Chinese in North Korea Said to Be Sentenced or Executed as Relations Sour

October 5, 2015 Updated: October 5, 2015

North Korea’s small Chinese community is being subject to a new round of persecution as Beijing and Pyongyang drift further apart. The Hong Kong-based Asia Weekly reported that over a hundred people have been arrested, sentenced to prison, or executed by the totalitarian state’s National Security Department.

Xu Fusen, the pseudonym of a merchant who travels between Dandong, northeast China, and North Korea’s Sinuiju region, told Asia Weekly about the arrests and sentencing, which mostly happened this summer.

To Xu’s knowledge, the “crimes” of which the at least one hundred Chinese were found guilty tended to include spying, illegal spreading of video materials in and out of North Korea, support for “defectors,” money carriers, or religious activity.

Other Chinese have been put under surveillance and other forms of restriction. Their family and friends in border regions of northeast China’s Liaoning and Jilin Provinces have reported losing contact.

Chinese in North Korea are not allowed the use of mobile phones on pain of immediate deportation, but typically such regulations are often circumvented or otherwise ignored. Asia Weekly reported that the North Korean authorities had begun to discourage ethnic Koreans from interacting with the Chinese, while urging them to keep them under watch.

In recent years, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has turned away from China as the impoverished yet heavily-militarized nation’s traditional ally. This was demonstrated rather dramatically in 2013 when Kim executed his uncle Chang Sung-taek, at the time a powerful official. Analysts say that Chang, who was killed as part of a larger purge, was targeted in part for his close ties to the Chinese regime.

China, for its part, has engaged more closely with the capitalist South Korea and its president Park Geun-hye, who has reached out to both the U.S. and China for military and economic cooperation, respectively. While Chinese leader Xi Jinping has visited South Korea and met with Park, he has yet to see Kim Jong-un face-to-face.

Around the end of the nineteenth century, tens of thousands of Chinese migrated to northern Korea, when it was still a vassal state of imperial China. Most of them had returned to China by the late 1940s, with those who remained forming a small and unusual foreign community. In North Korea, where the totalitarian regime pursues homogeneity of race and culture, the local Chinese have been denied political and employment opportunities. They cannot join the Korean Worker’s Party or the Korean People’s Army.