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View more articles by Lawrence Steele
Lawrence Steele is the pseudonym for an NK News correspondent on the China-North Korea border.
KAISHANTUNZHEN, China – China recently added new fencing along a stretch of the North Korean border close to Tumen, a major trade and transport hub between the countries, NK News learned on a recent trip to the area.
The fencing, located several miles outside Kaishantunzhen, a dilapidated village about 22 miles from Tumen, was erected within the last five months, said a source who regularly travels to the area. The source, who drives tourists along the border, told NK News the fencing was not there on a previous visit in August.
The new barrier, consisting of L-shaped metal struts lined with barbed wire, was added in intervals along a mountain-hugging road that overlooks several North Korean hamlets, filling in gaps in an older concrete fence.
Among the nearby North Korean settlements, one is situated beside a station on the Hambuk train line, which connects the major cities of Rason and Chongjin, with branches linking to Pyongyang and Khasan, Russia. As well as passengers, the line carries freight from Musan Mining Complex, the country’s largest producer of iron ore.
Increased border security has been repeatedly reported since Kim Jong Un’s rise to power in late 2011.
“There are more personnel, they are more watchtowers on the North Korean side, there’s more fencing on both sides, (and) there are more security cameras on the Chinese side,” said Sokeel Park of non-profit Liberty in North Korea, which works with defectors. “This has been a marked increase since 2012.”
Tighter border security is believed to be a major reason for a large drop in the number of North Korean defectors reaching South Korea in recent years. Just 1,277 defectors settled in South Korea in 2015, the lowest number since 2002. The number had been on an upward in the latter years of rule of previous leader Kim Jong Il, reaching a high of 2,914 in 2009. In Kim Jong-un’s first full year in power, the figure nosedived 45 percent, from 1,502 to 2,706.