China has started building refugee camps in anticipation of migrants fleeing across its border to escape the consequences of the current crisis involving North Korea. The camps are intended to house thousands of migrants. Lu Kang, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, declined to confirm the building of the camps, but did not deny their existence.
Detailed plans for the camps went viral on the Chinese social media site Weibo and reporting on the matter was picked up this weekend by the Financial Times. The internal document detailing the plans appears to have been leaked from China’s main state-owned telecommunications company China Mobile. According to reporting, the preparations are being made due to the “tense situation along the North Korea border.”
For decades, Chinese policy on North Korea has been to maintain stability in the country. But now, North Korea has intensified its program to test nuclear weapons and missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland despite international sanctions and condemnation. The rhetoric from the U.S. and North Korean leaderships has become increasingly bellicose, with thinly-veiled and outright insults flying on both sides.
Kim Jong Un’s most recent underground nuclear test was conducted on September 3. When the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945, more than 70,000 people were killed. Today’s nuclear weapons are much more destructive. The collapse of Kim Jong Un’s regime would potentially cause a mass exodus of refugees from the Korean Peninsula into China.
The network of refugee camps is being built along China’s 880-mile border with North Korea. Refugees could easily flock across the Tumen River, a narrow band of water that divides the two countries. Camps have been planned for three villages in the Changbai area, as well as for two cities in the north-eastern province of Jilin, Tumen and Hunchun. Jilin Province is about 60 miles from Punggye-ri, the main North Korean nuclear test site.
According to documents detailing the plans, the exact names and locations of the first three sites are Changbai riverside, Changbai Shibalidaogou and Changbai Jiguanlizi. Due to their proximity to the North Korean border, Tumen and Hunchun have previously housed several defectors from the rouge nation.
The China Mobile document said that the company was asked by the Changbai County government to ensure there was viable internet service in the areas that would be used for the camps. An executive at China Mobile in Changbai declined to discuss the matter.