Archive for the ‘Rason Economic and Trade Zone (Rajin-Sonbong)’ Category

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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China’s plans for Quanhe Customs House

Monday, April 7th, 2014

Quanhe Customs House will be the border facility for managing Chinese traffic into Rason (and further down the coast). Within the administration building on the site is a poster advertising the plans to expand the customs house to manage more traffic.

Quanhe-customs-2

The billboard offers a conceptual image of the new facility, a map of the new location, and some informative copy (in Chinese).

Here is a Google Earth image of the proposed construction site in relation to the existing border compound:

New-Quanhe-customs

Here is a translation of the Chinese on the sign text:

Introduction of Construction Project of Quanhe (Guanghe) Port

1. The Proposed Location
The proposed site is located in Quanhe Village, Jingxin-Zhen of Hunchun City, north side of Quanhe Road. The project covers an area of 180,000 square meters (map below).

2. Construction Project
The total investment of Quanhe Port Project is 299,331,500 RMB, and the total construction area is 16992m2. including Passenger Security Channel (5445m2), Cargo Inspection Channel (2000m2), House For Frontier Inspection (1680m2), Cargo Storehouse (2000m2), Inspection And Quarantine Site (2400m2), Dormitory Restaurant (2567m2), Garage And Boiler Room (900 m2).

Passenger Security Channel: Including each 6 channels for entry and exit, and another 4 vehicle channels for touring bus. Designed annual passenger capacity is 2 million.

Cargo Inspection Channel: Including each 4 channels for entry and exit of cargo and another 1 channel for passenger. The designed annual cargo capacity is 1.65 million tons.

3. Remaining
The existing inspection building will be used as channels for border trade and tourism after the new facilities getting into operation.

Thanks to Berhhard Seliger for the info!

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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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Choe Hyon Chol on Rason development

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

According to Naenara, Choe Hyon Chol is the section chief of the State Economic Development Commission (SEDC). He has previously been identified as a director of the Korean Association of Economic Development. In a recent interview with Naenara, he discusses the benefits of investing in the Rason Economic and Trade Zone.

Before getting to the interview, however, it is worth noting that the Rason Economic and Trade Zone was set up before the creation of the State Economic Development Commission and it was “controlled” by Jang Song-thaek. Since Jang’s purge, it appears that Rason (and probably Hwanggumphyong) have been moved to the SEDC’s portfolio–that is, under the control of the cabinet.

Here is the interview:

Reporter: Would you please give me a briefing on the Rason Economic and Trade Zone that is now under development.

Choe: As you know, northeast Asia becomes one of the global development regions with a great potentiality, for the countries in this region have comparative advantages in respect of availability of production factors such as economic conditions, natural resources and economic and trade relations.

The Rason Economic and Trade Zone, situated on the western shore of the lower Tuman River in the northeastern part of Korea, borders on China and Russia, and Japan with the sea on the east. Its geographical location offers immense economic and traffic advantages as a transportation hub as well as a bridgehead of the continent.

Occupying an area of 470 km2, it has Rajin Port with an annual handling capacity of 3 million tons of cargoes, Sonbong Port with a handling capacity of 2 million tons of oil and Ungsang Port with a handling capacity of 600 000 m3 of timbre. The sea off the ports is deep and not frozen even in winter.

Rajin Port, in particular, has favourable conditions for creating cargo handling capacity of over 100 million tons without building a breakwater thanks to the Taecho and Socho islands in front of it.

The zone has also advantageous traffic connections with neighbouring countries.

Rajin-Wonjong class-B road (51 km), Rajin Port-Tumen railway (158 km) and Rajin Port-Khasan railway (51 km) are under construction or nearing completion.

The Rason Economic and Trade Zone is endowed with abundant tourist resources such as beautiful seascape, lake and bathing resorts, and 20-odd islands including Pipha, Taecho, Socho and Al islands.

In view of these favourable geopolitical and economic conditions, the DPRK government declared Rason city as an economic and trade zone on December 28, 1991 and held an international investment seminar with participation of entrepreneurs from 27 countries under the sponsorship of the UNDP and UNIDO in September 1996. It also raised Rason city to the status of special city on January 4, 2010 and agreed with China on the issue of joint development and management of Rason Economic and Trade Zone and Hwanggumphyong-Wihwado Economic Zone in May 2010.

In November 2010 the DPRK and the Chinese governments signed the Agreement on Joint Development and Management of Rason Economic and Trade Zone and Hwanggumphyong-Wihwado Economic Zone and organized the DPRK-China Joint Guidance Committee. The second session of the committee was held in June 2011 in Yanji, Jilin Province, China and its third session in August 2012 in Beijing. Besides, both governments concluded the agreement on establishment and operation of management committee for Rason Economic and Trade Zone, the master plan for DPRK-China joint development of the zone, the framework agreements on investment in ports, industrial districts and power transmission within the zone and investment and cooperation for construction of a new border bridge between Wonjong and Quanhe, the agreements on investment and cooperation for a high-efficiency agricultural model district and investment and cooperation for building-materials industry and the master plans for Sonbong-Paekhak industrial district and Rajin port industrial district.

The development of the zone in which a hundred and scores of businesses from different countries of the world are now active is in its initial stage but the number of potential investors with exceptional interests in the zone is increasing as days go by.

Reporter: How is the present state and prospect of the zone?

Choe: I shall begin with the progress of city construction.

The city is divided into residential quarters, industrial district and traffic junction district. The residential quarters consist of economic and trade area and peripheral area; the economic and trade area is subdivided into Rajin, Sonbong, Ungsang, Kulpho-Uam and Chonghak areas and the peripheral area into Tumangang, Hongui, Wonjong and Huchang areas. The industrial area embraces Changphyong, Yokjon, Chonggye, Sinhung, Tongmyong, Namsan and Andong areas.

The traffic junction district includes Rajin, Sonbong and Ungsang ports, Rajin, Ungra and Sonbong railway stations and Chongjin-Wonjong and Chongjin-Tuman River roads.

The Rajin Port, a transit trade port, is the hub of international cargo transit transportation and transport of exports and imports of entrepreneurs who invested in the zone.

The port has assignments to transport marine products for export from the East Sea of Korea and every kind of cargoes from and to northeast area of China and Far East Region of Russia.

The Rajin Port consists of three wharves; wharf No. 1 is designed to be renovated and operated by China Dalian Chuang Li Co., Ltd. and wharf No.3 by Rason International Container Transport J. V. Company to be set up according to the contract with Russian Rail Trade Co., Ltd.

The project of Rajin-Wonjong road started in April 2011 and completed in October 2012, and the power transmission project is now under way.

Currently, three railways run through Rason.

In the whole section of the Pyongyang-Tumangang line, standard gauge track

(1,435 mm) is laid from Pyongyang to Rajin and combined-gauge track with standard gauge and broad gauge (1 520 mm) from Rajin Railway Station to Tumangang Railway Staion, leading to Khasan Railway Station.

The updating project of Rajin-Namyang railway has been agreed with China in October 2012 and the construction of Sonbong-Paekhak industrial district, building materials industrial district, high-efficiency agricultural model district and Wonjong-Quanhe border bridge is in full swing.

When the construction projects of power line, railways, ports and border bridge are brought to completion, the Rason Economic and Trade Zone will be turned into a promising economic and trade zone of the world standard.

Next, tourism is booming in this zone.

Rason has eight bays and 21 islands, big and small.

There are Pipha, Chujin and Kalum Headland tourist attractions furnished with hotels, restaurants and sea bathing grounds along the coast.

Rason abounds in natural monuments, mineral water, spring water and marine products, and sea birds and coastal scenery strike tourists with admiration.

As mentioned above, the Rason Economic and Trade Zone is a special economic zone equipped with all conditions favourable for preferential trade and investment, transit transportation, tourism and financial and service businesses.

The DPRK government is constantly encouraging foreign investors to invest in intermediate trade, industry, agriculture, construction, transport, communications, science and technology, tourism, service and finance.

Today the development prospect of the zone is optimistic.

We are looking forward to an active investment in development projects of the zone, promising high profit with small investment.

Reporter: Thank you for kind explanation.

State Economic Development Commission of the DPRK

PDF of the interview here.

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Russia to forgive DPRK debt (2006-present)

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

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.

Read more below:

(more…)

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

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

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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DPRK reorganizing rents in Rason

Monday, January 27th, 2014

When Jang Song-thaek was purged, the North Korean prosecutors provided a laundry list of offenses committed against the nation. Among his crimes, Jang was specifically criticized for his management of assets in the Rason Economic and Trade Zone. The public accusation stated, “Jang made no scruple of committing such act of treachery in May last as selling off the land of the Rason economic and trade zone to a foreign country for a period of five decades under the pretext of paying those debts.”

