Time Bomb on the Korean Peninsula: North Korea-China Border

[imText1]The North Korea-China border was the window into the North during the famine of the 1990s. Approximately 1 million crossed the border numerous times during the food shortage and is where the most accurate information about North Korea can be gained.

During any hardship in the North, the border area is always the first to show the signs. Beginning three years ago, China has stationed soldiers from the Shunyang military on the North Korea-China border, considered the most sensitive area, the time bomb of the Korean peninsula.

The North Korea border, including the Yalu and Tumen Rivers, is 1,376.5 km in length. The North Korea-China border is 1,360 km long, and the North Korea-Russia border is 16.5 km long.

North Korea has 100~110 thousand ground forces on the border in order to control the inflow of information from outside, and the illegal smuggling and border crossing of North Korean defectors. Each soldier therefore guards 14 meters.

Ground Forces on the Border Increased Rapidly After The Treaty of Amity Between China and South Korea

The reinforcement of the Northern border in the 1990s had much to do with the change in the international arena, including the end of the Cold War, and the normalization of relations between China and South Korea. Until the early 1990s, when North Korea sustained a “blood alliance” with the USSR and China, North Korea only focused on increasing its military strength.

In regard to the treaty between China and the South, Kim Jong Il said, “The 38th parallel is the outpost for military power, while the border is the outpost for Northern ideology”. North Korea reorganized the military to reinforce the border.

In 1992, the Department of Military Mobilization in various parts of North Korea recruited high school and middle school students, office workers and farmers to organize the border control.

In 1992, the responsibility for border control and coastal defense was delegated from the National Security Agency to Border Control Command under the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces. The Coast Guard was assigned to a military base under the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces in each district, and Border Control Command was located in Ganggye, Jagang Province, but was moved to Pyongyang in 2002.

The Military Force at the Border

North Korea defector Heo Yong Sun (43), who used to be a border guard, said there are 4 Brigades, including Division 10 (located at Baeksa dong) in ShinEuiJoo, Brigade 32 in Chongjin, Brigade 37 in Jagang Province, Brigade 44 in Yanggang Province. Division 10 at ShinEuijoo has 14 battalions, which is qualified for division.

Mr. Heo said the border control brigades have 11 battalions on average. One brigade operates 4,000~5,000 soldiers and one battalion has 350 soldiers. There are 3 companies of 100 soldiers under battalions, and companies cover platoons and guard posts of 30 soldiers.

Mr. Lee Chul Young (34), who used to be commander of a military district of Border Control and entered South Korea in 2004 says, “There are cavalry brigades and tank brigades under the Border Control Command, and the military force amounts to between 10~30 thousand soldiers. Companies have 250~300 soldiers and one battalion has more than 1,000 soldiers, which shows that the scale of the military force is different from other People’s Armed Forces.

The smallest unit of Border Control is a platoon. One platoon is in charge of 3 km, and one platoon has 12 guard posts. Guard posts have a round of inspections during the day, and at night, 2~3 soldiers are on lookout. They are on guard three shifts a day.

For night watch guards, 3~4 soldiers are mobilized including the commander of the platoon, and one agent from the National Security Agency is included. The lookout is a half-underground cave where the soldiers have a 120 degree view of China.

Border guards are equipped with AK Automatic Rifles-58 and 68. Commanders and high level soldiers are equipped with cartridges and low level soldiers are supplied with blank cartridges. On the border, gunfire is restricted, although it is permitted when someone wanted by the National Security Agency crosses the border.

One advisor from the National Security Agency was assigned to each platoon since 1999. However, the advisors encouraged illegal border crossings with bribery, which caused the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces to assign one advisor to each company since May 2002.

Border Guards Are Charging Three Hundred Thousand Won, Raising the Cost of Border Crossings

All border guards hope to make money while in the military. They are on the lookout for border transgressors rather than trying to protect the border from the intrusion of spies. Until the 1990s, the soldiers tried to “earn thirty thousand Won”, but that rose to three hundred thousand won because the currency depreciated.

Border Control Command shifts around the border guards at Pyongan, Yanggang and Hamkyung Provinces every two years in order to prevent frequent corruption of the soldiers. It is understood that two years is enough time for the soldiers cooperate with the locals and receive bribes.

Mr. Lee Chul Young said, “On a good day, it is possible to earn couple hundred thousand won. Commanders are involved in smuggling Foreign Currency Earning Organizations, and lower-ranked officials make small amounts money through controlling border transgressions”.

The cost for a border crossing rose after the order to control the border more strictly. In 2004, a crossing cost 300 Yuan ($40), but it rose initially to 500 Yuan ($65), and is up to 800 Yuan ($120) now.

North Korean defectors who crossed the Tumen River recently said, “You have to pay 500~1,000 Yuan to lower officials and more than 1,000 Yuan to the Commanders”.

Crossing in the winter is the cheapest. However, around March when the ice melts on the river, the border guards have to go through the difficulty of wearing rubber pants and helping the transgressors cross the river, which costs more than 1,000 Yuan.

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