N.Korea’s Rason Special District could open country to China

Posted on : 2011-05-04 14:34 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Chinese officials say the project is a step towards openness for N.Korea
 left blue building
left blue building

 from the opposite side of the Tumen River. (Photo by Park Min-hee)
from the opposite side of the Tumen River. (Photo by Park Min-hee)

By Park Min-hee, Beijing Correspondent 


China is stepping out into the Pacific through the gates of North Korea’s Rason Special District. North Korea, which has been declaring its aim of creating a “strong and prosperous nation by 2012,” is actively welcoming the move from China.

A number of sources, including officials with the Jilin Province government in China, reported that a groundbreaking ceremony is to be held on May 30 for a highway linking the North Korea cities of Wonjong and Rason, bordering directly on Quanhe in Hunchun, Jilin Province. A number of leaders from both countries are scheduled to attend the ceremony, which is to take place in Rason (Rajin-Sonbong), North Korea.

A Chinese official working on preparations for the project said in a recent interview with the Hankyoreh that the event would be “an occasion for declaring North Korea-China economic cooperation and North Korean openness to the world.” The official added that dozens of officials from the Chinese central government would be attending, including a number of leaders.

The construction effort is a signal announcing the opening of Rason and large-scale economic cooperation between North Korea and China. In addition to the groundbreaking ceremony for the highway, which is to be a major channel tying North Korea and China together economically, efforts to develop China’s Rajin Harbor and transport large amounts of coal through it are beginning in earnest.

The Rason development effort is taking place according to China’s “blueprints” in everything from the planning to investment and management. Local sources said that China and North Korea have already formed a special joint steering committee for the district, and that it has been decided that the chairman will be from China.

The Rason urban development plan jointly drafted by China and North Korea includes the development of international freight brokerage, export processing, and financial regions. According to a North Korean video, models for the plan include Dalian and Tianjin, which Kim Jong-il inspected in 2010 during a visit to China.

An official with the Yanji city government said, “North Korea is also aware that keeping its doors closed will only lead to death, but it is concerned that the regime will be destabilized if it opens up all at once, so it plans to first open up Rajin and develop it as a ‘test region.’”

“They are adopting the Chinese model, learning from China about legislation, taxes, and benefits to lure businesses,” the official added.

The effort is being pursued promptly, in contrast with previous North Korea-China economic efforts, which tended to amount to little more than words. The reason for this is that the central governments in Beijing and Pyonyang are directly taking care of economic cooperation through the medium of Rason’s development.

A Chinese government official reported that Chinese Minister of Commerce Chen Deming traveled to North Korea to sign a memorandum of understanding, and that China and North agreed on a plan for joint investment in and administration of Rason’s highway, port, and industrial park construction. The official added the Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao personally signed policy documents upgrading Hunchun to a special economic district in line with the Rason development plans.

Meanwhile, North Korea formed an office in its central government to directly administer Rason Special City, replaced old officials who failed to make progress with Rason’s development over the years, and sent in young officials from the central government, including Rason Special City secretary Im Kyong-man, sources reported.

China needs the Rason development to ensure the success of its current national development plan for Changchun, Jilin, and the Tumen River basin, while North Korea decided to cooperate with China to address its economic problems and stabilize its succession framework. Analysts say North Korea hopes to tout successful development of Rason as an achievement of Kim Jong-un.

The development project is proceeding in a very specific and far-reaching way. “This is Korean land, but the industrial complex is being operated as Chinese and will hire North Korea workers to earn foreign currency” for North Korea, said an official with a Chinese company in charge of a large-scale construction effort in Rason.

The electricity shortage issue, which had previously been a major stumbling block to investment, has been resolved by China. A source in Hunchun said, “Plans are being examined to either send surplus power from Hunchun’s thermoelectric power plants to Rason, or for a company in Jilin Province to retrofit an old Soviet crude oil plant in the Sonbong region into a coal-burning power plant.”

Even Chinese officials have been astonished at the active measures from Pyongyang. A Rajin representatives’ office opened in downtown Yanji, the seat of the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, is hard at work drawing in investment.

“If Chinese investors want to take a look at Rason, they can drive their cars in for themselves with an invitation from the Rajin representatives,” explained a source in Yanbian.

In the border city of Hunchun, money and people have begun shifting toward the North Korean side. Construction of 500 apartments for Chinese people working in Rason began in late March, according to officials at a construction company commissioned to carry out the project. Capital and labor investment for the Hunchun-Rason highway construction is coming entirely from China, and a number of the roughly 500 Chinese workers needed to begin have already arrived in Rason with six-month passes issued by North Korea. Large Chinese corporations such as Changli, Shangdi Guanquan Investment, and FAW are known to be undertaking investment in Rason.


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