Wed, Oct 11, 2006 - Page 5 News List

North Korea: China, North Korea border town sees harder times ahead

AFP , DANDONG, CHINA

A North Korean soldier throws a rock at a photographer passing by in a boat yesterday near the North Korean town of Sinuiju, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong.

PHOTO: AP

In this sleepy Chinese border town, one of the world's few routes into North Korea, many think Pyongyang's test of an atomic bomb will make an already tough situation even worse.

"This is going to have a big impact on trade but right now it is a bit difficult to say how big," a Dandong businessman surnamed Li said.

Li, who helps supply North Korea with Chinese aid, said: "I think the grain shipments are going to fall off more. They are already down, but they will go down further."

The famed "Friendship Bridge" at the Dandong crossing was closed yesterday, although Chinese officials insisted that the closure was not linked to the nuclear test.

"The border is closed on the North Korean side due to a North Korean national holiday. Our side remains open," a Chinese customs official surnamed Huang said. "This has nothing to do with what happened."

One of only six cities in China with a border opening to North Korea, Dandong appeared to be in a festive mood yesterday despite global jitters about the nuclear threat posed by Pyongyang.

Chinese tourists flocked to the bridge, watching rickety North Korean tour boats full of people plying the river.

"[North Korean leader] Kim Jong-il is really something else. He is showing everyone that he is not going to be bullied by the United States, South Korea or Japan," said a souvenir hawker named Li.

The vendor seemed unconcerned about the ramifications of the North's intentions, saying: "China may be opposed to the nuclear tests, but we know that it was not aimed at us."

But with aid-related trade accounting for much of the town's activity, the drawn-out crisis over North Korea's nuclear program has meant a string of negative news.

According to Jean-Pierre De Margerie, head of the World Food Program's North Korean project, bilateral aid from China had already fallen by one-third in the first nine months of this year as compared with last year.

The fall-off coincided with Beijing's repeated calls for Pyong-yang to return to the six-party talks.

Trade between China and North Korea had grown rapidly in recent years.

But it slowed "a lot" after Pyong-yang test-fired several ballistic missiles in July, an incident that also drew widespread international condemnation, a Dandong customs official surnamed He said.

"The amount of trade with North Korea is down by a lot compared to last year," He said. "Exports to North Korea have really fallen off since July."

She refused to directly link the fall-off in trade to the missile tests or the six-party talks, while also skirting questions on the extent to which trade had dropped.

According to the latest figures from the government-run council on bilateral economic and trade cooperation, total bilateral trade was worth about US$915 million dollars from January to July this year, up by two percent from the same period last year.

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