North Korea, China resume cross-border freight train operation after COVID closures

Freight cars are seen at a train station in Dandong, Liaoning province, China April 21, 2021. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

SEOUL/BEIJING Sept 26 (Reuters) - Cross-border freight train operations between North Korea and China has resumed, Beijing said on Monday, ending a five-month suspension to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The Chinese foreign ministry confirmed reports out of South Korea that China and North Korea had decided to resume cross-border freight train traffic that had been suspended in April due to the pandemic.

Both sides will continue to step up coordination and ensure the safe and stable operation of freight transportation, Wang Wenbin, a spokesman at the Chinese foreign ministry, told a regular media briefing.

The comments from the ministry came after South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that a freight train from Dandong crossed a bridge to the North Korean city of Sinuiju. South Korea's Unification Ministry, which handles relations with the North, had also reported the resumption of train traffic.

Train crossings had been on hold since April 29, when China suspended services with North Korea following consultations due to COVID-19 infections in its border city of Dandong. Shortly after, North Korea reported its first COVID outbreak, which it now says has ended.

The April suspension came less than four months after North Korea eased border lockdowns enforced early in 2020 against the coronavirus. North Korea turned a former airport near the border with China into a massive quarantine centre, where commercial satellite imagery has shown imported goods sitting for months.

Global aid groups have blamed the border measures for North Korea's worsening economic woes and risks to food supplies for millions.

Last month leader Kim Jong Un declared victory over COVID and ordered the lifting of maximum anti-epidemic measures imposed in May, though adding that North Korea must maintain a "steel-strong anti-epidemic barrier".

North Korea has never confirmed how many people caught COVID, apparently because it lacks the means to conduct widespread testing, and experts have cast doubt on its numbers.

Reporting by Soo-hyang Choi and Josh Smith in Seoul, and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Editing by Kim Coghill, Kenneth Maxwell and Philippa Fletcher

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.