North Korean ruling elites’ penchant demand for fine wines and spirits has revived China’s liquor exports to the isolated country, two years after it sealed off its borders in early 2020 in face of Covid, according to customs data.
The liquor category which eluded the 2006 UN Security Council ban on luxury goods to North Korea saw its export value rise to US$3 million from July to September, as Chinese customs data has shown, at a time when North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un declared victory against Covid in August.
No data of exports were available for the previous five months, while nearly US$40,000 worth of whisky and vodka were shipped from China to the heavily sanctioned nation in January.
According to a SCMP report, China’s liquor exports included more than 83,000 liters of distilled wine including brandy, 71,000 liters of bottled wines, 68,000 liters of whisky and over 47,000 liters of vodka in addition to smaller amounts of gin, liqueurs, cordials and tequila.
Most of the exports came from bonded areas in China’s northeastern Liaoning province which borders North Korea, with the rest from Fujian and Hunan provinces.
The customs data did not specify country of origin for the re-exports but by aligning import and export data, some clues can be found. Mexican tequila sent to Liaoning eventually ended up in Korea, while 2,520 liters of gin from the UK were sent to Korea in September in the equal amount.
While most countries in the EU and the US ban trade with North Korea, and listed liquor as a type of luxury goods, China is one of the few major economies trading with the country and did not publish its list of banned luxury goods to Korea.
North Korea’s former leader Kim Jong Il reportedly is an avid drinker of Hennessey. The Supreme Leader allegedly spent roughly US$1 million a year on the cognac.
His son Kim Jong Un reportedly likes to splurge on whisky, Champagne and cognac. In 2016, he spent about US$135,000 on Russian vodka, US$166,000 on Chinese scallops, US$80,000 on imported cheese, US$190,000 on whiskey, and US$270,000 on wine and Champagne.