China and N Korea to set up tourism railway


LONG-TERM allies China and North Korea have signed an agreement to set up a rail route between the two countries to encourage tourism, the latest sign of lively cross-border trade between the two neighbours.

The line will run between Tumen City in China’s Jilin province and North Hamgyong province in North Korea, Chinese state media reported yesterday. The route will be operated by two travel agencies, one from China and the other from North Korea. Both sides plan to hold an inauguration ceremony for the route’s trial operations later this month.

The agreement to introduce a tourism railway between the isolated Stalinist enclave and China comes just weeks after widespread calls for a toughening of UN sanctions against North Korea, after Pyongyang launched a long-range rocket in a move widely seen as a test for a long-range missile.

Last month the UN Security Council unanimously condemned the launch as contravening a UN ban, even though Pyongyang said it was launching a satellite.

China is North Korea’s communist ally, and considers the country its “little brother” in many respects, despite occasional irritations such as when Pyongyang tested a nuclear weapon without Beijing’s knowledge in 2006.

Enforcing UN sanctions is not really an option for China, because it is worried about destabilising its neighbour, causing an influx of refugees into China, or worse, leading to Korean unification which could result in US troops on the soil of an adjoining country.

Beijing called for restraint after the test, and few believed the Chinese would halt the flow of energy, materials, food and other items that it sends to Pyongyang.

After the criticism by the UN, North Korea said it was no longer bound by an international nuclear disarmament deal and would re-start its plant that makes arms-grade plutonium. It also described six-nation nuclear talks between both Koreas, China, Russia, Japan and the US as “useless”.