Workers from North Korea stationed across the border in China are being advised to send home funds to support the Kim Jong Un regime as a demonstration of devotion to their country, according to sources in China and a North Korean defector with knowledge of the situation.
A source in China who regularly interacts with traders from the impoverished neighboring country said that North Koreans working there are expected to send money to their government leadership on an annual basis, regardless of their occupation and salary.
“Offering money in the name of loyalty is an annual event … No one can avoid this, including resident traders, restaurant managers and their employees, and laborers dispatched overseas,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“A trade representative close to me sent U.S. $3,000 last year. Maybe he will offer a similar amount this year.”
The source said that as the third anniversary of former leader Kim Jong Il’s death approaches in December, North Korea’s regime was in need of “huge amounts of money for a large scale memorial ceremony” and expecting a share of it to come from workers in China.
A second Chinese source confirmed that North Koreans were being instructed yearly to send money to their government, but said that no fixed amount was required, causing confusion among workers and making them feel that giving too little could land them in hot water politically.
“Strangely, North Korea doesn’t set the amount of money and simply advised workers to ‘offer money according to one’s own sincerity’,” the source said.
“[This] makes workers feel more pressure than demanding a fixed amount.”
The source said those offering too little money know they will be stigmatized as disloyal citizens, but that most workers could not afford to send much home, even if they wanted to.
He said workers in China commonly try to guess what their compatriots are sending home in order to determine what they should offer themselves.
‘In the name of loyalty’
A North Korean defector from Pyongyang surnamed Lee, who now lives in South Korea, told RFA that sending the regime money as a sign of allegiance was not limited to those positioned in China.
“Residents of North Korea also have to offer money in the name of loyalty,” Lee said, without providing details of how much is expected from those who live in the country, where workers often earn significantly less than they can abroad.
“If someone doesn’t offer this money, they can become a political prisoner.”
A third source in China said that Pyongyang had come to rely on North Korea’s citizens as a source of income to help it govern the nation.
“The North Korean government is not only generating an income from exporting minerals such as coal,” the source said.
“Money from North Korean residents and workers abroad is an easy means for producing governing funds.”
According to figures released earlier this year, Chinese authorities granted 93,300 work visas to North Koreans in 2013—a roughly 17 percent gain from the prior year.
Reported by Joon Ho Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Hanna Lee. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.