Archive for the ‘Sinuiju Special Administrative Region’ Category

Renewable energy power plant for Sinuiju modernization project

Friday, June 21st, 2019

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Daily NK reports:

“A massive renewable energy power plant was built to deal with the chronic lack of electricity in North Pyongan Province,” a source in North Pyongan Province told Daily NK. “The power plant now supplies Sinuiju and other areas of the province.”

Meari, a North Korean propaganda outlet, published an article on June 2 entitled “The Construction of a Renewable Energy Power Plant that Produces 1,000 kW by the North Pyongan Province Electricity Department.”

The article states that a “renewable energy power plant was built on around a 300 square meter lot on the lower part of the Yalu River” and that “The Electricity Department built around 3,600 solar panels, electricity transformers, and electric cables to ensure the continued, self-sufficient supply of electricity.”

The source told Daily NK that the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and government officials in North Pyongan Province made the decision to embark on the construction of the new power plant. Officials emphasized the use of renewable energy and new ways to supply electricity to the province.

A separate source in North Pyongan Province said that the decision to move forward with the project led to the construction of an “electricity base” with wind power and solar panels in the Sinuiju area.

“They are now moving forward with expanding the existing infrastructure by four-fold,” he said.


The Rodong Sinmun published an article on March 20 entitled “Let’s Imitate Them [North Pyongan Province’s Electricity Department] and Widely Develop and Use Renewable Energy.” The article states that the Electricity Department in North Pyongan Province “recently constructed a massive renewable energy power plant that is supplying electricity to important areas in Sinuiju and the local people.”

Renewable energy power plant built for Sinuiju modernization plans
Mun Dong Hui
Daily NK


Development in Sinuiju

Monday, April 22nd, 2019

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

NK News has a nice photo series out showing some interesting sights from Sinuiju. I’m not posting it here since it’s for their subscribers only, but Colin Zwirko’s description summarizes the general impression:

The ports along the northern coast lining the Yalu River (or Amnok River as it is called in North Korea) serve an important economic role for the city’s dozens of factories, while a large number of trucks still pour into the city daily through the cross-border bridge.

But despite the economic changes seen in the electric bicycles prominent on city streets and the ever-growing mobile phone use, infrastructure in Sinuiju is still in disrepair, ports are outdated and in need of upgrades, and even the large construction projects sometimes appear to be of questionable quality.

These issues may yet be addressed, however, as Kim Jong Un laid out grand plans for the city during a visit last November.

The photos below feature the streets and ports of Sinuiju, the city’s outskirts, and even some of the North’s own influence across the border in Dandong, all of which offer the image of a city which, while changing in subtle ways, still lags far behind its Chinese neighbor.

Check it out here.


Chinese sanctions enforcement on North Korea: don’t jump to conclusion

Friday, December 7th, 2018

By: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Is China enforcing UN sanctions on North Korea? Is “maximum pressure” still on and working? How much is China really trading with North Korea?

None of these questions can really be answered with the open-source information available at the moment. In fact, I doubt that any sources exist that could provide a conclusive answer. Much of the relaxation in Chinese implementation of the various bans and limitations on trade with North Korea likely comes from the Chinese authorities simply turning a blind eye, and how do you record trade that happens because you’re looking away?

The best information we have, unsatisfactory as it may be, comes from anecdotal observations along the border between China and North Korea. Nikkei Asian Review recently visited the border area and gives us an interesting and informative look at what the situation is like in the region. However, the information given through reports such as this one is not enough to jump to the conclusion that China has stopped enforcing sanctions on North Korea. As I explain further below, until we see significant, meaningful amounts of coal and textiles crossing the bridge, North Korea is still suffering immense losses in its export incomes from Chinese implementation of sanctions.

The problem is that this is, of course, hard to see with your own eyes when you visit the border areas. After all, you can’t see what’s not there. To be sure, report such as this one matter a great deal, and I’m not at all discounting its value. The fact that there’s immense, vibrant and dynamic economic activity going on by the Sino-Korean border is interesting in its own right, as it dispels the notion that North Korea is fully isolated economically. As Nikkei shows, that’s just not the case:

The number of trucks making their way across the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge increased sharply in November, according to an executive of a housing materials supplier in the border city of Dandong.

Many carry plywood flooring, elevator components and other materials to construction projects in North Korea, while seafood heads in the other direction.

I saw similar goods transported over in great quantities in the summer of 2016, another point in time when China was supposed to be squeezing North Korea economically, according to the sanctions frameworks in place.

“These days, the bridge gets jammed with traffic, which is something we rarely saw after the sanctions resolution” in 2017, the executive said.

This is a similar impression to what we’ve seen in other news reports. Traffic declined drastically during the US-North Korea tensions of 2017, and the during the late summer and fall of that year in particular, when round after round of sanctions were levied on the country.

However, that traffic has increased from a relatively extreme low point is itself not evidence that sanctions no longer have any effect. Traffic alone does matter as an indication, but not much more. We need to know what is being shipped as well.

Increased bilateral trade serves both countries’ aims. Beijing wants to strengthen its influence over Pyongyang, while the Kim Jong Un regime needs to develop a struggling economy. Activity at the border area highlights attempts to rebuild ties.

About 70% of China-North Korea trade passes through Dandong. In late November, construction work could be seen getting underway in Sinuiju on the other side of the Yalu River, which separates the two countries.

