The China-North Korea border reveals strained ties between the countries

30 PHOTOS
Evidence of strained ties along the China/North Korea border
See Gallery
Evidence of strained ties along the China/North Korea border
Men rest on the North Korean side of the Yalu River north of the town of Sinuiju, North Korea, March 31, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 
A North Korean soldier guards the gate on banks of the Yalu River, north of Sinuiju, North Korea, April 1, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 
North Korean soldiers react as a boat sails from the Chinese side of the Yalu River, north of the North Korean town of Sinuiju and Dandong in China's Liaoning province, March 30, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 
A man and boys enter the water on an ox-cart from the North Korean side of the Yalu River, just north of the town of Sinuiju, North Korea, March 30, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 
A North Korean soldier sits on a bank of the Yalu River just north of Sinuiju, North Korea, April 2, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Tourists walk on the Broken Bridge, bombed by the U.S. forces in the Korean War and now a tourist site, over the Yalu River that divides North Korea and China, in Dandong, China's Liaoning province, April 1, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 

People gather around a fortune teller in front of the Broken and Friendship bridges across the Yalu River in Dandong, China's Liaoning province, March 30, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

A North Korean soldier looks from a watchtower on the banks of the Yalu River, just north of Sinuiju, North Korea, March 31, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 
North Korean soldiers patrol behind a border fence near the North Korean town of Sinuiju and Dandong in China's Liaoning province, March 31, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 
A vendor receives Chinese money after selling North Korean goods to tourists on a boat taking them from the Chinese side of the Yalu River for sightseeing close to the shores of North Korea, near Dandong, China's Liaoning province, April 1, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 
A girl stands on a ferry on the North Korean side of the Yalu River, just north of Sinuiju, North Korea, April 2, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 
North Korean farmers work in a field as a section of the Great Wall is seen on the Chinese side of the Yalu River, north of the town of Sinuiju in North Korea and Dandong in China's Liaoning province, April 2, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 
Lights are turned on on the Friendship and the Broken bridges over the Yalu River connecting the North Korean town of Sinuiju and Dandong in China's Liaoning province, March 30, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 
Workers stand on pile of goods at a port near North Korean town of Sinuiju, across the Yalu River from Dandong, in China's Liaoning province, April 1, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 
Tourists from the Chinese side of the Yalu River sail in front of a North Korean boat ferrying people north of the town of Sinuiju in North Korea and Dandong in China's Liaoning province, April 1, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 
Tourists pose with Chinese flag on a boat taking them from the Chinese side of the Yalu River for sightseeing close to the the shores of North Korea, near Dandong, China's Liaoning province, April 1, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 
Tourists gather to watch North Korean side of the Yalu River from the Broken Bridge, bombed by the U.S. forces in the Korean War and now a tourist site, in Dandong, China's Liaoning province, April 1, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 
A woman in traditional dress invites customers to a North Korean restaurant on the banks of the Yalu River in Dandong, China's Liaoning province, March 30, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 
A souvenir vendor takes a nap in front of barbed wire marking the border between North Korea and China, just north of Dandong in China's Liaoning province, April 2, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Tourists look from a boat taking them from the Chinese side of the Yalu River for sightseeing close to the shores of North Korea, near Dandong, China's Liaoning province, April 1, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 
A security officer guards an entrance of a luxury apartment complex built and offered for sale on the Moon Island on the Yalu River, in Dandong, China's Liaoning province, March 30, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 
A man sits between binoculars he offers to tourists to watch the North Korean side of the Yalu River from the Broken Bridge, bombed by the U.S. forces in the Korean War and now a tourist site, in Dandong, China's Liaoning province, April 1, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 
A couple gets ready for their wedding photo session on a boat that takes tourists from Chinese side of the Yalu River for sightseeing close to the shores of North Korea, near Dandong, China's Liaoning province, March 30, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 
A woman exercises as a man stands at the banks of the Yalu River across from the North Korean town of Sinuiju, in Dandong, China's Liaoning province, March 31, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 
A rocking chair is placed on the balcony of a luxury apartment overlooking the North Korean town of Sinuiju, in Dandong, China's Liaoning province, March 30, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 
A man pauses at the banks of the Yalu River across from the North Korean town of Sinuiju, in Dandong, China's Liaoning province, March 31, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
The North Korean side of the Yalu River and the Broken Bridge, bombed by U.S. forces in the Korean War and now a tourist site, are seen from a hotel room in Dandong, China's Liaoning province, April 2, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 
A man carrying fishing net wades through shallow waters of the Yalu River between China and North Korea, north of Dandong, China's Liaoning province, April 1, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 
The sun rises through fog over the Friendship and the Broken bridges over the Yalu River connecting the North Korean town of Sinuiju and Dandong in China's Liaoning province, March 30, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

NANPING/DANDONG, China (Reuters) - In the Northeast Asia Special Region straddling China's border with North Korea, the area around Nanping village is dotted with half-finished buildings, cranes on empty lots, piles of concrete pipes and a few construction workers.

