Good things come to those who wait
In the Rason Special Economic Zone in North Korea, garment factories operated by the Chinese keep their lights on until midnight. Since the North Korean workers are paid by the hour, they want to work late. This is unusual compared to other cities in the North.
Zhang Li, who has been operating a factory there for six years, says, “Female workers don’t even bother to look at the visitors while working in the factory. They used to glance over when someone visited the factory, but these days, they are only focused on doing their jobs and making money.”
This is one of the changes in the Rason Special Economic Zone, where Chinese, Russian, Singaporean and U.S. businesses are operating.
“While North Koreans are learning the value of money,” Zhang said, “they still have lingering feelings for socialism. We need to have patience to acknowledge their unique culture and wait for changes.”
In 2012, Zhang had $150,000 in revenue, but in the past few years, his business has not made a profit. North Koreans prefer products made in China, just as Koreans preferred goods made in Japan in the 1960s. But Chinese businessmen continue to invest in North Korea despite immediate losses.
“How can I make money in North Korea right away? I will make money 10, 20 years in the future,” said Zhang. “I am investing in the future of North Korea.”
While exact statistics are unknown, traffic in the Rason Special Economic Zone is growing since the 56-kilometer highway between Hunchun, China, and Najin, North Korea, opened in 2012. Chinese merchants have especially become big players in the local markets in the zone. With money and goods, the Chinese traders are restricted from directly engaging in commercial activities, so they hire North Koreans to do business on their behalf.
Last week, a reconciliatory mood and tension was created simultaneously between the South and North. On May 7, South and North Korea tentatively agreed to hold the 15th anniversary celebration for the June 15 joint declaration in Seoul. If it goes as planned, it will be the first event in seven years since June, 2008. The next day, North Korea issued an “emergency special warning” and threatened armed provocations in the northwestern coast. And on May 9, North Korea fired three ship-to-ship missiles in the East Sea. Whenever Seoul and Pyongyang head for a reconciliatory mood, a disruption never fails to follow. Good things come with the bad, and there are people who are jealous of progress. We need the courage to move forward boldly. China has come far closer to North Korea than we think.
The author is a researcher at the
Unification Research Institute, JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 11, Page 34
by KO SOO-SUK