Chinese Traders Hope For Return to North Korea

South Korean broadcasts raise expectations that sanctions may be dropped, and trade resumed.

Export goods from China are loaded onto a truck bound for North Korea in a file photo.

Chinese businessmen put out of work in North Korea because of tightened international sanctions against Pyongyang are eyeing a return to normal trade as talk builds of possible talks between national leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, sources in the region say.

The decision to hold talks with Kim was announced by the White House on March 8 after South Korean officials briefed Trump on their recent visit to Pyongyang, where the North Korean leader expressed a willingness to discuss nuclear disarmament with the U.S. and said he would suspend all nuclear and missile tests during the dialogue.

Though trade between North Korea and China remains restricted, Chinese traders who had moved away from cities on the border due to falling business have begun to explore their options to return, a source in Dandong, a Chinese port city across the Yalu River (aka Aprok River in NK) from North Korea, told RFA’s Korean Service this week.

“Some of the Chinese traders are getting ready to come back because of the news coverage regarding possible South-North Korea summit meetings and the [proposed] U.S.-North Korea summit,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Twenty-nine story twin towers near the Yalu River’s railway bridge that used to be fully occupied by Chinese traders when business was good are now two-thirds empty, but firms are starting to ask again about leasing building space,” he said.

One landlord surnamed Chang, who owns an office space of approximately 2,691 square feet in one of the two buildings, told RFA that his space has been vacant for three years. “But I recently received a phone call asking about its availability,” he said.

“Now I think that I’ll be able to find a tenant for this space which has been empty for such a long time.”

Raised hopes

Speaking separately, another source in Dandong said that South Korean television broadcasts viewed in China are raising hopes that sanctions may soon be ended as international tensions over North Korea’s illicit nuclear and missile tests are relaxed.

“I often watch South Korean television news whenever I have a chance, and many traders expect to hear good news in the first half of this year, as South Korean media are saying that North Korea’s nuclear situation is expected to be resolved,” RFA’s source said, also speaking on condition he not be named.

Others watching the situation have fewer hopes for renewed trade, though, a former businessman trading with North Korea said, noting the deep distrust with which the U.S. and South Korea view Pyongyang.

“North Korea is an abnormal country. No one can predict their next step, and I can’t believe that the North will give up its nuclear program,” the source said.

Though South Korean media are now delivering hopeful messages, North Korean authorities and media are saying nothing about denuclearization, he said.

“I have never met any North Korean who thinks that North Korea’s leaders would be willing to give up the nuclear weapons they have already developed,” he said.

Reported by Joonho Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Richard Finney.