remittance ryanggang province border agreement equipment
This file photo shows a sentry post on the Sino-North Korean border in Sakju County, North Pyongan Province. (Daily NK)

Tensions are rising among residents of the China-North Korea border region after the authorities announced they will severely punish those who talk on the phone with people in South Korea.

According to a Daily NK source in Yanggang Province on Thursday, the Ministry of State Security issued an order to its provincial branch in Yanggang Province calling for “merciless” treatment of people who use Chinese-made mobile phones.

This suggests North Korea has commenced working-level operations against “anti-socialist and non-socialist” behavior, the eradication of which was designated a “major task” by the Fourth Plenary Meeting of the Eighth Central Committee late last year.

That is to say, the authorities have called once again for tightened controls on Chinese-made mobile phones to stop behavior that “harms socialism,” including the leaking of information, defections, and illegal border crossings.

Accordingly, the Yanggang Province branch of the Ministry of State Security held an emergency meeting that day, attended by officials ranked section chief and above.

The meeting discussed the arrest and punishment of each and every Chinese-made mobile phone user who has managed to evade the authorities’ mop-up operation in the border region over the last several years.

In particular, the meeting called on officials to “unconditionally” send people caught talking with persons in South Korea to forced labor camps, along with their accomplices, regardless of the reason.

labor camp
A view of Yanggang Province from the Sino-North Korean border. / Image: Daily NK

North Korea crafted legislation in 2015 against people who talk on the phone with the outside world, newly establishing the “crime of illegal international communications” (Article 222). Specifically, the law calls for up to a year in a labor brigade or up to five years in a labor camp for those caught engaging in illegal international communications.

Given how the authorities stressed their intention to punish offenders even harsher than what the law requires, it appears they have adopted a strategy of fear rather than inducement. As late as the end of last year, North Korea was pushing propaganda that if users of Chinese-made mobile phones turn themselves in, all would be forgiven.

The orders were immediately conveyed to the public. That is to say, in Hyesan, inminban (people’s unit) meetings were held from Jan. 16 with local security personnel and Ministry of State Security guidance officers in attendance.

The Ministry of State Security adopted a threatening tone, warning that they would never forgive the use of Chinese-made mobile phones and that people with foreign-made mobile phones were “clearly headed down the wrong path.” This strategy aims to spark fear by threatening to harshly punish perceived “reactionary elements.”

The source said given how the Ministry of State Security is reacting sensitively to the use of Chinese-made mobile phones from the start of the year, the authorities will apparently crack down hard on users this year, too.

He added that locals are avoiding using Chinese-made mobile phones because of the excess arrests, and that even remittance brokers are refraining from working out of fear.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to
Read in Korean
Lee Chae Un is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. She can be reached at