SEOUL — In some of the most extraordinary footage to come from the North Korean-Chinese border, a new documentary shows North Koreans dealing drugs, swimming across the icy Yalu River in their underwear in an attempt to reach China and interviews with victims of human trafficking.
“From what we saw, the border is broken,” said Lee Hark-joon, one of the makers of “On the Border,” which was previewed for foreign journalists in Seoul yesterday.
The documentary, made by reporters from South Korea’s best-selling conservative daily newspaper, the Chosun Ilbo, proved too sensitive to show on television in South Korea, but will play on the BBC by the end of May.
The film starts by showing an unidentified body in the Yalu River and then shows how porous the border has become.
Bribed North Korean soldiers are filmed ignoring defectors crossing a river — both the Tumen and Yalu are waist deep in many places. A North Korean patrol boat is shown smuggling a motorcycle in from China.
The filmmakers joined a South Korean Christian group that purchased a 25-year-old North Korean woman for 5,000 yuan, or about $700.
Using an infrared camera, the film shows a shivering man, thigh-deep in mid-river, offering philopon, a methamphetamine, from North Korea. He tells the camera crew that the drug’s raw materials are imported from China, but are refined in North Korea. Separately, a female defector says she worked in state-owned poppy fields producing drugs.
Women who escape to China live outside the law. Three defectors working in a video dating agency in a Chinese city say that they were lured with the promise of 500 yuan (about $70) per month, but have been paid nothing for a year. But they say their present situation is at least better than in North Korea: They are not starving.
In a scene exemplifying the power of Pyongyang’s propaganda, an elder sister who has lived in China for a decade fails to persuade her younger sister to stay with her in China.
“If the Koreas reunify, Kim Jong-il will remain leader,” the younger girl says, referring to a man revered throughout North Korea as “dear leader.”
She returns to North Korea while her elder sibling, who paid brokers to get her out, weeps.
Human rights groups estimate there are between 100,000 and 300,000 North Koreans living illegally in China. However, only 10,000 North Koreans, from a population of 23 million, have made it to South Korea since the 1953 armistice in the Korean War.