The role of China in DPRK liberalization

From the Daily NK:

The chief researcher of the SeoJong Institute, Yang Un Chul, presented his report entitled ‘The Political Economic Implications of Chinese Economic Cooperation with North Korea, ‘ and revealed that, “Recently North Korea has been isolated from the international community because of its nuclear weapons development program. This isolation has led to North Korea’s economic dependence on China. It has also caused some people to worry about the possible economic subornation of North Korea to China. However, this is just an unlikely scenario.”

Yang explained, “Recently the trade between North Korea and China has sharply increased. In 2004, its trade with China amounted to 40% of its total trade. As for Dandong, an advance trading partner with North Korea, in 2005 frontier trade grew dramatically enough to record a 26.5% growth rate.” Yang explained the concern over this this growth rate: “Due to such increasing support and investment, some people fervently insist that China is trying to economically transform and colonize North Korea into a fourth Northeast Chinese province (Jilin, Liaoning, Heilongjiang and North Korea).”

In his research, Yang points out, “The exceptional incidence that one country is in subordination to another country can only occur in a situation of very limited market availability.” He went on to explain that, “The fact that North Korea is dependent on China for food, energy and other necessities, is a result of North Korea’s choice to source only from China, despite the availability of resources from other markets.”

It is Yang’s assertion as well that, “The excessive precaution against China or even the exaggeration of China’s influence over North Korea, actually works against North Korea’s economic recovery.” Likewise, he states, “Since China currently has relatively more influence over North Korea than we do, its penetration of the North Korean economy – promoting liberalization and true economic reform – could be an effective way to promote North Korean economic development.”

Yang emphasized that, “Unlike in the past, the Chinese government is no longer able to control North Korea’s economic activity to serve Chinese interests. Instead, the Chinese government now faces the responsibility of trying to help North Korea develop a certain level of economic independence.”

“China knows that if North Korean economic cooperation could be established with the U.S. and South Korea, China’s burden would be more manageable and North Korea could reform more quickly,” Yang explained. However, he also noted that the reality of this level of international cooperation is highly unlikely, stating, “The problem is that since North Korea does not trust the intentions of the U.S. and South Korea, China cannot help but face the difficulty of taking on North Korea alone.”

Yang’s research contends that Chinese-style economic reforms are not the most efficient way to develop North Korea’s economy, however, they may be the only effective option at this time. He stated, “China’s main goal for assisting Norh Korea is simply to maintain the stability of the Northeast region. At the same time, China acknowledges the fact that it is unlikely North Korea will normalize relations with the U.S., and therefore North Korea, by default, will turn to China for economic guidance. The price of implementing the same style of reforms that has shaped 3 of China’s most backward provinces will be high, but the market growth and gradually increasing international influence over the North Korean economy that Chinese-style reforms can offer, are still the second best option for North Korea.”

On the other hand, Yang insisted that “It is not necessary to worry about Chinese companies occupying North Korea, as some South Koreans have raised concerns over.” Instead, he explained that companies are bound to carve out lucrative markets through investment and marketing, and that “Currently, due to the unique North-South relations, and the difficulty of investing in North Korea, Chinese companies should actually be encouraged to enter, invest in and sell commodities to North Korea; activity that will benefit both countries’ economies.”

Subsequently, Yang explained, “China’s influence over North Korea can be effective in teaching North Korea about international labor divisions and the principles of market economies. If China can bring about the concepts of reasonable pricing, and market and income redistribution, China’s intervention could be instrumental in discarding North Korea’s planned economy, and finally allowing a market economy to emerge.”


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