A large, cylinder-shaped building is taking shape close to the bridge, in an area that also hosts an amusement park. According to local rumors, it is a hotel that will target Chinese tourists.

About 10 km to the south lies the New Yalu River Bridge, which is expected to replace the older crossing as the main cross-border artery when it opens. Many structures that look like new apartment buildings can be seen close to it on the Korean side.

The North Korean leader has shifted his focus to economic policy amid improving relations with China and South Korea.

Sinuiju will potentially be crucial to driving economic growth through trade with China. This past summer, Kim inspected cosmetics and textile plants in the city, and many believe Pyongyang has stepped up the development of nearby areas.

And just a few weeks ago, Kim Jong-un oversaw the Sinuiju grand redevelopment plan.

The sanctions imposed on the Kim regime over its nuclear and missile programs make it difficult for the country to rebuild its economy on its own.

China, which accounts for 90% of North Korea’s total trade in value terms, is backing efforts to revitalize the city.

Black North Korean clams are easily distinguished from the yellow Chinese variety, claimed a middle-aged woman at the Donggang Yellow Sea market as she hooked some out of a net and sorted them by size.

The Chinese authorities toughened controls on imports of clams, crabs and other seafood from North Korea immediately after the sanctions were imposed, but several wholesalers said smuggling in the Yellow Sea had picked up again this past spring.

North Korean seafood at the market, they claimed, was simply being packaged as if it came from China. The clams served at a restaurant in the city were all black.

The sanctions also restrict the acceptance of North Korean workers.

At a garment factory in suburban Dandong, however, there were a number of female laborers from across the border, and what appeared to be a North Korean merchant was seen staying at a luxury hotel in the area, neither of which would have been common sights just after the sanctions were imposed. These people most likely enter China on short-stay permits, rather than working visas.

Guest workers appear to have been one of the first areas in which China began relaxing control, shortly after Kim Jong-un’s spring 2018 visit to Beijing.

Chinese influence in North Korea’s construction sector also appears to extend well beyond the supply of materials.

“It is hard to imagine they have the technology to construct a round building,” said a senior official of a construction materials company in Dandong, speaking about the supposed new hotel on the other side. What is less hard to imagine, he assumed, is where the technical support was coming from.

Locals claim that a Chinese inspection team had gone over to look at the construction of roads linking the new bridge with the nearby town.

Full article and source:
China-North Korea border trade thrives again, despite sanctions
Daisuke Harashima
Nikkei Asian Review

Again, all of this matters. But the question is just how much it matters when North Korean can’t export nearly the same quantities of coal and minerals to China that it has over the past few years. Some might argue that this trade, too, could simply be hidden and kept off of China’s books. I doubt it. Some, perhaps, but absolutely not all or even most of it, simply given the quantities we’re talking about here. I would think you’d have to do quite a few nighttime runs by ship across the Yalu river to get any meaningful quantities across hidden.

Consider the mere magnitude of the numbers we’re talking about here. I unfortunately don’t have time to dig up the latest data right now, but for a sense of proportion: in July of 2017, China imported only 2.7 million tonnes of coal from North Korea, a downturn of 75 percent. To my knowledge, this number hasn’t climbed significantly since, aside from some outlier months before various sanctions have taken effect, and the like. Chinese imports of North Korean coal account for 42.3 percent of total Chinese imports, according to one figure.

The point isn’t that North Korea is under perfectly applied “maximum pressure” by China. But that trade may be somewhat more porous than a year and a half ago doesn’t mean that North Korea’s economy isn’t experiencing immense difficulties under sanctions at the present moment. I’ll finish this post with a graph showing total volumes of North Korean exports of anthracite and iron ore to China between 2009 and 2015, a period of immense growth in these exports, based on UN Comtrade data. These incomes have been crucial for Kim Jong-un’s ability to orchestrate the massive infrastructure updates and construction projects we’ve seen under his tenure.


[Updated] Kim Jong-un oversees master plan for Sinuiju facelift and construction

Wednesday, December 5th, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

A couple of weeks ago, KCNA carried a report of Kim Jong-un’s oversight of a grand, general reconstruction plan for Sinuiju, North Korea’s most important hub for trade with China.

North Korea, it seems, expects that trade primarily with China will continue to grow and remain the country’s most important source of foreign currency revenue for the foreseeable future. This is something to keep in mind through the speculations about US and other western investments in North Korea in the event that sanctions are lifted and denuclearization (whatever version of it) comes through.

The plans for Sinuiju are also notable simply because Sinuiju is not Pyongyang. There has been quite a bit of work done in the past few years, under Kim Jong-un, at extending the renovations drive and infrastructure construction to smaller, provincial cities (mostly provincial capitals). One message seems to be that Kim Jong-un’s ambitions and promises of economic development aren’t just for the elite, but for the population as a whole.

It’s unclear how the plans that Rodong speaks of are related to the Sinuiju International Economic Zone. An issue of the quarterly North Korean magazine Foreign Trade in 2015 indicated that renovations of Sinuiju would focus on infrastructure renewal, but as the example of the bridge to nowhere shows (see below), it’s unclear what actual progress is being made in reality on this.

