Although China has become increasingly frustrated with the North’s nuclear tests and missile launches, it appears that Beijing has been deepening its economic ties with Pyongyang.
North Korea’s drive to jointly build a free trade zone with China has made a “remarkable success,” a Pyongyang official said on November 13.
“The joint development and management of the Rason economic trade zone with China has been carried out at the highest speed and with a remarkable success,” said Hwang Ik-hwan, a senior researcher at the Institute for Disarmament and Peace under the North’s foreign ministry. Hwang mentioned this at an international conference in Tianjin, organized by the China Foundation for International Studies (CFIS) and the China International Institute for Strategic Society.
China has built “several industrial zones, modern-farming facilities and plants” at the free trade zone in North Korea’s northeastern cities of Rajin and Sonbong, which is known as the Rason Special Economic Zone. To this end, China has reportedly agreed on investing about US$3 billion in developing the free trade zone to its export base. The ports at the free trade zone allow China’s northeastern provinces to directly access the East Sea off the Korean Peninsula’s east coast.
At the conference, Hwang cited an annual trade exhibition of the North Korea-China Economic, Trade, Culture and Tourism Expo, which was held last month in the Chinese border city of Dandong, as a “typical example of growing economic cooperation” between the two countries.
“More than 10,000 people from 20 countries, including the DPRK [North Korea] and China, participated in the exhibition,” said Hwang, adding, “Over 90 trade deals worth US$1.6 billion were signed during the exhibition.”
“The DPRK government is taking active measures to speed up economic development by promoting economic cooperation with other countries and attracting investment,” Hwang said.
North Korea’s young leader Kim Jong-un has shown no signs of abandoning the country’s nuclear weapons program, and declared that Pyongyang will simultaneously pursue nuclear and economic development.
“The dear respected marshal Kim Jong-un instructed officials to establish economic development zones in all provinces of the country and develop the zones in accordance with their unique situations and specific characters,” Hwang said.
He went on to say, “In this regard, the National Economic Development Committee was newly organized in May this year to strengthen the economic cooperation and exchanges with other countries and encourage their investment in the economic zones.”
“North Korea could not achieve economic development without giving up its ambition of nuclear weapons,” claimed Cao Shigong, a specialist of Korean affairs at the Chinese Association of Asia-Pacific Studies, who was attending the conference, saying, “North Korea’s declaration of simultaneously pursuing nuclear and economic development will not be successful.” He added, “North Korea must give up its nuclear ambitions in order to enhance economic development.”