Despite signs Sino-North Korean trade was set to resume in mid-May, Daily NK has learned that freight cars destined for North Korea at a Dandong railway station are sitting in the same place as they were last month. 

In April, some media outlets reported that train service between North Korea and China was set to resume when freight cars with the Korean characters “Sopo” and “Dandong” were spotted at Dandong Station. 

“The international freight train that travels between North Korea and China has been parked at Dandong Station up until this point,” a source in China told Daily NK yesterday. “No freight trains have entered North Korea from China recently.”

According to the source, the freight train that appeared in several media outlets “entered China last year” before the Sino-North Korean border was closed. “It’s been stuck in China for more than a year,” he added. 

After a tent covering the train cars was replaced last month, however, some media outlets believed that it was a North Korean train that travels between Sopo and Dandong, which led to speculation that international freight train service between the two countries could resume shortly. 

The train in question, still parked at a Dandong train station. This image was taken on May 14, 2021. / Daily NK

Multiple Daily NK sources in Pyongyang confirmed that no cargo trains have entered North Korea from China this year. 

Based on these accounts, it appears clear that freight train service between the two countries has not resumed ever since North Korea closed its border with China in late January 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Ever since the border was shut down last year, companies with government permission to conduct trade activities have transported their goods by boat,” a Pyongyang-based source told Daily NK on Sunday, adding, “[None of these companies] have transported goods by train.” 

Recently, there have been various signs that North Korea is preparing to loosen its “border blockade”: North Korean authorities screened applications of new waku (trade certificates) last month, and employees have resumed work at the customs office in Sinuiju. The authorities have still not taken the final steps needed for Sino-North Korean trade to fully resume, however. 

Even after official Sino-North Korean trade restarts, moreover, it appears unlikely that bilateral trade will return to pre-pandemic levels for the time being. This is because North Korea has installed surveillance cameras and electric fences along the entire border region to prevent smuggling and defections.

*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.