Dandong Hopes Fade on Bridge Delays

The planned opening of a large new bridge across the Yalu River connecting
Dandong in Liaoning Province with Sinuiju is likely to be delayed, Daily NK has learned. The cause of the delay is thought to be North Korea’s failure to make good on its contractual obligations.

“The Chosun
side took on the job of constructing the roads, but they are making painfully slow work of it. Because the roads are still not finished, people are wondering whether their initial aim of increasing trade volumes is on its way down the drain,” a source
close to the project told Daily NK on the 1st.

“China provided
a lot of materials and machinery to the North, but there is a story that this
machinery was sent for use on other projects rather than for the bridge construction. The
Chinese traders who did harbor high hopes for [economic] opening brought on by
the bridge are showing their disappointment more and more,” the source
explained.

The
partially complete New Amrok [Yalu] River Bridge is designed to connect Langtou
new city with south Sinuiju at a total cost of 2.22 billion RMB (approximately 357
million USD). It lies 8 km downstream from the ageing “Sino-Korean Friendship
Bridge” (formerly the Amrok [Yalu] River Bridge).

The old
bridge is currently the only one that connects the two cities, but, built in
1943, it is wholly unfit for purpose. Trucks that weigh more than 20 tons are not
allowed on it due to safety concerns, and it also has just one lane, which
restricts trade volumes. Traders had hoped that the new bridge would speed up commerce between the two cities, which account for 70% of bilateral trade
despite these structural limitations.

The
construction of the new bridge was officially proposed by China’s former Vice
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wu Dawei, when he visited North Korea in 2007. However, it was not until October 2009 that former Premier Wen Jiabao visited Pyongyang and sealed
the deal, under which China agreed to foot the bill for construction. 
The two
countries then finalized plans for the project in
February 2010, and the groundbreaking ceremony was held in December that
year.

The Chinese side has demonstrated its intent to see the completion of the
four-lane bridge, with its accompanying management, security and inspection
infrastructure.

“In accordance
with the plan, China has already got a customs office in place to administer
the flow of goods over the bridge,” the source revealed. “But the North has slowed right down, and the
talk of trade expansion from before has gone away.”

This
declining enthusiasm is tangible in the property market in Langtou, the region
of Dandong that ought to benefit the most from bilateral economic activity
across the new bridge. “Apartment prices remain where they were three years ago, at
roughly 4000 Yuan per pyeong,”
explained the source. Pyeong is a Korean unit of measuring area, and amounts to
3.305785m
².

“The number
of people wanting to learn Korean in Dandong is still the same,” he admitted, “but that’s only
because they want to watch Korean dramas. They
have already given up on the idea of booming trade with North Korea since they
saw those who had been successful going to the wall after the execution of
Jang Song Taek.”

In addition
to problems with the bridge, Daily NK established in May that almost no progress
has been made on the development of two Special Economic Zones in the Sinuiju
area (see linked article).

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