Main link between China and North Korea to be cut when Friendship Bridge closes ‘for repairs’
Officials insist link will reopen after maintenance work concludes
A bridge connecting China and North Korea will be suspended for maintenance, the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced on Friday.
The closure of the Sino-North Korean Friendship Bridge in Dandong, Liaoning province will only be “temporary” as the North Korean side carries out maintenance, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a press conference on Friday.
Traffic will resume after the repairs are finished, Geng said.
The 944-metre-long bridge linking North Korea’s light industrial centre Sinuiju to Dandong over the Yalu River has both road and rail lines.
It is the route of 80 per cent of trade and a large amount of personal travel between the neighbours.
Geng did not give the date for the closure or an estimate for how long it last, nor did he specify whether it would affect road or rail travel or both.
The bridge was last closed in 2015 because of a partial road collapse.
Relations between China and North Korea have become strained because of Beijing’s implementation of sanctions against North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.
Pyongyang has begun to pull back thousands of its nationals working in China, well ahead of Beijing’s deadline to close all North Korean businesses or joint venture by January 8 next year.
President Xi Jinping sent a special envoy Song Tao to Pyongyang last week to brief the Workers’ Party of Korea about last month’s Chinese Communist Party congress, seeking direct contact through party-to-party channels.
But Song’s four-day visit does not appear to have led immediately to warmer ties.
He was not received by the paramount leader Kim Jong-un, although he did meet North Korea’s number two Choe Ryong-Hae and the Worker’s Party vice president Ri Su-yong.
Although the overloaded 74-year-old bridge does need maintenance work, the closure is more likely to be a “smart diplomatic excuse” from North Korea, according to Sun Xingjie, a Korean affairs expert at Jilin University.
Practically speaking it would very hard to imagine outdoor construction work could be carried out when temperatures in the area have already dropped below freezing.
“It is much better to say the bridge is closed for maintenance than because North Korea is frustrated with the sanctions, saving face for both sides,” said Sun.
There is another four-lane road bridge 10 kilometres downstream from the Friendship Bridge, which was finished in 2014.
But the new bridge has yet to open for use because there is no road connection on the North Korean side.
Several other bridges across the Yalu and Tumen Rivers also connect North Korea to China, and there is also a crossing to Russia.