N. Korea decides to close H.K. consulate general amid weak economy

North Korea has decided to close its consulate general in Hong Kong, the Chinese Foreign Ministry confirmed Wednesday, amid reports that Pyongyang is also shutting down its diplomatic missions in Spain and African nations due to financial difficulties.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a press conference that Beijing "respects" Pyongyang's decision to pull out of Hong Kong, saying, "All countries have the right to establish or withdraw their diplomatic missions abroad based on their actual circumstances and needs."

The move came after North Korea's state media said Monday that the country's ambassadors to Angola and Uganda each paid farewell visits to the presidents of the respective African nations recently.

South Korea's Yonhap News Agency also said Wednesday that North Korea has permanently closed its embassy in Spain, while Reuters said Pyongyang is poised to shut down as many as a dozen diplomatic missions abroad.

The South Korean Unification Ministry pointed to the North's faltering economy as the reason behind the closure of its missions overseas, with an official saying Pyongyang's efforts to obtain foreign currency have been affected by tighter sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs.

North Korean diplomatic missions are known to secure funds for operations through illicit trade and commercial activities and send remittances back to their home country, Yonhap said, citing former diplomats for the country who have defected to South Korea.

© Kyodo News