Mayday: North Korean Internal Security Delegation in China

By | May 09, 2012 | 1 Comment

Nick Miller is on his way to the Korea Economic Institute for the summer. Fittingly, questions of mobility and structure are a preoccupation of the present post. — Adam Cathcart, Chief Editor

Mayday: North Korean Internal Security Delegation in China

by Nick Miller

North Korea Leadership Watch recently reported that a delegation from the DPRK Ministry of People’s Security (MPS) went to China on April 26, and returned home on the socialist holiday of May Day (May 1), 2012. The delegation visit was headed by Major General Ri Song Choi, who serves as the director of the MPS Foreign Affairs Bureau. As tends to be the case, the specific origin of the MPS visit is unclear, but it appears possible that their visit was previously arranged when International Secretary Kim Yong Il of the Korean Worker’s Party (KWP) came to Beijing on April 23 to engage in dialogue with his Beijing counterparts. Kim Yong Il’s visit to China represented the highest-level DPRK-PRC interaction after the North Korea failed launch of the U’nha-3 on April 13. [1]

What Happened in Hyesan?  |   One of the possible reasons for the visit from the MPS was the fact that two North Korean border security agents reportedly have killed seven of their colleagues in Hyesan and fled to China. In cooperation with Chinese border security and agents from the North Korean 10th Corp, these two were captured and repatriated on April 28th.  The officials will likely face capital punishment back in Pyongyang and there was going to be a further investigation into the motives of the killings. The sole source for the claims appears to be the Daily NK. In any event, recent — and somewhat brutal — North Korean dispatches about the use of guard dogs in  internal security indicate that there is some bucking up of morale taking place within the relevant organizations.

Better Days at the Hyesan-Changbai Crossing: A Chinese Customs Official Snaps a Picture of Two Tourists on the Bridge to the Pochonbo Monument; a Crumbling North Korean Apartment Bloc is in the Background | Photo by Adam Cathcart

The Role of the MPS  |   The MPS along with the State Security Department manages internal security threats within the DPRK, as well as protects government and party officials, monitors its citizens, and maintains law and order within the DPRK. The MPS is controlled by the Justice and Security Commission and is supported by a large network of informers. The border security guards serve as the paramilitary force within the MPS and their focus is on the monitoring of the border to prevent illegal crossings.

On March 16, 2011 it was announced by the Korean Central News Agency that the current head of the MPS, Ju Sang-Song was dismissed due to illness. South Korean officials speculated that Kim Jong Il still had strong confidence in Ju’s abilities as he was seen meeting with the Chinese Minister of Public Security Meng Jiangzhu last year.  The South Koreans suspected that Ju’s removal could either be a sign that there was a generational power struggle occurring as Kim Jong Un was being situated to take over the country, there was internal power struggle amongst the elites, or that Ju was being used as a scapegoat for public unrest.

Chinese-North Korean Border Concerns |  In an effort to assert greater control over the borders, on April 16th Kim Jong Un ordered that the border guards would be under the jurisdiction of the National Security Agency (NSA) in hopes that the central government would be able to prevent civilian defections, smuggling, and its citizens from gaining access to information from China. China’s repatriation of North Korean refugees had put China in an uncomfortable spotlight by the international community.

China’s media tactics to handle the refugee issue have become more flexible of late, but its overall stance has remained quite stable. Within the Chinese Constitution under Article 32 Paragraph 2 states that the PRC should provide protection to foreigners who claim refugee status for political reasons but this courtesy was not extended to North Korean refugees as they were classified as “illegal economic immigrants.” If the Chinese government were to call the escape citizens “refugees” this would endanger the relationship between China and North Korea.

Chinese leaders are afraid that if it opens the doors to North Korean refugees it will lead to a mass diasporas of North Korean citizens attempting to enter China. While some local officials along the border want an influx of North Korean skilled labor, the Chinese central government harbors fears that a stronger concentration of Koreans in Northeast China will create another ethnic destabilization point like Tibet or Xinjiang, even if Koreans have been considered a “model minority” in the PRC.

When it comes to border security on the Chinese side local Chinese officials are willing to look the other away in terms of repatriating North Korean citizens. Once the North Korean government is aware of the case then the Chinese government if force to repatriate the individual back home. According to Dr. Andrei Lankov, North Korean refugees defect not out of political disagreements but rather in seeking a better life in China. Most North Korean refugees are poor farmers or semi-skilled workers who would not warrant protection from the South Korean government.

Both countries are poised in difficult situations. Kim Jong Un needs to look strong and assert a greater control over the porous border with China. Accordingly, Kim Jong Un has given the responsibility of protecting the borders to General Kim Won Hong and ordered defectors to be murderedon the spot and ‘exterminate three generations’ of the defectors families.

General Kim Won Hong Sings an Ode to the Army with the Unhasu Orchestra, March 8. The only General to address the gathering of elites, his song performance brought tears to the eyes of several female audience members. | Image from full video of the concert, linked, courtesy Uriminzokkiri on YouTube

While the spread of the North Korean refugees are not just the only concern for the Chinese government it must also face the problem of balancing the stability measures needed to appease the North Korean government and its relations with the international community. China’s relationship with North Korea is no longer one of “lips and teeth” that relationship ended after the death of Kim Il Sung and the recent failed satellite tests have heightened the concerned that North Korea ballistic missiles could be in range of Beijing and Shanghai. It was reported to Yomiuri Shimbun that Chinese officials ordered that repatriation of North Korean refugees to be suspended because of North Korea’s satellite launch and one official from Liaoning province said that the government can no longer ignore that repatriation is a death sentence.  While the state news may portray a strong relationship, it is becoming more apparent that friendship between the states continues to crumble as China is pressured to increase its role as a leader within the international community.

Who is in control here? Kim Jong Un introduces himself to Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang with a power grip in Pyongyang, October 24, 2011. | No official photo was released; image is a screen grab via China Central Television.

[1] In the interim, two symbolic meetings had occurred in Pyongyang — Kim Ki-Nam took time out from coordinating propaganda on April 14 to meet Zhou Mingwei and a cultural delegation, and Yang Hwang-Sop handed out some friendship medals to a Chinese guy in a really ugly suit.

More substantively, the PRC’s Dai Bingguo met with a North Korean delegation in the Diaoyutai Guest House in the central leadership compound in central Beijing on April 22, described here in Chinese and here by NK Leadership Watch.  Interestingly, one statement supposedly made by Dai was seized upon by KCNA in the somewhat overlooked April 23 item entitled State Councilor of China on Sino-DPRK Friendship:

“It is the consistent strategic policy of the Chinese party and government to cement the Sino-DPRK friendship and there will be neither change nor vacillation in implementing the policy, he stressed.”

This emphasis should not be surprising, given the North Korean state’s apparent affinity for Dai, who, as state media noted appreciatively, alone among Chinese leaders had the good sense to give into tears when Kim Jong Il died, wishing that the dead 69-year old would rise from the grave. — Editor


One Comment

  1. The story of the two security people killing their comrades in Hyesan was covered more briefly by RFA as well, but they lacked some details and didn’t follow it up to a conclusion.