Although three months remain until North Korean workers abroad are required to return home in accordance with a UN Security Council resolution, the regime has suddenly handed down a recall order to workers in China to return home before the December deadline, Daily NK has learned. 

The regime may have aimed to ease the pressure on China to adhere to the UN resolution and is instead focusing on other ways to deploy workers abroad, some Daily NK sources have suggested. 

“The recall order was sent through the North Korean embassy in China earlier this month to managers of North Korean workers in the country,” a source familiar with the order told Daily NK. “If no unforeseen events prevent it from happening, it will likely be carried out.” 

UN Security Council Resolution 2397 calls on all North Korean workers overseas to return home by December 22, but the North Korean authorities have reportedly decided to recall their workers a day earlier, on December 21. 

It is not clear, however, whether the recall order applies to all North Korean workers in China or only those working in the Sino-North Korean border region. “The recall order will most likely take specific effect with regards to workers living and working at factories near the Sino-North Korean border, such as Jilin Province where many workers reside,” another Daily NK source said.  

North Korean workers in China are concentrated along the Sino-North Korean border, so the order will nonetheless affect most in the country. 

“Sanctions on North Korea are international in nature so the regime may have decided that recalling all of them would serve to reduce pressure on the Chinese,” the source added. 

Some experts, however, say that the order is just a ploy to show the world that North Korea, and by extension China, is implementing the UN resolution.

A North Korea expert in China who requested anonymity told Daily NK that “Kim Jong Un’s emphasis on following international norms is just a political ploy.” 

Experts also caution that a full recall of North Korean workers in China will be very difficult to verify. North Korean workers can still continue to work in Chinese companies through short-term visas or “apprentice” visas.

Daily NK has long reported on the difficulties involved in confirming the presence of North Koreans in the country, including efforts by Chinese business people to keep North Korean workers on their payroll and visa fraud. 

The Chinese authorities have allegedly stopped issuing new work visas to North Korean workers and those whose visas have expired have returned home. Yet there is still evidence that North Koreans are receiving so-called “river crossing visas” to head to China for short stays. 

It also appears that there has been a slow down in replacements of North Korean officials in China. 

“North Koreans who are in China to earn foreign currency, do business, or for official activities are staying longer in the country than before, perhaps as a way to deal with the mass repatriation of North Korean workers,” the Chinese analyst told Daily NK. 

Daily NK’s source in China added that it remains unclear whether the order will lead to all workers leaving by December 21 or workers closer to the border will be sent home first before those located further afield. He also noted that although three months are left before the mass recall of workers, there does not seem to be any full-fledged efforts by North Koreans in the country to return home.

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