Residents of China border city hope U.S.-North Korea summit spurs peace, and business

DANDONG, China (Reuters) - Residents of the Chinese city that stands to benefit the most from a positive outcome from Tuesday’s historic U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore said they were hopeful that it would lead to peace and bolster cross-border business.

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“Whenever we go out and chat with others, basically everyone is keeping an eye on this, because it has a direct impact on our business,” said Zheng Zhefan, 44, who runs a shop selling Japanese products that were popular with North Korean traders before sanctions against the country kicked-in.

Still, there was little outward evidence that Tuesday was more than an ordinary day in Dandong, where traders have been squeezed by United Nations resolutions that had further isolated impoverished North Korea because of its nuclear and missile programs.

As the conduit for the bulk of North Korea’s international trade, Dandong’s fortunes have long been hinged to those of the neighboring country, and residents have for decades ridden waves of optimism and disappointment.

“If the meeting between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump is successful it will be extremely good for Dandong because we rely on border trade,” said Jiang Xiaohong, who was walking along the banks of the Yalu River, which separates the two countries.

Jiang, 35, runs a clothing firm and her husband is an investor in a processing business in North Korea.

“My husband is quite anxious about the meeting,” she said. “I’m maintaining a calm attitude and hope they will make good out of it.”

Signs of a potential opening up of the North Korean economy following Kim’s dramatic visit to Beijing in March have fueled a frenzy of speculative property investment in Dandong.

On Tuesday morning, though, a big riverside video screen displayed advertisements, not news of the summit.

State broadcaster CCTV carried live footage of the opening handshake between Trump and Kim but then switched to other coverage. Several shopkeepers in Dandong were watching Chinese soap operas, not the news, although other residents said they were paying close attention.

Across China, the Trump-Kim meeting failed to gain much early traction on domestic social media. As of midday, it was only the 32nd most-searched item on the Twitter-like Weibo, with the past weekend’s Shanghai Security Organisation summit in the city of Qingdao the most-searched.

Still, residents of Dandong following developments on their phones and news apps said they were hopeful that the summit would lead to regional stability.

“Seeing the handshake, as a Chinese citizen, it makes me feel happy,” said Wu Baoku, a 69-year-old retiree, who was also taking his morning walk.

“There’s still a long way to go on the road to peace in the peninsula, but we must go down this route because China has already stated that there cannot be war on the peninsula, that’s what the Communist party has said.”

Reporting by Brenda Goh and Natalie Thomas; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard; Writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by Martin Howell