China, NK move ahead with economic zone program

By Liang Chen Source:Global Times Published: 2012-8-15 1:30:03

China and North Korea jointly announced Tuesday the establishment of the management committees of two economic zones in North Korea, marking Pyongyang's determination to further boost its economy.

But some Chinese observers said it does not mean reform or a major change of its policies can be expected any time soon.

Chinese Minister of Commerce Chen Deming and Jang Song-thaek, vice chairman of North Korea's National Defense Commission, met on Tuesday to discuss how to further their cooperation in developing the Rason Economic and Trade Zone and the Hwanggumphyong and Wihwa Islands Economic Zone, near China's Yanbian and Dandong areas respectively, according to a press release issued by the ministry.

The two sides have compiled detailed plans in personnel training, drafting of laws and regulations, communication, customs clearance, and agricultural cooperation, according to the release.

The Rason zone is expected to be built as a manufacturing industry base, and will cover raw materials, equipment manufacturing, hi-tech, light industry, service industry and modern agriculture.

The Hwanggumphyong and Wihwa Islands zone is expected to be built into a newly developing economic area that focuses on the information industry, tourism and garment processing, the release said.

Zhang Dongming, an expert on Korean studies at the Liaoning National University, told the Global Times that he believes the meeting is a significant step forward between the two sides.

"If the economic zones prove to be useful, it will create a new platform for the Chinese government to cooperate with North Korea and other countries all across the world," he said.

However, experts also warned against unrealistic expectations that North Korea could change overnight.

"North Korea is being active in pushing its economic cooperation with the outside world, but the nation won't push forward the reform and won't change its 'military-first policy'," Cui Zhiying, a North Korean studies expert at Tongji University, told the Global Times.

China and North Korea decided to build the two economic zones in 2010, when former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il visited China.

"It is a double-edged sword for the Chinese people to seek opportunities in the economic zones," a Chinese businessman in North Korea, who gave his surname as Wang, told the Global Times.

"Human resources in North Korea are cheap, but you might encounter risks of losing your business credibility as the products might be delayed at any time due to the poor infrastructure in North Korea," he said.

Wang revealed that at least 8,000 Chinese people are doing business in North Korea, mainly in the seafood industry.

It is an internal call for North Korea to boost its economy and improve people's livelihood in the face of a bleak economy, reports said.

"Formulating economic policies according to its national conditions is the most important task for North Korea now, and training management officials is critical to achieving this goal," Zhang said.

Officials from the North Korean economic zones have been attending training courses in Dalian, Liaoning Province, including the latest batch of 20 officials from March 29 to April 1.

The top priority in solving the economic problems in North Korea is building enough infrastructure, Zhang said.

Wen Ya contributed to this story

Posted in: Business, Diplomacy

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