North Korean soldiers are becoming increasingly violent, and leading homicidal raids to steal food and money. The most shocking part? The raids are against China, North Korea’s closest ally.
The border between North Korea and China is reportedly porous, running along the Tumen River. In the winter months, the river freezes over and can be easily traversed, but even in the summer, there are parts of the river that are only knee high. South Korean Professor Kang Dong Wan described the boundary to Bloomberg News.
“Barbed wires separating China and North Korea are as good as non-existent, with some parts of the border river being so shallow that you only risk getting yourself wet from the knee down when you wade across it. The geographic extensiveness of the border also makes it very difficult to maintain a complete watch.”
For the desperate and hungry people, including soldiers, on the North Korean side, the unprotected boundary is an opportunity to steal. According to the New York Times, theft and murder are becoming more common as Kim Jong-un’s hermit country continues to deteriorate.
In the latest incident, a soldier killed four people during a robbery. The murders took place in the village of Nanping in the Jilin Province, right next door to the hermit kingdom. China filed a complaint to its ally in response.
Twenty people have died from North Korean attacks in Nanping in recent years. Beggars have long been a problem for the Chinese locals, but Bloomberg reports that now soldiers will occasionally enter China and simply demand food. The situation has become so bad that some people are fleeing the area.
China isn’t willing to wait for Kim Jong-un to fix its border issues. Instead, they’re arranging civilian militias to patrol the area and fight off the crime, an incredibly difficult task given the border covers 300 miles.
In addition, the Chinese government is setting up surveillance cameras, giving vehicles to the militias, and even establishing a hotline for citizens to call if they see a North Korean intruder.
Naturally, the situation has strained relations between the two nuclear-armed states, which were already cooling after North Korea performed its third nuclear test against the explicit requests of the Chinese government. The New York Times reports that China has been punishing Kim Jong-un’s regime by reducing shipments of food and oil, likely worsening the violence on the border. They are also restraining cross-border trade; Kim Jong-un’s uncle was in charge of trade relations with China until his execution.
Although North Korea’s military is typically better fed than the normal population, in the most rural areas, everyone suffers. Kwon Tae Jin, a researcher for North Korea issues, told the Sydney Morning Herald about the extent of the problem.
“Military units in fringe areas or with less influence also get less food. This will get worse. It is estimated about 2 million North Koreans are still unable to feed themselves properly even though the days of them starving to death are over.”
All of that near-starvation and anxiety takes place as the capital city of Pyongyang enjoys a mini-boom in consumption and new construction. The elites continue to live in luxury, according to the Guardian, but the problems in North Korea’s fringe territories may threaten that prosperity by alienating the only ally the hermit kingdom has left.
[Image Credit: J.A. de Roo/Wikimedia Commons]