North Korean authorities have apparently stepped up regulations and monitoring of Chinese residents there since Beijing backed UN sanctions against the North in June. Sources in China and North Korea say North Korean intelligence officials are increasingly treating Chinese residents who recently visited their home country as spies.
Sources say this has prompted many Chinese residents to avoid visiting China. The number of Chinese residents passing through customs in Rajin has dropped to one-third of the number seen last year after rumors spread that a Chinese resident in Pyongyang who had recently been back to China was hauled off by intelligence agents and charged with espionage.
There are an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 Chinese living in North Korea in Pyongyang, Sinuiju and Chongjin. They are better off on average than typical North Koreans since they make a living selling products from China. They had been free from regulations and faced no punishment even if they criticized North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. But they are now said to be subject to the worst repression ever, apparently as a result of North Korean anger at China's backing for the sanctions.
North Koreans are accusing Chinese residents of selling information about the reclusive country to the U.S. and Chinese governments.
Sources in North Korea say Chinese staff of businesses in the Rajin-Sonbong special economic zone also face tougher restrictions. In some parts of China, a growing number of companies are refraining from doing business with North Korean companies because there has been a rise in incidents where North Koreans lure Chinese investments but run off with the money.
There is speculation that massive economic aid announced during Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's recent visit to North Korea may have been aimed at alleviating such repression. It remains to be seen whether Chinese residents in North Korea will be treated better now.