Archive for the ‘Sinuiju Special Administrative Region’ Category

The Political Economy of Chinese Investment in North Korea

Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

Asian Survey
November/December 2006, Vol. 46, No. 6, Pages 898-916
Jae Cheol Kim
Professor of International Studies at the Catholic University of Korea, Seoul.

PDF here: chinainDPRK.pdf

Conclusion:
China’s investment efforts suggest that it has begun to engage North Korea economically. By investing, the Chinese leadership has attempted to push the North to embrace economic reforms, which in turn could improve the North Korean economy and reduce the country’s potential for political instability. In order to lead the North to embark on reform policies, Beijing has tried to provide it with seed money and technology by encouraging Chinese companies to invest. This suggests that despite expectations and allegations from the West that China might abandon its long-time ally, China is committed to supporting North Korea.

The Chinese investment, however, has increasingly been influenced by commercial considerations. Officials in Beijing have stressed that economic exchanges with the North must be mutually beneficial. Chinese companies, which have become responsible for the majority of the investment, have paid increasing attention to market share and natural resources. That China has increasingly tried to gain economic advantage in the North suggests that Sino-North Korean relations are being transformed from being ideology-motivated to interestmotivated.

Despite a stiff increase over the past couple of years, it is hard to say that Chinese investment is either full-fledged or irreversible. Because the instability of North Korea prevents Chinese entrepreneurs from fully embracing the country, Chinese investment must be seen as a pilot project, with Chinese companies and entrepreneurs testing the water. Looking to the future, Chinese investment in North Korea is likely to increase. Despite problems, the Chinese leadership will probably continue to encourage further investment in an effort to exploit developmental opportunities while simultaneously curtailing the flow of direct aid to the North. In addition, China’s dynamic economic growth will propel its overseas investment. As China’s capital account is gradually liberalized, cash-rich Chinese companies will look for markets and resources abroad to fuel their development. The potential appreciation of the yuan will further force firms to relocate factories producing low-end products to countries where the labor cost is lower. Seen from this perspective, North Korea is a good candidate for future Chinese investment—if there is no major turbulence in bilateral relations.

Highlights:
North Korea has been reluctant to follow China’s path of reform and opening because it worried that the policy may create political problems. In an apparent response to China’s recommendation in the late 1990s for reform, for instance, Kim asked Beijing to respect “Korean-style socialism.” But China’s support for reform is not unconditional. Although Chinese leaders have repeatedly urged the DPRK to embrace market-driven reforms (even taking Kim Jong Il is on tours to see the results of China’s economic reforms), when North Korea decided to set up a special economic zone in Sinuiju, apparently without prior consultation with Beijing, China aborted the project by arresting Yang Bin, whom North Korea had designated head of the zone, in October 2002.

China, however, does not want to see turbulence on the Korean Peninsula, which could not only lead to the economic and political collapse of a socialist regime on China’s border but could also threaten regional stability. China thus has tried to sustain the Pyongyang regime by providing economic assistance–believing that reform and opening would not only revive the North Korean economy but also reduce the need for regular aid to prop up the regime, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said that the Chinese government would encourage more of its companies to invest and establish their businesses in North Korea.

For Chinese firms, the prime minister’s statement amounted to a government directive, with some entrepreneurs understanding that Wen’s statement was a signal for Chinese companies to invest.  Organizations were formed to smooth such investment, including the Shenyang Municipal Association of Entrepreneurs (Shenyangshi Qiyejia Xiehui), Dandong Municipal Economic Consultation Center for the Korean Peninsula (Dandongshi Chaoxianbandao Jingji Zixun Zhongxin), and Beijing Sino-Korea Economic & Cultural Exchange Company (Beijing Chaohua Youlian). They organized explanatory meetings on investment, drawing numerous applicants.

Beijing attempted to boost investors’ confidence by signing an “Investment Encouragement and Protection Agreement” with Pyongyang in March 2005 when Premier Park Bongju visited Beijing. The framework for economic and technological cooperation was made clearer through the signing of an “Agreement on Economic and Technological Cooperation” that October. Chinese officials have given financial incentives and guarantees to firms that invest in North Korea. China’s state-run banks have not only provided companies with investment capital but also have underwritten Chinese investment for joint ventures. Beijing granted preferential treatment to products processed in the North, allowing them better access to the Chinese market. Products that were processed in the Rajin area with Chinese materials and then imported to China, for instance, were labeled domestic trade and were thus exempted from customs inspection.

The deputy CEO of Beijing Sino-Korea Economic & Cultural Exchange Company, a Beijing company that helps Chinese companies invest in the North, has been quoted as saying that whether a company is able to invest in North Korea depended not on the company’s will but on whether the North would accept it or not. Foreign investors, he added, needed to meet the criterion of “political reliability.” In practice, concerns about political contamination limit North Korea’s economic cooperation with South Korea, whose government has eagerly pushed economic integration with the North. North Korea’s opening therefore means an opening toward China, and this in turn gives Chinese companies very rare advantages.

