North Korea’s sudden suspension of travel permits for individuals with families and relatives in China has caused headaches and financial losses for those who had been regularly visiting relatives or doing unauthorized cross-border business, sources inside the country said.
Authorities previously required North Korean citizens with relatives in China to get individual travel permits to leave their country. But they have not issued these visas since March, sources said.
The measure does not affect North Koreans’ official travel to China, they said.
“North Korea’s National Security Department has not issued any travel visas for China since early March,” a source in Yanggang Province, which borders China, told RFA’s Korean Service. “The department also announced that all the North Koreans traveling in China for personal reasons should return to North Korea by mid-March.”
The National Security Department’s provincial officers used to issue individual travel visas for citizens with family members in China for 3,000-yuan (U.S. $455) bribes to the office’s Foreign Affairs Division, which processed the visa applications, he said.
North Koreans who obtained the visas so they could cross the border to trade goods, are known as donju—people who accumulated wealth through such activities, the source said.
“But they can no longer engage in such trade because the travel visas to China have been discontinued since March,” he said.
North Korean authorities still issue visas for the Chinese residents in North Korea to visit their country though, a source from North Hamgyong province, which borders China, said.
“North Korean residents are criticizing the National Security Department, saying that the department has helped only Chinese merchants,” he said.
Provincial officers from the department are telling North Koreans they can do nothing about the situation because they are merely carrying out orders from the central authorities, he said.
North Koreans hoping to cross the border into China were looking forward to a late-March visit to their neighboring country by Ri Su-yong, vice chairman of the North Korean ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, he said. But the official’s visit did nothing to resolve the issue.
The purpose of Ri Su-yong’s visit was to brief Beijing on the party congress North Korea held earlier that month, reinforce bilateral relations, and discuss leader Kim Jong Un’s dual policy of developing the economy and nuclear arms, according to media reports.
China had criticized Pyongyang’s nuclear test and missile launch earlier this year and supported the U.N. Security Council's (UNSC) new sanctions against its neighbor and ally.
The losses that individual traders and manufacturing companies will suffer from the sudden suspension of visas to China will be substantial, because most traders make money by delivering Chinese products to the North Korean firms and factories that have ordered them, he said.
One resident of Chongam district in Chongjin city, North Hamgyong province, recently received an order from a nearby collective farm to purchase pesticides and vinyl film for agricultural use from China, the source said.
The trader sent an advance payment to China for the product, but when North Korean authorities suddenly stopped issuing travel visas to the country, he could not make the trip to pick up the products he paid for, he said.
“Eventually, he had to sell his house so that he could compensate the North Korean collective farm that asked him to place the order,” the source said.
Reported by Sunghui Moon for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Dohyun Gwon. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.