Smugglers struggling on tighter border

A photo taken by Daily NK’s correspondent in China captures North Korean smugglers operating
along the Amrok River. Image: Daily NK

North Korean citizens residing along the Sino-North Korea border have been dealt a blow upon tightened regulations on smuggling
operations, local sources have reported to Daily NK.

“Because of the Marshal (Kim Jong Un), discontent is
mounting among citizens who used to smuggle sheep to China,” a source in
Yangkang Province told Daily NK on the 8th in a phone call. “Since the
authorities defined smuggling as treason and tightened the crackdown since last
year, smuggling of sheep has become almost impossible.”

This same trend was confirmed by another source in China
close to these cross-border operations. 

Sheep smuggling is a burgeoning industry, according to
the source, who said North Korean residents residing in villages tucked up in the
mountains breed herds of the animals to sell off to China.

This business is key to these residents’ survival; take it
away and they are left with few, if any, options to make ends meet. “Because
residents of the national border were not receiving provisions from the
authorities, they were getting by through selling sheep, goats, dog meat, and
leather,” the source said.

Interestingly, lamb, mutton, and hogget from North Korean
sheep are known to be less expensive, more flavorful, and juicier than their
Chinese counterparts, fueling demand from just across the river.  A
demand, he added, that only continues to rise as Chinese merchants scramble to
fulfill orders; sheep-derived meats are a staple in Chinese cuisine.

Kim Jong Un’s unceasing efforts to stamp out these operations, thereby quashing the channel through which related residents survive, have unsurprisingly met with a great deal of criticism. Many of those experiencing
the negative side effects first-hand point out that while the young leader
constantly underscores the betterment of resident’s lives, he “issues a lot of
directives that don’t make any sense,” and feel that he should just “leave
border trade between China and North Korea alone.”

According to sources in both China and North Korea, the Kim
Jong Un era has seen systematic controls mandating that anyone caught
illegally crossing the rivers forming the border between China and North Korea is
shot without hesitation. Moreover, North Korea’s Ministry of People’s Security
(MPS) issued judicial instructions aimed at shoring up internal security in
the wake of the public removal and execution of Jang Song Thaek in 2013.

The source explained that, under the guidelines,
particularly severe punishment awaits anyone who engages in: ▲ Slander of Kim
Jong Un; ▲ “Superstitious behavior” (including of a religious nature, such as
Christianity); ▲ Production, sale or consumption of illicit substances; ▲
Viewing or distributing illicit recordings.

As 2014 drew to a close, regulations on overseas calls,
remittances, smuggling, and drugs–all contingent on the porous border
region–were amped up significantly. MPS agents and security officials
complicit in these matters have been summoned, probed, and handed–at times, severe–punishments
to set an example for others involved in similar operations; needless to say,
North Korea’s endemic corruption makes it a fair assumption to say “others” in this situation refers to most everyone.

All of these moves, according to the source, suggest that by focusing his energies on
occluding smuggling streams into and out of the country, Kim Jong Un is
attempting to “prevent the yellow winds of capitalism from blowing into the
country.” The “yellow winds,” reference, he went on, concerns anything alluding
to the lurid or sensational–as in “yellow journalism.”  

“Whereas his father (Kim Jong Il) overlooked a lot of
things, the son focuses on and oppresses them,” the source said, surmising that
such Kim Jong’s Un actions illustrate an underlying lack of confidence about
the stability of the regime. He also cited the efforts aimed at blocking Sony Pictures’ “The Interview” as further evidence bolstering this assertion.

The concerns stemming from the oppressive controls concern the young leader far less than the population’s exposure to
outside information and its potential to besmirch the image of the leadership. “He’s showing his resolve to forestall the influx
of external information at all costs,” the source explained.

And yet, the source speculated that
the regulations would have only a fleeting effect on smuggling–peaking,
fizzling out, and eventually being replaced by a new mechanism down the line destined to enter the same cycle.

“Smuggling is directly related to the survival of citizens
living along the Sino-North Korea border, so people are always going to find a
way around the clampdowns,” he concluded.

*The content of this article was broadcast to the North Korean people via Unification Media Group.

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