This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
As Chinese citizens took to the streets this weekend calling for freedom from their government’s strict COVID-19 lockdowns, two North Korean trade officials stationed in the country said they looked on with envy.
Such acts of open protest would never be tolerated in their homeland, they told Radio Free Asia, and that made them somewhat jealous.
“If there was a demonstration against the coronavirus lockdown policy in Pyongyang, the protesters and their families would be executed right away,” one of the officials said, insisting on not being identified.
“Here in China though, even college students are allowed to protest against the lockdown. The protests have spread, and there’s nothing saying any protesters have been executed,” he said.
North Korea is hard pressed for foreign cash and raw materials from China, so it sends officials from state-run trading companies there to secure business with Chinese companies to either make money or procure goods.
Though they enjoy more freedom and a more comfortable life abroad, Pyongyang and its embassies and consulates keep them on a short leash.
Still, the two men were able to see protests spreading across China over the weekend, unlike compatriots back home.
In particular, the two trade officials said they were amazed that Chinese protesters dared to call for President Xi Jinping’s removal. Even the slightest act of disrespect of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would be harshly punished in North Korea.
A second trade official, stationed in Donggang, near the North Korean border, said he had witnessed the protests first-hand.
“I went to Shanghai a few days ago and saw large-scale protests filling the streets all over the city and holding up slogans to urge the ‘Communist Party to step down,’” he said. “I felt envious.”
“I get chills down my spine thinking what would happen if there were similar protests in large cities in North Korea such as Pyongyang or Sinuiju,” he added.
In North Korea, authorities would not only punish the protesters, their relatives as distant as 3rd cousins would also be punished, he said.
“China is also a socialist country and a dictatorship, but when I saw that people who protested against the government’s policies were not immediately executed, it made me think a lot,” he said.
“If people in North Korea were to learn that these protests against COVID-19 lockdowns happened in major cities all over China, it would have a great impact on their thoughts about their own situation,” he said.