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Peace along the border despite North Korean threats


North Korean soldiers are seen along the banks of the Yalu River in Sinuiju, North Korea, which borders Dandong in China's Liaoning province on April 16, 2017. -Reuters

North Korean soldiers are seen along the banks of the Yalu River in Sinuiju, North Korea, which borders Dandong in China's Liaoning province on April 16, 2017. -Reuters

DANDONG: One soldier enjoys a cigarette, another sits reading quietly on the riverbank: seen from the Chinese side of the border, North Korea’s army does not appear to be on a war footing despite all the bellicose language.

Dandong city is the main crossing point to North Korea, and every day hundreds of tourists embark on small boats for a cruise on the Yalu border river and a fleeting glimpse of another world.

The boats approach within a few metres (yards) of the Korean shore, giving residents of the world’s second largest economy a view of their impoverished and sanctions-hit but nuclear-armed neighbour.

Further south, the border between North and South Korea is one of the world’s most heavily fortified. But the atmosphere is a great deal more relaxed along the Yalu river, even though the North’s ally China enforces a range of UN sanctions intended to curb its nuclear and missile programmes.

The sanctions have had a limited effect. After a huge military parade in Pyongyang on Saturday, the North Sunday defied international condemnation to test-fire another missile.

Tensions have been rising for weeks and the US has sent a naval strike group led by an aircraft carrier to the region. The North has reiterated it is ready for war with the US, and its army Friday vowed a “merciless” response to any provocation.

But the soldiers seen Sunday appeared notably relaxed -- whether sitting on a bicycle, immersed in their reading or puffing on a cigarette next to women busily washing clothes in the river.

It’s a world away from the thousands of goose-stepping troops and missiles which packed Pyongyang’s Kim Il-Sung Square Saturday to mark the 105th anniversary of the birth of the nation’s eponymous founder.

Unconcerned at the prospect of provoking an incident, one Chinese tourist uses a slingshot to shoot a stone into the river as the boat approaches Sinuiju, the North Korean frontier town linked to Dandong by the Friendship Bridge.

From a green wooden observation post, a North Korean soldier placidly watches the tourists through binoculars.

The river cruises are an important money-spinner in Dandong, where dozens of boats offer trips for a modest 70 yuan ($10).

The cruise vessels stop off at a boat where an enterprising trader sells North Korean products: eggs, cigarettes and alcohol.

In the wider world the tensions persist. Sunday’s missile test was a failure, according to South Korea and the US military.

But it came hours ahead of a visit by US Vice President Mike Pence to the South, where the North’s weapons programme will top the agenda. -AFP

China , North Korea , war , border , Yalu river

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