2nd Inter-Korean Summit and Prospects for Discussion of Economic Cooperation

Institute for Far Easter Studies
NK Brief No. 07-8-14-1

The second inter-Korean summit meeting is coming up soon, scheduled to open on August 28 in Pyongyang, and interest is building regarding discussion on economic cooperation. It is true that the North is prioritizing political and military issues in order to shore up its government by normalizing relations with the United States. However, considering its serious economic woes, the ability of South Korea to offer a ‘gift package’ can significantly influence the success or failure of this summit.

It is not yet clear how economic cooperation will fit into the agenda, but Seoul and Pyongyang have been constantly discussing this issue, so some insight has been given. In particular, the ‘consumer’ North has been referring to domestic and international cooperation, and through Pyongyang’s requests, some clarity has been added to what goals could unfold during the upcoming meeting.

Energy Sector

The North Korean economy is saddled with severe shortages of electricity and fuel oil, causing production to slow and therefore stagnating consumption, putting the country into an ongoing vicious circle of economic depression. North Korea possesses facilities to produce 7.7 million kW of steam- and hydro-electric power, but in reality is incapable of operating these facilities at more than 30%.

The opinion that expansion of North Korea’s electrical infrastructure is necessary, not only for the North, but also for South Korea, is gaining strength. South Korean projects to develop North Korean mines and import its coal have been delayed due to a lack of electrical power. In the future, enterprises looking to set up in North Korea will also require a steady supply of electricity.

In what way the two Koreas will cooperate on energy is not yet known, but North Korea is sticking to its demand for light-water nuclear reactors. If construction were restarted on the reactors begun by the now-defunct Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO), North Korea could quickly have not only the energy production amount currently available, but an additional 2 million kW, as well.

North Korea’s power facilities are in a state of deterioration, but the number of facilities in the North are adequate for the current state of the economy, so a plan for the restoration of generation and transmission facilities, or the 2 million kW of electrical power offered by the South Korean government two years ago could be considered sufficient.

Natural Resource and Infrastructure Development

One other highly probable agenda item on inter-Korean economic cooperation will be development of natural resources. This is because a model in which North Korea’s relatively abundant underground natural resources are developed, and in which these resources being used by South Korean businesses, would create a ‘win-win’ result for both Seoul and Pyongyang.

According to a report given by the Korea Resources Corporation at a conference last year, North Korea possesses upward of forty different valuable minerals, including iron-ore. Analysis of these North Korean resources shows that a considerable amount of South Korea’s 40 trillion won (430 billion USD) worth of mineral imports per year could be brought in from North Korea instead.

As development projects in North Korea’s graphite mines are already underway, and the import of North Korean anthracite is being considered in order to meet quickly growing demand for charcoal in the South, cooperation in the natural resource sector appears to be one of the core points to inter-Korean economic cooperation.

As for North Korea’s railways, the heart of the country’s distribution infrastructure, completion of the section of track on the Kyungui Line between Kaesong Station and Moonsan Station, as well as the section of the East Sea Line between Mt. Kumgang Station and Jejin Station, means that the infrastructure for regular service between the two countries is now in place, although talks regarding the details of such regular service are not being held.

If regular service on these two lines between North and South Korea can be achieved, expensive transportation costs can be reduced, and of course, in the future, connection of the railway with continental rail networks such as the Trans-Siberian Rail and the Trans-China Rail would help to enable the Korean Peninsula to emerge as the hub of North East Asian distribution.

Furthermore, considering the fact that North Korea’s mining facilities and technology, as well as its ports, loading facilities, and other transportation infrastructure, are severely lacking, a plan linking development of natural resources to projects developing infrastructure also appears viable. It is also already known, to some extent, the nature of North Korean needs in its infrastructure sector, and if this upcoming summit closes successfully, it is expected that an inventory of these needs will become more concrete.

Vitalizing Kaesong Industrial Complex

The Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) is also an important undertaking. At the moment, a problem has arisen concerning the construction of a second KIC, but even if only the originally planned 26.4 million square-meter complex is built, the fact is that currently the first 3.3 million square-meter stage is complete, and considering that it employs North Korean labor, this is no easy feat. Companies moving into the KIC are asking that easy communication with South Korea and simplified import procedures be prioritized.


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