A “letter of appeal” recently distributed by North Korea’s Central Committee has called on officials in the Sino-North Korean border region to be more vigilant about “illegal behavior,” including the smuggling of gold. 

According to a Daily NK source in Ryanggang Province on July 23, the letter of appeal, which “expressed the genuine feelings” of North Korea’s communist party, was sent to high-ranking officials at party, governmental and judicial agencies located in all provinces bordering China, along with Rason Special City. The letter was also sent to border patrol units in those provinces. 

Unlike an official decree, which aims to instill fear based on the threat of punishment, a letter of appeal emphasizes “ideology” to encourage people to change their behavior. 

North Korean authorities have already issued several official decrees to officials in the border region that defined illegal acts, such as smuggling, as serious crimes that deserve harsh punishment. It appears, however, that these decrees have failed to make much of an impact. North Korean officials may believe that the letter of appeal could work where the official decrees did not. 

MORE VIGILANCE, LESS COMPLACENCY 

According to the source, the letter denounced “complacency” while noting that the global resurgence of COVID-19 should be treated as a serious threat along with “thorough disease prevention measures.”

The letter reportedly singled out the border patrol – especially border guards – and urged them to treat the pandemic as the country’s “main enemy” while guarding the country against the spread of the contagion across the Sino-North Korean border. 

According to the source, the letter of appeal also noted that border garrisons must be more vigilant than ever to prevent “abnormal issues” from arising near the border by taking unspecified “preemptive actions.”  

The letter also made it clear that border guards must be vigilant about cracking down on smuggling activities taking place in the border region. 

“The letter of appeal reminded border guards that receiving smuggled items from trading company employees is a crime against the state because it facilitates the transmission of COVID-19. The letter urged them to follow party orders and rules, and maintain order out of a sense of conscience,” the source said.

“Provincial branches of the Ministry of State Security (MSS) were told to be scrupulous about investigating any illegal activity taking place near the border, including smuggling, and to make sure they punish those responsible,” he added. 

The letter reportedly mentioned that party and judicial officials and their families were often involved in smuggling operations, and pointed out that officials must be loyal to receive “trust” and “consideration” bestowed by the communist party. 

GOLD, GOLD, GOLD AND MORE GOLD

The letter also included a specific note about the smuggling of rare metals, including gold. It made clear that rare metals belong to the “government and the people” and are not personal property; indeed, such metals should instead be “sold to the state for a reasonable price,” the source said, citing the letter.

Earlier this month, Daily NK reported that a smuggler attempting to move more than 50 kilograms of gold across the Sino-North Korean border had been arrested, leading to a order from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to “uncover” all those involved in the operation. 

Daily NK also reported on an incident that occurred late last month involving the smuggling of 10 kilograms of gold across the border. Another incident involving the smuggling of gold was uncovered in early June, leading to arrests.

According to the source, many North Koreans have been critical of the letter of appeal. For example, one pointed out that “90% of the necessities North Koreans rely on” come from China, so telling people to stop accepting such goods is “akin to a death sentence.”

Others reportedly wondered whether the letter of appeal signifies a ban on the sale of gold someone has personally found (from a river or stream, not from a gold mine). There was also criticism reserved for the authorities because the letter of appeal was not accompanied by any “measures” to resolve the underlying issue of why North Koreans are turning to gold smuggling in the first place.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.