Goods are once again flowing over the China-North Korea border, according to commercial satellite imagery.
Imagery of the Sinuiju region from June 15 shows 16 trucks waiting to pass through Chinese border control and onto the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge that connects the Chinese city of Dandong with Sinuiju, North Korea. Another truck is visible driving onto the bridge and four more are waiting to exit the bridge on the North Korean side.
Figure 1. Trucks waiting to through Chinese border control.
Figure 2. Four trucks waiting to exit the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge.
The North Korean border was shut down in January as part of the state’s strategy for containing the coronavirus. Some reports from the region say it has been slowly reopening and the latest image appears to support that assertion.
However, because each image represents only a single moment in time, it’s impossible to tell if the border has been busier in recent weeks or if the activity captured is typical of the current situation, but it is more trucks than have been observed in recent images. Naturally, it is still a long way from the chaotic scene sometimes observed in the past, where scores of trucks would be parked or queued for processing.
South of Sinuiju, work continues on a major construction project linking the city to the New Yalu River Bridge. In May, crews laid tarmac on one side of the highway between the bridge and the first highway interchange. However, no similar work appears to have started on the other side of the highway so far.
Crews continue to dump earth onto a large area near the bridge entrance that appeared to be a customs area. This week South Korean broadcaster Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) reported that the area will be an export processing zone (EPZ), where raw materials will be imported from China, made into products by North Korean workers and exported back to China. This EPZ is expected to be more attractive to Chinese companies, offering wages one-fifth of standard wages in other DPRK-PRC joint ventures along the border, according to the report.
The KBS report explained that construction was first detected around October 2019 with a goal of completing the groundwork by the end of 2020. As 38 North noted in our previous analysis, customs work on the Chinese side of the bridge also needs to be completed before the project can be fully realized.
When complete, the Chinese and North Korean customs areas on either side of the New Yalu River Bridge will likely be substantially more spacious than the current facilities. This could lead to a significant reduction in truck activity on the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge. The southern crossing is directly connected into Sinuiju via highway so trucks will still be able to visit locations in the city if needed.
Figure 3. Dirt being dumped at future export processing zone.
The Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge also carries a railway line between the two countries which is unlikely to move given the difficulty of rerouting train lines and railway stations. As such, it may remain an important link for road-to-rail transfers.
At the far north end of the road connection from the new bridge, work is underway to repave the road between a monument and the Sinuiju Youth Railway Station square.
Figure 4. Repaving of road near the new Yalu bridge.