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Chinese border calm as North Korea ramps up nuclear program

Posted September 6

— Rising international tensions over Pyongyang's missile launches and nuclear tests seem a distant concern in the Chinese border city of Dandong, where trucks rumble across the bridge to North Korea and people stroll the promenade beside the Yalu River within sight of North Korean border guards.

With the peak summer tourism season tapering off, staff at hotels, restaurants and travel agencies say the North's activities and threats flying between Pyongyang and Washington have had only a minimal impact on public sentiment.

"The nuclear test has had no influence on our lives," said a sales manager at the riverside Andongge restaurant, who gave only her surname, Zhang. "Everything goes on as normal."

Dandong is the largest Chinese city along the border and a key jumping-off point for travel and trade with the North, making it a favored spot for reading the pulse of Chinese feelings toward the once-close, now increasingly frosty relationship between the communist neighbors. The remnants of a bridge bombed by the U.S. during the 1950-53 Korean War, and rebuilt only on the Chinese side, are a reminder of both the conflict that once united the countries and the differences that now exist between them.

Ties of late have been especially strained by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's pursuit of intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, including the North's sixth nuclear test on Sunday.

However, Wu Haixia, manager of the city's Huyue Inns and Hotel facing the severed bridge, said such incidents were rarely even discussed, possibly as a result of the Chinese government's strict control on news about North Korea.

"I don't know whether the nuclear test is true or not. We did not hear customers talking about this issue," Wu said.

While the border is fenced and heavily guarded in sections near Dandong, much of it is open, allowing easy crossing during the winter when the Yalu and other rivers freeze over. Despite speculation in foreign media, defense ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said last week that no adjustments had been made in China's military profile along the border in response to recent tensions.

Yet if people on the Chinese side of the border seem little affected, a manager at Dandong's Pengyun Travel Agency said there had been some decline in the willingness of Chinese to travel across to North Korea for day trips or longer tours.

"A minority raised safety issues and worries about nuclear tests when they came in for consultations," said the manager, who gave only her surname, Ju.

Overall, however, Chinese in Dandong seemed only mildly concerned.

A 61-year-old visitor from Beijing who gave only her surname, Wu, said relations had deteriorated considerably since the Korean War, when the countries were "as close as lips and teeth," employing a common expression of the time.

Despite that breakdown, when asked how the situation was affecting Chinese, she said, "Not worth mentioning."

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Christopher Bodeen reported from Beijing.

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