Some specific thoughts and annotation below (my emphasis, except on the leader’s names, that’s all standard KCNA):

Pyongyang, November 16 (KCNA) — Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army, examined and guided the master plan for Sinuiju City together with leading officials of the party, administration and design organs of North Phyongan Province.

Learning about the implementation of the behests of President Kim Il Sung and Chairman Kim Jong Il for the construction of Sinuiju City and examining in detail the master plan for the construction of Sinuiju City and a diorama of the future city, Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un set forth the tasks and ways of successfully sprucing up Sinuiju City to meet the demand of the present era.

“The present era” = likely, the era of a growing middle class with demands for consumption and entertainment, many of which make their money through the markets and semi-private business.

He said that it is necessary to form the center of Sinuiju City deep up to the southern Sinuiju area with the statues of

Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il at the center square of the city as the axis, arrange high-rise apartments and public buildings at provincial and city levels in its surroundings in a dimensional way, successfully arrange the blocks of high-rise and skyscraper apartment buildings along the main axis and arterial road of the city and the bank of the Amnok River in formative artistic way and build many parks within the dwelling area and thus turn the city into the one in the park.

This all sounds very expensive. Meanwhile, North Korea faces largely unfunded humanitarian needs, which could be met relatively cheaply. In fact, the equivalent of one-sixth of North Korea’s total luxury goods imports in 2017 would be enough.

Saying that it is necessary to build many modern and majestic architectures rich in national character in order to build the city befitting to a gateway city of the country, he called for successfully arranging the public buildings such as theatre, cinema, sports village, ice rink and sci-tech library and service facilities including hotel and department store in a rational way and to be of modern taste.

Books have been written about the concept of “rationality”, so I won’t go into what the use of that phrase means in this context. But it does sound like what Kim is talking about is simply making Sinuiiju “modern”, with all of what that entails. These days, there’s quite a bit of reporting and chatter around about how Pyongyang, and other North Korean cities, have undergone stark modernizations during Kim’s tenure. This is clearly true, but it’s worth remembering the reason why these things are news: the presence of “service facilities”, “department store[s]” and the like, things taken for granted in much of the world, is still not widely spread in North Korea outside of Pyongyang. (This is also true for Wi-fi.)

He also gave a direction of sprucing up the present industrial areas and remodeling the railway station of the city and Uiju Airport in a modern way.

Speaking of infrastructure: this is the only part of the article where infrastructure is mentioned. It is interesting and notable that despite the attention and grand plans for Sinuiju, the new bridge connecting the city to Dandong had still not been connected to North Korea’s road network as of mid-February this year, as far as I can tell from satellite imagery. This is the most recent date for which imagery is available.

The end of the new bridge from Dandong, on the North Korean side. Photo: Google Earth.

Underlining the need to pay deep attention also to the creation of cultural environment including urban greening, he called for creating green belts near the city’s main road and around the industrial area to make sure that one citizen has 50 square meters of green tract of land, and for building city park, botanical garden and recreation ground in a cozy and peculiar manner to suit the specific conditions of the local city.

Again, that’s going to cost a lot of money, and not least, human effort. Citizens might be happy about green spaces, but they’ll be less so at having to go out and construct them through “voluntary” labor.

Noting that it is most important in urban construction to make sure that citizens don’t feel any inconvenience, he said that it is necessary to increase electricity production and make a maximum use of natural energy so as to round off the city electricity supply network system, perfect the heating system, put the water supply on an international standard and properly establish the system for purifying industrial waste water and sewage as the city has dense arrangement of residential quarters and industrial establishments.

Electricity and energy supply is one of the main achilles heels for the North Korean economy, and its industry is highly vulnerable to shortages in electricity supply. “Maximum use of natural energy” sounds like hydrogen power to me, which is North Korea’s most plentiful source of electricity. Aside from coal, that is, but given the export value of coal, its use for domestic electricity production comes with a high opportunity cost. In any case, the North Korean administration is clearly aware (and has been for decades) that energy is a big problem, and bringing it up in conjunction with a city plan inspection is likely a way of sending the message that the authorities are working on it. How exactly that is being done is less clear.

On the theme of energy in Sinuiju, it might be worth noting that the city is home to one of the country’s main oil refineries, the Ponghwa Chemical Factory, south of the city.

Ponghwa Chemical Factory, south of Sinuiju. Photo: Google Earth.

As I keep stressing all the time, the provincial party committees should pay special attention to the work of intensifying the provincial design organs and construction forces and put constant efforts on it and thus decisively raise the level of the building in the construction projects of local areas, he pointed out.

Calling for reviewing the master plan for Sinuiju City and the long-term goals for city construction in cooperation with powerful design organs of the country, remapping it out to be realistic and submitting it within a few months, he said that the Party Central Committee would discuss and decide on the plan after going through relevant procedures, and the construction of the border city would be conducted year by year and phase by phase with the state backing after setting the goals of 5-year plan.

Noting that the work of remodeling Sinuiju City for which President Kim Il Sung and Chairman Kim Jong Il gave instructions dozens of times is a very important task of carrying out their behests, he stressed the need to gain good fruition within a few years to come.

Article source:
Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un Guides Master Plan for Construction of Sinuiju
Political News Team
Rodong Sinmun

[Updated 2018-12-6: I added a few details throughout the post, as well as satellite imagery.]


Sinuiju International Economic Zone

Tuesday, December 1st, 2015

No sooner do I publish an article on the Sinuiju International Economic Zone (read it here at 38 North) than the DPRK releases more information on it.

