[OUTLOOK]Paying to be a potential victimWhen I looked out from a hotel by the Yalu River, Sinuiju, a North Korean city, and Dandong, a border city in China, were in stark contrast. Sinuiju looked like a city of ghosts, while Dandong seemed full of energy and excitement.
There was no trace of or aftermath from the North’s Oct. 9 nuclear test. A businessman who trades with North Korea said, “I can’t transfer or withdraw money at banks, everything else is back to normal as before the nuclear test.” Some 80 percent of the trade between North Korea and China occurs through Dandong, but transactions were mostly by cash so the Chinese government’s ban on the transfer of money to North Korea has little influence on the trade or transactions.
An exporter of bedding to North Korea said, “Right after the nuclear test, orders seemed to decrease a little, but since the North said it would return to the six-party talks, business has come back to normal.” The number of cars crossing the Friendship Bridge, which connects North Korea and China, is average 200 per day. That also hasn’t changed much since the nuclear test. There were a lot of cars with North Korean registration plates at the center for transport and logistics at Dandong, where trade cargos are inspected and checked by customs.
Dandong is now being rapidly developed. The whole city is a construction site. Housing prices are surging. The price for a newly-built apartment has nearly doubled from three years ago, and new apartments are sold as soon as their construction is completed. Unlike other development zones in China, there is little industrial infrastructure in Dandong. There are facilities to process fish and that is all. However, the fervor for housing occurs because of expectations for Sinuiju to become a special economic zone, I was told.
A Chinese realtor in Dandong said, “The plan to connect Sinuiju and Dandong as a free trade zone has already been adopted and it is only up to North Korea to decide when to begin the project.” Once the plan is implemented, the price for an apartment in central Dandong will triple from its current price, he said.
If Sinuiju is opened to the outside, money and people in North Korea will flock to the city, but it has no facilities for accommodation, food, shopping or entertainment, so Dandong will benefit from the influx of money and people. The realtor sounded as if he did not care at all about the North’s nuclear test. If the nuclear issue is resolved, a free economic zone will be implemented sooner. At worst, if an emergency occurs in North Korea and refugees pour into China, housing prices will only increase, so that is not bad either, he said. The Chinese government is afraid of the possible influx of North Korean refugees into China, but Chinese businessmen seem to have a different perspective.
An ethnic Korean businessman living in China said, “All Chinese who do business with North Korea have made money,” and asked, “Do you know where all the money comes from?” He answered himself that it was from South Korea. In the trade between North Korea and China, China has enjoyed profits and North Korea has managed to stay afloat because of money from South Korea. He explained that South Korea’s money goes to the Chinese people through North Korea. The fervor of the real estate market and booming economy are all thanks to South Korea’s money.
An analysis shows that the North’s possession of nuclear weapons does not pose as serious a threat to China as others think, because North Korea won’t fire a nuclear weapon at China and the United States will never accept Japan going nuclear. China might think that to keep things as they have been is the best way for the Kim Jong-il regime not to be weakened and toppled, which would create chaos and damage China’s economy.
On the outside, China presents a serious and determined stance, but perhaps on the inside, it may feel relaxed about the current situation. Even at this very moment, all kinds of products made in China are heading to North Korea via Dandong. The payments for those products is coming to China in cash.
I guess we can’t argue even if China thinks South Korea is stupid to be exploited this way by North Korea. The South continues business at the Mount Kumgang tourism project and the Kaesong Industrial Complex, thus giving money to North Korea, even though South Korea is the direct and most serious potential victim for the North’s nuclear weapons.
* The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok