At Chinese Border With North Korea, Trade Cools But Few Signs Of Strain

At Chinese Border With North Korea, Trade Cools But Few Signs Of Strain

China shares a long land border with South Korea, and is sole major trade ally to Pyonyang.

Dandong:  Despite heightened tension on the Korean peninsula and North Korea warning of a nuclear strike against any sign of US aggression, there were few signs of strain on Thursday on the main border post between China and the reclusive nation.

In Dandong, through which about three-quarters of China's trade with North Korea flows, long queues of trucks heading in both directions formed across the Friendship Bridge, despite what locals said was a relative lull due to the North's most important national holiday on Saturday marking the birth of founder president Kim Il Sung.

China has signed up to wide-ranging United Nations sanctions designed at halting Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and local traders told Reuters that blanket bans on key North Korean commodities exports like coal, iron ore powder and precious metals have dealt a blow to business.

Trade across the border is now mainly food, textiles, plastic goods, other household items and some commodities, the traders said.

Dandong residents said they were well aware of the mounting tensions on the Korean peninsula, fuelled by Pyongyang's repeated ballistic missile and nuclear tests, South Korea's installation of the THAAD anti-missile system in response, and a US aircraft carrier group heading towards the region in a show of force.

Most expressed a little anxiety, but were largely confident the situation would not flare out of control.

"If a war starts, then the situation on the peninsula will completely get chaotic," said 66-year-old retiree Cai Zhengsun, who was strolling along the Yalu River, which marks the border between the two countries.

"When Xi Jinping spoke with the US president, he mentioned maintaining the peace on the peninsula," Cai said, referring to Wednesday's telephone conversation between the presidents of China and the United States.

"(Xi) won't allow any attacks. Although the US is the world's hegemonic power, it wouldn't dare to take actions."

China, which shares a long land border with North Korea is the reclusive state's sole major ally and main trading partner.

At their summit meeting in Florida last week, US President Donald Trump pressed Xi to do more to curb North Korea's nuclear programme. Trump said on Tuesday that North Korea was "looking for trouble" and Washington would "solve the problem" with or without China's help.

The worry is that the reclusive North could conduct its sixth nuclear test or more missile launches in defiance of United Nations sanctions around the time of its founder's birth anniversary. Trump has put North Korea on notice that he won't tolerate provocative actions.

Trade Slowed

Trade has slowed at the border, Chinese transport workers said.

At one logistics centre for metal shipments visited by Reuters, workers were busy unloading North Korean trucks arriving from across the border. They said ordinary flows of 20 North Korean trucks a day had slowed to a trickle of three or four since February.

"Only shipments of lead are being allowed through," said the centre's foreman, who only wanted to be identified by his last name Zhang. "We used to trade all metals here, gold, silver, iron ore powder from North Korea - just not copper, they keep it there for military use."

China has long been wary of cutting off trade completely for fear that it could trigger a regime collapse that would send millions of North Koreans surging across the border seeking refuge.

However, away from official channels, unregulated grey market trade continues to flourish. At Dandong's Yicuomao port, a constant flow of Chinese fishing vessels carry rice, potatoes and grains, as well as alcohol, candy and cooking gas, for barter with North Korean fishermen.

The vessels return from one-day round trips to North Korean waters with their hulls full of fresh seafood, including clams, mantis shrimp and crabs. The Chinese fishermen who work the boats say they are often shocked by the apparent poverty of their North Korean counterparts who look "close to starvation".

"What happens to the food we bring when it gets there, I don't know," one said.

(Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)
© Thomson Reuters 2017

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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