News / Asia

China's Ties with North Korea Include Economic, Political Influences

William Ide

China has long provided an economic lifeline to North Korea and those connections are expected to continue as the North moves through a period of transition following the death of Kim Jong Il. Such close ties, analysts say, provide Pyongyang with much needed foreign investment and Beijing with both economic and political influence.

The China-North Korea Friendship Bridge in the northeastern Chinese city of Dandong is a decades-old symbol of the close links between Pyongyang and Beijing. And it's also one of the few ways to cross into North Korea from China.

The pace of China's economic ties with the North has picked up over the past decade and analysts say China accounts for about 45 percent of North Korean trade.

Abe Denmark, a senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Naval Analyses in Washington,  says some in China believe economic engagement makes Beijing more powerful inside North Korea -- to possibly shape events and at the least gain a better understanding of what is going on.

"Beyond that, the Chinese are convinced that North Korea needs to go through a reform and opening process, the same way China did after the death of Mao [Zedong]," Denmark said. "Beyond that, the Chinese are convinced that North Korea needs to go through a reform and opening process, the same way China did after the death of Mao [Zedong] and after the end of the cultural revolution. Many in China in fact see North Korea as somewhat a proto-China."

Helping to build up the Rason Special Economic Zone is a key part of that effort.

The warm-water port is close to the Chinese and Russian border, and one Chinese company has already signed a 10-year lease to rebuild a pier there, a move analysts say would help significantly to cut transportation costs.

"Part of the economic rationale for that is because they needed a maritime transit route whereby they could transfer their goods from the northeastern provinces to their southern industrial bases, also to Japan. This also increases the ability of goods and services from southern China to reach the northeastern provinces," said Russell Hsiao, a senior research fellow at the Project 2049 Institute.

And it is not just in special economic zones where China's engagement can be seen.

One of the last public appearances Kim Jong Il made before his death was to Pyongyang's first supermarket. The market is believed to be backed by Chinese capital and carries Chinese characters on its sign.

The market is both a sign of progress and example of just how far North Korea lags behind most countries in the region.

"Comrade General [Kim Jong Il] asked what it was when he saw it, and I explained it was a stir-fry pan. He said it was really good and housewives would like it," said Kim Yong Ok, the general manager of Rejuvenation Supermarket and was present during Mr. Kim's visit.

Since 1999, China's trade with North Korea has grown from roughly $300 million to more than $3 billion, says Hsiao.

And this has not only helped North Korea.  It also offers hope for the economies of China's northeastern provinces at a time when they are suffering.

"In the past decade [the northeastern provinces] have seen a gradual decline of its industrial base, the unemployment rate increasing, the agricultural sector as well is diminishing and there are certain concerns within Zhongnanhai [among China's leaders] about the implications for that for stability in that region," Hsaio said.

However, how far North Korea will go with its economic opening remains to be seen.

"But whether it's a legitimate experiment in the free market or if it's just a way to get foreign capital, and there's no real interest in foreign markets or capitalism, even to a very limited degree. It's all in the mind of the North Korea's senior leadership," Denmark said.  "But whether it's a legitimate experiment in the free market or if it's just a way to get foreign capital, and there's no real interest in foreign markets or capitalism, even to a very limited degree. It's all in the mind of the North Korea's senior leadership and it's very difficult for us to know."

Trade has long been a difficult dance for North Korea's leaders, analysts say. And while North Korea's leadership may want to be modern and open, it also wants to be modern and open on its terms and for central authorities to remain in control.

You May Like

Video Drug Use Rises in Afghanistan

Ninety percent of world’s heroin comes from Afghanistan More

Here's Your Chance to Live in a Deserted Shopping Mall

About one-third of the 1200 enclosed malls in the US are dead or dying. Here's what's being done with them. More

Video NASA: Big Antarctica Ice Shelf Is Disintegrating

US space agency’s new study indicates Larsen B shelf could break up in just a few years More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs