North Korea has imported large amounts of tear gas, shields, and helmets from China, apparently with the aim to suppress any uprisings inspired by the so-called Jasmine Revolutions in the Arab world.
A source familiar with North Korean affairs said the regime has bought quantities of riot control gear through Chinese traders from Shenyang in Liaoning Province. North Korean officials are also reportedly trying to buy bulletproof vests and barricade materials.
Late last year, the North launched special riot control force in preparation for massive demonstrations. The units have reportedly developed new riot control methods for public places like railway stations, markets, schools, and parks.
The source said the regime launched the special units because there have been increasing signs of unrest since a botched currency reform in late 2008 from people who worry about their livelihood, and it fears that such demonstrations could grow and turn violent.
During the final stage of the great famine in 1998, when more than 1 million people starved to death, some senior officials at the Hwanghae Iron Works were executed for pilfering materials to solve the food problem of workers. Workers then staged a collective protest, which the regime suppressed with tanks.
A South Korean security official said, "The regime seems to be very afraid of popular riots after the botched currency reform and the Arab Spring."
The regime began stepping up preparations for riot control in April, when Gen. Ri Myong-su, the Army's former chief of operations, was appointed minister of public security.
According to an intelligence report, leader Kim Jong-il's son and heir Jong-un trained at the Administration Bureau of the powerful National Defense Commission when Ri was bureau chief. Ri is considered one of the closest associates of Kim junior, a South Korean government source said.
Observers speculate that China is also providing training in riot control.