Labor costs in the DPRK are low [compared to China], running only 70–80 yuan (about US$10) per month.  Building a factory is very cheap, up to one million yuan (about $120,000).  Chinese entrepreneurs see that what North Korea needs is largely light industrial products. Because brand consciousness there is weak, these investors believe that many Chinese companies, even small- and medium-sized ones, can compete in the North Korean market.  The scope for making profits is bigger in North Korea than in China because manufacturers can charge more for similar products in the North. For example, the price of a cigarette lighter is three to five yuan ($0.36 to $0.60) in Pyongyang but only 0.5 yuan ($0.06) in Wenzhou, China.

Although big state-owned companies account for the majority of Chinese outward investments, they rarely invest in North Korea, leaving this to small- to medium-sized companies. In the past, most Chinese investors were Korean-Chinese merchants from two areas in China: Liaoning Province and the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture. They do not expect that they can make profits in the North Korean market right away; rather, they plan to be ready for when the North opens to the world, by moving into the market early.

Chinese investment projects in North Korea are not only small in number but also weak in scale. There are no detailed data available on their average size, but they likely are no exception to the fact that China’s outward investment is generally characterized by its small scale and low level of technology.

Although North Korea wants capital in such sectors as home appliances, construction materials, electronic communications products, and machine building, Chinese investment is heavily concentrated in the sectors where China’s needs lie, such as resource extraction, or where its companies can make a profit, such as service sectors. The official Chinese guideline for outbound investment, noted above, recommended investment only in such manufacturing sectors as textiles, clothing, and food products, leaving aside other sectors for which North Korea wants investment.

The North lacks basic frameworks needed for drawing in foreign investment. Policies, laws, and regulations about tax, for instance, are not in place. There is no well established market mechanism for running the economy. The government is still heavily involved in economic management; therefore, potential investors need to have personal networks to open doors, a point that worries potential Chinese investors.  North Korea lacks a sound political environment for enticing foreign investment. The country’s economic policies, especially those related to reform, shift continuously, raising questions about the official commitment to reform.

Pyongyang Department Store No. 1
Zeng Changbiao, chief executive officer (CEO) of the Zhongxu Group, in a much publicized deal in 2004, signed a contract to run Pyongyang’s Department Store No.1 for 10 years. He said his main motive for investing was to take over the North Korean market. He wants to be dominant in the North Korean retail business by securing and expanding market share. But it is not clear whether the contract was put into practice.  An article in a journal published by the National Development and Reform Commission, a ministry-level organization of the Chinese government, suggested that little had changed at the department store by the middle of 2005. South Korean officials also say that the store is still run by North Korea. Zhongxu Group’s Zeng received the lowest tax rate—5% income and 5% import—in the North Korean tax system.

This is one of three big department stores that were being run either by the Chinese alone or jointly.  Shenyang Municipal Association for Trade Promotion opened Daesong Market in Pyongyang, the first wholly foreign-owned company in a non-science sector.

Musan
China has shown an interest in joint resources development projects. The best known case is the project to develop the Musan iron mines. It is not easy to draw an exact picture of Chinese investment in the mines because many press reports suggest different stories. According to a Korean report, a Chinese company from Jilin Province planned to invest about $500 million in the mines. Ta Kung Pao, a Hong Kong newspaper, reported that three companies from Jilin—Tonghua Iron & Steel Group (Tonggang), Yanbian Tianchi Company, and Sinosteel Corporation (Zhonggang)—contracted rights to exploit the Musan iron mines for 50 years. According to the report, the Chinese companies were going to invest 7 billion yuan (about $865 million) and planned to produce 10 million tons of iron ore each year.  In the case of the Musan mines, 2 billion yuan (about $240 million) out of the 7 billion China committed to invest was allocated to building roads and railways from Musan to Tonghua in China. Sizable investment levels might help Jilin secure access to seaports in North Korea.

Similarly, the Chinese press has reported that the Musan iron mines development project was canceled by officials in North Korea, embarrassed by publicity over the deal because it highlighted the degree of foreign investment, a subject that Pyongyang would prefer to handle quietly.

Raijin
Rason International Logistics Joint Company-Rason International secured the exclusive rights to run the No. 3 and No. 4 piers of Rajin port for 50 years. In order to secure the rights, China committed to investing 30 million euros ($36 million) to build an industrial park, tourism facilities, and a road from the trade district of Rason city to Rajin Port. North Korea in turn committed to providing China with 5 to 10 square kilometers of land to build the industrial park.

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Rumors continue to surface on the Sinuiju SAR

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2006

According to the Daily NK (2006-5-3):

Lee Jeong Gil (44), a Chinese-North Korean trader who recently returned from Shinuiju in late April, said that, “It would be hard for Shinuiju to be a special region. However, it is likely that an international market would be formed in the outskirts of Shinuiju.”

Mr. Lee stated, “As far as I know, besides that of Shinuiju, international market plans would be carried out in the outskirts of Nampo and Wonsan as well.” He went on to explain, “This was already determined at the Central Committee level,” something he noted hearing directly from a high-ranking official living in Shinuiju.

Mr. Lee explained, “Because of the huge removal of residents and the great impact on outside areas caused by the special region plan, the government regards the Shinuiju special region plan as complicated.” He noted as well, that, “It seems that the government pursues this in the same manner as the previously constructed Onsung and Nasun international markets.”

The special region plan is to develop a particular region by dividing it into a concerned area and an outskirt. The goal would then be to introduce into the concerned area such aspects of a market economy as financial industries, manufacturing industries, accommodation industries, and free trade zones. Like special regions, international markets could attract foreign investments. Yet, because special regions are controlled by international markets that are not yet mature – most only at a stage where foreigners rent stores to do business – the effects that international markets can bring are meager.

