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Friday, February 1, 2008

China and Russia competing for North Korean favor along borders

SEOUL — The bridge connecting Tumen, China and Namyang, North Korea is less than 100 meters long, but travelers going either way must stop at the center of the bridge and change cars.

A Chinese guard watched as two men crossed into North Korea at Onsong.       Du Bin / NY Times
No pedestrians have been allowed on this bridge, until now.

However authorities have agreed to allow pedestrian tourism in both cities within the year, Yenben Broadcasting Station announced last week.

Farther north along the North Korean border, the port city of Rajin will soon start receiving electricity it badly needs from the Inter RAO UES Company of Russia.

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“We have no idea what is going on higher up there,” said a Korean-Chinese businessman from Yenben, “but it certainly looks like China and Russia are trying to win Pyongyang to their sides, like the old days.”

“Judging from the fact that the two-way tourism traffic is heavily in favor of Chinese travelers, it is expected more Chinese people will have a chance to peek into ordinary people’s lives at the other side of the bridge,” said a Yenben government official.

The two sides will designate travel companies to handle pedestrian tourists in their respective countries and visas will be granted within 24 hours, according to the announcement. Officials in Tumen said the city would help build reception facilities in Namyang for the tourists.

Representatives of the Russian company are now in Pyongyang to sign an agreement under which Russia would supply electricity to the port city and connect the railroad to the Russian city of Hasan.

North Korea’s Central News Agency said the agreement had been made at the Economic, Trade and Science & Technology Cooperation Committee meeting of the two countries last year.

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