FILE PHOTO: Van heads into Dandong from Sinuiju. (©Daily NK)

For strategic reasons, the North Korean government only imports goods in the Sinuiju-Dandong trade route, while using other routes to export goods to China. The North appears to be using separate import and export routes to conceal trade in items that violate sanctions.

Multiple sources told Daily NK on Monday that freight trains are loaded with import goods when they cross the border from Dandong in China’s Liaoning Province to Sinuiju in North Korea’s North Pyongan Province, but are completely empty when they return across the border into China.

“For some time now, freight trains have been carrying nothing when they return to China from North Korea. Items exported to China are often routed through Linjiang or Hunchun in Jilin Province,” one of the sources said.

“In Dandong, goods are only imported, nothing goes the other way. Export goods usually cross the border in Yanggang or North Hamgyong provinces,” another source in North Korea said.

The same is reportedly true of cargo trucks: they carry goods into North Korea, but carry nothing when they return to China.

The apparent reason North Korean authorities do not export goods through the Dandong-Sinuiju crossing, despite it being the largest hub of overland trade with China, is that these goods are vulnerable to being discovered in Dandong, which is fairly accessible to foreigners and ordinary Chinese.

According to several sources, the goods entering North Korea through Dandong are generally construction materials and food, which are not subject to sanctions.

However, Linjiang and Hunchun are reportedly used to import large quantities of auto parts, machinery, and steel products that are subject to sanctions against North Korea. The same areas are used to export false eyelashes, wigs, and other custom-made goods from North Korea to China.

Under these circumstances, freight trains traveling from China to North Korea this month have generally carried non-sanctioned products such as pharmaceuticals and processed foods.

According to the source, large quantities of pharmaceuticals, such as anti-inflammatory drugs, painkillers, fever reducers, and Ringer’s lactate solution, have recently been imported into North Korea on freight trains. The source said North Korean trading companies have increased their imports of pharmaceuticals because of the high demand for them in the country.

Food is another major item imported into North Korea on freight trains. North Korean authorities have reportedly imported significant quantities of dried foods, including various candies, cookies, chewing gum, dougan (firm tofu), and kkwabaegi (twisted doughnuts) via freight trains. Other items imported this way include processed meats, including chicken drumsticks, chicken feet, and duck, and dried fruits, including bananas, figs, and mangos.

“Just because trade between North Korea and China has increased does not mean they’re not paying attention to sanctions. Instead, both countries are transporting sanctioned items through undisclosed routes to avoid creating awkward situations for each other,” one of the sources said.

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