Mr. Lee said, “It seems reasonable to assume that the government will permit commuting since it has allowed daily visa-free commutes to and from China since July… So, it requires a look into the news that North Korean customs moved from Ryeokjeon-dong, the present area, to Minpo-dong where the second NK-China Yalu River iron bridge plan is being constructed.”

He went on to explain, “I heard that the government will construct new buildings for foreign traders to do business in, in the outskirts of Shinuiju, and that they will give leasing rights to investors who invest more than 100,000 dollars.”

On the other hand, on the 23rd, Mr. Kim (51) noted, “The internal policy direction for Shinuiju and Nampo was already set to make special regions within the year to overcome the economic crisis [North Korea] has faced recently.” It is likely that what the high-ranking official testified about is not about special regions, but about international markets.

Read the full story here:
Shinuiju Development, Not a Special Region But an ‘International Market?’
Daily NK
Kwon Jeong Hyun
2006-5-3

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Nautilus Claims Sinuiju Project Underway

Thursday, April 27th, 2006

According to the Nautilus Institute’s web site [Link broken since posing]:

“Under the direction of central authorities, foreign currency management groups are rapidly being moved into Sinuiju, while ordinary residents are being relocated to other regions only to be replaced by residents of Pyongyang and other areas who are in the process of moving in.”

The Sinuiju Special Administrative Region (SAR) project lost momentum in September 2002 when its first governor-to-be, Chinese-born Dutch businessman Yang Bin, was arrested in China. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s visit to China at the beginning of this year, however, appears to have triggered a turnaround. With Kim’s China trip focused on the revision of economic policies, the rejuvenation of Sinuiju SAR development plans came into the spotlight.

Most South Korean press have run pieces, based on the stories of North Korean defectors and Chinese residents in Dandoong and other border areas, alluding to the fact that there is change in the air around Sinuiju. A North Korean businessman in Dandoong was quoted as saying, “No official word has come down from central [authorities], but they are busy preparing the Sinuiju SAR,” while rumors are spreading among area residents that “Sinuiju is the next Hong Kong.”

The most reluctant promoters are the People’s Committee and regional administrative organs. As orders come down, some administrators are required to immediately pack and relocate to southern Sinuiju, an underdeveloped area not even comparable to Sinuiju proper. Authorities had chosen the site as far back as 1986, and while development was fully promoted, only factories were built up. Housing, roads, and other indirect social capital facilities are still lacking. While regional authorities may have decided to build up southern Sinuiju, it will take another ten years of hard work to do so.

On the other hand, the outlook for city authorities is considerably brighter. This is because in the future, they will have the opportunity to rise up though organizations run by special administrative businesses. Up until now, instructions have come through the Regional People’s Committee, security bureau and defense authorities, but even though they own the facilities, they can still receive orders directly from the central government. Because of this, regional officials are still influenced by the temperament of local and central party politics while being faced with increasing pressure from city authorities to transfer power to them. While some factories — like the Sinuiju Cosmetics Factory, Sinuiju Shoe Factory, Sinuiju Synthetic Fiber Plant, and other large factories — are preparing for foreign capital support and cooperative ventures, most administrators appear to be pushing for keeping the status quo.

There are still many concerns. As the SAR is being set up, central officials are being dispatched to fill roles as factory officials; central officials without any personal interest. A similar sort of dispatch of central officials took place in the Rajin-Sonbong Special Economic Zone in the past.

Most small- and medium-sized enterprises and regional factories are beginning to transform into trading companies. There are currently around one hundred fifty such trading offices in Sinuiju. In the future, if Sinuiju is officially designated as a SAR, it appears that a great many more trade offices will appear.

Other news from Sinuiju insiders is that the People’s Committee, People’s Security Force, National Security and Defense Bureau and other central government departments that have received Kim Jong Il’s permission to trade have already opened offices in Sinuiju, employing people in the area and busily seeking out people with connections in China in order to find trading partners.

It appears by looking at the relocation currently underway that the goal is to move residents within the same timeframe that was required for the first round of relocations in 2002, when residents were moved to Chunma, Kwaksan, Dongrim and other areas around the outskirts of Sinuiju. There are problems here as well, as the government wants to relocate residents from Pyongyang and other regions to Sinuiju. At issue is the fact that while the number of residents who can move in needs to equal the number relocated out of the area, some North Koreans have already used connections with the central and regional party affiliates in order to move to the region.

In addition, the housing market is active, with housing prices in central downtown areas having already skyrocketed. While officially owned by the state, dwellings are unofficially “sold” through the use of “modification fees”: apartments run from 25 to 30 million won (8 to 10 thousand USD), while two-three story condominiums in “Chinatown” in the Namsang district run in the tens of thousands of dollars.

However, complications have arisen. Many residents being moved out have decided to get rid of their houses, but this has proved more difficult than expected. Some have put up their house for sale but have been unable to find a buyer. There are also those who were caught in the midst of sales through “real estate offices” when a crackdown by authorities resulted in their expulsion. A source stated that the administrative authority of the city security bureau in charge of relocating residents is undermanned and takes different measures to direct different groups of residents, while pressing for the expulsion of what it deems as “lesser” or unemployed people.

