The number of North Korean defectors escaping to China increased notably in April and May of 2019, when the weather became warm enough that people could cross the Yalu River or hide in the forest more easily, according to a source in China who works with online newspaper Daily NK.
China already has a huge ethnic Korean community numbering more than 2.5 million, so defectors often blend in before heading to a third country. It is unclear how many North Korea defectors are hiding in China since the Chinese census does not recognize them, but some estimate the number as between 30,000 to 50,000.
Chinese authorities are reportedly tracking the history of mobile phone usage to locate defectors, and recently issued an Internet Content Provider (ICP) certificate to four North Korean propaganda websites, namely Uriminzokkiri, Arirang-Meari, Ryomyong, and Ryukyong. The certificate is issued and managed by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
Having the certificate means these websites can be searched on the Chinese internet and online users in Chinese have unlimited access to them.
However, it also means that those websites are under the Chinese government’s monitoring.
One of the necessary steps to receive the certificate is to have a designated official with a Chinese passport manage the website and have an on-the-ground office in China. Some reportedly acquire the certificate through a local partner. That means even the management of the websites could be overseen and controlled by the Chinese authorities to some extent.
Through such an arrangement, the Chinese authorities could point out and ask for a revision if anything sensitive relating to China is uploaded on the websites. That could be another way that Beijing can influence ethnic Koreans in the country, mainly with defectors in mind.