A mysterious report in one of South Korea’s largest newspapers claims that the North Korean government fears that China will “betray” them, and as a result has moved a large number of tanks and other armored vehicles to the border with China.
The report in South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo cites one anonymous source as claiming that “about 80 tanks have been deployed in Ryanggang Province,” an area that had not been militarized previously. It also notes that the tanks and armored vehicles belong to a unit of North Korea’s military specially designated to respond to aggression from the Chinese military — or, as the newspaper states it: “is tasked with responding to movements of Chinese troops in an emergency.” In addition to the tanks, there are reportedly “an armored infantry unit, a unit of multiple rocket launchers, and a special warfare and sharpshooter brigade.”
The report appears curiously timed — as The Week notes, there “is some cause for skepticism” given the thin sourcing and the relationship between China and North Korea. While China has dutifully returned refugees who attempt to escape from North Korea to China back to their homeland, an incident this month is raising questions as to whether China will continue to abide by that agreement. According to Sky News, a group of ten men and women and one four-year-old child were detained attempting to flee North Korea from Ryanggang Province, but rather than being returned to North Korea, the Chinese government have yet to return the group of eleven. South Korea is working behind closed doors to negotiate their release into their country.
As the news of this one case challenging the relationship between China and North Korea spreads, so too do statistics that China has been repatriating more North Koreans than ever. According to the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, rather than cooperating less with North Korea, Chinese officials are allowing North Korean immigration agents to cross the border into China in order to repatriate North Koreans attempting to defect — something the Chinese government previously did itself, later returning the North Korean citizens to that country.
This report, too, comes with shady sourcing: “according to sources familiar with the inner workings of China’s security structure, local officials in the country’s northeastern region that shares a border with North Korea are allowing the North Korean Ministry of State Security and other authorities to conduct the searches.”