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Hotels in Chinese cities near North Korean border forced to block access to South Korean TV

Bank of Yalu River in Dandong. (Jacky Lee/Wikimedia Commons)
June 16, 2019
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This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Chinese authorities have ordered hotels in cities close to North Korea’s border that cater to business travelers from the North to remove satellite dishes capable of receiving signals for South Korean television, an order that came at the request of the Pyongyang government, sources in the region told RFA’s Korean service.

Within North Korea, the government controls the media that its citizens have access to. Reception of foreign broadcasts, especially from South Korea, is a punishable offense in the North.

Sources say that watching South Korean media while on short visits to China is a very common practice for North Korean business travelers, but now they will find it more difficult to tune in to broadcasts from the South while on sojourn in Chinese border cities like Dandong.

“Most of the hotel rooms here in Dandong had satellite service, so we were able to watch South Korean TV shows,” said a source in Dandong in an interview with RFA’s Korean Service.

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“But they started removing the receivers for South Korean broadcasts, so we can’t watch South Korean TV anymore,” the source said.

The source said that offering access to South Korean TV was a recent effort by the hotels to attract more guests, but the hotels were asked to remove their satellite dishes only shortly after they were put up.

“It seems like Chinese authorities ordered them to do so,” the source said.

“It’s highly likely that the North Korean authorities, burdened by the fact that North Korean guests were watching South Korean TV, asked China to remove the satellite receiver,” said the source.

The removal has lowered the mood of North Korean travelers to Dandong, according to the source.

“Now the North Koreans feel sad that they can’t watch South Korean TV in their hotel rooms. They usually receive education and instructions from the State Security department about avoiding South Korean TV broadcasts before leaving North Korea, but nobody actually avoids it [once they are in China,]” said the source.

But the source revealed that travelers are still finding ways to watch TV from the South.

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“Some of the more frequent travelers are choosing to stay at private guest houses instead of hotels. These guest houses are operated by people who rent out rooms in their apartments. Guests not only have access to South Korean TV, but broadcasts from all over the world,” said the source.

A second source, also from Dandong, said, “Given that the hotel guests who usually watch South Korean TV shows are North Koreans, it is highly likely that the North Korean authorities asked China to remove the receivers.”

“Recently, Chinese authorities have been blocking access to South Korea’s internet portal sites, Daum and Naver,” the second source said.

Naver and Daum are with Google, the three most popular search engines in the hyper-connected South. According to a 2015 report by Christian Science Monitor, Naver’s South Korean market share at that time was 80%.

The second source said that the move by Chinese authorities to limit access to South Korean TV might not have been simply a favor to North Korea, as the Chinese government itself feels threatened by the rapid influx of South Korean culture, known in the South and other parts of Asia and the world as hallyu, or the “Korean Wave.”

Meanwhile, local sources say that South Korean broadcasts are also not available at hotels in Yanji, a city near the border with North Korea in Jillin province, nor in Shenyang. But travelers can get access to South Korean broadcasts at restaurants and cafes operated by South Koreans or ethnic-Korean citizens of China.

Reported by Joonho Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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