Pinning hopes on the back door

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Pinning hopes on the back door

North Korea’s door to the South has no signs of opening, but a glimpse of an opportunity to knock on the back door of the North along the Aprok (Yalu) River and Tuman (Tumen) River may have come. Hwanggumpyong Island, which has become familiar to us by now, is located near Dandong, China, across the Aprok River. A development project on the island has been abandoned.

Hunchun, the easternmost city in China, was the final destination of the “Peace Odyssey,” which left Dandong on June 22 and ended on June 27. The area around Hunchun is another land of a great potential. A 368-acre logistics center, jointly developed by South Korea’s Posco and Hyundai Asan, is located there.

Hunchun is linked to the Trans-Siberian Railway by the 100-kilometer (62-mile) Hunchun-Zarubino line. On Oct. 1, the railway linking Changchun, Yanji, Tumen and Hunchun will be completed to connect the city to the Trans-China Railway. Hunchun is less than 20 kilometers away from the East Sea. After the third stage of construction for the logistics center is completed, timber, agricultural and industrial goods from China’s three northeastern provinces will cross the East Sea and the Pacific to reach global markets.

When Russia’s participation picks up speed - it has slowed due to plummeting international oil prices and the sinking Russian ruble - Siberian timber and industrial products will use this logistics center.

This area used to be Korea’s territory after General Kim Jong-seo’s northern expedition under the Sejong the Great (1397-1450) in the Joseon Dynasty, so it feels lamentable to see it in other hands, but that is just a sentimental emotion.

Professor Kim Seok-chul, a famous architect and urban planner, announced the “Korean Peninsula Grand Design” in 2012. The plan was indeed grand, yet feasible. North Korea, China and Russia would each provide 817 acres of land at the mouth of the Tuman River, including Hunchun, and an international consortium would be created, with capital and technology from the South and Japan, to jointly build a Chinese tourist city, a Russian petrochemical city, a Korean “creative city” and a Japanese port city.

The multinational city - shaped in a huge oval - would be linked to the southern port of Gulpo through a 10-kilometer corridor along which an electronics and shipbuilding complex would be built. Then the logistics center in Hunchun could be a part of the multinational city with its value maximized. Korean companies, including Samsung Electronics and Hyundai Motor, would be able to send their products manufactured there to markets in China, Russia and Europe with inexpensive logistics and transportation systems.

The strongest point of the “Korean Peninsula Grand Design” is that China and Russia have strong leverage on North Korea and can persuade it to participate. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is currently promoting two-track policies to push forward economic growth and nuclear development at the same time. While the nuclear development is moving forward fast, the economic development is far behind. No foreign investment has been made in the North’s 20 or so special economic zones.

In “Politika,” the first-ever work on political philosophy in human history, Aristotle wrote that a dictator intentionally uses a policy of poverty to take away the power of resistance from the people. Kim, however, is not prompting a policy of forced poverty with that intention. He actually is trying to save the economy by introducing measures such as special economic zones, small local markets and a limited system to distribute profits. But the balance between nuclear development and economic growth has already been upset. Since the execution of Jang Song-taek in 2013 for purely political reasons, Chinese companies have left the North one after another.

Kim is in no position to deny an opportunity just because the South is participating, if the chance is clear for him to make good on his promise that his people won’t have to tighten their belts. The Korea-China-Russia border is the place where such opportunities can be found easily.

The specific example is the logistics center in Hunchun and the larger picture is an idea like the “Korean Peninsula Grand Design.” When you look at the North, China and Russia from the observation pavilion at Fangchuan, you can easily see that the area is a land of promise for mutual prosperity and peace for not only the two Koreas, but also for Northeast Asia as a whole.

The Park Geun-hye administration has presented a grand Eurasia initiative, but unfortunately it has not paid attention to the feasible plan presented by Professor Kim for the joint development of the two Koreas, China and Russia. President Park only presented a Eurasia initiative, but she needs more sophistication.

Can it be useful for Korea to enter Eurasia without being sucked into the “black hole” of China’s New Silk Road initiative? It is doubtful. Traveling to Europe through the Trans-Siberian Railway from Vladivostok should not be the real goal of the Eurasia initiative.

Former Vice Foreign Minister Shin Kak-soo, who joined in the “Peace Odyssey,” recommended that newly recruited diplomats should experience the North Korea-China border area. I would like to add one more thing. Senior officials who are making foreign and economic policies and strategies also must go and witness the potential that is currently not being exploited.

Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se is scheduled to join a segment of a trip by the members of the Presidential Committee for Unification Preparation to the China-North Korea border area and experience the European section of the Trans-Siberian Railway. But that looks naive. His priority destination should be the China-North Korea border area around Hunchun.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 10, Page 31

*The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie

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