- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 17, 2006

HUSHAN, China — China has been building a barbed-wire and concrete fence along parts of its border with North Korea in the most visible sign of Beijing’s strained ties with its once-cozy communist neighbor.

Scores of soldiers have descended on farmland near the border-marking Yalu River to erect concrete barriers 8- to15-feet high and string barbed wire between them, farmers and visitors to the area said.

Last week, they reached Hushan, a collection of villages 12 miles inland from the border port of Dandong.

“About 100 People’s Liberation Army soldiers in camouflage started building the fence four days ago and finished it yesterday,” said a farmer, who only gave his surname, Ai. “I assume it was built to prevent smuggling and illegal crossing.”

The fence-building project was approved in 2003, but it appears to have picked up in the days since North Korea’s nuclear test last week, analysts said.

The countries share an 880-mile border, over which China sends most of the trade and aid on which North Korea depends, including up to 90 percent of its oil.

The fence marks a noticeable change in China’s approach to North Korea. In the decades after their shared fight against U.S.-led U.N. forces in the Korean War, China left their border lightly guarded, deploying most of its forces in the northeast toward its enemy, the then-Soviet Union.

But the border became a security concern for Beijing in the past decade as North Korea’s economy collapsed and social order crumbled in some places. Tens of thousands of refugees began flowing across the border into northeast China, fording the Yalu and Tumen rivers or walking across the ice in winter.

Kim Woo-jun of the Institute of East and West Studies in Seoul said China built wire fences on major defection routes along the Tumen River in a project that began in 2003, and since September, China has been building wire fences along the Yalu River.

“The move is mainly aimed at North Korean defectors,” Mr. Kim said. “As the U.N. sanctions are enforced … the number of defectors are likely to increase as the regime can’t take care of its people. … I think the wire-fence work will likely go on to control this.”

But he said he also thinks Beijing wants to firmly mark its border with the North along the two rivers.

Mr. Kim said China and North Korea drew their border in a secret treaty. That treaty wasn’t reported to the United Nations and, therefore, does not apply to a third country, such as South Korea. China is concerned that South Korea may claim a different border after absorbing or unifying with the North.

Reporters who visited the border area in the past week saw about 1,600 feet of newly erected barbed-wire fencing north of Dandong, mainly along riverbanks and occasionally broken up by mountains or military guard posts.

A duck farmer in Hushan, who would only give his surname Han, said soldiers began putting up the fence near his farm on Oct. 9 — the same day North Korea carried out an underground nuclear test.

Building a fence is a growing trend among nations to secure borders from illegal aliens, refugees and terrorists. President Bush recently signed a bill authorizing funds to start building a fence on the southern border with Mexico to stem the flow of illegal aliens.

Saudi Arabia was recently reported to have ordered the construction of a 550-mile fence on the kingdom’s desert frontier with Iraq to keep out insurgents.

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