The number of North Korean residents
permitted to visit relatives in China is down significantly from last year’s
statistics during the same period. Yet another attempt to regain control, this
move is another attempt by the paranoid leadership to block exchanges with the
outside world and the plethora of information available there.
A source in China reported to Daily NK on
August 22, “In August, there are usually no large events taking place in North
Korea, so it’s usually easier for people to visit family members in China then;
this year though, that doesn’t seem to be happening.” He went on to explain the
reasoning behind the decline, “There is testimony that the North Korean
authorities are actively curtailing the number of those going to China for this
North Korean residents traversing the
border to visit family members in China began in 2000, just after the period of
the famine, referred to as the “Arduous March.”
As the authorities could no longer provide regular food rations to the
people, it resorted to dispatching them to “go abroad and seek help.”
Naturally, China presented as the simplest option.
The currency reform on November 30, 2009
sought to curb inflation and monetary overhang but resulted in the inverse,
hyperinflation. Residents took to seeking out their brethren in China for
assistance to cope with the additional financial hardship. The outcome of the
100:1 redenomination fostered increased mistrust in the authorities by
residents as well as mass panic on the ground; most watched helplessly as
hard-earned savings were reduced to worthless bits of paper.
The situation this year is vastly
different, the source explained. This month has seen daily averages of five
North Korean travelers pass through Dandong Customs House, a sharp decline from
the 50-100 individuals who moved through on a given day in past years, an
indication that the North Korean authorities have drastically reduced visas
permitting these visitations.
A similar dip in numbers arose shortly
after events commemorating the anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth on April
15th, 2014; the daily average of North Koreans advancing through Dandong
Customs House was approximately 10 people. This is the busiest time of year in
North Korea, as rice-planting season runs from May to June and the entire
population is mobilized to work on farms, explaining the decline in those
headed to China.
“There are some North Koreans who are still
going to China, but most of them are involved in business or trading; general
residents are nowhere to be seen. Compared to the annual crowds pouring out
after ‘Victory Day,’ [July 27th celebrations marking the signing of the Korean
War Armistice signed in 1953, perceived as a victory in the North] this is
quite unusual,” he said.
The source interpreted this not as an
anomaly, but rather as a measure instigated by a regime gaining confidence in
its economic status. This year did see record breaking trade activity between
China and North Korea and the relative stabilization of market prices in the
North. Rather than seeking help abroad,
the North Korean authorities are trying to solve these matters domestically;
with concurrent attempts to cultivate a better image internationally.
Most notably, residents’ exposure to
outside information in China has given the authorities new pause in their
willingness to send them abroad; potential economic gains in China are not
worth North Koreans breaking away from state ideology.
“In the past, people only had to offer up
the proper amount in bribes to the State Security Department to get them to
overlook activities by Christians or others entrenched in ideas acquired on the
outside, but now it’s certain they would get caught,” he explained. Now that
the authorities are aware of the effects, they are ratcheting up their efforts
to stem them, “There are so many who don’t return these days that the
authorities fear even bigger problems will arise if they allow people to go [to
“The stringent controls placed on border
security and outside phone calls are so much more severe since Kim Jong Eun
came to power. The latest in this series of attempts at mind control is to do
away with any chance for North Koreans to meet freely with relatives in China,”
The upcoming September 9th holiday, which marks
the founding date of the state, and the day the Chosun Workers’ Party was
founded, October 10th, are both expected to yield even fewer able to enter
China to visit family members. While there is always the possibility for the
North Korean authorities to expand permission again after the events end, the
downward trend is expected to continue.