December 10, 2015 12:54
China's Jilin Province plans a high-speed rail network connecting its northeastern cities with North Korea as part of a project to develop the Jian region into a trading hub.
The state-run People's Daily said the bullet train will connect the northeastern Chinese city of Changchun with Pyongyang via Jian.
The province will also build a high-speed rail linking the Chinese city of Hunchun and Rajin-Sonbong in the North. It also plans to build a joint free economic zone in Jian and four smaller trade zones along the Yalu or Tumen rivers.
There are already seven trade zones run by China and North Korea along the river, some deserted, but Beijing is clearly determined gain a firmer foothold in North Korea.
◆ Brand-New Railroads
The distance between Changchun and Pyongyang is around 800 km. Jilin Province and Jian city officials say they plan to invest around W7.5 trillion into the Changchun-Pyongyang high-speed rail (US$1=W1,182).
At present, a rickety rail line links Jian and Pyongyang, which are around 400 km apart. "The railroad already exists, so a high-speed rail connection will not be an impossible task," a local source said.
Hunchun city officials, meanwhile, recently decided to invest in the Hunchun-Rajin-Sonbong high-speed rail link and development of the Rajin Port along with an ongoing project to link Hunchun with Russia's Vladivostok, according to the Xinhua news agency.
Jilin hopes to turn the border city into a trade hub linking China, Russia and North Korea with the rest of Northeast Asia.
There is no railroad linking Hunchun and Rajin-Sonbong, but a bullet train already connects Hunchun with the rest of China. Hunchun is the entrance to the Rajin-Sonbong Special Economic Zone, a mere 56 km away.
China completed the high-speed rail between Changchun and Hunchun in September and another line linking Shenyang and Dandong in Liaoning Province in August.
◆ Firmer Foothold
China is expanding trade with North Korea by setting up join economic zones and trade zones. Jilin plans to spend W1.8 trillion over the last five years to build a joint economic zone with the North in Jian with customs offices, logistic warehouses and processing plants.
According to data from the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, four trade zones will be built in Hunchun and Longjing. They will be linked by highways and rail. A new bridge over the Tumen River is also being built.
A local source said it is more than 20 m wide and has eight lanes. In the event of an emergency in North Korea, two tanks can pass the bridge side by side. China apparently footed the entire W28.7 billion bill.
But so far the projects appear to be pursued at the regional government level, and there have been no Chinese media reports confirming that Beijing is behind them.
Still, China has been busy mending ties with Pyongyang. "China is concerned about the U.S. and Japan keeping it in check in escalating tensions in the South China Sea," a diplomatic source in Beijing said. "To prevent that, China needs to stabilize relations with its neighbors."
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