In the December issue of Foreign Trade (2015 No.4), the DPRK includes information on the zone, including this map:


UPDATE: Dr. Haggard uploaded a nicer version of the image which you can see here.

The map indicates that the downtown area of Sinuiju and the western coast down to the new Amnok River Bridge will constitute the first phase of development. Space has been allocated for trade, industry, sewage, warehousing, and other designated areas. The map also indicates a new road is to be built linking the Wihwado Economic Zone (to the north east of the Sinuiju SEZ) with the new Yalu River Bridge (which has yet to be opened for business) and Ryongchon County.

Here is a satellite image of the specific areas being designated for the first phase of the zone with proposed roads added for visual effect:


This is what the article had to say about the zone:

Sinuiju International Economic Zone

Located in a border area, the zone has a bright prospect for the development of water and marine transport. Its development area is 40km2.

The Zone is a flat area composed of deposits of organic fine sand in the mouth of the Amnok. The average height of ground inside the bank is 45m, geomorphology is 0-.7% and the average height above the sea level is up to 100m.

Its annual average duration of sunshine 2,427 hours, annual percentage of sunshine is 58% and annual average precipitation is 1001.5 mm.

The first and second annual main winds are northeast and and north winds respectively. It has the northeast and north winds in winter and southwest wind in summer in the main.

The Sinuiju International Economic Zone will provide opportunity for bonded processing, bonded transportation, trade and financial business, tourism, hi-tech industry, and various other business activities.

To this end, it is planned to develop the zone into a comprehensive economic zone with a large-sized latest IT industry area, competitive production area, exports processing area, cargo area, trade and financial area, public service area, tourist area and a bonded port, and into an international city with an airport and trade port.

Encompassing the whole of Sinuiju and two ri surrounding it, the zone is already furnished with infrastructure. However, it is necessary to upgrade the existing infrastructure and expand its capacity and build in its suburbs on a preferential basis.

The items of the construction of infrastructure include port, airport, railways, roads, power station, heating, and gas-supply system, telecommunications (international, domestic, mobile and computer network), and water supply, sewage-treating and garbage disposing systems.

As the zone has rich and good workforce whose education level is higher than secondary education, and many competitive heavy- and light-industry factories and enterprises around it, the investment by foreign business will be cost-effective and conducive to its development.

Previous posts on the Sinuiju International Economic Zone can be found here. Previous posts on the Sinuiju Special Administrative Region can be found here.

The North Koreans have also set up the Sinuiju-River Amnok Tourist Zone which you can read about here.

The JoongAng Ilbo has additional information here.


Taiwan TV visits Sinuiju SEZ

Monday, June 1st, 2015

You can watch the video here:

The video highlights a few sights and restrictions, however, they do highlight the three price tiers that officially exist in the country:


These shoes (RMB200) were purchased a the market price:


There’s no place like home!


Sinuiju SAR/SEZ Version 5: Hwanggumphyong-ri and Wihwa Islands

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Pictured Above (Google Earth): The new PRC/DPRK economic zone: Hwanggumphyong-ri (Sindo County) and Wihwa Island (Sinuiju and Uiju Counties).  See islands in Google Maps here and here.

UPDATE 13 (2011-6-14): US urges caution.  According to Yonhap:

“We urge transparency, extreme caution and vigilance in any business dealings with North Korea. We urge all United Nations member states to fully implement U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874, which target North Korea’s continued involvement in proliferation, nuclear weapons development and procurement of luxury goods,” the White House official said on condition of anonymity.

The U.S. and South Korea have been putting economic pressure on the impoverished North, which refuses to dismantle its nuclear program and continues military threats. But China, the North’s largest benefactor, has maintained close economic ties with North Korea, prompting criticism that it is undermining U.N. sanctions on Pyongyang imposed after its nuclear and missile tests in 2006 and 2009.

UPDATE 12 (2011-6-9): Here is coverage of the groundbreaking ceremony in KCNA.

UPDATE 11 (2011-6-10): Barbara Demick, writing for the L.A. Times, highlights the low-key nature of the ground-breaking ceremonies as well as providing details of the lease agreements.  According to the article:

Pyongyang publicized the ceremonies, but official Chinese news outlets did not send reporters attend and carried just brief dispatches based largely on news releases. The lack of publicity in China may reflect Beijing’s ambivalence about doing business with an unreliable neighbor and a desire to avoid international criticism for propping up a nuclear-armed country with an abysmal human rights record.

China reportedly signed a 50-year-lease for the 4.6-square-mile Hwanggumpyong, where a 30-minute ceremony was held Wednesday. The South Korean Yonhap news service reported that large balloons flew overhead with the slogans “Friendship between China and North Korea” and “Joint Development.” The low-lying island, south of the Chinese city of Dandong, is currently used for farmland and a North Korean military installation. A smaller island called Wihwa is also part of the deal.

The Chinese are also building a new bridge to the islands that is eventually supposed to be extended to reach to the North Korean mainland.

UPDATE 10 (2011-6-10): Caijing, which is (according to the Wall Street Journal) China’s leading finance newspaper has just published a lengthy article (in Chinese) about North Korea and states at the beginning of the article the “urgent need for internal reforms to adapt to the trend of market forces”. Here is the article.

