FILE PHOTO: North Korean Embassy in Malaysia. (NK daily)

North Korean authorities are stepping up their surveillance and checks on North Korean trade officials based abroad.

The intensified checks aim to stop potential defections as more overseas business executives break under pressure to provide funds to North Korea’s ruling party.

According to a source in China on Monday, North Korean authorities are stepping up their ideological education for trade officials through the country’s embassy and consulates in China.

North Korean trade officials normally meet at legations once a week for ideological training based on materials sent from Pyongyang. However, recently they meet once every two days.

In short, once every two days, they report what they have done and swear loyalty to the regime.

At the same time, North Korean authorities have also ordered agents of the Ministry of State Security based in China to closely monitor the movements of business executives and regularly report what they see.

In particular, North Korean authorities have asked China’s Ministry of State Security – Beijing’s intelligence agency – to arrest and repatriate North Koreans who attempt to defect.

In a recent phone conversation with Daily NK, another source in China said that North Korean authorities had recently asked the Chinese Ministry of State Security to immediately transfer North Korean passport holders captured in the south. -Western China – which borders Laos and other countries – in the custody of North Korean security. country-based agents.

“It is difficult to defect now due to travel restrictions in China due to COVID-19 and cooperation between North Korea and Chinese intelligence authorities,” he said.

In the past, would-be defectors could bribe their way out if caught in China’s border region with Southeast Asia. However, the source said the recent atmosphere rules out this possibility due to increased patrols.

Meanwhile, with the improving COVID-19 situation in China, North Korean business executives who have been in China for more than three years may be repatriated to Pyongyang, which would greatly dismay them.

Indeed, with trade between North Korea and China nearly suspended and conditions in China preventing business as usual, the cadres face a mountain of debt in the form of mandatory party contributions.

In fact, a number of North Korean trade officials have committed suicide this year, unable to bear the pressure to pay.

Some North Korean overseas trade officials even appear to be considering seeking help from the South Korean embassy if they feel threatened by their own authorities.

“It seems that the time for repatriation is approaching and the authorities are constantly pressuring them, they want to ask the South Korean embassy for help if there is a problem,” said one of the sources in China. “Some people even memorize the phone numbers of the South Korean consulate or embassy.”