Chinese authorities are reportedly drawing up plans to construct five refugee camps for fear of an exodus of North Koreans as tensions on the peninsula continue to escalate amid the advancement of the regime’s nuclear program.
The plan, which involves setting up five refugee camps in the northeastern province of Jilin along its 880-mile (1,416km) border with North Korea, was leaked this week through an internal document leaked from China’s biggest telecommunications company, China Mobile, and later seen by the Financial Times.
The document said that the plan was being discussed “because the situation on the China-North Korea border has intensified.”
“Due to cross-border tensions … the [Communist] party committee and government of Changbai county has proposed setting up five refugee camps in the county,” it read.
Meanwhile, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters on Monday that he was not aware of the report but did not deny its existence.
“I haven’t seen such reports,” Mr. Lu said.
The reported plan comes amidst rising tensions across the Korean Peninsula as North Korea continues to aggressively develop its nuclear arsenal with the completion of numerous missile and bomb tests while threatening to destroy the United States, South Korea, and even Japan.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly called on China to increase their efforts to solve the crisis. Following his visit to China last month, the Chinese even sent a special envoy to North Korea to discuss the nuclear issue, although any attempts to ease tensions appear to have failed.
Last month, China also conducted extensive military drills near its border with North Korea, although a foreign ministry spokesperson later claimed they were not “aimed at any country.”
If verified, the leaked document would indicate that China is becoming increasingly concerned that the escalating tensions could turn into a full-scale conflict, which would likely trigger an exodus of North Korean refugees across the country’s border.
However, any refugee settlements would mark a shift in China’s policy towards North Korean refugees, who they have previously said are recognized solely as illegal economic migrants and if apprehended are sent back to North Korea to face almost certain torture.
“Those North Koreans have illegally crossed the border due to financial hardship in their homeland. They did not go through normal immigration procedures and also disrupted public order in our border regions,” a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman was quoted as saying by the Korea Times in 2015.