North Korea taking first steps to restart trade with major partner China

North Korea taking first steps to restart trade with major partner China
AP Photo/Cha Song Ho
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North Korea has constructed a new railroad on its border with China in an effort to isolate the freight to prevent the spread of COVID-19. That’s the official reason, but the move is designed to restart imports between North Korea and its largest trading partner, which were halted at the onset of the pandemic. 

Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports that prior to the pandemic, freight from China would travel to North Korea’s northwestern border city of Sinuiju before heading to Pyongyang. The new route will link Sinuiju to a quarantine facility in Uiju. 

“Construction on the railroad between Sinuiju and Uiju, which began in October last year, was completed in time for the Day of the Sun,” said a source. “The new railroad is directly connected to the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge between Dandong, China, and Sinuiju, and it will be used exclusively for international freight.”

Trade between the two countries has been relatively slow since the start of the pandemic in January 2020. The efforts to isolate North Korea from its neighbours in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have proven disastrous to its economy. 

“All international train freight imported from China as a national emergency commodity, from the Day of the Sun onwards will be headed to Uiju via the newly established railroad,” the source stated. 

“The reason they built the new railroad was to resume trade after ensuring that international freight can be safely and continuously carried in, even if the coronavirus lasts for a prolonged period. I am not sure if this railroad will be only temporarily operated during coronavirus or whether it will continue to operate even after the pandemic ends,” he added. 

As reported by Radio Free Asia, North Koreans who make their living through the sale of goods to China were left with no way to support themselves while trade was closed. The train route is an effort to resume imports even as North Korea maintains its isolation from the rest of the world. 

The situation in North Korea has become so dire that the United Nations warns that restrictions on movement are causing a “serious food crisis.”

“Deaths by starvation have been reported, as has an increase in the number of children and elderly people who have resorted to begging as families are unable to support them,” said a report by UN Special Rapporteur on North Korean Human Rights Tomás Ojea Quintana.

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