What was planned in 2011 as a 30 billion yuan ($4.36 billion) development intended to showcase economic engagement between the two countries has stalled in recent months. No reasons have been given and no announcements have been made in official media.

About 700 km (430 miles) to the south, near the city of Dandong, the New Yalu River Bridge connecting the two countries lies unfinished. It was planned in 2010 at a cost of 2.2 billion yuan, but stands now as a monument to the slowdown in economic ties. (Map - China-North Korea border region http://tmsnrt.rs/2nCRNSX)

A Reuters team visiting the area saw some signs of trade - trucks coming across another bridge over the Yalu and boats being loaded with goods on the North Korean side of the river.

Beijing appears sensitive about the North Korea issue - a Reuters journalist who visited the Northeast Asia Special Region near China's city of Helong last week was escorted out by police.

"Right now tensions are so high between China and North Korea that even this economic zone is a sensitive topic," local official Wang Fusheng said.

The Helong local government declined further comment.

China's relations with North Korea are expected to be high on the agenda when Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump hold their first summit meeting this week. Washington wants China to do more to rein in the unpredictable North's nuclear and missile programs, while Beijing has said it does not have that kind of influence.

Trump raised the pressure on Sunday, holding out the possibility of using trade as a lever to secure Chinese cooperation.

China has taken steps to increase economic pressure on Pyongyang but has long been unwilling to do anything that may destabilize the North and send millions of refugees across their border.

The slowdown in the economic relationship between the two countries became marked after North Korea's fourth nuclear test in January 2016 and a series of missile launches since then.

GLOBAL TRADE HUB

The development plan for the Northeast Asia Special Region was to link Helong with North Korea's Maofeng International Tourism Zone and its port city of Chongjin in an area that would feature golf courses, blueberry fields, horse riding, logistics hubs and trade in everything from timber to textiles.

The region is intended to connect China and North Korea via air, road and freight train routes, according to information on billboards in China's Nanping village, where North Korea is just across the winding Tumen River.

The ultimate aim is to export products from both countries through Chongjin to Japan, South Korea, the United States and Europe - an aspiration thwarted by tightening global sanctions over North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.

According to the plan, Nanping village itself is to be demolished and turned into the Helong Frontier Economic Cooperation Zone - a key part of the Northeast Asia Special Region.

The zone will "take advantage of North Korean labor, land, environment and resources," says one of the signs in Nanping, displaying pictures of seafood processing and light manufacturing of clothes, clocks and car parts.

One thousand North Korean workers were supposed to have started work last year, a number set to increase to 10,000 this year and 20,000 next year.

But the dormitories for the workers are half-completed and the economic zone hasn't opened.

"Those signboards are more a hopeful plan than a schedule we strictly follow. No one has moved in yet," said the manager of one of the construction sites, who gave his family name as Li.

According to signboards in Nanping, there were plans for 900 million yuan worth of infrastructure investment in the area, including a 10-km (6-mile) train track connecting Nanping and nearby Luguo village to North Korea's Musan mine, which has the largest-known iron ore reserves in the country.

RUDIMENTARY PLOWS

Villagers on the Chinese side of the border are wary of North Korea.

In 2014, in two separate incidents, at least seven villagers were killed by North Koreans sneaking across the porous border into Nanping, the latest in several such incidents over the past few years.

China's military presence is heavy, with khaki green four-wheel drive vehicles patrolling the highways and security cameras installed on border fences. Locals say defections by North Koreans are down amid tighter Chinese patrols.

However, recent flooding around Nanping has destroyed alarm systems installed by the local government to protect villagers against North Korean intruders and also much of the fencing separating the village from North Korea.

North Korea is clearly visible from Nanping - farmers using rudimentary plows, soldiers squatting by a simple outpost and antiquated trucks and buses sporadically rumbling by.

Timber and other materials come in by truck from North Korea to Nanping over a concrete bridge, say locals, who added that coal exports have stopped since China's outright ban in February, following the North's nuclear and intermediate-range ballistic missile tests.

Iron ore from Musan has also stopped coming in, said Li Zhonglin, Director of the College of Economics and Management at Yanbian University.

"Right now, all economic projects along the border have stalled because of rising tensions," he said.

(Additional reporting by Damir Sagolj and the Beijing Newsroom; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.