North Korean military officers and other high-ranking government officials are lining their pockets as they attempt to satisfy the Chinese appetite for pork by smuggling swine across the frontier, sources tell RFA’s Korea service.
Chinese-produced pork sells for about $2.27 a pound in areas near the North Korean border, while pork on the North Korea side of the Yalu River runs about $0.75 per pound.
The relatively low price for North Korean pork and its higher quality are proving to be too much of a lure for smugglers looking to take advantage of Chinese tastes and the price differential, say the sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“North Korean pork is popular among Chinese consumers because North Korean pork fat is so thin and the price difference between North Korean pork and Chinese pork is big,” said a source from Yanggang province.
“Our pork is mostly black pork that has a natural, juicy flavor, which makes our pork taste better compared to Chinese white pork that is raised with fodder,” added the source, who couldn’t help but boast about the quality of the home-grown meat.
A lack of food
North Korean pork may be cheap and tasty, but smuggling food is a serious crime in a country that doesn’t produce enough food to feed its people.
“Smuggling domestic pork into foreign countries is a severe crime because North Korea lacks food supply,” the source said.
Bootlegging pork is different than other types of smuggling as it takes a large quantity to make it worthwhile. That makes it likely that high-ranking officials are involved in the illicit meat market, the sources said.
“Smuggling is extremely prohibitive without getting help from powerful officials,” the source explained. “You need enough support from powerful officials to create some kind of a structure to share profit between related executives and security department employees including the border guards.”
Most North Korean pork is destined for the military, and diverting enough to make any real profit requires at least the tacit and most likely the explicit approval of the top brass.
“Pork that is ready to be smuggled into China is raised by North Korean residents, then sent to military troops for military food,” said another source from North Hamgyong Province. “Then high-ranking military officers conspire with smugglers in order to sneak the North Korean pork into China.”
A treat few North Koreans get to eat
While smugglers attempt to sate the Chinese desire for pork, few North Koreans actually get a chance to eat it, unless they are rich, powerful or high-ranking military officers who are often involved in the illicit swine trade, the Hamgyong Province source said.
“North Korean pork is rare to see even for North Korean residents”, the source said. “It is highly likely that powerful officials, military authorities, and newly-rich North Koreans are working as a group to smuggle pork into China. Without them, smuggling is impossible.”
Following a nuclear test and a rocket launch in February, the UN Security Council imposed tough new sanctions on North Korea. While China agreed to the sanctions, questions linger about its willingness to enforce them. China is North Korea's only major ally, and accounts for more than two-thirds of the country's trade.
Smuggling has been a way of life for people living along the border that separates the two countries, but it is becoming more difficult for the small operators that make up the bulk of the illicit trade since sanctions were instituted, the source said.
“The crackdown on smugglers is being reinforced in both North Korea and China, which is making it harder for residents near the border to continue smuggling for survival,” the source said. “On the other hand, smugglers with a lot of support from powerful officials are operating in full swing.”
Reported by Joonho Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Jackie Yoo. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.