Amid North Korea’s hardline attempts to prevent COVID-19 from spreading in the country, Daily NK has learned that a Chinese national was recently shot to death by North Korea’s border patrol and a group of Chinese fishermen died when North Korean authorities failed to rescue them while their ship sank.

These two incidents are examples of the excessive responses spawning from the country’s disproportionate levels of vigilance focused on preventing the spread of COVID-19.

A source in China told Daily NK yesterday that a “Chinese national tried to cross a shallow part of the Yalu River near Changbai, Jilin Province, in late March,” but that “he was shot to death [by North Korean border guards] while trying to deliver goods [to someone on the North Korean side].”

The source said that the border guards first fired warning shots in the sky, but then “fired directly on the man when he continued his attempt to cross the river.”

The Chinese man suffered bullet wounds to his elbow and head and later died, the source added.

Since January of last year, North Korea has kept its border with China closed as part of efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the country. Late last year, North Korean authorities even ordered border guards to “unconditionally fire upon” people and animals who enter a designated “buffer zone” without permission.

In March 2020, Chinese authorities warned their citizens living in areas near the border, including the Changbai area and Baishan, to beware because North Korean border guards could fire upon them if they catch anyone trying to cross the border.

special patrols coronavirus outbreak smuggler mobile phones strict smuggler border
A border patrol checkpoint in Pungso County, Yanggang Province. This photo was taken in February 2019. / Image: Daily NK

In fact, a Chinese man involved in a smuggling operation in May 2020 was shot and killed by North Korean border guards.

Despite the danger of being killed, Chinese and North Korean nationals alike continue to conduct smuggling operations.

“Chinese authorities don’t shoot at North Koreans trying to cross over the border, but North Korean soldiers try to kill people [crossing over into North Korea] without fail,” the source said. “As a result, people living in the border region now perceive North Korea in an even worse light.”

Perceptions of North Korea have gotten so bad among border residents that when an armed North Korean border guard defected this past March because of hunger he was soon arrested after being reported by locals.

Daily NK’s source complained about the excessive reactions of North Korean border guards toward people crossing the border, pointing out that these people could simply be arrested and sent back instead of being shot and killed.

The source also told Daily NK about a recent incident involving a Chinese fishing boat that was engaging in illegal fishing near Haeju, South Hwanghae Province.

“The Chinese fishing boat tried to flee after a North Korean patrol boat went from firing warning shots with rubber bullets to live fire,” the source said. “While trying to flee, the boat hit a submerged rock and sunk.”

According to the source, the ship had a total of seven sailors and all of them died in the sinking. “The North Korean patrol boat didn’t even try to save them,” he added.

As part of their “emergency quarantine guidelines,” North Korean authorities have completely “locked down” all air, sea and land routes in and out of the country while strongly prohibiting any outsiders from crossing the nation’s borders. These guidelines may have been what stopped the patrol boat from rescuing the Chinese sailors.

In September of last year, North Korean military authorities shot and killed a South Korean public servant who was floating in the West Sea. There is circumstantial evidence to suggest that body of the man was burned at sea.

*Translated by S & J

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Mun Dong Hui is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to