NKorea has many resources desired by the Chinese. Not just gold but also copper ore, iron ore, aluminium, charcoal, timber, pine nuts, hazelnuts, seafood and pine mushrooms.
In the 1990’s, traders just needed to give the border patrols on both sides of the river a small bribe. Now, things have tightened up.
But United Nations monitors have said NKorea violated sanctions to earn nearly $200-M in Y 2017 from banned commodity exports.
NKorea has an estimated 2,000 tonnes of gold reserves, the 6th-largest in the world, according to SKorea’s state-run Korea Resources Corporation. This region accounts for more than 60% of them, according to the SKorean government.
United Nations Security Council sanctions were imposed on gold from NKorea in Y 2016 and there are no official gold exports from NKorea to China, the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency says.
NKoreans dive on the river for gold every day, in Summer and in Winter. The equipment is very basic. In the past, there was a large underground market for gold in Sinuiju, the largest city on NKorea’s border with China, according to NKorea expert Andrei Lankov.
Gold mining in NKorea was once an American industry.
From Ys 1895 to 1939, the Oriental Consolidated Mining Company (OCMC) operated a mine in Unsan, near Pyongyang, which became “the most lucrative enterprise of its kind in Asia,” according to an article by historian Spencer J. Palmer in Y 1962. SKorea’s Ministry of Unification said in its archives the Unsan mine was “first-rate.”
A Japanese firm bought it in August 1939 according to an expert in the history of Western mining in Korea, historians say they got it for a discount off their final instalment, ahead of America’s war with Japan.
Since Kim Jong Un stepped up weapons tests in Y 2017, the United Nations has ratcheted up sanctions and China has been enforcing them vigilantly. Patrols roam the cities along the border, so most illegal gold trading takes place under the cover of night in quiet villages
The thing the NKoreans most want is China’s RMB Yuan. “It is their currency of choice, all along the border with China. Their money is not really worth anything anymore.”
NKorea has lots of things to sell. The problem right now is they are not allowed to sell many things. So, they smuggle.