Russia and China Vie for Najin Port

Choson Ilbo
2/2/2007
 
Russia is trying to strengthen ties with North Korea, citing a “China threat” in Korea and the Far East. The Gudok, the daily newspaper of Russian Railways, said in an article Tuesday, “If China takes control of Najin port in North Korea, Russia may suffer huge losses in the project to link the TKR (Trans-Korea Railway) and the TSR (Trans-Siberian Railway).”

Gudok is published by Vladimir Yakunin, the president and CEO of Russian Railways and one of the closest allies of Russian president Vladimir Putin. Sources say the report can be viewed as Russia’s official position as it tries to expand its influence with Pyongyang.

“China has completed feasibility studies for Najin port and is now doing repairs and upgrades to wharfs and container unloading facilities,” the article said. It said that because the port lies at the start of the Najin-Hasan Railway and does not freeze throughout a year, Russia must take hold of it.

“China has already requested that the UNDP, or UN Development Program, give the Chinese the right of free passage in the UNDP-initiated Tumen river development project. What China aims to achieve is to establish its own port in North Korea as a foothold to advance into the Pacific Ocean,” the article said. The newspaper urged the Russian government to respond aggressively.

Sources with the Korean government said Thursday, “The Russian government suggested late last year that it would pursue a railway modernization plan on a 54km stretch of the Najin-Hasan line with its own money, without support from South Korea, if we expand container transportation on the route between Busan and Najin.”

Currently only North Korean trains are in service on that stretch of railway. Russia has been working on the line since July, converting its narrow gauge to the standard that supports container transportation.

North Korea, which has sent around 10,000 construction workers and loggers to the Far East region, is welcoming closer cooperation with Russia. When president Putin announced last Saturday that Russian would spend 100 billion rubles (W3.7 trillion) to hold the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vladivostok in Russia, North Korean consulate-general Shim Kuk-ryeong in Nachodka said, “North Korea is ready to join major construction projects as soon as Vladivostok’s infrastructure development project starts.”

Russia’s efforts to expand its influence with North Korea can be seen as falling within the context of Putin’s recent emphasis on the Far East. Late last year, Putin said, “Russia’s security is now being threatened with the illegal migration of Chinese into the Far East.”

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