Last year a Chinese company took a 51-percent stake in Hyesan Youth Cooper Mine in Yanggang Province, North Korea. Hebei-based Luanhe Industrial Group now has the right to develop the mine for the next 15 years.
North Korea also sold a 50-year development claim to the Musan iron mines, Asia’s largest open-air mine, to China’s Tonghua Iron & Steel Group. Since 2006, North Korea has sold the rights to develop more than 10 mines to Chinese firms.
KDB Research Institute, an affiliate of Korea Development Bank, has raised concerns with a report released Wednesday that details China’s intensive investment in North Korean natural resources. According to the report, since 2002 China has invested US$13 million (US$1=W932), more than 70 percent of its total investment in North Korea, in iron, copper and molybdenum mines.
The major investors come from the three northeast provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning. They have moved the focus of their investment from small-scale, commercial opportunities to strategic deals to secure energy resources, the report said.
According to the report, China’s Wukang Group bought the rights to dig the Yongdeung mine, North Korea’s largest hard coal mine, and another Chinese company invested in a North Korean project to develop an oil field in the West Sea. The North has also allowed Chinese fishermen to fish off the coast of Wonsan, a North Korean port city on the east coast, in return for 25 percent of the catch.
Since North Korea lacks funds while China suffers from a shortage of natural resources the two are forming joint development projects, said KDB Research Institute researcher Chung Eui-jun, the writer of the report.
Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul, said in the Wall Street Journal last July that the Chinese government seems to have made a strategic decision to encourage Chinese firms to invest in North Korea as a way to maintain its influence with its long-time ally in the post-Kim Jong-il era.