The cargo aboard a North Korean freight train at Dandong Station was recently transferred into North Korea by boat, Daily NK has learned. 

In a May 14 photograph of the train, each car was loaded to the brim with cargo and covered with a blue tent. However, in a photo of the train taken on May 25, all of the items had disappeared, with only the empty train cars visible. 

A picture of the train taken on May 14. / Image: Daily NK
A photo of the train taken on May 25. / Image: Daily NK

A source explained that North Korea has used the cargo train as a “warehouse” for goods.

“This isn’t the first time that a train stopped at Dandong Station for over a year got loaded up with goods which later disappeared,” a source in China told Daily NK on May 28. “The train has never left China, but the goods inside have been transported into North Korea on a continuous basis.”

In April, some media outlets reported that the train, emblazoned with the Korean characters for “Sopo” and “Dandong,” had already left China and arrived in North Korea.

However, multiple Daily NK sources confirmed that the train had been stuck in Dandong since January of last year. The sources also claimed that there had been no international freight train service between the two countries since that time. 

According to Daily NK’s source in China, the freight train contained items purchased by the North Korean authorities. These included car tires and parts, construction and interior design materials, supplies for Kim Jong Un’s family villa, luxury goods, and other items ordered in China by state authorities. 

North Korea has strict bans on smuggling and most of the items stored inside the train were banned for import by international sanctions. North Korean authorities appear to have put a lot of effort into ensuring that their smuggling operation did not attract unwanted attention from the outside world, based on the source’s account. 

A tacit agreement between China and North Korea allowed for the long-term storage in the train of items ineligible for immediate transport into North Korea. However, it appears that special measures were taken to cover up the fact that items banned by sanctions were on the train.

Fearing that COVID-19 could enter the country via imported cargo, North Korea appears to have conducted preliminary disease prevention measures on the goods in China. Goods that have gone through this process have then been loaded onto the train and brought  into the country after a predetermined period of time has passed. 

North Korea has apparently used boats to bring the smuggled goods into the country from China.

A Daily NK investigation found that the goods inside the Dandong train cars were unloaded onto a cargo truck on May 17 and then moved to the city of Longkou in Shandong Province. 

Once the goods arrived in Longkou, they were placed on a cargo ship with other smuggled items stored in warehouses scattered throughout China, and then brought into North Korea through Nampo Port.

Smuggling goods in by train makes it hard to avoid prying eyes, and North Korean authorities appear to have been using ships to smuggle goods into the country for the past 16 or so months while the border remains closed. 

“If trains are used, too many people would figure out that North Korea is engaged in state-run smuggling,” the source said, adding, “This is one reason why it isn’t easy for [North Korea] to reopen rail transport [between North Korea and China].”

*Translated by S & J

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.
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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.