Take a tour of the closest Chinese city to North Korea, which Kim Jong Un recently passed to meet Trump — the nearest thing to the outside world most North Koreans will ever see

Google Maps/Business Insider
  • North Korea and China are separated by the Yalu River, which is so narrow that people on both sides can see each other.
  • It’s the only glimpse of the outside world many North Koreans will ever get, as it’s illegal in North Korea to leave the country without the government’s permission.
  • The two cities bordering the Yalu River – Dandong, China, and Sinuiju, North Korea – are vastly different.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un likely passed by both of them during his train journey from North Korea to Vietnam to see US President Donald Trump earlier this year.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The Chinese city of Dandong is located less than a mile away from the North Korean settlement of Sinuiju – but the two cities could hardly be more different.

The cities – divided only by the narrow Yalu River – are so close that people can easily see over the border, and into each others’ lives.

Dandong is usually the first port of call for trucks crossing over from North Korea to China, and the only part of China, or the outside world, many North Koreans will ever see.

Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s leader, recently crossed into the northeastern Chinese city as part of his laborious two-and-a-half day train journey to Hanoi, Vietnam, where he met US President Donald Trump for the second time.

Scroll down to learn more about Dandong and Sinuiju.

The cities of Dandong and Sinuiju are located next to each along the China-North Korea border.

Google Maps/Business InsiderDandong, China, is across the Yalu river from its much smaller neighbour, Sinuiju, North Korea.

They’re separated by the Yalu river, which is less than a mile wide. This photo shows Sinuiju on the left, and Dandong on the right.

They’re connected by the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge, on the left of this photo, which serves as the two countries’ main trading route.

China, North Korea’s largest trading partner, cut down on trade with North Korea in 2017 to abide by international sanctions.

Kim Jong Un has been trying to get those sanctions lifted.

Source:South China Morning Post, China Internet News Center

There used to be a second bridge connecting the two countries, but it was bombed by the US Air Force in 1950 and never repaired. Its remains, which only go halfway across, are now known as the Yalu River Broken Bridge. This satellite image shows both bridges.

Google Earth

The Broken Bridge is a tourist attraction on the Chinese side, and visitors can use telescopes to see off the end.

Although Dandong and Sinuiju are less than a mile apart, life in the two cities is vastly different — while Dandong is a sprawling urban centre, Sinuiju remains a sleepy industrial space. Here’s what you might see from the Broken Bridge.

South China Morning Post/YouTubeA view of Sinuiju, North Korea, from the Broken Bridge that once connected it to China.

Lu Mingyang, the tourist behind the binoculars, said: “I feel their economy is not very developed, but it looks like they’re doing their best to build it up.”

Source: South China Morning Post

In Sinuiju you can see an array of what appear to be multiple dilapidated factories.

Meanwhile, Dandong is buzzing — as of 2016 it was home to some 1.8 million people. Here are some of them cooking and eating clams, a local delicacy.

Source: The Guardian

It’s also home to outlets for KFC and McDonald’s, and citizens drive BMWs and Range Rovers, according to The Guardian.

Damir Sagolj, a Reuters photographer, wrote in 2018: “Nowhere in the world is there such a difference between what life looks like on opposite sides of the river or the fences that separate the two countries.”

Source: The Guardian

Dandong is also home to a large ethnic Korean population, who have opened restaurants serving North Korean food. This one in Dandong is playing a North Korean propaganda program as customers enjoy their meal.

There’s also a China-North Korea Cultural Centre, which exhibited paintings by North Korean artists in September 2017.

Since Kim Jong Un pledged to create a “favourable environment” for foreign investment in his country in 2018, property prices in Dandong have shot up.

Source: Bloomberg, Business Insider

The New Zone is one of the most popular areas for property buyers. It’s home to various multi-storied residential blocks and this massive coffee shop, named One Cafe.

The New Zone was meant to have its own connection to North Korea, named the New Yalu River Bridge, by now. A massive new road bridge had been constructed, but never opened. The North Korean end finishes in a field.

Business Insider produced a video in 2017 about the stalled project, which some hoped would get back on track.

Watch the full video here.

Seafood is a big part of the Dandong diet — which is not surprising, considering its proximity to the Yellow Sea. Here’s a wet market in the city.

It also has this sprawling street market.

Google Maps

Meanwhile, life in Sinuiju, the neighbouring North Korean city, seems vastly different.

This North Korean woman and child are washing vegetables in river water along the Yalu bank.

Some North Koreans, if they’re lucky, get to take vessels down the Yalu to see Dandong. They’re unlikely to get too close to China, though, as it is illegal in North Korea to leave the country without the government’s permission.

North Korea also deploys military personnel to keep watch over its borders. These soldiers are patrolling the embankment on Hwanggumpyong Island in the middle of the Yalu.

Kim likely saw the contrast between these cities when he travelled into Dandong this February en route to Vietnam, where he met President Donald Trump.

Read more:
Kim Jong Un took a laborious 2.5-day train ride to meet Trump in Vietnam, and it could be because he’s too embarrassed to borrow a plane from China

Dandong is clearly aware of its unique position as a neighbouring city to North Korea, and capitalises on it by operating tours along its side of the Yalu River.

Kevin Frayer/GettyChinese tourists disembark from a boat on the Yalu River near Dandong.

Tourists can take a boat from China to get closer to North Korea. Some tour operators sell bags of bread and biscuits, which tourists can throw onto the North Korean shore for guards and children, Australia’s SBS News reported.

Kevin Frayer/Getty

Source: SBS News

This couple even hired a boat to take their wedding photos.

Some Dandong locals have also set up stalls by the Yalu River boardwalk, where people can buy souvenirs. They range from Chinese and North Korean flags…

Kevin Frayer/Getty

… to books about former North Korean leader Kim Il Sung …

… to fried crabs, which are sold as snacks.

And as night falls, residents hang out on the boardwalk against the lit-up Friendship Bridge. Across the river, Sinuiju is completely dark.

Kevin Frayer/Getty

Kim has been working hard to foster North Korea’s relationship with China, and has visited the country at least four times since March 2018. Investors hope that improved China-North Korea relations will improve trade.

Investors hope Dandong could eventually become the next Shenzhen – a southeastern border city between Hong Kong and mainland China that thrived in recent years because of its unique geography.

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