China extends influence to N. Korea’s Chongjin Port

A general view of Cheongjin Port in North Korea

China-North Korea economic ties have taken another step forward, with reports emerging this week that a Chinese firm landed a deal to lease piers at Chongjin Port in the North. Analysts say the move bolsters Beijing’s efforts to stabilize its impoverished neighbor while expanding its own access to the East Sea.

Under the deal, reported Monday by a Chinese newspaper, the Yanbian Haihua Import-Export Trade Company gain access to two piers at the eastern Chongjin Port. The firm will jointly manage the piers with Pyongyang for the next 30 years, the Korean-language Yanbian Daily said.

It came on the heels of major deals to accelerate joint development of two special economic zones in the North, which Beijing sees as a means to induce the opening of its neighbor. Chongjin is situated just south of Rason, one of the zones.

For the North, the expanded cooperation is seen as a key component of Pyongyang’s drive to develop its economy under new leader Kim Jong-un. While such a campaign is welcomed by many, some analysts say opening could compromise Pyongyang’s tight control on its population.

“North Korea can only open in limited areas due to its internal situation,” Kim Han-kwon, a China expert at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. “But as the opening is extended to Chongjin, it could be another sign that the North is positively assessing China’s propositions.”

Analysts say China controls such investment as a way to manage turbulence in the North, which handed power to the young Kim in December.

“Beijing is planting seeds to give itself more options to deal with the North in the future,” Bahng Tae-seop of the Samsung Economic Research Institute said. “The more involvement there is the stronger China’s platform becomes when there is a dangerous situation in the North.

“These deals show that the North and its young leader are leaning toward China.”

Access to Rason and Chongjin dovetail into Beijing’s efforts to revitalize its northeast region comprised of Liaoning, Jilin Provinces and Heilongjiang Provinces, together know as Manchuria.

“Those provinces need access to the East Sea, which will open the way to access South Korean, Japan, the United States and even southern China,” analyst Kim said. “It is a key part of the plan.” China is busy connecting the region with the North, having built a road into Rason, which includes the region’s northern-most ice-free port. It also reportedly struck a deal with the North to bring in thousands of guest workers to Dandong in Liaoning.

The Chinese firm invested some $ 12 million in the deal, representing over 60 percent of the total capital, the Chinese report said. It is planning to make its first shipment through the port within the year. <The Korea Times/Kim Young-jin>

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