DPRK economic battle-groud between ROK/PRC

From the Joong Ang Ilbo:

During the JoongAng Ilbo’s 10-day survey of North Korean economic venues in May, North Korea’s high dependence on China was very prominent. Noting that trend, North Korea experts in Seoul recommended that South Korea make efforts to increase its industrial investment in the North to assist the failing economy and allow it to make ends meet. Donating food and other aid, they said, was contrary to the aphorism, “Give a man a fish and he can eat for a day; teach him to fish and he can eat for a lifetime.”

Throughout the trip from May 11-20, North Korean officials proudly displayed a series of automated factories, calling them the models of the reclusive communist country’s modernization. The Daean Friendship Glass Factory was on the tour; officials said China had built the factory at no cost to North Korea. Similarly, production lines in several other plants were overwhelmingly “made in China.”

The March 26 Cable Factory in Pyongyang used Chinese machines; its raw materials appeared to be from China as well. The Pyongyang Cosmetic Factory, which produces cosmetics, toiletries and toothpaste, was also equipped with Chinese machines. The toothpaste production line used equipment from Nanjing Machinery, and the soap production facility was equipped by companies in Quingtao.

At the International Trade Fair in Pyongyang, most booths were set up by Chinese firms. Among the 217 companies that participated in the fair, more than 80 percent were Chinese or joint ventures that included a Chinese partner.

North Korea’s trade is also overwhelmingly skewed toward China: in 2004, nearly half of the North’s trade was with its neighbor. “North Korean industries are 90 percent dependent on China,” said Kim Suk-jin, a North Korean economy researcher at the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade.

That’s not entirely a bad thing, some economists here said; joining the world economy through China could become a catalyst for reform and opening of the North Korean economy. But they also said they were somewhat uneasy that China’s influence on the Korean Peninsula would become “unnecessarily” strong, reflecting deep-seated Korean unease about foreign influences on the peninsula. Referring to South Korea’s dependency on Japan in the 1960s and 70s for raw materials and facilities, they said that trade with Japan is still skewed in Japan’s favor.

Jeon Jong-mu, the president of HUM Construction Company, was in a party that traveled to North Korea for the international trade show with the journalists. He said North Korean officials had offered him the opportunity to participate in a project to mine aggregate ― rock, gravel and sand ―from the Chongchon River. In return for dredging the river, the offer reportedly went, the North would supply the material to his company.

According to the North Korean officials, the dredging is important to them because frequent flooding of the river damages nearby agricultural areas. “I thought the dredging work would be better for increasing rice production in the North than giving fertilizer,” Mr. Jeon said.

At the Chongsan Cooperative Farm, Ko Myong-hee, its manager, said no South Korean experts have ever visited there but that South Korea has provided it with rice and fertilizer. Lee Kyung-han, the manager of the Korean Standards Association, thought that was a symptom of a problem. He said experts from here should meet with their North Korean counterparts to improve productivity.

Others agreed that for the most part, the South has just been “giving fish” to the North. They said of the $1.6 billion in trade volume between the two Koreas, the South’s rice and fertilizer aid amounts to 35 percent. In the name of helping the poor, sick North Koreans, Seoul just ships rice, fertilizer and medicines.

Both Koreas should learn more about each other, said Kim Dong-ho of the Korea Development Institute. Some North Koreans believed that designating special economic zones would bring large foreign investments instantly, and complained that South Korean businessmen were not making investments in Kaesong Industrial Complex even after visiting the site. He said South Koreans also had a poor understanding of the North’s economy. He blasted the South Korean government and businesses here for making investments based on “rosy anticipations.”

Experts here said the government should focus more on building manufacturing facilities in the North. The March 26 Cable Factory in Pyongyang was modernized by a $2 million donation from North Koreans living overseas, said Kim Sok-nam, the plant’s manager. The Daean Glass Factory was also built with $24 million provided by China.

It would be asking too much, those experts said, to expect South Korean businesses to line up to make investments in the North after watching the woes of the Hyundai Group and the financial problems it faced after making its large investment in Mount Kumgang tourism.

If businessmen are reluctant to invest, perhaps the government should shift tactics. Rather than increase the amount of aid, which cost $365 million in rice and fertilizer alone in 2005, Seoul could offer investment assistance. That $365 million, after all, could have financed 15 Daean Glass Factory plants.

Mr. Lee of the Korean Standards Association proposed that government companies in the South might consider building factories in the North. Others agreed.

“The Kaesong Industrial Complex will take time to settle in,” said Kim Yeon-chul of the Asiatic Research Institute at Korea University. “On the other hand, Pyongyang, Nampo and other important economic venues in the North will be under China’s influence in as little as five years.”

Mr. Kim said South Korea should find ways to exercise its influence in core economic zones of the North. Instead of depending on the pioneer sprits of private firms, a state-run corporation in charge of industrial cooperation with the North should be formed to make profitable investments in the North’s industries, Mr. Kim suggested. “If such a firm existed, the South would have been able to carry out sustainable industrial projects in the North instead of providing light industry materials as aid,” he said. “There is a financial burden at the early stages, but that will eventually be reduced when the investment environment in the North improves, and the state-run corporation will be able to add resources from the international financial market on its own. That is why we need a state company for inter-Korean economic cooperation.”


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