Archive for the ‘Russia’ Category

Rajin (Rason) port 3 open for business

Friday, July 18th, 2014

According to KCNA:

Wharf No. 3 of Rajin Port Goes Operational

Rason, July 18, 2014 20:13 KST (KCNA) — Wharf No. 3 of Rajin Port has been built with success in the DPRK.

The building of the wharf pursuant to the plan for cooperation between the DPRK and Russia provided another foundation for making a positive contribution to boosting the friendly and cooperative relations between the two countries and economic and trade relations among countries of Europe and Northeast Asia.

An inaugural ceremony took place in Rason City Friday.

Present there were Jon Kil Su, minister of Railways, officials concerned and working people in the city.

Also present there were Vladimir Yakunin, president of the Russian Railways Company, Yury Viktorovich Bochkarev, consul general of the Russian Federation in Chongjin, those concerned of railways and other Russian guests and staff members of foreign embassies in the DPRK.

Vladimir Yakunin in a speech said he was pleased with the completion of the wharf.

The wharf is capable of loading and unloading millions of tons of coal, he said, expressing belief that such joint work would not only develop the bilateral cooperation but promote friendship and mutual understanding between the two countries.

Jon Kil Su said in his speech that the successful reconstruction of the Rajin-Khasan railway section and the completion of Wharf No. 3 of Rajin Port are precious products of the vitality of the Moscow Declaration signed by leader Kim Jong Il and President V. V. Putin. He noted that the transport channel newly provided in the spirit of friendship and cooperation between the two peoples would satisfactorily play the role of a friendship bridge linking Europe and Northeast Asia and, through this, the international position of the Rason Economic and Trade Zone would be further enhanced.

Then followed congratulatory speeches.

A reception was given on the same day.

According to ITAR-TASS:

A new Russian-North Korean terminal was commissioned on Friday in Rajin, which is the major seaport of the North Korean Rason trade and economic zone located in the northeast of the republic. Thus, the pilot part of the project aimed at the reconstruction of the Trans-Korean railway from Russia’s Hasan to the seaport of Rajinis over. Relevant agreement of the heads of Russian, North and South Korean railway authorities was signed in Russia’s Siberian city of Irkutsk in 2006.

Russian Railways’ (RZD) subsidiary, RZD Trade House, and the Rajin port had established the joint venture Rason Con Trans in order to carry out the modernization process. The cargo traffic capacity of the new high-tech multi-purpose facility is about five million tonnes a year. The initial stage of the terminal operation envisions supplies of coal and other bulky goods towards the port. Alongside with cargo transshipment and storage, the terminal makes it possible to organize coal magnetic cleaning and coal separating.

“Today, we are eyeing the loading of the first ship with Russia-mined coal,” RZD President Vladimir Yakunin told the terminal commissioning ceremony. “We are interested in bigger amounts of cargoes in the terminal and higher number of vessels, which will represent the whole world. The launching of the terminal is expected to be fruitful and beneficial not only for the economy of North Korea, but also business communities of neighbor states.”

Jointly with representatives from Russia and North Korea, businessmen from South Korea were also attending the ceremony.

This Russian source had a good summary of events leading up to the opening (Translated by Google):

The official ceremony is scheduled for July 18 in Rajin, which is considered the main port of the SRE. Investment in the project is mainly carried out by the Russian side.The volume of transshipment terminal at the first stage is planned at 4-5 million tons, according to ITAR-TASS.

Initially, the terminal was planned for container transport, but in agreement with the leadership of North Korea until it will be used for the carriage of the Russian coal. In the future, is expected to increase traffic and expand the range of goods.

Agreement to begin the reconstruction of the railway line from the Russian station to Hassan and the port of Rajin as a pilot project to restore the Trans-Korean Railway was reached in 2006. The project started in October 2008, when an agreement was signed between the “Russian Railways” and the Ministry of Railway Transport of the DPRK to cooperate in its implementation. The project is implemented by the joint venture “RasonKonTrans”, created in the same year, with the share of JSC “RZD Trading House” (70%) and the port of Rajin (30%).

In October 2011, a team of machinists Far Eastern Railways of Russia led a demonstration container train in Rajin, opening cargo traffic between the two countries. To control the movement of trains on the line Hasan – Rajin, a special control center with the participation of specialists “RasonKonTrans” and North Korean shipping company “Donghae”.

34 specialists from the DPRK have been trained in the training centers of the Far Eastern Railway.

In the future, when the message will be set up all over trnskoreyskoy magitrali – from the South Korean port of Pusan ​​through Korea to Russia, will be able to refocus on the Russian Trans-Siberian significant portion of goods that are currently going by sea from South Korea to Europe.

According to experts, these advantages have Rajin – ice-free port on the eastern coast of North Korea with the developed infrastructure, which uses Russian standard gauge with a high degree of security for shippers and benefits for entrepreneurs.

Additional information:

1. The Russia-Rason Railway that services the port was opened in September 2013.

2. Russia has already tested the port and made sure everything worked before its official opening.

3. South Korea is also interested in the Rajin port.

4. There has been some confusion on the legal status of the various piers at Rajin. I help shed some light on the confusion here.

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Increase in DPRK-Vladivostok air travel in 2014

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

Air passenger traffic between the North Korean capital and the neighboring Russian port city of Vladivostok surged more than 20 percent in the first half of 2014 from a year earlier, a news report said Wednesday, amid signs of closer ties between the two nations.

The number of passengers between Sunan International Airport in Pyongyang and Vladivostok International Airport in the Russian Far East shot up 22 percent on-year during the January-June period, the Washington-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported.

It cited data from the Vladivostok airport, which did not reveal the exact number of passengers and the reason for the jump.

However, RFA attributed the surge to increased bilateral exchanges and cooperation in economic, tourism and other fields.

The sharp increase compares with a 1.7 percent drop in the number of users of Vladivostok International Airport during the six-month period, which totaled 838,000, it said.

North Korea’s Air Koryo operates the Tupolev Tu-204 aircraft twice a week, on Mondays and Fridays, on the Pyongyang-Vladivostok route.

Read the whole story here:
Pyongyang-Vladivostok passengers up 22 pct in H1: report
Yonhap
2014-7-16

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DPRK-Russia ties expanding

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

According to Yonhap:

Cross-border trade between North Korea and Russia jumped 37 percent to US$104 million in 2013 from the $76 million recorded in the previous year, according to a report by Lee Yong-hwa, a researcher at the private think tank Hyundai Research Institute.

“The North is believed to have forged deeper relations with Russia in an effort to revitalize its economy and prevent it from becoming excessively dependent on China,” Lee said in the report.

The researcher said the two countries’ economic cooperation is forecast to grow further going forward as the North’s attempts to revitalize its moribund economy coincide with Russia’s bid to develop its Far Eastern regions.

According to the report, the portion of trade between North Korea and Far Eastern Russia out of the two nations’ total trade volume surged to 23.1 percent in 2013 from the 10 percent tallied in 2009, indicating that Russia’s Far East development policies have added to the overall bilateral trade expansion.

The socialist country has also tightened relations with Russia in other business areas including transportation and logistics as well as in the energy industry, the report added.

China was the biggest trading partner for North Korea last year with their bilateral trade volume reaching $6.54 billion, according to data from the Korea International Trade Association (KITA).

But trade between the two Koreas fell to its lowest level in eight years in 2013 due to their strained relations. Inter-Korean trade reached $1.15 billion last year, down a whopping 41.9 percent from the previous year’s $1.98 billion, the data showed.

