A trip down the highway across the Apnok (or Yalu) River in China's Dandong, Liaoning Province leads to a large field surrounded by double barbed-wire fences. Without the fences it would not stand out, but this is Hwanggumpyong, which has been at the center of recent cracks in Sino-North Korean relations.
The field, part of the breadbasket of North Korea's Sinuiju region, straddles the North Korea-China border. There have been rumors since last year that Pyongyang had signed a development pact and would lease it to China for 50 years for development of an industrial park.
There has been no official comment from China, but a ground-breaking ceremony for the development scheduled for Saturday has been cancelled, apparently because China had second thoughts. "Since last year, I've had business officials from other regions like Tianjin and Qingdao, asking me whether there's any vacant office spaces for rent," said a business owner in Dandong.
But people in Dandong have not lost all hope of potential development of the area. One Chinese businessman who has traded with North Korea since the 1990s, said, "Business projects with North Korea usually take a long time to materialize, and talk of developing Hwanggumpyong and Wihwa islands have been around for a long time, so I feel they will happen someday."
Other major projects are already under way in Dandong. The Chinese city plans to build a new city in the Langtou area to house 200,000 people by 2020. A bank building and high-rise apartments have already sprung up in the area, which was a barren tract of land just three years ago. And a new bridge is being built linking Langtou with the North Korean border town of Ryongchon across the Apnok River.