x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Chinese border city awaits impact of Kim Jong-il death

Even after the abrupt death of Kim Jong-il threatened to throw the North into an era of uncertainty, many Dandong residents had little time for political speculation.

DANDONG, CHINA // While the world agonised about North Korea, the Chinese city with a front-row view into the isolated state shrugged.

The north-east city of Dandong faces North Korea across the Yalu river, its neon-lit riverfront of shops and restaurants underscoring the darkness on the other side, which suffers chronic power shortages.

But even after the abrupt death of Kim Jong-il threatened to throw the North into an era of uncertainty, many Dandong residents had little time for political speculation.

Cars jammed the downtown area's main thoroughfare during rush hour yesterday as commuters hurried home after work, the incessant honking of horns a reminder that for many people, it was just another day.

"Life is the same as it was yesterday morning," said a taxi driver, who gave only his surname, Chen.

"I don't think there will be any impact on our day-to-day living because the relationship between China and North Korea is stable," said a grocery store owner, surnamed Wang.

But for some here, the passing of North Korea's leader means life will be put on hold for a while.

In normal times, clusters of North Korean visitors - some wearing badges featuring Kim Il-sung, the country's late revolutionary founder and the father of Kim Jong-il, on frayed suits - gape at the brightly lit and well-stocked shops and restaurants on the Dandang riverfront.

But these are not normal times.

"The North Korean people around here are really devastated," said Sui Tongjun, a Chinese trade agent who deals with their neighbour.

"It's like several decades ago when Mao [Zedong] passed away," he added. "But that will pass and business will go on."

People who appeared to be North Koreans filed through a makeshift mourning centre.

Women in their 20s and 30s wept, wailed and prostrated themselves in front of wreaths of white and yellow chrysanthemums.

Some men clasped their hands in front of them and bowed deeply.

"North Korea lost a great leader and China lost a great friend," said Wang Qiulan, a Chinese woman selling books about and photos of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, her face bundled against the cold.

Chinese businesspeople in Dandong who deal with North Korea said they expected the country would shrink into itself for some time, preoccupied with the leadership transition to Kim Jong-il's son, Kim Jong-un, making trade even more difficult than usual.

"We can't go in now because of the death of Kim Jong-il," said Yu Lu, a Chinese trader in Dandong who does business with North Korea. "It's all closed off and basically all the North Koreans are heading back. It's very tightly closed today."

Most businesspeople here, accustomed to the uncertainties of North Korea, are taking things in their stride.

"Kim Jong-un has just assumed power, so the situation will be tight and many companies will have to take a hit," said Chen Yiming, a trader in Dandong whose Sanyi Taishun Company is an import-export agency.

"Now that one generation's leader has gone and the next generation's leader has come to power, there will certainly be a period when the political scene is unstable, and that will certainly affect investors like us."

But North Korea appeared unlikely to undergo turmoil, said Luo Dongdao, a businessman in Yanji, another city on China's border with the country.

"They've announced his death and that shows they are prepared," Mr Luo said. "They will certainly be able to maintain stability."