On the heels of a fleeting reopening, China has suspended road traffic and customs operations on the Sino-North Korean Friendship Bridge until critical risks are mitigated on the North Korean side. The move will greatly challenge North Korea’s foreign-currency operations, which lean heavily on Sino-North Korean trade, 70 percent of which flows through the connecting overpass.
“China ordered the repairs after discovering additional risk factors on the North’s side despite the construction work carried out from July to earlier this month,” a source from North Pyongan Province said, adding that construction will begin August 20.
“China’s railway officials detected these dangers, and, in no uncertain terms, demanded the cessation of vehicular transport and the commencement of large-scale restorations.”
This news was corroborated by additional sources in North Pyongan Province.
Saddled with rigid foreign-currency quotas, this is most distressing for North Korean trading companies, she added. And with the prohibitive costs involved in sea transport, these entities are left with little in the way of viable transport alternatives; the railway connection adjacent to the road will remain operational for the duration of the repairs but only for small loads.
The looming trouble Pyongyang faces is, in many respects, self-inflicted– the culmination of securing leadership funds at the expense of vital safety regulations. The recent decision to haphazardly patch over problem areas, rather than administering thorough repairs, despite compelling precedent, being a case in point.
When a truck overturned last year, weight limitations were introduced but remain rarely enforced, particularly for mineral-laden trucks, the most frequently overloaded vehicles.
“Overloading is of little concern the North Korean leadership,” the source asserted. “Their focus is solely on securing enough money, and because they don’t bat an eye about violating customs regulations, trade companies load on as much as they can.”
By unilaterally calling for a traffic block on the bridge, China may be hoping to wrangle North Korea into finally upholding its end of a mutually-beneficial deal sitting just downstream. China invested 340 mil. USD for the new bridge, completed in 2014, but North Korea has yet to build the necessary connecting infrastructure on its side.
According to the source, North Korean trade officials reacted to the cessation of operations by lamenting the cycle of stopgap measures that forced them to this point and likening the pristine new bridge nearby to a “taunting exhibit.”