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China makes trade zone at North Korea border 'national priority'

China is prioritizing a trade zone bordering North Korea in possible preparation for increased commerce between the two countries, according to a South Korean press report.

Yonhap reported Wednesday an area near the city of Hunchun, in Jilin Province, was designated a "national zone," a sign China is getting ready for a new chapter in economic cooperation with Pyongyang.

According to a post on Jilin province's official online site, the Chinese central government's national trade inspection team held meetings in Yanbian and Changbai and agreed to "promote" a land route between key areas in the region as a national priority.

Hunchun is located about seven miles from a border trade zone where about 100,000 tons of cargo is handled every year. The area is relatively undeveloped and a bridge across the Tumen River built in 1938 links the two sides.

The new policy could mean a new structure could be built to connect Jilin Province to North Hamgyong Province.

Jilin's provincial government said the decision is a "new milestone" that is "important to the development of ethnic minority regions."

The area includes a significant ethnic Korean-Chinese population.

Chinese President Xi Jinping could soon visit the North, and according to China-based sources, North Korea is relaxing phone restrictions.

Radio Free Asia reported in late October North Korea is making international roaming available to a select group of Chinese visitors.

The service costs about $28, RFA's sources said, and the service may be restricted to approved businesspeople.
By Elizabeth Shim

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