North sends train to China after nearly two years of isolation
A North Korean freight train crossed the Yalu River into China on Sunday, signaling a possible resumption of overland trade between the two countries after the North imposed a strict border lockdown almost two years ago.
The train, which originated in the North Korean border city of Sinuiju, crossed the river that marks the boundary between the two countries using the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge and arrived in the Chinese city Dandong at around 9 a.m., according to a local Chinese source who spoke to the JoongAng Ilbo on the condition of anonymity.
The presence of Chinese public security officials was noticeably heightened in Dandong on Sunday, and public access to the bridge and the city’s railway station has been restricted, according to the source.
It was unclear if the freight train carried any cargo into China, but the source added that he heard unconfirmed rumors that the train is likely to return to North Korea on Monday with emergency materials.
The train’s crossing into China marks the first time in almost two years that the North has opened its borders to formal overland trade with China after it self-imposed a blockade of goods and people at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.
While North Korea has not reported any Covid-19 cases, the border closures appear to have had a crippling effect on the North Korean economy.
The North is heavily reliant on Chinese raw materials, consumer goods, fuel, machine parts and foodstuffs to sustain domestic industries and the unofficial market.
South Korean government sources contacted by the JoongAng Ilbo said that they are waiting to see if the Sunday train crossing indicates a resumption of overland shipments from China to the North.
“Since early last year, North Korean authorities have constructed sanitization and anti-virus facilities on the runway of Uiju Airfield near Sinuiju to prepare for Sino-North Korean trade,” said one government source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“Construction was completed in the latter half of last year, and we believe that the North intends to store inbound shipments at these facilities before allowing them to continue onward into the country.”
At a plenary meeting of the North’s ruling Korean Workers’ Party, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said that the country needed to pursue projects that would enable “anti-virus policies for the people,” suggesting a change in the country’s draconian restrictions on trade.
Another government source said that the train’s border crossing suggested the North’s dire need to resume shipments of supplies and materials from China.
“In the past two years since North Korea self-imposed a border blockade, the regime has claimed that it would overcome [economic challenges] through self-reliance,” the source said.
“However, there are limits to self-reliance due to the North’s lack of domestic resources, and it appears the North Koreans are desperate for Chinese support and raw materials."
BY MICHAEL LEE, JEONG YONG-SOO [email@example.com]