The Chinese are not afraid of their North Korean neighbors | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 12.04.2012
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The Chinese are not afraid of their North Korean neighbors

The North Korean rocket launch, planned for this week, has set off a wave of international criticism. Beijing has also criticized its close ally. Yet the Chinese don't seem bothered about their neighbor's ambitions.

Unha-3 is due to take off in the country's northwest, around 50 kilometers from the Chinese border. Despite international criticism, the Chinese don't seem to be worried about it.

The Chinese city of Dandong is right next door to North Korea. Every day, trucks filled with much-needed food, household goods and textiles make their way from here to the reclusive neighbor. Dandong thrives from trade with North Korea, says businessman Wang Yuangang.

"A downturn in political relations won't make much of a difference for us. North Korea needs Chinese goods, they need China."

North Korea is located just across the Yalu River. In daylight, one can see old docks and flat buildings just on the other side in Sinuiju. But as night falls, the North Korean town is consumed by darkness, after the power is shut off to save money.

The country's population suffers from rampant poverty and constant hunger. Nonetheless, North Korea is sticking to its expensive launch plans as it continues to upgrade its military. Many people in Dandong agree with that.

A rocket lifts off from its launch pad

Dandong residents are not worried about the launch

"The country definitely needs its own military to protect itself, even if it is going through difficult times," says one student.

The people don't seem to be afraid of their erratic neighbor at all.

No 'cold teeth'

In Dandong, there is a museum dedicated to the Korean War and "anti US aggression." Each day, tourist groups go there and confirm the Chinese-North Korean friendship. The Korean War, in which China rushed to help its North Korean ally, happened over 50 years ago. Yet old resentment remains.

"If the lips are gone, the teeth will grow cold," a man visiting the museum says.

What he means is China and North Korea depend on each other; China needs its ally as a safe buffer zone to protect itself from the Americans.

Not far from the museum, crates of fruit are being loaded onto a truck. They contain oranges and apples destined for Pyongyang. The merchants speak impatiently on the phone with go-betweens and haulers. The fact that the upcoming rocket launch is putting a strain on political ties doesn't bother them one bit. They are profiting from the upcoming celebrations of the North Korean "Great Leader's" 100th birthday.

Good for business

Greengrocer Zhang is packing vegetables - eggplants, onions and beans - into white Styrofoam boxes. Where all of his produce is going, he doesn't know. But one thing is for sure: he has received far more orders from North Korea than he usually does.

Mourners walk out from the door of a North Korean restaurant in Dandong

Some Dandong residents mourned the death of Kim Jong-Il

"It is good for us. But it is always like that - our business picks up when they have something to celebrate over there."

But while the merchants are profiting off of up-coming celebrations, large projects with North Korea aren't doing so well. The joint construction of a bridge across the Yalu has been put off. The bridge was to become the centerpiece of a new special economic zone. While the Chinese side of it is almost complete, not a single construction worker has been spotted on the Korean side for months.

Under their breath, Dandong residents say the new leader Kim Jong Un is not sticking to his father's promises. But they would never say such a thing aloud. As one businessman puts it, "we want more economic cooperation. But when it comes to North Korea, you need courage and a lot of patients."

Author: Ruth Kirchner / sb
Editor: Shamil Shams

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