In North Korea's Warning to Diplomats, A Small Cash Windfall for Kim?

But one small implication of this warning does seem clear. If foreign embassies and international organizations in Pyongyang choose to heed the alarm, and start evacuating their personnel from North Korea, then those departing foreigners will have to buy airline tickets for the trip. And in North Korea, that pretty much means buying tickets on North Korea's state airline, Air Koryo. To the best of my knowledge, foreigners are required to pay for those tickets with hard cash. The price may not be enormous -- items here and there on the internet suggest the business class fare from Pyongyang to Beijing amounts to a a bit under $400. Nor is the diplomatic corps in Pyongyang very large -- totaling two dozen or so embassies as far a I can tell, plus assorted offices of the United Nations and whatnot. But potentially all that otherwise unscheduled travel could add up -- if multiple staffers from multiple missions start buying tickets out of the country. Especially if it turns out there is no dire emergency, and they must then buy tickets to return to Pyongyang.

Of course, diplomats who leave the country would no longer be spending money for daily living -- or at least not on such amenities as shops and restaurants, such as they are -- in North Korea. That might offset some of the airline ticket windfall. On the other hand, unless foreign countries and international organizations actually close down their entire missions, it's quite likely they will continue paying rent, local staff costs, and all those other expenses that rarely figure in the news, but do constitute a flow of cash to the North Korean regime. My guess is that, net, a genuine evacuation would work out to a cash windfall for Pyongyang. Not massive, mind you. But in the cash-hungry realms of the North Korean state, not utterly negligible either. I'm not saying this is the reason for the warning. But it's one of the likely results. It's good bet that somewhere in a corner of the Pyongyang bureaucracy, someone is making the actual calculations of just how much this kind of evacuation might generate in hard cash.

(Thumbnail on PJM homepage assembled from multiple images.)