A checkpoint manned by North Korean soldiers and a dump truck on a road near the China-North Korea border. This photo was taken in July 2021 on the Chinese side of the border by ASIAPRESS.

◆ An increase in vehicles immobilized by the lack of parts

Throughout North Korea, the stealing of vehicle parts, including the mirrors and tires of parked cars, is rampant. After official cars of the Workers’ Party of Korea and state-run companies were victimized by thieves, the country’s Ministry of Social Security has started a massive crackdown throughout the country. The rise in the theft of car parts has been caused by the scarcity of the parts following the closure of the China-North Korea border because of COVID-19, leading to skyrocketing prices of car parts. (KANG Ji-won)

A reporting partner in North Hamgyung Province told ASIAPRESS in early May the following:

“A car that entered the county I live in near Chongjin on April 30 had all its tires and side mirrors stolen while the owner was sleeping at night. The vehicle was owned by the Chongjin party organization, which led the Ministry of Social Security to immediately hand down an order to find the culprit. Police officials conducted multiple house searches of people who do vehicle repairs to check and see if they had purchased any of the parts illegally.”

However, this case is just the tip of the iceberg. Robberies of car parts across the country has become so common that the Ministry of Social Security has put the full force of its organization into identifying the culprits and putting them in prison.

◆One Chinese-made tire costs 470,000 won!

In principle, private individuals in North Korea are not allowed to own cars. North Koreans began purchasing trucks and vans from China in the 2000s to make money ferrying people and goods. They would pay bribes to register these imported vehicles as being owned by state-run enterprises and government agencies. However, the authorities began strongly cracking down on this business activity starting 3-4 years ago calling it “anti-socialist phenomena.” As a result, businesspeople have had to either pay fines or see their vehicles confiscated.

Currently, most vehicles in North Korea are made in China. Naturally, car parts are also imported from the country, but North Korea’s closure of its borders in early 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19 led to a drastic decrease in the supplies of car parts. The extreme scarcity of vehicle parts in the country has led to many cases where even vehicles owned by companies and party and government organizations cannot be driven anymore: when they break down, there’s no parts to repair them.

One reporting partner in the country told ASIAPRESS:

“Car parts go for whatever the seller asks for them. A single tire for a van can goes for around 2,500RMB (368USD). There’s many cases where completely immobilized cars are taken apart and their parts are sold.”