Dead Smugglers And China’s North Korea Policies

This is unusual. Beijing has accused North Korean border guards of shooting dead three Chinese citizens and wounding a fourth. The incident took place last week near the border town of Dandong, according to the Chinese foreign ministry. The four were reportedly trying to smuggle copper out of North Korea. Beijing has filed a formal complaint with Pyongyang.

There is a flourishing smuggling business in both directions across the border in addition to the legal trade between the two countries (China accounts for four-fifths of North Korea’s trade and North Korea’s half-hidden private markets are full of black-market Chinese goods), but it is unusual for the commerce to be interrupted in this way, and even more so for China to make a public complaint about it. Coming as it does in the wake of the torpedoing of the South Korean corvette the Cheonan in March, and China’s strenuous fence-sitting efforts to reduce tensions on the peninsula while not letting itself be pushed into joining the international condemnation of North Korea for being responsible for the attack, it all seems curiouser still.

This Bystander wonders if just as the strains of a leadership succession are being seen in North Korea, so there has been an outbreak of factional friction in China between the Foreign Ministry and the Party’s International Department, which traditionally has had the final — and harder line — say in policy towards their Korean War era allies in Pyongyang.

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