The unnamed “foreign country” in the quote is obviously China, and the subtext of the quote implies that Rason contracts signed under Jang’s protection are in danger of being violated as the North Koreans reorganize the allocation of rents among key leadership organizations. This has to be unnerving to the Chinese business partners that signed these contracts and have been investing in the zone. In a best-case scenario for the investors, the reorganization of patronage would simply mean that they are just making payments to different organizations, but otherwise, business is pretty much unchanged. However, if the North Koreans are taking the drastic step of invalidating contracts and confiscating property, then we would expect to see a significant slow down in development of the zone in the future.

Following news of Jang’s purge, initial reports indicated that both DPRK and Chinese members of the Rason Management Committee had departed the SEZ and that most activities have come to a complete halt. But there are not enough reports to firmly conclude this is the case. Now New Focus has published information on some of the changes taking place in the Rason SEZ. The usual caveats apply:

The Kim Il-sung villa in Rajin-Sonbong is no longer available for hire, according to a reliable source in the area. The de-listing happened in the course of a Ministry of State Security (MSS) surveillance operation in North Korea’s Rajin-Sonbong special economic zone.

The operation was instigated under orders from the Organisation and Guidance Department (OGD) of the Workers’ Party, as it tightens its grip on the zone in the aftermath of Jang Song-thaek’s purge and execution. Nevertheless, the operation is being conducted in a relatively discreet manner so as not to startle Chinese businessmen in the zone.

The talk among senior DPRK cadres is that although Rajin-Sonbong’s Party Secretary, Party Committee Chair and MSS Supervisor are Jang Song-thaek’s associates, they are being left alone for the time being because of their close personal relations with Chinese investors; but that following the Supreme People’s Assembly elections in March, they will be replaced.

Nevertheless, the highest ranking female cadre in Rajin-Sonbong, the Tourism Director, was taken away. This prompted rumours that she was Jang Song-thaek’s lover, but her circumstances make this very unlikely.

The International Club in Rajin-Sonbong closed after the purge of Jang Song-thaek and the coming and going of Chinese businessmen has also decreased. The Kim Il-sung holiday villa in Rajin-Sonbong, which had been rented by HK investing company Emperor Group, has now been confiscated.

This villa is a 70s construction built as a getaway for Kim Il-sung and was a prized landmark in Rajin-Sonbong, with even a commemorative monument to mark the villa’s location. When the Emperor Group set up a casino in the area, they asked for permission to hire the villa for its VIP guests. At first, the Rajin-Sonbong Party Committee refused because it was considered a sacred landmark related to Kim Il-sung.

The person who secured the deal for the Emperor Group was an ethnic Korean Chinese named Ri Bong-hui, director of a fuel oil company. He donated US$1 million as a brokerage fee and the rental permit was granted. Rumours have now been spread that this fee had gone personally to Jang Song-thaek.

Existing land lease agreements in the Rajin-Sonbong special economic zone have also been affected. These originally stipulated that at US$20 / m2, plots of land could be leased for 20-50 years, depending on their location. The agreements have now been invalidated on the grounds that the details had been mismanaged by Jang Song-thaek.

Further, personnel tax and operating tax have been re-calculated and a request has been made by Party authorities in Rajin-Sonbong for the appropriate payments to be made in yearly groupings. As the Rajin-Sonbong authorities have asked for ten years back payment, many small investors from China are complaining about their losses.

The fact that the new rulings are being applied only to smaller companies is said to be exacerbating their disgruntlement. Chinese firms making larger investments are currently exempt, but some are still worried that the new measures might be applied to the bigger investors in a second phase of rulings.

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Contract signed for Onsong Economic Development Zone

Friday, December 13th, 2013

2013-12-13-Onsong-Economic-Development-Zone

Pictured above (Google Earth): The approximate location for the North Hamgyong Provincial Onsong Island Tourist Development Zone

According to China’s Global Times:

A contract has been signed between North Korea and a Chinese border city to develop a special economic zone in North Hamkyung Province, one day after North Korea removed Kim Jong-un’s once all-powerful uncle from his post.

North Korea on Monday signed the contract for Onsong Economic Development Zone with Tumen, a Chinese city under the administration of Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in Northeast China’s Jilin Province, South Korea’s JoongAng Daily reported Thursday.

