North Korea to possibly send soldiers abroad, violate sanctions

North Korean laborers in Dandong waiting en route back to North Korea
North Korean laborers at China’s Dandong Station waiting en route back to North Korea. Image: Daily NK

Although international sanctions prohibit North Korea from sending new workers abroad for work, a rumor has been circling in Pyongyang that the authorities are recruiting soldiers at military bases to send abroad as construction workers.

“There’s a rumor circulating among soldiers at construction-related military bases that the authorities are recruiting workers to send to inner Mongolia over a three-year period,” a source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK on April 3. “The recruits need good [ideological] backgrounds, of course, and reportedly need to pay 4,000 to 5,000 US dollars to join the construction crews.”

In other words, recruits are required to pay a “security deposit” of 4,000-5,000 US dollars to work abroad. The source told Daily NK that the authorities are enticing recruits by making them think they can earn a lot of money.

A source in North Pyongan Province reported that the soldiers are also saying that the authorities will consider the three years that construction crew members are abroad as part of their military service. However, the construction crew members will not receive additional benefits like recommendations to join the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), as the primary reason for the overseas deployment is to earn money.

The North Pyongan-based source also told Daily NK that soldiers posted abroad on construction crews would be paid for the exact number of hours they work (eight hours per day, weekends off) and that this money will be “given to the state.” Moreover, any extra money they earn through overtime or other activities will go into their own pockets.

“The North Korean authorities are saying that construction crew members can earn up to 30,000 to 40,000 US dollars over three years to entice soldiers to join up,” he said.

Any actual deployment of construction crews abroad would be a clear violation of international sanctions on the country. UN Resolution 2375, which was adopted by the UN Security Council after North Korea’s sixth nuclear test in 2017, prohibits additional deployments of workers abroad.

Some North Koreans are suspicious of the recruitment efforts. The source told Daily NK that some are asking, “Is it possible to send workers abroad so easily when the American bastards are monitoring us so closely?”

North Korean observers suggest that North Korea may be attempting to undermine the cooperation of the international community by taking advantage of a loophole in the Security Council’s resolution. Reuters and other US media outlets report that the US government is aware that North Korea has sent around 100,000 workers abroad and is earning more than 500 million USD per year.

“North Korea’s biggest goal is to get rid of international sanctions,” an analyst at a government-run think tank in South Korea recently told Daily NK on condition of anonymity. “It’s possible that they are preparing to secretly send workers abroad or have already done so.”

“North Korea can earn a lot of foreign currency through construction and logging activities abroad, so the country’s leaders have likely looked for ways around sanctions prohibiting the deployment of workers to foreign locations,” the analyst added. “If that’s the case, such activities would greatly weaken UN sanctions on the country. There’s a need for [the international community] to track and stop these activities from taking place.”