Kim’s Last Laugh

An unyielding North Korea launches its biggest nuclear test yet—and there’s little the U.S. alone can do to stop it
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un confers with his generals during a demonstration of ballistic missiles

ON THE APOTHECARY’S SHELF IN THE NORTHEASTERN CHINESE city of Dandong sit small bottles of “frog oil”—a traditional Chinese remedy collected from female frogs’ egg sacs. “It’s very good for blood circulation,” says the Chinese shopkeeper. But he has a sourcing problem—the frogs come from neighboring North Korea, where business takes a backseat to geopolitics. “The sanctions have hit my business hard,” he says, requesting anonymity for fear of running afoul of the government. “Before I could easily get 50 kg [110 lb.] of frog oil—now, only 5 kg [11 lb.].”

Perched on the Yalu River, which forms most of China’s border with North Korea, Dandong is about as close as you can get to the Hermit Kingdom. The city of 2.5 million is famed for rare North Korean contraband such as blueberry liquor, “7.27” brand cigarettes, medicinal sea cucumbers—and frog oil, which fetches up to $450 per kilo. But since China signed up to the U.N.’s toughest sanctions against North Korea yet in March, after Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test, the daily caravan of trucks rumbling over Dandong’s iron bridge from the North has slowed to a trickle. This has hit the pockets of Chinese purveyors of contraband, not to mention the regime of North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong

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