Read the full story here:
Russia-N. Korea economic ties expanding: report
Yonhap
2014-7-3

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DPRK-Russia personnel exchanges and economic cooperation expand

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2014-5-8

North Korea and Russia have been garnering attention lately as closer ties are being formed between the two nations through personnel exchanges and increased economic cooperation. It may even appear as though Russia has begun to edge out China as North Korea’s closest ally.
 
An event was held in Pyongyang on April 28, 2014 in celebration of Russia’s donation of dozens of fire engines to North Korea, openly showing the close ties between the two nations. In attendance were high-level officials from both countries, including Deputy Prime Minister and Presidential Envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District Yury Trutnev from Russia and Ro Tu Chol, Vice Premier of the Cabinet of the DPRK.
 
Through this ceremony, it can be seen that Russia is expanding the variety of goods and aid provided to North Korea, which mainly consisted of basic supplies such as food and medicine. In addition to the donation ceremony, many other events showing improved economic cooperation between the two nations were held that day. Such events include the signing of an economic and trade cooperation agreement between the DPRK’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and the Russian Federation’s Amur Regional Government, and the signing of a cooperation agreement between the railway transportation sectors of the DPRK’s Ministry of Railways and Mostovik Scientific and Production Organization, a large Russian corporation specializing in design and construction.
 
Prior to the ceremony, a delegation from the Russian Center for Energy and Security Studies visited North Korea from April 22 to 28, and another delegation from the Russian state of Sakhalin signed an economic cooperation and trade protocol with North Korea on April 24. The spur in Russian economic cooperation and high-level visits to North Korea seems to have started with Rustam Minnikhanov, President of the Republic of Tatarstan, who ventured to Pyongyang late last March.
 
The recent development in relations between the Russian Federation and the DPRK is clearly reflected in North Korean state media, which in the month of April published nearly 200 articles mentioning Russia. Meanwhile, articles mentioning China numbered at a mere 120 during the same time period.
 
On the other hand, the exchanges between China and North Korea are on a downslide. An overview of North Korean media reports last month reveal that except for China’s National Tourism Administration friendship delegation that paid a visit to Pyongyang on April 25, no other exchanges were observed between the two nations last month. The DPRK-China trade volume for the first quarter decreased 2.83 percent to 1.27 billion USD from the previous year.
 
The fewer exchanges between China and North Korea are believed to have some connection to the purge of Jang Song Thaek which occurred in December 2013. Thus, the rise in recent exchanges between Russia and North Korea can be seen as North Korea’s effort to reduce its dependence on China.
 
The Kim Jong Un regime continues to emphasize the importance of diversifying trade for the country’s economic development. For Russia, there is a need to expand friendly relations with North Korea to widen Moscow’s political and economic influence on the Korean peninsula and gain access to more ice-free ports like North Korea’s Rajin Port. Moreover, this may be in line with Russia’s strategic effort to seek a breakthrough with the United States and other Western countries on the Ukrainian crisis by strengthening cooperation with North Korea.

NKeconWatch: 38 North has more analysis here.

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DPRK signs economic agreement with local Russian governments

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

Not much specific information is available, but the DPRK has signed economic agreements with Russia’s Amur and Sakhalin Regions.

According to RIA Novosti:

North Korea’s Foreign Trade Ministry and the authorities of Russia’s Amur region in the country’s southeast have signed an economic cooperation agreement, the Yonhap news agency reports.

“An agreement on trade and economic cooperation was signed between the DPRK ministry of Foreign Trade and the Amur Regional Government of the Russian Federation,” Yonhap cited Pyongyang’s KCNA state news agency as saying Monday.

According to the Korean Central News Agency, the accord was signed Monday during the visit of Yuri Trutnev, a Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Putin’s official envoy to Russia’s Far Eastern Region.

As part of his North Korea trip, Yuri Trutnev met with the Cabinet’s Vice President Ro Tu-chol and reportedly shared his views on a broader economic cooperation between the two nations, among other issues.

The agreement between Moscow and Pyongyang is another step towards closer economic partnership in the Far Eastern region, after the Amur territory on China’s northern border signed a fraternity and trade deal with Korea’s South Pyongan province in 2011.

A similar economic cooperation agreement was signed last week between Pyongyang and the local government of Russia’s Sakhalin region.

Voice of Russia reports the following:

North Korean’s Foreign Trade Ministry and the government of Russia’s far-eastern Amur region have signed an agreement on trade and economic cooperation, the Yonhap news agency reports with reference to the Korea Central News Agency (KCNA).

The agreement was signed on Monday during a visit to Pyongyang of a Russian delegation led by Deputy Prime Minister and Presidential Plenipotentiary in the Far-Eastern Federal District Yuri Trutnev.

No further details have been immediately available.

A wide range of matters, connected with the development of political, trade-and-economic cooperation will be discussed in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) by Yuri Trutnev, Russia’s Vice-Premier and Russia’s plenipotentiary presidential representative in the Far Eastern Federal District.

An official at the Russian Embassy to the DPRK said that Trutnev would arrive here by air on Monday by a special flight at the head of a Russian delegation for a three-day visit, TASS reports.

Apart from talks with DPRK officials, the Vice-Premier will attend a ceremony marking the handover of a large consignment of fire-engines to the Korean side.

The delegation will also lay flowers to the Liberation Monument here. The Monument bears an inscription “Eternal glory to the Great Soviet Army that liberated the Korean People from the yoke of Japanese militarists and opened up the road for the Korean people to freedom and independence!”.

The delegation leader will be accompanied by Primorsky Territory Governor Vladimir Miklushevsky, Khabarovsk Territory Governor Vyacheslav Shport, and Amur Region Governor Oleg Kozhemyako.

In March this year, the DPRK was visited by President Rustam Minnikhanov of the Republic of Tatarstan, as well as by Alexander Galushka, Russian Minister for the Development of the Far East. The latter attended a meeting of the Co-Chairmen of the Intergovernmental Commission for Trade-and-Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation between the Russian Federation and the DPRK as head of the Russian part of the Commission.

Moscow and Pyongyang actively strengthen economic contacts of late. The delegations of Russia and the DPRK attended a meeting the international “Organization for Cooperation of Railways. It is reckoned that the Organization’s main goals are to develop international freight and passenger transportation, and establish a Common Railway Transportation Space in Eurasia. This year the Organization’s conference is being attended for the first time by South Korea as well.

Tense relations between Pyongyang and Seoul are keeping on at the political level. Nevertheless, Russia is calling on the two countries to reach agreement between each other and take part in implementing the project for linking up the inter-Korean Railway and the Trans-Siberian Mainline Railway (Trans-Sib).

Railway transport is one of important areas of cooperation between Russia and the DPRK. A ceremony marking the completion of the upgrading of the railway section running from the Russian station of Khasan to the North Korean city of Rajin was held in the Republic in September last year. Work has been also completed to bring into being a general-purpose trans-shipment terminal in Rajin the principal port in the Rason trade-and-economic zone.

The upgrading of the infrastructure of the Khasan-Rajin railway leg is viewed as the pilot segment of the reconstruction of the entire Trans-Korea Railway. In prospect, when railway communication from the South Korean port of Pusan via the DPRK to Russia is established in full, an opportunity will open up to reorient to Russia’s Trans-Sib a considerable part of goods, which are currently shipped now via a trans-oceanic seaway from South Korea to Europe.

The possibility is being explored for inviting South Korean businessmen to participate in developing the railway transportation infrastructure o the DPRK, including port facilities.

Here is some comprehensive analysis by 38 North.

Here is some more analysis at the Hankoyreh.

Read the full stories here:
Russia, North Korea Strike Economic Cooperation Deal
RIA Novosti
2014-4-29

N Korea, Russia’s Amur region seal regional cooperation deal
Voice of Russia
2014-4-29

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Russia reportedly exporting coal from Rason to China

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

2013-12-1-Russian-pier-Rason

Pictured Above (Google Earth): A December 2013 satellite image of the Russian Pier in Rason Port

UPDATE 1 (2014-4-14): This Russian-language source has different information.

