Jang’s purge to affect HGP and Rason economic Zones

The Asahi Shimbun reports on the Hwanggumphyong SEZ (2013-12-19):

The execution last week of Jang Song Thaek, North Korea’s de facto No. 2 leader, has taken its toll on a joint project with China to develop Hwanggumphyong island across the border from this city in Liaoning province.

Jang, uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was believed to be in charge of relations with China and overall economic affairs. His purge could continue to have further ramifications on economic cooperation with and investment from China.

Hwanggumphyong island is an 11-square-kilometer swath of North Korean territory in the Yalu river that defines the border with China. A bilateral joint development venture there, kicked off by a ground-breaking ceremony in June 2011, was halted temporarily after North Korea insisted on having its troops stationed on the island.

But both sides agreed to rejuvenate the project and set up a joint steering committee when Jang visited China in August 2012. Beijing committed to investing 80 million yuan (1.4 billion yen, or $13 million) and has since been laying the groundwork on the island.

The North Korean official in charge of the venture, however, was recalled immediately following Jang’s purge, and construction work was also halted around the same time, sources in the steering committee said. A Chinese member of the steering committee reported to the central government in Beijing that quick changes in North Korea made it difficult to achieve the initial goal for attracting firms to Hwanggumphyong island.

The steering committee has touted the advantages of being able to rely on cheap North Korean labor in a bid to attract 30 firms from China, Taiwan and elsewhere before the year is out, but only a handful of companies have come forward with decisions to set up shop on the island amid widespread concern about investments associated with North Korea.

The purge of Jang, who was the main contact for joint China-North Korea ventures, has probably alienated most decent investors, said an embittered Chinese official in the steering committee.

North Korea has also been calling for Chinese investment in the Rason Economic and Trade Zone in the country’s northeast. But Pyongyang sent investors into panic when it accused Jang of an “act of treachery” in “selling off the land of the Rason Economic and Trade Zone to a foreign country” during his trial. He was also accused of attempting “subversion of the state.”

North Korea has sought to rehabilitate its moribund economy by attracting foreign capital to specially designated economic zones. It released an ordinance in late November, for example, to designate “economic development zones” in its various provinces.

It is believed there will be no change to that policy line, which has received Kim Jong Un’s endorsement.

Many observers believe Premier Pak Pong Ju, who has been engaged in practical aspects of economic management under Jang’s supervision, will take charge of overall economic affairs.

“Pyongyang will probably expand the role of Pak, who is believed to be an economic reformist, so as to reassure investors,” said one diplomatic source.

But investor confidence is expected to remain weak in the short term, because Jang’s execution was undoubtedly perceived as an “investment risk” in the eyes of Chinese and other foreign investors.

“It is by no means easy to regain the confidence of private-sector capitalists who were shaken up by the purge,” said one Chinese investment adviser who visits Rason frequently. “It will take time before concerns are quelled.”

The JoongAng Daily reports on the Rason SEZ (2013-12-6):

The Rason Special Economic Zone, which was headed by Jang Song-thaek, the once-powerful uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, has been left as a ghost town after Jang’s purge, and several North Korean officials who worked in the zone are under questioning, a source in China said.

“On Nov. 3 to 4, I visited the Rason economic district,” the source exclusively told the JoongAng Ilbo, “but I couldn’t meet with the two main officials in charge of the zone’s development because they were both sent to Pyongyang.

“The two officials were in the inner circle of Jang Song-thaek and they were in charge of developing economic zones of North Korea,” the source said.

The Rason Special Economic Zone is one of the most ambitious attempts by North Korea at limited economic reforms. The district has been developed since Jang visited China in August 2012.

In August 2012, North Korea and China’s [Jilin] provincial government launched a DPRK-China Rajin-Sonbong management committee for full-fledged development of the zone, according to the source. The [Jilin] government dispatched about 50 Chinese officials, while Pyongyang sent about 30 to the committee.

With the purge of Jang, most of the Chinese officials have left the zone, and the North Korean officials are scheduled to return to Pyongyang soon. All activities at three piers in Rason’s port have stopped with the downfall of Jang. The first pier, run by a Dalian-based Chinese company, suspended its transportation of coal, and the construction of a second pier has been halted. The construction of a third pier by a Russian builder was also suspended.

“Last year, the development of the Rason district seemed very dynamic,” said another source knowledgeable about North Korea.

“But most Chinese businessmen did not trust North Korea’s polices, and the Chinese government did not offer guarantees on investment in the district so, in fact, there wasn’t much progress.

“Despite the fact that development was slow, Jang’s aides invited some girls to the district and held a big soiree at a floating restaurant, which could be one of the reasons for Jang’s purge,” the source said.

Read the full story here:
Jang’s execution halts China-N. Korea joint venture, alienates investors
Asahi Shimbun
Koichiro Ishida
2013-12-19

With purge, Rason zone is ghost town
JoongAng Daily
Hoi Hyung-Kyu, Kim Hee-jin
2013-12-6

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