China: network of refugee camps being built along border with North Korea

The plans for the five refugee camps emerged in a leaked document, revealing China's plans on how to deal with a potential human exodus if tensions rise further

(Photo: the Business Insider)
(Photo: the Business Insider)

China is in the process of building a network of refugee camps along its 1,416km border with North Korea, as it braces for the human exodus which a conflict or collapse of Kim Jong-un’s regime might cause.

The existence of plans for the camps, which were first reported by the Financial Times last week, emerged in a leaked internal document from within a state-run telecoms company.

The ‘China Mobile’ document made the rounds on social media and on Chinese websites last week, revealed plans for at least five refugee camps in the Jilin province.

The document said: “Due to cross-border tensions… the [Communist] party committee and government of Changbai county has proposed setting up five refugee camps in the county.

It also lists the names and locations of three such facilities, including Changbai riverside, Changbai Shibalidaogou and Changbai Jiguanlizi.

According to the New York Times, centres for refugees were also planned in the cities of Hunchun and Tumen.

A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry declined to confirm the existence of such camps at a press briefing on Monday. However, he did not deny that they were being built.

“I haven’t seen such reports,” Lu Kang told reporters.

The question was purged from the foreign ministry’s official transcript of the briefing, as happens with topics usually raised by foreign journalists which are considered inconvenient or sensitive.

The document also contains the name and number of a China Mobile employee, who drafted it, but calls to that number went unanswered on Tuesday.

The construction of the camps appears to reflect the growing concern in Beijing about the potential for instability or even the collapse of the regime in Pyongyang.

Map showing the border between North Korea and China
Map showing the border between North Korea and China

A North Korea specialist from Renmin University in Beijing, Cheng Xiaohe, said that while he could not confirm whether the document was genuine, it would be irresponsible for China not to make such plans.

“Tensions are high on the Korean peninsula… it is on the brink of war. As a major power and a neighbouring country, China should make plans for all eventualities,” said Xiaohe.

A Japanese documentary maker, Jiro Ishimaru, who runs a network of citizen journalists inside the North as well as on the Chinese side of the border, said that a contact in Changbai county recently told him that while they had not seen signs of camps being built there, they “had heard there are plans to build a facility.”

Tensions have risen this year as US president Donald Trump stepped up pressure on the North to drop its nuclear and ballistics missile programmes.

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