In a sign of the continuing decline in relations between North Korea and China, Pyongyang moved a number of tanks and armored vehicles away from South Korea to the Chinese border, according to The Chosun Ilbo, citing an anonymous source.
North Korea has reportedly deployed 80 tanks to Ryanggang Province, directly across the border from China. The tanks were reinforced with armored infantry units, multiple rocket launchers, and a sharpshooter brigade.
According to Chosun Ilbo, this is the first time that such military units had been deployed in Ryanggang Province. Ryanggang was the birthplace of former North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, and it is subsequently revered by the North Koreans. The province is also strategically located, as it shields North Korea’s eastern port cities.
The tanks are part of North Korea’s 12th Corps. Established in 2010, the 12th Corps is one of the North’s most modern units and, according to Chosun Ilbo’s source, it has been “turned into an attack force.”
The shifting of some of North Korea’s most high-tech military units away from the border with South Korea and toward China highlights the increasing distrust between China and Kim Jong-Un.
In May, North Korea reportedly hung signs reading that China is a “turncoat and our enemy” in one of the country’s military education institutions. An internal North Korean memo in April derided China as “being in the bed with the imperialists” for having criticized the North’s nuclear ambitions.
In April, China is believed to have conducted military exercises along the North Korean border, although Chinese officials denied these claims. Still, in a sign of the rising tensions, Chinese President Xi Jinping said, likely alluding to North Korea, that no one state “should be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gains.”
Relations between China and North Korea have been strained — even though China is the North’s only official ally, ever since Kim Jong-Un had his uncle, Jang Song-Thaek — killed last year. Jang had led a number of diplomatic missions between the two countries.
North Korea is also a troublesome ally to have. The country has tested nuclear weapons on three occasions since 2006, and it produces a stream of economic and political refugees that cross into China. If the Chinese have decided that the alliance is more trouble than it is worth, then North Korea has settled on an odd way to go about repairing the relationship.