All quiet on China's northeastern front

By Wu Yong (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-10-19 07:08

DANDONG, Liaoning Province: Any change?

No, except the Yalu River is getting cooler by the day.

A group of DPRK residents fix tiles on the roof of a house yesterday across the Yalu River.
A group of DPRK residents fix tiles on the roof of a house yesterday across the Yalu River. [China Daily]
The response by 61-year-old retiree Chen Yicheng, who swims regularly along with his friends in the river, seemed to sum up the mood in this northeastern town on the border of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

Despite intense media coverage since the DPRK conducted a nuclear test last week, the contingent of foreign and domestic journalists in town, reports of sanctions and rumours of a chill in bilateral relations, life seems to be going on as normal although the test site is less than 150 kilometres away.

Yesterday, tourists were strolling along the riverside avenue and riding on boats, swimmers were frolicking in the river before it gets too cold, and cargo trucks were rumbling across the Friendship Bridge that spans the Yalu River which marks the border between China and the DPRK.

Outside the city, in places where the river narrows and the distance between the two countries is literally a stone's throw, a fence is being erected.

Locals say the fence cement pillars about 2 metres high strung together with barbed wire has been recently completed but there was no visible security presence and few signs of tension.

A PLA officer said the fence was erected to prevent people and livestock from crossing the border by mistake; and Lu Chao, with the Liaoning Provincial Academy of Social Sciences, said work on building the fence began in the early 1990s.

Dandong faces the DPRK city of Sinuiju across the river, and handles more then 80 per cent of China's trade with the DPRK. About 50,000 people, or more than a fifth of its population, are engaged in trade and related sectors.

At the checkpoint, officials checked drivers' papers closely and opened trucks to look inside. "Inspections by Customs have been stricter since last week," said Lu.

Wang Xin, an iron ore trader from Dalian, told China Daily that inspections are taking longer than usual "but we keep doing our business as before."

She was waiting in a long line for clearance from Customs, which reportedly handles around 250 trucks a day.

But a businessman surnamed Jin from Shenyang said he had put on hold a plan to open a toy factory in the DPRK. He emphasized that he would maintain an office there and wait for the situation to change. "I will go back if things return to normal."

Across the river, life seemed unchanged, too. A group of villagers were seen fixing tiles on one of their homes.