China Shutters Beauty Spot Near North Korean Border, Citing Safety Concerns

china-changbaishan2-091517.jpg The Changbaishan scenic area in China's Jilin province is shown in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of Changbaishan Park website

As Beijing hit out at the latest missile launch by its isolated Stalinist neighbor, authorities in the northeastern Chinese province of Jilin said they have shuttered a scenic tourist spot near the North Korean border, citing safety fears.

North Korea fired a missile over Japan's northern island Hokkaido and into the Pacific Ocean on Friday, prompting a swift reprimand from the foreign ministry in Beijing.

"China opposes DPRK ballistic missile launches against the U.N. Security Council resolutions," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told journalists.

Meanwhile, in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on China and Russia on Thursday to exert greater pressure on North Korea to end its weapons tests, noting that "China supplies North Korea with most of its oil [while] Russia is the largest employer of North Korean forced labor."

"China and Russia must indicate their intolerance for these reckless missile launches by taking direct actions of their own," Tillerson said.

"We call on all nations to take new measures against the Kim regime," he said.

Risks to safety

Citing concerns over unsafe conditions, authorities in Jilin meanwhile ordered the Changbaishan scenic area near the border city of Yanbian to shut down, according to an emergency notice issued on Wednesday.

An employee who answered the phone at the Changbaishan Scenic Area said the notice warned of possible landslides and falling rocks.

"The original intention was to open on Sept. 15, but we got this notification through, putting those plans on hold, owing to safety risks," the employee said. "The safety risks have to do with landslides and falling rocks."

"There was a landslide yesterday at around 4.00 p.m. which is currently being cleared up," she said. "Whether this has to do with state or military matters, I couldn't comment."

"I have had no formal notification on such matters."

The Changbaishan southern district police brigade leader said roads in the Changbaishan scenic area run through places at a high risk of landslides and rockfall, and the risk had been heightened in the wake of the North Korean nuclear test under Mount Mantap on Sept. 3.

"We have had a lot of rain, and landslides in some places, so there is a risk to safety," the police officer said. "We don't know when we'll be reopening."

"The 6.3 magnitude quake [caused by the North Korean nuclear test] probably had an impact, loosening the rocks and soil in the mountain, making landslides more likely," he said. "But I don't know of any other risks to safety."

Stations outside of North Korea have started to detect radiation from the latest test, according to the Scientific American journal.

South Korea's Nuclear Safety and Security Commission in Seoul announced on Sept. 13 that several ground- and sea-based monitoring stations downwind of the test site had detected the radioactive isotope xenon-133, an indicator of a nuclear test, the journal reported.

The report said it was unclear whether radiation is leaking from the site at a higher rate than expected, although overall background levels of radiation haven't shown an increase.

Radiation fears

A Jilin resident surnamed Sun said rumors of radiation pollution reaching China are rife in the absence of any reliable information on the impact of the test across the border.

"The Changbaishan park is just across the river from North Korea. It's so close," Sun said. "China is a very closed country, and what [the government] doesn't want you to know, you can't find out."

"If anyone starts talking about [the possible impact of the nuclear test], the government will immediately say they are spreading rumors," she said. "Then they'll deal with you, one way or another."

"We're not allowed to talk about such things. It's always been that way."

In Beijing, Hua said little of the impact of the nuclear crisis on China's own citizens.

"Currently the situation on the Korean Peninsula is complex, sensitive, and serious," she told a regular news briefing. "All parties concerned should exercise restraint and avoid any acts that may escalate tensions."

She said China had "comprehensively and completely" implemented Security Council resolutions, but denied claims that Beijing holds the key to resolving regional tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear program.

"China is neither the focus of the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue, nor the core to resolving the issue. Neither is it the propellant of the current tensions," Hua said.

Low risk of war

Taiwan defense analyst Chieh Chung said he still believes the likelihood of all-out regional conflict is still low.

"I think we're still looking at a pretty low probability of armed conflict," Chieh said. "The main reason for this is, I believe, that he real aim of the North Koreans is to use nuclear tests as a bargaining counter to come back to the negotiating table."

The nuclear test sent out a seismic signal that registered with the U.S. Geological Survey at 6.3 magnitude, followed by a magnitude-4.1 seismic event just over eight minutes later, scientific journals reported after the event.

North Korea's sixth and most recent nuclear test was its largest to date, and has been estimated as a 250 kiloton boosted-fission weapon.

The explosion was so powerful that it sank an 85 meter area of Mount Mantap, burying a tunnel and possibly causing the second seismic shock. The mountain lost elevation after the earthquake, reports said.

Some scientists have warned that Mount Mantap has been so destabilized by nuclear explosions that it could collapse, leaking radioactive material into the environment.

Reported by Wong Siu-san and Wong Si-yu for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Miao Qiuju for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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