North Korean authorities are stirring up anti-China sentiment among ordinary citizens through conferences and lecture sessions as the closed, authoritarian country’s economy bears the brunt of tough new economic sanctions supported by its longtime ally, sources inside the country said.
The United Nations, with backing from China, unanimously approved new sanctions against North Korea in December as punishment for its latest launch of a ballistic missile that Pyongyang says is capable of striking the U.S. mainland.
The latest round of sanctions places caps on the import of crude oil and refined oil products, such as diesel and kerosene that are crucial to North Korea’s economy. A ban has also been placed on the export of a range of products, including food, machinery, electrical equipment, wood, earth, and stones, to other countries.
The U.N. measures also call for the expulsion by 2019 of North Korean workers who go abroad to earn cash for the regime and a clampdown on ships smuggling banned items such as oil and coal in and out of the county. The December sanctions package also added 15 North Korean individuals and entities to the U.N.’s sanctions blacklist.
With North Koreans complaining about the hardships they have been experiencing under the sanctions and blaming the country’s Central Committee, authorities are trying to deflect the criticism by telling them that China has betrayed the country, sources said.
“The Central Committee ordered authorities to raise awareness about China at the Socialist Women’s Union of Korea conference in Chongjin city in December,” said a source from North Hamgyong province, speaking to RFA’s Korean Service on condition of anonymity.
As the chief policymaking body of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, the Central Committee approves political and ideological campaigns and deliberates and advises on government policies.
The Central Committee emphasized this message during the Socialist Women’s Union of Korea conference because women are seen as influential forces both at home and in the wider society in North Korea, sources said.
“A high-level executive from Songpyong district stood on the podium and said that although Japan is a century-old enemy [of North Korea], China is a thousand-year-old enemy, and it stirred up the attendees,” the source from North Hamgyong province said.
Authorities also held lectures about the country’s domestic and international situation during an educational program after the conference in Chongjin, he said.
“The high-level executive on the podium criticized China while he was lecturing about the current domestic and international situation,” the source said.
Authorities have fomented an openly shared “deeply rooted anti-Chinese sentiment” by saying that China has been an enemy of North Korea for 1,000 years, he said.
Chinese money and necessities
Most North Koreans use daily necessities that are made in China and use Chinese money at black markets, the source said.
“It is becoming more difficult for residents to make a living, so the Central Committee is trying to avoid complaints coming from them,” he said.
In the past, authorities would infuse ordinary North Koreans with anti-Chinese sentiment, but they were “very cautious and passive” about it, the source from North Hamgyong province told RFA.
“When they used to give information about the country’s domestic and international situations to soldiers and residents near the border area at meetings, they criticized China with subtle comments,” he said. “But when the Central Committee openly criticized China by calling it a thousand-year-old enemy, there were mixed responses inside North Korea.”
“Some ask what we can do if we push China away because the country has the power to shift North Korea’s economy, while others say we should keep our guard up against China while asserting North Korea’s independence,” he said.
A second source from North Hamgyong province confirmed that anti-Chinese sentiment among North Koreans has recently become more acute than anti-Japanese sentiment.
“It is because the Central Committee is intentionally spreading anti-Chinese sentiment,” said the source who declined to be named for fear of retribution.
“The residents are tired of continued financial difficulties,” he said. “They are very discontent with reality, and some even say that the time during which the Japanese ruled Korea [1910-1945] was better than the present situation,” he said.
“They are calling China ‘a pig with darkness inside,’ which means China only wants to take North Korea’s difficult situation and turn it into an opportunity for it to benefit,” the source said.
Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.