YANJI, CHINA —
China's close ties with North Korea are most clearly seen in the cities and towns along their shared border, where brisk bilateral trade, Korean migrants and tourist businesses attest to warm relations. In the border city of Yanji in China's landlocked northeastern province, Jilin, many are looking forward to calmer days on the Korean peninsula.
Delectable crabs, with a tough outer shell and meaty legs, have been coming to China every day from North Korea, despite threats of war.
After a short trek across the border, they end up in Yanji distribution centers. Some are flown as far away as Shanghai.
“Everyone has to eat!” as one crab distributor puts it. “There really is no crisis, really the only challenges we face are at sea, such as typhoons, the inability of boats to go out to sea or seasonal fishing bans."
Crabs are just a small part of the $11 billion in annual trade between China and the North.
At a Korean market in Yanji, all kinds of fish are caught off the North’s shores, dried, and brought in daily to be processed, sold or shipped.
In China’s border areas about 50 percent of the population is ethnic Korean. Many stay in touch with family members in the North and are painfully aware of the conditions across the border and opportunity that could benefit both.
A growing number of North Koreans, tens of thousands, are working in factories in China. Some work at hotels.
The recent tensions have led to a halt in tourism, but according to local groups, the trade is still thriving.
American Kendra Schaefer, who visited Pyongyang earlier this month on a tour, said it felt much like an abandoned amusement park.
"Really once you got on the ground there, there was no sense that anything different was happening, it was already eery and deserted," she remarked, "and there was no electricity lights everywhere at night, you know there was no restaurant, there is no commerce, there is no grocery store that you can see, there is no boutiques, there is nothing to buy.”
That lack of commerce is something the Chinese government hopes to change. Peking University professor Wang Dong said China wants to convince North Korea that it is in its best interest to open up.
“To really open up to the international community, and start a reform process that will bring prosperity to their own people, not just poverty and not just keep on saber rattling," he said.
Many in Yanji feel that is already starting to happen and are hoping the current situation will soon blow over.