North Korean authorities in Sinuiju are marking this year’s “Struggle Against US Imperialism Month” (June 25 – July 27) by condemning the use of Chinese-made mobile phones during forced visits to the city’s “Anti-Espionage Exhibition.” 

In fact, North Korean authorities in Sinuiju have been forcing employees of local factories and businesses, along with members of local inminban (people’s units), to visit the city’s ”Anti-Espionage Exhibition” since June 15, according to a source in North Pyongan Province on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The exhibition visits are followed by trips to the counter-espionage department of the provincial branch of the Ministry of State Security, where officials lecture participants on the “evils” of using Chinese mobile phones.

Counter-espionage officials reportedly stressed to lecture attendees that “there are many spies in our country [North Korea]. The border region is the area with the most spies.”

The lecturers told attendees that they should “unconditionally” turn themselves in if they are carrying a Chinese-made mobile phone, promising them a “last chance” in accordance with an order from the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to “forgive those who surrender themselves right away.” That is to say, the authorities are equating possession of a Chinese-made mobile phone with espionage, and if the owners hide them, it means they are “engaging in schemes against the Republic [North Korea].”

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A border patrol checkpoint in Pungso County, Yanggang Province. This photo was taken in February 2019. / Image: Daily NK

North Korea has long tried to crackdown on the use of Chinese mobile phones in the Sino-North Korean border region as part of efforts to prevent information from flowing in or out of the country, and to stop defections into China. Nevertheless, with information continuing to cross the border, the authorities appear to be combining inducements and threats whenever they can.

In 2015, North Korea made it a crime for people to conduct “illegal international communications,” laying the statutory grounds for punishing people who talk on the phone with the outside world. Anyone who commits this crime faces up to a year in a labor camp or up to five years of disciplinary labor.

The lectures in Sinuiju, however, focused more on inducements than threats. The gist was:  “If you have a Chinese mobile phone, you can come under enemy influence and ultimately become an enemy of the revolution. But it’s not too late, so rid yourselves of your Chinese phones.”

This is quite different from the elevated threats of the past along the lines of, “If you use a Chinese phone, neither you nor your families will be safe from us.”

According to lecture material obtained by a Daily NK source in March, North Korean authorities called users of Chinese mobile phones “human scum and ingrates with no appreciation for the love of the party or socialist system” who must be “mercilessly rounded up in the name of the revolution.”

“If you catch one, another two pop up, and if you catch two, another three pop up. That makes it very difficult to eradicate the use of (Chinese) mobile phones,” the source said. “Even the leadership knows this, and are trying out several methods [to deal with the problem].”

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Lee Chae Un is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. She can be reached at