North Korea and China have resumed freight train services after a five-month suspension. The suspension was due to the pandemic, South Korean media reported.
Trains had been suspended since April 29, following a COVID-19 outbreak in Dandong.
It was not immediately clear whether the train that crossed the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge on Monday marked the resumption of regular services. But the Yonhap news agency quoted an anonymous source in China as saying the trains would run once or twice a day.
China is North Korea’s main economic lifeline, which normally accounts for more than 90 percent of its trade. But cross-border trade has been drastically reduced during the pandemic.
China’s trade with North Korea, officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), plummeted to $318 million in 2021, down 90 percent compared to pre-pandemic levels, according to Chinese customs data.
Aid workers and analysts have warned that the country’s isolation has hit its already fragile economy and exacerbated food shortages that have resulted in widespread chronic malnutrition.
Alastair Morgan, the U.K.’s ambassador to North Korea between 2005 and 2008, said the importance of the latest freight train service will depend on whether it ushered in regular operations.
“A one-time shipment of, say, medical goods and equipment or food would be unprecedented,” Morgan told Al Jazeera.
“The resumption of regular cargo shipments is expected to support economic activity and the availability of goods in the DPRK. The economic implications for China at the national level would be negligible. China, in principle, supports trade with the DPRK in unsanctioned goods and favors the maintenance of stability in the DPRK.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un declared victory over the coronavirus last month after authorities in the isolated country reported some 4.8 million “fever cases” following a major outbreak in May. Kim, the third member of his family to rule the secret state, has acknowledged the difficulties North Koreans face, comparing the pandemic to the 1950-1953 Korean War.
The North has reported just 74 COVID deaths overall, a record that experts doubt given the country’s apparent number of cases, lack of vaccine coverage, and crumbling health system.
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