China and the World

Frosty relations

Chinese villagers fear North Korean raids

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un poses for pictures with pilots as he provides field guidance to the flight drill of female pilots of pursuit planes of the KPA Air and Anti-Air Force

Kim: readying to fly to Moscow

What do you say to a leader whose policies are responsible for the death of several of your citizens?

In the case of China and North Korea the answer seems to be “Happy Birthday”.

On January 8 Beijing dutifully sent its congratulations on Kim Jong-un’s turning 32. It came 12 days after a North Korean defector had crossed the border and killed four Chinese farmers while searching for food and money. The Chinese authorities tried to cover it up, presumably fearful that it would harm relations with a volatile Pyongyang.

But when Chinese citizens found out – via the South Korean media – they were furious. Worse still it transpired this was not an isolated case – three others were killed in September and villagers along the border live in constant fear of armed North Korean deserters.

“Why are things involving North Korea more sensitive?” asked the Global Times. “We should not be too accommodating,” it warned.

Sino-DPRK relations have deteriorated since the young Kim took over in late 2011. The last senior Chinese official to visit Pyongyang was vice-president Li Yuanchao in mid-2013, and Kim and Xi Jinping have never met as leaders.

This might not be so serious were China not North Korea’s only formal ally and biggest aid donor. To this day North Korea is a rare foreign nation the People’s Liberation Army has spilled blood protecting and the only country with which it has signed a mutual defence pact. Yet, this week it emerged that it is Moscow, not Beijing, that Kim will probably visit on his first foreign trip as leader.

The chubby dictator’s lack of respect infuriates many Chinese. Why, they ask, does their government apply double standards? If nationals from other countries behaved so atrociously, Beijing would protest vigorously.

“We go on and on about how bad Japan is but it’s not Japanese who are killing Chinese citizens today,” one confused weibo user queried.

The most recent attack happened on December 27. A 26 year-old soldier crossed the Tumen River – which forms the border at that point – and entered the village of Nanping carrying a knife and pistol. Quite why he needed to kill the two elderly couples he robbed of pork and Rmb100 ($16) is unclear, but the soldier was caught and shot when another villager alerted the police.

The North Korean raider later died of his injuries, the foreign ministry said in the only official acknowledgement of the incident.

“The North Korean side expressed regret over the incident and extended sympathies to the families of the victims,” it added.

But as reports by Southern Weekend show, it was far from a one-off incident. Only four months earlier a North Korean civilian bludgeoned a Chinese family to death to get two mobile phones, a handbag and Rmb500. A relative of the family surnamed Yong told the Beijing Times that people in his village feel helpless because the Tumen River is shallow and freezes over in the winter, making it easy for anyone to cross. “They often come over, asking for money and food. They have weapons, so we dare not refuse,” he said.

Southern Weekend says there have been at least 10 such cases since 2000, and not all of them involve desperate defectors. Organised gangs that are smuggling drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and Chinese phone cards also raid the villages, it said.

Local authorities have given out 4,000 mobile phones for people to call in incidents but residents have had enough and they are either fortifying their properties or moving to the city. “If they have the means, people are leaving. Only the poor and elderly are left now,” Southern Weekend comments. It also speculated that Chinese border guards may have been killed trying to stop the incursions. But the chances of that being confirmed publicly seem very slim indeed.

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