North Korean authorities are again tightening control over the Sino-North Korean border following the emergence of smuggling in some regions amid rumors that cross-border trade will resume. The authorities have reportedly moved to implement a variety of measures to prevent smuggling and defections across the border.

A source in Yanggang Province told Daily NK earlier today that the authorities have increased the number of Ministry of State Security (MSS) officials in the border region recently. There has been a particular increase in MSS officials in areas where smuggling activities and “illegal border crossings” have occurred.

North Korean authorities locked down Samjiyon and Hyesan for 30 days following the arrest of two people who had smuggled Chinese-made condiments, sugar, and soybean oil in late January.

Even after the lockdown orders were lifted earlier this month, smuggling activities were discovered in Samjiyon and the authorities again handed down a lockdown order suspending all travel in the area. The authorities also locked down Hyesan, which is located in the same province as Samjiyon.

North Korean authorities handed down a similar one-month lockdown order in early March in Sakju, North Pyongan Province, following the discovery of a man who had secretly returned to North Korea from China in late February.

Each time the authorities handed down a lockdown order, they explained to locals that the lockdowns were needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19; however, smuggling and illegal border crossings were the actual causes of the 30-day lockdowns.

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A sentry post on the Sino-North Korean border in Sakju County, North Pyongan Province. / Image: Daily NK

The authorities appear to have increased the numbers of MSS officials in the border region to better monitor local activities following the recent string of defections and smuggling activities.

Daily NK understands that after an incident involving the defection of three people and the illegal entry of one person into the country in Daehongdan County, Yanggang Province, the authorities have significantly increased the number of officials monitoring locals on a 24-hour basis.

MSS officials in the border region have reportedly ordered inminban (neighborhood watch-like organizations) leaders to provide them with information about recent trends regarding locals. The order stems from the desire on the part of the authorities to strengthen monitoring of locals to prevent smuggling and defections.

Some locals have reportedly complained that conducting “full-time monitoring” of others is “too difficult” given that their economic lives have been heavily impacted by the closure of the Sino-North Korean border last year.

Given that the lockdown of the border continues, North Korean authorities are expected to continue to strengthen their ability to monitor locals in the area.

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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to