IntroductionImagine conflict and disputes between the two

IntroductionImagine being on the border separating one of the world’s largest economic powerhouses and one of the world’s most impoverished countries. A border is defined as “a line separating two political or geographical areas, especially countries.” When it comes to North Korea and China, their border is a geographically and economically prominent “line” drawn by the Yalu and Tumen rivers, and Mount Paektu, the starting point of the two rivers. The 870 mile-long border shows a clear divide between the urbanization of China contrasted with the rural state of North Korea. Although the geography of the border has remained the same throughout time, the state and culture between these two countries is ever-changing. This constant shift between North Korea and China has created tension that becomes more evident with each passing day. The strain has led to a border that at the present time appears to be a bit of a paradox. The two countries are allies, but over time their border has had many heavy restrictions put in place on immigration and trade. There has also been great backlash to North Korean militarization. Seeing all the conflict and disputes between the two could lead one to view these strained allies as enemies. Due to their close connections, both historically and geographically, North Korea and China have been forced to remain allies despite the animosity of their relationship. For a better understanding of why the two are still allies despite their growing distrust and tension, one must understand how and when the alliance came to be. North Korea was founded in 1948. Prior to their official independence, North Korea had been allies with China to fight against Japan in World War II and against the United States in the Korean War.  Following this, China was responsible for supervising and overseeing the communist nations of Asia, helping them to take foot and grow as nations. North Korea was included in these nations. This supervision set the stage for Kim Il Sung to desire an alliance with China as a sponsor, and Mao Zedong felt the same way, publicly stating that the two nations were as close as “teeth and lips.”  In other words, they depended on each other. The alliance produced a cooperation between the two nations militarily, economically, and socially. In spite of this, alliance treaties were delayed until 1961 as a result of Kim Il Sung needing to buy time to prevent a rise in power of the competing Yan’an Faction, a communist group within the North Korean government, to secure his own seat of power. Mao also delayed the formation of this alliance, wanting to avoid provoking the United States during these unstable years. Over the years this alliance has gradually become more strained which has led the border to become more secure and restricted as a result of many conflicts such as illegal trafficking, immigration disputes, and the growth of the North Korean military and nuclear program.MilitaryThe North Korean alliance with China is partly an agreement between the two to support and assist each other in their military pursuits, however the two have been long plagued by the nuclear issue of North Korea. This issue has seen North Korea acting inconsistently in how they will proceed for decades. North Korea began developing a nuclear program in the early 1950s by establishing several academies dedicated to the specific studies of nuclear sciences. During this phase, North Korea turned to the then Soviet Union for aid under the Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, which would not only offer the basics of nuclear testing and training, but also the planning of a nuclear center in North Korea. North Korea also joined in signing of the Treaty of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) which they later withdrew from. In 1992, North Korea seemed to be ending their nuclear program as they went on to sign the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in which both North and South Korea agreed that both countries were “not to test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy or use nuclear weapons.” However, North Korea ended up failing to follow the agreement. In 2003 the Six-Party Talks were established to try to abolish North Korea’s nuclear program after they withdrew from the NPT. These Six-Party Talks involved China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the United States, but have been suspended since 2009 as North Korea continues to expand their program and provoke the world with attacks against South Korea.In October of 2006, North Korea carried out its first nuclear test. This action of nuclear testing, even though it was a failure, compelled China to insist on beginning the Six-Party Talks again. North Korea, at first, allowed concessions from the other countries on their nuclear program, but later in 2008, North Korea reestablished their nuclear program and conducted their second nuclear test. In 2012, they conducted their third and, at the time, most powerful nuclear test. This nuclear incident “drew international condemnation from… China” and resulted in more trade sanctions upon North Korea. Since then, China has become increasingly hostile toward North Korea, and, although China is still a main provider for North Korea, they have imposed more trade sanctions on them. On September 3, 2017, North Korea truly turned the tables when they conducted their sixth nuclear test which yielded 250 kilotons. This conclusion was vastly different from their first test which only yielded one kiloton. In response to the test, China shut down North Korean business on the Chinese side of the border as well as halted textile trade and seriously setback oil exports. These limitations were put into place in addition to the previous restrictions set in place after the previous year’s nuclear tests.      