A source in North Korea told Daily NK last Thursday that the authorities are installing concrete barriers and high-voltage wires along the North Korean border with China.

“[They are] building concrete walls taller than an adult and installing 3300 volt wires all along the entire area,” the source told Daily NK. “When [North Korean leader] Kim Jong Un signed an order [to build the barriers], supplies, materials, and personnel were sent [to the area]. The walls aren’t going up all at once everywhere, but are being installed depending on the conditions [of the area]. The first ground for the project was broken in the Chagang Province border area yesterday [Mar. 24].”

Movements to fortify the border are reportedly taking place because Kim Jong Un wrote a “handwritten directive” at the Second Plenary Session of the Eighth Central Committee last month. The directive contained instructions to install concrete barriers and high-voltage lines along the entire border.

The source added that Kim Jong Un said that “the pandemic is an invisible enemy, and the border [with China] is the front line.” Kim emphasized that his directive to install the barriers and high-voltage wires is based on experience and lessons learned while dealing with the global COVID-19 pandemic. He emphasized that the barriers must be installed to prevent infiltration of the virus and impede the efforts of internal and external enemies to cause trouble within North Korea.

Kim pointed out that even though the Storm Corps (11th Division) was deployed to the border area to enforce a lockdown and had set up hidden guard posts every 20 meters, some North Koreans continued to engage in cross-border smuggling. Because there are limits on what humans alone can do to secure the border, he emphasized that the installation of barriers and high-voltage wires was necessary to prevent illegal border crossings.

After the directive was issued, the party’s Central Committee issued an order in mid-February to the Ministry of State Security, the Ministry of Defense, the General Staff Department of the Korean People’s Army, and the General Political Bureau to guarantee the allocation of cement, copper, and other materials needed for the project within the first quarter of the year. The source told Daily NK that related economic sectors and relative units have procured all of the materials needed.

North Korean soldier secretly defectors
North Korean soldier stationed at the Sino-DPRK border. / Image: Roman Harak, Flickr, Creative Commons

The source said that “[the barriers] are basically there to prevent illegal activities at the border such as smuggling and border crossings….Inland units such as the Storm Corps [in Dokchon, South Pyongan Province] and the Seventh Corps [in Hamhung, South Hamgyong Province] cannot be permanently stationed at the border. The reduction of the mandatory military service period and the resulting reduction in the number of troops may have also influenced [their decision to fortify the border].”

Most interestingly, North Korean authorities ordered the dispatch of special units of military engineers to the site to proceed with the construction of the barriers.

In the early days of Kim Jong Un’s reign, CCTV cameras and electric barbed wire fences were installed along the entire border area to prevent defections. During that time, border patrols in each area worked independently on the construction of barriers for the portion of the border that they were responsible for guarding. This time, however, separate construction personnel were dispatched in order to ensure that patrol duties conducted by the border patrol are not impeded.

“There are three times more military construction personnel at the border than there are border guards, storm troopers, or Seventh Corps troops,” the source said. “[Kim Jong Un] mandated that the construction of the barrier and the high-voltage wires be completed before the beginning of this year’s December winter military drills….That’s why people are saying that in Chagang Province, where construction has already begun, soldiers outnumber regular people four or five to one.”

In the meantime, the Ministry of Social Security has reportedly been ordered to closely monitor Chagang Province residents for any “unusual trends” and to strengthen surveillance systems in the area. In other words, the government has called for the agency to exert stronger control over border area residents due to the possibility of mass defections and unrest within the community. 

People living along the border were reportedly nervous when they heard rumors about the construction of new barriers and high-voltage wires in the Tumen and Yalu River areas last year. They commented that “It might not be possible to smuggle [items and people across the border] in the future, so it will be difficult to make a living,” and that “We should probably make a decision [about whether or not to defect] as soon as possible.”

Social unrest among residents of the border area is expected to become even more widespread when the concrete barriers and high-voltage lines are installed across the entire border.

*Translated by S & J

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Ha Yoon Ah is Daily NK's editor-in-chief. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.