Chinese investment in DPRK

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Evan Ramstad offers some information on China’s investments in North Korea:

The diplomatic minuet is taking place after China increased trade with North Korea over the past four years. Last year, trade between China and North Korea jumped 41% to $2.79 billion, with most of that coming from increased exports by China.

 On Tuesday, truck traffic between the two countries resumed after a break Monday for a Chinese holiday. Dozens of trucks made the crossing in Dandong, a major city along the North Korean border.

China has been North Korea’s chief political and economic sponsor since the Soviet Union collapsed nearly 20 years ago. For much of that time, it served as donor of last resort, making up the difference when energy, food and donations to North Korea dropped off from other countries. That often amounted to $100 million to $200 million in aid.

China broke from that pattern in 2005 by boosting its exports and widening its trade surplus with North Korea. Outside experts view China’s trade surplus as the chief measure of its economic aid to North Korea because North Korea has no measurable debt instrument and little ability to narrow the trade gap.

Chinese companies, sometimes with help from the Chinese government, are investing heavily in North Korea’s mining industry, construction and light manufacturing such as textiles. Chinese consumer goods line store shelves and market stalls in North Korea.

Many executives of Chinese companies in North Korea say it’s a difficult place to operate. Among the challenges: getting money out of the country. China helped Panda Electronics Group, based in Nanjing, start a computer assembly factory with Taedong River Computer Corp. in North Korea five years ago.

North Korea’s currency, the won, can’t be converted. To move money out of the country, Panda must buy commodities in North Korea and sell them in China for cash, an executive said.

The increased business activity in North Korea reflects China’s desire to treat North Korea more as a “normal country” rather than a socialist brother entitled to unlimited assistance, scholars and analysts in China say. They say China also hopes its companies in North Korea will encourage the North’s government to open its economy as China began to do in the 1980s.

Wang Kai, a manager of Liaoning Fuxin Tianxin Technology and Development Co., says the company decided to build a pipe-making factory in North Korea because the country’s economy has few places to go but up.

“North Korea’s situation and economic status are pretty similar to China’s before the start of the opening up and reform policy,” Mr. Wang said in an interview before the rocket launch.

Others note China’s desire is to prevent North Korea’s collapse, which might pour refugees into China’s northeast.

The increased business is yielding a payoff in political influence for China in Pyongyang that’s become more important since North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il was incapacitated by illness in August. One signal that Mr. Kim was back in control came when he met in late January with a delegation of visiting diplomats from Beijing.

Read the full story here:
Economic interests shape Beijing’s Pyongyang Policy
Wall Street Journal Online
Evan Romstad
4/8/2009

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2 Responses to “Chinese investment in DPRK”

  1. […] Good read on Chinese investments in North Korea. […]

  2. Sonagi says:

    Chinese investments in North Korea aren’t just about improving the economy. They are also a means of keeping North Korea tied to China, rather than South Korea. With Kim Jong-il’s health decline, there is talk among Chinese about the need to prepare for a post-Kim North Korea, which must remain a strategic buffer against the South Korean-US alliance. On one forum for armchair military analysts, commenters discussed the feasibility of installing a puppet government friendly to Beijing.