◆ Rigorous inspections of visiting civilians’ luggage

The situation on the North Korean side of the border seems to be much more dire. One trading company involved in international smuggling, under the direction of the North Korean government, has been tasked with bringing in smuggled cars and parts that are banned by the sanctions. Recently, however, all they have been hearing from their Chinese counterparts is that “security is too tight, it’s impossible to send anything”. North Korean officials from the government’s “international smuggling” division have been waiting at the border for shipments themselves but have withdrawn when trucks show no signs of movement.

According to a reporting partner with intimate knowledge of the smuggling situation in Hyesan City, pressure from the Chinese government has not been restricted to just trade. North Korean civilians visiting China have been subjected to strict inspections as well, with their luggage checked according to sanctions criteria. The Chinese customs office has also been informing North Koreans that, if they plan to visit relatives in China, they will not be allowed to take any electronic goods back home with them to North Korea.

Certain North Korean citizens may apply for permission to visit relatives in China once every few years, so long as they pay the necessary amount of money to the authorities. If a North Korean civilian manages to secure permission, they will certainly be asked by relatives and friends to bring many goods back with them. Chinese customs officials, however, have been checking visitors’ personal items very strictly.

Said the reporting partner, “The customs inspections have become so strict- one of my acquaintances who visited China had 10 out of his 12 pieces of luggage, which were packed with used clothing and things, confiscated at customs. He said that he could only get back with 2 of the cases.”

There also seems to be a feeling of embarrassment and agitation brewing amongst government officials and traders due to the noticeable rise in Chinese pressure.

The reporting partner in North Korea said, “The U.S. is so strong, so China is just doing as it’s told right? Or has North Korea’s relationship with China suddenly deteriorated? Even compared to America, China is scary. At the end of the day, China isn’t on our side. The government officials are saying these type of things. There’s a sense of insecurity spreading amongst their superiors too.”

The upper reaches of the Yalu River, the largest site of smuggling.

Editor’s notes on North Korean reporters

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