ORIGINAL POST (2014-4-8): According to the Moscow Times:

Russian Railways has put to use the North Korean port it helped to upgrade recently.

The state-owned railway operator said Tuesday it had started carrying Siberian coal to the port of Rajin, in what may be the first attempt to utilize the harbor after it reopened in September.

“The company has started to provide a full suite of services to ship coal through Rajin to Asia-Pacific countries,” said a statement from Russian Railways logistics subsidiary, RZhD Logistika.

A joint venture between Russian Railways and the North Korean Ministry of Railways has rebuilt one of the port’s wharfs and a rail link connecting it to Russia in a rare example of foreign involvement in the economy of the isolated dictator state. The joint venture, RasonKonTrans, where Russia holds 70 percent, sought to relieve the congestion at Russia’s Pacific ports.

Coal miner and steelmaker Mechel is the sender of the coal consignments, according to Nadezhda Malysheva, chief editor of port industry portal PortNews.

Both Mechel and RzhD Logistica spokespersons declined to comment.

Russian Railways chief Vladimir Yakunin traveled to Rajin for a grand opening of the rail service and the wharf in September. The company invested 9 billion rubles ($250 million) to upgrade both. Russian engineers supervised the work, while Koreans largely contributed with unskilled labor.

The Russian terminal at Rajin, Asia’s most northerly all-year ice-free port, will at first handle just coal freight from Russia to ship it further to China’s eastern and southeastern provinces. Further plans are to equip it to be able to provide container services.

RZhD Logistika loaded a total of 9,000 metric tons of coal on two freight trains of 130 cars each to carry to Rajin at the end of last month, it said in the statement. The cargo will next go to China’s ports of Shanghai, Lianyungang and Guangzhou.

Current load capacity of port Rajin is 4 million tons of coal a year.

Russia’s biggest coal export port, Vostochny, which sits on the Pacific coast, has the capacity to handle 18 million tons a year, Malysheva said. It and the other key coal port of Vanino operate at the top of their capacity, as exports of the fuel to Asia have increased, she said.

Coal remains the principal fuel for electricity generation at power plants in China. But its coal price declined 10 percent last year because of strong rivalry among Russian suppliers and competition from Australia, the RZhD Logistika statement said.

Even so, the government last week backed a plan to boost development of the coal-mining industry in the country’s Far East to cater to Asian markets. The idea is to have a shorter transportation leg for the shipments, compared with the distance that the coal travels from Siberia.

Additional Information:

China has  a coal terminal at Rason as well and has used it for intra-Chinese coal shipment.

South Korea also has an interest in the Rason Port.

Read the full story here:
First Russian Coal Heads to North Korean Port
Moscow Times
Anatoly Medetsky
2014-4-8

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Russia and DPRK discuss economic opportunities

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

What are the opportunities? Rason port, Iron Silk Road (Rail), Kaesong Industrial Complex, gas pipeline.

According to RIA Novosti:

Russia and North Korea have signed a new protocol to transition to using the ruble for payments between the two countries as part of an effort to boost annual bilateral trade to $1 billion by 2020, Russia’s Far East Development Ministry said Friday.

The announcement came as Russian officials have expressed a desire to explore new markets for the country’s businesses, following the introduction of sanctions by the West in reaction to Moscow’s stance over Crimea. Russian leaders have simultaneously reassured international investors the country remains open for business, and there are no plans to restrict international commerce.

The protocol announced Friday came following a visit of a Russian delegation to the Asian country for a meeting of a standing bilateral commission, timed to mark the 65th anniversary of a cooperation agreement between the Soviet Union and North Korea.

The parties agreed to move towards settling payments in rubles as well as adopting further measures to boost bilateral trade, including easing visa procedures and providing for Russian access to proposed special economic zones in the country, the ministry’s statement said.

The ministry reaffirmed the countries’ mutual interest in joint projects with South Korea, including international connections for railways [Iron Silk Road], gas pipelines and power lines.

The Russian delegation also proposed the entry of Russian businesses into the Kaesong Industrial Park, a special economic zone in North Korea just north of Seoul where South Korean companies are allowed to employ northern workers.

The two sides identified areas for further cooperation, including a transshipment complex at the port of Rason and technical cooperation for the modernization of North Korea’s mining sector, automobile industry and electric power plants.

According to the statement, during the talks Russian Far East Development Minister Alexander Galushka emphasized that achieving such goals would only be possible if stability is maintained on the Korean peninsula.

The next meeting of the bilateral commission is scheduled for June in Russia’s far eastern Vladivostok.

Here is what Yonhap reports:

North Korea and Russia have agreed to boost economic ties by pushing for trilateral projects involving South Korea, including a plan to support Russian companies’ entry into an inter-Korean industrial complex, a media report said Saturday.

The agreement between the two was made earlier this week when Russia’s Far East Development Minister Alexander Galushka visited the North for a five-day run until Friday to explore ways to boost bilateral economic cooperation, according to the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

“The Russian delegation proposed the entry of Russian businesses into the Kaesong Industrial Park, a special economic zone in North Korea just north of Seoul where South Korean companies are allowed to employ northern workers,” the RIA Novosti reported, citing the ministry.

Officials of Seoul’s unification ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, welcomed the agreement between the North and Russia, while stressing the importance of Russia’s prior consultation with the South.

“Russian companies’ making inroads into the Kaesong park is desirable in terms of the internationalization of the complex … It would also prevent the North from unilaterally reversing its agreement with Seoul over the Kaeesong operation,” the ministry official said, requesting anonymity.

Internationalization of the enclave, a symbol of inter-Korean detente, is one of the key topics for inter-Korean meetings aimed at ensuring its normal operations and further invigorating the complex. The Kaesong park resumed operations in September, more than five months after the North unilaterally closed it in anger over Seoul-Washington joint military exercises.

“But it is crucial for Russia to discuss the matter with our side first as it is basically operated by the South Korean authorities,” he added.

A handful of companies from China, Australia and Germany have so far expressed interests in making an investment in the Kaesong complex, prompting the Seoul government to review holding joint presentation sessions with the North to lure investors from overseas, according to another ministry official.

Here is additional information from Yonhap on recent shipments from Russia to the DPRK:

Russia exported US$21.16 million’s worth of jib cranes, machinery used mostly for cargo handling at ports, to North Korea last year, accounting for nearly 22 percent of its total exports to the North, according to the report by the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA). The amount surpasses that of Russia’s traditional export goods such as coal, petroleum and bituminous oil.

There were no records of the machines being exported to North Korea the year before, with the 2011 amount standing at $139,000.

North Korea and Russia maintain economic relations that include a project that would make North Korea’s northeastern port city of Rajin a logistics hub by connecting it to Russia’s Trans-Siberian Railway. North Korea is said to have agreed to a long-term lease of the No. 3 dock at Rajin port to Russia and that it is modernizing facilities there. The cranes may be for such modernization efforts, the KOTRA report said.

Also noteworthy is Russia’s exports of ambulances to the North, amounting to approximately 10.1 billion won ($9.45 million), the fourth largest in terms of value. Ambulances are a relatively new product on the trade list.

KCNA’s reporting of the meeting was much more muted:

DPRK Premier Meets Minister of Development of Far East of Russia

Pyongyang, March 26 (KCNA) — Pak Pong Ju, premier of the DPRK Cabinet, met Alexandr Galushka, minister of the Development of Far East of Russia who is chairman of the Russian side to the Inter-governmental Committee for Cooperation in Trade, Economy, Science and Technology between the DPRK and Russia, and his party.

