[EDITORIALS]Sinuiju stumbles at outset

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[EDITORIALS]Sinuiju stumbles at outset

Uncertainty looms over the future of the Sinuiju special administrative district. It mostly stems from the contradictory words and acts of Yang Bin, who was appointed by the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to be the administrator of the free trade zone.

The blueprint for the special zone that Mr. Yang, a Chinese-Dutch business mogul, laid out, can only be described as "radical" and "extreme." The bold plan was more capitalistic than most capitalist countries offer, and attracted keen interest from South Korea and other countries. People thought it was a signal that North Korea was finally ready to open its door.

But Mr. Yang's credibility has been damaged by some of his statements. He proclaimed that foreigners would be welcome in Sinuiju without visas, "regardless of nationality, as long as they hold valid passports." The starting date was pushed back from Tuesday to Oct. 8, which may be understandable, if we accept Mr. Yang's excuse that coordination with China is taking time. But Mr. Yang's pledge, that before Oct. 8 he would personally issue visas so that foreigners would have no problems entering North Korea, was breached. In particular, he refused to issue visas for South Korean reporters, saying that South Koreans are not foreigners. This is something to take seriously, because it contradicts his initial assurances that Sinuiju would be open to South Koreans as well. Even foreign reporters who received visas were refused entry into Sinuiju by Pyeongyang, which made people doubt the effectiveness of the official documents issued by the administrator. All these factors raise heavy questions about the authority and trustworthiness of Mr. Yang.

Chinese media either have given minimal coverage to Mr. Yang or ignored him. Hong Kong media have downplayed Pyeongyang's initiative, arguing that it is unlikely to succeed. We believe it is unjust to cast doubt on the future of Sinuiju at the outset. We should take time and see how Sinuiju unfolds.

At the same time, we believe that suspicions surrounding Mr. Yang, including allegations that his wealth was amassed illegally, must be resolved for the sake of the Sinuiju project. Mr. Yang and Pyeongyang must realize that capital never flows into an area of uncertainty.
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