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Tracking the Chinese Trade Routes
north korea consulting, business in north korea, dprk business environment, consulting in korea, nk consulting, about north korea consulting, custom research, dprk
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Tracking the Chinese Trade Routes

Project type: Economic Research

Despite a cooling political climate in 2014, North Korea’s trade with China still accounted for more than 90% of its overall trade matrix. While overland imports and exports often move through smaller, less official trade channels and are resultantly difficult to quantify, North Korea’s maritime fleet can be tracked with precision and accuracy.

As the DPRK publishes no trade data of its own, analysts have traditionally relied on third party mirror statistics to build a picture of North Korea’s commercial interactions with the world. Although a useful tool, these statistics are often subject to error, and the various trade databases show little consistency when it comes to the DPRK. China for example, reports no data concerning its North Korean imports or exports to UN Comtrade, widely regarded as the most comprehensive database of its kind in the world.


Even a cursory inspection of North Korean shipping will reveal the prevalence the Chinese ports of Dandong and Dalian in the DPRK’s maritime trade matrix, though NK Consulting’s experience with North Korean shipping would allow for the generation of detailed, primary data on these primary trade avenues.

Dandong: Despite its proximity to the North Korean border, DPRK vessel traffic from Dandong is constant and two way.  North Korea’s in country road and rail infrastructure are not yet developed enough to sustain large amounts freight moving between Pyongyang and the Chinese city, making movement by ship the more reasonable option for largo cargos..


Dalian: Dalian’s waters are home to China’s aircraft carrier development and also a massive container shipping terminal. Many of North Korea’s cargo vessels ferry cargo along the 600km trade route between Dalian and North Korea’s largest port.

With the vast majority of North Korean maritime trade being carried out by its 240 strong merchant fleet, close analysis of these vessel movements will allow for the calculation of unbiased and accurate data on North Korean cargo on its two major trade routes.

Cross referencing the numbers against maritime databases, port maps and satellite imagery would yield further information on what kinds of cargos were heading to which terminals, resulting in a clearer idea on where North Korea on and offloaded its containers, grain, coal and miscellaneous cargos.

Whilst being useful from an economic perspective, narrowing in on North Korea’s Dalian trade route in particular could also help focus attention on the security aspect of the DPRK’s ship movements. North Korea watchers have long held that the majority of the DPRK’s elicit cargos have are moved through the container port at Dalian. Close scrutiny of the container ships that regularly ply this route could help uncover this occluded element of North Korea’s trade.


While there is no denying the primacy of Dalian and Dandong as a destination for North Korean shipping, the vessels that make up North Korea’s merchant fleet can often be seen visiting a myriad of ports around China and Asia.

The same set of analytical tools could be used to assess the nature of cargos moving between the Chinese ports of Weihai, Yantai, Rizhao, Shanghai and Hong Kong, as well as those further afield in Asia.

The resulting data, when cross referenced against total trade figures could even be used to create independent values for how much of its cargo North Korea obtains from overland and maritime routes with its largest trade partner.


It’s no secret that numerous North Korean companies have been sanctioned by both the UN and U.S. Department of Treasury. Over the years, North Korea has become adept at hiding the true nature of some these enterprises and trading entities, using systems of paper companies which can be found from Hong Kong to the British Virgin Islands.

NK Consulting’s deep knowledge of the DPRK’s maritime sector can help avoid these sanctioned companies and the entities that spring up around them, in addition to helping shed light on the risks involved with each and every registered North Korean shipping company.

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