North Korea Begins Dismantling Quarantine Import Facility

Commercial satellite imagery indicates North Korea has begun dismantling warehouses at Uiju Airfield, the country’s largest quarantine import center for goods. The work at the airfield began almost four years to the day since the country shut its borders in response to growing cases of COVID-19.

Imagery from February 15 shows signs of North Korea’s slow reopening. At Uiju Airfield, one warehouse was removed in January 2024. As of February 15, another is partially dismantled.

It is unclear if this activity represents a downsizing of the facility or a first step toward its permanent closure.

Figure 1a. Warehouses built during COVID-19 shown on commercial satellite imagery from November 24, 2023. Image Pleiades NEO © Airbus DS 2024. For media options, please contact [email protected].; Figure 1b. Medium-resolution imagery from February 15, 2024 shows razing activity at Uiju Airfield. Image © 2024 Planet Labs, PBC cc-by-nc-sa 4.0. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected].

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Uiju Airfield was a North Korean Air Force base. In March 2021, the aircraft were moved out, and construction of 10 large warehouses began. Additionally, a railway spur was added that connected the airfield to the China-North Korea railway line, and several platforms were added to support unloading of cargo.

Since 2022, North Korea has slowly begun to loosen border restrictions. Early that year, rail freight traffic between China and North Korea resumed, and goods began appearing under protective sheeting at the airfield. Most goods were stored for several weeks before leaving the site and entering the country.

The rail crossing between China and North Korea is one of the country’s most important entry and exit points for goods. The Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge—that carries the railway line—has also shown recent evidence that trade via truck is resuming.

In parallel with increasing trade between China and North Korea, rail freight has been observed at the country’s rail crossing with Russia.

The country has also started to lift immigration restrictions, such as allowing citizens and a select group of diplomats to return from overseas. The first tourist group to enter the country in four years visited last week.

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