NK-China actions

BEIJING, China, March 20 (Yonhap) -- China has launched unusually stringent investigations against North Korean restaurants in China, sources said Wednesday, adding it may be linked with the country's punitive actions against the North's internationally condemned nuclear test last month.

The sources well-versed in North Korean affairs said China's police, customs authorities and food safety officials recently began scrutinizing North Korean restaurants in Beijing and those in the Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces, bordering North Korea.

The officials are examining whether restaurants hired illegal North Korean immigrants and whether they are engaged in the trading of illegally imported liquors and tobacco as well as counterfeit goods, the sources said. They added that such checks on restaurants of the close ally country are almost unprecedented.

The move may be a sign that China is moving to take action against irregularities at North Korean restaurants that were previously overlooked due to the close ties between the two neighboring countries.

The restaurants were believed to have used people without proper work visas and sold North Korean alcoholic beverages without customs declaration. The isolated state's ties with China are one of the key sources of foreign currency income.

"It's the first time China has conducted an investigation like this. I feel things are not like what they used to be," a North Korean restaurant worker said.

The North Korean-China relations show signs of strain as China joined the U.S. and other countries in punishing the North for its Feb. 12 underground nuclear test. Breaking its usual silence toward the North's provocations against the outside world, China has repeatedly called on the country to stop nuclear activities.

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