North Korean Workers Wear ‘Brave Face’ on Forced Return From China

2017-10-05
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North Korea is seen across the Yalu River from the Chinese port city of Dandong, Feb. 8, 2017.
North Korea is seen across the Yalu River from the Chinese port city of Dandong, Feb. 8, 2017.
AFP

North Korean workers forced from China by canceled labor contracts are wearing bright smiles and colorful clothes in an apparent show of defiance as tightened U.N. sanctions take hold against Pyongyang, sources on the border say.

China’s implementation of new sanctions punishing North Korea for its nuclear and missile programs is now “literally expelling North Korean workers,” a resident of China’s border city of Dandong told RFA’s Korean Service on Wednesday.

“It is unbelievable that they would be going home in bright outfits with these smiles on their faces,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Returning workers never looked like this in the past, so it’s easy to think they’ve been told to do this in advance,” the source said, adding that he often sees North Korean workers passing through Chinese maritime customs on their way home.

“Most of the returning workers are young women, about 20 years old. They have ponytails, so we assume that they’re unmarried,” he said.

North Korean workers first arriving in China don’t wear portrait badges of former national leaders Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong Il, RFA’s source said.

“But now, on their way home, they wear huge badges of the two Kims as if they are officials belonging to North Korean organizations.”

North Korean workers going home will be happy to see their families, a second source in Dandong told RFA.

“But this doesn’t explain their bright looks and colorful outfits,” he said.

“Since North Korean media keep saying that the country is strong in spite of U.S. pressure exerted through sanctions, it can be speculated that the appearance of the returning workers is being directed by the North Korean regime,” he said.

North Korea has exported workers to China, Russia, and countries farther afield for years, but requires them to remit most of their earnings to the North Korean government, which is believed to use the cash to fund its illicit weapons programs.

Reported by Joonho Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Richard Finney.

CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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