north korea yalu bridge

The Bridge to Bring Growth to North Korea

For a long time, the New Yalu Bridge led from China virtually to the middle of nowhere in North Korea. The two countries are now changing that, as satellite images show – and fueling hopes for an economic boom in the region.

“Economy from above” is a collaboration between WirtschaftsWoche and LiveEO. This is a translation of the original article written in German by “Thomas Stölzel“. Access the original article here.

After more than ten years of construction and years of interruption, the largest overland artery between China and North Korea is about to open. This is shown by satellite images of the three-kilometer-long New Yalu Bridge near the Chinese border city of Dandong provided by LiveEO.

Chinese real estate developers had already built huge high-rise districts around the bridge years ago in the hope that there would be lively border traffic here in the future. As a result, speculators have repeatedly driven up real estate prices there. With the completion of the link, hopes are now growing for a long-awaited economic boom for the region.

Around 70 percent of trade between China and North Korea already passes through the border city of Dandong, which has a population of around 2.5 million. Goods were previously transported over the old China-Korea Friendship Bridge, which has limited capacity. The steel structure has only one rail track and one lane for vehicles, as the satellite image below shows. The link has also been largely closed since the outbreak of the Corona pandemic.

old china-korea friendship bridge
Old China-Korea Friendship Bridge
12.10.2021: The Old China-Korea Friendship Bridge is the most important land transportation artery between China and North Korea so far. It has only one track and one lane for vehicles.
Images: LiveEO/Skywatch

Now hopes are pinned on the strategically important New Yalu Bridge. Satellite images show that work on it had already begun in early 2011 and the structure itself was completed in 2014. However, the four-lane road built by Chinese contractors on the North Korean side simply ended in nowhere. And so it remained until 2019.

  • border river yalu between china and north korea
  • border river yalu between china and north korea
  • border river yalu between china and north korea
  • border river yalu between china and north korea
  • border river yalu between china and north korea
  • border river yalu between china and north korea

Then North Korea suddenly continued the work, as the footage above shows. Apparently with Chinese help: Already in 2017, the South Korean internet newspaper “Daily NK” had reported that a Chinese businessman had agreed to invest about 45 million US dollars in the completion of the road on the North Korean side. In the meantime, the four-lane road leads all the way to the nearby city of Sinŭiju, to which the old Friendship Bridge also leads.

North Korea wants to make Sinŭiju the center of an international trade zone, including the area around the bridge, which has so far been more agricultural. Time is pressing. North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un described his country’s economic situation as “gloomy” in a speech just a few days ago. Shortly afterwards, the UN even warned of a famine catastrophe.

The pandemic has largely brought goods traffic and tourism to a standstill. According to media reports, North Korean Taedonggang beer, one of the country’s few export hits, has been unavailable in China since last year. In the opposite direction, the flow of about 200,000 Chinese tourists traveling to North Korea dried up every year. Entry via Dandong was considered particularly popular.

dandong chinadandong china
Dandong, China
03.10.2009 (left picture): In anticipation of the new bridge and an associated boom, the first high-rise housing estates are springing up.
12.10.2021 (right picture): In the meantime, there are masses of apartment blocks around the bridge. But most of the apartments are empty.

On the Chinese side of the border, the situation is less dramatic economically. But here, most of the apartments in the huge new apartment blocks shown in the satellite images above are still empty. This was reported in May by the Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post. The long standstill in construction had crippled hopes for a rapid economic rise in the region, but it also drew speculators. When North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae met for a summit in 2018, prices here rose massively within days.

Something similar happened when Kim Jong-un met US President Donald Trump in Singapore a year later. According to media reports, buyers lined up to get their hands on apartments – for example, in the Singapore City high-rise development, right next to the bridge. It will soon be just five minutes to North Korea from here.

Get in touch!