TUMEN, CHINA — All was quiet Wednesday at a border check point in Jilin’s eastern city of Tumen.
A narrow bridge was open and several large cargo trucks lumbered across it to the North Korean side. Return traffic included a massive construction crane, heading back to China.
Across the Tumen River, which marks the border with North Korea, there were few signs of activity apart from a lone man wandering along the opposite bank.
But Chinese police quickly responded to the presence of foreign journalists. Shortly after arriving at the border outpost, police briefly questioned this reporter.
They said that, as appearances in Tumen suggest, all is calm. But they said they are there to keep journalists safe as well.
China’s northeastern province of Jilin is home to more than a million ethnic Koreans and many of them live in the city of Yanji. The streets in Yanji are full of signs written in Chinese and Korean. Even Communist Party slogans appear in Korean characters.
Yanji is a city that is tapped into North Korea and its economy. Few are overly concerned about the situation on the peninsula.
One woman, surnamed Li, said she isn't worried about the situation, but is following developments closely.
This man, a street cleaner, said he doesn't think it has reached the level yet where war could break out. He said right now there is no impact, but if war was to break out, Yanji would certainly be affected.
Accustomed to the ups and downs of North Korea's opaque rule, residents in Yanji find ways to add a little levity to the situation.
Some jokingly refer to the North's young leader as Kim San Wang or “King Kim the third.”
Despite the jokes, some said that with all of its rich natural resources the North could easily become prosperous if it just put more focus on its economy and less on the military.
And some believe that is already happening.
Chen, a delivery man, said Kim Jong Un's discourse seems to be very different. He said that while North Korea's leaders used to put the army first, now Kim Jong Un is saying he wants to develop the army and the economy at the same time. Chen said this is totally new.
Cities such as Yanji and the province of Jilin are looking to tap into that opportunity and have recently announced plans to build up infrastructure to improve links between China and the North.