September 17, 2021

As border defections drop, ‘southern money’ pours in

Pyongyang has effectively curbed crossings into China, but not remittances

The era of Kim Jong Un began just two years ago, and so far not many changes have been observed in North Korea. However, a few things changed clearly and dramatically, and one of these is the situation on the 1,200-kilomter-long border between North Korea and China. It seems that the authorities have managed to significantly decrease cross-border human traffic, while their efforts to curb the flow of information and money have so far been less successful.

A very porous – essentially open – border with China has remained a peculiar feature of the North Korean situation. From the late 1990s and until approximately 2008 or 2009 border–crossing was relatively easy and safe. The soldiers could occasionally shoot a fugitive, and sometimes an attempted crossing could end in drowning, but in most cases the border –crossers – defectors, smugglers and illegal labor migrants – easily reached their destination in China. Sometimes it would be advisable to bribe guards, but usually smugglers needing to move bulky and expensive merchandise did this.