The warning came from Kim Jong Un, the North Korean ruler who sees his isolated nation, just across the border from this busy Chinese trading town, as under siege. The attack, he said, must be stopped.
“We must extend the fight against the enemy’s ideological and cultural infiltration,” Kim said in an October speech, as he called upon his vast security network to “ruthlessly crush those hostile elements.”
Over the past year, Kim has intensified a border crackdown that has attempted to seal the once-porous 1,420-kilometer (880-mile) frontier with China, smugglers and analysts say. Special security units have been formed to seek out any contraband information or technology that Pyongyang sees as a threat.
The assault that Kim Jong Un fears? It’s being waged with cheap televisions rigged to receive foreign broadcasts, and with smuggled mobile phones that – if you can get a Chinese signal along the border – can call the outside world. Very often, it arrives in the form of wildly popular South Korean soap operas smuggled in on DVDs or computer thumb drives.
Their presence exposes an ever-growing number of North Koreans to the outside world and threatens the underpinnings of the Kim regime. Kim’s crackdown has been largely aimed at the border with China, long the route for much of the outside information making its way into North Korea, as well as for refugees trying to get out.
In a country where one family has held absolute control for more than 60 years, a communist enclave that survived the downfall of the Soviet Union and a devastating 1990s famine, the notion of allowing knowledge of the larger world is deeply feared.