Chinese trucks wait in line to enter North Korea in the Quanhe Commercial District,
Hunchun City, Jilin Province. Photo taken on September 4. Image: Daily NK
It has been reported a Chinese customs office in the border region has closed its gates to North Korea since September 4. The move is being interpreted as a warning to the country following its sixth nuclear test on September 3.
“An internal source in the Quanhe Commercial District of Hunchun City informed us that the customs offices are preparing to close the gate today (September 4), and that Chinese businessmen and merchants staying in North Korea have been notified,” a source in China with knowledge of the development told Daily NK.
However, the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge (a road-rail bridge that spans the Yalu river into North Korea) connecting Dandong (Liaoning Province, China) and Sinuiju (North Pyongan Province, North Korea), which accounts for 70% of the trade volume between the two countries, remains open.
The Chinese government may have elected to close its minor customs offices first, as a message to North Korea. Analysts note that China appears to be pressuring North Korea to restrain from provocations with the implied message that it may close other customs offices in the future.
However, it has also been suggested that Quanhe Customs may have closed because it primarily deals with North Korean fisheries products, which have been prohibited for export under the new sanctions. It has also been argued that the measure will have only a minor effect on the North Korean leadership and could be little more than an empty gesture by China to show that it is participating in international sanctions.
“Quanhe Customs has been temporarily closed every time North Korea has engaged in provocations. So it’s likely that China will soon reopen the office after claiming that it is participating in the sanctions,” one North Korea analyst suggested on condition of anonymity.
In parallel, it has been reported that the Chinese authorities are investigating Chinese nationals who may have been involved in smuggling components and materials used for North Korea’s sixth nuclear test.
China has officially banned the export of materials to North Korea that could be used for nuclear tests and missile launches, but has failed to effectively crack down on smuggling.
“The Chinese authorities have been put on the back foot by North Korea’s nuclear test and thus have strengthened the inspections,” a separate source in China familiar with North Korean affairs said.