UPDATE 9 (2011-6-9): Xinhua reports on the ground breaking ceremony:

Officials from China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) have reached a consensus to jointly develop two economic zones in the DPRK, according to a press release issued by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce on Thursday.

From Tuesday to Thursday, Chinese and DPRK officials convened in northeast China’s Liaoning and Jilin provinces for the second meeting of the Development Cooperation and Joint Steering Committee.

Their meeting concerned the development of the Rason Economic and Trade Zone and the Hwanggumphyong and Wihwa Islands Economic Zone.

The joint development of the two economic zones in the DPRK will be “government-guided, enterprise-based and market-oriented,” according to the press release.

Both sides agreed to work together and give full play to their respective advantages in the development of the economic zones, the release said.

China and the DPRK have agreed to build the economic zones into a model of Sino-DPRK economic and trade cooperation and a platform to promote economic and trade cooperation with the rest of the world, the release said.

Both sides also held launching ceremonies for several cooperative projects during the meeting, according to the press release.

The meeting was jointly presided over by Chen Deming, Chinese Minister of Commerce, and Jang Song Taek, the administrative director of the Korean Workers’ Party.

The committee held its first meeting in the DPRK’s capital of Pyongyang last November.

UPDATE 8 (2011-6-9): The Choson Ilbo reports on the Hwanggumphyong opening ceremony:

The ceremony started at 10:40 a.m. and took half an hour. Huge balloons with messages like “Friendship between China and North Korea” and “Joint Development” floated in the air above while a military brass band played. Some 300-400 people attended, a stark contrast from the ground breaking for a new bridge connecting Sinuiju in North Korea to China’s Dandong across the Apnok (or Yalu) River at the end of last year, which lasted just 10 minutes with a few dozen regional officials present. AP’s Pyongyang correspondent was allowed to cover the event.

UPDATE 7 (2011-6-9): A reader notes int the comments that it is probably incorrect to refer to this development as a “Special Administrative Region” because we have yet to see if there is any new administrative apparatus which will control the new zone.  So until we see such a development I will refer to this as a “Special Economic Zone (SEZ)”.

UPDATE 6 (2011-6-7): Yonhap reports that Jang Song-thaek attended a groundbreaking ceremony on Hwanggumphyong today (Wednesday):

North Korea and China on Wednesday broke ground on a border island to develop it into an economic zone, spurring speculation that Pyongyang may embrace Chinese-style economic development to try to revive its faltering economy.

The groundbreaking ceremony came on the heels of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s weeklong trip to China in May to study the neighboring country’s spectacular economic development, his third trip to China in just over a year.

On Wednesday, some 1,000 people from North Korea and China, including Kim’s brother-in-law, Jang Song-thaek, and Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming, attended the ceremony on Hwanggumphyong Island in the Yalu River that separates the two countries.

Several dozen giant advertising balloons were floating in the air as a military brass band played festive songs, and hundreds of doves were released at the ceremony.

The messages on the balloons read “North Korea-China friendship and joint development” in a symbolic gesture for their commitment to the project.

The two sides also reportedly signed a deal on the joint development project, including lease terms on Hwanggumphyong. No details were immediately available.

UPDATE 5 (2011-6-7): KCNA announces (here and here) the establishment (and expansion) of the Special Administrative Region (SAR or SEZ):

(KCNA: 2011-6-6) DPRK Decides to Set Up Hwanggumphyong and Wihwa Islands Economic Zone

The DPRK decided to set up the Hwanggumphyong and Wihwa Islands Economic Zone in order to boost the DPRK-China friendship and expand and develop the external economic relations.

A decree of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly was promulgated on June 6 in this regard.

According to it, Hwanggumphyong-ri, Sindo County, Sangdan-ri, Hadan-ri and Taji-ri, Sinuiju City and Soho-ri, Uiju County of North Phyongan Province shall belong to the zone.

The sovereignty of the DPRK shall be exercised in the zone.

The development of the zone shall start from the Hwanggumphyong district.


(KCNA: 2011-6-7) Hwanggumphyong and Wihwa Islands Economic Zone to Be Set Up

The Japanese Tokyo Shimbun Tuesday released the following report titled “Close to setting up economic zone on DPRK-China border:”

The Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK Monday promulgated a decree on setting up the Hwanggumphyong and Wihwa Islands Economic Zone in the border with China. It was reported that the sovereignty of the DPRK would be exercised in the zone and the development of the zone would start from the Hwanggumphyong district.

Both Hwanggumphyong and Wihwa Islands are within the territory of the DPRK along the River Amnok flowing along the DPRK-China border. It was basically agreed to develop Hwanggumphyong by the joint efforts of the DPRK and China. A ground-breaking ceremony is expected to take place within one or two days.

The project for building the DPRK-China Amnokgang Bridge which started at the end of last year is making brisk headway on the river. It seems that a discussion on the above-said zone was held during the China visit by General Secretary Kim Jong Il in May and it is likely to put greater impetus to economic cooperation between the DPRK and China and development of the border area with the decision as an occasion.

The SPA Presidium of the DPRK, explaining the reason for setting up the economic zone, said it was to boost the traditional DPRK-China friendship and expand and develop external economic relations.

South Korean CBS released similar news on the same day.

