Work begins on new bridge to North Korea

By Ji Beibei Source:Global Times Published: 2011-1-4 17:54:00

China has decided to take "an economic approach" to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula and push North Korea to forsake its nuclear plan, according to Chinese observers.

The observers spoke shortly after construction work began on a new bridge between China and North Korea, a move that raised a new round of speculation.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held on Friday, Shanghai-based Oriental Morning Post reported.

The six kilometers long bridge across the Yalu River will link the new zone of Dandong, Northeast China's Liaoning Province, with southern Sinuiju in North Korea, and is expected to take three years.

China will pay the 1.7-billion-yuan ($258 million) price tag, the report said.

Currently, there is just a one-way bridge over the Yalu River that was built in 1937 and not suitable for trucks that weigh more than 20 tons. It doesn't meet growing bilateral trade needs, which stood at 4.22 billion yuan ($640 million) in 2009. Statistics show more than 70 percent of trade between the two countries was based in Dandong.

In a report Monday, Seoul-based Chosun Ilbo newspaper quoted an unidentified analyst in Beijing who speculated that the groundbreaking ceremony was unusual since construction is difficult in freezing weather.

The article speculated that the ceremony was more related to current tensions in the Peninsula and said that North Korea wanted to showcase its friendship with China and convey a message to South Korea.

In October 2009, Premier Wen Jiabao visited North Korea and he signed an agreement to build a new bridge over the Yalu River to boost economic ties. Construction was scheduled to begin in October 2010, but was postponed several times.

Chosun Ilbo pointed out that North Korea was nervous that the bridge could provide a direct route to Pyongyang for the Chinese military.

However, Lü Chao, director of the Center of South Korea studies at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, argued that the move was in response to demands for better transportation from growing bilateral trade.

It is "technical problems" that have resulted in delays of the construction instead of political or military disagreements as rumored, Lü told the Global Times.

Shi Yuanhua, a Korean studies expert at Fudan University, said helping the North grow economically and become stronger could help reduce tensions in the peninsula, and may also help the North incorporate itself into the global community, and eventually abandon its nuclear program.

"That can never be achieved by military exercises or economic sanctions by the South and the US," Shi said.

According to Shi, the new bridge will be linked to the Dongbiandao Railway, which will be connected to the Trans- Siberian Railway, which means it will be part of a railway network connecting many countries in Northeast Asia and benefit countries near China and North Korea.

Posted in: China Watch

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