Further indications that China’s sanctions pressure on North Korea is decreasing

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

This blog has previously covered the fact that China’s sanctions pressure on North Korea seems to be decreasing, according to a number of signs, after the spring of summits. No official announcement or the like has been made (which wouldn’t come in any case), but the trend is consistent with China’s previous patterns in sanctions enforcement against North Korea: keep the pressure up while global attention focuses on North Korea, and scale it back once things calm down. A recent NK Pro article lends credence to this view, based on information from sources that have visited the Sino-North Korean border, as well as other visible signs. I won’t copy and paste from it since it’s for subscribers only, but here are some of the main points:

  • Traffic across the Friendship Bridge between Dandong and Sinuiju, estimated to be carrying some 60 percent of Sino-North Korean trade, appears to have gone back to somewhat more normal levels, if not fully to what they would be in normal times. It should be mentioned that estimating traffic by counting trucks – which I have done myself – is a tricky method, since we can’t really know what volumes are inside the trucks. Still, it’s one of few methods that exist for estimating traffic over the bridge.
  • The construction of a bridge between Tumen city in China and Namyang in North Korea, which paused as tensions increased, appears to be continuing. According to NK Pro’s source, China is paying for it all.
  • Chinese tourism to North Korea has spiked in July, as other outlets have reported as well.
  • Gas prices in North Korea have fallen in July, as this blog has also covered before.

None of these indicators give hard evidence that Chinese sanctions enforcement is slacking off, but taken together, they provide a pretty clear picture. I recently spoke to a person who just visited Dandong, and said that traffic remains unusually slow, both according to their own impression and that of local businesspeople. But traffic may be slower on a given day or during a given week for other reasons. At the end of the day, we don’t really know for sure, but taken together, the impression is that things appear to be moving away from “maximum pressure” pretty consistently.

 

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