China and North Korea reopened cross-border rail traffic between Dandong and Sinuiju, Beijing confirmed on Monday, marking the resumption of the economic partners' main trade route after a two-year shutdown due to COVID-19. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo
SEOUL, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- China and North Korea restarted trade over a railroad crossing for the first time since Pyongyang sealed its borders to protect against COVID-19 two years ago, Beijing has confirmed.
Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a press conference on Monday that rail freight transport between China's Dandong and North Korea's Sinuiju had resumed after "friendly consultations between the two sides."
"The two sides will move forward on the basis of ensuring sound epidemic prevention and control to facilitate normal bilateral trade," Zhao said.
The rail crossing over the Yalu River is the main trade artery between North Korea and China, but traffic ground to a halt when Pyongyang sealed its borders in January 2020 as COVID-19 began to spread throughout its northern neighbor. The government blocked almost all official and unofficial trade and severely restricted domestic travel.
North Korea has been suffering an economic crisis amid international sanctions, crop-damaging severe weather and the prolonged border closure with China, which accounts for over 90% of the North's international trade.
Food shortages have become so severe that the United Nations special rapporteur on North Korean human rights warned in October that vulnerable citizens were at risk of starvation. Leader Kim Jong Un admitted in June that the food situation was "getting tense."
Humanitarian groups have seen most of their efforts at providing aid stifled as well, with the U.N.'s World Food Program reporting in its December country update that it had not distributed any food assistance since the previous March.
The WFP report noted that very few relief items had been allowed to enter the country since August due to quarantine and disinfection procedures lasting months.
Accounts of a train arriving in Dandong from Sinuiju began circulating Sunday among a number of regional media outlets ahead of Beijing's confirmation. It is unclear what is being delivered to North Korea, but a source told news agency Yonhap that emergency medical supplies and daily necessities would be the initial cargo.
North Korea, meanwhile, has continued to aggressively develop its weapons program as it rejects calls from the United States to restart dialogue. On Monday, Pyongyang fired a pair of solid-fuel short-range ballistic missiles, marking its fourth launch in less than two weeks.