In this Aug. 30, 2017 photo, North Korean men ride a makeshift raft made of fastened logs down the Yalu river that divides North Korea from the Chinese border town of Linjiang in northeastern China's Jilin province. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
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The former smuggler sits on the floor by a muted TV set, smoking cheap North Korean cigarettes one after the other.That's bad news for the small-time smugglers who long dominated the border.In North Korea, smuggling is far more than a crime. For two decades, smugglers have secretly knitted the isolated country to the outside world, bringing in food during a brutal famine and, later on as a small consumer class began to grow, everything from Chinese car parts to DVDs of South Korean TV shows. They ferried in TVs and ferried out families looking to escape life in the North. The 1,400-kilometer border is the linchpin of North Korea's economy, with China accounting for 90 percent of its trade.Many early smugglers were either Chosonjok or Chinese residents of North Korea, known as Hwagyo.He made his career running scrap copper into China, communicating with his North Korean partners on Chinese mobile phones, which are illegal in the North but work sporadically in border areas.While U.S. law effectively forbids American trade with North Korea, China has only selectively restricted commerce with the North.
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