With decades of breakneck growth, Communist China has become a testament to capitalism and urban living. North Korea, which also describes itself as a socialist state, is still sealed and secretive — almost.
China is North Korea’s largest trading partner by a long way, and despite Beijing’s official displeasure with the DPRK’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, this trade continues to grow. China has rebuffed any attempts to strengthen economic sanctions further against Pyongyang.
Dandong (China) is a thriving border town on the Yalu River within throwing distance of the Hermit Kingdom of North Korea. And Dandong is the lifeline, say critics, of the autocratic regime led by Kim Jong Un. Whole neighborhoods in the back streets of the city are lined with trading shops quietly run by North Korean officials.
Up to 70% of all China trade with North Korea runs through Dandong, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, and it takes the form of both legal trade and illegal smuggling.
“Chen,” a smuggler who makes midnight runs across the Yalu several times a month to trade with North Korean soldiers, claims that Dandong is crawling with North Korean spies. “Don’t say anything sensitive around the North Korean waitresses,” he whispers to us. “They speak Korean and English.” And you can find them all across Dandong in North Korean themed restaurants, karaoke bars, and musical review shows.
If refugees are caught trying to escape from North Korea, they are shot, but in restaurants in the gaudy two-story tourist trap, North Koreans are allowed to work in China on special three-year permits. They are often the children of mid-level Korean Workers’ Party loyalists and their movements and earnings are tightly controlled.
And as the four-piece all-female North Korean band plays to the Chinese tourists drinking North Korean beer, I think how perfectly it sums up this city: extremely bizarre and perhaps a little tragic.
[Full CNN article]