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N. Korea-China border town hopes for boon from thaw in inter-Korea ties

Potential buyers listen to real estate agents making sales pitches for condominiums along the Yalu River in Dandong, Liaoning Province, in northeastern China on April 25, 2018. (Mainichi)

DANDONG, China -- Expectations for an economic boom are rising among residents of this northeastern border city as North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un is set to meet his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in on April 27.

Residents hope that the thawing of inter-Korea relations will accelerate the strengthening of their ties with North Korea, which received an abrupt boost after Kim visited Beijing and met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on March 26. It was Kim's first foreign visit and meeting with Xi since the North Korean leader came to power seven years ago.

In Dandong, businesses are eager to cash in on the positive atmosphere surrounding the upcoming North-South summit meeting.

"Don't miss out! Condominium prices are soaring with the change in North Korea's attitude," stressed a female staff member to a group of potential buyers at a local real estate company on April 25. The office is housed in a building complex near the Yalu River that runs between the city and Shinuiju in North Korea.

The company was inundated with prospective clients and workers were so busy attending to them that they had no time to eat lunch. A Dandong trader who signed a sales contract commented, "I am investing in this property because I can expect a price hike."

A China-North Korea joint economic development project used to be in operation in areas along the Yalu River. But the venture had been suspended as bilateral relations soured and many buildings in the area remained vacant.

The economic situation in these areas has drastically changed since Kim announced his plan on April 20 to focus on economic development. This major policy change following his meeting with Xi has sent Chinese investors into overdrive and the prices of real estate and some companies' stocks are reportedly rising.

The positive trend is pushing the transportation industry, too. According to a local trader, right after the Xi-Kim summit, dozens of large trucks carrying what appeared to be aid supplies were seen crossing daily into North Korea.

Yet despite the visible signs of a thaw in relations, Beijing still maintains the official position of implementing United Nations Security Council resolutions limiting trade with the North. But the local trader told the Mainichi that the recent cross-border movements reflect the view of local authorities that bilateral ties are improving. Another trader mentioned a rumor that North Korean workers were being smuggled into China despite a U.N. ban on such movements.

Even during the days when Beijing and Pyongyang were at loggerheads, the economic connection between China and North Korea apparently continued discreetly. Seafood markets in Dandong continued to sell North Korean shellfish and crabs, labeling them as "local catches."

A source at the local business community said, "Everyone here wants successful North-South, U.S.-North summit meetings. Dandong needs North Korea for its success."

(Japanese original by Kosuke Kawazu, Beijing Bureau)

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