The Liaoning Fulcrum: Dandong in Pictures
writing and photos by Adam Cathcart
The bridge from China to the “Special Economic Zone” of Hwanggumpyeong, halted in the spring, is back under construction with a vengeance. Beyond the distant second pair of pillars on the North Korean side, several large structures have been set up, the welding continues, and an ersatz cement production facility appears to have been erected.
The last foreign reporter, to my knowledge, to report from this new zone for Dandong — and the gateway to Hwanggumpyong — was Jonny Erling, who went to Dandong and published his findings in Die Welt on April 10 (‘Revolutionslieder aus dem All’), noting that construction on the bridge had been halted because of Chinese discontent with the level of North Korea’s interest in the project and overall intransigence.
The bridge may be underway again, but the district around it is scarcely different than it was 14 months ago; the weeds in Xinchengqu (“New City District”) are growing higher and the massive apartment blocs are all empty. It isn’t Chernobyl, but the mood is one of abandonment, with a little new construction around the edges. Taxi drivers complain about new officials who neglect the “signature achievements” of their predecessors, and estimate that the area won’t be populated for another three years.
On the way out of town, some new construction continues, but there are hardly more than a couple of convenience store in this mammoth development — the only anchor of actual humanity remains the Dandong City Government, which has been in Xinchengqu already for more than 15 months, safely away from the population center and making the bothersome petitioning process a great deal more difficult for discontent citizens.
In Dandong on the morning of August 21, the old bridge is heavy with trucks, which are lined up down a handful of streets. The area is crawling with North Korean cadre; one swigs a bottle of Coca-Cola in relief, his business done. Trucks line up, laden with big bags; two roaring mobile cranes are on their way to North Pyong’an.
On the riviera, things are gleaming a bit more than usual: a new North Korean-Chinese joint venture hotel has been opened:
For some time-lapse photography from Xinchengqu and the bridge construction there as of June 2011, see Adam Cathcart, “China’s New Bridge to North Korea,” SinoMondiale, June 25, 2011.
More to come, in prose form, about things learned on the recent swing through Shenyang and Dandong, chasing the long tail of one Mr. Jang Song-taek.
Tags: Americans in Dandong, Chinese bridge to North Korea, cross-border trade, development of SEZs in North Korea, North Korean bridge, North Korean businesses in Dandong, North Koreans in Dandong, photos of the bridge to North Korea, Xinchengqu