He had a friendly talk with them who paid a courtesy call on him at the Mansudae Assembly Hall on Wednesday.

Minutes of Talks between Governments of DPRK, Russia Signed

Pyongyang, March 26 (KCNA) — Minutes of talks on cooperation in trade, economy, science and technology between the governments of the DPRK and Russia were signed here Wednesday.

Present at the signing ceremony were Ri Ryong Nam, minister of Foreign Trade who is chairman of the DPRK side to the Inter-governmental Committee for Cooperation in Trade, Economy, Science and Technology between the DPRK and Russia, and officials concerned, Alexandr Galushka, minister for the Development of Far East who is chairman of the Russian side to the Inter-governmental Committee, and his party and Alexandr Timonin, Russian ambassador to the DPRK.

Ri Ryong Nam and Alexandr Galushka signed the minutes of the talks.

Read the full story here:
Russia, North Korea Agree to Settle Payments in Rubles in Trade Pact
RIA Novosti
2014-3-28

N. Korea, Russia to discuss supporting Moscow firms’ advance into Kaesong park
Yonhap
2014-3-29

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Russia to forgive DPRK debt (2006-present)

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

UPDATE 9 (2014-6-5): RIA Novosti reports that Russia and the DPRK will begin negotiating bilateral trade contracts in rubles rather than dollars. According to the article:

Russia and North Korea are preparing to launch bilateral transactions in the Russian ruble this month to boost trade turnover between the two nations to $1 billion by 2020, Russia’s Far East Development Minister said Thursday.

In May 2014, Moscow agreed to write off 10.94 billion of Pyongyang’s Soviet debt with the remaining 1.09 billion to be paid in installments over the next 20 years.

“The decision to write off DPRK’s debt to Russia has opened up the way to resolve a wide range of issues that was previously blocked by this debt load. Ruble transactions between Russia and DPRK will begin as early as this month, with first bank accounts to be set up in Russian banks,” Far East’s Development Minister Alexander Galushko said.

North Korea currently uses euros as the official currency in settling overseas trade deals.

The announcement came on the heels of a meeting in Russia’s far eastern city of Vladivostok where Galushko took part in the sixth annual session of the Russian-Korean standing commission, an intergovernmental agency on trade, economic and scientific cooperation.

The minister added that Russia hoped to ramp up its trade turnover with Korea to $1 billion, up from the current $112 million. “It is not much,” he pointed out, saying that a greater degree of Korea’s commitment to the existing bilateral projects could whip up sales to $400-500 million.

UPDATE 8 (2014-4-19): Russia has reportedly [formally] written of the DPRK’s debt. According to Reuters:

The State Duma lower house on Friday ratified a 2012 agreement to write off the bulk of North Korea’s debt. It said the total debt stood at $10.96 billion as of Sept. 17, 2012.

The rest of the debt, $1.09 billion, would be redeemed during the next 20 years, to be paid in equal instalments every six months. The outstanding debt owed by North Korea will be managed by Russia’s state development bank, Vnesheconombank.

Russia’s Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak told Russian media that the money could be used to fund mutual projects in North Korea, including a proposed gas pipeline and a railway to South Korea.

More at the Voice of Russia.

UPDATE 7 (2014-3-20): Russian Duma committee recommends write off $10 b DPRK debt. According to Voice of Russia:

Committee of the State Duma for the budget and taxes has issued a recommendation to the MPs to ratify an agreement between the Russian government and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on settling the North Korea’s debt to Russia on the Soviet-era loans issued to that country.

The document that was submitted for ratification by the Russian government features the agreements reached at the negotiations that lasted almost twenty years and took account of the special features of financial, political and economic relations between Russia and North Korea.

Debt settlement embraces all the categories of reciprocal financial claims and obligations of the former USSR and the DPRK, with the precise parameters registered on the date when the agreement is signed.

Overall amount of the DPRK’s financial obligations to Russia stood at an equivalent of $ 10.96 billion as of September 17, 2012.

“This amount is rather conventional in many ways – not only because of the exchange rate but also due to the interest rates accumulated over a huge period or, in other words, a non-return of the loans because many of them were issued in the 1980′s,” Sergei Storchak, a deputy minister of finance said at the session.

“We applied a standard pattern in which we write off 90% of the debts amount and 10% is left over,” he said. “We agreed to utilize this 10% for financing the joint projects implemented on the North Korean territory.”

There projects are related to the energy sector, healthcare, and the country’s foodstuff security.

“Frankly speaking, we hope we’ll be able to attain agreement in the course of future joint work on allotting plots of land for construction of a gas pipeline on the DPRK territory,” Storchak said adding that Russia’s major producer and exporter of natural gas, OAO Gazprom, continues eyeing a possible integration in the Korean market of gas.

For this purpose, it will need some land acquisitions and “a part of the debt can be utilized for this purpose,” Storchak said.

Russian government officials say settlement of debts on the loans issued by the former USSR with the observance of conditions coordinated with Pyongyang pursues three objectives.

In the first place, it removes the problem of North Korea’s outstanding debt to the Russian Federation that was an irritating factor for bilateral relations for quite some time.

Secondly, the agreements that have been reached enable Russia to exert noticeable influence on the DPRK’s social and economic development through projects in healthcare, education, and the energy sector, since Russia will have a say in the decisions on their financing.

Thirdly, owing to the presence of big enough debt claims, Russia will have an opportunity to take part in multilateral talks on settling the North Korean debts in the format of the Paris Club of Sovereign Debtors and to influence the terms of debt repayments in Pyongyang’s interests.

You can read more about the gas pipeline here.

UPDATE 6 (2012-9-18): RIA Novosti reports that the DPRK and Russia have signed a debt deal.  According to the article:

Russia and North Korea have signed a deal on settlement of the DPRK’s $11 billion debts to Russia, Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak told Prime news agency on Tuesday.

“It was signed yesterday,” Storchak said.

Russia and North Korea have been negotiating over the issue of Pyongyang’s debt to Russia, left over from the Soviet era, for the last four years without result. Russia did not rule out writing off part of the debt and either rescheduling the remainder or offsetting it against investment.

Storchak previously said it was understood a debt settlement would involve a conversion of the ruble debt into dollars, giving an initial discount of around 90 percent of the debt.

The remaining debt of over $1 billion would be used in a “debt for aid exchange” plan to assist with joint education, health and energy projects in North Korea.

Here is coverage of the deal in KCNA:

Agreement on Debt Settlement between DPRK, Russia Signed

Pyongyang, September 18 (KCNA) — An agreement on settling the debt incurred by the loan provided by the former Soviet Union which the DPRK owes to the Russian Federation was signed between the governments of the two countries in Moscow on Monday.

The agreement was inked by Vice-Minister of Finance Ki Kwang Ho from the DPRK side and Vice-Minister of Finance Sergey Storchak from the Russian side.

The conclusion of the agreement on the debt settlement would create fresh conditions for boosting the relations of economic cooperation between the two countries in the future.

The Wall Street Journal offers some additional details on the deal:

Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak told Interfax that the “restructuring conditions are standard in connection with our membership in the Paris Club, with a conversion into U.S. dollars at an appropriate discounted rate with the balance of the debt to be used for a debt-for-aid program.”

The $11 billion figure was reached by using the Soviet conversion rate of 67 kopecks to the dollar, the ministry said, which at today’s exchange rate would make the debt just $238 million. Russia has reached similar agreements over the years with many former Soviet-clients in larger part because there was little chance the loans would ever be repaid.

Russian and North Korea had resumed negotiations over the decades-old debt in August 2011, following a meeting between former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and the late-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. During the meeting, the two sides agreed to pursue a pipeline project that would send Russian gas to South Korea via North Korea.

