Chinese communist authorities detained several individuals in connection with an allegedly Kim Jong-un regime-sanctioned North Korean ring trafficking the increasingly popular methamphetamine drug across the border into China, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on Tuesday.
The arrests suggest that, after abandoning its role in the drug trade to make much-needed cash by smuggling opium, methamphetamine, and other drugs, the North Korean government may be back at it.
An unnamed source indicated to RFA:
The recent drug busts have uncovered the North Korean government’s recent involvement in drug manufacture and trafficking as a method of making foreign currency, which the country desperately needs as it transitions to a market economy while under sanctions put in place by the U.S. and the U.N.
“North Koreans smuggling large amounts of meth into China are not small-time private smugglers. They are part of a foreign-currency-generating organization that is protected by powerful North Korean authorities,” the source declared.
Chinese authorities learned that the smugglers arrested in “early May” were “actually agents” of Kim Jong-un’s regime’s security department who traveled into China, claiming to be chasing after a defector.
RFA acknowledges that it is unclear whether or not the Chinese officials were in on the trafficking operation, adding that the arrests may suggest China is not willing to tolerate the influx of drugs onto its soil.
There are two regions with a high population of ethnic Koreans in China right across the border from its fellow communist country of North Korea — Changbai Korean Autonomous county and Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, both located in the Chinese province of Jilin.
Chinese authorities reportedly made the arrests linked to a North Korean drug smuggling operation in Changbai.
An unnamed source from Changbai told RFA last week authorities had intensified border security in the wake of the arrests this month.
According to multiple sources, the Chinese government is paying special attention to this case because during police investigations; the ring was found to have connections with North Korean state security agents, adding a new wrinkle to recently tense relations between the two countries.
“Their inspections have increased in intensity because the police caught some big-time drug dealers. They were smuggling bingdu[methamphetamine] from Hyesan, a city just across the river in North Korea,” the source said.
Methamphetamine production and use are popular in North Korea after it began as a state-sponsored endeavor to generate revenue by the regime, with producers getting the raw materials from China and sending it back its final form to earn much-needed cash. However, regime-sanctioned production began to decline around the mid-2000s. Some analysts attributed the change to dictator Kim Jong-un’s desire to focus on developing nuclear weapons and prohibiting its citizens from fogging their mind.
An unnamed source told RFA, “Ice [meth] makers and dealers can be punished with up to the death penalty if they get caught, but they can make a lot of money fast,” said the source, adding, ”There are so many people looking for drugs, so nothing is going to stop [the drug trade].”
Clandestine labs flourished after the government got out of the meth trafficking business, leaving behind a surplus of people with the skills to manufacture the highly addictive drug in the wake of the crackdown on production.
Users began to think of the drug as a much cheaper alternative to opium. Uniformed users are known to unwittingly buy into the drug’s alleged “cure-all” properties, much like what happened in the United States and other Western countries when amphetamine, heroin, and cocaine debuted in the 19th and 20th century.
It appears the North Korean regime, under unprecedented U.S. sanctions, may once again be relying on the lucrative narcotics business, much like its counterpart in Venezuela, under the leadership of dictator Nicolás Maduro, and the Afghan Taliban, which generates most of its funds from opium and heroin as it controls or contests about half of Afghanistan.