November 29, 2023

Dandong dispatch: How COVID has reshaped the North Korea border region

Orwellian controls have made Chinese border provinces a less welcoming place for outsiders — especially DPRK defectors

For years, pandemic lockdowns in China made it nearly impossible for foreign nationals to travel in the country, including to the far northeast regions bordering North Korea. But Beijing has partially eased travel restrictions in recent months, making it possible for outsiders to visit and witness changes in the border area for the first time since 2020.

That’s exactly what this author did in April, and what I saw and heard suggests that the DPRK’s continuing COVID-19 border restrictions have devastated large swathes of the local economy dependent on trade and tourism with North Korea, even as Beijing has instituted new controls that could make the border region a less welcoming place for defectors.