China to Construct Refugee Camps Along North Korean Border Amid Fears of Possible Crisis

A bridge over the Tumen River marking the border between North Korea, foreground, and China.
Ed Jones/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A Chinese county along the border with North Korea is constructing refugee camps intended to house thousands of migrants fleeing a possible crisis on the Korean Peninsula, according to an internal document that appears to have been leaked from China’s main state-owned telecommunications company.

Three villages in Changbai County and two cities in the northeastern border province of Jilin, have been designated for the camps, according to the document from China Mobile. The document appeared last week on Weibo, a microblogging site.

The camps are an unusual, albeit tacit, admission by China that instability in North Korea is increasingly likely, and that refugees could swarm across the Tumen River, a narrow ribbon of water that divides the two countries.

For decades, Chinese policy on North Korea has centered on maintaining stability in a neighboring country known for its repression and volatility.

Despite international sanctions and condemnation, the North in recent months has intensified a program to test nuclear weapons and missiles, increasing the potential for internal instability or the chance of an attack by the United States.

Lu Kang, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, told reporters on Monday that he was unaware of the plan for the refugee camps, but he did not deny their existence.

“I haven’t seen such reports,” Mr. Lu said.

Changbai County officials did not answer telephone calls on Monday, and an executive at China Mobile in Changbai declined to discuss the matter.

The China Mobile document said that a manager of the company inspected five sites on Dec. 2 at the request of the Changbai County government.

The company was asked to ensure there was viable internet service in the areas that would be used for the camps. “Because the situation on the China-North Korea border has intensified lately, Changbai County government plans to set up five refugee sites in Changbai,” China Mobile said in the document.

The areas designated for the refugee camps were on state-owned land, and temporary housing had already been constructed at several sites, according to a local businessman who requested anonymity for fear of angering the local government.

Three county villages were named in the document as locations for the camps. The cities of Tumen and Hunchun will also house refugees, according to the businessman.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Jane Perlez