In a separate note, it is nice to hear the construction on the second Yalu River bridge is “making brisk headway”.  The north Korean media has not reported on the bridge in some time.  The bridge does not run through any of the newly created Special Economic Zone.

UPDATE 4 (2011-6-5): According to the Donga Ilbo, the groundbreaking ceremony is supposed to take place tomorrow (Tuesday).  On Thursday a groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for Rason.

UPDATE 3 (2011-5-30): The groundbreaking ceremony was cancelled.  It is unclear when development will begin. According to the Choson Ilbo,

There has been no official comment from China, but a ground-breaking ceremony for the development scheduled for Saturday has been cancelled, apparently because China had second thoughts. “Since last year, I’ve had business officials from other regions like Tianjin and Qingdao, asking me whether there’s any vacant office spaces for rent,” said a business owner in Dandong.

But people in Dandong have not lost all hope of potential development of the area. One Chinese businessman who has traded with North Korea since the 1990s, said, “Business projects with North Korea usually take a long time to materialize, and talk of developing Hwanggumphyong and Wihwa islands have been around for a long time, so I feel they will happen someday.”

Other major projects are already under way in Dandong. The Chinese city plans to build a new city in the Langtou area to house 200,000 people by 2020. A bank building and high-rise apartments have already sprung up in the area, which was a barren tract of land just three years ago. And a new bridge is being built linking Langtou with the North Korean border town of Ryongchon across the [Amnok] River.

UPDATE 2 (2011-5-10): Development of Hwanggumphyong Island is reported to begin this month (May 2011).

According to the AFP:

North Korea and China will start work on developing a river island on their border this month, a report said Tuesday, amid an international drive to coax Pyongyang back to nuclear disarmament talks.

The two countries plan to hold a groundbreaking ceremony on May 28 for development of the island on the Yalu River, the South’s Yonhap news agency said.

Pyongyang has reportedly worked out a special law to set up a free trade zone on the island, which is separated by a narrow waterway from the Chinese city of Dandong.

The two sides have agreed to turn the island into a base for logistics, tourism and manufacturing that would be linked to China’s industrial complex to be built in Dandong, Yonhap said.

There is still no sign that Wihwa Island is receiving any special development.

UPDATE 1 (2011-3-30): Huangjinbing Island (mentioned below) is the Chinese name of Hwanggumphyong Island (Hwanggumpyong, Hwangkupyong, 황금평: 39.961121°, 124.316044°). The Chinese recently built a fence around this island.

Using Google Earth (39.964363°, 124.288470°) we can see both before and after satellite images of the fence construction which separates the DPRK’s island territory from the PRC’s. Dates: 2009-10-2 (Left/Before), 2010-4-5 (Right/After)

According to the Telegraph:

Fences more than 13ft [3.962 m] high, topped with barbed wire, are now being erected along an eight-mile stretch of the Yalu river around the Chinese city of Dandong. This is a popular escape point for North Korea refugees seeking food or better lives, Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.

“It’s the first time such strong border fences are being erected here. Looks like it is related to the unstable situation in North Korea,” a resident said of the work which began last November but is ongoing.

Previously the border was only marked by a 10ft-high fence which “anybody could cross if they really wanted”, the resident added.

Fears for the stability of North Korea have been heightened in recent weeks with reports of a growing food crisis following the severest winter in 60 years and an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease that has hit the oxen that are still mainly used to plough the North’s fields.

This week, in a highly unusual step, foreign aid agencies based in Pyongyang issued a joint statement warning that 6 million North Koreans now need urgent food aid because crops of potatoes, wheat and barley have all failed.

As an aside, at least one report claims this island has been leased to China.

Read the full Telegraph story below:
China builds higher fences over fears of instability in North Korea
Peter Foster

ORIGINAL POST (2010-2-25): In September 2002 the North Korean government announced the Siuiju Special Administrative Region/ Special Economic Zone.  It did not end well.  The idea of implementing a Sinuiju SAR/SEZ, however, has never faded away–though it has taken different forms.

Sunuiju Version 1: The initial vision of the city, under a Yang Bin administration, was the creation of a very liberal and independent territory which would supposedly be free of Pyongyang’s dictates in exchange for tax revenue.  The Hong Kong-style “Basic Law” can be found here.

Sinuiju Version 2: In March of 2007 the North Koreans decided to move the SAR/SEZ territory out of the Sinuiju city center on two Islands in the Tumen River:  Bidan and Wihwa.

Sinuiju Version 3: In August 2007 creation of a special zone had reportedly already begun, however, this time the project is located in the Sinuiju city center (not remote islands).

Sinuiju Version 4: In January 2009 the Yomiuri Shimbum reported that the SAR/SEZ had once again moved out to  Wihwa Island.

Today Adam Cathcart emailed me a report in the Huanqiu Shibao featuring the following statement by a PRC foreign ministry spokesman :

环球时报记者段聪聪报道 2月25日,中国外交部发言人秦刚在例行记者会上就中国企业有可能获准开发两个朝鲜岛屿的事情表态:“不要混淆联合国制裁和两国正常的经贸往来。” Global Times reporter Duan Congcong reports on Feb. 25: Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Qin Gang, at a press conference, stated [the Ministry’s] position on the situation of the possibility of Chinese enterprises obtaining permission to start business on two Korean islands : “Don’t confuse U.N. Sanctions with normal bilateral trade dealings.”

