Last month's joint statement by the leaders of North and South Korea on denuclearizing the Korean peninsula appears to have boosted optimism in the northeastern Chinese city of Dandong, just across the river from the isolated regime.
Since Kim Jong Un became the first leader of North Korea to cross the demilitarized zone separating his country from the South to meet with South Korean president Moon Jae-in at Panmunjom, demand for real estate in Dandong has been skyrocketing.
Prices have been rising to the tune of 100 yuan/square meter every day, particularly in the city's New District, a Dandong realtor told RFA on Tuesday.
Just two weeks ago, apartments in Dandong New District were selling for as little as 3,000 yuan per square meter, he said.
"Now, they have doubled, shooting up to 6,000 or 7,000 in just two weeks," the realtor said. "When the news came that North Korea wants to open up, property prices skyrocketed. They are still changing day by day."
The city government has since slapped restrictions on non-resident investors to discourage speculation.
"Outsiders wanting to buy residential property in the New District now have to wait two years before they can sell it on again," the realtor said.
All eyes on North Korea
He said reports that North Korea is considering a greater degree of economic openness have also fueled hopes that Dandong is well-situated to benefit from increased cross-border trade, even though North Korea has been under tough United Nations sanctions since December, following a string of nuclear weapons tests.
"It depends on North Korea," the realtor said. "If North Korea really opens up, then property prices could rise to more than 10,000 yuan/square meter, no problem."
Repeated calls to the bureau of foreign trade and economic cooperation of the Dandong municipal government rang unanswered during office hours on Monday.
Dandong, in the northeastern province of Liaoning, sits directly across the Yalu River from the special trading region of Sinuiju, which was set up by Pyongyang in 2002 with the aim of experimenting with a market economy.
Wang Sheng, a Korea expert at Jilin University, said the recent property boom means the city is getting ready to do business with its neighbor, possibly on a much larger scale than before.
"Dandong recently built the New Yalu River Bridge [completed in September 2016], and laid a good foundation," Wang told RFA.
But he said North Korea will need to play its part too.
"North Korea will still need more infrastructure in future, such as highways and high-speed railways," Wang said.
Long process expected
The bridge was originally scheduled to open in 2014, but North Korea has yet to build roads and other infrastructure connecting to its end of the bridge, calling on Beijing to meet more of the costs last October.
And Wang said the ruling Chinese Communist Party is likely to continue imposing U.N. sanctions imposed last December, despite a recent rapprochement between President Xi Jinping and Kim Jong Un.
"There is still a consensus between China and the United States that they will stand firm on sanctions until such time as North Korea achieves genuine, verifiable and concrete measures towards denuclearization," Wang said. "This will be a fairly long process ... that will take about two years."
Economic aid from the U.S. may even be a possibility, should the June 12 summit between Kim and President Donald Trump result in a denuclearization deal, according to some analysts.
Senior officials from North Korea arrived at Beijing Capital International Airport on Monday morning and were greeted by Beijing-based diplomats, Japanese broadcaster NHK reported.
Security was tight at the airport, with a heavy armed police presence and traffic restrictions, it said.
Reports indicated that Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea for South Korean Affairs and a senior figure in the country's intelligence service, likely led the delegation.
The latest high-level visit to China on the eve of next month's summit in Singapore will like discuss preparations for the talks with Beijing.
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