Reports out of North Korea suggest that at least two individuals, one of whom is a Chinese citizen, have been arrested attempting to cross the border into North Korea to execute an assassination plot against Kim Jong-un.
UPI notes that the rumors appear to be circulating out of reports from Radio Free Asia and Japan’s Asia Press, which state that at least one citizen from North Korea, a defector, was arrested near the Tumen River, and at least one Chinese national with him or her, though the reports leave open-ended how many Chinese nationals were arrested. The UK Daily Mail adds that those allegedly arrested were planning to kill Kim in Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province, a coastal province that borders China to its west.
Asia Press identifies its source as an anonymous person with knowledge of the situation in North Korea, though UPI notes that the founder of Asia Press, Japanese journalist Jiro Ishimaru, has urged caution regarding the news, calling it a likely rumor “manufactured by the state to bolster support for the party ahead of its Seventh Congress in May.” The Seventh Congress is expected to herald in a series of new regulations on the North Korean people, as well as a significant change in high-level management on Kim’s part. South Korean intelligence have noticed a significant increase in the amount and intensity of pro-Kim propaganda within North Korea.
While dictator Kim Jong-un is consistently the target of government praise in television, newspapers, and murals, he has previously kept himself below the deified status of his predecessors: his father, Kim Jong-il, and his grandfather, Kim Il-sung. “North Korea is elevating its treatment of the current leader to the level of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il,” a South Korean official told the news agency Yonhap on Friday.
“I think the main goal of the upcoming party congress would be to build up Kim Jong-un’s one-man rule… as part of that project, North Korea is beefing up the glorification of Kim Jong-un,” Lim Byeong-cheol, an official within the South Korean Unification Ministry, told Yonhap.
The news of these arrests also surfaces following months of the Chinese government, North Korea’s largest trade partner, intermittently expressing frustration with the unpredictability and belligerence of the Kim regime. China announced new unilateral sanctions on North Korea this week targeting North Korea’s mining industry, banning the import of “coal, iron, iron ore, gold, titanium, and rare earths.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang had said in March that China “always opposes any country imposing unilateral sanctions” in response to expanded South Korean and American sanctions on Pyongyang. The Chinese government had previously condemned “secondary sanctions” independent from United Nations action alleging that they will “compel banks to freeze the assets of anyone who breaks the blockade, potentially squeezing out North Korea’s business ties, including those with China.”
This week, China’s chief Korean envoy Wu Dawei also insisted that sanctions would not solve the North Korean problem, but dismissed the claim that China imposing sanctions on North Korea would indicate China is changing its stance on Pyongyang as “hype.”
While North Korea has not overtly condemned China in its state-run media, some reports indicate that it is attempting to harm the Chinese economy. One report this week suggested that North Korea has been fabricating counterfeit Chinese currency and circulating it within China, which could significantly artificially inflate and damage the value of Chinese currency.