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Pyongyang moves ahead with plans for economic zone

The Sinuiju project picks up speed as ties with Beijing look up

Oct 26,2015
One of Pyongyang’s ambitious capitalist experiments has picked up speed in recent weeks since top Chinese official Liu Yunshan attended North Korea’s celebration to mark the anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party.

The JoongAng Ilbo obtained an exclusive copy of the general development blueprint for the Sinuiju international economic zone, which was agreed upon by North Korean officials and authorities from Liaoning Province in northeastern China.

In September 2002, North Korea announced plans to establish a special administrative region in the northwestern border city of Sinuiju in North Pyongan Province, and appointed Sino-Dutch businessman Yang Bin as administrator.

However, Yang was later arrested in China for tax fraud and the Sinuiju development fizzled over the years.

The area’s name went through two more changes. North Korea declared Sinuiju a special economic zone in 2013 and rebranded it as an international economic zone last year without much progress.

However, the newest guidelines signal that development of the Sinuiju economic zone is officially on its way, particularly amid signs of increased economic cooperation between the two countries.

Liu, a member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, led a delegation of Chinese officials to Pyongyang to attend the 70th anniversary of the founding of the North Korean Workers’ Party on Oct. 10, when he was pictured standing right to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during the large-scale military parade in Pyongyang.

The two even held hands as they waved to the crowd.

Liu, the most senior Chinese official to visit North Korea since Kim Jong-un took power in December 2011, also delivered a letter to Kim from Chinese President Xi Jinping.

On Oct. 15, North Korea and China launched a joint trade fair at Dandong, a border city in Liaoning Province, indicating that economic cooperation between Pyongyang and Beijing was on an upswing.

According to newly inked guidelines, North Korea and China plan to build at the Sinuiju special administrative region, which totals 132 square kilometers and would include new industrial areas, public areas, a distribution complex, parks and a water supply treatment plant.

This would be in addition to existing factories to manufacture textiles, shoes, chemical fiber and weaving machines. However, the originally envisioned recreational and tourism center, golf course and commercial service district were scrapped from this new master plan.

The Chinese government’s position was strongly reflected in these plans because businessmen concerned about Chinese competition flooding the region were exempt from negotiations.

A key project in the plan includes the construction of a Sinuiju canal and 10 bridges, including a railway, connecting the two sides of the canal, which is expected to bring real estate and public development to the area.

Two new bridges between China and North Korea will also be constructed in addition to the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge and the New Yalu River Bridge connecting Dandong with Sinuiju.

The two bridges will end not too far from the northern exit of the New Yalu River Bridge, taking into consideration the increased volume of goods that will need to be transported.

A distribution complex will be built as the North Korean branch of the New Yalu River Bridge to support the industrial complex to be established in Sinuiju. This distribution complex will be linked to the city’s freight depot and be able to transfer goods straight to Pyongyang.

The master plan also describes establishing mobile communication base stations, five in northern Sinuiju and one in the southern region - a matter of great urgency if North Korea wishes to entice foreign investors to the region.

While Liu’s visit to Pyongyang and the recent speed in economic collaboration can be attributed to North Korea’s good behavior, analysts here say there is a more significant reason.

In his talks with Liu earlier this month, Kim indicated that North Korea was looking to improve ties with Japan, likely as a way to avoid any possible cold shoulder from China, according to analysts.

So as Beijing frets about the bolstered alliance between the United States and Japan, they added, it took up a long-time favor.

BY KO SOO-SUK, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]



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