On Sunday, North Korea dismissed Jang Song-thaek, widely considered the second-most powerful figure in the country, and expelled him from the Workers’ Party of Korea. Jang was accused of “anti-party, counter-revolutionary factional acts” and womanizing.

Considered an economic reformist, Jang led a delegation to China in August last year to discuss the development of two economic zones in Rason City and the Hwanggumpyong and Wihwa islands near the Chinese border.

An official from Tumen said the city government expressed concerns regarding possible postponement of the contract signing due to Jang’s ouster, but North Korea requested they sign the contract as scheduled, according to the daily.

“Jang’s involvement in economic projects had been diminished significantly this year, so his purge would not have much impact on the speed of economic reform in North Korea,” Kim Kyu-chol, head of non-government Forum for Inter-Korean Relations, a Seoul-based group monitoring inter-Korean business relations, told the Global Times on Thursday. “Actually  economic reform will speed up next year as North Korea will focus on the economy next year, the third of Kim Jong-un’s rule.”

North Korea was in the process of forming the new National Committee for Economic Development earlier this year, which technocrats who had prior experience with the nation’s former economic development bureau, will have joined, Kim Kyu-chol said.

North Korea also reached an agreement with China on Sunday over a 380-kilometer high-speed railway to connect Sinuiju, the city across the border from Dandong in Liaoning Province, through to Pyongyang and Kaesong, South Korean Democratic Party lawmaker Hong Ik-pyo told a seminar at the National Assembly.

Pyongyang’s insistence on inking the contract sends a signal that its economic ties with China will not be affected by Jang’s dismissal and that North Korea wants to strengthen cooperation with China, said Jiang Longfan, a North Korea expert at Yanbian University.

“Kim wants to consolidate his absolute authority through purging Jang, but in the meantime the commitment to economic development has to be maintained to win people’s support,” Jiang said.

Sinuiju Special Zone located at the estuary of the Yalu River is expected to see the ground-breaking of a major project in February next year, with backing from Hong Kong. North Korea also signed a contract with investors from Singapore, Hong Kong, and the Chinese mainland to invest in the Kangryong Green Development Zone in South Hwanghae Province in mid-November, Tongil News reported on Tuesday.

The Onsong Economic Development Zone is one of the 14 special economic zones North Korea has designated this year to attract foreign investment.

North Korea planned to develop the zone into a tourism resort that includes a golf course, swimming pool, horse racing, and restaurants to attract foreigners, said Jin Hualin, an expert on North Korea economy at Yanbian University.

“But the exact development agenda hasn’t been set as Tumen will invite investors to make their decisions,” he said.

He is optimistic about the economic prospects for the zone, which, located in mysterious North Korea, will be attractive to foreigners, he said.

Next year, North Korea aims to host 1 million foreign tourists and thus further tourism projects are expected to be announced, Kim Kyu-chol said.

Some 250,000 foreign tourists, more than 90 percent of whom were Chinese, visited North Korea last year, Kim said.

Read the full story here:
N.Korea inks border town economic deal
Global Times
Sun Xiaobo and Park Gayoung
2013-12-13

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Jang’s purge to affect HGP and Rason economic Zones

Friday, December 6th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rason getting Czech brewery

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

A new article in Forbes updates us on some of the changes in Rason:

Tomas Novotny has been in North Korea two days, and he looks frazzled. It was a long journey from Prague, and standing on the street in downtown Rajin, his government minder by his side, he can already see that doing business in the DPRK’s remote northeast will present an unusual set of challenges.

Novotny is here because of that railway line. A brewing technologist with the Czech firm Zvu Potez, he has come to set up a brewery. All the equipment and materials were transported by train–from Prague to Moscow, through Siberia and onto the branch line of the Trans-Korean main line.

“We’re still building the brewery. Come and see it,” says Novotny. The two containers that brought the Zvu Potez equipment from Prague lie 50 meters from the brewery. It’s a great location by the sea in Rajin’s main park. The business is a joint venture between the Czech firm and the Rason regional government, says Novotny, and will target tourists and foreigners. There are about 300 Western tourists–including Russians–a year and about 20,000 Chinese visitors to the country’s northeast.

“When they’ve finished building,” he says, shouting over the drilling, “I’m going to teach three or four locals how to brew. I hope they can speak English. If they can’t it will be interesting.”

