A North Korean border guard on the Chinese border


We set off down the Yalu River on a speedboat from Northern China, heading towards North Korea. This stretch of water is all that separates the two countries here.
The southern border, between the two Koreas, is heavily militarised, but relations with China are different.
Along this section there are no markings, Chinese tourist boats are allowed up close on sightseeing trips.
An ageing passenger ferry and a Chinese tourist boat on the Yalu River
Our guide points out what he says is the start of North Korean territory, and a military camp, we can see soldiers moving in the shadows of the building beyond.
The river here is shared, but the land on either side through this section is North Korean - we watch an ageing ferry, carrying passengers and their bicycles, navigating its way slowly across.
Two men in uniform stand guard at the back, affecting not to notice the large Chinese tourist boat that has pulled alongside.
North Korean soldiers near the border with China
Our progress is carefully monitored from the shore - a border guard peering out through binoculars from a watchtower.
Up on a hilltop, we could see more military personnel, this time in naval uniform, shovelling material into large white sacks.
Further along, what looked like a barracks, a soldier scrubbing clothes down by the shoreline, another having his head shaved in the shade.
Military personnel in naval uniforms were seen near the Chinese border
This is what daily life looks like in one of the world's most repressive and isolated states - an impoverished country whose leader is determined to develop nuclear weapons, capable of reaching the US mainland.
Thus far, the main thrust of President Trump's strategy for dealing with North Korea, seems to involve getting China, under his new great friend, Xi Jinping, to "solve" the situation for him.
But China and the United States' interests here are not the same.
Ox carts in the field over the North Korean border
Much as Chinese officials do not want to see a nuclear-armed state right here on their border, neither do they want to see American troops, which they fear could follow the collapse of the Kim regime, on a peninsula unified under the leadership of Seoul, an American ally.
"The core of the problem is China's strategic distrust of the United States," Yanmei Xie, China Policy analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics, explained.
"China's ultimate nightmare is a united Korean peninsula allied with the United States.
One man did not want us to film the contents of a lorry heading for North Korea
"In comparison with that, a rogue regime next door armed with nuclear weapons is uncomfortable, annoying, embarrassing, and brings trouble to China, but it is a lesser threat to China than a US ally right next door."
So while China may be prepared to put a little more pressure on Kim Jong-Un, at least enough to placate Washington, and to cool the situation down, it does not want to bring about his regime's demise.
Instead, Beijing continues to provide the means for its survival.
A lorry crosses the only bridge over the river separating North Korea and China
According the to the US Secretary of State, 90% of North Korea's trade is with China, 70% of which passes over a single bridge - the China-Korea Friendship Bridge from Dandong.
So whilst China likes to protest it doesn't have control over Pyongyang, it does have the power to cut off its main economic lifeline.
Thus far, it has chosen not to do so.
A truck stop near the North Korea-China border
In February, China banned North Korean coal imports, as part of its enforcement of UN sanctions, but overall trade between the two countries for the first three months of the year was up 37.4%.
We watched as truck after truck trundled in over the bridge earlier this week.
A shop owner along the route told us he sees around 150 to 200 trucks pass by here every day.
This year is no different, he said.

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