DPRK-China Economic Cooperation: First Six Months in Review after Kim Jong Un’s Rise to Power

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

After Kim Jong Un’s succession following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, added attention is drawn to the economic cooperation between China and North Korea.

The DPRK-China economic cooperation has totaled 990 million USD from January to April this year, a rise of 16.5 percent against the previous year. Other economic cooperation projects are also underway as appropriate system and regulations are currently being established along with recruitment and training of employees.

According to Yonhap News Agency on July 4, Chinese commerce ministry invited about 20 North Korean economic government officials and scholars to Tianjin for training in special economic zones from late May. The main purpose of the training was identified; to promote and revitalize the special economic zones in North Korea, including Hwanggumpyong and Wihwa Islands and Rajin-Sonbong.

The invited North Korean trainees are top officials from economic, administrative, finance, and customs sectors to receive two-month training in Tianjin from Chinese experts with years of experience and knowledge in the area of operations, management, and investment promotion of economic zones. The entire training cost is supported by the Chinese government with full support of education and accommodations.

The details of the program consisted of a month of training in theoretical background and a month of practical training in economic zones of Shanghai Pudong and Shenzhen.

Hwanggumpyong and Wihwa Islands began as China and North Korea partnered up to develop it as the next Kaesong Industrial Complex. Last June, China’s Commerce Minister Chen Deming and the DPRK’s vice-chairman of National Defence Commission Jang Song Thaek met and hosted the groundbreaking ceremony for the development of the area. However, the development in Hwanggumpyong area is making a slow progress.

On June 25, Kyodo News Service of Japan reported that China and North Korea both expressed to delay the joint development project of Hwanggumpyong for the lack of economic value after North Korea conducted its satellite launch. However, on the following day, Chinese foreign ministry made a statement that Hwanggumpyong joint development project was on track and criticized Kyodo for the inaccurate account of the situation.

China has obtained port usage right of Rajin Port in 2008, which connects Tumen River with Hunchun of Jilin Province in China. The construction for the 53 km-long road that connects Rajin with Hunchun is expected to be completed by the end of this year and sea route to this area will officially take off. China invested in the entire cost of construction as it hopes to develop it into an international distribution base, as a part of the Chang-Ji-Tu Development Project in Northeast China.

Nearly 70 percent of China-DPRK trade is located in Dandong and Sinuiju area. Many experts agree that it will be a matter of time before the development of Hwanggumpyong economic zone become full-fledged. Despite the apparent delay in development, North Korea has already established a Law on Hwanggumpyong and Wihwa Islands Economic Zone and joint management committee were formed consisting of Chinese and North Korean officials. Rapid progress in this zone can be expected after the New Yalu River Bridge is completed in 2014.

As economic trade and cooperation between North and South Korea ebbed, North Korea is likely to increase its efforts with China, combining the land and manpower of North Korea with China’s resources and technologies to develop other SEZs similar to Kaesong. However, a large-scale dispatch of North Korean employees to China will be difficult challenge to overcome.


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