A photo of the new yet unfinished bridge taken by the Daily NK/Unification Media Group
special reporting team in April. Image: Daily NK
Anticipation for the opening of the new Amrok (Yalu) River Bridge connecting Dandong (Liaoning Province, China) with Sinuiju (North Pyongan Province, North Korea) has risen after a Chinese businessman decided to invest money in the project’s infrastructure.
The construction of the new Yalu River Bridge was initiated in December 2010 with the expectation that it will bring an expansion of the trade volume between China and North Korea. The bridge was completed in 2014 after overcoming significant issues. However, the construction of roads on the North Korean side slowed to a halt, delaying further progress.
Recently, a Chinese businessman has announced his decision to invest in North Korea’s road construction efforts, which have remained the biggest obstacle to the opening of the bridge.
A source familiar with North Korean affairs in China told Daily NK on July 24 that according to North Korean traders in Sinuiju, a Chinese businessman has committed 300 million RMB (about US$44.7 million) to the road construction project.
The construction of the new bridge was first proposed due to safety concerns regarding the existing Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge, which although derelict, has been responsible for more than 70% of bilateral trade. The bridge was repaired twice last year alone, highlighting its significant structural issues.
Aware of the situation, China sponsored the construction of a two-way (four-lane) road in the area, paying for the entire construction expenses totaling 2.2 billion RMB (approx US$327 million).
However, the source noted that North Korea suspended the construction of roads between the bridge and North Korean cities, demanding further investment from China.
“North Korea has been continuously demanding investment from Chinese businessmen, threatening them with a suspension of trade unless they invest. It seems that these efforts have produced results,” he said.
But actual construction has yet to start. When asked about this, the source said it is presumably due to the tense bilateral relations between China and North Korea, as well as international sanctions and overall political climate.
There are expectations that the opening of the new Yalu River Bridge will reinvigorate trade between China and North Korea (according to KOTRA, bilateral trade volume last year was US$6 billion, a 6.1% increase from the previous year), but Chinese businessmen, who have long heard North Korea’s absurd excuses for delaying the opening of the bridge, are constantly on the alert.
“The North Korean authorities have been using the construction materials and vehicles provided by China to repair other facilities instead of building roads to the bridge. For this reason, the Chinese businessmen are worried that if they accept North Korea’s demand to build the road connecting the bridge to Sinuiju, the regime may demand that they extend the road to Pyongyang in the future,” a separate source in China told Daily NK.
“The expectations are spreading after the Chinese government approved the investment, but everyone is waiting to see if the construction will actually take place.”