China has decided to allow 20,000 North Koreans to work in the Dandong area of Liaoning Province along the Apnok River separating it from North Korea. Earlier, China permitted another 20,000 North Koreans to work in the border cities of Tumen and Huchun in Jilin Province along the Duman River.
The 40,000 include many factory workers who lost their jobs when South Korea halted trade with North Korea in 2010 after the North's sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan.
A source in Dandong said the Liaoning government and North Korea's Committee of Investment and Joint Venture signed an agreement in April authorizing the dispatch of of 20,000 North Koreans to Dandong.
Liaoning Province arrived at the number by assessing the needs of businesses in Dandong, the source added.
Under the agreement China will issue industrial training visas to 20,000 North Korean workers a year and pay them 1,300-1,700 yuan (W240,000-310,000) a month depending on the line of work. They will work in factories that manufacture clothes, food and IT products, or in mines.
The Economic Observer reported recently from Dandong that North Korea is pushing the dispatch of workers to China after they lost their jobs due to South Korean sanctions imposed when the North sank the Navy corvette Cheonan and shelled Yeonpyeong Island.
Already in January, Jilin Province signed an agreement with the North Korean committee to send 20,000 workers to Tumen and Hunchun. They started working in textile factories in Tumen last month.
The total number of North Korean workers in China is expected to rise to almost 50,000. Some 8,000 are already working in North Korean restaurants and construction sites in Beijing and other parts of China.
Experts believe that Beijing agreed to import North Korean labor to help the North's moribund economy and new leader Kim Jong-un consolidate his grip on power. Their dispatch could undermine the effects of international sanctions against the North and delay possible reforms that could be triggered by worsening economic conditions there.
"It is not a violation of UN sanctions to hire North Korean workers, but the money they send back will end up in Kim Jong-un's coffers and delay the reforms and market opening that China desires," said a diplomatic source in Beijing.
North Korea dealt with South Korea's trade ban by drastically increasing exports of minerals, including iron ore and coal, to China and is now turning to labor export. Early this year, Kim reportedly issued an order to send as many workers as possible overseas, even at the risk of a certain number of defections.