By Takushoku University Prof. Satoshi Tomisaka
The China-North Korea relationship continues to deteriorate because China is steadily moving toward sanctioning North Korea.
This is evidenced by the closing down of North Korean restaurants in China and the repatriation of their employees.
However, what came as the hardest blow to North Korea is that China has begun to impose serious restrictions on the activities of North Korean spies in China.
There were media reports last fall that the Chinese authorities arrested seven North Korean spies who were operating clandestinely in China for the purpose of murdering Kim Han-sol, son of Kim Jong Nam. (JoongAng Daily, Oct. 30, 2017).
While it is unclear whether the mission of the North Koreans arrested by the Chinese authorities was indeedKim Han-sol’s murder, there was no doubt that a major clampdown took place in the Chaoyang District in Beijing, with the entire district being blockaded, right after the Communist Party of China National Congress ended.
The Chaoyang District is one of the most expensive areas in Beijing which is home to the members of the elite. A friend who lives there recalls that on the day of the arrests, “an enormous number of police cars gathered there and the whole place resounded with police sirens. There was a peculiar kind of tension unlike during normal times.”
A member of the media who also lives in Chaoyang says: “Considering the police blockaded this district, their target was clearly the North Korean spies because they are rather notorious among people in the know.”
Some 10,000 North Koreans live in the Shuangqiao area of this district. Officially, they are employees of trading firms doing business, but in reality, it is believed that their job is to evade all sorts of sanctions and regulations to deliver the necessary goods to North Korea and to make unofficial contact with government officials of other countries.
It is reckoned that the North Korean spies use this as their operational base for contacting friendly countries in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. Their arrest is actually a more serious sanction for North Korea than the oil embargo.
This development was also proof that China is serious about sending signals to North Korea. However, the big problem is that the possibility of a solution is still not in sight even with China’s cooperation with the U.S. (Abridged)