The following June, a preliminary agreement was reached and the finance ministry submitted a proposal to the Russian government for approval, Interfax reported.

Experts say the settlement of the long-stalled debt talks represented a change in political will on both sides and would help spur along the pipeline project as well as other railway and electricity deals.

“The decision on a settlement of debt is a significant step as it removes the obstacles for cooperation. Now credits can be granted,” said Alexander Vorontsov, an expert on North Korea at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

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Iron Silk Road: South Korean involvement in Rason (UPDATED 2014)

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

UPDATE 11 (2014-7-24):  North Korea apparently willing to allow South Korean investment Rason railway project. According to Yonhap:

North Korea is willing to host South Korean firms’ investment in the country’s railway project with Russia, a South Korean government official said Thursday after a recent on-site inspection visit to the North.

A group of 38 government officials and representatives from South Korean rail operator KORAIL, steelmaker POSCO and shipping company Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. returned on Tuesday from their one-week visit to the North’s Rajin port near the country’s northeastern border with Russia.

It was the three-firm consortium’s second visit to the North, intended to conduct a feasibility study on their plan to join the so-called Rajin-Khasan logistics project, linking the North Korean port city to Russia’s Trans-Siberian railway.

“(The North) basically said they are pleased with South Korean investment and reacted with a hope that this (deal) could help South-North Korean relations advance,” a South Korean government official who joined the recent North Korean tour said on condition of anonymity.

The official said based on the recent on-site inspection, the local business consortium may finalize the review of its plan to join the project, adding that it is likely to strike a deal with the Russian side later this year or early next year.

During their summit meeting in Seoul in November, South Korean President Park Geun-hye and her Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, agreed to help the South Korean firms join the project, which would let them invest indirectly in the North.

The local consortium is reportedly planning to test-run a transportation route within this year to move Russian coal to the North Korean port and then to ship it to South Korea’s eastern port of Pohang.

The official said the North Korean port of Rajin is now fully ready for such coal transportation.

“(Transportation) seemed to be possible at any time,” the official said, referring to the Rajin port’s third pier, which has been completed recently and launched last week. The local consortium is seeking to use the new pier if it enters into the North Korean-Russian project.

The new pier is capable of handling 4 million tons of coal annually, the official added.

Under the bilateral logistics project, North Korea and Russia reopened in November a 54-kilometer stretch of railroad track linking the North Korean port to the eastern border Russian city of Khasan after a five-year renovation.

The South Korean official also said the cross-border railroad was being well operated as of recently.

If the local consortium finally decides to join the project, it reportedly may so do by acquiring half of Russia’s share in the project.

The South Korean government has been promoting South Korean firms’ participation in the logistics project, which it views as closely linked to President Park Guen-hye’s “Eurasian Initiative,” a vision that calls for building more infrastructure and freeing up trade between Eurasian nations to create what could become a large single market rivaling the European Union.

The unification ministry earlier said that a formal deal between the consortium and its Russian counterpart for the project will be signed in the second half of the year.

UPDATE 10 (2014-6-11): According to Russian media:

Russian Minister for Far East Development Alexander Galushka announced plans to extend the Trans-Siberian Railroad into North and South Korea during a Russian-Korean trade meeting in Vladivostok on Thursday.

The expansion program calls for a collaborative railway construction project between Russia, North Korea and South Korea. Russian officials hope the expansion will not only triple the speed at which goods are shipped between Europe and Korea, but also restore peace between North and South Korea, RT.com reports.

“We have agreed to launch trilateral projects between Russia, DPRK and South Korea with a focus on the railroad project,” Galushka said, according to RT.com. “It’s important to extend the Trans-Siberian Railroad to the Korean peninsula. It will service to stabilize and improve the situation on the Korean peninsula as a whole.”

Mechel, Russia’s largest steelmaking company, has agreed to supply the steel required for the first phase of the expansion. South Korea’s Hyundai Construction has been identified as a likely commercial partner in the project.

North Korean officials have been reluctant to participate in any collaborative infrastructure program despite the poor conditions of its rail system. Members of the North Korean government began to express interest in a railway development project last September after Russia re-opened a 33-mile expanse of track to Khasan, the last Russian city before the North Korean border, according to RT.com.

UPDATE 9 (2014-4-29): The Choson Ilbo reports that Ms. Choi has returned from the DPRK:

The Organisation for Co-Operation between Railways (OSJD) has decided to hold two major meetings, the Commission on Freight Traffic in 2015 and Conference of General Directors in 2019, in Seoul.

KORAIL president Choi Yeon-hye made the announcement at Gimpo Airport on Monday after returning from an OSJD meeting in Pyongyang. It is unprecedented for an associate rather than full member to host the conference.

The OSJD is an organization of 27 former and current communist countries, including Russia, China and North Korea.

“We don’t know yet whether the North will attend the meetings in 2015 and 2019, but the participants unanimously decided to hold them here, and the North didn’t oppose it, so we expect them to come,” she added.

The annual conference of general directors alternatively takes place in Asia and Europe, but exceptionally the 2019 meeting will also be held in Asia following the 2018 meeting in Vietnam.

The government here is keen to work with the railway body to link South Korea to Eurasia via North Korea.

Here is coverage in Yonhap.

UPDATE 8 (2014-4-22): The Choson Ilbo reports that the head of Korail has left for the DPRK:

KORAIL president Choi Yeon-hye is appropriately on her way to North Korea by train.

Choi left for Pyongyang on a train from Beijing on Monday afternoon to attend a meeting of the Organisation for Co-Operation between Railways (OSJD), KORAIL said Monday.

The OSJD is an organization of 27 former and current communist countries, including Russia, China and North Korea.

The government approved Choi’s request to visit to the North on Sunday after the North sent her a letter of invitation. She got a visa from the North Korean Embassy in Beijing the same day.

The train runs from Beijing to the North Korean border city of Sinuiju in 24 hours, where she switches trains for the 225 km stretch to Pyongyang.

A KORAIL executive said, “Choi’s visit is the North’s first approval of a South Korean official’s visit” since the South imposed sanctions against North Korea in 2010.

She is the first senior South Korean figure to visit Pyongyang since the inter-Korean summit in 2007.

President Park Geun-hye is keen to connect South Korea to Eurasia by railway, which requires cooperation from the OSJD.

Here is coverage in Yonhap.

UPDATE 7 (2014-4-18): The DPRK has “sort of” invited the head of Korail to a conference in Pyongyang. According to Yonhap:

North Korea has invited the head of South Korea’s rail operator to an international conference to be held in Pyongyang next week, a source with knowledge of the matter said Friday.

However, the North made the invitation verbally, which is preventing Choi Yeon-hye, president and CEO of the Korea Railroad Corp., from formally applying for the trip to Pyongyang, the source said.

The rail conference in Pyongyang, scheduled for April 24-28, is meant to boost international cooperation between railway operators, the source said, adding that it is expected to bring together top rail officials from China, Russia and 25 other member states of the Organization for Cooperation of Railways.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said no decision has been made yet on whether to allow Choi to travel to the North for the conference.

UPDATE 6 (2014-3-29): Russia and North Korea held talks on entry of the Russian firms into the Kaesong Industrial Complex and the railway project. According to Yonhap:

Also on the table in the Pyongyang-Moscow talks was how to boost cooperation among the two Koreas and Russia, with Pyongyang and Moscow making it clear that the two “share mutual interest” in the trilateral cooperative projects, according to the report.

“The (Russian) ministry reaffirmed the countries’ mutual interest in joint projects with South Korea, including international connections for railways, gas pipelines and power lines,” it said, adding that the minister stressed stability on the Korean Peninsula is key to achieving the goal.

