Chinese Border Guards Block Attempt to Smuggle Car Into North Korea

The vehicle, a military jeep, was being moved with the help of one Chinese unit, but was seized by another on the Yalu River.

North Korean trade group members in Dandong, China, discuss the smuggling of a Volkswagen into North Korea in a March 2018 photo.

Chinese border guards late last month seized a military vehicle being taken illegally into North Korea, boarding a Chinese vessel in the Yalu River after the boat was cleared to depart by another guard unit working with the smugglers, North Korean sources say.

The car, described by one source as a jeep, was being taken from the Chinese port city of Dandong to North Korea’s Uiju county when the boat carrying it was intercepted, a source in North Korea’s North Pyongan province told RFA’s Korean Service on Monday.

“The attempt had been thoroughly planned with the help of a Chinese border guards unit,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “But another unit was in place to capture the smugglers when they left.”

“It seems that they had information about the plan, and were waiting for them,” he said.

The group behind the smuggling attempt may have been a North Korean trade organization tied to the country’s military, the source said, noting that all official trade between the two countries has now been frozen.

“This kind of operation could only have been carried out by the central trade groups working under the military,” he said.

Speaking separately, a second source in North Pyongan agreed that the import into North Korea of motor vehicles and their parts is now banned under international sanctions punishing Pyongyang for its illicit nuclear weapons program and missile tests.

“However, trade organizations working under the [ruling] Party and the military still smuggle luxury European vehicles including Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagens,” he said.

“These smuggled foreign vehicles are being sold to the rich at high prices, and the trade organizations are earning huge profits.”

To bring in foreign currency badly needed by North Korea’s cash-strapped regime, North Korean authorities are placing goods blocked for sale to North Korea high on the list of goods to be smuggled in, he said.

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