Chinese businesses at North Korean border city hope for sanctions relief

Chinese businesses at North Korean border city hope for sanctions relief

Dandong Friendship Bridge
The "Friendship Bridge" connecting China to North Korea across the Yalu River. (Photo: Olivia Siong)

DANDONG, Liaoning: Teng Wei has been selling a range of plastic products for more than 20 years in Dandong city. This includes bags and sacks, which are often bought to package materials, like coal and mineral ore.

However, trade of such goods has been restricted ever since China agreed to impose United Nations sanctions on North Korea last year, over its missile and nuclear programmes.

As a result, 49-year-old Teng said sales have fallen by about 70 to 80 per cent and are at their worst ever.

"I'm just trying to maintain the business," said Teng when Channel NewsAsia visited his shop on Tuesday (Jun 12), just a short walk away from the city's customs checkpoint. 

"I still can survive by doing a little bit, but I hope once they remove the sanctions on North Korea and trade volume improves, things can improve too."

Located in the Northeast of China, Dandong is the gateway to North Korea - connected by the "Friendship Bridge", which links it to the North Korean city of Sinuiju, across the Yalu River.

Businessmen, like Teng, who deal in border trade have been squeezed hard by sanctions, but say they are now hopeful there could soon be some relief in store for them.

China on Tuesday said it could consider this following the signing of a “comprehensive” document aimed at denuclearisation, between North Korea and the United States.

Mr Teng Wei
Mr Teng Wei, 49, has been selling a range of plastic products for more than 20 years in Dandong City. (Photo: Olivia Siong)

This is even though Trump said he wants the sanctions to remain in place.

But perhaps businesses that are still up and running are the more fortunate ones. 

Locals told Channel NewsAsia that some who relied heavily on trade with North Korea have closed down, while others have tried to go into other types of sales.

Though, many are just waiting for a change in government direction. 

One of them is Liu Xian Cheng who runs a clothing shop with his sister.

He pointed out that North Korean traders used to make up the bulk of his business and now, he’s had to find other ways to survive.

“Because of the sanctions we can't do business with North Korea, so we have to do more business locally," said Liu. 

"It's more difficult ... because there are more businesses here and it's more competitive."

Lu Xian Cheng
A clothing shop in Dandong City run by Mr Liu Xian Cheng and his sister. (Photo: Olivia Siong)

According to official statistics, China’s trade with North Korea fell by about 60 per cent in the first quarter of 2018, compared to last year.

Locals tell Channel NewsAsia that the number of trucks carrying goods back and forth across the bridge between Dandong and North Korea has fallen visibly, although reports have suggested that the border is more open than when sanctions were first imposed.

This follows a warming of relations between the North and China after Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Kim twice in two months. 

As tensions ease, and amid expectations that North Korea may open up, a few travel agencies Channel NewsAsia spoke to say there have been more who are interested in visiting North Korea.
One agency told us that it sees more than a hundred tourists travel across the border each day. 

Tourist brochures
Travel brochures in Dandong City. (Photo: Olivia Siong)

Currently, only one-day tours are available, while its longer four-day tours, while in demand, are not officially allowed at the moment.

"Most of the people are curious, while others want to understand the local customs and practices," said Zhou Ziru, who works for a travel agency in Dandong.

"There are some who in preparation of North Korea opening up, hope to understand the border trade business and visit North Korea. There are also more people going for inspections."

But while curiosity and optimism may have been aroused, the major change promised by Chairman Kim at the summit in Singapore, could take some time to ripple through.

Source: CNA/na(hm)