Chinese and North Korean trawlers intermingle as they search for crabs, conch and yellow clam in the fishing grounds where the Yalu River opens up to the Yellow Sea.
According to media reports that quote traders who have been aboard the vessels, offering dollars, renminbi and even goods like cigarettes for the latest catch are Chinese boats called “mother ships” that act as floating middlemen.
And along China’s 1,350-kilometer (840-mile) border with North Korea, roughly the distance from Paris to Rome, the practice is just one form of smuggling. To carry everything from diesel fuel to silkworms to cell phones back and forth across the Yalu, locals use boats, cars, trucks and several rail lines.
The difficulties that authorities in Beijing face in fully implementing United Nations sanctions against Kim Jong Un’s regime is showcased by the informal border trade. For preserving an economic lifeline for Kim while he pushes for the ability to strike the U.S. with a nuclear weapon, China has come under attack from President Donald Trump as it is North Korea’s biggest trading partner.
It is a tricky balance for China – implementing the sanctions. The eventuality leads the U.S. to bolster regional defenses that could also be used against China is intended to be stopped by China and wants North Korea to stop doing anything to that end. At the same time, U.S. troops could be brought to the banks of the Yalu if there is a collapse of the regime in Pyongyang which could destabilize China’s northeastern region and this is another fear among Chinese authorities.
Sanctions to strengthen inspections of ships suspected to contain prohibited items, limit the amount of oil and refined petroleum products sold to the country and banning North Korean exports of textiles were voted in favor by China at the UN this week. The U.S. says about 90 percent of North Korea’s exports last year are now off limits together with previous sanctions on goods like coal, iron and seafood.
Coming fully into force on September 5 was a ban on North Korean seafood passed a month ago — taking away roughly $300 million in revenue each year even as the latest penalties will take effect from Oct. 1. But fresh North Korean seafood was still available even as China visibly stepped up enforcement, showed media interviews along the border last week with dozens of traders, wholesalers, smugglers, former local officials and foreign diplomats.
Police and military have increased patrols and set up checkpoints to inspect vehicles along China’s border with North Korea stretches from the industrial town of Dandong north to the town of Hunchun.
After the earlier sanctions took effect, dozens of seafood wholesalers had closed in Hunchun. according to Shi Haiyan, a shopkeeper at Quanhe Port, which sits on a river linked with the Sea of Japan, Chinese authorities seized shipments of North Korean squid at the border.
Everything from coal to diesel were regularly dealt to North Korean brides i the 1990s. But the easy money will continue to attract smugglers on the border despite the risk of violating sanctions.
(Adapted form Bloomberg)