North Korean authorities recently ordered the suspension of all trade across the Sino-North Korean border from Aug. 25 as a measure to ensure events celebrating the founding of the ruling communist party on Oct. 10 remain unaffected by COVID-19, multiple sources have confirmed to Daily NK.

“The [North Korean] embassy and consulates in China along with the trading company representative office and other trade-related officials received a Central Committee order recently to halt all state[-sanctioned] trade and smuggling from today [Aug. 25],” a source in China told Daily NK yesterday.

“Each [relevant] organization held information sessions about the specifics of the trade suspension order last Friday [Aug. 21],” he added.

PREVENTING AN OUTBREAK

While the specifics of the trade suspension order are unclear, the Central Committee’s order was relayed to all of North Korea’s diplomatic and trade-related organizations located in China, confirmed the source, who requested anonymity to speak freely.

While North Korea’s trade with China is still largely at a standstill due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the country’s authorities have permitted limited amounts of “smuggling” by state agencies to prevent hoarding and spikes in commodity prices. This latest measure to suspend trade appears aimed at further intensifying efforts to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country and ensure the events planned for Oct. 10 proceed smoothly.

A view of the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge. / Image: Daily NK

The order will likely temporarily prohibit trade activities by individual traders who have received trade permits (waku) from trade companies they are affiliated with, along with the activities of state-run foreign currency-earning organizations in China. The trade activities of “special agencies” such as the Central Committee’s Bureau 38, Bureau 39 and Bureau 99 (under the Ministry of Machine-Building Industry) – agencies that have never faced restrictions on their trade activities up until this point – are likely exempted from the trade suspension order.

Given that the 75th anniversary of the founding of the communist party has special significance in the country, there are plans for a military parade, a mass rally in Pyongyang, and a mass games performance. This means a large number of people will travel from throughout the country to Pyongyang, including delegates of the Supreme People’s Assembly, various party and government officials, so-called “work innovators,” and other “persons of distinction.”

With so many people gathering in Pyongyang, an outbreak of COVID-19 would be a major hurdle for safely holding the events and could cause chaos in the country’s capital. With more than a month before the events are set to be held, North Korean authorities seem to be erring on the side of caution and intensifying efforts to prevent the possible spread of COVID-19 across the Sino-North Korean border.

PAY UP, PLEASE

North Korean traders in China, meanwhile, have been ordered to contribute money to support the upcoming Oct. 10 events. With Sino-North Korean trade having been largely suspended (even before the recent order) and their sources of income diminished, traders have been taken aback by the government’s push for more contributions.

A North Korean trader active near the Sino-North Korean border told Daily NK that “[They’re telling us] that all trade will be suspended while ordering us to send money for the Oct. 10 [events]. It doesn’t make any sense.”

The trader, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons, noted bitterly that ‘[I] have no choice but to fulfill the new quota, so I have to go around to Chinese traders again to borrow money.”

Another trader who spoke to Daily NK anonymously said that “Goods such as medical supplies requested by officials along with luxurious presents for high-ranking officials in Pyongyang are now on their way toward the [border]. Because trade is being suspended from today [Aug. 25], however, once [the goods] arrive we can’t send them over [the border]. That means I’ll have to sell them at rock-bottom prices.”

He further told Daily NK that “there are many [traders] who have been placed between a rock and hard place by this sudden order.”

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.