Authorities in China are ordering police officers not to enter or otherwise access businesses that employ North Korean workers, leading sources to believe that Beijing is looking the other way as the workers are in direct violation of U.N. sanctions.
The sanctions, aimed at depriving Pyongyang of foreign cash and resources that could be funneled into its nuclear and missile programs, mandate that all North Korean workers were to be repatriated by late December 2019.
The workers are a great source of foreign cash as they must turn most of their salaries over to the North Korean authorities.
Sources say there is no evidence that the authorities are trying to comply with sanctions, and that North Koreans are continuing to work in China well past the deadline.
“According to orders, the police are not allowed to visit businesses or restaurants where North Koreans work,” a resident of the Chinese border city of Dandong told RFA’s Korean Service.
“I heard it directly from my friend’s son, who is a police officer,” the source said.
The source said the order does not mean the police cannot investigate North Koreans or businesses that employ them when necessary, however.
“According to the instructions from the internal documents of the police, if an official visit is required, the officer must not wear a uniform or use a police vehicle,” said the source.
“In the case where the officer is on an important mission, he or she must report [the intention to enter a business employing North Koreans] to their superiors first,” the source added.
The source believed that the order is coded language telling officers not to arrest North Koreans for violation of sanctions.
“This is tantamount to ordering the police not to crack down on those North Koreans in China who are working beyond the U.N.’s withdrawal deadline,” said the source.
“Every police officer is well aware of the hidden meaning of the orders, even without further explanation,” the source added.
Another source, a resident of Yanji, seat of the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in China’s Jilin province, told RFA that police are not actively trying to catch North Korean sanctions violators.
“North Korean workers can be seen everywhere, and there’s not even anecdotal evidence that the police are cracking down on them,” said the second source.
“Given this situation, we cannot help but suspect that the authorities are just accepting North Korean labor,” the second source added.
The second source did say however that the workers are not completely free to pick and choose where to work. Some need to disguise themselves as Chinese.
“Quite a few young North Korean women make foreign currency disguised as Chinese people if they work in restaurants run by Chinese,” the source said, adding, “[It’s] because they cannot be called ‘trainees’ like the workers in the restaurants run by the North Korean authorities.”
The trainee visa status allows North Koreans to enter China for vocational training, which is permitted under the sanctions.
If they work for North Korean-owned businesses, they are simply not paid, so they can plausibly claim this status, but if they work for a Chinese owned business, North Korea can only make money if they are paid.
The second source said that North Korean restaurant workers now are in high demand because of the Lunar New Year holiday.
“Most of the businesses should be closed, but restaurants where North Korean women work can stay open, so the restaurant owners are trying to hire as many North Koreans as possible right now,” said the second source.
Factories are getting in on the act as well.
“Even during the week-long break, which includes the Lunar New Year holiday, North Korean workers are being mobilized to work in Chinese factories and other types of facilities. North Korea is happy to oblige because the workers are owed double pay when they work during the holidays,” the second source said.
Even though China seems to be totally ignoring the sanctions, a source related to foreign affairs in Beijing who requested anonymity told RFA that China might attempt to comply within the next two months.
“U.N. member states are required to submit a final report on the withdrawal of North Korean workers by March 22nd. The focus is now on whether the Chinese authorities will be protecting North Korean workers as far late as then,” said the diplomat.
RFA attempted to contact the U.N. Security Council’s sanctions committee on North Korea for comment, but there was no reply as of Wednesday afternoon.
Reported by Joonho Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.