Discussions of the project to connect the Trans-Siberian Railway (TSR) with the Trans-Korean Railway (TKR), dubbed the “Iron Silk Road,” have been under way for more than a decade, but geopolitical obstacles have hindered it, particularly given North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

South Korea and Russia have also been in discussions to push for a project to build a gas pipeline linking the two via North Korea.

The next meeting of the bilateral commission is scheduled for June in Russia’s far eastern city of Vladivostok, according to the ministry.

You can read more about the gas pipeline here.

UPDATE 5 (2014-3-24): South Korea to import coal through Rajin by next year. According to Korea IT Times (note-I changed the South Korean “Najin” to the North Korea “Rajin”):

A pilot program to carry coal from the port of Rajin in North Korea to Pohang in the south is expected to bear fruit within the year. A high-ranking official at the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said on March 23, “We have finalized a plan to ship coal between Rajin and Pohang before the year’s end as part of the Eurasia Initiative.”

Once the coal shipment from Siberia arrives in Rajin through the Hasan train station on the Russian side, South Korean ships will move the cargo to POSCO in Pohang from the No. 3 wharf in Rajin.

The ministry official added, “In a visit to Rajin in February we found that the port facility is capable of handling coal load up to 4 million tons a year. We will send a due diligence team again within the first half to find out the depth of the water near the port.”

The pilot coal shipment program is undertaken as part of the Rajin-Hasan railway project. The 54-kilometer railway link is critical to connecting the rail lines in the south to Busan and the trans-Siberian railway to European destination. Earlier in 2000, Russian President Vladimir Putin and then-ruler of North Korea Kim Jong-il agreed to build the line at the cost of US$340 million.

Rajin is a port city located at the northernmost corner of North Korea bordering Russia. The Russian government has since 2010 been working on building berths capable of holding 70,000-ton vessels in Rajin’s No. 3 wharf. The Chinese government is also in talks with North Korean authorities over building container unloading facility as well as expanding the wharves No. 4 to 6. The problem, however, is the Russian side has not found coal mines big enough to supply the volume demanded by Korean companies including POSCO.

UPDATE 4 (2014-3-24): South Korea has joined the Organization for Cooperation Between Railways (OSJD) in Warsaw. According to the Choson Ilbo:

Korea has taken the first step toward connecting its railways to the Eurasian continent. The Korea Railroad Corporation on Sunday said it became an associate member of the Organization for Cooperation Between Railways (OSJD) in Warsaw, Poland.

In order to connect Korean railways from Busan to Europe, it is essential for KORAIL to register to the OSJD, which makes the rules on the Eurasian continent and overseas treaties amongst member states.

This makes a more realistic prospect of a planned “Silk Road” railway connecting the Korean Peninsula to Europe that lies at the core of President Park Geun-hye’s “Eurasia Initiative.”

The initiative, which was announced in October last year, aims to strengthen Eurasian economic cooperation and prompt an opening of North Korea to lay the groundwork for reunification with the South.

The OSJD invited KORAIL to a meeting of the heads of member states’ railways in Pyongyang next month.

UPDATE 3 (2014-3-5): South Korean companies could be operating out of Rason by next year. According to Yonhap:

South Korea may be able to use the North Korean port city of Rason for logistical purposes as early as early next year, the unification ministry said Wednesday.

“The flow of goods through the Rason region may become possible around next spring if things go smoothly,” Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said in a lecture to a group of former lawmakers.

“In early February, South Korean companies paid an on-site visit to the Rason area and if this (cooperation project) goes smoothly, major progress would take place around September this year,” the minister said of Seoul’s push to join the Rajin-Khasan development project between Pyongyang and Moscow.

The project is designed to develop Rajin, the northeastern North Korean port city now reintegrated into Rason, into a logistics center linked to Russia’s Trans-Siberian Railway.

The government is planning to link the North Korean port to two major South Korean southern ports of Pohang and Busan.

UPDATE 2 (2014-2-6): According to the Wall Street Journal:

…Seoul’s Unification Ministry said on Sunday that an 18-strong Southern business team will visit Rajin in North Korea’s northeast, near Russia and China, on Feb. 11-13. Three firms are going: steelmaker Posco; Hyundai Merchant Marine011200.SE -6.55%, a shipper; and state-owned monopoly Korail. The government isn’t sending anyone.

This follows a deal signed during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s one-day visit to Seoul in November. The plan is for the South Korean trio to acquire up to half of Russian Railways’ 70% stake in RasonKonTrans, a $340 million project which last fall, five years late, finished upgrading 54 kilometers of track from Russia’s border at Khasan down to Rajin, Asia’s most northerly all-year ice-free port. Harbor facilities are also to be modernised.

I was skeptical at the time. The companies sounded non-committal, and two big political reefs loomed. Had anyone asked North Korea, whose railways ministry owns the other 30% of RasonKonTrans? And wouldn’t this breach the ban Seoul imposed in 2010 on all trade and investments in North Korea, outside the Kaesong Industrial Complex? The Southern government says no.

This is just an inspection tour, but North Korea appears to have raised no objection – which is interesting, if scarcely consistent. Pyongyang plays politics with family reunions: a sadistic heartbreaker for elderly Koreans yearning to see their long-lost kin, if only once and briefly.

According to Xinhua (2014-2-9):

A group of South Korean company officials will visit the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea ( DPRK) to carry out field study for joining in Rajin-Khasan railway and port development project between Pyongyang and Moscow, South Korea’s unification ministry said on Sunday.

A total of 18 officials from South Korea’s state-run Korea Railroad Corp. (KORAIL), steelmaker POSCO and shipper Hyundai Merchant Marine are scheduled to visit DPRK’s northeastern port city of Rajin from Tuesday to Thursday.

The ministry said they will meet their Russian counterparts in Vladivostok and then departed for the DPRK.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to cooperate in the Russian-led project during their summit in Seoul last November.

The Rajin-Khasan project aims to refurbish DPRK’s Rajin port and a railroad connecting it to the nearby Russian town of Khasan, paving the way for the Trans-Korean Railway and the Trans-Siberian Railroad reaching Europe.

A double-track railway between Rajin and Khasan reopened last September after years of renovation. It is reported that if the trilateral program runs smoothly, the Rajin port will become a logistics center for South Korean and Russian firms.

The project is part of Park’s plan for building the “Silk Road Express” by linking roads and railways running from South Korea to Europe via the DPRK, Russia, China and other Eurasian nations.

According to Yonhap (2014-2-9):

Officials from South Korean companies set to participate in an economic project between Pyongyang and Moscow will visit North Korea this week for an on-site inspection, the government said Sunday.

The unification ministry said 18 officials from three South Korean firms will visit North Korea’s northeastern port of Rajin from Tuesday to Thursday. The companies are state-run Korea Railroad Corp. (KORAIL), top steelmaker POSCO and No. 2 shipper Hyundai Merchant Marine. No government official will join the trip, the ministry said.

Their inspection is part of South Korea’s participation in the Rajin-Khasan development project, the Russian-led rail and port development venture in North Korea.

It’s designed to develop Rajin into a logistics center linked to Russia’s Trans-Siberian Railway. Last September, a double-track railway reopened between Rajin and Khasan, the nearby Russian town, after years of renovation.

In their summit meeting in Seoul last November, South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to help South Korean firms join the Rajin-Khasan project.

Also last year, Park unveiled her plan to expand economic cooperation with Eurasian nations, dubbed the Eurasian Initiative. The policy is built on the idea that exchanges between South Korea and Eurasian nations, in particular Russia, could help induce the reclusive North Korea to open up and alleviate tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Chris Green of the Daily NK has translated an  interview with the executive director of POSCO Corporate Strategic Planning Dept, Jeon Woo-sik, wherein he offered details about the delegation visiting Rason?