据报道,朝鲜为了吸引外国投资,决定将位于中朝边境临近辽宁丹东市的威化岛和黄金屏岛定为自由贸易区域,交由中国企业进行开发。两岛的投资规模分别为5亿和3亿美元。秦刚表示,不要混淆联合国制裁和两国之间正常的经贸往来与合作。对朝鲜实施制裁,联合国的有关决议有明确的规定,规定了制裁的项目。而报道中提到的 项目属于中朝之间正常的经贸往来,并不违反联合国规定. According to the report, North Korea is attracting foreign investment, and has decided to establish a free trade zone on the islands of  Weihua [威化岛] and Huangjinbing [黄金屏岛] in the Sino-Korean border area of Liaoning’s Dandong city.  The dimensions of the two islands’ total investment will total 500 and 300 million U.S. dollars, respectively.  Qin Gang stated that it wasn’t necessary to confuse UN sanctions with normal bilateral economic dealings and cooperation.  Regarding the implementation of sanctions on North Korea, the related United Nations resolutions are very clear in their stipulations of the project.  But, the report noted, projects referring to inclusion of normal bilateral trade between China and North Korea are not forbidden by the UN stipulations.

据报道,朝鲜政府高层就比邻中国丹东的边境地区建立特别经济区方案正在进一步细化过程当中。参与此次朝鲜岛屿开发的中国丹东华商海外投资公司将组团赴朝就具体合作意向进行最后敲定。 According to the report, high officials in North Korea’s government nieghboring China’s Dandong border area are currently moving in a detailed way with establishing this special economic zone.  Participating in the development of this North Korean islands are Dandong Huashang Overseas Investment Corp. which will organize and send a delegation to North Korea in order to cooperate and move forward with final resolution.

I will call this “Sinuiju SAR: Version 5.” Wihwa Island is back, but Bidan Island has been replaced by “Huangjinbing Island.”

Additional Information

1. The Dandong Huashang Overseas Investment Corp. web page is here. (again, h/t Adam)

2. China has also reportedly approved the creation of a trade zone on its side of the North Korean border.


DPRK-PRC summit and the outlook for bilateral economic cooperation

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 10-05-11-1

As North Korean leader Kim Jong Il spent four nights and five days in China, meeting with President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jaibao, and other top Chinese leaders, it appears that the issue of bilateral economic cooperation was high on the agenda, and was discussed in depth.

‘Strengthening economic and trade cooperation’ was one of the five proposals for bolstering PRC-DPRK relations made by Hu Jintao during the May 5 summit meeting with Kim Jong Il, giving some indication of just how much emphasis he and Kim were putting on economic cooperation during the latest visit.

Hu stated that strengthening cooperation between Beijing and Pyongyang would help both countries build their socialist systems, and would be in their shared interests as it would further development and help to bring peace, stability and prosperity to the region. According to China Daily, the five suggestions made by Hu Jintao are as follows:

1) To maintain high-level contacts. The leaders of the two countries should keep in touch by exchanging visits, as well as sending special envoys and messages.
2) To reinforce strategic coordination. The two sides should exchange views in a timely manner and regularly on major domestic and diplomatic issues, international and regional situation, as well as on governance experience.
3) To deepen economic and trade cooperation. The relevant departments of the two governments should discuss and explore ways of expanding economic and trade cooperation.
4) To increase personnel exchanges. The two sides should expand exchanges in the cultural, sports, and educational fields, and the contacts between the youth in particular to inherit the traditional friendship from generation to generation.
5) To strengthen coordination in international and regional affairs to better serve regional peace and stability.

In response, Kim Jong Il expressed his appreciation for Hu Jintao’s heartfelt invitation and warm greeting, and agreed with Hu’s five suggestions for developing bilateral cooperation. He highlighted the construction of a new bridge over the Yalu River as the latest sign of friendly cooperation between China and North Korea, and added that he “welcomes investment in North Korea by Chinese companies and boosting bilateral working-level cooperation based on the principle of mutual prosperity.”

Economic issues were at the heart of Kim Jong Il’s meeting with Premier Wen Jiabao, as well. Following their meeting, Wen said, “PRC-DPRK economic cooperation has great potential,” and that he actively supports bilateral efforts. He stated that he had high hopes for infrastructure projects and other cooperative efforts in the border region.

He went on to say, “China actively supports North Korea’s economic development and improvements in the lives of its people,” and that he would like to introduce to North Korea “Chinese-style know-how” by sharing China’s experiences with reform and economic construction.

In October of last year, Premier Wen introduced the “Chang-Ji-Tu Development Plan” during his visit to North Korea, pushing hard for the North’s cooperation in developing the border region. That, along with North Korea’s extension of the contract giving Chinese companies access to Rajin Port and the latest talks during Kim’s visit to China give a clearer picture of the future direction of PRC-DPRK cooperative economic efforts.

The Chang-Ji-Tu plan to develop the Jilin and Tumen River regions calls for the establishment of an economic ‘beltway’ by 2020, and the revival of the antiquated industrial areas of China’s three northeastern provinces. To be successful, the plan requires North Korean cooperation on securing access to the East Sea. In 2008, North Korea granted China usage rights to Pier 1 in Rajin Port, and then signed an agreement with China last November on the joint development of the port into an ‘international distribution hub’ providing a link for China to the global market. China’s Jilin Province has already earmarked 3 billion yuan (500 billion won) for Rajin Port’s development.

