North Korea invested the pandemic structure a substantial border wall By Reuters

© Reuters. SUBMIT PHOTO-A North Korean flag flutters at the propaganda town of Gijungdong in North Korea, in this image taken near the truce town of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the 2 Koreas, South Korea, July 19, 2022. REUTERS

By Josh Smith and Sudev Kiyada

SEOUL (Reuters) – For North Koreans, the nation’s northern frontier long provided unusual access to outdoors details, trade chances, and the very best choice for those looking for to get away.

But as the pandemic grasped the world in 2020, Kim Jong Un’s program started a huge workout to seal its borders with China and Russia, cutting off paths plied by smugglers and defectors.

Since then, Pyongyang has actually constructed numerous kilometers of brand-new or updated border fences, walls and guard posts, industrial satellite images programs, allowing it to tighten up the circulation of details and items into the nation, keep foreign aspects out and its individuals in.

(To see the satellite images, go to )

The job’s scale appears in the images evaluated by Reuters and the U.S.-based Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, in addition to accounts from 7 defectors, activists and others knowledgeable about activity along the border.

“The traditional North Korea-China route is now effectively over, unless there is a major change in the situation,” stated Kim, a South Korean pastor who has actually assisted North Koreans problem. He and others who perform delicate deal with the border spoke on the condition of partial or complete privacy, pointing out issues for their security and a desire to safeguard their networks.

Only 67 defectors made it to South Korea in 2015, compared to 1,047 in 2019, main information reveal. The figure had actually been decreasing even prior to the pandemic due in part to tighter constraints in China, the favored path for defectors.

North Korea’s federal government and state media have actually stated little about the building and construction at the border, and its embassy in London did not respond to calls from Reuters. But authorities North Korean organs have actually kept in mind increased security to stay out the coronavirus and other “alien things”. In a speech stating success over COVID-19 in 2015, Kim Jong Un bought authorities to “ensure perfection” of an “overall multiple blockade wall in the border, frontline and coast areas and in the seas and air”.

The sealing of the border is most likely to have long lasting impacts, consisting of for North Korea’s nascent mercantile class and in the towns where growing casual trade formerly provided many individuals, especially ladies, an opportunity to make their own method, stated Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, a non-resident fellow at the U.S.-based Stimson Center who investigates North Korea’s economy.

Those towns “benefited from formal and informal trade since the famine in the 1990s, but really don’t have many other economic advantages,” he stated. “So the crackdowns are hitting two vulnerable groups, women and the population of the geographic periphery.”


Reuters and Middlebury analyzed Google (NASDAQ:) Earth Pro satellite images of North Korea’s northern frontier, taken at different phases in between 2019 and early 2023.

Constraints such as insufficient images, geographical functions and climate condition suggested that not all of the approximately 1,400 km border with China and 18 km border with Russia might be analyzed, consisting of about 353 km for which upgraded images was not offered. Images from satellite operator Maxar Technologies (NYSE:) Inc. were utilized to evaluate half a lots crucial locations in information.

New or broadened security facilities might be seen along a minimum of 489 km of the border, consisting of basic wire fencing, robust concrete walls, double fencing, and extra guard posts, stated Middlebury research study partner Dave Schmerler. He kept in mind that other locations likewise revealed evident modifications, however restrictions in the images avoided definitive decisions.

Many of the setups seemed around inhabited locations without natural challenges such as mountains, Schmerler stated. But there were likewise brand-new functions in flat, farming locations near the northeastern border along the Tumen River.

“Those areas don’t necessarily have larger city or village infrastructure but lack the natural boundaries that could act as a barrier from getting into or leaving the country,” Schmerler stated.

Defectors, human rights activists and sources in China associated with smuggling items or individuals throughout the border stated the brand-new security functions were choking financial lifelines for susceptible individuals, closing courses of escape from the authoritarian nation, and even more restricting North Koreans’ access to outdoors details.

