Friday, June 10, 2011

Chinese companies posed to jump-start North Korean economy?

In the aftermath of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's visit last month, Chinese companies in recent days have held a series of low-key groundbreaking ceremonies across the border for projects designed to jump-start the moribund North Korean economy.

The North Korean regime, largely out of desperation, has leased parcels of its territory to the Chinese. This includes ports at the northern tip of the country that will give China access to the Sea of Japan through North Korea for the first time in 150 years.

Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan and Jang Song Taek, Kim's brother-in-law, attended a groundbreaking ceremony for an industrial park on Hwanggumpyong, an island on the Yalu River, that is supposed to take advantage of Chinese capital and cheap North Korean labor.

Businesspeople working in North Korea say a similar ceremony was held Thursday at Rajin, the seaport where Chinese companies are building another industrial zone, as well as a new road that leads to the port.

A lack of publicity in China about all this may reflect Beijing's ambivalence about doing business with an unreliable neighbor and a desire to avoid international criticism for propping up a nuclear-armed country with an abysmal human rights record.

For the North Korean regime, the deals with China look like an easy fix for its tangle of diplomatic and economic woes. Kim Jong Il has set 2012, the centennial of the birth of his father, Kim Il Sung, as a deadline for North Korea to become a "strong and prosperous nation," the government's latest propaganda slogan.

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