Overland trade between China, North Korea set to resume

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge, used for overland trade between China and North Korea, is seen over the Yalu River in Dandong, in China’s Liaoning Province, in October.

SHENYANG, China — China and North Korea are believed to have agreed to resume overland trade this month, which has been suspended since the fall of 2020 to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, according to related sources.

The move may have been prompted by the regime of Kim Jong Un wanting to secure supplies ahead of anniversary events related to his father and grandfather this year. So far, Kim has been extremely cautious about resuming exchanges with other countries,

A person involved in China-North Korea trade told The Yomiuri Shimbun that they received a notification from North Korean officials that they should prepare to resume overland trade by the end of January. The notice was based on an agreement between the two countries, and the plan is to transport dairy products, medicine, toothpaste and other items via train between Dandong in China’s Liaoning Province and Sinuiju, across the Yalu River, in North Korea.

According to several sources, the two countries had agreed to resume overland trade in November last year. Implementation was delayed because China demanded a 14-day disinfection and quarantine period for goods imported from North Korea, while North Korea insisted on three days.

China is determined to continue thorough quarantine measures as it prepares for important events such as the Winter Games in Beijing, which will open in February. The person involved in the trade told The Yomiuri Shimbun that the issue had been resolved, but did not say what the two countries agreed on regarding the period of disinfection and quarantine.

North Korea has two important milestones coming up this year: the 80th anniversary of the birth of Kim Jong Il, the father of Kim Jong Un, in February; and the 110th anniversary in April of the birth of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Un’s grandfather.

According to trade statistics from China’s customs authorities, North Korea’s imports from China in the January-November period last year totaled about $225 million, down by almost half from the same period in the previous year. Compared to 2019, the figure was down 90%.

Some goods are currently imported from China via sea routes based in Nampo in the western part of North Korea, but there is an urgent need to resume overland trade, for which transportation costs are lower.

Both China and North Korea are extremely wary of the omicron variant of the novel coronavirus. Depending on the status of the pandemic, there is a possibility that both sides will again put off the resumption of trade.