China, North Korea resume rail freight, to facilitate normal trade
Published: Jan 17, 2022 09:41 PM
The China-North Korea Friendship Bridge Photo: VCG

The China-North Korea Friendship Bridge Photo: VCG

Rail freight between China and North Korea has resumed after the pandemic caused it to be suspended for some time, the Chinese foreign ministry said on Monday. 

After friendly consultations between the two countries, freight transportation at the rail port between China's Dandong and North Korea's Sinuiju has resumed, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on Monday.  

The two sides will facilitate normal trade on the basis of epidemic prevention and safety, Zhao said.   

Before Zhao's confirmation, many believed that the cargo train service was a special but temporary arrangement to solve Pyongyang's shortage of necessities. But Chinese experts and foreign businessmen view it as the first step toward the right track. 

An industry source familiar with China-North Korea trade told Global Times on Monday that North Korea had already purchased some Chinese goods, and they have been waiting to import them into North Korea but couldn't do so due to the closure of land ports after the pandemic.

A source in Dandong told the Global Times on Friday that an empty freight train on Sunday arrived in Dandong, a city about 160 kilometers from Pyongyang. The train returned to North Korea after being loaded with medical supplies and daily necessities, such as saline solution and glucose, the source said.   

He noted that although there's no COVID-19 outbreak in Dandong, supplies from the city had to undergo a first round of disinfection and quarantine at Sinuiju, the neighboring North Korea city across the Yalu River, before it can travel to other cities like Pyongyang.  

It is the first railway goods shipments between China and North Korea since the COVID-19 outbreak, a local source involved in cross-border trade told the Global Times on Monday. 

He said businessmen in Dandong would be happy to see the two countries restore normal trade so that their trucks would then be able to participate in the transport.  

He expected normal trade to be restored after the Spring Festival holidays (January 31 to February 6, 2022). 

Lü Chao, director of the Research Institute for Borderland at Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, said that the freight from North Korea is the first step to land freight resumption, which is imperative. 

The train operation came ahead of grand events like the Spring Festival, as well as the Day of the Shining Star, one of the most important public holidays in North Korea that marks the birthday of Kim Jong-il.

The supplies sent from China to North Korea will be important in ensuring holiday supplies and stabilizing public sentiment, Lü said.

This is also good news for two countries' economic development, Lü said. He explained that North Korea's trade has suffered during the pandemic, which has brought difficulties to its economy. 

"North Korea's key industries, especially the chemical industry, import raw materials from China and export products to China. Its development requires a rapid resumption of trade with China," the expert said.   

Even so, some observers said the resumption of full-scale land port trade in the short term is not likely, but the two sides may gradually restore vehicle cargo transportation once they gain experience in anti-COVID measures at borders.   

North Korea could slowly engage more with the international community through the resumption of trade with China. With the recovery of logistics, the in-person exchange may also gradually recover to a limited extent, Lü said.