China has secretly begun building camps along its 880-mile border with North Korea in apparent anticipation of a possible exodus of people due to instability in its southern neighbour as the risk of confrontation with the US escalates.
The reports follow the sharing on Chinese social media of leaked documents stating that camps were planned in three villages in Changbai County and in two cities in the northeastern province of Jilin on state-owned land, due to the "tense situation along the North Korea border".
Local government has proposed setting up five such camps in total, say reports.
Detailed plans for the camps, intended to house thousands of refugees fleeing a crisis on the Korean Peninsula, emerged after internal documents from a state-run telecom giant went viral on the Chinese social media site Weibo on Thursday last week, and were subsequently reported by The Financial Times on Sunday, reports Newsweek.
The telecom company China Mobile appeared to be tasked with providing the camps with internet services.
Reports have emerged elsewhere, with The New York Times saying that camps were also planned in the cities of Tumen and Hunchun, citing a local businessman, who remained anonymous.
China Mobile confirmed the reports.
"The government has ordered these settlement points," said a spokesperson for China Mobile’s Changbai branch, reported Newsweek. "But don’t worry, no one is panicking here. It is not a big deal."
Lu Kang, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry declined to confirm the camps were being constructed at a regular press briefing on Monday this week, but he did not deny their existence. "I haven’t seen such reports," he said.
Tensions have risen over recent months due to Pyongyang’s intensifying efforts to develop nuclear-tipped missiles capable of reaching the US mainland, and an increasingly bellicose rhetoric from the US and North Korean leaderships.
Image: Bridge linking Namyang, North Korea (right) and China over the Tumen River in eastern Jilin Province (Baycrest/Wikipedia/CC-BY-SA-2.5)