According to the Donga Ilbo:
South Korea held two rounds of secret talks with North Korea at an inter-Korean industrial complex in Kaesong at Pyongyang`s request late last year on joint development of rare earth metals in the North. Called the “vitamins of high-tech industries,” rare earth metals are minerals necessary for making smartphones, notebook computers and hybrid vehicles.
The North’s proposal to hold the meetings was made after the South stopped almost all inter-Korean economic cooperation in May 2010, soon after a South Korean naval vessel was sunk by a North Korean torpedo. Whether this will lead to the resumption of inter-Korean economic cooperation remains to be seen.
The Korea Resources Corp., a South Korean state-run resources developer, said Sunday that it held working-level talks with officials of the North’s National Economic Cooperation Federation at the Kaesong Industrial Complex in September and December last year.
In the second contact, the federation handed over four rare earth samples to the South Korean side. An analysis showed that the samples were a type of rare earth metals used to manufacture LCD panels and optical lenses.
A South Korean official who participated in the talks said, “The North strongly proposed that the two Koreas jointly develop coal mines as well as rare earth metals.”
The resources corporation tried to brief North Korea on the results of the sample analysis. No further talks have been held since, however, due to changes in Pyongyang’s political situation following the death of leader Kim Jong Il on Dec. 17 last year.
Still, the corporation said it maintains a “hotline” with its North Korean counterpart and plans to develop resources in the North. CEO Kim Shin-jong briefed South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on the results of the sample analysis in February. He said, “The president encouraged us to carry on after we reported that North Korean rare earth metals are economically promising.”
The South Korean resources development industry estimates that North Korea has 42 types of minerals, including rare earth metals at nearly 700 mines under development. Their value is estimated at nearly 6,984 trillion won (6,133 billion U.S. dollars). In particular, the industry says that while China has made rare earth metals a strategic resource, the North has up to 20 million tons of rare earth deposits. China’s rare deposits are estimated at 55 million tons, accounting for about half of the world’s total.
A South Korean official involved in economic projects in the North said, “We cannot rule out the possibility that inter-Korean economic cooperation projects will be resumed, as (the North`s No. 2 man) Jang Sung Taek and (military bigwig) Choe Ryong Hae, who are known as pragmatists, have rapidly emerged as powerful men,” adding, “Resource development is what the North needs the most and the South can approach this without political burden.”
The Wall Street Journal’s Korea Real Time adds additional details:
North Korea makes occasional claims to have large deposits of rare earths, a potential source of hard currency for the impoverished nation. There are no reliable data on North Korea’s rare earth deposits.
China controls about 95% of the world’s rare-earth production. Rare-earth minerals are used in products ranging from consumer electronics to batteries to defense systems.
Kores invested 6.25 billion won ($5.5 million) in 2003 to jointly develop a graphite mine in North Korea. The project has capacity to produce as much as 3,000 tons of graphite annually and the deal allows Kores to take half of the annual produce for 20 years, according to the official. So far, Kores has collected 850 tons of graphite.
Economic ties between North and South Korea remain almost completely suspended following two attacks on South Korea in 2010 by the North that killed 50 people.
Additional information below:
1. The graphite mine mentioned above is called the Janchon Graphite Mine. You can learn more about it here.
Read the full stories here:
Koreas held 2 secret talks on rare earth metals last year
South, North Korea Discussed Rare Earth Mining
Wall Street Journal’s Korea Real Time