DPRK mining investment woes (Musan)

UPDATE 2 (2013-1-17):  The latest issue of Digital Globe’s World View magazine contains information on the Musan Mine (page 7):

[…]In a New Year’s message, North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, urged North Korea to become an economic powerhouse by improving productivity. He specifically mentioned the Musan Mine, as it is one of the largest iron ore mines in the region with a reserve of approximately three billion tonnes of ore.  This announcement comes after a Chinese investment firm, Tianchi Industry and Trade, pulled out of the mine in the early fall of 2012.  North Korea demanded a price increase of 20%, on top of the 50-year lease that had been in place since 2005.  With the price increase, Tianchi did not feel the location could remain profitable, and North Korea refused to renegotiate.  As a result, the associated smelter in China was shut down in September 2012.  The presents a loss for the Jilin provincial government in China, which had extended a rail line 42 kilometers to the border to transport ore north after it was processed at the smelter.  With the departure of the Chinese investment firm, the Musan Iron Ore Mine is currently operated by North Korea’s Ministry of Mines. The mine has the potential to produce 1.5 million tonnes of ore a year if the North Koreans can operate it at its former capacity under Tainchi.

UPDATE 1 (2012-10-17):  The Choson Ilbo has picked up on this story first reported in the Hankyoreh last month, yet they have a different English name for the Chinese company. According to the  article:

The Chinese apparently baulked at a price increase of more than 20 percent demanded by the North, although international iron ore prices are plummeting in the wake of the global recession. They won 50-year extraction rights for the mine in 2005.

A smelter in the Chinese province of Jilin near the border with North Korea and operated by Tianchi Industry and Trade, the Chinese partner to the Musan Mine, closed down in September, according to a source in Yanbian on Tuesday. The smelter used to process iron ore extracted at the mine.

The source added, “There’s been no progress in the implementation of plans to lay a railway line and a slurry pipeline between Nanping and Musan.”

Tianchi Industry and Trade turned down the North’s demand, saying it makes hardly any profit as is given wages for North Korean workers and transportation costs.

Tianchi, a private trading company based in Yanbian, has served as a conduit for iron ore produced at the Musan Mine to the Chinese market since the early 1990s. It obtained the extraction rights to the mine in 2005 after concluding a trilateral joint-venture contract with Tonghua Iron and Steel, a Chinese state-run iron and steel mill, and [North] Korea Ferrous Metals Export and Import Corporation.

Tianchi hired North Korean workers and extracted 1 to 1.5 million tons of iron ore at Musan every year, which it supplied to Tonghua and other companies.

But the first cracks in the deal appeared in 2009, and iron ore production had been intermittent since then and stopped completely this year.

The Jilin provincial government has also been hit because it already laid a 41.68 km railway line leading to the border town of Nanping since November last year.

ORIGINAL POST (2012-9-13): We have already heard about Xiyang. Today the Hankyoreh tells us about problems with the Musan Mine…

Pictured Above (Google Earth): Musan Mine

According to the article:

However, not all business between North Korea and China is rosy. An iron-smelting factory in Helong City, Jilin, that was visited on Sept. 5, had to close its doors. It used to be a place where iron from across the Yalu River was brought from North Korea‘s Musan iron mine and processed. A railroad was expected to run from the two cities by October of last year in order to increase the amount of iron brought into China. But the construction was never completed. A Chinese company called the Yanbian Cheon-ji Industry Trading Company had rights to the Musan mine for fifty years starting in 2005.

There are many guesses as to why this happened: “North Korea was asking for a price increase of 20% while the price of iron has declined in the rest of the world;” “There was trouble between the Chinese government and the new Kim Jong-un regime on negotiating development rights;” “There was a downfall of development due to differences with foreign investors about investing in electrical power.” No one knows clearly what the reason was, and there are still busy trying to figure out what is the real situation.

Here is the original story:
China adjusts to influx of cheap North Korean labor
Hankyoreh
Song Kyung-hwa
2012-9-13

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