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North Korean Economics Presentations at KEI

Tuesday, April 18th, 2006

Economic Reform and SEZ as Survival Strategy of DPRK
PDF: Deok Ryong Yoon.pdf
Deok Ryong Yoon

Introduction to & implications of Gaesong Industrial Complex Project
PDF: kaesong.faqs.pdf
Ministry of Unification

Gaeseong Industrial complex: Past, Present and Future
PDF: Dong-geun Kim.pdf
Speech by Dong-geun Kim, Chairman of Gaeseong Industrial District Management Committee

Gaeseong Industrial Complex : Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
PDF: kaesong.faqs1.pdf
Ministry of Unification, ROK

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Interest revived in the Sinuiju Special Administrative Region

Thursday, March 30th, 2006

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2006-3-30

The Sinuiju Special Administrative Region (SAR) project lost momentum in September 2002 when its first governor-to-be, Chinese-born Dutch businessman Yang Bin, was arrested in China. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s visit to China at the beginning of this year, however, appears to have triggered a turnaround. With Kim’s China trip focused on the revision of economic policies, the rejuvenation of Sinuiju SAR development plans came into the spotlight.

Most South Korean press have run pieces, based on the stories of North Korean defectors and Chinese residents in Dandoong and other border areas, alluding to the fact that there is change in the air around Sinuiju. A North Korean businessman in Dandoong was quoted as saying, “No official word has come down from central [authorities], but they are busy preparing the Sinuiju SAR,” while rumors are spreading among area residents that “Sinuiju is the next Hong Kong.” Under the direction of central authorities, foreign currency management groups are rapidly being moved into Sinuiju, while ordinary residents are being relocated to other regions only to be replaced by residents of Pyongyang and other areas who are in the process of moving in.

As special enterprises are being promoted as of late, each organization and group is reacting differently. The most reluctant promoters are the People’s Committee and regional administrative organs. As orders come down, some administrators are required to immediately pack and relocate to southern Sinuiju, an underdeveloped area not even comparable to Sinuiju proper. Authorities had chosen the site as far back as 1986, and while development was fully promoted, only factories were built up. Housing, roads, and other indirect social capital facilities are still lacking. While regional authorities may have decided to build up southern Sinuiju, it will take another ten years of hard work to do so.

On the other hand, the outlook for city authorities is considerably brighter. This is because in the future, they will have the opportunity to rise up though organizations run by special administrative businesses. Up until now, instructions have come through the Regional People’s Committee, security bureau and defense authorities, but even though they own the facilities, they can still receive orders directly from the central government. Because of this, regional officials are still influenced by the temperament of local and central party politics while being faced with increasing pressure from city authorities to transfer power to them. While some factories — like the Sinuiju Cosmetics Factory, Sinuiju Shoe Factory, Sinuiju Synthetic Fiber Plant, and other large factories — are preparing for foreign capital support and cooperative ventures, most administrators appear to be pushing for keeping the status quo.

There are still many concerns. As the SAR is being set up, central officials are being dispatched to fill roles as factory officials; central officials without any personal interest. A similar sort of dispatch of central officials took place in the Rajin-Sonbong Special Economic Zone in the past.

Most small- and medium-sized enterprises and regional factories are beginning to transform into trading companies. There are currently around one hundred fifty such trading offices in Sinuiju. In the future, if Sinuiju is officially designated as a SAR, it appears that a great many more trade offices will appear.

Other news from Sinuiju insiders is that the People’s Committee, People’s Security Force, National Security and Defense Bureau and other central government departments that have received Kim Jong Il’s permission to trade have already opened offices in Sinuiju, employing people in the area and busily seeking out people with connections in China in order to find trading partners.

It appears by looking at the relocation currently underway that the goal is to move residents within the same timeframe that was required for the first round of relocations in 2002, when residents were moved to Chunma, Kwaksan, Dongrim and other areas around the outskirts of Sinuiju. There are problems here as well, as the government wants to relocate residents from Pyongyang and other regions to Sinuiju. At issue is the fact that while the number of residents who can move in needs to equal the number relocated out of the area, some North Koreans have already used connections with the central and regional party affiliates in order to move to the region.

In addition, the housing market is active, with housing prices in central downtown areas having already skyrocketed. While officially owned by the state, dwellings are unofficially “sold” through the use of “modification fees”: apartments run from 25 to 30 million won (8 to 10 thousand USD), while two-three story condominiums in “Chinatown” in the Namsang district run in the tens of thousands of dollars.

However, complications have arisen. Many residents being moved out have decided to get rid of their houses, but this has proved more difficult than expected. Some have put up their house for sale but have been unable to find a buyer. There are also those who were caught in the midst of sales through “real estate offices” when a crackdown by authorities resulted in their expulsion. A source stated that the administrative authority of the city security bureau in charge of relocating residents is undermanned and takes different measures to direct different groups of residents, while pressing for the expulsion of what it deems as “lesser” or unemployed people.

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Sinuiju SAR back on?

Monday, February 13th, 2006

According to the Daily NK (2006-2-13):

A high-level internal source in North Korea reported on the 12th that North Korea is in the process of restarting the development of Shinuiju Special Administrative Region.

