North Korean views from the Chinese border

Tuesday 22nd March, 2016

According to a North Korean correspondent we spoke to on the evening of the March 16th, “From the beginning of March, the Chinese border region has been frequently lined with armed Chinese soldiers inspecting the border. In the area of Hyesan, smuggling has also almost completely come to a halt. Smugglers typically pass their goods from China into North Korea by way of the river here, but they are seldom seen these days.”

Until now, China and North Korea conducted surveillance of their adjoining border with mobile patrols. As a rule, Chinese soldiers did not leave their service cars, conducting patrols as a matter of formality only. To local residents, the previous patrolling methods appear completely different from those in place now. The armed soldiers are said to come all the way down to the rivers and streams of the Chinese border area for their patrols.

Mr. Jang, a North Korean who resettled in South Korea two months ago, says, “From North Korea, I often saw border troops on the Chinese side, looking into North Korea with binoculars.  Generally, they didn’t stay in one place for long. They would soon pass by, so if you’re transferring goods you would just have to avoid them for that moment.  That being said, when there is new tension [with the announcement of new UNSC sanctions], Chinese soldiers do not behave like they did in the old days. Especially at night, armed border troops have shown up unexpectedly during goods transfers. After a loud confrontation, the items to have been smuggled out of North Korea are confiscated while on the other side, the recipient Chinese merchants are transported away.”

Residents along the border report seeing increased movement of Chinese border troops and interpret political tensions by means of such observations. Anytime border tension intensifies here, the DPRK government begins propaganda broadcasts saying that it is a result of provocations by South Korea and the United States. But with the same message repeated every year and at all times of the year, North Korean citizens prefer to interpret the present state of affairs by watching the movement of the troops at the Chinese border.

Mr. Lee, a Chinese-Korean residing in Yanji, China, brokers for resettled North Koreans who send money back home to North Korea by surrogate wire transfers. During an interview on March 17th he told us, “The service we offer is in credibility and safety. We receive a 20% fee when money is confirmed to be received by the intended North Korean recipient. After North Korean exiles send money, they wait for a phone call from their family to let them know the money made it. So the job is not over with the transaction; the phone call saying that the money arrived safely has to be made for my job to be completed.”

Only last month, smugglers too were sending money to North Korean counterparts through these channels. But now with increased tension along the border, while it is still possible to send money, it is said to have become much more difficult for North Korean residents to make that confirmation phone call.

He continued, “They have set up more radar detectors and wiretapping, and if one is caught on a phone call with South Korea, the consequences are severe. So Chinese citizens residing in North Korea are increasingly called upon for the transactions. While they have always been involved, they were not preferred by many North Koreans because they demanded higher prices for the same work. But when communicating with North Korea becomes more difficult, there is more use of overseas Chinese for wire transfer transactions.”

Overseas Chinese can easily check their Chinese bank account statements with their cell phones. When the money reaches their bank account, they instantly deliver the sum remaining after their fee deduction to the recipient in North Korea. For confirmation purposes, a short voice recording and video of the recipient stating they received the correct amount is provided to the sender. By using these methods, their transfers do not fall under North Korea’s surveillance net.

 

By Park Ju Hui
Read in Korean
Translated by Lauren E Walker

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