Recent images reveal that China is tightening its security infrastructure along its border with North Korea, particularly across from North Hamgyong and Ryanggang provinces, the primary origins of North Korean defectors. As part of an initiative that began around August, new high-grade fencing embellished with barbed wire now lines the Tumen River, including a significant river pier in the city of Tumen, once a bustling trade center. This extensive network of barriers now encompasses the pier and the tributaries of the Tumen River, effectively isolating Tumen city and its neighboring villages.
A Confluence of Security Measures
China's bolstered border security is not limited to physical barriers. Government banners now discourage border-related offenses, and a newly imposed ban restricts foreigners' access to a bridge tourist site linking North Korea and China. The border's security apparatus now features advanced CCTV systems equipped with long-range infrared cameras for night surveillance. These measures align with North Korea's pandemic-era fortifications, including new guard posts and security fencing.
The Implications: Decreased Defection and Economic Strain
The combined effect of these actions has manifested in a significant drop in the number of North Korean defectors reaching South Korea, from over a thousand in 2019 to a mere few dozen last year. The border fortifications are also proving disruptive for smuggling routes critical to North Korea's unofficial markets. This disruption is exerting pressure on the economy and inflating the costs of money transfers facilitated by brokers for North Korean defectors seeking to support their families. Fees for such transfers have surged amid the heightened security.
Vanishing Defectors and International Concerns
Meanwhile, up to 600 North Koreans have reportedly 'vanished' following their forced deportation by China in October, as per a Seoul-based human rights group. The group warns that these individuals may now face imprisonment, torture, sexual violence, and even execution in North Korea. This report surfaced roughly two months after South Korea lodged a protest with China over the suspected repatriation of a large number of North Koreans attempting to flee to South Korea. The international community, including the UN Security Council, has strongly condemned North Korea's recent actions, pledging to adopt a new resolution with significant new sanctions.