Cutting these ties is China’s method of conveying their attitudes towards North Korea’s nuclear progression. The issue is very gray and everyone, not just China, must tread lightly. While China does not agree with the North Korean nuclear advancements, the government does not want to push their isolated and intimidating ally to the brink of nuclear war. China has the power to terminate North Korea’s nuclear power growth because by stopping the flow of goods across the border, because doing so would essentially hinder the entire North Korean economy. In this way, China is making use of a defensive strategy to pressure the North Korean government without taking direct military action. As China does not wish to provoke anybody as of right now, it is in their best interest to make sure that their ally stays in check, hence the greater restrictions placed on the border by China. North Korean militarization is also seen directly on the border. In an interview with RFA (Radio Free Asia), a broker said, “there are more crackdowns both inside the military and outside, soldiers and high-ranking officials are also punished if they let people cross to China and allow smuggling, so they don’t want to help anymore.” Guards are present and barbed wire fences are in place to ensure that people and goods are not illegally crossing the border. The North Korean government has also cracked down on cellular service and wi-fi near the border because of Chinese service provider networks that can be reached. However, the high security and/or military presence is typically only seen in the more populated regions of the border. The rural areas have less precautionary measures. The increasing military presence is further evidence of the growing distrust between the two as North Korea puts more and more measures in place to continue illegally exploiting China. The increased skepticism in pair with China’s efforts to cut off North Korean military growth both raise the question of if the two are truly allies and if they are not working to help each other grow, but rather if they hurt and inhibit each other.TradeSince the end of the Cold War, the United States and China have remained in competition with each other. This was one of the main motivations of the Chinese sponsorship of North Korea because it could not suffer the influence the United States would have over the region if it reached past South Korea. China has recognized North Korea as a valuable source of natural resources for the region and over the years has taken measures to transform North Korea into a satellite state that can provide for China. In this same sense, North Korea needs China as a  resource and as an energy supplier. If North Korea did not have China as a trading partner, it would not survive on its own. North Korea does not have the energy, food, or financial supplies to fully support its people. Because of this, the border has become more open to trade than anything else. This symbiotic element is a major component to the persistence of the alliance. The two depend on one another, North Korea more so than China.The primary trade route is across Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge. Constructed in 1943, it connects the Chinese city of Dandong to the North Korean city of Sinuiju across the Yalu river. The ironically named “Friendship Bridge” is North Korea’s lifeline. 70% of all North Korean trade passes through this bridge. Thousands of trips are made each day by Chinese and North Korean truck drivers. Coal, seafood, textiles, technology, and other commodities cross the bridge daily. The percentage of each country’s trade that passes over the bridge and the trade balance is ever-changing, but currently, the trade balance is greatly in China’s favor. Recent Chinese trade restrictions have caused a serious hit to the North Korean economy, so people are willing to go through great lengths for the extra money. China is a very large entity in global economy, so these restrictions don’t influence them very much. However, North Korea primarily trades with China, meaning these regulations are cutting their trade, and in turn their economy, down greatly. Historically, the border has allowed for North Korea to grow economically by exporting goods such as seafood, silkworms, and coal. Most of the trade that takes place between the two countries is conducted through a credit system because the North Korean currency is basically worthless outside of the country. From January to July of 2017, North Korea accumulated almost a billion dollars in debt.When examining North Korea, it is clear that the nation can hardly survive if it only has a single trade partner and next to no internal trade. In response, North Korea has turned to illegal trafficking and informal trade, also known as smuggling, to supplement their revenue in recent years. Because of the strict trade sanctions, smuggling has a high demand. In 2001, North Korea earned only 650 million dollars from legitimate exports, dwarfed by the 1 billion they made from narcotics trafficking. China has seen a great deal of issues in the past with narcotics, such as the opium trade that led them to fight the opium wars, and as always, they seek to combat this. For example, in 1997 China responded by sending police and photographers to monitor North Korean farms that were believed to be cultivating opium poppies.  It is estimated that one third of all narcotics in China come across the border from North Korea, being sold to Chinese citizens for up to 15,000 USD per kilogram. Smuggling is the most common activity that takes place on the river. Locals near the border often take boats out on the river to fish and trade goods. Silkworms, drugs, seafood and cell phones are some of the most common commodities passed over the river. North Korean and Chinese citizens casually interact while they fish and search for clams and crabs. Smuggling is often overlooked because it is carried out by the people, not the all-controlling government. While this activity is illegal, it takes place every day despite the risks involved. North Korean citizens caught smuggling are often sent to prison camps and/or are physically punished. But to most people near the river, smuggling is worth the risk because of the profit. This underhanded and illegal exploitation of the border is carried out in total disregard to the trade sanctions that are in place, and demonstrates another way in which the countries alliance isn’t truly being upheld as it should be. North Korea hardly has a choice though, and China cannot afford to cut them off as a trade partner, leaving the two in an uncomfortable stalemate.ImmigrationIn the early years of North Korean independence, immigration between North Korea and China was incredibly easy. However, over time the process has slowly changed. Immigration has always occurred mainly in the way of ethnic Koreans originally residing in China migrating to North Korea. During the Korean war, around 40,000 Korean soldiers migrated from China while civilians migrated back and forth. This chaotic migration caused issues for China, making it difficult to distinguish Koreans with citizenship from those without. In response, China created new stipulations and conditions under which ethnic Koreans could become naturalized citizens of China. These new restrictions revoked the citizens ability to traverse the border at will without the need for passports or visas when “Regulations on Chinese and Korean Border Transit” was signed by both nations in 1953. The document put regulations in place that required citizens