N. Korea resumes railway trade with China after extended border closures

Posted on : 2022-01-18 17:53 KST Modified on : 2022-01-18 17:53 KST
Sea-based transport between Dalian and Nampo was partially resumed in July 2021
A video showing a freight train crossing the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge on Sunday appeared on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok. (still from Douyin video)
A video showing a freight train crossing the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge on Sunday appeared on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok. (still from Douyin video)

After arriving in the Chinese city of Dandong the day before, a North Korean train chugged back across the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge into North Korea Monday morning, its 15 cars filled with freight.

The shipment reportedly consisted mainly of “items requested by central institutions,” including daily essentials and pharmaceuticals. Meanwhile, another train with around 15 empty cars arrived in Dandong from North Korea the same day.

While it is unclear whether this indicates a resumption of bilateral trade, it does show that the previous shipment was not a one-off occurrence.

China officially confirmed Monday that freight train operation with North Korea had resumed.

Speaking at a regular press conference that day, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said, “Through friendly consultations between the two sides, the cross-border rail freight transport between Dandong and Sinuiju has resumed.”

“The two sides will move forward on the basis of ensuring sound epidemic prevention and control to facilitate normal bilateral trade,” he added.

The resumption of freight train service comes roughly two years after North Korean authorities completely sealed off borders on Jan. 31, 2020, in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The return of land-based transport between Sinuiju and Dandong comes after the partial resumption of sea-based transport between the Chinese city of Dalian and the North Korean city of Nampo around July 2021.

But along North Korea’s borders with China and Russia, a full-scale prohibition on border-crossing by individuals remains in effect.

In a regular press conference Monday afternoon, South Korean Ministry of Unification spokesperson Lee Jong-joo confirmed only that the rail transport between North Korea and China had resumed.

“Since yesterday [Jan. 16], rail transport activity has been detected between Sinuiju in North Korea and Dandong in China,” she said.

According to the Hankyoreh’s investigation, the recent resumption of rail transport between North Korea and China was based on a written agreement between the two sides’ rail authorities to “resume freight transport as of Jan. 17.” The aim is to resume regular, official transport rather than transport on a one-time or emergency basis.

Barring a major surge of COVID-19 infections or some other unforeseen occurrence, freight train service between North Korea and China appears very likely to continue.

The resumption of freight train transport is the first visible measure to come since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un declared plans for “switching our epidemic prevention into advanced and people-oriented one” during the fourth plenary meeting of the 8th Workers’ Party of Korea Central Committee on Dec. 27–31, 2021.

With Kim continuing to name pandemic prevention as a “top priority,” many are watching to see what additional measures he takes for “advanced and people-oriented” disease prevention.

But the likelihood of those follow-up measures including border crossings by individuals appears, for now, to be effectively zero. Since the full-scale closure of the North’s borders on Jan. 31, 2020, not a single outside person has entered with permission from North Korean authorities.

The transport of freight — both by sea from Dalian and Nampo, and by land from Dandong to Sinuiju — has taken place under a completely non-interactive approach. To prevent the virus from being imported,sea-based transport has included double preventive measures, both at sea and the port of Nampo.

In terms of land-based transport, a new railway has been put in place on orders from Kim Jong-un, leading directly from the Friendship Bridge to a special quarantine facility at the airfield in Uiju. As a rule, the approach is one of “non-face-to-face disease control,” including at least 10 days of sterilization.

North Korean authorities reportedly planned to resume land-based freight port in April and August of last year, only for it to be delayed due to lack of progress on constructing the quarantine facility in Uiju. Once construction was finished, they made new plans to resume in November, but a surge of COVID-19 infections on the North Korea-China border prompted another delay of land-based transport.

By Lee Je-hun, senior staff writer

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories

Most viewed articles