A single cargo truck at the border. All is quiet at the North Korean customs office. Photograph taken from the Chinese side of the border in November, 2017 by ISHIMARU Jiro.

◆ A harsh crackdown on smuggling

North Korean trading companies are crying out. Since March, Chinese authorities have been conducting strict customs inspections and cracking down on smuggling, dealing a severe blow to North Korean trade. This has led to great concern among officials as well, with China’s economic pressure causing much embarrassment for the authorities and a deterioration in state relations. (Kang Ji-won / ISHIMARU Jiro)

Mr. Kim is a businessman in China’s Jilin Province and is responsible for trade with North Korea. He is a close acquaintance of a Chinese ASIAPRESS employee. Mr. Kim’s primary business is sending cloth to the North Korean city of Rason, in North Hamkyung Province, where he commissions the production of clothing. These transfers were in violation of the UN sanctions but, after talks with Chinese government officials, Mr. Kim managed to have his shipments sent to North Korea disguised as other products, rather than be counted as textiles. From March, however, strict customs inspections have made it impossible to ship them out.

In order to ship products back to China, Mr. Kim consulted with his counterpart in North Korea and arranged to have the goods smuggled out along the upper reaches of the Yalu River. In anticipation of the transfer, Mr. Kim sent two trucks, mostly packed with clothing, to Hyesan city in Yanggang Province to stand by. Around Hyesan, Chinese border guards are known to be susceptible to bribery. In the past year, the area has been the most active site of smuggling along the 1,400 km border.

As of mid-April, however, Mr. Kim’s trucks were still waiting on standby and no clothing had yet been received. He says that the border guards have not even countenanced bribes.

A senior official of a Chinese trading company in Jilin Province, long engaged in legal and illegal trade with North Korea along the Yalu River, also expressed his frustration over the economic slump.

“You can’t even go near the Yalu River at night. The road is blocked and all vehicles carrying cargo are inspected. If any North Korean products are found, all of the products are confiscated and all those involved are arrested. On April 9, a Chinese businessman who tried to send minibus and car parts across the Yalu River had his goods confiscated and was arrested at the scene. The border is giving us such a hard time.”

Next page : Rigorous inspections of visiting civilians’ luggage…