News from the Border Zone

The latest Good Friends report describes how things are tightening up significantly in the northeastern DPRK city of Hoeryong, snug up against the Chinese border:

Heoryung, All-out Effort on Cracking Down of Drug Trafficking and Border Crossing
On November 5, Hoeryung City in North Hamgyong Province held a community meeting of Osan Dong Residents. The purpose is to reinforce mass political propaganda as increasing number of defection cases in which the whole family fleeing the country during the second half of the year. On the 7th, they arrested 35 ‘ice’ (amphetamine) dealers and sent 27 of those who were dealing over 100g to the police station. The Security Headquarter arrested a nurse who possessed a fountain pen video camera at the checkpoint. Through this incident, the Providence Security Department arrested a primary party secretary and a doctor at Yusun Labor District People’s Hospital, and 60 residents implicated in the case. City and County Organization Propaganda and Instigation Department issued orders to “Get rid of resident’s fantasy about foreign countries, and engage a battle to locate 100% of those who cross the river to China or trade with China using a cellular phone.”

As always, the standard reasons for such crackdowns apply (staunching the flow of information from China, etc.), but we might also see the renewed North Korean efforts to control the border as a measure for keeping the Chinese government placated, or absent the leverage of the refugee issue.

The refugee issue cuts both ways: it is one of North Korea’s trump cards (the “madman strategy,” threatening to implode and send a couple of million people into Manchuria) yet at the same time it also becomes a lever for China (complaining to Pyongyang about excess refugee flows and the stresses they cause).

What’s more, Hoeryong has been a point of emphasis for regime security efforts, particularly since a site inspection occurred there by Kim Jong Il last February.

A new post on the Chosun Ilbo‘s Chinese site argues that the marketization of North Korea will inevitably continue apace, and that the revaluation of the currency is but one in a series of failed measures to restore state control.

Cops in Dandong are making visits to the homes of ethnic Koreans to heat their bums on the kang (actually, I’m quite jealous) and talk about local security.   Although there’s no mention in the article explicitly of North Korean refugees or local bartering, I think the subtext is fairly clear.  At the end of the article, the police man says “So if anything happens, do you all have my phone number?”  and they say with enthusiasm, “Yes!”

courtesy Dandong City News -- note the baby's special vigilance, once again proving Carl Jung's point that children do indeed have superpowers

And although Dandong is no doubt the site of some of the most intelligent speculation about North Korean currency reforms (and indeed, of currency trading with the DPRK), the Chinese Communist Party is keeping the Dandong local media on a pretty short leash.   How do I know this?  Because while stories in the local paper do in fact tackle the currency debacle, they all come from Beijing rather than emerging out of that that desired local perspective indicated by those wonderful characters 本报。

Back in October, a number of us were wondering how forest fires were starting in northeast Korea.  Although no direct references are made to the North, the Changbai Korean Autonomous Prefecture was apparently making quite serious fire-prevention efforts around the same time frame.  Since I’ve previously written about cross-border fire prevention in the 1950s in Yanbian (when the prefecture was led by the indefatigable Zhu Dehai/Cho Dok-hae / 朱德海), it reminds me that the North Korean-Chinese border is one across which fires can flow pretty freely.  Cooperation is thus necessary, but there’s virtually none of it going on at the present moment on fire prevention or a host of other environmental issues.