Construction of a new bridge being raised across the Tumen River on the China-DPRK border appears to have once again stalled, February 2018-dated satellite imagery by Google Earth shows.

North Korean state media first announced the bridge would be built in September 2015 – though offered no expected date of completion – and ongoing delays raise questions as to what is now happening to the project.

“Progress on the bridge has been slow,” said Curtis Melvin, a North Korea researcher at the U.S.-Korea Institute in Washington D.C.

NK Pro images of the bridge in January 2017 showed that the utility bridge was under construction,” he said, referring to a smaller causeway erected adjacent to the site where the bridge construction is taking place.

January 2017 picture shows utility bridge being erected | Picture: NK Pro

“Since then, the utility bridge has been completed, and support pylons put in place for the new bridge,” he added. “The next phase is to build the actual bridge, however, it is unclear from available data when this will be completed.”

October 2017 ground-level photos obtained by NK Pro showed construction at the site to be active, with at least four cranes and diggers working on the construction of support pylons for the bridge.

The size of the support pylons indicates that road capacity, once the bridge is complete, will easily be able to cope with dual-lane traffic.

An adjacent 1941-era bridge, though ostensibly including road-painting indicating support for two lanes of traffic, is not large enough to support dual-direction flows of trucks, pictures dated March 2012 indicated.

As such, the allegedly Chinese-backed bridge should – once completed – facilitate far greater flows of cargo between the two countries, a development at odds with U.S. efforts to get allies to cut trade ties with the DPRK.

October 2017 photo shows the foundation for a new bridge which should easily be capable of carrying two-lane traffic | Picture: NK Pro

But even when the bridge is complete, yet further works will likely still be required.

“The new bridge will also require renovation/reconstruction of the customs facilities on both sides, work on which does not appear to have begun,” Melvin said.

The new bridge is being built to either replace or augment the existing road bridge connecting Tumen to Namyang.

“This project is similar in scale to the Rason-Hunchun border bridge renovation, and under normal circumstances would facilitate commercial trade along the border,” Melvin explained.

“With UNSC sanctions blocking so much China-DPRK trade, it may be that eagerness to complete the bridge is not felt on either side at the moment.”

North Korean media coverage of the bridge in 2015 reported that the project was state-backed.

“An agreement on the joint construction, management and protection of the Namyang-Tumen new border bridge between the governments of the DPRK and China was signed,” the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.

“It was inked by Vice Foreign Minister Pak Myong Guk from the DPRK side and by Chinese Ambassador to the DPRK Li Chenqun from the opposite side upon the authorization of their governments.”

In addition to the existing road bridge in the area, roughly 600 meters south lies another decades-old bridge which offers a railroad connection.

Edited by Oliver Hotham

Featured image: Google Earth