Not all inter-Korean economic projects are stalled

Posted on : 2012-06-11 15:44 KST Modified on : 2012-06-11 15:44 KST
Factory in China continues producing soccer shoes in spite of frosty relations

By Kim Kyu-won, staff reporter in Dandong 

At a time when inter-Korean relations have broken down, a small experiment is under way in a small two-story building in the Chinese city of Dandong. The Ari Sports factory is a joint North and South Korean venture that produces handmade soccer shoes.

Taking its name from the traditional song “Arirang,” Ari Sports was established in Nov. 2011 with a 500 million won investment from the city of Incheon and 23 workers from North Korea. It is managed not by a North or South Korean organization, but by China’s Yunnan Xiguang Trade. The company is a seed that has managed to sprout in the barren ground of inter-Korean economic cooperation since the May 24 measures went into effect. The May 24 measures were suspension of almost all inter-Korean trade, enacted by the South Korean government in the wake of the March 2010 sinking of the Cheonan warship.

On June 9, the company was visited by around fifty participants in the Incheon-Dandong-Hankyoreh West Sea Cooperation Forum, including Incheon Mayor Song Young-gil and Hankyoreh Foundation for Reunification and Culture chairperson and former Unification Minister Im Dong-won. Located in a farming village on the outskirts of Dandong in China’s Liaoning Province, Ari Sports has 1,600 square meters of floor space on a plot of land also measuring 1,600 square meters.

North Korean workers expressed their frustration with the inability of economic cooperation projects to move forward due to the state of inter-Korean relations. Workers Kwon Ok-kyong, Kim Kum-ju, and Kim Myong-hwa said they wished production and sales could proceed smoothly.

When asked about working at the company, Cho Sang-yon said, “Well, it’s not as good as working in my home country.”

Pak Hyok-nam said, “I’d like to see bigger economic cooperation projects between North and South.”

The same views were voiced by North Korean officials. Chu Chol-su, an official with the country’s National Economic Cooperation Federation, said, “Inter-Korean efforts haven’t been working since the May 24 measures. I’d like to see us each making concessions to move forward like we saw in the past with the June 15 Summit.”

The football sneaker and sports clothing production plant was originally planned for Pyongyang’s Sadong District. Efforts began in 2008, and the building was nearly complete when the May 24 measures were passed in 2010 and it had to be abandoned. The factory in Dandong is a temporary structure erected in its stead.

Inter-Korean Athletic Exchange Association standing committee chair Kim Gyeong-seong said, “It’s frustrating not to be able to use the good land and facilities we had in Pyongyang.”

“I hope we are soon able to produce and sell soccer shoes and clothes in Pyongyang,” Kim added.

Song said, “Things are difficult right now between North and South Korea, but if we all work together we can overcome it.”

He added that the company was a “small but meaningful project taking place at a time when economic cooperation has been shut off.”

The company has received orders for three thousand pairs of soccer shoes as of May. It currently plans to produce and sell two to three thousand pairs a month. To achieve this, it is organizing a football contest for working people nationwide at the first Incheon Peace Cup event to commemorate the June 15 Summit on June 16 and 17.

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