Ethnic Chinese residents are reportedly being threatened with fines for failing to take part in political events in North Korea.
The move could signal an end to a degree of tolerance enjoyed by the country’s ethnic Chinese community, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports.
North Korea’s Chinese community, known as Hwagyo, initially immigrated to the country in the 19th century, although the majority came to Korea during the 1927-49 Chinese Civil War.
As they hold passports of the People’s Republic of China, they are not granted the same rights as North Korean citizens.
However, Hwagyo have also been exempted from some obligations placed on citizens, while enjoying additional privileges, including being able to leave the country, which allowed many of them to make a living through commerce.
The U.S.-funded broadcaster noted that the minority community is set to be affected by the changes with the upcoming Lunar New Year on Jan. 25, when many Hwagyo traditionally travel to China and generate a significant portion of their income for the year.
“They can earn a living as a peddler, selling [North Korean] goods in China, and [bringing back goods] from China [to sell in North Korea], or they can work at Chinese companies during that time,” a source told RFA.
“The best time for business is at the end and beginning of each year,” the source added.
Hwagyo have traditionally missed political events during this period without consequence. But sources now tell RFA this political participation exemption is no longer being afforded to them.
“These days, the Hwagyo in Hamhung are leaving for China one by one to celebrate Lunar New Year,” a Hwagyo from Hamhung, South Hamgyong province told RFA on Jan. 17.
“But only those who participated in the [solar] New Year’s Day ceremony by paying contributions for floral tributes to the statues [of late leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il] can get exit visas,” said the source.
In one instance, a Hwagyo trader from Chongjin reportedly donated 30,000 yuan ($4,347) as a “loyalty offering” so that he would be able to go to China and earn money.