China is quietly building a network of refugee camps along its border with North Korea, the Guardian reported on Tuesday.
The existence of plans for the camps, first reported by the Financial Times last week, emerged in an apparently leaked internal document from a state-run telecom giant that has apparently been tasked with providing them with internet services.
The China Mobile document, which has circulated on social media and overseas Chinese websites since last week, reveals plans for at least five refugee camps in Jilin province.
The document says: “Due to cross-border tensions, the (Communist) party committee and government of Changbai county has proposed setting up five refugee camps in the county.”
It gives the names and locations of three such facilities: Changbai riverside, Changbai Shibalidaogou and Changbai Jiguanlizi.
A spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry declined to confirm the camps’ existence at a regular press briefing on Monday but did not deny they were being built.
“I haven’t seen such reports,” the Guardian quoted Lu Kang as saying.
Cheng Xiaohe, a North Korea specialist from Renmin University in Beijing, said while he could not confirm whether the document was genuine, it would be irresponsible for China not to make such preparations.
Tensions on the Korean peninsula have soared this year as US President Donald Trump has stepped up pressure on his North Korean counterpart and Pyongyang has accelerated its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.
Trump has baited Kim with the nickname “Little Rocket Man” and threats of military action, while Kim has responded with insults of his own, and a succession of nuclear and missile tests that have brought two new rounds of UN sanctions.
Following its latest intercontinental ballistic missile test on November 29, Pyongyang claimed the ability to strike anywhere on US soil.