According to the source, a mass number of residents were moved to rural areas, plans were set to move administrative offices and plans were carried out to build the road to Dandong, China is under expansion construction. They are also coming up with measures to better control the usage of cellular phones as well as other political measures.

Such recent development activities in Shinuiju mainly took place after Kim Jong Il’s visit to China, which seems to be part of North Korea’s reformation and liberalization plan.

Driving Out the Residents and Their Number

The source reported, “They are planning to move the Shinuiju residents of about 7,000 families (25,000 to 30,000 people) to close cities and rural areas. Their plan is to strictly sort out those from “bad families” and those who have committed political errors (wrongdoings) and move them to Chulsan-gun [Cholsan], Donglim-gun [Tongrim], Yomju-gun, and Taechun-gun[Thaechon] of North Pyongan province.”

In September of 2002, North Korea announced Shinuiju as the Special Administrative Region and nominated Yang Bin, president of Ouya Group at the time, who was the invited minister of the Shinuiju Special Administrative Region. He said, “We will move the current 200,000 Shinuiju residents to another place.”

At the time, the North Korean government started to build 3 m high fence around the designated region, which clearly showed its preparation to make Shinuiju an isolated Special Administrative Region.

Kim Eun Chul, president of Backdu-Halla Association, a young adults defectors organization and a former Shinuiju resident, said, “Chulsan-gun, Donglim-gun, Yomju-gun, and Taechun-gun are agricultural areas where there is no military or manufacturing production facilities, thus they are adequate places to move the residents.”

“There have been rumors about moving those people with unclear backgrounds out of the region every time they talked about making the Special Administrative Region.”

Provincial Administrative Offices to be Moved

The source reported, “The provincial offices located in Shinuiju city are rebuilt in South Shinuiju and roads to Dandong, China are under construction to be expanded.”

Shinuiju’s administrative offices refer to provincial offices of North Pyongan Province, including Provincial Party (office), People’s Committee, and Administrative Committee. Plans to move these offices to South Shinuiju had been announced when the government announced the plan for the Shinuiju Special Administrative Region in September 2002. South Shinuiju is located about 3 km away from downtown Shinuiju and when Shinuiju becomes a Special Administrative Region, administrative work will be divided and South Shuinuiju will take charge of provincial administrative work.

Yet another source said, “Among the Shinuiju residents, rumors are spreading that Kim Jong Il’s visit to China was for iron and oil trade.” Shinuiju relied on Chinese aid or trade for most of the industrial facilities and as an example, currently, Baekmawon Oil Factory in Shinuiju is receiving oil aid of 1,500,000 tons per year from China.

Additional posts on the Sinuiju SAR can be found here.

Read the full story here:
Shinuiju Special Administrative Region Plan Propelled Once Again
Daily NK
Kwon Jeong Hyun
2006-2-13

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Minerals, railways draw China to North Korea

Friday, November 18th, 2005

From the Asia Times:
By Michael Rank
11/18/2005

Chinese companies are venturing into North Korea, and both countries hope to reap the rewards. North Korea’s heavy industry is in a desperate state, but Pyongyang is hoping that Chinese investment will come to its rescue, while China sees the North as a convenient source of minerals, from coal to gold.

China’s increasing investment also means that North Korea is casting off its rigid juche, or self-sufficiency, policy and overcoming its deep historical suspicion of its giant northern neighbor.

Border trade in consumer items from televisions to beer has been booming since the 1990s, but now the focus is turning to the industrial sector. Deals are being reached on mines, railways and leasing a North Korean port to a Chinese company, but North Korea is notoriously secretive and few details have been published outside China. The deals include an agreement to “completely open” North Korea’s railways to a Hong Kong millionaire, as well as moves to revive ailing coal, iron and gold mines.

Tumen-Chongjin rail link rumored
Hong Kong businessman Qian Haomin is reported to have reached a US$3 billion deal with North Korea that also involves the Chinese Railways Ministry building a new rail link between the Chinese border city of Tumen and the North Korean port of Chongjin. The agreement marks an end to long-running tension between the Chinese and North Korean state railway authorities over North Korea’s retention of up to 2,000 Chinese goods wagons and reluctance to repay loans.

The Hong Kong news magazine Yazhou Zhoukan recently reported that these issues had been resolved and that Qian’s grandly named company Hong Kong International has agreed to provide the North Koreans with 500 to 1,000 freight wagons. Qian told the magazine that “after six months of effort, there are now hopes of solving the railway transport bottleneck between China and North Korea”, and this would help to integrate the economy of the entire northeast Asian region.

Qian’s ambitions are not limited to railways. Not only has he expressed interest in investing in a North Korean coal mine, but Yazhou Zhoukan also reported that he hopes to set up a special economic zone in the North Korean border city of Sinuiju. He has clearly not been deterred by the unhappy case of Yang Bin, a Dutch-Chinese multi-millionaire who was made head of a similar development zone in 2002. Before Yang could take up his post, he was arrested by the Chinese authorities for tax evasion and other economic crimes and jailed for 18 years.

Qian, aged 41, is originally from the southern Chinese province of Guangdong and moved to Hong Kong in 1993. He has been involved in North Korea since the early 1990s, and has apparently established a fruitful relationship with Prime Minister Pak Pong-ju. He has said that “to invest in North Korea has been my dream” because three of his uncles fought in the Korean war; one was killed and one was seriously wounded. The Hong Kong investor has signed a plastics, tire and battery recycling agreement with North Korea and has expressed interest in investing in the country’s largest anthracite coal mine, which now produces only 1 million tons a year, compared with 3 million tons at its peak.

