A notice can be seen on a guard post operated by the border patrol. The Yalu River flows just below. Photographed from the Chinese side of the river across from Sakju County, North Pyongan Province, in late September 2023. (ASIAPRESS)

With the start of the coldest period of North Korea’s winter season, the Yalu and Tumen rivers on the North Korea-China border have become frozen over. This is typically a time for people to walk across the ice into China. The lives of the North Korean common people are extremely difficult, which means people are motivated to cross the border; however, since mid-January, the Kim Jong-un regime has begun to intensify monitoring of border residents and strengthen border security. Reporting partners from several cities in the northern part of the country contributed to this report. (KANG Ji-won and ISHIMARU Jiro)

◆ Officials announce that defections will be met with imprisonment or death

On the morning of Jan. 26, there was a small incident in Hyesan, Yanggang Province. The snow on the frozen Yalu River had footprints from a person who had crossed over to the Chinese side. Soon, border guards were searching the area, and checkpoints were established in neighboring districts.

An ASIAPRESS reporting partner in Hyesan, who relayed this information, explained the severity of the latest measures to prevent defections as follows:

"At the Socialist Women’s League study session on January 29, two officials from the People's Committee (local government) led the session, declaring that 'anyone who defects is not just a betrayer, but a traitor, and will be punished by imprisonment or executed by firing squad.'"

Neighborhood watch units have set up security posts at the entrances to apartments and villages, checking every person entering or leaving the villages, as well as local residents, and submitting reports to the local security officers in charge on a daily basis.

The police also register and monitor people who have been involved in smuggling in the past, crossed over the border into China, or who committed infractions in the past. If they go missing or don't return after leaving their area of residence, the police are contacted through an emergency alert network and are authorized to order a neighborhood-level lockdown.

"Now, even if you pay tens of thousands of dollars, it's hard to cross over to China. The border is tightened up to its limits, and there's no hope of security loosening up."

Layers of barbed wire line the riverbank. The fields behind it are probably a buffer zone. Since 2020, even people who farm the land have had to ask permission to enter. The buildings seen in the distance appear to be apartments. Photographed from the Chinese side of the river across from Sakju County, North Pyongan Province, in late September 2023. (ASIAPRESS)

◆ Authorities announce investigation into two people who may have crossed border

A disturbance also occurred at a point along the Tumen River, which has led border security to be tightened. A reporting partner in Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province, shared the following account of what happened:

"On January 12, in the Yuson Labor District, a woman in her 40s went to the Tumen River despite the fact that there are mines buried there. The border guards caught her after firing warning shots and handed her over to the police. The problem is that many people saw her trying to cross the border, but no one notified them."

According to the reporting partner, on January 13, a security officer came to a local neighborhood watch unit meeting and instructed attendees to step up their political efforts to prevent illegal border crossings and smuggling along the border with China.

The official said that "there is a part of the population that doesn’t care about the state of the country and only cares about their own comfort. Turning a blind eye to crimes in the border area or hiding them is an illegal and non-socialist act. Everyone is urged to be the eyes and ears of the border patrol and report even the slightest issue."


There were other suspected defections in Hoeryong towards the end of January. Two men living in the city have disappeared. One is a military veteran in his mid-30s and the other is a coal miner in his early 50s. Both men had not been to work all day and were not at home, and it took only three days for the police to start investigating their whereabouts.

"Security is so tight now that I can't imagine crossing the border or smuggling. Even if they didn't cross the border, (the authorities) thought they might have fled to China and announced an investigation using the names and identities of the two missing persons."

※ ASIAPRESS communicates with its reporting partners through Chinese cell phones smuggled into North Korea.

A map of North Korea (ASIAPRESS)