Musan Mine iron ore smuggled into China through Hoeryong


A mound of collected iron filings sits near a water source in the area near the Musan Mine (yellow circle). Discarded rocks and soil sit off to the side (red circle). Image taken in the fall of 2017. Image: Daily NK

Musan Mine’s production of iron ore had come close to a total standstill due to international sanctions, but following a slight uptick in late December of last year some of the iron ore is being smuggled into China, according to sources in North Korea. 

“The export of iron ore has been completely cut off due to American sanctions, but since November some of it is actually being smuggled across the border with China at night,” a source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK.

After transporting the iron ore by truck from Musan to Hoeryong, North Korean traders send the iron ore concentrate from Jisang-ri to Longjing, according to a source close to North Korean affairs in China.

North Korea has promised to strictly abide by international sanctions but appears to be secretly exporting a major restricted item to China. China, for its part, has promised to abide by international sanctions but has also pursued a relaxation in their implementation.

China finished a railway connecting Helong and Nanping in 2013 that is for the exclusive transport of iron ore from Musan Mine, which at one time produced up to 80 million tons per year, according to the Korean Society of Economic and Environmental Ecology.

 “The smuggling of iron ore concentrate can only occur when the state turns a blind eye to what’s happening,” added a separate source in North Hamgyong Province.

“State officials are likely finding any way they can to smuggling the iron ore concentrate out of the country because it brings in a lot of much needed money for state construction projects.”