Daily NK has obtained video footage showing North Korean soldiers putting up new fencing near Hyesan recently amid the country’s efforts to strengthen control over the border to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

“Although [the authorities] have taken strong measures to close the border due to the virus, smuggling and border crossing attempts continue,” a source in Yanggang Province told Daily NK over the phone on July 29. “The installation of extra wire fencing to crack down on such behavior has been ongoing since the beginning of July.” 

North Korea closed the Sino-North Korean border in January to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and authorities have been conducting stronger crackdowns on what they view as “illegal behavior.” Smuggling and other illegal activities still continue in the border region despite these efforts. 

The authorities appear to have begun installing new metal fencing in areas with a lot of smuggling and “river crossings.” Daily NK’s source pointed out, however, that the new fencing is woefully inadequate to effectively stamp out illegal behavior. 

“The authorities have ordered the military to eliminate smuggling, but there are too many places where people can secretly receive illegal goods,” the source told Daily NK, adding, “There is no way that installing wire fencing can completely stop smuggling or river [border] crossings.” 

According to the source, North Koreans living near the border with China cross the border and turn to smuggling as an important way to make a living, which means that the authorities will have a hard time eradicating these activities. The source also pointed out that the newly-installed fencing is really “poor in quality.” 

“Most of the wire fencing in border regions is made from ordinary string wire looped together,” the source said, noting, “There are no barbs [in the wires], so they are easy to lift by hand or cut with tools.”

The video obtained by Daily NK (below) showed that the newly-installed wire fencing was so thin that it literally “swayed in the wind.” The soldiers installing it also had no qualms about touching the wires, perhaps because of the lack of barbs. 

Barbed wire or concertina wire (coiled barbed wire) is usually used on fences that aim to prevent the movement of people or animals. Barbed wire contains sharp edges while concertina wire is made by bending barbed wire into a coiled shape. 

The North Korean soldiers putting up the wire fence in the video appear to be using “unsuitable” materials – perhaps because of the lack of materials needed to build a strong barbed-wire fence. Daily NK’s source suggested that the installation of the new wire fence may just be “for show” and intended to simply “follow orders” rather than actually prevent illegal activities from occurring. 

“Before COVID-19, North Korea used steel wire purchased from China for fencing, and some of it had barbs,” the source told Daily NK. “Ever since trade has ground to a halt, they are now using thin steel wire threaded together.”

The quality of the fencing is so poor that it will “snap if you pull it with your hands,” he pointed out, adding, “[The military] appears to be doing the bare minimum to comply with orders from the Party.” 

North Korean authorities have stressed that the border must be completely locked down ever since they announced that a defector suspected of being infected with COVID-19 crossed the inter-Korean border recently. 

As the report from Daily NK’s source in the country suggests, however, there still appear to be “holes” in the border.

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.