This, along with the construction of a new border-crossing bridge on the Tumen River and other similar projects, reflects the infrastructure development plans for the border region. Construction on the new 33 meter-long bridge began last October, and China is bearing the burden of a 1.7 billion yuan (290 billion won) price tag. In March, China also began restoration of the bridge over the Tumen River linking Hunchun and North Korea, and is expected to move forward quickly with a road construction project linking the bridge to Rajin Port.

Another cooperative effort is focused on the development of the Hwangeum Industrial Complex, a free trade zone on Hwanggeum Island, in the Tumen River. Ryongaksan General Trading Company, which currently holds the development rights to Hwanggeumpyeong and Uihwa islands, is actively seeking to attract foreign investment. Kim Jong Il’s latest trip to China is seen by some as an opportunity to push for increased Chinese investment and assistance in developing the region.

Workers’ Party of Korea Unification Strategy Department Director Kim Yang Gong, as chairman of the Korea Taepung International Investment Group, traveled with Kim Jong Il in China, and it appears to have been in order to more strongly call for investment in North Korea, and the development of Rajin Port, in particular.

Beijing permitting North Korean sight-seeing tours and joint development in its three northeastern provinces indicates its support for the increasing pace of bilateral economic cooperation with Pyongyang.


Sinuiju SAR: Take 4

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

sinuiju2.JPGOn September 20, 2002, the DPRK’s Supreme People’s Assembly announced the creation of the Sinuiju Special Administrative Region (SAR) (KCNA announcement here).

The project was to be headed by a Chinese-born, naturalized Dutch citizen, Yang Bin…who was arrested by Chinese authorities shortly after the Sinuiju SAR was announced.  Western analysts interpreted this move as a signal that China was not supportive of either the project or the selection of Mr. Bin as its chief executive.  Needless to say the future of the project lay in doubt.

However, according to a Yonhap report (here), as of March 2007 the North Koreans still seemed interested in launching some kind of SAR/SEZ in Sinuiju, though the location had been moved from the city proper to two islands in the Yalu River, Bidan and Wihwa.

In August 2007, IFES and the Choson Ilbo reported that preparations were already underway in Sinuiju to convert the city center into a SAR/SEZ.  However, after this initial media hit, most of the news coming out of Sinuiju was related to Jang Song Taek’s 2008 anti-corruption campaign which brought most of the trading companies along the Chinese border back under the control of the Ministry of Finance.

This week, Japan’s Yomuri reports from Shenyang, China, that the Sinuiju SAR is still on and will be located on Wihwa Island:

“The zone will only cover Wi Hwa Island, which will be much easier to control, and only Chinese will be allowed to freely visit,” one of the sources said. “The plan solely aims at expanding trade with China. North Korea isn’t planning any measures that would involve a dramatic opening up.”

According to Chinese statistics, the total value of trade between China and North Korea from January to October last year was 2.12 billion dollars, up 31.7 percent from a year earlier.

Meanwhile, a diplomatic source said, “The move to beef up border trade with China is also aimed at putting pressure on South Korea.”

(FYI: Use of the phrase “beef up” is a pretty good sign that the diplomatic source was an American.)

I know the story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.”  I will remain skeptical about the new SEZ until I see evidence of construction myself.

You can read the full Yomuri article here:
N. Korea plans free trade zone on island
Daily Yomuri
Toru Makinoda


Development kicks off in DPRK’S Sinuiju special economic zone

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

Institute for Far Eastern Studies
NK Brief No. 07-8-7-1

According to a recent report from a North Korean insider, the border city of Sinuiju, in North Pyongan Province, was redesignated as a ‘Special Economic Zone’ in the first part of this year, and accordingly, full-fledged city development has been underway since last June, including the relocation to the city of 3000 families from Pyongyang.

The “NK Chosun” reported that this development was revealed by a North Korean official during a meeting with an associate in Dandong while on a recent visit to China. The official was quoted as stating, “Pyongyang citizens are being temporarily transferred to Sinuiju because they are ideologically prepared.” The official went on to share that the Pyongyang residents being moved to Sinuiju are the laborers that will work in the industrial zone, state security officials, police, and their families.

According to the associate in Dandong, “due to rumors of the relocation of Pyongyang residents, real estate prices in the Sinuiju area are skyrocketing.” While DPRK authorities are instituting a plan to relocate Pyongyang residents to Sinuiju, at the same time 3000 Sinuiju families are being banished from the city. Rumor has it that Sinuiju police and security forces have begun identifying residents with problematic blood lines and those considered to have ideological problems and announcing lists of ‘purgees’.

Even as large scale aggregate gathering at the mouth of the Yalu River is growing, all residents living in the vicinity of the Sinuiju train station were removed and barbed wire and dirt walls were set up around the outskirts of the area following its designation as a ‘Special Economic Zone’.

One DPRK source in Dandong stated, “The past plan for the Sinuiju Special Economic Zone promoted by Chinese [businessman] Yang Bin aimed to make money through a casino and entertainment facilities, but this time, according to the directives of Chairman of the National Defense Commission Kim Jong Il, a city is to be constructed that can fulfill the role of Kaesong Industrial Complex as well as Rajin-Sunbong .”