Illegal Trade Flows Freely Between N.Korea and China

  • By Ahn Yong-hyun

    September 06, 2018 13:25

    North Korea trade with China officially through a small number of customs offices along the border, but illicit trade is common through many porous points.

    China and North Korea share a 1,400-km border along the Apnok and Duman rivers but only three rail bridges and 12 pedestrian bridges with customs offices plus three harbors.

    The main trade hub is Dandong in China's Liaoning Province, which accounts for more than 70 percent of trade because it has rail and pedestrian bridges as well as a harbor. Another road bridge being built between Dandong and Sinuiju in North Korea is expected to be completed soon.

    Another customs post in Hunchun, Jilin Province, serves as the gateway to North Korea's Rajin-Sonbong special economic zone where China, North Korea and Russia meet. The bridge connecting the North Korean city of Musan with Nanping in China is a major conduit to export the North Korean iron ore.

    Official trade between China and North Korea in the first seven months of this year stood at US$1.3 billion, down 56.2 percent from the same period of 2017, according to China's General Administration of Customs. 

    But plenty of illicit trade takes place -- on land in Hyesan in North Korea's Ryanggang Province, and at sea primarily off the coast of Cholsan, North Pyongan Province. The most rampant kind is small-scale smuggling of daily necessities across land from China, but in maritime smuggling, government and military officials are often involved.

    Large volumes of food, seafood and minerals are usually smuggled via maritime routes, and a growing number of North Korean ships are venturing out close to Japanese waters to fish, according to Radio Free Asia.

    During North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's third visit to China in June of this year, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged "unwavering friendship" to the North Korean people, which was interpreted as a vow to safeguard the livelihood of ordinary North Koreans.

    But now Beijing has apparently stepped up crackdowns on smuggling after U.S. President Donald Trump recently blamed China for the slow progress in North Korea's denuclearization. There are reports that at least one Chinese smuggler was arrested recently.

    But one source said, "It would take more than 1 million Chinese troops to completely seal off smuggling across the border. It's been going on for hundreds of years." 

    • Copyright © Chosunilbo &
    Previous Next
    All Headlines Back to Top