Stratgeic alliances in North East Asia: Railways, ports, and energy

Writing in today’s Asia Times, Dr. Leonid Petrov analyses the complexity of Russia, Rok, DPRK, and Chinese relations:

Russia and North Korea:

Territorial claims, in one form or another, involve almost all countries adjacent in this region with the exception of Russia and Korea. The Joint Russian Federation-DPRK Commission for the Demarcation of State Borders has recently completed its work by documenting and marking the 17-kilometer frontier. This strip of uninhabited and swampy land in the mouth of the Tumannaya (Tuman-gang) River plays an exceptionally important geopolitical role. It not only provides the two countries with land access to each other, but also prevents Chinese access to the East Sea (Sea of Japan).

China and North Korea: 

Here, some 50km north of the small port that forms the core of North’s Rajin-Seonbong Special Economic Zone, the interests of Russia and China are now at stake. Russia is rapidly repairing the railroad track, and China (in a similarly speedy manner) is constructing a new automobile highway, both leading from their respective borders to the port of Rajin. Russia, investing at least 1.75 billion rubles (US$72 million) into this project, seeks to strongly connect Rajin (and the rest of northern Korea) to its Trans-Siberian Railroad. China, in turn, hopes to divert the growing cargo traffic to its own territory, offering the efficient network of railroads for delivery of South Korean and Japanese goods to Central Asian and European markets. What position will the government of North Korea take in this clash of ambitions?

Russia and South Korea (energy and trade):

In 2007, the volume of the export of “black gold” from Russia to South Korea reached 38.13 million barrels (2.7 times more than in the previous year). The relative proximity of the Russian oil and gas fields is an attractive factor for Korean companies who actively search for alternatives to Middle East oil suppliers. This year South Korea will for the first time start importing natural gas from Russia. The expected volume of delivery during 2008 is 1.5 million tons (or 5.1% of South Korea’s annual demand).

and

Trade relations between Russia and Korea are steadily growing. According to customs statistics, last year Russia recorded the sharpest increase of South Korean imports (56.2% more than in 2006). Due to the inflow of “petro-dollars” the new class of nouveaux riches in Russia began actively buying Korean automobiles, cell phones, television sets and LCD monitors. South Korea exported to Russia goods worth US$8.1 billion (including $3.296 billion of automobiles, $859 million of mobile phone equipment, motor vehicles and spare parts worth $659 million). As for trade with North Korea, in 2006 Russia occupied third place after China and South Korea and absorbed 9% of the total $3.18 billion spent by the North on imports.

More on Russia/South Korea energy talk here. 

The whole article deserves reading here:
Russia lays new tracks in Korean ties
Asia Times
Leonid Petrov
3/5/2008

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  • Werner Koidl

    In that Asia Times report Dr. Petrov wrote:
    … Last year the Russian auto plant KamAZ opened its first assembly line in North Korea, specializing in the production of medium-size trucks named “Taebaeksan-96”. …

    I would be interested in more details about that KAMAZ truck assembly line in North Korea ! Where ?, joint venture ?, size ?

  • Concerning the “Taebaeksan 96” truck assembling plant, the KamAZ set it up last year (2007 or Juche 96) in the town of Pyeongseong. The terms of this deal with NK were really “friendly” and last year KamAZ was having no or very little profit. The production volume last year was very limited (45 or 48 trucks). However, it’s just the beginning of such cooperation.

    There is one technician-representative from KamAZ who manages the assembling process. He stays in Pot’onggang HTL and commutes to Pyeongseong. Many North Korean drivers and technicians seem to be technically ignorant (i.e. not knowing how to change the engine oil, etc.), so they need a new technological culture to be introduced. Russians train them well and the North Koreans are grateful.

    LP

  • Gag Halfrunt

    Now that explains the brochure for the Taebaeksan 96 I’d noticed on the Korean Friendship Association’s exports page. I was wondering how anyone could be making money from sticking badges on KamAZes and trying to sell them on. In any case, the export potential for the Taebaeksan 96 must be close to zero, since anyone outside the DPRK who wants a KamAZ can buy one assembled by KamAZ itself.

    Trying to drum up interest in the DPRK as an investment destination, the KFA say, “All business made directly with the government, state-owned companies. No middle agents.” This is amusing, because, on the Pyeonghwa car brochure on the KFA website, they’ve sneakily deleted Pyeonghwa’s own contact details and replaced them with the KFA’s email and web addresses. I think this qualifies them a “middle agent” standing between Pyeonghwa and any potential export customers…

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  • Werner Koidl

    The link “brochure of Taebaeksan-96” given by Gag Halfrunt seems to indicate that the KamAZ Taebaeksan-96 is assembled in a joint venture with Ryongwang Trading Company of North Korea. Ryongwang Trading is also the joint venture partner of Pyeonghwa Motors (Unification Church) to assemble the “Whiparam” in Nampo. And Ryongwang Trading company is also business partner of “Kohas” company from Switzerland. And because of its connections to Ryongwang this Swiss company got in troubles with the US administration.

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