North Korea has been acquiring face masks through smuggling operations across the Sino-North Korean border, Daily NK has learned.

“The trade ministry [the Ministry of External Economic Relations] continues to import face masks from abroad,” a Daily NK source in North Korea said on Tuesday. “North Korean trading companies in China are managing the import of the masks following orders from above.” 

In short, Daily NK sources have confirmed that the country’s trade ministry is focusing efforts on acquiring face masks and other “disease control supplies” from abroad. 

STATE AGENCIES “TAKING THE LEAD”

North Korea’s state-run Korean Central Broadcasting Station reported on Feb. 22 that the Ministry of External Economic Relations along with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is “taking the lead” in acquiring “prevention and diagnosis supplies.” The report also noted that the Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries – an outfit that organizes cultural exchanges with other countries – had recently imported 60,000 face masks. 

“There are around 100,000 face masks, some 4,500 protective suits and other necessary drugs are imported into the country every ten days,” a source told Daily NK. 

“Between midnight and 2 PM, there is a state-run agency that helps bring these items across the border,” he added. 

North Korean state-run media continues to run stories saying that authorities are closely monitoring goods imported from abroad. 

A Rodong Sinmun article on Monday, for example, stated that the country’s customs agency “stores imported cargos in tightly closed places for 10 days during which it rigidly inspects and sterilizes them according to the specification before handing them over to relevant units in compliance with the procedure and discipline laid down by the state.”

Despite these claims by state media, however, Daily NK sources have confirmed that smuggling of face masks and other items across the Sino-North Korean border continues to occur.

The state-run smuggling operations are also occurring following orders by North Korean Kim Jong Un that anyone engaged in smuggling will face punishment in military courts.

TO MEDICAL STAFF…AND THE ELITE

Items imported from abroad for disease control purposes are reportedly distributed to hospitals and high-ranking officials. 

“Most of the items go directly to the medical [disease control] authorities,” one source said. “The rest goes to the leadership and their families.” 

Daily NK was unable to confirm whether the face masks imported from abroad were ordinary cotton masks or those designed for medical professionals. 

That the imported face masks are being distributed to disease control officials and the leadership may suggest that the masks are designed for use in hospitals, not cotton masks used to prevent colds in the winter. 

North Korea has not faced a shortage of cotton face masks, as Daily NK sources reported this week.

*Translated by Violet Kim

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

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Mun Dong Hui is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.