North Korean women on the banks of Amrok-gang(Yalu River).Taken by ISHIMARU Jiro, July 2017

◆ Large-scale smuggling carried out in the open

"All kinds of goods are coming in, it’s simply that they don’t pass through customs. I’ve never seen such large-scale smuggling operations carried out in the open."

An ASIAPRESS reporting partner in the northern part of Yanggang Province was astonished with what he found while investigating smuggling activities between North Korea and China. Smuggling primarily takes place in the upper region of the Amrok-gang (Yalu River), near the Chinese-North Korea border, while official trade is conducted downstream from Hyesan City, at the Changbai–Hyesan International Bridge.

The reporting partner said, "Cars are on standby near the Amrok-gang (Yalu River) during the day and move back and forth after sunset and until dawn. What stands out are the transport vehicles – buses and trucks – coming from China. Dozens of them cross over. They carry electronics and clothes. In return, minerals and lumber are shipped to China."

The export of industrial machinery and transport vehicles to North Korea has been banned by "Resolution 2379", adopted by the UN Security Council last December.

"It appears that all smuggled vehicles are being sold in the cities of Pyongyang, Nampo and Chongjin. Though I don’t know why, they say white and silver colored cars are acceptable, but not black ones."


Map of North Korea (ASIAPRESS)

◆June exports to China fall by 92% compared to previous year

Meanwhile, official trade between China and North Korea has ceased. The Chinese government constantly emphasizes that it is in ‘full compliance with the UN sanctions’. According to the June customs report issued by the Chinese Customs authorities in late July, North Korea's exports to China amounted to only 12,955,000 USD. This was a 92% decrease from that of the previous year. Imports saw a decrease of 37.5%, totalingUSD 241.93 million, while total imports and exports decreased by 55.5 percent to 217.158 million USD.

This sort of smuggling at the border would be impossible without the collusion of Chinese authorities. The Chinese authorities have strengthened security measures against North Korean defectors escaping the country and smuggling activities by setting up barbed-wire fences. Further, as of April this year, smuggling was practically eliminated due to frequent security checks and patrols. After Kim Jong-un’s second visit to China on May 7, smuggling became more prevalent. It seems that the de facto "easing of sanctions", which is invisible in trade statistics, has begun.

◆State agencies lead smuggling operations

What about the North Korean side? According to an investigation conducted by reporting partners, smuggling is not carried out by individuals on a small scale, but by trading companies affiliated withstate agencies such as Samjiyon, Chonji, Yonsung and Reung La. Therefore, it can be said that "The ones leading the smuggling operations are state agencies". Smuggling takes place under the protection of the border guards and police stations.

"Although a number of trading companies had monopolized the smuggling business, the provincial trade bureaus have allowed the participation of companies that make payments to China, so the “donju”(wealthy class of merchants)have take part in smuggling under the guise of trading companies", the reporting partner explained. (Kang Ji-won / ISHIMARU Jiro)

A sign set up by the Chinese public security authorities on the Amrok-gang (Yalu River) banks. The sign prohibits the smuggling and sale of drugs. Taken by ISHIMARU Jiro, July 2017


Values inside parentheses are percentage changes compared to the previous year / Unit: millions of USD / Source: Trade statistics of the General Administration of Customs of the People’s Republic of China


▲January-June China-NK trade statistics. Trade was severely hit by sanctions.

Editor’s notes on North Korean reporters
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