One defector who works along the border in China informed Reuters that security cams have actually been positioned at routine periods, and numerous layers of fencing set up, consisting of barbed wire and electrical fencing. His descriptions matched with functions noticeable in the satellite images, in addition to images and video he drew from the Chinese side and shown Reuters.

Smugglers can often leave North Korea, however it is almost difficult to return in, leaving a variety of individuals waiting in China, the defector stated, including that extra specialized border soldiers have actually been released as guards on the North Korean side.

China’s foreign ministry stated in a declaration to Reuters that it was not familiar with the circumstance, however that “China and North Korea have been maintaining communication and working together to maintain the security and stability of the border”.

North Korea has actually likewise bought border guards to shoot anybody attempting to cross, according to main notifications provided by Chinese authorities in 2020 that alerted homeowners of the threats. Kim, the pastor, and human rights organisations have stated the orders to shoot stay in result.

The U.S. Treasury Department in December approved North Korea’s Border Guard General Bureau for human rights abuses, “including land mines and shoot-on-sight orders that have resulted in the deaths of numerous North Koreans”.

A November report by the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch took a look at a 7.4 km area of the border around Hoeryong city on the Tumen River, a location that in 2019 currently had considerable fencing and 5 watchtowers. By April 2022, authorities had actually constructed another 169 guard posts and more than 9 km of brand-new or enhanced fencing along that area, it stated.

“The North Korean government has been using COVID-19 as an excuse to build these new fences, guard posts and other infrastructure,” stated Lina Yoon, senior Korea scientist at Human Rights Watch.


The brand-new border barriers come as Kim Jong Un enhances his grip inside the nation, which is under worldwide sanctions due to the fact that of its nuclear-weapons advancement. Recent modifications consist of increased nationwide control over the “Party Life” system, a kind of social credit system that examines residents’ commitment.

Tightening control of worldwide trade, both authorities and informal, is a method for Pyongyang to put in impact over the military and other celebration members far from the border who may otherwise construct power bases and posture a risk to the management, stated J.R. Kim, a previous South Korean federal government authorities who is now vice president at the Council on Diplomacy for Korean Unification in Seoul.

The early years of Kim Jong Un’s guideline saw the increase of a class of business owners called donju, which loosely equates as “masters of money”. Now, he appears to be attempting to make sure those “petite bourgeoisie” remain in their location, J.R. Kim stated.

“Controlling the border is key to this because most of these people make money through working on border smuggling,” he stated.

Up to 80 percent of North Koreans depend upon casual markets called jangmadang for day-to-day requirements, according to a report launched in March by Elizabeth Salmon, the United Nations independent detective for human rights in North Korea. But these markets have actually had their activities dramatically cut, she composed, keeping in mind that the border closures have actually required a susceptible population “to the brink”.

Food lacks in North Korea have actually gotten worse in current months, due in part to the border closures, according to worldwide specialists. Kim Jong Un in February required a change in farming and worried the requirement to strike grain production targets.

Meanwhile, remittances sent out by defectors to family members in North Korea have actually decreased given that 2019, however ask for cash from North Koreans have actually increased, recommending that the border closures have not just made the procedure harder however have actually sustained need for financial assistance, the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights stated in November, mentioning its yearly study of defectors in South Korea.

Sokeel Park of Liberty in North Korea, a company that deals with defectors, stated the border tightening up would decrease “positive changes” of current years such as enhanced access to outdoors details, while increasing difficulty.

Still, he stated, there were reports of foreign programs such as the South Korean hit “Squid Game” discovering their method into North Korea.

But as time passes and the pandemic subsides, the federal government might discover it more difficult to validate the constraints, he included.

“It’s all the more reason for the international community to step up efforts to support North Korean rights,” he stated.


News and digital media editor, writer, and communications specialist. Passionate about social justice, equity, and wellness. Covering the news, viewing it differently.

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