As of Tuesday afternoon, 135 tourists had crossed to North Korea, Zhu Lihua, a Ji'an customs official, told the Global Times.
The new port covers an area of 10.28 hectares and is one of the biggest and most up-to-date customs facilities in Northeast China. It sits at the foot of a new cross-border bridge which also opened to traffic on Monday. The bridge spans the Yalu River, which separates Ji'an from Manpo on the North Korean side.
Construction of the Ji'an-Manpo road port started in 2015 and finished in 2018, with an investment of 280 million yuan ($41.7 million), according to a statement a Ji'an government media officer sent to the Global Times on Tuesday.
The new road connection will open up a more convenient road to North Hamyong Province, a major mineral resource hub as well as an industrial powerhouse in North Korea, than the existing Dandong port, Lü Chao, a research fellow at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Tuesday.
It is estimated that ports in Dandong handle around 60 percent of the total bilateral trade between China and North Korea. The two countries have 15 border ports. However, as Pyongyang is still under international sanctions, trade in mineral resources and products such as coal will be limited, Lü told the Global Times on Tuesday.
Most of the trade at the new port will be agricultural products and daily necessities. Ji'an hosts one of the earliest economic development zones in Jilin Province and produces 10 percent of ginseng in China, an industry that North Korea has a tradition of and an ambition to develop.
Besides the border facility, other projects to boost economic, cultural and people-to-people exchanges are expected in 2019, which marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of China-North Korea diplomatic relations, analysts said.
The opening of the facility also comes amid North Korea's high-profile actions to boost its economy and improve people's lives. During the past week, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un made four inspection visits to economic projects and facilities, a move seen by analysts as a demonstration of Pyongyang's determination to focus on the economy and people's livelihood ahead of its upcoming parliament meeting.
North Korea's Supreme People's Assembly is scheduled to have its first meeting this year on Thursday, South Korea's Yonghap News Agency reported Tuesday.
China exported 14.67 billion yuan worth of goods to North Korea, down by 33.3 percent year-on-year, while it imported 1.42 billion yuan worth of goods, down by 88 percent.
Chinese observers hailed these economic advances on border port construction as proof of China's constant and full support for North Korea's economic rebuilding and development. Lü said the new border facility is preparation for all-round economic and trade cooperation between the two countries once the sanctions are relaxed and fully lifted, and it is "a manifestation of China's confidence in a nuclear-free, peaceful and prosperous Korean Peninsula." The construction of the bridge was finished in 2016, but its opening was delayed by UN Security Council sanctions imposed on North Korea, Bloomberg reported Monday.
The opening of the bridge and port shows China's efforts to help with peace and stability in North Korea, after it saw Pyongyang's commitment and actions to develop its economy and to advance denuclearization since last year, Cui Zhiying, director of Tongji University's Korean Peninsula Research Center in Shanghai, told the Global Times on Tuesday.
International sanctions on North Korea are supposed to limit its nuclear capability while normal trade, economic and people-to-people exchanges should not be affected, especially as North Korea suffered natural disasters and food shortages in 2018, Cui stressed.
Though the second summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump ended with no significant progress, China continues to expect the involved parties to make joint efforts to maintain the peaceful momentum and promote dialogue, Cui said.
Neither Pyongyang nor Washington has completely shut the door on further negotiations, and denuclearizing North Korea is a long process that needs time and patience, he said.
This article was originally published in Global Times.