Rail freight service between China and North Korea to resume in days

North Korea’s economy depends on supplies from China shipped along the railway.
By Hyemin Son for RFA Korean
2022.08.05
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Freight cars with Korean characters are seen at a train station in Dandong, northeastern China's Liaoning province, April 21, 2021.
Reuters

Rail freight shipments between the northern Chinese city Dandong and North Korea’s Sinuiju will resume next week, providing a vital lifeline of goods to the pariah state, North Korean sources said. 

“Starting around Aug. 8 or 9, the international freight train between Sinuiju and Dandong will resume its operation,” an official from a trading organization in North Pyongan province told RFA on Thursday. 

“There has been an order from the Central Committee for all trading companies to prepare import and export materials to load,” he said, referring to the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of North Korea.

North Korean authorities proposed the resumption of service to the Chinese government because the country faces economic difficulties due to a serious shortage of supplies, he said.

North Korea is dependent on trade and aid from China, its main ally and trading partner. Restrictions on the flow of goods from the country during COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns devastated North Korea’s already chronically unstable economy.

Freight train service between Sinuiju and Dandong, the hub of North Korea-China trade, was halted in August 2020 because of the pandemic. It resumed on Jan. 16, but was closed by the Chinese again on April 25 after outbreaks in both countries. 

Maritime trade with North Korea was also halted at that time but was partially resumed in mid-July after repeated requests from authorities in North Korea. 

Trading company representatives, including ones from firms in the North Korean capital Pyongyang, are stationed in Sinuiju, which sits across the international border of the Yalu River from Dandong, the source in North Pyongan said.  

“They have been ordering goods from their Chinese counterparts to import construction materials and basic food. They are trying to secure foreign currency to pay for the imports,” he said.

A North Korean source in Dandong, with knowledge of the situation, also told RFA on Thursday that the Dandong-Sinuiju freight train service was about to resume.

Since yesterday, a Dandong-based logistics company has been recruiting truck drivers to transport goods to the Dandong freight station and manpower to load goods on the freight train in preparation for the resumption of Dandong-Sinuiju freight train operations,” he said.

The logistics company must collect basic food such as sugar and flour, iron products, and construction materials ordered from North Korea from all over China and transport them to Dandong freight station, said the source, who declined to be named so as to speak freely.

Additionally, Dandong quarantine authorities will directly manage the freight station and the trains that return to China after transporting goods to North Korea, he said. 

Chinese workers who load and unload goods on freight trains in Dandong must have received COVID-19 vaccinations, the source added. Workers will be tested daily for the virus and can continue on the job if their results are negative.

The freight train will operate 15 to 17 cars at a time and will go directly to the Uiju quarantine facility, formerly the Uiju Airfield, near North Korea’s northern border with China, the source said.

Translated by Claire Shinyoung Oh Lee for RFA Korean. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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