As North Korea builds concrete walls and high voltage wires along the entire China-North Korea border, military units and labor brigades tasked with the construction recently received an order to complete their work by Oct. 10, or Party Foundation Day.

A source in Yanggang Province, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Daily NK on Monday that the Central Committee and Cabinet issued a joint order on June 26 to complete construction of the “bulletproof wall” and high voltage wires by Oct. 10 “at all costs.”

SWEEPING CHANGES

According to the source, North Korea’s leadership provided three reasons for why construction work must be completed by Oct. 10.

The first is the degraded combat readiness of the so-called Storm Corps (11th Corps) due to its prolonged deployment to the Sino-North Korean frontier. North Korean authorities stated in the order that they must withdraw the Storm Corps from the border when the wall and wires are completed and ready the unit so it can join the military’s winter training.

As such, one reason the authorities are insisting on completing the wall by Oct. 10 is due to fears that the elite unit has been unable to play its “proper role” while also suffering from lagging discipline due to its protracted deployment along the border.

Second, North Korea’s leadership said it wants to improve the visibility of the border patrol. According to the source, the authorities stressed that they must ensure that the border patrol can independently carry out its “born duty” of securing the nation’s borders.

Third, North Korean leaders are mulling a sweeping redeployment of the border patrol. That is to say, the authorities believe that carrying out a massive redeployment without harming border security will require the border walls and fences to be completed by Oct. 10.

“A proposal regarding the redeployment of the border patrol along the entire frontier has already been submitted and awaits ratification by the Central Military Commission,” said the source. “If illegal acts such as defections and smuggling increase significantly while border patrol forces adjust to their new places of deployment, it could also cause problems in national emergency quarantine efforts. So, that’s why the leadership believes the wall must go up quickly.

“Construction units feel they need to hurry the construction because the work will get harder during the monsoon season,” the source continued, adding, “They think putting electricity into the high voltage wires can come later, and that they must first put everything else in place by Oct. 10, including the raising of utility poles and building the walls over two meters high.”

SLOW PROGRESS

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

Construction work on the walls and fences is reportedly proceeding slowly due to shortages of materials. The central government provides 80% of the supplies while border provinces, cities, and counties provide the remaining 20%. However, most work units are making little progress because they use up their supplies after just two or three days of construction.

The labor brigades dispatched by the Cabinet to some regions of Yanggang Province to accelerate construction remain where they are, unable to complete their work. The brigades had initially sought to complete their construction tasks within a month. 

Members of these labor brigades are suffering from various difficulties. According to the source, members of units from the interior of the country – who are seeing the border for the first time – have been mesmerized by the sight of Chinese cities across the river. They reportedly liken what they have seen to “cities of legend” because the Chinese cities have lights that glow bright during the night. Some laborers are even getting their hands on illegal videos smuggled from abroad. 

CAUGHT IN THE ACT

In fact, one male member of a labor brigade in his mid-30s was arrested early last month in Kimjongsuk County (Sinpa County) for watching a music video by popular South Korean boy band BTS.

“This wouldn’t have happened if [the labor brigades] were working day and night, but since they are just hanging around three days out of five for lack of materials, he ended up buying a memory card,” said the source. “He was discovered by a coworker secretly watching the video. In the end, he was turned over to the judicial authorities.”

Later, in mid-June, the county branches of the Ministry of State Security and Ministry of Social Security, along with local prosecutors, assembled military construction units and labor brigades in Sinpa Middle School’s field for a public “ideological struggle” meeting focused on the man’s infraction. Local residents also witnessed the event because it was held in such an open place. 

While criticizing the actions of the man, one judicial official quipped that he had “come to build a bangtan [bulletproof] wall, but ended up watching bangtan material from the enemy,” a play on the Korean name of BTS, Bangtan Sonyeondan, which means “Bulletproof Boy Scouts.” By mistakenly making direct reference to BTS, the official reportedly sparked laughter among locals familiar with the band. 

In the end, the offender was transported back to his place of residence and handed over to local Ministry of Social Security officials, according to the source.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.
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Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.