Some North Korean trade officials in China have recently been replaced amid increased monitoring of their mobile phones, including the use of VPNs, Daily NK has learned.
Speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons, a Daily NK source in China said on Jan. 4 that several North Korean trade officials flew to China last month, while many trade officials who were stuck in China after North Korea sealed its border due to COVID-19 returned home.
Air Koryo passenger flights flew between North Korea and China on Dec. 12, 19, 26, and 30. The four flights brought new trade officials to China and returned trade officials who were in China back home.
Some trade officials returned home by bus from Dandong, China, to Sinuiju, North Korea. Pyongyang appears to have carried out a rapid rotation of its trade officials in China.
With the personnel rotation, North Korean consulates in China have intensified their inspections, surveillance, and crackdowns directed at trade officials.
“North Korean consulates have been conducting mobile phone inspections since last month, checking recent phone calls and text messages,” the source said.
Many trade officials have responded to the inspections by changing their phone numbers or deleting and reinstalling their messaging apps.
In particular, North Korean consulates have been cracking down on proxy applications such as VPNs, which allow mobile phone users to access foreign websites.
“Ministry of State Security agents are rummaging through WeChat to see what you talked about with whom and examining your internet history to see if you visited South Korean websites,” the source said, referring to North Korea’s secret police organization. “People who’ve done something that could get them caught change their phones, even if it costs money.”
This suggests that some trade officials are buying new mobile phones to avoid the crackdown, although mobile phones are not cheap in China, typically costing between RMB 2,500 and RMB 3,500 (USD 352 to 493).
The source added that North Korean officials have been conducting surprise inspections of trade officials’ homes. After calling to make sure someone is home, officials immediately barge into the homes and inspect all documents present, including computer files, books, and notes.
In response, North Korean trade officials are minimizing their contacts and meetings with Chinese traders outside official business.
“The inspections and surveillance of North Korean trade officials by consulates and security officials are likely to continue into the new year,” the source said. “Trade officials believe that keeping a low profile and avoiding trouble is now more important than producing results.”
Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler.
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January 09, 2024 at 07:10AM
by DailyNK(North Korean Media)