Ha Joon-soo, “나진~하산 프로젝트 현장 실사단 내일 방북“ [Rajin-Khasan Project onsite inspection team to visit North Korea tomorrow], KBS News, February 10, 2014.

Q: What is the makeup of the inspection team?

Jeon: There are five people going from POSCO [포스코]: a ports expert, an investment expert, and staff. There are six from Korail [코레일], another five from Hyundai Merchant Marine [현대상선], and two from the inspection company [실사법인], which makes eighteen. Aside from that, twenty staff from Russian Railways [러시아 철도공사] will accompany [the group]. Meetings with the North Korean side will be conducted in English and Russian, so the Russian side will bring interpreters.

Q: What is an “inspection company”?

Jeon: There is the need for personnel to expertly verify accounting and tax documentation, so we incorporated a body [for that].

Q: There will be no [South Korean] government officials with the group?

Jeon: None. This is a purely private undertaking, and it was decided that if government officials were included it could have a negative impact. Therefore, we formed the entire team from the private sector, and the government accepted this position.

Q: What is the team’s schedule?

Jeon: We minimized it as far as possible. Given that experts from each sector will be doing the inspecting, we decided that three days would be sufficient. Today [February 10] they departed for Vladivostok in Russia, and tomorrow morning [February 11] they will set off by special train. After completing the border formalities at Khasan on the Russia-DPRK border, we expect them to arrive in Rajin at around 12. Construction at Rajin Port is currently underway, so they will conduct visual inspections of the state of the port, whether pier construction is being done properly, and what the state of the Rajin-Khasan railway is. It is also expected that they will get additional information from the Russian side.

Q: What was done in advance to facilitate this?

Jeon: We applied for the visit in the middle of January, and document checks took about three weeks. The North Korean government signed off on the visit on February 5, and [the South Korean] government approved it on February 7.

Q: Can you give a concrete breakdown of what the team is going to do?

Jeon: The port and railway inspections will be divided into areas of expertise. More concretely: they will check the state of the rail track bed, the width of the track and the spaces between the rails, as well as signaling systems and stations. In the Russian documentation it says that Pier 3 is 600m long, but this must be verified, along with the depth of the water, whether it freezes in winter, the state of the mobile port cranes, whether it will be possible to use the pier over the long term, its strength, and how much investment is likely needed for dredging. Once that has been done, we’ll be able to roughly assess the investment cost on the Russian side.

Q: Is it right that, according to the Russian side, construction at Pier 3 will be complete at around the end of 2013?

Jeon: Port construction progress is currently at 90 percent. It’s winter now so construction isn’t possible, but it should be 100 percent complete during the next quarter. We’ll check on the construction of the port distribution terminal during these inspections. As it stands, coal from Siberia is what is coming in, so as long as there is storage for coal it is enough.

Q: Why do you need to perform in-situ checks?

Jeon: As you will be aware, the “Rajin-Khasan Project” is a cooperative one between North Korea and Russia. It’s an integrated port and rail freight business, and is worth a total of $340,000,000. Of this, North Korea has invested 30 percent and Russia 70 percent.

However, around half the Russian stake is supposed to be supplied indirectly by this consortium of Korean firms; yet even last November when a MoU was adopted between Russia and Korea, decisions were made based on documents from the Russian side. We have never seen for real how the construction is proceeding. How much should be invested can only be decided once the precise reality has been seen.

Q: What will happen once the inspection has been completed?

Jeon: We need to know the results of the inspection before we can decide that. Investment sums will be decided within this calendar year.

Q: So, when can we expect boats loaded with coal to come from Rajin down to Pohang and Busan [in South Korea]?

Jeon: Russian Far East ports are at saturation point dealing with Russia’s natural resources. The best thing would be for the freight headed for South Korea to be taken out and sent through Rajin instead. However, for a South Korean vessel to come and go from Rajin Port requires an authorization process. This part is linked to the 5.24 Measures[1], meaning that it would become possible more rapidly if the 5.24 Measures were lifted.

According to the Hankyoreh (2014-2-11):

Explaining that the Rajin-Hasan Project is a “special case” that is going ahead despite the May 24 measures, Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said that North Korea would have to take meaningful steps before the May 24 measures could be revoked.

During a plenary session at the National Assembly on Feb. 10 on issues related to diplomacy, unification, and national defense, the minister said that the May 24 punitive measures against North Korea would not be lifted until the North took action showing its remorse for the sinking of the Cheonan warship.

The May 24 measures, instituted after the Cheonan was sunk in 2010, constitute a complete ban on economic activity, exchange, and cooperation with North Korea.

But when asked about the Rajin-Hasan project, in which POSCO, Korail, and other South Korean companies have recently received permission to invest, Ryoo said that the project is moving ahead because it has particular significance for South Korea’s national interest regarding relations with Russia. If the project makes progress in the future and material starts to move, Ryoo predicted, various discussions will take place. That is to say, South Korea is moving forward with the Rajin-Hasan project as an exception to the May 24 measures.

On Monday, South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won also said that the Rajin-Hasan issue is a special case.

“What happened to the principles that President Park Geun-hye was talking about?” complained one businessman involved in economic cooperation with North Korea. “If you’re going to relax the restrictions, you should relax them for everyone. It‘s not fair just to relax them for large companies,” the businessman said on condition of anonymity.

Read the full stories here:
North Korea’s Rajin as Rotterdam? A Little Less Crazy Now
Wall Street Journal
Aidan Foster-Carter
2014-2-6

S. Korean firm officials to visit DPRK for Rajin-Khasan joint project
Xinhua
2014-2-9

S. Korean corporate officials to visit N. Korea as part of Pyongyang-Moscow venture
Yonhap
2014-2-9

Rajin-Hasan Project going ahead as a “special case”
Hankyoreh
Choi Hyun-june
2014-2-11

UPDATE 1 (2014-1-16): South Korea launches task force on railway and other projects. According to Yonhap:

South Korea is set to launch a task force on economic cooperation projects with North Korea and Russia, including a long-discussed plan for a trilateral rail link, Seoul officials said Thursday.

The move is the first follow-up step after President Park Geun-hye announced late last year her plan to expand economic cooperation with Eurasian countries for more trade opportunities.

Called the Eurasian Initiative, the policy is centered on the idea that exchanges between South Korea and Eurasian nations, especially Russia, will help induce an opening up in the reclusive North, which lies in between, thus allaying the long-running military and diplomatic tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

The task force, tentatively named the Trilateral South, North Korea, Russia Cooperation Task Force, will be launched as soon as February under the wing of the foreign ministry’s Europe division, according to the officials.

Under the task force, about five government officials will be charged with reviewing the feasibilities of various economic project ideas among the three nations, including much-discussed plans to link a railroad, gas and oil pipes, and electrical grids between South Korea and Russia through North Korea, according to them.

“All the issues concerning the trilateral cooperation among South and North Korea, and Russia can be subject to the task force’s reviews,” a foreign ministry official said. “Specific details about the projects will be known after the task force goes into operations.”

Discussions of the project to connect the Trans-Siberian Railway (TSR) with the Trans-Korean Railway (TKR), dubbed the “Iron Silk Road,” have been under way for more than a decade, but geopolitical obstacles have hindered it, particularly given North Korea’s nuclear and missile ambitions.

In a summit meeting held in Seoul last November, South Korean President Park and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a memorandum of understanding to help South Korean companies join the Rajin-Khasan development project in North Korea, the Pyongyang-Moscow project to link their railways for better logistics.