Tonghua Steel looks North
Meanwhile, state-owned Tonghua Steel or Tonggang, based in the northeastern city of Tonghua, expects to sign a 7 billion yuan ($865 million), 50-year exploration rights deal with the Musan iron ore mine, said to be North Korea’s largest iron deposit. Tonggang, Jilin province’s largest steelmaker, hopes to receive 10 million tons of iron ore a year from Musan as part of its plans to increase steel production from a projected 5.5 million tons in 2007 to 10 million tons in 2010.

The planned deal reflects China’s immense and growing appetite for steel. Although the country already produces 30% of global output, it is heavily reliant on imports and is concerned about rising prices. A Jilin provincial trade official said importing iron ore from North Korea was attractive because of low transport costs, which would increase Tonghua’s competitiveness.

Tonggang officials say they expect the deal to be signed soon, and that of the 7 billion yuan (US$866.1 million) pledged, 2 billion yuan will be invested in transport and power lines. Company president An Fengcheng said agreement had already been reached with China Development Bank on 800 million yuan worth of soft loans and 1.6 billion yuan of hard loans, while “the remaining investment will come in in stages”.

Rajin deal to give China Sea of Japan access
China’s export boom is one of the great economic success stories of the past 25 years, but it is constrained by a lack of suitable ports. In particular, the country lacks a port on the Sea of Japan, but after attempted deals with Russia came to nought, the inland Chinese border city of Hunchun has reached an agreement for a 50-year lease with the nearby North Korean port of Rajin.

The ceding of Rajin, an ice-free port with a handling capacity of 3 million tons a year, will give access to the sea to inland areas of northeast China which, at present, must send freight long distances by rail to the port of Dalian on the Bohai gulf. The agreement also provides for the construction of a 5-10 square kilometer industrial zone and a 67 kilometer highway, and envisages that the Rajin area will become a processing zone for Chinese goods which will then be re-exported to southeast China.

A Hunchun economic official stressed that the leasing of the port is “a business deal and not a government deal”. The South China Morning Post reported from Hunchun that the man behind the deal is Fan Yingsheng, a property developer from Hunan province who put up half the initial capital investment of 60 million euros (US$70 million). The sum could not be denominated in dollars for political reasons.

The paper quoted the United Nations Development Program as saying this sum would only be enough to build the road to Rajin, and far more would be needed to rejuvenate the port. The deadline for final agreement is December 30, 2006, and it remains to be seen if a final deal will be reached in time.

An unusually frank North Korean trade official noted the possible pitfalls as well as the advantages of such deals. Kim Myong-chol, head of the Korean Council for the Promotion of Foreign Trade, said the deals would have to involve importing “highly advanced technology and equipment”, and added: “These agreements are not easy to put into actual practice and can run into many problems so far as funding and bilateral cooperation are concerned.”

“Because the amount of money involved in these cooperative projects is quite large and [North] Korea will be investing ports, roads, etc, there are rather great risks in such investment, and in addition because the domestic Korean economy and its policies, laws and regulations, etc, are unclear, many problems are likely to arise in carrying out these plans,” Kim told a Chinese website.

Coal and gold
Such concerns may have been in the mind of the president of China Minmetals Corp, Zhou Zhongshu, when he signed “an agreement on setting up a joint venture in the coal sector of the DPRK” [North Korea]. The deal was signed in October when Chinese deputy premier Wu Yi visited Pyongyang, and is said to be the first of its kind. North Korean Vice Minister for Foreign Trade Ri Ryong-nam urged the Chinese side to “provide advanced technology and set up a good model for other joint ventures and cooperation between the two countries”.

North Korea also has substantial gold deposits, and a Chinese company plans to invest in a “semi-paralyzed” North Korean gold mine and refine the metal at its base in Zhaoyuan in Shandong province. Guoda Gold Co Ltd reached a preliminary agreement last year with Sangnongsan gold mine, which is said to have gold deposits totaling at least 150 tons.

Guoda deputy manager Lin Deming said his company was attracted to North Korea because of low labor, energy and transport costs as well as the “highly favorable” investment terms offered, but gave no details. Chinese investment in North Korea is certainly increasing, but final agreement on a number of deals has not yet been reached, and political factors such as uncertainty over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program may well discourage Chinese companies from moving too fast.

Michael Rank is a former Reuters correspondent in China, now working in London.

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Overview of DPRK economic reform efforts

Tuesday, April 12th, 2005

The BBC offers a summary of economic conditions in the DPRK:

The focus of the international community’s alarm over North Korea is the isolated nation’s nuclear arsenal, and its refusal to talk about it.

An aspect that is sometimes overlooked is the dire state of its economy, and yet this could be at the heart of the nuclear crisis.

The regime, with few allies in the world, cannot appeal to the sort of humanitarian emotions that African or South Asian nations have in the past.

To ensure the flow of food and oil, it must have a bargaining chip, and its nuclear arsenal is that chip.

Therefore Pyongyang’s diplomatic bluster is inextricably linked to its need to keep what remains of its economy propped up by donations.

