The North Korean authorities are expediting the issuance of exit permits for people wishing to visit relatives in China but who agree to return to the country with one ton of food within 40 days. A considerable number of people have obtained permits on this basis in the last week, according to a source who spoke with Daily NK yesterday.
The source, from North Hamkyung Province, told Daily NK, “At the start of last week, my people’s unit head advised us, ‘Anyone able to return to the country with a ton of rice before April 5th should apply for a short-term exit permit to the National Security Agency now.’”
The source added, “More than 20 people per day are crossing over into China via Namyang Customs House after getting prior approval this way in Chongjin, Myongchon and Kilju. Others are finding lodgings in Onsung to wait their turn.”
The permit issuance policy is being implemented nationwide, according to information received by Daily NK. Many people are said to be departing via customs facilities both in Hyesan and further west in Shinuiju under the same deal.
Provincial branches of the Party are keen to issue the permits because they are under pressure to provide special food distribution for the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birthday on April 15th, a responsibility Pyongyang is said to have passed on to the provinces in its entirety.
According to the source, the NSA’s provincial anti-espionage head has been telling travelers attending a briefing at the border control office there that their trips “have been made possible by the compassion of Kim Jong Eun,” and threatening that anybody minded to overstay their permit or who is unable to meet their food quota upon their return will be barred from leaving the country indefinitely.
Usually, exit permits are granted on the following basis: ▲ a maximum of 5 degrees of separation between inviter and applicant; ▲ a maximum stay of 3 months; ▲ a minimum of one year between permits. However, this time the authorities are reportedly allowing travelers who have already visited China within the last year to reapply.
Though rare, the policy shift is not unprecedented. For example, a similar pact with would-be permit recipients was offered by the authorities immediately after Kim Jong Il’s trip to China in May, 2011.
Such a loosening of border controls comes with a number of side-effects, not least that it brings down prices in the jangmadang, offering a valuable boost to individual purchasing power.
As such, kilo of decent rice was selling for 3,200 North Korean won early last week in Chongjin, a source from the city told Daily NK yesterday, but as of Monday this had fallen to 3,000 won, with 1 Chinese Yuan dropping from 605 to 600 North Korean Won.
“Given the situation, ordinary people are happy that the price of rice has fallen,” the source commented. However, he added, there is a high degree of skepticism in the market about how many of the travelers will actually return when the time comes.