Speculation about the restart of regular train service between China and North Korea has been sparked by the recent movement of freight trains across the border. Daily NK understands, however, that the frequency of trips will be managed in accordance with the handling capacity of the Uiju quarantine facility.

A North Korean freight train laden with goods returned to North Korea at around 7 AM on Jan. 17 after arriving in China on Jan. 16. Then, another freight train arrived at Dandong Railway Station at around 9 AM on Jan. 17.

This second freight train is likely to return to North Korea carrying construction supplies, medications, and other goods.

Daily NK understands from sources that the restart of freight train service is a short-term measure to prepare for next month’s Day of the Shining Star, or the Feb. 16 birthday of late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. As such, it does not appear to represent a restart of regular train service.

In particular, as all the items imported on these trains will be stored at the Uiju quarantine facility, which was completed last month, the authorities plan to adjust import totals in line with the capacity of the new facility, according to Daily NK’s sources. 

Since early last year North Korean authorities have been preparing quarantine measures for the start of Sino-North Korean trade, including the opening of a new quarantine facility on the runway of Uiju Airport near Sinuiju.

The recent trains represent the start of full-scale activities for the Uiju quarantine facility. North Korean authorities reportedly plan to evaluate just how much cargo the facility can handle and whether proper quarantine procedures are taking place for each item.

The train that returned to North Korea on Monday morning was reportedly laden with construction materials, medical supplies. and foodstuffs. Depending on the items in question, the supplies will be kept in quarantine from 15 days to as long as a month.

Of all the items North Korea imported, soybean oil stands out. Chinese traders have reportedly prepared more than 1,000 tons of the oil for export to North Korea.

A freight train from Sinuiju, North Korea, parked at the Dandong Railway Station, in Liaoning Province, China. There are people wearing white, protective suits in front of the train. / Image: Daily NK

The trains carried some of it to North Korea, while the rest will apparently arrive through Nampo on ships leaving a port in China’s Shandong Province.

Imported in bulk, the soybean oil will reportedly be given as gifts to the people for the Day of the Shining Star and the Day of the Sun, the holiday marking the Apr. 15 birthday of Kim Il Sung.

Because the North Korean authorities keep imported items in quarantine for up to a month after a thorough disinfection process, the goods must be imported immediately if they are to be distributed before Feb. 16.

As a result, North Korean authorities appear to have suddenly decided to import a lot of items by restarting freight train service with just one month left before the Day of the Shining Star.

Meanwhile, a Daily NK source claimed that the train that entered China on Sunday was carrying high-ranking North Korean cadres in its passenger car.

According to this source, the cadres from the Ministry of External Economic Relations, Ministry of State Security, and State Planning Commission arrived in Dandong to evaluate which items can be imported and how much, as well as delivery pathways and the credibility of Chinese traders.

The State Planning Commission officials were reportedly sent to China to crunch the numbers before the Supreme People’s Assembly evaluates the trade-related budget next month.

In particular, the high-ranking North Korean cadres are researching and evaluating activities in China to ensure that all trade activity through China takes place under the control and administration of the state authorities. 

The source said even if trade expands, the authorities want to control it so that only permitted goods enter the country. He added that the authorities will strengthen mechanisms to verify whether the proper items entered the country in the right amounts and to levy precise taxes.

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.