China will open a high-speed rail line to the North Korean border next year, state media said on Thursday, in a sign that China remains committed to boosting trade and economic ties with the isolated, nuclear-armed state.
The line, under construction since 2010, will run 127 miles from Shenyang to the border city of Dandong, which faces North Korea across the Yalu River, and will shorten the train journey from 3.5 hours to one hour, the official Xinhua news agency said.
As much as 80 percent of trade between China and North Korea passes through Dandong, which is near one of North Korea's special economic zones on Hwanggumpyong island.
China has encouraged the development of three special economic zones in North Korea, hoping to tap low labor costs and encourage the North to see the benefits of economic reform, even while publicly rebuking it over its nuclear weapons program.
China has stepped up checks on shipments to and from North Korea following its third nuclear test last year, but has so far shown no sign of cutting the country off completely. China aims to prevent the collapse of the impoverished state, which would no doubt bring with it a destabilizing wave of refugees.
While there has been little sign of progress in the new economic zones, China continues to improve infrastructure on its side of the border, including building a bridge from Dandong into North Korea.