The construction of a North Korean road to the New Yalu River Bridge may be completed by the end of May, Daily NK has learned.
Images published on May 5 by LandViewer, a satellite imagery service from the US-based company EOS, show a partially-paved lane on a two-lane road connecting the county of Rakwon in North Pyongan Province to the New Yalu River Bridge. The bridge connects the North Korean city of Sinuiju with the Chinese city of Dandong.
Compared with images taken on Apr. 27, when the pavement process began, the newly released images show that around half of the construction work on that lane had been completed within the past week.
If construction continues at this speed, it is expected that the lane in question will be fully paved within another week, and the second lane will be finished within the month.
A Daily NK source in China confirmed this on May 7, saying that “it won’t take long” for the road to be finished because workers had already laid down the roadbed.
North Korea began construction work on the road to the New Yalu River Bridge in mid-September last year, but had to put the project on hold in mid-January this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The New Yalu River Bridge itself was finished in 2014 but has remained unopened ever since. Recent North Korean efforts to finish the road to the bridge on the North Korean side may signal that the bridge could open up soon.
The opening of the bridge has long been delayed because North Korea had demanded that China pay for the construction of the North Korean road to the bridge.
While Daily NK has been unable to confirm whether any agreement on the payment issue has been reached, the efforts to complete the road suggest that the two countries have reached some sort of agreement.
There may, however, be obstacles in the way of the bridge opening any time soon.
“Customs-related buildings need to be built even if the road is finished,” the source said.
“The closure of the Sino-North Korean border due to COVID-19 and international sanctions on North Korea make it difficult to know when the bridge will open,” he added.
North Korean authorities are also highly sensitive to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic despite their moves to restart the road construction.
“Sinuiju residents were practically confined to their homes when COVID-19 posed a clear threat to the city, but the authorities have restarted construction – perhaps because the threat has gone away,” the source said.
“That doesn’t mean, however, that Chinese engineers and materials are entering the country [in quantities] like before,” he added.
A Chinese company had been managing the construction of the North Korean road to the bridge before work was halted. Now the North Koreans have completely taken over the construction process – none of the Chinese workers and their equipment are present at the construction site anymore, the source explained.
The lack of Chinese labor and equipment may be due to the North Korean government’s fears over COVID-19, but the country’s efforts to finish the road suggest that North Korean leaders are keen to use the bridge when Sino-North Korean trade begins again.
The New Yalu River Bridge was constructed in response to the deterioration of the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge, which handles 70% of trade-related traffic between North Korea and China. The new bridge is considered a symbol of North Korean and Chinese economic cooperation.
Dong-A Ilbo reported on May 4 that construction on the New Yalu River Bridge had resumed in April.
*Translated by Violet Kim
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