The border between China and North Korea has been tightened during the last 20 years. Residents of both nations used to be able to approach the river without obstruction. But changes were made after the so-called, “Arduous March,” in the mid 1990’s famine that affected all North Koreans.
The North Korean government began to tighten control over the river by increasing the number of border guards. This was in response to mass defections and cross-border smuggling of narcotics. From 2012, crimes committed by border crossers from North Korea further spurred the Chinese government to install surveillance cameras and barbed wire along the border. The Tumen River was completely sealed off by around 2013.
North Korean government also started installing barbed wire from 2014. There were even sturdy poles with barbed wire erected nearby sparsely populated villages when our reporter looked across the river and into North Korea in July 2017. An ASIAPRESS reporter reported that high voltage electricity had been installed as a further deterrent, in the narrows of the Yalu river.