ORIGINAL POST (2013-11-13): The Russians and South Koreans recently discussed and signed a MOU on investment in the Rajin-Russia railway link and port. According to Yonhap:

South Korea agreed Wednesday to take part in a Russian-led rail and port development project in North Korea that could help reduce tensions with Pyongyang and open up a new logistics link between East Asia and Europe in line with President Park Geun-hye’s “Eurasian initiative.”

The memorandum of understanding was the most tangible outcome from Park’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It calls for steel giant POSCO, Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. and Korea Railroad Corp. to participate in the Rajin-Khasan development project.

The project was designed to develop North Korea’s ice-free northeastern port of Rajin into a logistics hub connected to Russia’s Trans Siberian Railway. In September, a 54-kilometer, double-track rail link reopened between Rajin and the nearby Russian town of Khasan after years of renovation.

Once the project to modernize the port of Rajin is completed, the rail-connected port can be used as a hub for sending cargo by rail from East Asia to as far as Europe. South Korean firms can also ship exports first to Rajin and transport them elsewhere via Russian railways.

North Korea and Russia launched the US$340 million project in 2008.

“The two sides agreed to encourage the rail and port cooperation project that companies of the two sides are pushing for so that it can move smoothly forward,” said a joint statement issued after the summit.

The project fits into Park’s “Eurasian initiative,” which calls for binding Eurasian nations closely together by linking roads and railways to realize what she called the “Silk Road Express” running from South Korea to Europe via North Korea, Russia and China.

Wednesday’s agreement was seen as a first step toward the ambitious vision.

“We, the two leaders, agreed to combine South Korea’s policy of strengthening Eurasian cooperation and Russia’s policy of highly regarding the Asia-Pacific region to realize our mutual potential at the maximum level and move relations between the two countries forward,” Park said during a joint press conference.

“South Korea and Russia will join hands to build a new Eurasian era for the future,” she said.

The Korean consortium plans to buy a stake in RasonKonTrans, the Russian-North Korean joint venture carrying out the rail and port renovation project. A final decision on the planned purchase will be made after a due diligence study in the first half of next year, officials said.

State monopoly Russian Railways has a 70 percent stake in the joint venture, with the North holding the remaining 30 percent. News reports have said that the Korean consortium plans to buy about half the Russian stake.

The purchase could be in conflict with Seoul’s ban on new investments in North Korea, though it is an indirect investment via Russia. The ban is part of sanctions Seoul imposed on Pyongyang after the North torpedoed and sank a South Korean warship near their Yellow Sea border in 2010.

The project could pave the way for similar indirect investments in the North and help reduce tensions on the divided peninsula. Inter-Korean relations, which had shown signs of a thaw following months of high tensions, chilled again after Pyongyang unilaterally canceled reunions for separated families in September.

Putin arrived in South Korea from Vietnam earlier Wednesday on a one-day visit for his second summit with Park. They first met in September on the sidelines of a Group of 20 major economies meeting in Russia’s second-largest city of Saint Petersburg.

In Wednesday’s summit, the two leaders also signed an MOU to enhance cooperation in shipbuilding. Officials said the deal laid the groundwork for South Korea to win orders of at least 13 liquefied natural gas tankers from Russia on the condition of technology transfer.

Also discussed was a long-discussed project to link railways of the two countries via North Korea and through to Europe. The two sides signed an MOU on rail cooperation and agreed to study the project as a long-term venture. The rail project has been talked about for many years, but little headway has been made due to security tensions.

Other projects the two sides agreed to cooperate on as long-term ventures included building a natural gas pipeline linking Russia and South Korea via the North and developing Arctic shipping routes to reduce shipping distances and time between Asia and Europe.

In total, the summit produced 17 cooperation agreement, including a visa-exemption pact calling for allowing Koreans and Russians to visit each other’s nation without a visa for up to 60 days, as well as an accord to set up cultural centers in each other’s nation.

Other topics for the meeting included regional and global security issues, such as the North Korean nuclear standoff. Russia is a member of the six-party talks aimed at ending Pyongyang’s nuclear program and is also one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

“The two sides confirmed they cannot accept Pyongyang’s policy of building independent nuclear and missile capabilities … and stressed that North Korea cannot have the status of a nuclear state,” the joint statement said.

They also emphasized the North should abide by international denuclearization obligations and commitments, and agreed to work together to create the right conditions for restarting the long-stalled six-party talks on ending Pyongyang’s nuclear program, the statement said.

In an apparent swipe at Japan, the statement said that the sides shared a concern that the strong cooperation potential in Northeast Asia has not been realized due to obstacles created by recent “retrograde acts and words on history.”

Putin’s visit to Seoul is the first by a leader from the four major powers that also includes the United States, Japan and China since Park came into office. The Russian president is also the sixth foreign leader to visit South Korea under the Park administration.

Yonhap also published this related but separate report:

The ministry, in charge of all inter-Korean relations, said plans by a South Korean consortium to buy a stake in RasonKonTrans, the Russian-North Korean joint venture, can strengthen ties between South Korea and Russia and create greater opportunities for all sides. The project, first launched in 2008, cost Pyongyang and Moscow US$340 million.

It said the memorandum of understanding, signed on the sidelines of summit meeting between South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier in the day, did not mean Seoul was abandoning its so-called May 24 blanket ban that prohibits all economic and personnel exchanges with the North.

The ban has been in place since 2010, after Seoul accused Pyongyang of sinking one of its warships near the sea border in the Yellow Sea. Seoul at present only permits humanitarian assistance exempt from the sanctions rule.

“This project is special, and efforts will be made to assist visits by South Koreans who have to go to the North to carry out due diligence,” said a ministry official who declined to be identified.

He added that while an investment does conflict to some extent with Seoul’s ban, it is slightly different, since companies will be buying stakes in the Russian company.

“It will be an indirect form of investment and not the direct kind that has been banned so far,” the source said. However, he conceded the move marks the first time that investments into a North Korean project have been authorized.

South Korean businessmen from steelmaker POSCO, Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. and Korea Railroad Corp. are expected to go on fact-finding missions to Rajin and check the rail line linking the port city with the Russian town of Khasan.

Under the project, aimed at utilizing North Korea’s ice-free port, Russia aims to transform Rajin into a logistics base linked to its Trans Siberian Railway (TSR). If the project makes headway, Rajin can be used by South Korean companies to send cargo by rail to Europe using the TSR.

On the controversy that may arise from “bending” the rules, the ministry official said the government is willing to review other indirect forms of investments involving other countries if proposed.

“If a proposal is submitted, it will be judged in terms of the nature of the project, the effect it will have on cross-border relations and North Korean attitude,” he stressed.

Additional Information:
1. Read more about the Russia-Rajin rail link here.

2. Read more about the Russia – South Korea gas pipeline here.

3. Read previous posts on the Rason SEZ here.

Read the full stories here:
S. Korea to participate in Russian-led rail, port development project in N. Korea
Yonhap
Chang Jae-soon
2013-11-13

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Skilled North Koreans in Russia

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

According to Yonhap:

The number of skilled North Korean workers in Russia has jumped 2.8-fold in the first nine months of this year compared to 2012, a report showed Tuesday.

The report by Radio Free Asia that used data provided by Amur Oblast showed 762 cases of work permits being issued to skilled North Koreans in the cited period. Of these, 34 involved permits for specialized workers with considerable technical expertise.

The Washington-based media outlet said the sharp on-year increase is in contrast to the incremental rise in the number of work visas issued for menial laborers, which grew by just 2.2 percent to around 1,700 cases.

Pyongyang has been sending workers to Russia to help the country earn hard currency, with most being hired by Russian logging companies.

The North and Russia held government-level talks on Nov. 12 to facilitate the movement and employment of North Korean workers.

Read the full story here:
Number of skilled N. Korean workers in Russia surge this year: report
Yonhap
2013-11-26

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