Business as usual along North Korean border with China

Hong Kong company executive who has just returned from region says there seems to be no rise in tension, despite threats from Pyongyang

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 April, 2013, 2:55am

While the rest of the world worries whether nuclear war is about to break out, many living near the border of China and North Korea are happily getting on with their lives.

At least that's the view of a Hong Kong businesswoman who recently returned from the area.

"The atmosphere is pretty much the same as the last time I was there in 2011," said Amanda Siu, an executive whose company operates a three-star hotel and a private club in Longjing in the Yanbian Korean autonomous prefecture in Jilin province.

The atmosphere is pretty much the same as the last time I was there in 2011

Siu - who recently returned from Sanhe in Yanbian, which shares a border with the city of Hoeryong in North Korea - said she did not sense any tension throughout her stay there.

Siu and her colleagues spent more than an hour strolling along the border fence last week, taking pictures of North Korean soldiers with their cell phones and cameras despite warnings for people not to do so. "When I waved to the soldier across the border, he simply waved back to me," she said.

The apparent normality Siu describes stands in stark contrast to the aggressive rhetoric coming out of Pyongyang.

North Korea's repeated threats to attack South Korea and the United States have sent jitters throughout the region. A leading Chinese expert on North Korea this week rated the chances of a war at 70 per cent.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who was in Seoul yesterday on a mission to help resolve the crisis, described North Korea's bellicose warnings of impending nuclear war as "unacceptable by any standard" and said Washington would never accept the reclusive state becoming a nuclear power.

Kerry's visit coincides with preparations for the anniversary on Monday of North Korean state founder Kim Il-sung's birth, which may serve as a pretext for a military show of strength.

Speculation has mounted that Pyongyang may launch a medium-range missile after reports in South Korea and the United States that missiles had been moved into suitable locations.

Siu said people living along the border between China and North Korea did not seem worried. She said she did not see any military build-up or tension from Sanhe.

The city has the second-biggest share of cross-border trade between the two countries, after Dandong in neighbouring Liaoning province.

"We do not feel nervous or worried about the situation. Actually, we go to work as normal," said Yooty, a Korean Chinese woman living in Yanbian, who refused to give her first name yesterday during a phone interview with the South China Morning Post.

She said the public bus service between Yanbian and North Korea runs as usual. The bus from Yanji , the capital of Yanbian, to Rason, a free-trade zone jointly developed by China and North Korea, runs every day, said Yooty, who lives in Yanji.

An official in the ticket office at the Yanji bus terminal said more than a dozen passengers made the four-hour trip to Rason yesterday.

The service, which runs every day except Sunday, began in October. The bus ride costs 102 yuan (HK$127) per trip and caters mainly to businessmen and to tourists visiting casinos.

"Demand for the service has dropped only slightly recently," said a staff member. The bus seats 28, and between 10 and 20 people a day made the journey before the recent tensions.