China's sudden transfer of more than 30,000 Chinese troops to border areas with North Korea is apparently intended to block a massive influx of North Korean defectors, a Japanese newspaper reported on Oct. 7.
The North Korean army has also dispatched elite forces along the border in response to China's deployment, the Sankei Shimbun reported, citing sources informed on Chinese issues.
The Japanese government has confirmed military movements along the Sino-North Korean border by using satellite photographs and is monitoring the situation using its intelligence network.
The deployment of Chinese troops was so sudden that there were not enough barracks available and soldiers are being quartered in farmhouses. The rapid deployment was ordered because of growing signs in North Korea of an impending mass defection, the newspaper reported.
The troop movements followed widespread rumors that North Korean soldiers manning the border would flee the North en masse.
Chinese troops were sent to the region ahead of the winter season when North Koreans can easily cross the frozen river into China, the newspaper reported. It quoted sources as saying that China is concerned about the possibility that armed North Korean troops might escape due to food shortage and assault homes and citizens in local cities bordering the North.
A diplomatic source in South Korea also said the military movements by China and North Korea seemed aimed at blocking mass defections of North Koreans.
The Sanhe-Kaishantun-Nanping region in which the Chinese troops were deployed is near one of main routes through which North Korean escapees can make their way to China, according to the South Korean sources. North Koreans can cross the narrow river with relative ease, especially when it is frozen.
The report also raised that possibility the deployment was in response to preparations against a possible civil war in North Korea over who would be the country's next leader.
Meanwhile, the South Korea Defense Ministry said China would send about 400,000 troops to fight alongside North Korea should war break out on the Korean peninsula.
China rescued North Korea in the 1950-53 Korean War, sending some 1 million troops to fight with North Korea against South Korea and the United States.