North Korea has recently attempted limited reforms to its economy, but these have not been comprehensive or well-enough planned to work.

Pushed into reform

North Korea became an independent state in 1953, and has operated a rigid centrally planned, or “command” economy based on that developed by Stalin in the USSR.

Industry and agriculture are planned on a five-year basis, all farms are collectivised, volume is praised over value and most foods and goods are rationed.

This model initially allowed for rapid industrialisation and rebuilding, but it failed to deliver sustainable growth or raise living standards.

The economy began to collapse, and by the mid-1990s the country was in a state of famine. The industrial base and the agricultural sector have been in decline ever since. Beijing, North Korea’s only real ally, decided to act in October 2001 with an economics lesson for North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

He was shown round a GM plant and a hi-tech factory in Shanghai, and received a lecture about the benefits of Chinese-style reform.

The Chinese were effectively telling Mr Kim that it was time for change – and that they were fed up with the growing number of refugees fleeing over the Chinese border, and increasing demands for aid.

Mr Kim realised he needed to keep China close, and in June 2002 announced a series of economic reforms.

Pyongyang partially ended rationing and reformed the wages and pricing system.

Retail prices shot up – rice by 55,000%, corn 5,000%, electricity 143% and public transport fares 2,000% – but average wages increased by just 1,818% – from 110 won to 2,000 won (US$22) per month.

It also allowed private farmers’ markets to expand – to provide more goods for the consumers this monetary liberalisation had created.

Another major plank of the reforms was the new investment zone in Sinuiju – and another one in Kaesong, agreed as part of Kim Dae-jung’s Sunshine Policy.

These investment zones used foreign investment to create new economic ventures.

But neither the wage and pricing reform, nor the investment zones, have worked.

Scarce resources

The government had hoped that inflation created by the reforms, if kept under control, would “kick-start” the economy.

But this theory assumed there was a mass of underutilised resources waiting to be kick-started. Twenty-five years of decline meant that these resources were now scarce.

More food found its way into the farmers’ markets, but at prices ordinary people could not afford.

This effective legitimisation of private farming and smuggling across the border from China only succeeded in increasing the availability of goods to the elite – those whose wages were protected or had access to foreign currency.

As for the economic zones, Sinuiju’s position, opposite China’s flourishing economic zone in Dandong, annoyed Beijing.

It consequently arrested the Chinese businessman hired to run Sinuiju, imprisoning him for 18 years for tax evasion and effectively ending the project.

Kaesong survives but all the ventures are foreign-owned, with little benefit, therefore, for North Korea.

By the end of 2002, economic growth was estimated at just 1.2% at best, with the average citizen’s purchasing power severely eroded.

For most ordinary North Koreans, the end result of the reforms was further impoverishment and the eroding of any savings they may have been able to build up.

So, in light of the reforms’ failure, North Korea’s alleged announcement in October 2002 that its country was pursuing an enriched uranium programme could be interpreted as a return to its old bargaining tactics.

The international community responded to the announcement by setting up six-party talks in August 2003.

But the diplomacy is failing because North Korea, with no allies but the increasingly exasperated Chinese, and little prospect of economic revitalisation, needs to ensure a continued drip feed of aid.

That means a hard bargaining process, and Mr Kim has one bargaining chip – his nuclear bombs.

Already twice, as far as we know, Beijing has managed by persuasion, and perhaps a little economic pressure, to get Pyongyang back to the table after talks have stalled.

Now Beijing is trying again. Perhaps what Pyongyang wants most is a serious package of economic aid from China.

China may provide it to get the talking started again.

But the price Beijing will need to demand is that Pyongyang restarts economic reform in earnest, and moves away from the continual brink of collapse that forces it to make desperate diplomatic gambles such as the current crisis.

As for the economy today, it has to all intents and purposes collapsed.

The reforms were limited, and benefited just the elite of the country rather than ordinary people.

The basic structure remains in place and continues to erode the economy.

However, as long as the regime can keep the country isolated, it can survive on this drip-feed indefinitely.

The endgame is simple – regime survival. It is a long-term strategy using diplomatic belligerence and military threat to secure enough aid to maintain power and isolation.

The regime may survive, and may under pressure begin another round of tentative reform, but it seems unlikely that life will improve for ordinary North Koreans any time soon.

Read the full story here:
Economy root to N Korea crisis
BBC
Paul French
2005-4-12

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The fall and arrest of Mr. Yang

Sunday, September 7th, 2003

UPDATE 2 (2003-9-7): The BBC reports that Mr. Yang has lost his appeal:

A business tycoon once listed as China’s second richest man has lost an appeal against his 18-year sentence for fraud.

Yang Bin, known as China’s flower king, was found guilty in July of a string of economic crimes including bribery and illegal land use.

The High People’s Court of Liaoning province on Sunday also upheld fines against him and his companies totalling 8.3m yuan ($1m), said the official Xinhua news agency.

Yang is one of a number of high-profile businessmen to have fallen foul of the law in China over the last year.

Before his fall from grace, he was one of China’s most flamboyant businessmen, and was named by North Korea to head a free-market experimental zone across from the Chinese border.

Border arrest

A Dutch citizen, he built a business empire growing tulips amid the industrial decay of north-east China and by 2001 had a fortune close to $1bn.

However, much of Yang’s wealth had, it turned out, been based not on flowers but on illegal property development.

