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Russia wants to build a bridge to North Korea

Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Nikolsky Alexei/TASS/Zuma Press/TNS)
March 27, 2018

Russia and North Korea may be discussing the possibility of constructing a new bridge between the countries in order to better their relations and ease the flow of goods, the Washington Post reported this week.

Russia and North Korea share an 11-mile border along the Tumen River in the northeast that currently houses one crossing, the “Friendship Bridge,” which opened in 1959. However, when North Korea imports goods, the convoy usually travels through China instead.

The two nations have talked about adding a new direct route for some time, but this week Russian representatives arrived in North Korea to further discuss the idea. While no formal announcement has been made at this time, it does as appear as though the countries are interested in improving their working relationship.

Last Wednesday, the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East talked about the need for a better border crossing and also revealed some of the details that were discussed during the meeting.

“There are 23 automobile checkpoints between [North Korea] and China, and not one with Russia,” the ministry quoted Ro Tu Chol, a North Korean minister, as saying during the meeting. “Currently, when importing goods from [Russia’s far east], they do not come across the border with Russia, but through China. This greatly extends the path.”

Chol suggested expanding the current bridge, while Russian Representative Alexander Galushka, the minister for the development of the Russia’s Far East, suggested during the meeting that a new semi-permanent bridge of pontoons should be built instead.

On the purpose of a new border crossing, Anthony Rinna, an analyst on Russian foreign policy in East Asia for Sino-NK, told NK News that the travel-way could be used to “alleviate any unforeseen problems, such as logistical or technical glitches that may undermine North Korea’s rail links.”

While the idea of a new border crossing appears to be gaining momentum, it should be noted that trade between Russia and North Korea is relatively insignificant.

Katzeff Silberstein, an associate scholar at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, stated that multilateral sanctions imposed by the United Nations currently hinder any substantial trade efforts between the two counties. But, Silberstein added: “There also seems to be a belief that in the longer run, trade will pick back up again,” and the countries seem to be eyeing future cooperation. Furthermore, Silberstein explained that the proposed bridge may be more noteworthy for its symbolic value rather than its economic worth.