Author: Liu Xin
Posted on: Global Times, December 4th,2016
When there aren’t many customers to his costume stall by the Yalu River, Zhang Dong (pseudonym), a 50-year-old man in Dandong, a city on the China-North Korea border, likes to watch trucks coming and going on the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge.
“The number of trucks has dropped in recent months,” he told the Global Times.
Zhang rents traditional Korean clothes to tourists for photo taking. Like many local residents, Zhang is sensitive about any news related to North Korea.
“I’ve heard news about the new UN resolution. I think the number of coal trucks may decrease but not for other goods. After all, the people there [in North Korea] need food to survive,” said Zhang.
In response to Pyongyang’s fifth and largest nuclear test in September, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted “the toughest and most comprehensive sanctions” on Wednesday to slash North Korea’s coal exports by 60 percent with an annual sales cap of $400.9 million, or 7.5 million metric tons, beginning January 1, 2017, according to a UN website release.
Zhang told the Global Times that he watched trucks loaded with goods come across the bridge both ways Monday to Friday. “Most of the goods that come from the Chinese side are for North Korea’s livelihood. Inspection on some goods, including chemicals, has been tightened and later these goods were banned,” Zhang said, adding that he saw trucks with signs of chemicals failing to get past the inspection point.
“Chinese companies in Dandong that used to trade in gold and other minerals with North Korea or offer financial services have suffered losses since March. And news of the sanctions has also hurt North Korea because it relies heavily on coal exports for its economy and livelihood,” Jin Qiangyi, director of Yanbian University’s Asia Studies Center, told the Global Times.
Several people doing business with North Korea in Dandong confirmed with the Global Times that their businesses, especially coal imports from North Korea, have been severely affected and closed because of the Wednesday sanctions. They refused to be interviewed and said they are “too frustrated to consider other options for now.”
In the Guomenwan Sino-North Korean trade zone launched in Dandong in October 2015, Global Times reporters saw on Saturday shops with signs reading foreign trade on “minerals,” “mechatronics,” “machines” and “logistics” were either empty or closed.
The 1 billion-yuan investment program was set to facilitate trade between Dandong and Sinuiju in North Korea, with each resident from both sides allowed to purchase 8,000 yuan worth of duty-free goods daily, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
An employee at a shop in Guomenwan, surnamed Yu, told the Global Times that the trade zone failed to prosper and “business is at a low ebb” due to the sanctions.
However, a businessman surnamed Jin who opened a shop in the trade zone selling delicacies and souvenirs from North Korea, told the Global Times that his business may survive the new round of sanctions since “it is related to people’s livelihood.”
“Products affecting livelihood have not been included in the sanctions. And the number of workers from North Korea has recently dropped, although the UN has yet to provide detailed sanctions on labor,” Lü Chao, a research fellow at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Sunday.
The number of North Korean workers in Dandong may have dropped from around 20,000 in 2014 to less than 15,000 in 2016, said Lü, adding that most of them work in clothing factories, electronic assembly lines and restaurants.
“These North Korean workers usually come to China pretending to undergo training since China banned this kind of labor, and they need to return to North Korea to renew their visas every six to 12 months,” said Lü.
Lü said China has and will faithfully implement all UN resolutions, but it is impossible to cut off all exchanges between the two countries, especially in Dandong.
“The annual labor earnings could reach $500 million for North Korea as some foreign reports noted, but China is not their only employer. There are also North Korean workers in Russia in the lumber industry, and some in the Middle East as construction workers,” said Lü.
Dandong is a major gateway between China and North Korea, since 80 percent of China’s trade with North Korea goes through the city’s ports.
“Foreign trade has played an important part in Dandong’s economy and the latest sanctions have also affected Dandong’s development, as well as its impact on the Northeast region’s economy. The local governments need to come up with other measures to revitalize their economies under the UN sanctions,” said Jin Qiangyi from Yanbian University.