Walls and Fences in the 21st Century (Part 13 of 18)

Walls and Fences in the 21st Century (Part 13 of 18) April 8, 2019

[For an explanation of these 18 posts, see Part 1 published on 3/27/2019.]

China-North Korea Fence

The entire Korean Peninsula of Southeast Asia juts out into the Pacific Ocean. To its west, North Korea’s immediate neighbor is China. To Korea’s east, Japan lies a short distance across the sea. Korea and Japan have fought several wars against each other.

Following WWII, Korea endured a civil war in 1950-1953 that included the U.S. This Korean War resulted in the formation of two nations: Communist North Korea, whose ally during this war was China, and democratic South Korea, whose ally was the U.S. A peace treaty was never attained. The Korean Demilitarized Zone (KDZ) was created to separate these two countries. It is a strip of land 155 miles long and 2.5 miles wide that runs east and west along the 38th parallel. The KDZ has been a volatile region throughout its more than 50-year history. Ever since this war, the U.S. has kept 38,000 of its own troops stationed along this zone and thus on the northern border of South Korea. All this time, belligerent North Korea has stationed its own troops on its side of the zone.

North Korea is a Stalinist, rogue state with a million-strong army. Its former demagogue dictator, President Kim Jong-il, died in 2011. He flouted international norms in efforts to build nuclear weapons. In 2016, his son Kim Jong-un succeeded him in becoming the Supreme Leader. He continues this nuclear weapons program. Yet during all of this time, North Korea had a collapsed economy with serious food shortages that were supplemented by both China and the U.S.

China and its main ally, North Korea, share an 880-mile border that consists of two mostly fordable rivers. For years, China feared a mass migration of starving North Koreans fleeing their nation’s western border and swarming into China.

So, in 2003, without any announcement or provocation, China began constructing a fifteen-foot-high concrete and barbed wire fence along its border with North Korea, mainly along its riverbanks. In 2006, North Korea conducted its first underground nuclear test. China deemed it an act of further belligerency and accelerated its fence project.

In mid-2007, North Korea started building its own fence with a road along part of its border with China, that is, alongside the Yalu River. Apparently, the purpose for this fence was to prevent its own impoverished citizens from fleeing their own country.

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