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NK train enters China for the first time since pandemic

Flags of North Korea and China (123rf)
Flags of North Korea and China (123rf)

Cargo trains between North Korea and China have resumed operation for the first time in nearly two years since the border closure due to the pandemic, in a sign that the two countries may be readying to fully resume land trade soon.

The first train, which arrived in the Chinese border city of Dandong on Sunday, returned home to the North’s Sinuiju at around 7 a.m., according to Yonhap News Agency.

The first train was empty when it arrived in China, but its return trip was likely loaded with daily necessities, medical supplies and other emergency relief items, according to sources.

On Monday morning, another empty cargo train was spotted crossing the Yalu River railway bridge and pulling into Dandong. 

The latest crossings of North Korean trains into China marked the first time in about two years that the reclusive regime has formally opened its land border with its neighbor, after it imposed a strict border lockdown since the pandemic began in early 2020.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry confirmed the reports, saying freight trains carrying goods between Dandong and the North have resumed operations, after consultation between the two sides. It added that freight train trade will be conducted in accordance with pandemic prevention measures.

Pyongyang, which claims to have zero COVID-19 cases, was one of the first countries to cut off land traffic to and from China and strictly limited the movement of people and goods, dealing a blow to an economy that was already fragile from the fallout from international sanctions.

Since last year, there have been signs that the North is scrambling to resume trade with China, which accounts for more than 90 percent of the country’s trade. Pyongyang adopted a new law that requires all imported goods to be disinfected and also built a disinfection facility for import cargo in its border city of Sinuiju.

Sources say the North will likely continue shipping emergency materials from China via rail routes, but it is too early to say whether the two countries will resume full-fledged trade. Trade had been suspended since the start of the pandemic.

The South Korean government said it is closely monitoring signs of the North reopening its border.

“Through the latest train operation, we need to watch more on whether the railway operation between the North and China will continue, and whether it will lead to the North’s easing of its border lockdown and resumption of trade and people-to-people exchanges,” Lee Jong-joo, a unification ministry spokesperson, told a regular press briefing on Monday.

“The government will closely watch related situations, including the frequency, volume and quarantine steps of the North Korea-China train operation, and then comprehensively assess what kind of effect the train operation will have on the North’s quarantine policy, North-China trade, and inter-Korean relations.”

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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