Ethnic Chinese residents of North Korea planning to travel to China are being coached by state security officers in what they are allowed to discuss outside the country, with “security training” enforced by threats they may not be allowed to leave, North Korean sources say.
The education sessions have been ordered because the government believes that sensitive details of life inside North Korea are being too easily disclosed, a source from North Hamgyong province, near the border with China, told RFA’s Korean Service.
“Chinese residents living in North Korea often make their living working as small-time traders or merchants, and they now have to attend security education sessions to learn what to keep in mind when traveling to China,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“At least once a month, ethnic Chinese who make frequent trips to China must visit the ethnic Chinese committee office in Chongjin city’s Pohang district to be briefed on the latest instructions from the foreign affairs division of the State Security Department,” the source said.
Estimates of the number of ethnic Chinese in North Korea range from 4,000 to 10,000, according to Chinese and South Korean media, but the small community plays a big role in cross-border commerce.
The guidance includes warnings against disclosing price changes of North Korean products, except for goods sold by the traders themselves, and information on conditions of life inside the country, the source said.
Training sessions also include instruction in how the travelers must conduct themselves when visiting China, he said.
Those traveling from North Korea to China are usually traders from North Korean firms tasked with bringing in foreign currency, North Korean residents with relatives in China, and ethnic Chinese living in North Korea, he said.
Travel often blocked
Chinese residents wishing to travel outside North Korea are being ordered to participate in the training sessions, with warnings given that they will be blocked from travel if they fail to attend, a second source in North Hamgyong said.
“The issuance of [exit] visas can be delayed or refused if they do not respect these regulations,” the source said, also speaking on condition he not be named.
“Many ethnic Chinese who make a living by selling goods are suffering because they cannot leave the country,” the source said.
“Even if they don’t attend the educational sessions, they have to report to the ethnic Chinese committee, at least verbally, with evidence to prove they have full knowledge of the sessions’ contents.”
Visas were formerly granted easily with a cost ranging from 10,000 Chinese yuan (U.S. $1,487) to 20,000 yuan (U.S. $2,974.), “but it is impossible now for a Chinese to get a visa if the authorities find anything at fault,” he said.
Ethnic Chinese therefore have little choice but to attend the security trainings, he said.
One Chinese resident of Chongjin’s Songpyong district has been waiting three months for a visa to be granted, RFA’s source said.
“He has been summoned by the state security department because of his absences from security training sessions. This has now become a long-term case because of statements that he previously made in China,” he said.
Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Lillian Andemicael.