Trade Tremors and Citizen Controls in Dandong
China’s trade with North Korea depends heavily on the city of Dandong as a conduit. As Yonhap reported yesterday:
North Korea’s trade with China plunged month-on-month in May after the railroad freight traffic between the two nations was suspended due to the COVID-19 spread in the Chinese border city of Dandong, Beijing’s customs data showed Saturday.
There has been speculation on Chinese social media that the coronavirus could have spread across the border from North Korea. Some have pointed to equipment recently installed by authorities near the border to test air quality, suggesting the virus could have been carried over on the wind – an idea dismissed by many social media users. Others have suggested smuggling activities could be to blame.
Outbreaks in late April and then again in late May led to lockdowns in the city, as described by Global Times and NK News. Bloomberg compared Dandong to Ruili, an important hub for Yunnan province’s border with Myanmar which has been in intermittent lockdown for about a third of a year already. (For a much longer discussion of state capacity in Ruili with comparison to Jilin’s border regions, see this volume from Amsterdam University Press.)
Aggressive nucleic testing seems to be flushing out more cases in Dandong over the past few days, with compounds in Zhenxing and Wanbao districts seeming to be the areas of greatest focus. Deutsche Welle’s Chinese service includes a couple of short clips of citizen discontent in the city (these were posted around 14 June). New propaganda praising Xi Jinping’s care for the prosperity and safety of border residents does not seem to be having the desired effect, but the demands of city residents to get back to work seem to be at least having some rhetorical echo in Dandong city policy. A new extensive guidance document released today explained how the city was trying to ease administrative burdens for businesses during the pandemic and thereby “revive work, revive production, revive business, and revive the markets / 复工复产复商复市).”
A lot of this work is piling up on the desk of Hao Jianjun (郝建军), the head of Epidemic Prevention work in Dandong, seen above with a cluster of police and fellow officials. He is also the mayor and the deputy secretary of the city Party committee. Yesterday Hao chaired a meeting at which he stressed that national trends were improving but that locally things remained stressful and complex. He noted the need to “defend against outside imports [of the virus], and defend against internal rebound (外防输入、内防反弹).” After noting a battery of encirclement and extinguishment methods, Hao kept it real by noting that this situation really needs cleaning up over the summer so as to “welcome the victory of the [October or November 2022] 20th Party Congress.”
Hao then went to a meeting focusing on the climate for business investment in Dandong, pledging to make it easier to get access to credit and to facilitate face-to-face meetings between businesses and banks. It looks like a daunting agenda.
Meanwhile, Chen Luping (陈绿平, above) a deputy provincial head for Liaoning, tried to tamp down citizen angst in Wanbao district, another of Dandong’s heavily-controlled districts during the recent outbreak.