for the North Korean regime.
Only now has unrelenting American pressure to enforce UN sanctions against Pyongyang distanced them from their North Korean comrades. In the past few months, most North Korean businesses in Nepal have been shut down and the workers there repatriated. The UN in Nepal had long expressed worry that the North Korean businesses here were sponsoring Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons development program. The communist government in Kathmandu ignored their concern. Then the Americans started getting serious. As their pressure mounted, the government had no option but to crack down on North Korean activities on Nepali soil.
But the trillion Won question is: Is this a temporary lull in North Korean activities in Nepal, only for show, or is the government here determined to keep them out for good this time around?
Ditching commie bonhomie, government cracks down on North Korean investments
All businesses with North Korean investment are being closed down. The government had issued an ultimatum for North Koreans to return home by December 20. The North Koreans had investments in two IT companies, some restaurants, and a hospital in Nepal
Nepal government is finally closing down all businesses in Nepal with North Korean investments. The United Nations, often in concert with the American Embassy in Kathmandu, had been exerting constant pressure on Nepal to enforce its sanctions on North Korea. The latest government move is the culmination of this pressure.
The North Korean workers have now started returning home. In fact, most of them have already left Nepal. For those still here, the government has issued a December 20 deadline to shut down businesses and head home. The North Koreans had investments in two IT companies, some restaurants, and a hospital in Nepal.
Nepali citizens have bought the Ne-Koryo Hospital in Damauli in the district of Tanahun. The North Korean doctors and investors there have already left Damauli. Several restaurants in Kathmandu—Pyongyang Arirang, Minaj, Himalayan Soje, Botonggang— have closed down and many of their workers have gone back home as well.
Nine North Koreans associated with Botonggang restaurant, located on the third floor of the Rising Mall in Durbar Marg, are yet to return home; the rest of them left Nepal on November 24.
The restaurant closed down on November 21. An immigration department team had inspected it at 9 pm the previous night and had asked the North Koreans to shut down the business. The two sides had had a brief argument, following which the North Koreans had agreed to comply with the immigration department’s instruction. When the immigration team returned to Botonggang around noon the following day (November 21) for a second inspection, the restaurant was still doing business. The immigration officials issued a final warning, and the North Koreans closed the restaurant down that very day.
Following the closure, North Korean ambassador to Nepal, Jo Young Men, paid a visit to the immigration department and asked General Director Ishwor Raj Poudel not to revoke the visas of the North Korean workers and investors of Botonggang. Poudel said he could not honor the request, citing UN sanctions on North Korea.
“All things North Koreans have been shut down,” Poudel told APEX. “No new visas have been issued to North Korean nationals. Nor will we issue them in the future.”
Commie comradeship crumbles
Earlier, the government and senior leaders of the ruling Nepal Communist Party were positive about North Korean investments in Nepal. PM KP Sharma Oli, NCP Co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal, former Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali, former Minister for industry, commerce and supplies Matrika Yadav, among many other NCP leaders, had been providing political protection to North Korean businesses. They simply ignored the UN sanctions and the US pressure on the Nepal government to enforce them. The reason, apparently, was that North Korea is a communist state.
But in a surprising U-turn, the government recently changed its stance on North Korean investments. Many found this government about-face hard to believe. It was later revealed that the government and top NCP leaders were forced to relent in the face of strong warnings from the UN and continuous pressure from the US Embassy in Kathmandu.
In fact, in six past months, the prime minister, the home minister and the foreign minister had even refused to see the North Korean ambassador. Senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal, who had been to North Korea multiple times, also stopped providing support. Subsequently, all North Korean businesses in Nepal were forced to close down.
In addition to the UN warnings, the US Embassy in Kathmandu seemed to have played an important role in closing down North Korean businesses in Nepal. The UN office in Nepal did not appear to be actively involved in persuading the government to enforce sanctions on North Korea. Its action seemed to be limited to dispatching letters to the government. The role of the US Embassy in Nepal, on the other hand, appeared prominent. Embassy officials, both directly and indirectly, kept piling pressure on the government to put an end to North Korean investments in Nepal. To that end, the US Embassy received support from other embassies in Kathmandu, notably those of Japan, South Korea and some European countries.
Two weeks ago, the US Embassy had held an informal briefing on North Korean investments in Nepal, where it invited reporters who cover foreign affairs. The event discussed possible threats to Nepal’s international reputation as a result of the North Korean investments. American officials said encouraging North Korean investments could tarnish Nepal’s image among the international community and weaken its presence in the UN. They also argued that North Korea’s sour relations with its neighbors could pose threats to Nepalis in the region, particularly 80,000 of them in Japan and 70,000 in South Korea.
Moreover, they contended, Nepali leaders had nothing to gain by maintaining cordial relations with North Korea, except some opportunities to visit the country. North Korea, on the other hand, has been trying to build a good global image by citing its amicable relations with Nepal.
Ties with Kathmandu have helped Pyongyang to exploit Nepal’s resources and invest here. North Koreans remit part of the profits from such investments to their country, which, according to the UN, is spent on its nuclear-weapons program. The harsh UN sanctions on North Korea are motivated by the intent to denuclearize the country. After long resisting outside pressure to crack down on North Koreans, Nepal government finally seems to be playing ball.