Progress slow at China’s largest new customs port on its border with North Korea
Sanctions may have slowed project's pace, but scope reflects regions plans for cross-border trade
Construction on the latest Chinese customs and inspections port going up along the country’s border with North Korea, set to become one of its largest, has seen slow progress since starting in 2017.
Originally intended to open at the end of 2018, recent images taken at the site and obtained by NK Pro show that work on the Quanhe International Port Joint Inspection complex (圈河国际口岸联检楼及附属设施), while advancing steadily, still has a ways to go.
While the project is yet another sign of confidence among local leaders in prospects for growth in cross-border trade despite ongoing international sanctions, its slow progress may also be seen as a result of those restrictions.
Nonetheless, with the mayor of the largest nearby Chinese city of Hunchun visiting the site in July and urging its acceleration, it appears China will have yet another major customs hub ready for cross-border trade as soon as the expected loosening of sanctions occurs.
After the Sinuiju-Dandong border crossing at the far western edge of the shared border, the bridge adjacent to the new customs facilities at Quanhe-Wonjong is arguably one of the most important for the two countries, due to its role as the gateway to North Korea’s Rason Economic and Trade Zone.
The existing customs facilities on the Chinese side of the border already see steady traffic, but with the new complex, officials are planning to boost capacity to 2 million tons of cargo and 2 million travellers annually, according to official government reports.
An article on the visit of Hunchun Mayor Zhang Jifeng in July included these targets and details of the complex facilities.
Zhang urged workers to “speed up the construction,” according to the report, saying it was part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and that it would “integrate tourism, border trade, and econom[ic]” activities between the two countries.
A segment on the mayor’s visit from the local Hunchun Xinwen television program revealed that roof decoration framing for the main inspection building was underway and that, compared to images from a government report a year earlier, advances had been made on the basic outer frame of the building as well.
The Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture Public Resource Trading Center website announced the components of phase two of the project last December, set to be completed by December 1 this year.
Though phase two includes the “roof and steel structure” seen in the above images, it also includes other areas not yet taking shape such as “landscaping plaza, greening project, interior decoration, ground hardening in the port area, site closure and lighting, inspection and supervision facilities, [and a] weak current [electricity] project.”
The target completion for the four-lane road connecting the complex to the border gate, seen in project renders and described in the report of the mayor’s latest visit, is unclear.
But as NK Pro analysis of recent daily satellite imagery provided by Planet Labs shows that this roadwork has yet to begin, a second delay past this December may be in the cards.
The project was originally slated to be finished by the end of 2018, according to a report from the Yanbian News Network, with the Jilin Tianyu Construction Group Co., Ltd. winning contracts to build the facilities under both phases.
Jilin Tianyu also has experience in North Korean territory, according to the company’s website, having in past decades built the Emperor Hotel and Casino and the International Communications Building — both in the Rason zone.
Construction on the new customs complex first broke ground in spring 2017, while the new cross-border road bridge nearby opened in late 2016.
It is possible that construction slowed as trade prospects weakened from the end of 2017, in the wake of enhanced UN sanctions prohibiting trade with North Korea in numerous sectors.
But as China has been pushing for the lifting of some sanctions at the UN in response to what it sees as North Korea’s positive steps in denuclearization negotiations, and as China-DPRK economic exchanges continue through various trade fairs, construction at cross-border checkpoints represents another sign of rising expectations for change.
The continued work at the Quanhe customs complex follows the opening of another large facility at the Manpho-Ji’an crossing in April this year, and as a new bridge appears set to open any day now at the Namyang-Tumen crossing.
The latter lies only around 70km to the northwest of Quanhe, and will offer another route towards the Rason zone, as well as further south to Chongjin, for businesses in Yanji and surrounding areas.
Featured image: Hunchun Xinwen
- 01What to make of Kim Jong Un’s impromptu visit to Mount Paektu this week
- 02On party founding anniversary, North Korea bolsters Kim Jong Un’s leadership
- 03Fueling the country: tracking North Korea’s growing number of gas stations
- 04North Korea reinforces ideological education against “bourgeois” values
- 05“New ways of calculation”: Kim Myong Gil’s Stockholm press conference, in full
- 06The DPRK foreign ministry’s readout of Stockholm talks: key takeaways
- 07Why U.S.-North Korea talks in Sweden fell apart — and what might happen next
- 08N. Korea’s new submarine-launched ballistic missile: unpacking the Pukguksong-3