Satellite images show how North Korea has transformed its border with China

Satellite images show that in January 2021, a primary fence and some guard posts were built along the Yalu River in North Korea’s northern border, as well as a secondary fence and some guard posts. In May 2019, no fences or border facilities are visible (HRW/Maxar)
Published March 9, 2024

Between 2020 and 2023, North Korea built a total 482 kilometres of new fencing on the northern border and enhanced another 260 kilometres of primary fencing that had existed before.

Once the start of the Covid pandemic, North Korea has systematically sealed the country’s bordersusing “expanded fences, guard posts, strict enforcement, and new rules, including a standing order for border guards to shoot on sight”, a new report from Human Rights Watch has revealed.

Analysis of the satellite images of hundreds of square kilometres of North Korea’s northern border shows how key trade and crossing points were fortified after the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic began. The satellite images also show the level of security infrastructure before and after 2020 on the border and “the scale, efforts, and resources that the North Korean government has invested in fortifying the border through new fencing, infrastructure, and its increased deployment of security personnel”.

The HRW report titled, “A Sense of Terror, Stronger than a Bullet: The Closing of North Korea 2018–2023” was released on 7 March and shows how between 2017 and 2023, the already isolated country effectively closed off North Korea from the rest of the world and “stopped almost all cross-border movement of people, formal and informal commercial trade, and humanitarian aid”.

In its analysis of the satellite images, HRW concluded that between 2020 and 2023 North Korea built a total 482 kilometres of new fencing in the areas and enhanced another 260 kilometres of primary fencing that had existed before.

Satellite images from April 2023 showed some fencing still under construction, it added.



RELATED: Images show North Korea sealing its border with China

There has been a major ramping up of security along the border between North Korea and China. This image shows North Korea from an area near the Chinese border city of Hunchun in 2015
Published March 9,  2024

North Korea has used the Covid-19 pandemic to seal up its northern border with China, new images from a leading human rights group show.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) describes a situation which has seen “intensifying repression”, with “drastically reduced” cross-border movement and trade.

In the research, North Koreans spoke of the increasingly restrictive measures.

UN member states should “immediately address” North Korea’s isolation and humanitarian crisis, HRW stresses.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has reinforced a crackdown on border security in recent years, coinciding with the pandemic.

The border was only reopened a few months ago, largely to improve trade with China.

The report, entitled A Sense of Terror Stronger than a Bullet: The Closing of North Korea 2018-2023, describes the “overbroad, excessive, and unnecessary measures during the Covid-19 pandemic”.



RELATED: North Korea: Sealing China Border Worsens Crisis

Isolationist Policies Exacerbate Impact of UN Sanctions, Covid-19 Pandemic

North Korean soldiers patrolling on a riverside along fortified fences in the border county of Uiju, North Pyongan province, December 22, 2022. © 2022 Kyodo News/Getty Images
Published March 9, 2024
  • Since the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, North Korea’s government has largely sealed its border with China and imposed overbroad, excessive, and unnecessary quarantines and restrictions on freedom of movement and trade, which have worsened the country’s already grave humanitarian and human rights situation.
  • The new restrictions exacerbated existing UN Security Council sanctions, which restricted most exports and some imports, unintentionally harming ordinary North Koreans’ livelihoods and food security.
  • UN member states should urgently address North Korea’s isolation and humanitarian crisis, encouraging authorities to end abusive measures and allow humanitarian aid with adequate oversight and monitoring.

(New York) – North Korea’s government under Kim Jong Un has effectively sealed its northern border with China, worsening an already grave humanitarian and human rights situation in the country, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 148-page report, “‘A Sense of Terror Stronger than a Bullet’: The Closing of North Korea 2018-2023,” documents the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK or North Korea) overbroad, excessive, and unnecessary measures during the Covid-19 pandemic, including quarantines and new restrictions on economic activity and freedom of movement.

The government’s new measures have severely affected food security and the availability of products needed by North Koreans to survive that previously entered the country via formal or informal trade routes from China.

United Nations Security Council sanctions from 2016 and 2017 limited most exports and some imports, harming the country’s economy as well as people’s ability to make a living and access food and essential goods.




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Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter
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