Perched on the west bank of the Yalu River, within clear view and just 800 metres of the North Korean city of Sinuiju, Dandong has long prided itself on its role as 'North Korea's Hong Kong'. Pleasant though it is, Dandong remains a quiet city of only 700,000 that could not possibly be mistaken for vibrant, bustling Hong Kong. And yet the comparison is apt. For North Korea's elite businessmen and its government officials, Dandong serves as window on the wider world and a jumping-off point for trade or travel. For everyone else in that increasingly hungry and desperate nation, Dandong must appear - everything being relative, of course - as an enticing vision of freedom and prosperity that is easily glimpsed across the border but impossible to reach. The people of Dandong, meanwhile, have as clear a view as anyone in the world on the calamity unfolding in North Korea. Even without leaving their side of the river, they can see listless civilians and surly border guards on the opposite bank. They can also see frequent military exercises in which ancient biplanes circle overhead dropping paratroopers. Perhaps the most bizarre sight is a Ferris wheel near the Korean end of the Friendship Bridge. Looking wildly out of place amid the rusty boats, decrepit port loading equipment and the barren hillside rising away from the river, the Ferris wheel hardly ever moves. But many of the Chinese residents in and around Dandong see more than just the view of the river. Some are ethnic Koreans, some were born on the other side of the river, and many travel there regularly to do business or visit relatives. By now everyone in Dandong has grown accustomed to hearing the hellish tales of deprivation in North Korea, and their reactions cover a wide range. There is naturally a great deal of pity and sympathy for people struggling to survive the worsening famine. But at the same time there is also wariness about the potential impact on China of the chaos over the border. Many on the Dandong side of the river believe China needs to protect itself against worst-case scenarios as North Korea's crisis unfolds. 'China,' said another Dandong-based border trader, 'is wise to give North Korea only a little bit of help. If we give them too much oil, for example, they will stockpile it for the army. We shouldn't ever give them enough to let their tanks reach our border because they seem like they are out of control over there,' he said. The commonly held view that North Korea's government is irrational and has brought about many of its own problems is clearly wearing away at the sympathy of many. An official in the office of the Dandong mayor said: 'You know, we had the same flooding problem as they did two years ago. 'But our water defences held up and we had no problem handling it. They were not prepared and so they still have not recovered.' Morth Korea's troubles are also inspiring some uncomfortable reminiscences for the Chinese. Those old enough to remember the 1950s and 1960s cannot but note the similarities to the days when China, in thrall to a harsh leader and stern socialist ideology, slipped first into economic stagnation and then into devastating famine. One group of Chinese businessmen, fresh from a week-long stay in Pyongyang, said Korean officials explained that police stop children begging from foreigners so that North Korea would not lose face. 'Isn't it a greater loss of face,' asked one, 'to let small children starve to death?'