to have country supplied travel documents to cross the border. Due to the need to rebuild after the war and a shortage of laborers, Kim Il Sung focused his efforts on returning ethnic Koreans to North Korea permanently to do work for the regime. He wanted the large number of Koreans residing in China to return back to the country. Eventually, China would aid in the effort. In 1957, Mao helped return 50,000 Koreans to North Korea, of which more than 40,000 returned to China. This act was accomplished by China as they incentivised migration as a way for Koreans to have work, land, and a home. In a way though, the “incentivised migration” was simply propaganda used to trick citizens into supplying the new regime with labor. As Koreans migrated back to North Korea, it became clear that few desired to remain in the country as permanent citizens.Due to the desire of both countries wanting to keep the Koreans residing in North Korea, the border became more strict until migration became nearly impossible, trapping North Koreans within the nation where they would do work for the regime. The nature of the border, as a barrier keeping citizens out of China, is uncharacteristic of most allied states. It is often beneficial to both nations to have traffic between the two, but in this rare instance, it is necessary to keep Koreans from leaving North Korea, as North Korea simply cannot retain its working population due to its miserable living conditions.Today, although it is sometimes possible for North Korean citizens to obtain government regulated travel visas and passports, it is nearly impossible for North Koreans to immigrate into China without taking illegal measures. There are several factors that push North Koreans to seek refuge and migrate to China. Of these factors, the most prominent are “food shortages, fear of persecution, and neglect of human rights.” Although the policy on immigration has become very strict, the security of the border often does not reflect this. Being that there are only rivers separating the two countries, physically crossing the border is a fairly easy task; one would just have to swim across. There are not many North Korean officials and even less Chinese officials posted at the border to prevent people from swimming across. Seeing that the Tumen river is more shallow than the Yalu river, the Chinese border towns along the Tumen are guarded more closely than the southern border towns, but security is still not very strictly enforced.  Night time seems to be the ideal time for many North Koreans to attempt to cross the loosely guarded border and migrate into China. The main issue for these migrants is that they are not typically welcomed. The Chinese government does not grant those who cross the rivers over into China refugee status; they are viewed as illegal immigrants.  Citizens of China are expected to report defectors if they are seen trying to cross the border. If reported, the Chinese government’s policy is to deport the defectors back to North Korea immediately. It is speculated that once the defectors are sent back to North Korea they are sentenced to death.China’s refusal to acknowledge North Korean defectors as refugees in crisis when they flee from their country has lead to what seems to be a general lack of sympathy for those across the border. This lack of sympathy has become apparent in aspects of China’s tourism. In recent years, China’s border towns have become a hub for tourism. However, there is a clear divide in tourism as one travels from north to south of the borderlands. The northern cities that border the Tumen river have much less tourism than those in the south. This is directly correlated with the amount of security along China’s side of the border. The majority of the tourism on the border takes place in China’s southernmost border town, Dandong, mainly because it houses the Friendship Bridge. Additionally, Dandong uses North Korea itself as a tourist attraction. There are areas set up along the border where one may pay to use binoculars so that tourists can gawk at North Koreans and see what they are doing. In this way, the North Koreans are treated more like animals than people; they are not sympathized with and their poverty is seen more as a spectacle to behold rather than a humanitarian crisis. China’s use of North Korea’s poverty as a tourist attraction drives us to the conclusion that China and North Korea are not mutually gaining as most allied countries do.  ConclusionA border once free for citizens of China and North Korea to cross at will is now an isolated divide to keep the citizens within their countries separated. As tensions rise between North Korea and China, a relationship that at one time could be defined as an alliance has dwindled into a somewhat forced partnership thriving on restricted trade and fear of nuclear warfare. The people of the two nations are already cut off from each other by the rigid border, leaving trade as the only real tie between the two. As North Korea continues to push their nuclear agenda, China is progressively cutting off trade leaving their neighbor in increasing isolation and depletion. In this way their alliance is being broken down piece-by-piece by North Korea’s hunger for power and circumvention of Chinese laws. The alliance was intended to create a mutually beneficial partnership in both trade and military, but as time has passed, the military disagreements have caused the volume of their trade to diminish to the point where North Korea’s desperation has led them to illegally smuggle goods and narcotics into China, which cyclically causes China to implement greater restrictions. North Korea cannot afford to stop conducting this illegal trade, and is seemingly too stubborn to end their nuclear program, both of which leave China in a difficult position in how they must proceed with their relationship. The lack of sufficient trade between the two leaves North Korea in poverty which creates nearly unlivable conditions for the citizens. To keep them from running away, immigration remains nearly impossible between the two. As it is, the border is an intense divide, and the evidence points toward a very bleak future for the two’s relationship. Even today, the two countries are further from being on the same page than ever before. Their interactions resemble the leftovers of a symbiotic relationship that has turned parasitic, where North Korea is  leeching off of China while committing actions that are greatly out of China’s favor and interest. This leads the world wondering a question only time can answer: will the border continue to be an isolated area used only for trade or will it soon dwindle into militarized and untouched area separating two once-allies?