In what may have been a last bid to avoid prosecution, he accepted an offer from the North Korean government to run a new free trade zone inside the Stalinist state.

But last October, as he prepared to cross the border, Chinese police moved in and took him away.

UPDATE 1 (2003-7-14): Mr. Yang has been sentenced to 18 years by a Chinese court. According to the BBC:

A business tycoon once listed as the second richest man in China has been sentenced to 18 years in prison for fraud.
Yang Bin, known as China’s flower king, was found guilty of a string of economic crimes including bribery and illegal land use.

He is one of a number of high-profile businessmen to have fallen foul of the law in China in recent months.

Before his fall from grace, Yang Bin was one of China’s most flamboyant businessmen, and was named by North Korea to head a free-market experimental zone across from the Chinese border.

A Dutch citizen, he built a business empire growing tulips amid the industrial decay of north-east China.

By 2001 he was listed as China’s second richest man, with a fortune close to $1bn.

But with fame came suspicion and soon a government investigation.

Much of Yang’s wealth had, it turned out, been based not on flowers but on illegal property development.

False receipts were used to get his company listed on the stock market. As his empire began to crumble around him, Yang made what may have been a last bid to avoid prosecution.

He accepted an offer from the North Korean government to run a new free trade zone inside the Stalinist state.

But last October, as he prepared to cross the border, Chinese police moved in and took him away.

A spokesman for Yang, chairman of Hong Kong-listed Euro-Asia Agricultural (Holdings), said he planned to appeal.

Read the full story here:
China’s ‘orchid king’ gets 18 years
BBC
2003-7-14

ORIGINAL POST (2002-10-4): According to the Washington Post, Mr. Yang has been arrested.

Chinese sources, including journalists, said police detained Yang Bin, a 39 year old multimillionaire and flower mogul, on suspicion of tax evasion in the northern Chinese city of Shenyang.

A Chinese source said that the move did not mean China opposed North Korea’s fledgling efforts to reform its economy.  China, he said, was simply against the choice of Yang Bin to head the effort.

Nonetheless, Chinese economists said Yang’s detention constitutes an embarrassment for Kim Jong Il and could threaten reform efforts.

Within the last few days, Chinese journalists say, China’s Ministry of Propaganda has issued three circulars banning China’s press from in depth coverage of Yang.  Analysts in China say they believe this means Beijing is uncomfortable with his new status in North Korea.

The Sinuiju region draws its inspiration from the special economic zones that china established in the 1980s .

Yang said any foreigner could travel to Sinuiju without a visa as long as they had a a visa to return to China (as of Sept 30).  But those plans hit a roadblock on Thursday when North Korean authorities declined to allow foreign correspondents travel with Yang to the Zone.  Yang’s problems then started snowballing when an impromptu news conference he called to explain the visa restrictions was declared “illegal” by Chinese police.

Yang’s shares have been suspended from the Hong Kong Stock Exchange because the company has not made sufficient disclosures.

Yang has been reticent about how he got the North Korean appointment–one of the stranger events in Pyongyang’s checkered attempts to open to the outside world.  In an interview with a Chinese magazine, he said that he had been “Sharing my agricultural technology with the people of North Korea “for more than a year” and that “my selfless help won the trust of the Korean people.”

Yang struck up a friendship with Kim Jong-il several years ago.  Yang took his corporate jet to Pyongyang and worked hard to cultivate Kim.  Kim traveled to Shenyang to meet Yang.  Yang offered to donate greenhouses to North Korea which is desperate for ways to grow food, and Kim accepted.

Some Chinese economists and officials have privately criticized North Korea’s choice of Yang, saying he is emblematic of a type of Chinese businessman who amasses fortunes making use of connections and legal loopholes.

Yang has said he hoped to turn Sinuiju into a trading and manufacturing and trading hub.  Chinese cources, however, said that so far Yang has been approached only by developers looking to turn the area into a gambling and entertainment enclave for Chinese tourists.  Gambling is illegal in China.

Source:
The Fall of Mr. Yang
Washington Post
2002-10-4
Page A25

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Korea Trade Bank in Dandong

Thursday, November 21st, 2002

According to the Chosun Ilbo (2002-11-21):

It has been learned that North Korea recently opened a branch office of the (North) Korea Trade Bank in Dandong, China across the border from Sinuiju, a step tied with the designation of Sinuiju as a special administrative region. The only bank in the North specialized in foreign currency and responsible for exchange rates, the Korea Trade Bank opened its Dandong branch in October under the a judgment that promotion of economic cooperation with Dandong is a prerequisite to success for the Sinuiju capitalism experiment, said South Korean government officials.

The officials saw the step as indicating Pyongyang’s will to develop the Sinuiju SAR despite the detention of Yang Bin, the first administrative officer of the SAR. The Korea Trade Bank is empowered to conclude agreements with foreign financial institutions under accords reached between governments involved. The bank’s recent opening of its branch office in Dandong, accordingly, indicates that China, which originally opposed to the Sinuiju SAR, is in favor of it now.

The Korea Trade Bank’s Dandong branch is expected to handle not only inducement of foreign investments into the Sinuiju SAR, but also North Korean corporations’ exports to China via Dandong, observed the officials.

The article used as a source for this post has since been removed from the Choson Ilbo web page.

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