The Sino-North Korean Friendship Bridge connecting Dandong in Liaoning Province with Sinuiju in North Korea has reopened after temporarily closing down for partial repairs last month, Daily NK has learned.
“Some damaged portions of the road were discovered on the Dandong-Sinuiju Yalu River Bridge, which plays a key role in Sino-North Korean trade, leading to the suspension of bilateral customs services for ten days (July 28-August 1) for construction work,” a source close to North Korean affairs in Dandong told Daily NK.
The area of construction, he added, was on the North Korean side, and therefore North Korean workers carried out the repairs. The train continued to operate during this time, providing a channel for limited loads of urgent goods to pass through.
The repairs were completed on July 31, but the Chinese public holiday on August 1, Army Day of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, pushed the opening to August 2. “And even then, China expressed grave safety concerns over the bridge,” an additional source in Dandong noted.
“Currently, trucks laden with goods are crossing over the bridge into the North, and at the distribution center in Dandong, hundreds more are loaded up and ready to head into Sinuiju.”
This overpass, known as the “Sino-[North] Korean Friendship Bridge” (formerly the Amrok [Yalu] River Bridge), is currently the only one that connects the two cities, but, built in 1943, it is unfit for purpose and continues to deteriorate. Varying weight restrictions have been intermittently imposed due to safety concerns, and it also has just one lane, which restricts trade volumes.
And yet, a mere 8 km away sits a new bridge meant to adjoin the two cities. China poured approximately 2.2 billion RMB (340 mil. USD) into the project, completing the four-lane, 3026m bridge in 2014; however, North Korea, charged with construction of access roads to link the bridge to Sinuiju, has not made good on its contractual obligations.
An enduring source of frustration for China, the North continues with slapdash solutions to keep much-needed foreign currency flowing in through the old bridge, rather than invest the time and resources necessary to start vehicular transport on the new bridge, which would doubtless yield higher long-term gains for both sides. Each trip over this derelict piece of infrastructure puts people at needless risk, and each round of repairs eats away at valuable time.
“They say the construction is done, but people are worried that it was a quick patch-up since it was done by the North,” the second source concluded. “On top of that, because goods were held up for ten days, there are more concerns that the sudden procession of heavy loads on the overpass may cause further damage.”