Young Pioneer Tours

What Is Hwanggumpyong Island?

Cute islands in the middle of rivers might have romantic overtones, but more often than not they can prove to be right royal pains in the ass! There have been more than a few conflicts over useless rocks over the years.

On the Tumen and Yalu rivers there are a total of 468 islands – islands that were settled in a 1962 treaty between China and North Korea, with North Korea getting 280, China 187, and Russia only one (to be fair, they already have a lot of islands).

Overall they were quite grown up about the whole exchange, with it being based mostly on who was living on said islands (ethnically) rather than strict geography. This has meant a number of islands being closer to one country than the other, but being owned by the other side.

Hwanggumpyong Island is an island on the Yalu, which forms part of the land border between North Korea and China. The majority of the island belongs to North Korea, as in 1962 it was mostly Koreans living here. Fun geek fact: it is an exclave on the Chinese side of the river.

Enclave and exclave semantics aside, what makes Hwanggumpyong Island so interesting is the proposed special economic and tourist zone started in 2011, with work continuing until 2013. At the time there was high talk of casinos, high-end hotels and the usual other SEZ parlance that gets thrown around during these kind of projects.

Alas, as these things sometimes go, work now appears to have either stopped or has been drastically dialled down, and there is no sign of an SEZ in the near future.

So what does the future hold for the plucky little islet? Damned if we know, but we’ll be sure to check it every year on our Borderlands Tour!