North Korea has built hundreds of kilometres of upgraded or new border fences, guard posts and walls to seal its borders with Russia and China, cutting off routes used by defectors and smugglers. The measures have tightened the flow of goods and information in the country and kept foreign elements out. Last year, only 67 defectors reached South Korea compared to 1,047 in 2019. The border walls have also helped North Korea keep out coronavirus and other “alien things”. The sealing of the border will have a lasting effect on the nascent mercantile class of North Korea and over towns where thriving informal trade earlier offered the opportunity to people to make their own way.
In light of the recent news by a report published by Reuters, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un had embarked on a big exercise in 2020 to seal its borders with Russia and China, cutting off routes which were being used by defectors and smugglers, when the world was battling a pandemic. Since then, hundreds of kilometres of upgraded or new border fences, guard posts and walls have been built by Pyongyang, as per commercial satellite imagery.
These steps helped the government in tightening the flow of goods and information in the country and also ensured that foreign elements are kept out and its people remain inside. “The traditional North Korea-China route is now effectively over, unless there is a major change in the situation,” stated Kim, who is a South Korean pastor. Kim along with others has helped North Koreans defect.
Last year, only 67 defectors could reach South Korea compared to 1,047 in 2019, as per official data. There was a decline in the figure even before the pandemic because of tighter restrictions in China, the route towards which is preferred by defectors.
The government of North Korea and state media have spoken little about the construction of the wall at the border. However, the country’s official organisations have noted that the security was beefed up to ensure that coronavirus and other “alien things” stay out of the country. Kim Jong Un, in his speech in which he declared victory over COVID-19, had asked officials to “ensure perfection” of an “To draw a final conclusion multiple blockade wall in the border, frontline and coast areas and in the seas and air”.
The sealing of the border will have a lasting effect on the nascent mercantile class of North Korea and over towns where thriving informal trade earlier offered the opportunity to people to make their own way, stated Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, a non-resident fellow at the US-based Stimson Center who researches on the economy of North Korea. 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,” he added.
The border walls have also helped North Korea keep out coronavirus and other “alien things”. However, the country has been facing a severe economic crisis due to international sanctions and the pandemic. The country’s economy has been shrinking for two consecutive years, and the pandemic has only made things worse. North Korea has been relying on China for aid and trade, but the border closures have disrupted the trade between the two countries.
When all is said and done, North Korea’s decision to seal its borders with Russia and China has had a significant impact on the country’s economy and its people. While it has helped the government in tightening its grip on the country and keeping out foreign elements, it has also affected the nascent mercantile class and towns that relied on informal trade. The border closures have also disrupted the trade between North Korea and China, which has only worsened the country’s economic crisis.