Beijing and Pyongyang came to blows when the North Koreans’ regular jamming of cell phone signals interfered with Chinese users living in the bordering regions, leading the Chinese authorities to lodge complaints with their Stalinist neighbor.
Chinese devices are a fairly popular black market item in the closed nation of 25 million people. Since North Koreans using Chinese phones cannot be surveilled, the regime, determined to control all channels of communication among its subjects, uniformly jams foreign radio and other wireless signals.
North Korea has demanded “compensation” to end the jamming, a Chinese-language report by Voice of America (VOA) says.
The Daily NK, an online publication that provides coverage on North Korea-related issues and news, reported that multiple Chinese towns and villages in bordering regions ended up in the North Koreans’ jamming net, rendering cell phones inoperable for months through last December.
Locals in the northeastern Chinese provinces of Liaoning and Jilin relied on landline connections during the jamming period.
North Korean jamming has interfered with Chinese signals before. In 2012, the provincial authorities in Jilin asked North Korea to end interference, to which the Koreans demanded a $45 million payment in exchange for their compliance, VOA reported.
But even upon receiving the money, the North Koreans continued blocking the phone signals.
Chinese phone users living in the affected regions told the American broadcaster that they either didn’t know or couldn’t verify whether or not the Chinese authorities indeed paid. However, the jamming does appear to have let up somewhat.
North Korea also operates its own cell phone service, Koryolink. It has about two million subscribers in Pyongyang (the North Korean capital) and five other cities.
Despite robust border control, the Sino-Korean border is a busy avenue for the trade of illegal imports from Northeast China into North Korea.