Recently it has been reported that a large community of overseas Chinese (Hwagyo) residents living in Pyongyang and other
urban areas in North Korea have been arrested for spying. As relations
deteriorate between China and North Korea, the Chinese ambassador to North
Korea has also been placed under investigation and tailed.
On the 14th of December, our Daily NK
reporter spoke with a source in South Pyongan Province, who informed us that
the State Security Department has been investigating Hwagyo across North Korea,
making arrests as part of an ‘emergency investigation’. Approximately 100
arrests have been made as part of this operation, and the detainees are
currently being interrogated by the State Security Department.
Particulars of this investigation was
corroborated by two additional sources inside North Korea. In this case, Daily
NK has redacted their regions of residence to ensure their safety.
The targets of the operation are all
well-off members of the Hwagyo who have sent their children to universities
in China. All of the overseas Chinese residents currently living in North Korea
are citizens of the PRC and of Han ethnicity. As long as they register–and, of course, pay a fee–with
their local State Security Department, they are able to travel to China
whenever they wish. Until now, Chinese residents of North Korea have managed to
amass small fortunes by stocking up on Chinese goods in China and then
returning over the border to North Korea to sell them in the markets at a tidy
They communicate freely with their children
through the mail and by telephone, which has made them the target of
investigation. The North Korean authorities have been keeping a close eye on
these communications through wiretapping and intercepting mail, leading to
accusations of spying or acting as an accomplice to a spy and subsequent
Although details of the exact charges
leveled in the arrests remain have not been revealed, many of those arrested
were carrying out ‘special missions’ for the State Security Department, a
status that allowed them to travel back and forth from China easily. Our source
surmised that the probability that they were arrested on charges of either
being double agents or spying for the Chinese Ministry of State Security is
“Rumors abound that the arrests are an
attempt by the local authorities to strike back at China as the latter appears
to be politically drifting away from North Korea and closer to South Korea.
This would explain the need to keep an eye on the Chinese ambassador in
Pyongyang,” the source pointed out.
“Some Party cadres have even speculated
that this move will spell the beginning of the end for Sino-North Korean
He added, “The recent revelation that the
North Korean authorities have been spying on and following the Chinese
ambassador to Pyongyang was regarded with great displeasure by the Chinese
government.” Moreover, following the arrests of the overseas Chinese residents,
the state has, for the time being, stopped issuing travel permits to China for
any of the Hwagyo residing within the North’s borders and there are problems
procuring market goods from China as well.
Meanwhile, some North Korean citizens have reacted by calling for
the banishment of all overseas Chinese residents, claiming their choice “to
leave their own rich country for the relatively poor living conditions of North
Korea is, at best, an incomprehensible one, and at worst a strong cause for suspicion
as to their true motives.”
But for Party cadres, according to the
source, worries are mounting “that these actions on North Korea’s part will
further weaken Sino-North Korean ties.”
“They say there is nothing to gain from
turning our back on China now,” he concluded.