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Asia Minute: Thailand’s Shadow Ties with North Korea

Nik Cyclist / Flickr
Nik Cyclist / Flickr

While rhetoric from and about North Korea has dominated the news lately, the United States is pursuing other strategies to try to influence the leadership in Pyongyang. That includes efforts to further isolate North Korea—but in some parts of Asia that may be challenging. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.


China is North Korea’s largest trading partner by far, taking roughly 90 percent of the hermit kingdom’s exports, according to the “World Factbook” put out by the Central Intelligence Agency.

Up to now, India, the Philippines and Taiwan have taken a very small portion of North Korea’s exports. But one country that has developed a different kind of relationship with North Korea is Thailand.

It’s not based on trade, the Thai Commerce Ministry says bi-lateral trade was less than 30 million dollars last year, and is on pace for a lower total this year.

Pyongyang has an embassy in Bangkok, and a number of North Korean restaurants are visible on the streets of some of Thailand’s big cities. But the U.S. apparently believes this story goes beyond food. 

Reuters quotes acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Susan Thornton as saying the U.S. suspects North Korean front companies are active in Thailand using the country as a trading hub.

Thornton says the U.S. is encouraging Thailand to shut those companies down.

The Bangkok Post reports the government “insists it will not take action against North Korean businesses operating in Thailand.”

Thailand’s Prime Minister says his country will follow the guidelines of the latest sanctions approved by the United Nations.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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