He expects to be in Rason for six months establishing the business, but already he misses home and his young son. “I won’t get to speak to them until I go home at Christmas,” he says.

North Korea’s telecommunications challenges are a headache for business, too. Foreigners are able to get 3G on their phones, but it is expensive. International calls are possible but equally pricey.

“When telecommunications become a little more open that will indicate the seriousness of purpose,” says Andray Abrahamian, who directs Choson Exchange, a Singaporean nonprofit that focuses on business and legal training for young North Koreans in the DPRK.

Abrahamian has been watching North Korea for a decade and visited Rason several times. He says things are finally moving, a result of legal changes made in 2010 that helped make Rason more autonomous. Further legal changes two years ago were intended to harmonize Rason’s economic laws with those of China, he says.

“The degree to which [Pyongyang] will allow autonomy to the regional decision makers or local planners has yet to be seen. That’s a key issue for Rason–how autonomous are these places really?” asks Abrahamian, 36.

“Chinese small and medium-size enterprises, from Jilin Province but also Heilongjiang Province, are continuing to come in–Rason is experiencing growth,” says Abrahamian.

Not all the factories are new. The Rajin Garment Factory was built in 1958, long before talk of special economic zones. In the early days it produced school uniforms for North Korean students. After 1991 it took orders from China and today employs 180 staff.

The factory manager stands on the front steps. It’s early evening, and he’s watching a staff volleyball game in the car park. Has business improved since Rason was made a special economic zone?

He shrugs and says: “It’s hard to say. It’s different. For every school uniform we used to get paid 800 won and a 1,200-won government subsidy. Now there is no government subsidy.”

The workers, nearly all women, are given housing and paid 600? to 700 won a month, plus overtime, he says. Inside the factory, on the first floor, close to 100 women are clocking overtime. Wearing blue uniforms and matching head scarves, they are sewing puffer jackets, hurrying to complete a big order. The final step of the process is to sew in the label: “Made in China.”

The tag is written in English, and the woman packing the jackets doesn’t understand the visitors’ raised eyebrows. Apparently this is a common practice.

It’s noisy on the factory floor. The popular all-girl band Moranbong blasts out of speakers, drowning out the whir of sewing machines. It’s impossible to hear the drone of the generator, switched on after yet another power failure, a regular feature of life in the DPRK.

There is a deal in place to bring power from Jilin Province, but the Chinese have been holding it up using the pretext of an environmental impact study.

More Chinese power can’t hurt, says researcher Melvin, “but there are many more substantive problems the North Korean must overcome before serious large-scale investment can move into the country. The DPRK cannot currently credibly commit to any policy–no policy stability, rule of law–and has a poor record of honoring its agreements and impartially enforcing contracts. No independent company will risk serious capital in this environment.”

Another matter is fuel. Joseph Naemi is director of HBOil, an oil trading and refining company based in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. HBOil grabbed a few headlines in June when it was reported the firm had acquired a 20% stake in Sungri oil refinery in Rason. That was premature, says Naemi: HBOil has 20% of a state-dominated joint venture called Korean Oil Exploration Corp. International, and a formal commitment with Sungri has yet to be made. Another option is to invest in a refinery on the west coast of the DPRK.

“The easy option is Sungri oil refinery because it’s based on Russian technology and because of its location in terms of the dynamic state of affairs in Rason Special Economic Zone. We are conducting engineering assessment of the refinery to determine the various phases of upgrading and expanding–it’s a work in progress,” says Naemi.

Describing Rason officials as well educated and smart, he says they understand issues of foreign investment protection, taxation and the need to not only be fiscally transparent but also to offer attractive terms to investors.

“I know a number of Mongolian companies, all privately owned, that are at various stages of either investing in North Korea or finalizing their joint ventures so that they can invest. There is a robust relationship between Mongolia and North Korea,” says Naemi.

For anyone doing business, there will be surprises. Standing on the terrace of the new brewery, Novotny looks out at the recently planted lawn. The seeds have been planted in rows, five centimeters apart, all the way down to the sea. Come summer and the warmer weather, the grass should have taken. It stands to be a great spot for a bar.

“Yeah, if we’re still open,” says Novotny and laughs. He drops his voice and out of earshot of his minder adds: “Look at the grass, see how it grows in such straight lines. Things are different here.”

Read the full story here:
Things are Brewing in North Korea’s Rason Zone
Forbes
Kate Whitehead
2013-11-20

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