China closes major border crossing to North Korea

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Quanhe crossing is located about an hour’s drive from Hunchun in China. It leads to the Rason industrial zone on the North Korean side, which also holds several casinos which primarily cater to Chinese guests.

Trucks at Quanhae, July 2016. Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Trucks waiting in line at Quanhae to cross into North Korea, July 2016. Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Chinese tourists lining up to have their passports checked before heading into Rason, July 2016. Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Customs office on the North Korean side of the border crossing, July 2016. Photo: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

One Chinese-Korean hotel owner I talked to there last summer said that business was great for the casinos at that time, and that he hadn’t seen any signs of decreased traffic under the sanctions in place at that time.

Now, reports Daily NK, the crossing has been closed (likely temporarily) by the Chinese authorities as a response to North Korea’s nuclear test. As Daily NK notes, Quanhae is a significant crossing for North Korean seafood exports and might have been closed as part of the compliance with the seafood imports ban:

It has been reported a Chinese customs office in the border region has closed its gates to North Korea since September 4. The move is being interpreted as a warning to the country following its sixth nuclear test on September 3.

“An internal source in the Quanhe Commercial District of Hunchun City informed us that the customs offices are preparing to close the gate today (September 4), and that Chinese businessmen and merchants staying in North Korea have been notified,” a source in China with knowledge of the development told Daily NK.

However, the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge (a road-rail bridge that spans the Yalu river into North Korea) connecting Dandong (Liaoning Province, China) and Sinuiju (North Pyongan Province, North Korea), which accounts for 70% of the trade volume between the two countries, remains open.

The Chinese government may have elected to close its minor customs offices first, as a message to North Korea. Analysts note that China appears to be pressuring North Korea to restrain from provocations with the implied message that it may close other customs offices in the future.

However, it has also been suggested that Quanhe Customs may have closed because it primarily deals with North Korean fisheries products, which have been prohibited for export under the new sanctions. It has also been argued that the measure will have only a minor effect on the North Korean leadership and could be little more than an empty gesture by China to show that it is participating in international sanctions.

“Quanhe Customs has been temporarily closed every time North Korea has engaged in provocations. So it’s likely that China will soon reopen the office after claiming that it is participating in the sanctions,” one North Korea analyst suggested on condition of anonymity.

In parallel, it has been reported that the Chinese authorities are investigating Chinese nationals who may have been involved in smuggling components and materials used for North Korea’s sixth nuclear test.

China has officially banned the export of materials to North Korea that could be used for nuclear tests and missile launches, but has failed to effectively crack down on smuggling.

“The Chinese authorities have been put on the back foot by North Korea’s nuclear test and thus have strengthened the inspections,” a separate source in China familiar with North Korean affairs said.

Full article:
Quanhe Customs closes following nuclear test
Kim Chung Yeol
Daily NK
2017-09-06

 

Like they note, however, it is common for these measures by China to be temporary. When the global attention turns elsewhere, sanctions enforcement typically weakens. This time, however, that global attention has been more outdrawn and consistent than usual.

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An affiliate of 38 North