Recent commercial satellite imagery indicates an uptick in vehicular activity on the New Yalu River Bridge between China and North Korea this week. The US$350-million cable-stayed bridge was completed in 2014 and is supposed to be a major new crossing point for Sino-North Korean trade, but it has remained unused, earning it the nickname “the bridge to nowhere.”
The exact nature and purpose of this traffic is uncertain, but comes after increased activity around the Chinese side of the bridge and suggestions it may fully open soon.
Activity at the “Bridge to Nowhere”
A satellite image captured on October 12 shows what appears to be a large vehicle, possibly a coach, approaching the Chinese customs area on the Chinese side of the bridge.
On the North Korean side, several vehicles are visible, including what appears to be a crane truck. Possible construction materials are near the truck at the roadside.
After the bridge was completed in 2014, construction of related infrastructure on both sides has moved ahead in small steps. Although the nature of the traffic and its eventual destination cannot be determined from the October 12 image, the level of traffic, while low, is unusual for a bridge that has seen no use in years.
When it was first built, the North Korean side of the bridge abruptly ended in a field, but work to connect it to Sinuiju City and the North Korean road network was completed around 2020. At the same time, it appeared North Korea was also beginning construction of a likely customs and immigration area, but work on that stopped in late 2020 and has not restarted.
Chinese Customs and Immigration Area
On the Chinese side, the unfinished customs and immigration area was completed earlier this year with control barriers and checkpoints.
In the October 12 image, the Chinese customs area appears quiet, with no vehicles visible.
Transit of goods between North Korea and China has been rising for the last year since pandemic-era border restrictions began to be loosened. To date, rail and sea have been used for the majority of cargo shipments, and a smaller amount has been spotted coming by air.
Truck traffic, which used the older Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge in Sinuiju, does not appear to have resumed.
In recent weeks, North Korea has also begun repatriating its citizens who were stuck overseas for most of the pandemic. Some reports said they could enter through Sinuiju.