North Korea has built a new railway to the border with China designed to isolate cargo to prevent the spread of coronavirus, an important first step towards restarting imports from Their biggest trading partner, country sources told RFA.
Prior to the pandemic, shipments from China would travel from North Korea’s northwestern border city Sinuiju to Seopo Station in Pyongyang. The new route connects Sinuiju, a port city across the Sino-Korean border from China, with a processing and quarantine facility in Uiju, about 10 kilometers northeast.
“Construction of a railway line between Sinuiju and Uiju, which started last October, has been completed in time for Sun Day,” a resident in Uiju told RFA’s Korean Service on Monday, referring to the date April 15, birthday of leader Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, the founder of Kim Nhat Thanh (1912-1994).
“The new railway is directly connected to the Sino-Trieu Friendship Bridge between Dandong, China and Sinuiju, and it will be used exclusively for international freight,” said the source, who requested anonymity. for security reasons.
For more than a year, goods have not been freely circulated from China. At the onset of the coronavirus epidemic in January 2020, Beijing and Pyongyang closed the entire 880-mile Sino-Korean border and suspended all trade in a move that was devastating to the Korean economy. Fairy.
Many people in North Korea who make a living by buying and selling goods from China have no way to make ends meet. With citizens calling for an end to the trade ban as their situation worsens and the government prioritizing emergency measures against the spread of the virus, the new train line is a big step. key to re-import.
“All goods transported by international train imported from China as a national emergency item, from Sun Day onwards will be delivered to Uiju via the newly established railway,” the source said. .
“The reason they built the new railway is to resume trade after ensuring that international goods can be transported safely and continuously, even if the coronavirus exists for a long time. . I am not sure whether this railway will only be operated temporarily during the coronavirus period or if it will continue to operate even after the pandemic ends, ”the source said.
Another source, a trader from North Pyongan province, told RFA on Tuesday that the diversion away from the old Sinuiju-Seopo route was meant to protect the capital from the deadly virus.
“This appears to be a temporary measure … as the Sinuiju-Uiju railway has been built as a single line and has restrictions on freight movement,” said the second source, who requested anonymity. freely.
“If trade continues and large volumes of goods arrive, they will have no choice but to use Seopo Station in Pyongyang, which is connected to multiple railroads,” said a second source.
A third source, a resident of Sinuiju, told RFA that authorities have installed 3-meter-long wire fences along the entire Sinuiju-Uiju route.
“They have mobilized soldiers to install fences along each section of the railway,” said a third source.
“Residents call this measure outrageous, saying it makes no sense because the railways do not lead to the prison camp.”
Life in North Korea without Chinese trade is much harsher.
The UN Special Rapporteur on North Korean Human Rights Tomás Ojea Quintana warned in a report last month that closing the border and restricting the movement of its people could lead to a “wage crisis. really serious ”.
“Starvation deaths have been reported, along with an increase in the number of children and elderly begging due to the inability of families to support them,” the report said.
RFA reported last week that the North Korean government had warned people to prepare for dire economic troubles like the 1994-1998 famine that killed millions, or 10% of the population according to some estimates. .
Last week, Kim Jong Un was quoted by state media as saying that the country faced severe challenges.
“Improving people’s living standards … even in the worst case scenario where we have to overcome countless unprecedented challenges depending on the role of the party cells, grassroots organizations” Mr. Kim said in his opening address at the Conference of Party secretaries of the ruling Workers’ Party.
Hyemin Son’s Report to RFA’s Korea Service. Translation by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.