Chinese takeover of Raijin-Sonbong

From NK zone:

China and North Korea have signed a 50-year agreement that will give the Chinese border city of Hunchun exclusive rights over the North Korean port of Rajin, according to Chinese and South Korean reports.

The deal is seen as a boost to this underdeveloped region of China and to Hunchun in particular which is about 80 km inland on the Tumen river. It also envisages that Hunchun will establish a 5-10 sq km industrial zone in Rajin and for a highway to be built between the two cities.

A Chinese-language report posted last month describes how Hunchun, although it was given border trade rights with North Korea as long ago as 1986 and was made an “open city” in 1992, has seen little benefit from these privileges, despite national, provincial and local level investment totalling five billion yuan ($600 mln) as part of the Tumen River Development Zone. The report says this resulted in an economic bubble in the early 90s, with vast numbers of half-built factories, offices and roads and a border bridge that was never completed.

The aim has long been for Hunchun to have access to a nearby port in North Korea or Russia and to dredge the Tumen river, but the report says that while it has reached a navigation agreement with Russia it had failed to reach agreement with the DPRK. It also notes that dredging would have serious environmental implications (doesn’t enlarge on this but see below). It adds that plenty of landlocked countries are economically highly successful and that there are plenty of other cases “leasing ports to reach the sea”.

Thus even before the Rajin deal was signed there were hopes that Hunchun would in the next 10 years become the most advanced city in the Yanbian region after the capital, Yanji and eventually become the “Rotterdam of the north[east?!].”

Anyhow the agreement with Rajin has of course been greeted as a great victory and comes as the Tumen River Area Development Programme agreed to extend its 1995 Agreement on the establishment of a Consultative Commission for a further ten years and to expand its geographical reach to include the three Northeastern provinces and Inner Mongolia in China, the Rason Economic and Trade Zone of DPRK, eastern provinces of Mongolia, eastern port cities in South Korea and part of the Primorsky territory of Russia.
However, another Chinese report is sceptical about the deal which it says also involves construction of a 67-km highway and plans for the Rajin area to become a processing zone for Chinese goods which will then be reexported to southeast China.

It quotes a Jilin province commerce bureau official as saying as saying only time will tell whether it will achieve its aims, and also cites an unnamed professor from the Jilin Academy of Social Sciences as saying that North Korea’s ports, railways, roads, power and water networks and communications are extremely backward and badly maintained and development has also suffered from the “instability of [North Korean] government policy.”

The deal with North Korea follows failure to reach a similar agreement with a Russian port. The People’s Daily reported in 2003 that the Russian Ministry of Communications was opposed to a proposed 49-year deal with either the port of Zarubino or Posyet, both just over the Chinese border, because it viewed the Chinese as having territorial designs on the region, which China of course denies.

The Chinese article about the Rajin deal also gives some figures for Jilin’s border trade. It says this totalled $250 mln last year, consisting of $80.07 mln worth of exports to North Korea and $114.5 mln in imports (presumably the rest consists of trade with Russia, etc). Main exports consisted of machinery, grain and flour, textiles, steel, cars and coal. “Because the railways and other means of transport are poor and there are long delays, this was bad for our province’s exports of coal, grain and other bulk items,” the Jilin commerce bureau official said, adding that transport was the main factor impeding the province’s foreign trade.

A Chinese report posted last December says Hunchun officials had visited Pyongyang several times in the last year and had found North Korean officials eager to improve road and sea communications in order to create a “northeastern golden triangle.” It says leasing a nearby port across the border is the best option, and mentions a South Korean clothing company which saved much money and time by switching to Zarubino port in Russia (only 70 km from the border) from far away Dalian in China.

It adds that there are plans for an export-oriented abattoir at Hunchun with a capacity of 200,000 cattle and sheep per year. It also says Hunchun expected to handle $220 mln worth of foreign trade last year and in January-October 2004 it handled 172,300 tonnes of imports and exports, up 7.9% over 2003.  A North Korean trade official gave the Rajin zone his blessing in 1999, as did a professor of economics from Kim Il Sung University.

Development of the area would no doubt improve living standards, but it would also have serious environmental implications. the Tumen Development Programme notes that the Hunchun Border Economic Cooperation Zone was established in 1992 without an environmental impact assessment (EIA). “Since then, considerable investment has taken place and Hunchun’s population has multiplied many-fold, with serious implications for nearby wetlands and other ecosystems.” It adds that “in 1999, the Tumen Programme undertook a long-overdue EIA of the Zone to meet international (World Bank) standard and serve as a model for other development areas in the Tumen Region.”

Eastern Siberia and the Chinese border are is the last remaining stronghold of the Siberian (or Manchurian) tiger and it is also has crucial sites for a large number of bird species including about 50 species listed in the international red book of endangered species.

The Hunchun area is where most NK refugees cross into China, so economic development would presumably make North Koreans less likely to flee their miserably poor country, though improved communications may make it easier for them to do so…

The famous or infamous Emperor casino is also not far away. As NKZ readers will doubtless recall it was closed in January after a Chinese crackdown against gambling as its clientele was entirely Chinese. Little has been heard about it since though the management are apparently hoping to attract Europeans to replace the Chinese, not sure that habitués of London casinos are likely to be greatly tempted… Am also told that the Emperor isn’t totally closed but it does have extremely few customers.

Anyhow its two websites are still up, click here for the Chinese one and here for the Hong Kong one.

According to a Chinese report, Chinese gamblers are now flooding into Vladivostok following the closure of the Emperor (so much for the crackdown against gambling in border casinos…)


Comments are closed.